Monday, November 26, 2007


It's amazing what 18 months can do for an unfinished film. Richard Kelly called Southland Tales "a work in progress" when it screened at Cannes in 2006. Had Southland Tales been a resounding critical success, Kelly probably would have found another phrase to describe his new film. As it was, it was met with audience snobbery and critical damning for it's pop-culture audacity and its overwhelming ambition. Kelly, faced with a battle with the studio, probably spent much of the time since wrangling about running times and budgets. As little as three months ago, in a smattering of interviews that seem to surround ComicCom in San Diego, Kelly was happy as a clam with his finished product. With some added CGI and a paired down running time, Kelly seemed convinced that he had worked Southland into a better film.

Unfortunately, I think the studio gave up on this film after its disastrous performance at Cannes. Did anyone see a trailer for this film in the theater? Not me. Or how about any pre-release press? Nope. Even the website, which had huge potential given the nature of the film, still has pages that say 'coming soon'...not. If it hadn't been for like-minded people posting on various sites and blogs, I wouldn't have heard the news that this film was finally coming out. What can only be seen as a weird last ditch effort to promote this film, there was a full page ad in our "alternative" weekly City Pages on opening week. (I have never seen a full page movie ad in the City Pages.) Most who should have known about this film, the so-called target audience, didn't even know what the hell I was talking about when I said Southland Tales. (Over Thanksgiving, a friend said "Oh, the Donnie Darko guy's new film..." At least he was on the right track.) A mere week and a half after opening, Southland has been pushed out of Landmark's Lagoon Theater to make way for Margot at the Wedding on two screens, and dumped at the Block E Theaters. (Although it is not listed in the newspaper.) If it makes it through next weekend, I will be surprised.

I take the liberty to do some grumbling because Southland Tales deserves to better than it ultimately will do. By the looks of it, with poor reviews and non-existent marketing, it is doomed to do nothing short of bombing. If Richard Kelly is guilty of anything, it is being too ambitious. Southland Tales tries to do too much. Within the first ten minutes I was struck with two thoughts: first was a conspiracy theory that Southland hit a little too close to home and that government forces and black helicopters had some hand in quashing its release; the second was that I would have to see the film again. It is easy to say that a successful film should be able to tell/show you exactly what you need to know in one viewing. But what happens when the images and information are so compelling and dense that a second viewing becomes compulsory? Southland Tales is a six part story. The first three parts, Two Roads Diverge, Fingerprints, The Mechanicals, are told in graphic novels (recently re-released in one volume) and the last three parts, Temptation Waits, Memory Gospel, Wave of Mutilation, are told in the film. The opening scenes attempt to provide a very complicated backstory that is important to the richness of the narrative but not entirely necessary for the movie experience. Despite the fact that I had read the graphic novels, I was still scrambling to assimilate information as images, text and narration erupted from the screen.

The absurdly long cast of characters provide the foundation of Southland Tales. Undeniably one of the biggest characters in the film is Los Angeles, California: the epicenter of our celebrity culture and Southland's heart and soul. Malibu worthy Krysta Now, played with conviction and candor by Sarah Michelle Gellar, is the girl-next-door porn star who has a reality TV show and enough merchandising to make Disney's head spin. She also has a 'hit single' titled Teen Horniness is Not a Crime. Cheeky. Krysta is both an inconsequential dumb blond and prophetess with the future of the world in her hands. Gellar's character is the anchor of Southland Tales, and it is no surprise that she had a hand in developing Krysta Now with Richard Kelly. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson plays Boxer Santaros, an actor with right-wing political ties. He's married to the daughter of the Republican candidate for president, but Boxer has amnesia and has fallen under the care of oracle/sex kitten Krysta Now. Johnson cuts the perfect physique of the iconic American man: buff, brown and beautiful. Boxer also seems to be something of a messiah, the relevance of which is hinged on the events leading up to his amnesia. Justin Timberlake and Sean William Scott round out the cast by playing an interconnected trio. Timberlake plays Pilot Abilene, a scarred Iraq War veteran who is the product of a mysterious experimental military drug. Pilot Abilene is our narrator and a demented voice of reason, as he monitors the Santa Monica pier in his gun tower. Scott plays Ronald and Roland Taverner, twin brothers, one a police office and the other a Neo-Marxist. (If the duality of the brothers seems a little too ironic, you are right.) Scott is great as the understandably confused and fragile radical. While these five might constitute the main characters, there's another dozen that have equal importance: Nora Dunn and Cheri Oteri play the Neo-Marxist duo of Cyndi Pinziki and Zora Carmichaels; John Lovitz is Bart Bookman, sent to foil the Neo-Marxist (or is he?); Mandy Moore is Madeline Frost Santaros, Boxer's wife; Holmes Osborn plays presidential candidate Bobby Frost; Miranda Richardson is the evil matriarch, who works for the government and is married to Bobby; Wallace Shawn is the weird new-age scientist Baron Von Westphalen, a decendant of Hitler who holds the key to a new alternate energy; and there are also a host of bit parts played by Bai Ling, Kevin Smith, and Christopher Lambert.

