5/21/2015

POLTERGEIST REMAKE THURSDAY REVIEW

2015 rating: **
Well there was a theme park ride based on Steven Spielberg’s JAWS, so why not POLTERGEIST? You sit inside a tram connected to winding tracks, rolling through a riveting haunted house. Yet what separates this from any other frantic horror movie rollercoaster of the last decade is an evil clown doll… numerous clowns, actually… and a cute little girl sucked inside the television set. Hi Def, with no Star Spangled Banner.

Wherein the original consisted of three complete acts, each a fulfilling story in itself, the new POLTERGEIST cuts right to the chase – and it’s only a chase this time around. The family consists of mellow patriarch Sam Rockwell, seeming more like a cool young uncle than a responsible adult; his wife; two curious kids and one bitter teen… just like before. But this suburban clan act like they all just met each other, lacking the ingrown chemistry before the haunting occurs and hardly earning the post-traumatic, devil-may-care attitude after the research staff, led by Jane Adams, moves in to investigate the paranormal emergency.

Like the unnecessary CLOSE ENCOUNTERS Special Edition brought us quickly inside the spaceship, this reboot takes us deeper into the ghoulish depths of the house built on a relocated cemetery. A nice attempt to learn the ingredients of all the bedlam, but without any explanation there’s no purpose to go one step beyond even when the usually-effective Jared Harris (reunited with his HAPPINESS co-star, Adams)… a cross between the original Tangina and Robert Shaw’s grizzled shark hunter… arrives to clean house, literally.

Not that there isn’t a fair amount of suspenseful jolts. It just wasn’t necessary to remake a cinematic experience that took its time to put the characters, and the audience, through an immense ringer. At a sparse 93-minutes, these people hardly suffer at all. The main clown serves as a cameo. And not long after "They're Here," they're gone.

STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS THE ORIGINAL POLTERGEIST

year: 1982 rating: ****
Although executive produced and not technically directed by Steven Spielberg, who was busy with E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, few projects have perfectly encompassed the successful and groundbreaking filmmakers' style and overall rhythm, while fulfilling his college dream of creating a genuine horror flick, as the iconic POLTERGEIST: beginning with a spooky introduction wherein a television actually… get ready for a shock, millennials… ceases programming late at night following the Star Spangled Banner – the screen becomes "snow" and a little blond girl, Carol Anne, played by the late Heather O’Roarke, is summoned from her bed, puts her hands to the static and utters the famous line…

JoBeth Williams
Well you know that line, and many know the film already… A taut combination of at least two horror sub-genres, Haunted House and Paranormal Research, POLTERGEIST exists within the suspenseful collision of either, introducing the family at a newly developed semi rural suburbia, a pivotal character in itself…

Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are cool parents of three kids, and only two really matter. Sadly, in real life, a few years before O'Roarke's death, teenage daughter Dominique Dunne, playing the temperamental and eventually absent teenage daughter, was killed by her boyfriend – catapulting the “Poltergeist curse" that unfortunately adds to the overall pop culture spell of the original vehicle and eventual franchise.

Nelson & O'Roarke
Behind the lens, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE auteur Tobe Hooper channels Spielberg’s lavish vision, beginning with random odd occurrences that are, by the ex-hippie parentals, mistaken as simply good vibrations at first… that is until Carol Anne vanishes into the television set, and then into the clutches of the house itself, which, by the time professional researchers arrive, has gone completely bonkers…

Send in the Clown
Expository scenes where Beatrice Straight and her two assistants perform a sort of ghostly stakeout within the central living room, as Carol’s voice echoes through the shadowy walls, are both entertaining and educational – also showing how the family has become like seasoned war vets, hardly scared or even skittish after everything that's happened previously: arguably making up the best scenes, free from what would become a bit too much frantic screeching, exist within the mysterious and even humorous 45-minute initial buildup, which includes smoking grass, remote controls, sudden furniture stacking, and a dead parakeet...

No Bozos After This
And there's an underrated horror starlet in JoBeth Williams’ Diane Freeling, keeping a strong connection with her daughter even as scene-stealing, ghost channeling Zelda Rubinstein, as Tangina, a sort of mystic Columbo and the film’s most memorable cult figure, arrives: butting heads with Nelson’s stalwart father/husband Steve while trying to coax Carol Anne towards, and away from, "the Light"...

