Return To The 36th Chamber
Director Lau Kar Leung is sort of a bridge from the hey-day of Shaw Brother kung-fu films to the new wave, hyper-stylized martial arts spearheaded by Tsui Hark. And I mean that literally, since he worked with Shaw master Chang Cheh and then directed his own films at the end of their era, and then worked with Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, and others of their ilk. I also mean figuratively, as his directing and choreography is pretty much solely responsible for moving things from chopsocky to the more modern approach. Unfortunately, he is pretty much only known for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, an undeniable masterpiece, and maybe for quitting Chan’s Drunken Master 2. But just about any one of his films would stand out amongst the crowd were they to be discovered in the West. Even though Return To The 36th Chamber was a cheap, cash grab it remains both innovative and gasp-inducing to this day.
Most likely the reason Return didn’t get the attention the first one received is because it’s not technically a sequel and it’s more or less the exact same plot. Gordon Liu returns, playing a lovable loser whose town is being harassed for money which they cannot afford so Liu pretends to be a Shaolin master in hopes of scaring away these bullies. After being humiliated when his plan fails, he heads to the real Shaolin temple to learn their ways but is only assigned construction duties once they accept him. He finds this worthless but when he returns home he finds he’s acquired skills he did not have before. Beat for beat, this is the same plot as the first. But while Leung still sells the story adequately, it’s in his fights that he really shines.Continue Reading
A Matter of Life and Death
On the DVD for A Matter of Life and Death, Martin Scorsese tells a story about how, when he was growing up, the filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger sort of felt like some mythical, lost duo of directors whose work was massively overlooked and re-edited, only to be fully appreciated in the '80s once Scorsese had the power to do so. Watching their films now makes that story seem almost under-exaggerated as every film that comes out on DVD is confoundingly innovative, as if it will be made ten years into the future. And this is no exception to the film, A Matter of Life and Death, a rich, complicated fantasy that leaves so many similar films of the time in its dust.
David Niven plays WWII fighter pilot, Peter Carter, who makes one last radio call to a female soldier, June, as his plane is crashing. Coming to terms with his death, Niven uses the call to calm his nerves and over the course of the conversation the two fall in love, having never met.Continue Reading
Samurai Jack Season 3
Admittedly, the show Samurai Jack does not seem worth getting into if giving it a quick glance. What with its child-like premise, silly title, and kind of annoying theme song, it would be easy to pile it together with all the other harmless cartoons that come and go. But to do so would mean to miss out on some of the best writing and certainly best direction, cartoon or otherwise, in the action genre. During its four year run, the story of an ancient samurai thrown into the future followed in the footsteps of other great hero journeys like Star Wars or Conan The Barbarian and reached the height of its potential in the Season Three, two-part episode "Birth of Evil."
Part One begins thousands of years in the past, somewhere in the cosmos, where three gods battle a formless, dark evil. One of the things that Samurai Jack has done so well is prove how gripping a simple good vs. evil story can be. There’s never any doubt in the show who the good guys or bad guys are, which is contrary to so much entertainment that likes to paint too much in gray. Most likely this happens so often for two reasons: one, because it seems more interesting to not know who to cheer for or to sympathize with the villain; and two, because we fear moral absolutes. But stories of good and evil work so well because they go beyond the skeletons in our closets and into a force larger than us, so well depicted in the opening of this show. But unfortunately for the three gods in battle, and the inhabitants of Earth, a tiny piece of this beast breaks off and makes its way toward our home.Continue Reading
It’s hard to talk about the scariest movie of all time, just like it’s hard to talk about the funniest. Once you claim what it is people will have every other horror movie they’ve ever seen to compare it to and since the title of "scariest" is so subjective it all comes down to each person's experience. So in this case, I must go past personal experience and try to somehow justify why Ghostwatch scared me more than anything.
Over the last couple of years a lot of "found footage" movies have popped up. Some have been great and some have not, but all of them are outdated by Ghostwatch. In 1992 on Halloween, the BBC aired a special program about the most haunted house in England. News reporters were to take you inside and show you what ghostly goings-on were taking place and supposedly, while it was airing, a massive terror spread through England as children and adults alike thought that what they were watching was real. But it was not. It was a totally fictional program about a mother and her two daughters who were haunted by an old tenant that the children call Mr. Pipes (after their mother tells them that the noises they are hearing are just the pipes rattling). But once the media shows up, Mr. Pipes isn’t too happy and decides that if what they want is terror, then that’s what they’ll get.Continue Reading
Ghosts...of the Civil Dead
"You can only push a man so far before he pushes back," proclaims one of the more orderly prisoners in John Hillcoat’s Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. This line is one I’m sure I’ve heard dozens of times in films, but never more fully realized as when the violence and tension in the prison in which the film is set reaches a sort of chaotic resolution. The character in question is one of two prisoners whom the audience meets right at the start of the film, both of whom act as a common man that represent the two paths one is headed for when stuck in such an environment. One leads to murder and the other to suicide. And that’s not to say these are respectable people who don’t deserve their time in jail (we never discover what they are in for), but as the same aggressions and fears begin to show up in the guards' behavior, something clearly needs to change.