Still with me? A conventional synopsis of the film would send you to the door. The story, as interesting as it is, is confusing and complicated. (Visit Wiki for a dry but thorough rundown of the plot.) Take every A-list issue in the US Today, and imagine it as an engaging and sad fairy tale with the stars. Richard Kelly takes pop culture and mocks it and embraces it in one fell swoop. At the heart of the film is a standout musical number that couldn't be more ironic or perfect. Justin Timberlake as Pilot Abilene performs The Killers' All These Things I've Done replete with dancing girls and arcade. Put a scar on pretty boy Justin Timberlake's face and have him lip-sync a rock song and you have a distilled representation of the Iraq War through the rose colored glasses of American culture. The brilliance of this scene (and many others) is that, for all its superficial glamour, it still possesses a genuine emotive force. Maybe I'm a sucker for this slight of hand, or maybe Kelly has a knack for weaving something beautiful out of something empty and artificial. Or maybe it is a little of both.

And let us not forget the real sci-fi moment of the film where the ice cream truck hovers in the air like a spaceship. The illuminated ice cream truck is our escape route from the darkness, be it comedy or melodrama, in the film.

At it's best Southland Tales is a hipster doomsday wonder world that any Gen-Xer (or Y or Z) could appreciate. At it's worst Southland is an undeniable mess that stuffs way too many ideas and information into what seems a very short 2 hours and 20 minutes. Each of the six parts could have easily satisfied a full length film. Instead we get three abbreviated graphic novels and a very very dense film. Suggestions of parring down the scope of the project are legitimate but ultimately unfair when the essence of the film is the culmination of its vastness and its resemblance with our endless number of modern day contradictions. "El Paso and Abilene, Texas have fallen victim to simultaneous nuclear attacks on July 4, 2005—a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions which sends America into World War 3. The GOP's overwhelming victory in the 2006 elections upgrades the Patriot Act into new agency known as US-IDENT, a Big Brother surveillance agency under the guise of a national security think-tank. America not only shuts its borders to all other nations, but also requires visa for interstate travel." The future is now, and Southland Tales reiterates this over and over again. If we open our eyes, the unimaginable is happening, likening the world we live in to something akin to science fiction. How do we react? How about an interpretive end-of-the-world dance by Krysta Now and Boxer Santaros—a scene that is equal parts sugar and sincerity. This is how the world ends.

Personally I enjoyed Southland Tales immensely, and while I am aware of its faults, critics seem to be ignoring its strengths. The criticisms being hurled at Southland since day one are a bit unfair. In the end, maybe the tongue-in-cheek post-modern Americana analogies that Kelly dishes out is not for everyone; too low-brow for the Canes audience, and too high-brow for the average movie-goer. Beyond the overly ambitious 'shortcomings', Southland Tales is funny, poignant, lavish, moving, clever, and totally riveting. See it while you can, and may it live on with cult status.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

LE GRAND CHEF gives BEOWULF the smackdown

I always like a story of home-grown films giving Hollywood films the good ol' what-for. That is exactly what happened in South Korea when foodie drama Le Grand Chef fed Beowulf to the dogs. The defeat was maybe not so dramatic, but still after playing for three weeks Le Grand Chef relegated Beowulf to number two on its opening weekend. Chef is based on a popular Korean comic and stars the ever interesting Im Won-hee, as well as Kim Kang-woo, Kim Sang-ho and Lee Ha-na. This film looks to please fans of Iron Chef or Top Chef or any other cooking show. The trailer profiles some amazing food prep, that might send some vegitarians to the door, but will have Korean food lovers drooling. Kings anyone?