But it’s Oliver Robins as young son Robbie Freeling, attacked by his infamous clown doll not long after a nightmarish tree grabs him into a menacing thunderstorm, who goes through the most hellish torture – that’s if you don’t count the guy who pulls his face off under heavy bathroom lights, supplying Tobe Hooper fans a taste of 70’s exploitation smoothly combined with Spielberg’s stylistic vision that earns genuine chills while avoiding cheap thrills, and eventually focuses on not only the house but where it was built, giving the tagline and famous dialogue “They’re here” a deeper meaning since, basically, "they" never left: it's the family that moved in.
Spielberg & Nelson with James Karen as the Mayor-Of-JAWS-like Real Estate Developer

5/20/2015

ANOTHER GOODBYE TO DAVID LETTERMAN

David Letterman's final show. He said goodbye after 33-years, which includes both networks... Although for some of us, 11:30 CBS compared to 12:30 NBC was so bright and shiny. Letterman was just too visible. On the old show he sort of blended into the woodwork. And he would actually bomb. More jokes fell flat because he wasn't a polished standup, he was... different. Better than the comics who relied their humor on the quality of the joke itself. Dave's jokes in the old days filtered through an aura of him not caring either way. Skits, too. Then on CBS: suddenly he got huge laughs for every single line, and it was like... he cared. He was suddenly a really famous guy instead of a guy laughing at really famous people. But hey, it was a damn good final show tonight. And the end of an era. Two, actually. And right now, the new late-late host James Corden is doing a couple things at once: bidding farewell to Letterman and, all revved up, imitating Jimmy Fallon. But that's another story. For the Millennials to figure out.
Robin Williams on Late Nite with David Letterman and below a very unfunny unhappy clown

5/18/2015

RANDOM RADICAL REVIEW OF MAKING THE GRADE

1984 rating: ***1/2
A year before THE BREAKFAST CLUB made Judd Nelson a star, turning his energetic acting style into a focused study of teenage angst and rebellion, he played a similar character – only his MAKING THE GRADE hero Eddie Keaton break-dances instead of jamming an air guitar Cream riff; his rebellion is catered strictly for humor. Wild on the streets, he owes a bookie, Dice Man, played by Andrew Clay, and winds up taking the place of a spoiled rich kid: attending a prep school whilst hiding from mobsters.

Judd and Jonna
That’s the plot in a nutshell, and GRADE, within this framework, packs a lot of hit and miss humor as well as likable or fitfully unlikable side-characters, throwing everything into the pot: from pratfalls to one-liners to stereotypes to action scenes, and beyond.

Judd with Carey Scott
No surprise Nelson plays the part with gusto – though sometimes too much. Yet where Eddie’s urban-hip con artist stuck in the fledgling Preparatory academy tries stealing every scene on board, he’s given an ultimately thankless lead to people like Dana Olsen as, technically, the most important person on board....

Judd as Eddie/Palmer
Olsen's Woodrow Palmer is not only a person, but a name with plot significance – for Eddie becomes Palmer as the real Palmer vanishes through the middle of the story, focusing on the misadventures of the school including a cool slob gym teacher Walter Olkewicz; WKRP big guy Gordon Jump as the passive Dean; Scott McGinnis as a conceited jerk; RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Peter Lorrie clone Ronald Lacey as Eddie’s New York buddy; and gorgeous ingénue Jonna Lee as Tracey Hoover, whose father has a ton of bread, practically owning the school.

Dana Olsen as the real Palmer
So opposites attract… the poor kid and the rich beauty… Only she doesn’t know he’s poor, and his savvy charm makes her smitten almost right off the bat, deleting any genuine chemistry and leading to overlong scenes between the duo.