Apparently based on real events, Ghosts is an account of the events in a prison that lead to a total lockdown, confining the inmates entirely within their cells, and then to deathly acts of violence. Working as a sort of visual diary, we are taken through a series of seemingly unconnected events that, while not forming a narrative, show a clear route for the derangement that evolves. One such evolution is how physical recreation changes as prisoners continually take advantage of what freedoms are given them. First, the outdoor areas are closed off after a stabbing, restricting exercise to indoors, and then a fence is put up to further constrain them. This literal cage, as several of them point out, only solidifies their belief that they are no better than animals. Obviously prison is just a big cage anyway and the film isn’t trying to humanize clearly deranged people, but if something is clearly broken, it must need fixing. Sure the film doesn’t offer any easy answers but it is most certainly asking hard questions about what potentially is in all of us.Continue Reading
A Chinese Odyssey Part One - Pandora's Box
Not too long ago the DVDs for A Chinese Odyssey Parts One and Two came into Amoeba. From the brief once-over I gave the boxes, they looked like they might be interesting and worth checking out. Both starred Stephen Chow, they are Hong Kong fantasy films, and they were only $4.99 each. I wanted to do a little more research to see if they were worth my time and money and quickly made my way to the internets to see if I could find a trailer. Which of course I did. The trailer for Part One has fleeting glimpses of a half man/half monkey as well as a half man/half pig. People were flying across the sky, women were turning into spiders, and I think I even saw a giant bull. As I was watching this my reaction was a quiet, “Oh, this looks pretty good.”
…NO! What is wrong with me!? A movie about a half man/half monkey and his pig friend flying and fighting and doing magic cannot be described as looking "pretty good." It looks absolutely crazy is what it looks like! And this was the moment that I realized that I have truly gone off the cinematic deep end. Because I love Kung Fu movies. And I watch a lot of them. So much so that my brain can no longer recognize something like this as silly but instead as totally awesome…which it is.Continue Reading
The Wicker Man
35. The way Edward Woodward says lines like, "Then why in God's name do you do it, girl!?" or "Jesus Christ!" He also rolls his R's which is great because the girl he's looking for is named Rowan, so every time he says her name it starts with a drum roll.Continue Reading
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
Ok, so Darkplace is a 1980's horror television show... no wait. It's about this horror author... no, that's not right either. You see, I have to pretend I don't know how to properly describe Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, not only as a silly writer-ly way to start a review but also because I genuinely have a hard time doing it.
Garth Marenghi is a creation of actor Matthew Holness. He is not a real person. Much like Stephen King, Marenghi is a horror novelist who specializes in turning the mundane into the horrific. But then back in the 1980's Marenghi grew tired of books and decided to turn his attention to television and Darkplace was born! Being the way-ahead-of-his-time writer that he his, Darkplace was pulled from television for being either too frightening or possibly too moronic (depending on who you talk to) and never shown again... until now.Continue Reading
The Day Today
I hate satire. Yeah, there, I said it. Get over it. One percent of the time satire is funny. Most comedic satirists believe all you have to do to be funny is be satirical. This is wrong. You must also be funny. Which they forget. Luckily, that one percent does exist and that one percent is The Day Today.
Created by Christopher Morris and Armando Iannucci, The Day Today is as silly as it is relevant. Much like The Daily Show, The Day Today is a spoof television news program that satirizes (I promise that will be the last time I use that word) both current events and the news programs that provide them. From anchors "losing" the news to making interviewees suck helium to discredit their statements, The Day Today puts all other subversive TV programs to shame. Did I also mention this was where Alan Partridge was created?Continue Reading
I have this wacky theory that all Coen Brother movies are comedies. Even the ones that aren't comedies (this theory was proven wrong with No Country for Old Men). But even one of their bleakest films, Blood Simple, in all its revenge fueled violence and mayhem, still plays out like a Ealing Studios comedy. To fully defend my stupid (and most likely wrong) theory I'd have to give away too much of the plot, but basically every character in the movie thinks they know exactly what is going on despite the fact that they are, in reality, completely clueless to what is really happening. This all comes to a head in a final scene that if it wasn't so edge-of-your-seat, nail-bitingly tense, you'd laugh out loud. Or maybe not, what do I know?
Regardless of my pretentious genre-swapping, jibba-jabba Blood Simple is a great film. A well paced, methodically told story that seems ridiculously confident for a debut film. All of the Coen Brother aesthetics we've grown to love are there (clearly they have not progressed): wonderful dialog, inventive camera work, and a love for southern folk. M. Emmet Walsh gives a particularly creepy performance as a hit man who will do anything if it pays right and is legal ... well, if it pays right. It also features cinemas greatest "Howdy" exchange between two passing cars.Continue Reading