Friday, November 23, 2007

THE EYE remake

I saw the preview for the US remake of the Pang Brother's The Eye last night before The Mist. The remake stars Jessica Alba in Angelica Lee's role as the blind woman who receives an eye transplant that has some pretty creepy consequences. The original Eye was amongst a smattering of high profile Hong Kong horror films that came out around 2002 (Visible Secret 1 an 2, Inner Senses, Going Home) that had a fair amount of success. It's a well made film that I found very enjoyable. I even own the DVD. Time will only tell if Jessica Alba can make the US remake profitable. The bigger question is whether it will be any good. From the trailer, it seems to riff directly off the Hong Kong original, but without the Pang Brother niche for visual style. I am also not convinced Jessica Alba can act. It was shear desperation on an international flight that I watched the Fantastic Four, and I haven't seen any of her other films since. On a positive note, Parker Posey has a supporting role. Who doesn't want to see Parker in a horror movie? The Eye opens in February.

Check out The Eye trailer HERE
Check out the US trailer for the original HERE

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

DVD releases for November 20

Rescue Dawn (2006) directed by Werner Herzog
"Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to direct his first feature since 2001's Invincible with this dramatic action film inspired by his own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and detailing the escape efforts of a German-American pilot who was taken as a prisoner-of-war after being shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. When U.S. fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) escaped death after being shot down over one of the most intense front lines in the Vietnam War, his troubles were only beginning. Subsequently taken captive by the enemy and forced to endure a harrowing stint in a Vietnamese prison camp, Dengler and his fellow captives stage a death-defying escape that would later inspire one of German's most accomplished directors to capture the remarkable tale on camera."
* I can not tell a lie; I was a little disappointed in how conventional this film was. It is pretty incredible that Herzog would follow up the wild The Wild Blue Yonder with this. Nonetheless, it is worth a look, and Christian Bale is pretty amazing. Rent it with Little Dieter.

Helvetica (2007) directed by Gary Hustwit
"Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day."
* If you just read the above synopsis, and this seems like your thing, you will love this film. This screened to a sold out audience of helvetica-loving geeks at the Walker. (Also, check out the nice website through the link above. You can order the DVD that includes a 'I hate Helvetica' and 'I love Helvetica' button. Very clever.)

Manufactured Landscapes (2006) directed by Jennifer Biachwal
"Manufactured Landscapes s the striking new documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. Internationally acclaimed for his large-scale photographs of 'manufactured landscapes'—quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines and dams—Burtynsky creates stunningly beautiful art from civilization’s materials and debris. The film follows him through China, as he shoots the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. With breathtaking sequences, such as the opening tracking shot through an almost endless factory, the filmmakers also extend the narratives of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our impact on the planet and witness both the epicenters of industrial endeavor and the dumping grounds of its waste."
* Similar to Workingman's Death and Our Daily Bread, Manufactured Landscapes is full of some of the most captivating scenes you will see on screen. This doc is incredibly well shot. The opening shot that pans down an enormous manufacturing factory for miles is amazing. The film is inspired by Edward Burtynsky's photographs and documents his process, but unfortunately Burtynsky's narration does nothing for the film.
Ghosts of Cite Soleil