Carey Scott’s Rand is perhaps the most natural character, a resilient geek and the only student who knows Eddie’s, and Palmer’s, true identities: helping the first become a preppy while keeping the other safe from being sought out. Meanwhile, Nelson combats The Dice Man, who moves in with relatively serious threats, and when Dana Olson’s Bill Murray-like slob returns, GRADE hits an ensemble peak where the eventual turnout matters less than all the fun being had: Which, as we learn at the tail end of the credits, was supposed to result in a sequel called TOURISTA. Maybe because Nelson would hit the Brat Pack stratosphere, outshining any zany Golum/Globus produced followup, it never came to pass. And an important note… While Judd was street savvy here and in BREAKFAST CLUB, during the same time he played a dork “weenie” in an early Kevin Costner road flick, FANDANGO, showing his eclectic range as an actor – who, later on, turned out to be an underrated, underused one at that.

5/17/2015

HAPPYISH EPISODE 4 SHARES A COKE WITH MAD MEN

E4 Grade: D
The corny yet catchy commercial jingle that some of us grew up on, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke," where a race-uniting of spaced-out hippies sing a peaceful song about a billion dollar corporation's drink made of sugar and syrup for "perfect harmony", is of two-fold significance tonight: ending one show about ad writers and beginning another...

Thus, forever gone is MAD MEN, and here's a quick writeup of the fourth episode of HAPPYISH titled "Starring Sigmund Freud, Charles Bukowski and Seven Billion A-Holes."

While Steve Coogan's Thom Payne flipped off God the last time around, now both he and his wife want a spaceship to free them from a vapid world of... happy jerks. And with a side-story involving their brooding son bullied by a mean kid at school, tonight was unfocused, and not very profound. In fact, Bradley Whitford's grouchy Jonathan has deeper insight than Thom, and he's not even trying. Let's just hope that horrendous Coke commercial doesn't make an actual comeback anytime soon. Maybe, like with pop-up ads, the mere sight of it, twice in one night, will seal its fate, permanently.  

5/16/2015

LOOKING INTO THE WAYWARD PINES PILOT EPISODE

2015 Grade: C+
Matt Dillon stars in WAYWARD PINES, and how. There’s little left for any other character since his Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke is so desperately alone, and beyond LOST... No not on an island but an idyllic small town ala Norman Rockwell; a sort of Mayberry existing in THE TWILIGHT ZONE. And with genre producer M. Night Shyamalan at the helm, you would think a few surprise elements would appear out of the woodwork – but the twists in this adaptation of someone else’s novel are already built in from the get-go…

The Outsider
PINES has been compared to TWIN PEAKS since its very conception, but the Neo Noir aspect of David Lynch’s bizarre mystery is nowhere to be found, really, other than a guy in a stiff suit out of his element. Just a 45-minute setup where we met a few strange people – especially one particular nurse who provides the sole indication that M. Night is involved beyond the pilot’s meticulous direction: she could do a horror movie wonders, and Melissa Leo seems to be having a blast unveiling her creepy, campy, old fashion Alpha Female role.

The pilot WHERE PARADISE IS HOME cuts back and forth with an injured Dillon… involved in a car crash on the way to investigate missing Secret Service agents, waking up in a sparse hospital without a cell phone… to his hometown where a brooding son and perfect wife stress on the news, while the Agency tries locating his whereabouts, in vain…

But what only seems to matter, while a bleeding, bruised Dillon trudges around and finds no resources... except for Juliette Lewis's port in the storm... is the final establishing exterior shot that the show’s very own promotion and description already gave away, blunting any mystery that should still be lurking around every shady corner. For in a town as openly strange as WAYWARD PINES, where else is there to go? It almost feels like the magician revealed the trick too soon.

5/15/2015

GEORGE MILLER DIRECTS MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

year: 2015 rating: *1/2
George Miller’s original MAD MAX films might have broken too much ground since every other barren landscape within a post-Apocalyptic action vehicle is compared to the source – and here’s a reboot by the man himself, perhaps bringing something fresh to the dilapidated table...

Well the action scenes are done all right, and the direction is quick and tense. But the characters… including MAX himself, cursed with sudden flashbacks to partially explain his brute-like mannerisms and Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, equally bad ass and a far better driver… are about as important as avatars controlled on a noisy video game.

The score seems intentionally melodramatic, encapsulating a grandiose old school epic vibe, trying way too hard for genuine cult status – treating our heroes like they’ve earned their thick skin without being fleshed out beyond cool weaponry and nostalgic roots – FURY ROAD actually feels more like a second film following a proper introduction. Meanwhile, the tyrannical main villain looks straight out of a HE-MAN cartoon, and the only hint of a plot evolves around beautiful slaves being protected from his banal wrath.   

Technically, a ROAD is a particular section of a larger area that takes you down one specific lane, but FURY has too much open space where everything is going on while absolutely nothing happens, back and forth, in either direction. 

5/12/2015

MAKING TRAGIC CAMPY NOIR SENSE OF TOMMY WISEAU'S THE ROOM

2003 Grade: F Camp Value: A
Gotta give credit to writer/director/actor/producer Tommy Wiseau. He paid tribute to Orson Welles from a different source than Fred Flintstone, Bruce Lee, Woody Allen and many others have – for there’s no LADY FROM SHANGHAI trick-mirror homage in THE ROOM, considered the “CITIZEN KANE of bad movies"...

Original Smashing Tantrum
Whether he admits it or not, it’s Charles Foster Kane that Tommy imitates at the end of his disastrously brilliant independent film turned accidental cult phenomenon, destroying the titular pad during his dramatic tantrum caused by betrayal and heartache. And while Orson was beginning what would be a maligned yet brilliant career as a director, actor, and voice-over artist, Tommy Wiseau obviously needed to get himself... including long dyed black hair, a short muscular body and a severely limited acting talent hindered further by what sounds like an Austrian accent... onto the big screen, to simply prove his worth as a cinematic presence since he probably would never be hired otherwise: Make your own ground if you can’t stand on theirs... He was buying the stairway to Hollywood. 

Thus THE ROOM, if anything else, is more of an attempted Acting Reel for the sake of the leading man… Outright propaganda for Tommy as well as a showcase for his celebrated character, Johnny, a banker who lives in a San Francisco loft with a cheating fiancé, Lisa, played by Juliette Danielle, a sultry vixen with the prowess of an evil femme fatalle, having a steamy affair with Johnny’s Best Friend...

Greg Sestero as Mark
Enter the vulnerable male co-lead, Mark, and Greg Sestero looks the most like an actor. The character is a sheepish dolt yet wolfishly cheats with his best friend’s girl, shifting the genuine vulnerability to Wiseau’s Johnny as both dudes share Lisa in abundant sex scenes, taking up a good percentage of screen time – light "porn" without penetration scored by a glossy soundtrack while every scene, sensual or otherwise, provides a gateway of San Fran B-Roll shots that are totally random and hardly Establishing.

Lisa in hot red
Other characters that fill a... dare it be said... Film Noir template include a young guy (or old boy) with the heart of gold peaking into the dark side, exhibiting a creepy penchant for his mentor’s girl… That being Denny, a pseudo drug-addict who looks around thirty but is a teenager Johnny's paying through college, making random "TV sitcom neighbor" type appearances that further establishes our shaggy hero as an extremely super fella. In fact, Johnny is spoken of endlessly. Even when Tommy “the actor” isn’t on screen, entering and exiting like a stiff muscular "Mollusk" (quoting Rifftraxx), or throwing a football around with his buddies, he’s talked about by Lisa and her food-fetish best girl-friend, her lively dying mother, and of course, her lover i.e. Johnny's guilt-tortured best friend…

Welles as Lime
So when Johnny does breeze in, Wiseau’s East European accent makes the character that much intriguing, bizarre, and undeniably classic. And while Johnny is the main character and the plot-driving, expository McGuffin of his own tepid tale... looking forward to an upcoming wedding and celebrating his surprise birthday party while being cheated on... he’s also his own special guest star throughout, making him more of an anticipated off-screen THIRD MAN Harry Lime than main player Charles Foster Kane: after all the promotion, his eventual input means everything. 

"Frankly, Lisa..."
Thus, Lisa is really the true leading role: She alone holds all the cards, and is playing the deck in a twisted, cunning, mischievous fashion… Like all evil Noir dames, there’s no limit to her meticulous venom. It might be Johnny’s ROOM, but it’s really Lisa’s agenda-driven ride. In fact, while Tommy's influences border on Orson Welles and James Dean (his words), Lisa, at the very end, becomes a sort of millennial Scarlet O'Hara... Her 11th hour desperation could have led Mark to spout the famous Clark Gable damning farewell, and it would have fit. 