In Between Days (2005) directed by So Yong Kim
"Upon learning that the object of her affections only has eyes for an Americanized Korean girl, a recently arrived teenage Korean immigrant is forced to journey inward to ponder her outsider status in director So Yong Kim's melancholy tale of acceptance and isolation. Aimie is a stranger in a strange land, and her only connection to the new world that surrounds her is her best friend, Tran. Eager to take their relationship to the next level but frightened at the prospect of losing her only friend, Aimie keeps her growing feelings to herself even as Tran shows increasing signs of affection for another, more Americanized Korean girl."
* This screened at this year's Women With Vision at the Walker. It's a hugely understated film but worth the time investment. I just found out that this film loosely fits into the new (now dead?) genre of film called "mumblecore." More info on this in the current issue of Film Comment.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991) directed by George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola
"An intimate look at the making of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 classic Apocalypse Now, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse combines the usual documentary interviews with outtakes from the film and rare documentary footage, some shot on the set by Eleanor Coppola. Not long after the arrival of Francis Ford Coppola and crew in the Philippines, the shooting schedule begins spiraling out of control; the film's cost has soon far surpassed the original budget, with the ending still unwritten. As the problems mount, from lead Martin Sheen's heart attack to the disappearance of several helicopters needed for a scene (because they went to fight in a nearby war), the making of the film begins to frighteningly resemble its subject -- an unending tale of madness and obsession in the jungle."
* This docu
mentary without a doubt, rivals the film itself. Everyone who has seen Apocalypse Now has to see this documentary. It is absolutely fascinating. The DVD includes a commentary with Francis and Eleanor, as well as Eleanor's new documentary, CODA: Thirty Years Later, about the shooting of Coppola's new film Youth Without Youth.

Monsieur Hire (1989) directed by Patrice Leconte
"Lonely and shy bachelor Monsieur Hire, suspected in the murder of a girl, secretly watches his young, attractive neighbor Alice through the window. Once, when lightning flashes during a thunderstorm, she notices his face in the window and comes to him to find out what he is after. Adapting George Simenon's novel, Patrice Leconte emphasized the psychological drama rather than the detective story and created a film about loneliness and voyeurism; his cold precision is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock or Fritz Lang. The low-key acting and moody soundtrack add a lot, but it's the director who deserves the most accolades, as he manages, with only glances and gestures, to achieve a degree of eroticism that other films fail to reach even through explicit sex scenes."
* A sentimental pick for me. Newly out on DVD, this film played at the theater I worked at in Kansas City. I remember liking it...but it was 18 years ago.

Death Note Vol 1
"Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects--and he's bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal…or his life?"
* In trying to decide what I think about the Death Note franchise, I will no doubt have to watch the anime. Hideo Nakata has signed on for the third live action film in the series, and that certainly has perked my ears up. I have to assume that this series is probably a better material for manga and anime than live action. This DVD contains the first four episodes. There will be 10 or more DVDs to follow.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
"In Alfred Hitchcock's most quick-witted and devilish comic thriller, the beautiful Margaret Lockwood, traveling across Europe by train, meets Dame May Whitty’s charming old spinster, who seemingly disappears into thin air. The young woman then turns investigator and finds herself drawn into a complex web of mystery and high adventure. The Lady Vanishes, now in an all-new digital transfer, remains one of the master filmmaker's purest delights."
* Yes, indeed. One of my favorite Hitchcocks. This film is whip-smart. This two disc set has all the bells and whistles.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DVD releases for November 13

Good stuff came out this week. Here 'tis:

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
"Rainer Werner Fassbinder's controversial, fifteen-hour-plus Berlin Alexanderplatz, based on Alfred Döblin's great modernist novel, was the crowning achievement of a prolific director who, at age thirty-four, had already made forty films. Fassbinder’s immersive epic, restored in 2006 and now available on DVD in this country for the first time, follows the hulking, childlike ex-convict Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) as he attempts to "become an honest soul" amid the corrosive urban landscape of Weimar-era Germany. With equal parts cynicism and humanity, Fassbinder details a mammoth portrait of a common man struggling to survive in a viciously uncommon time."
* This seven disc Criterion set is the kind of thing that DVD collectors dream of. Even if you are not a fan, there are enough special features to make anyone envious. While I might be a Fassbinder fan and admirer, I haven't seen a minute of this series. If I were made of money, I would buy it. Instead I will have to rent it over a weekend. Thanksgiving entertainment?

Killer of Sheep (1977) directed by Charles Burnett
"The first feature film from acclaimed independent African American filmmaker Charles Burnett, this intensely emotional drama concerns a man who makes his living at a slaughterhouse as he struggles for economic and emotional survival and tries to patch up his often strained relationship with his family. Shot on weekends over a period of several years and first shown publicly in 1977, Killer of Sheep slowly but surely began to develop a potent reputation among film enthusiasts; in 1981, it won honors at the Berlin International Film Festival and an enthusiastic reception at the Sundance Film Festival. It was added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in 1990."
* Definitely one of the biggest re-release triumphs in the last ten years, seeing Killer of Sheep in the theater this past summer was an extremely memorable experience for me. It's an understated time capsule that feels just as genuine today as it probably did thirty years ago. This two disc set also features the original cut and directors cut of Burnett's My Brother's Wedding.

This is England (2006) directed by Shane Meadows
"It's 1983, and the schools are breaking up for summer. Shaun is 12 and a bit of a loner, growing up with his mum in a grim coastal town, his dad killed fighting in the Falklands War. On his way home from school where he's been tormented all day for wearing flares, he runs into a group of skinheads, who against expectations turn out to be friendly and take him under their wing. Soon Shaun discovers parties, girls and snappy dressing, and finds some role models in Woody, Milky and the rest of the gang. But when an older, overtly racist skinhead returns home from prison, the easy camaraderie of the group is broken, and Shaun is drawn into much more uncomfortable territory. Based largely on Shane Meadow's own experiences."
* I found this film extremely charming and brutally honest. Meadows resists the temptation to play out the narrative in a standard tragedy/comedy/drama, and the result is pretty unique.

Legends of the Poisonous Seductress Series: Female Demon Ohyaku (1968), Quick Draw Okatsu (1968), Okatsu the Fugitive (1969)
"Synapse Films releases the next three entries in the 'Pinky Violence Collection' originally begun by Panik House Entertainment. The three films are part of an unrelated trilogy, starring the same lead actress (Junko Miyazono) as similar, but distinctive characters, and feature many familiar Toei stock company faces among the supporting cast. They're collectively known as the Yoen dokufu-den, or Legends of the Poisonous Seductress series, and have never had any video release in the US, nor a DVD release yet in Japan."
* I'm sad that Panik House went out of business with such strong releases right out of the gate (Pinky Violence Collection). I guess that just goes to show the DVD biz ain't all that you would think. Fortunately, Synapse, an equally independent but conscientious label, has picked up the rest of Panik House's holdings. They released the awesome Horror of Malformed Men and Snake Woman's Curse last month. This series looks just as impressive as any of the other pinky releases. Who wouldn't want a Poisonous Seductress under their Christmas tree?

Paris Je T'Aime (2006) directed by Olivier Assayas, Frédéric Auburtin, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Isabelle Coixet, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuarón, Gérard Depardieu, Raymond Depardon, Christopher Doyle, Richard LaGravenesse, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes, Walter Salles, Oliver Schmitz, Nobuhiro Suwa, Daniela Thomas, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant
"Eighteen different directors and a slew of indie actors come together for Paris, Je T'Aime, a cinematic homage to the City of Light. Each director presents his or her own short story set in a different Parisian quarter, each one featuring a different cast of characters. The pieces vary in length, with some of them striving to tell a fully developed tale--no matter how simple the plot--while others are more abstract, content to rely on sparse dialogue and vivid imagery.
I think DVD may be the optimum viewing situation for this film. It is a step above You Tube and you can skip to the directors you are interested in or simply skip over the ones that seem lame (because some of these shorts are lame.) Not to be missed is the short by Chris Doyle and Alexander Payne. But that is just my opinion. Check it out for yourself.

Innocence (2003) directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic
"At the heart of a densely wooded forest lies a mysterious girls' boarding school, cut off from the outside world by a great wall with no door. Within, a group of youngsters aged between seven and twelve gather round a small coffin, from which emerges a new pupil, six-year-old Iris. Led by the eldest girl, Bianca, Iris is introduced to this strange yet enchanting world of lamp-lit forest paths and eerie underground passageways, where there are no adults save for some elderly servants and two melancholy young teachers. But this haven is one from which the girls are forbidden to leave; those that do are never heard from again. Haunting and bizarre, filmmaker Lucile Hadzihalovic imbues Innocence with a fairytale-like sense of menace and images of surreal beauty, creating a mesmerising and timeless evocation of childhood."
* This is an interesting film. Beautifully shot with a compelling yarn.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