Official Room Blu Ray
And so, whatever Wiseau attempted with THE ROOM is unclear. Like the Italian director of TROLL 2, Tommy insists his film was meant for laughs so basically – all this poking-fun-at was intended all along. But it just doesn’t seem like a vehicle that’s in on its own joke and punchline. The extremely serious melodramatic manner in which the actors throw uneven dialogue around, including tormented breakdowns along with an omnipresent heated sexual tension and intense male bonding...

Having a Ball
If this were in fact a “black comedy” like the man himself insists, it would not have been this “good” because frankly, there’s nothing funny about THE ROOM; at least not on purpose. Like mentioned earlier, it all seems an outright, contrived attempt to make Wiseau a bonafide movie star; and if that failed than writer, producer, or director credit would do... 

And perhaps he was trying to tell us something within the story itself, about himself: Greg Sestero’s Mark, the more conventional, better-looking pretty boy, is preferred by Johnny's own fiancé, whom he lives with and will (eventually want to) die for: So maybe Lisa’s character represents the Hollywood industry, preferring the cookie-cutter American babe to a beefy, bizarre Euro stud? Either way, without Tommy Wiseau's insanely original style, and everything else he brings to the table, there would be no ROOM at all. For he not only made this movie, he completely makes it. And we can only hope and pray TW attempts to write another serious art film. So far, he's playing into the wacky costume bestowed upon by his accidental aftermath as a pop culture bad movie court jester. But it's when he tries... way too hard... to be legitimate: therein the true glory lies.  
From Welles to Wiseau, we celebrate all those brave enough to make a film... any film!

5/11/2015

BODY BAGS BY JOHN CARPENTER & TOBE HOOPER

year: 1981 rating: ***
John Carpenter, director of horror classics HALLOWEEN and THE FOG, must have been influenced by TALES FROM THE CRYPT, the anthology series hosted by a longhaired smart-alleck skeletal Crypt Keeper that, as The Coroner in a dusty morgue, the lanky Carpenter (donning ghoulish makeup) is fairly reminiscent of...

And the famous director’s jovially wicked performance is decent enough. Seeing each dead body, especially those wrapped in BODY BAGS – which means the cause isn't natural – leads creatively into three stories… The first vignette, one of two directed by Carpenter himself, is aptly titled THE GAS STATION...

STORY 1: THE GAS STATION
We center on an attractive college-aged employee named Peggy on her first night at the self-serve garage, in what seems like the middle of nowhere. Handed over by Robert Carradine’s extra friendly Bill, Peggy's shift is full of surprise visitors: customers filling their tanks seen outside the glass structure.

The thrills rely on whenever Peggy steps out of the safety zone, finding out which of several quirky customers are dangerous… Then, when the killer is revealed, the suspense shifts to gruesome and, despite part of the fun being lost, it's still a neat ride.

The second story is HAIR, centering on Stacy Keach as an egotistical middle-aged man trying to stop the inevitable balding process. This is the comic relief segment and also very predictable – when Keach’s Robert finds a successful way of acquiring hair from a cheesy television specialist, played by David Warner, it’s too much a good thing.

STORY 2: HAIR
A montage where a jealous Robert watches men, women and dogs with flowing manes, orchestrated by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s ALMOST CUT MY HAIR, is as good as this piece gets…

The skit’s wry, satirical humor far exceeds the eventual comeuppance for a character taking a short cut, leading to a “careful what you wish for” twist in the TWILIGHT ZONE fashion.

Our next and last victim is another unlucky guy, but his situation, losing an eye from a near-fatal car accident, is much more dire and necessary. In order to continue playing professional baseball, Brent Matthews, played by STAR WARS icon Mark Hamill, receives a donor’s eye. Soon he sees horrible images: from a zombie climbing out of his dirt-filled, pool-constructed backyard to bloody arms reaching from the garbage disposal…

STORY 3: EYE
As EYE continues, Mark Hamill becomes more and more edgy and over-the-top, his voice transforming into a Southern preacher while madness gets the best, or rather, the worst of him.