After Dark Horrorfest 2007

The After Dark Horrorfest hits the Twin Cities for the second year with 8 Films to Die For over the weekends of November 9-11 and November 16-18. The two participating theaters are hardly Twin City central, but nonetheless, they are Marcus 16 in Oakdale and Marcus Parkway 18 in Waite Park. It's a good idea and not too far off from what Fathom Events does when it hijacks one screen in your local multiplex for something a little different. In this case After Dark picks up horror films that seem unlikely to get theatrical release in the US and distributes them theatrically and then hands them over to Anchor Boy for DVD release. My attention was drawn to this year's fest when it announced it would be screening the French horror film Frontier(s). But no sooner was it announced when it was pulled from the lineup due to some ratings issues. (After Dark states that they will release Frontiers theatrically at a later date.)

Despite no Frontiers, I am going to see as many of these as I can. Each film will screen twice, once each weekend. An all-fest pass is available for $75 which gets you access to all the films and some other crud. Although my boys at Twitch have reported on quite a few of these films, most of these films are new news to me, which is a good thing, and represent true indie filmmaking. Here's the line-up with links to trailers:

The Death's of Ian Stone (2007)
Directed by Dario Piana
On an otherwise ordinary night, the young Ian Stone encounters a mysterious creature and is forced into the path of an oncoming train. Rather than facing certain death, Ian finds himself reborn into a new life that feels strangely familiar. After his second death, it becomes apparent that Ian is being hunted by an evil presence, and will be forced to die every day until he can solve the mystery of his own life.

Nightmare Man (2006)
Directed by Rolfe Kanefsky
After receiving a mysterious mask, Ellen Morris believes she was attacked by an evil being she calls ‘Nightmare Man’. Her husband, Bill, believes she is crazy. On their way to the mental hospital their car breaks down and Bill goes to get gas, leaving Ellen alone. When Nightmare Man appears, Ellen takes off into the woods, unsure whether she is hallucinating or not. She stumbles upon a cabin filled with friends who unknowingly becoming prey the moment Ellen steps inside.

Crazy Eights (2006)
Directed by James Koya Jones
Six friends reunite after 20 years at a mutual childhood friend's funeral. A search through their deceased friend's house reveals a map to a time capsule they buried some twenty years earlier which spurs the friends to find it and dig it up.

Unearthed (2007)
Directed by Matthew Leutwyler
A vicious creature that’s been trapped for 900 years, gets unearthed during an archeological dig in the middle of a desolate town. As the carnage escalates, the local sheriff and a group of stranded civilians must find a way to destroy the creature that only has one mission – complete annihilation.

Borderland (2007)
Directed by Zev Berman
When three Texas University students travel to a Mexican border town on the eve of their graduation, the last thing they expect is to face their own deaths.Without warning, they fall prey to an ancient blood cult hellbent on finding candidates for human sacrifice. Based on true events, Borderland tells a story which blends the raw fear of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the stark reality of In Cold Blood, evoking a world soaked in paranoia, fear, and dread.

Mulberry Street
Directed by Jim Mickle
The city that never sleeps may shut its eyes for good when a deadly infection turns its residents to savage creatures. There is only hope for a small few, including six recently evicted tenants who must protect their crumbling apartment complex as the city around them is thrown into chaos...

Tooth and Nail (2007)
Directed by Mark YoungA small group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world take refuge in an empty hospital with plans on re-building society. They rescue a young girl who is the victim of a brutal attack, but soon discover that they were followed by a savage band of cannibals known as Rovers. The Rovers begin to kill them one by one, and the trapped survivors must find a way to outwit their stalkers.

Lake Dead (2007) US
Directed by George Bessudo
Three sisters and a group of their friends take a trip to the home of the recently deceased grandfather, who died a particularly grisly death, to learn more about the promise of an inheritance, only to encounter a family of psychos who have taken up residence in the old man's cabin.

Edit: These films are also playing at Regal Brooklyn Center 20 and Carmike Oakdale 20.

Monday, November 5, 2007

DVD releases for November 6

I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (2006) directed by Tsai Ming-liang
"Homeless on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Hsiao Kang is robbed, beaten and left for dead; he is found and nursed by Rawang, an immigrant worker, who lives in the shell of a modernist building abandoned during construction. Rawang's feelings for his patient may or may not be sexual, but there's definitely something like lust in the eyes of Chyi, a waitress in a run-down old coffee shop, when they light upon the recovering Hsiao Kang. And so a triangle forms as a blanket of noxious fog settles on the city and everyone has trouble breathing. Simulateously erotic and comical, the film underpins Tsai's deadpan allegory with hints of social realism."
* Wow. Wow. Wow. Totally caught off guard with this release. This film played earlier this year at the Walker and I absolutely loved it, and would be very happy to watch it again. Unfortunately, it looks like the DVD doesn't offer anything new. I ma
y just buy it anyway.

Election (2005) directed by Johnny To
"The drama-thriller Election centers on the power struggles within Hong Kong’s organized crime culture. Every two years, the Wo Shing society, the oldest and most powerful triad in Hong Kong, has to appoint a new leader. As Lok (Simon Yam) looks set to win the election, his violent rival Big D (Tony Leung Kar-Fai) will stop at nothing to influence the voting process. When the Dragon's Head Baton, the society’s symbol of leadership, is stolen, a merciless battle for power begins."
* Although this is the film preceding Triad Election, it comes out after the sequel. Most think this is the inferior of the two, but I think there is a good argument to the contrary. First it has Tony Leung Ka-fai who just oozes maliciousness, and Louis Koo in a more appropriate role as the reticent gangster. Either way, essential Hong Kong film fan viewing.

Time (2006) directed by Kim Ki-duk
"A woman obsessed with her appearance takes drastic measures to hold onto the man she loves, with startling results in this offbeat drama from South Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk. Se-heui is a beautiful woman who has become convinced she isn't beautiful enough. Se-heui is certain her boyfriend Ji-woo is attracted to other women, and has so resigned herself to second-class status with him that she urges him to imagine other women when they make love. Without telling Ji-woo, Se-heui checks herself into a clinic, where a doctor promises her a new and different face in six months. With her new appearance their relationship takes on a troubling new dynamic."
* Typical of my state of affairs, this film gets released in the US before I get around to watching the Korean DVD that I bought months ago... I wish I could recommend this film because I have seen it, but I will only recommend it for the reasons I bought it. Kim Ki-duk was in something of a critical slump for more than a few years, getting everything from ho-hum reviews to absolute lambasting from dedicated Asian film fans. Time seem to signal a change in the tide for Kim. Obviously, I'm hoping that's the case. (I'm just thankful I did not buy The Coast Guard.)

Flanders (2006) directed by Bruno Dumont
"Demester shares his time between his farm and walks with Barbe, his childhood friend. He loves her, secretly and painfully, accepting from her the little that she can give him. Along with others his age, Demester leaves to be a soldier in a war in a far off land. Barbarity, camaraderie and fear turn Demester into a warrior. As the seasons go by, Barbe, alone and wasting away, waits for the soldiers to return. Demester comes back from war and learn to become a man again."
* Bruno Dumont, the director I love to hate. I am anxious to see if this film allows me to maintain this stance towards him. Here's another example of lost opportunities for theaters able to program this film. I would much rather see this film in the theater with an audience.

Eternal Summer (2006) directed by Leste Chen
"As an elementary school student in rural Taiwan, the rowdy, underachieving Shane is punished for snipping a girl’s hair. His more sensitive and well behaved classmate Jonathan is asked to make friends with Shane to pull him into shape by example. Now about to graduate from high school, Shane is a magnetic, roguish basketball star who makes the girls squeal, while Jonathan sits watching on the sidelines. Despite their vastly different personalities, they’re inseparable. Jonathan’s brooding reticence masks his passion for the appealingly unaware Shane, who insists he needs Jonathan by his side at all times but can’t say why. When a teacher singles out transfer student Carrie for a hair-cutting, she becomes entangled in the boys’ already complicated relationship."
* Yet another surprise release. This is Leste Chen second feature film, following his creepy debut film The Heirloom.