Directed by TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE pioneer Tobe Hooper, this segment is the second scariest of the lot. But since Carpenter's HAIR has a few worthy laughs, EYE is perhaps the dullest overall...

Basically, Mark Hamill is having more ghastly fun than the audience, which really isn't such a bad thing. And unlike the others, this particular story could have been prolonged into a feature-length film. So while BODY BAGS is no CREEPSHOW or even CAT'S EYE, it's definitely worth a midnight gander.
John Carpenter as The Coroner in the interspersed morgue segments

5/10/2015

GLIMPSE INTO THE THIRD EPISODE OF HAPPYISH

E3 Grade: C
Not long ago, a short little movie on You Tube got a lot of religious people miffed, and a few important Americans had to apologize – profusely!

Well thank goodness, no apologies are needed in this country: as the pop culture loathed Christian God and Jesus get pummeled literally to death in this week’s HAPPYISH starring Steve Coogan as an ad man who, with a very sick son and a curse of being perpetually Catholic, gives the Big G the middle finger and can’t stop… protesting way too much…

Though most of the third episode, titled "Starring Vladimir Nabokov, Hippocrates and God" remains in the ad office where the group's about to lose a big client… An insurance company wanting to be more like Geico and the other funny commercials. At one point, as the cute Geico Gecko is stalking the brooding, miserable Coogan, the little green guy says, "It's only tragedy if you don't see the comedy.” Which can sum up this particular episode, and the entire HAPPYISH series thus far: It's not funny, on purpose, which seems intentional... or something. 

What’s really needed are a few characters not so similar to the main man, sounding as if Woody Allen were channeling through MAD MEN Don Draper, in a vacuum. Without some kind of counterbalance, he's way too lazy and comfortable in his own shared... MISERY. Speaking of... Special guest star Rob Reiner, pretentiously rehearse-directing a bad commercial, looks surprisingly fit. Yet even his nostalgic energy can't bring the level higher than lethargically mediocre, at best.

5/09/2015

REESE WITHERSPOON IN HOT PURSUIT

2015 rating: *
Seeming like Holly Hunter from RAISING ARIZONA combined with Sally Field had she tried out her own Burt Reynolds style road comedy, another short and spunky Oscar winner, Reese Witherspoon, puts on a noticeably fake “Good Old Girl” accent and goes so overboard, you would think she was rehearsing for an SNL skit that didn’t stretch into 90 long minutes.

Her unlucky, by-the-book Cooper is so uptight that, like Sandra Bullock in THE HEAT, she’s begging to be brought down to Earth… Which is where Sofía Vergara’s Daniella Riva comes in… but not very handy.

Befitting the "reluctant buddy flick" template, the hyperactive Cooper and the tough Riva are polar opposites… the cop protecting the wife of a gangster who was supposed to testify, and with two bad Feds on their trail… yet they can’t stop talking to and at each other, making HOT PURSUIT a vapid competition where both actresses, and the audience, lose.

5/08/2015

JACK BLACK AND JAMES MARSDEN IN THE D TRAIN

2015 rating: *1/2
Scenes in the trailer (and the poster image), where Jack Black’s former high school loser parties down with James Marsden’s popular cool guy at their class reunion, come and go in an 11th hour flash, and mean very little in one of the most falsely advertised motion pictures ever made. 

After a dry set-up involving Black seeking Marsden in Los Angeles when he’s supposed to be on a business trip leads a shocking twist that’s buried in the promotion for two reasons: it might take away from those yearning for Jack to regain the zany reins from the Zach Galifianakis and Josh Gad types who stole his funny fat guy thunder years ago; and anyone who actually paid to see a comedy might want to hold on to their cash, or waste it on this weekend's other buddy flick, HOT PURSUIT

The overall execution of what we do get from THE D TRAIN is awkward, slow-paced, and buries a vacant plot that suffers a bigger identity crisis than the dull main character.

5/06/2015

JAKOB SALVATI STARRING IN LITTLE BOY

2015 rating: ****
An instant backlash against LITTLE BOY occurred for being religious propaganda, yet there’s loads of mysticism while the most helpful character is downright Atheist. And years ago, two nice priests helped a kid in THE EXORCIST...

Although Jakob Salvati’s 8-year-old Pepper Flynt Busbee aka Little Boy, who could suffer from “Dwarfism” and really wants his MIA father to return from the Pacific during World War II, is his own person, completely.

Local priest Olivier, played by the always-dependable Tom Wilkinson, gives Boy a list: things that could help his own faith and to possibly get dad back home… The list itself not only serves as a plotline but includes suspenseful elements – the audience not sure who will be the person to befriend, to feed, and most important, to bury.

From Tatum O’Neal to Justin Henry to Anna Paquin to Haley Joel Osment to Quvenzhané Wallis, Hollywood has nominated and/or handed the Oscar to young people, and if Jakob isn't included – something's very wrong. The kid not only steals the movie, he completely owns it. With sad blue eyes conflicting with a stubborn, feisty determination lost in a world-weary haze, it's Boy verses everyone; particularly a menacing bully. The most creative scenes are of a fantastical nature, imagining pulpy adventures with dad in lavish cinematic settings while dreaming of becoming his favorite comic book hero.

Directed with a unique art house, fable quality (with a hilarious homage to Spaghetti Westerns) by Alejandro Monteverde, the beach town location, filmed in Mexico, both captivates and envelopes the story with vivid, blown-out cinematography resembling a child's reverie combined with the nostalgic era of postcards and magazines, where Boy and the other characters, including and especially his initial antagonist turned best friend, call home.

Enter Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a Japanese resident loathed and feared by the townsfolk for simply being Japanese during wartime, providing a sort of retro KARATE KID Mr. Miyagi: a mentor believing in himself over God, and bringing our dreamer back to Earth. 

While Hashimoto’s kinship with the eccentric title character, who eventually thinks he has mystical power to literally change things, is heartfelt and ultimately satisfying, their connection overwhelms a wider, richer story where LITTLE BOY fights the odds, on his own terms, in one of the greatest child actor performances ever filmed.We'll have to see if anyone else noticed.

5/04/2015

CARPENTER & RUSSELL RETURN FOR BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

1986 rating: ***1/2
As grungy truck driver Jack Burton, director John Carpenter’s stock action star Kurt Russell is a Snake Plissken for the GOONIES generation, making BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA feel like ESCAPE FROM WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, or as one character points out, a "radical ALICE IN WONDERLAND"…

For BIG TROUBLE is an adventure where each level brings a new chaotic challenge, making the overall plot not matter much – that being a kidnapped green-eyed Asian beauty caught in the mazy labyrinth beneath Chinatown where Burton and an eclectic band of misfits, including and especially Dennis Dun as the resilient Wang Chi and tough ingénue Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law, survive various elements to reach the literal bottom of things.

In Theaters 5/6/15
BLADE RUNNER actor James Hong is the man here, and an old one at that. His ancient Lo Pan needs to wed the green-eyed McGuffin, who’s engaged to our likable young sidekick. In that, Dennis Dun has equal screen time with the often benign Russell, who remains impartial during most of the karate-filled bouts. 

Awkward dissolves aside, John Carpenter keeps the pace moving effectively with quick-cut close-ups providing a comic book panel styling, colorfully reminiscent of Walter Hill's STREETS OF FIRE, and turns in a more upbeat soundtrack than usual: though his ominous synth remains an undercurrent. And where Russell’s NEW YORK Plissken paid homage to Clint Eastwood’s iconic Spaghetti Western loner, this super-macho fella has a John Wayneish delivery, at times going so overboard that the performance feels more like a quotable-contrived satire than a genuine action hero…

But with loads of mystical fantasy, an exploding samurai, costumed monsters and tacked-on special effects that often distract from the basic pulpy peril, you shouldn’t take LITTLE CHINA very seriously. In fact the whole rollercoaster ride, seeming purposely tailor-made for a cult-following even before successfully acquiring one, is much better experienced than evaluated... In one ear, out the other... Relax and enjoy.

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