Blame It on Fidel!
(2006) directed by Julie Gavras
"How do our experiences shape us, and how is political consciousness formed? Blame It on Fidel uses a light, charming touch to shed light on these questions. At the film's epicenter is whip-smart Anna, a feisty Parisian girl forced to assimilate cataclysmic changes when her parents decide to devote themselves full time to radical activism. It is 1970-71, and Anna's father is fighting to redistribute wealth in Chile, while her mother doggedly researches a book on women's abortion ordeals. Meanwhile, Anna, kicking and screaming, must adjust to refugee nannies with strange cooking habits, a cramped apartment filled with noisy, scruffy revolutionaries, and the humiliation of no longer being allowed to attend her beloved catechism class. The fun of Blame It on Fidel is watching Anna valiantly sort through the dizzying array of contradictory ideologies flying at her - from communism to Greek mythology, from Vietnamese folktales and women's rights to Catholic morality. The film's emotional power arises from Anna's transformation from close-minded bourgeois princess to open-hearted truth seeker and her gradual internalization of what her parents, albeit clumsily, are trying to accomplish."

Battle of Okinawa (1971) directed by Kihachi Okamoto
"Samurai Assassin and Japan's Longest Day director Kihachi Okamoto offers a vivid dramatization of the bloodiest battle ever fought in the Pacific Theater with this combat film produced to portray the Japanese perspective on this landmark confrontation. The year is 1944, and when Allied forces descend on Okinawa the Japanese people become subject to horrors that would forever change the face of war. As the Japanese people struggle with all their might to endure an unrelenting attack, Allied forces receive a harrowing demonstration of what to expect when they take the fight to the Japanese mainland."
* My Kihachi Okamoto viewing is pretty limited to samurai films, like Kill, Sword of Doom, and Samurai Assassin. War films are definitely not my thing, but I'm always willing to challenge my prejudices.

Old Boy (Blu-ray)
Okay, here's a film I would like to see on the new format. I really wish I didn't care about the HD/Blu-ray battle.

Looks like Takashi Miike has a hit on his hands!

To his credit, cult film director Takashi Miike has been successful without having a so-called hit. With over 70 films on his resume, many straight to video releases, Miike has made a name for himself by being unbelievably prolific and by pushing the boundaries of cult film while still engaging festival crowds worldwide. This year is no different with Like a Dragon, Western Django and Crows Zero making the rounds at festivals. In the case of Crows Zero, which opened last week in Japan, it looks like Takashi Miike might have a legitimate hit on his hands. It made $3.5 million over it's opening weekend and bumped the number one movie for six weeks, Hero, into second. It is set to become Miike's biggest money maker yet.

Crows Zero (also being billed as Crows: Episode 0) is the prequal to planned adaptation of the very popular manga of the same name about gangs of young ruffians fighting their way into adulthood, subject matter that is not foreign to Miike. If there is any doubt what this movie is about, check the trailer out on the official website. Jason Gray reported on his blog that Crows is attracting almost an equal number of young women as it is young men.

Of course, we will have to wait and see what this all means for a US release. Until then you can form your opinion by reading recent reviews from Variety and Twitch.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Vicki Zhao + Steve Nash

I was browsing through the New York Times Sports Magazine, Play, and I got pretty engrossed in the article about Steve Nash. Nash is easily one of the best players out there and perhaps the best guard in the NBA. He is really fun to watch play (god, remember the game last year against the Wolves where the Wolves almost pulled it off?) and, he and his team the Suns got pretty ripped of in the playoffs. Anyway. I turn the page, and what do I see? A picture of Steve Nash and Vicki Zhao! (Okay, Yao Ming was in the picture too, but who cares.) What is this with my girl Vicki and Steve?!?

As it turns out, Steve and Vicki happened to be at the same charity event while the Suns where doing pre-season play in China. No, they aren't dating. I doubt that they even talked to each other. I was, however, saddened that Vicki was not even credited in the photo. As if she is just any Chinese woman. If they author had seen Jeff Lau's Chinese Odyssey 2002 or Corey Yuen's So Close, I'm pretty sure she would have gotten a caption on the photo, if not a mention in the article! I just want someone, other than me, to acknowledge the serendipity of these two worlds, both objects of my obsession, colliding if only for a brief second.

Home opener tomorrow night! See you in the cheap seats!

(You'll see Vicki in John Woo's much anticipated new film, Red Cliff, with Tony Leung.)