April 2005

STEAMBOY

by December Lambeth on April 15, 2005

in DVD Reviews 

A retro science-fiction epic set in Victorian England, Steamboy features an inventor prodigy named Ray Steam who receives a mysterious metal ball containing a new form of energy capable of powering an entire nation. This young boy must use it to fight evil, redeem his family, and save London from destruction. The lush Victorian interiors and the elegance of the era’s mechanical design allows Otomo to create dazzling visual backgrounds and machines for this film. With more than 180,000 drawing and 400 CG cuts, Steamboy is sure to be one of the most elaborate animated features of 2004.—© Sony Pictures

STEAMBOY
2 Stars

(Release Date: Spring 2005)

A retro science-fiction epic set in Victorian England, Steamboy features an inventor prodigy named Ray Steam who receives a mysterious metal ball containing a new form of energy capable of powering an entire nation. This young boy must use it to fight evil, redeem his family, and save London from destruction. The lush Victorian interiors and the elegance of the era’s mechanical design allows Otomo to create dazzling visual backgrounds and machines for this film. With more than 180,000 drawing and 400 CG cuts, Steamboy is sure to be one of the most elaborate animated features of 2004.—© Sony Pictures

Never in my life have I ever seen so much detail in an animated film. The general world that exists in this movie is set in some parallel universe in the late 1800’s. Everything decidedly, is powered by steam. I mean everything. Which means that every vehicle or contraption is huge, lumbering, heavy, and shooting with steam. Somewhere in the back ground I think I saw a bowl of oatmeal, powered by steam of course.

The movie for the most part, is an action movie. It’s an action movie as the Japanese would do it anyway, which involves philosophy and some actual dialog. Overall, the story doesn’t hold a candle to the visuals. Not a bad thing considering that the visuals speak for themselves. I suppose one gripe I have is somewhere near the end of the movie. There’s this building pressure, the music swells, and you think, “Well, it’s ending soon here. Where are my keys? How am I going to pay for my house? The loan collectors will be here Tuesday. Maybe I can sell one of the children. Yes. Steve will get me something near 12 grand. Little Lucy could be rented into slavery. Good. I can finally be at ease and rent that nice video I’ve always wanted to see and then gravy train cow—What?”.

All of the sudden, the movie takes a 90 degree turn. It even befuddles one of the main characters. I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny or not. It seemed funny at the time anyway.

Another word of advice. If you have a problem with charming english accents, regardless of danger or zeal, you probably should back far far away from this movie. In the end, it’s a movie about man vs. man vs. nature. Naturally, nature wins out, because man is doomed to suckery.

The Jacket

by December Lambeth on April 15, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

After recuperating from a gunshot wound to the head, Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (ADRIEN BRODY) returns to his native Vermont suffering from amnesia. When he is accused of murdering a police officer and committed to a mental institution, a physician, Dr. Becker (KRIS KRISTOFFERSON), puts him on a controversial treatment regimen in which Starks is injected with experimental drugs, confined in a straight-jacket, and locked for extended periods in the body drawer of the basement morgue. In his drugged and disoriented state, Starks’ mind propels him into the future, where he meets Jackie (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY), and discovers that he is destined to die in four days. Together, they search for a way to save him from his fate.—© Warner Independent.

The Jacket
2 & 1/2 Stars

(Release Date: March 4)

After recuperating from a gunshot wound to the head, Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (ADRIEN BRODY) returns to his native Vermont suffering from amnesia. When he is accused of murdering a police officer and committed to a mental institution, a physician, Dr. Becker (KRIS KRISTOFFERSON), puts him on a controversial treatment regimen in which Starks is injected with experimental drugs, confined in a straight-jacket, and locked for extended periods in the body drawer of the basement morgue. In his drugged and disoriented state, Starks’ mind propels him into the future, where he meets Jackie (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY), and discovers that he is destined to die in four days. Together, they search for a way to save him from his fate.—© Warner Independent.

The Jacket does exactly what it intends to do, it freaks people out. During the film there is a sense of discomfort and tension, both from the situations and actual visuals. The whole time your brain is thinking not another needle, no please not another closed tight place with an urine and blood stained straight jacket and no more up close gritty jump cuts.

The Jacket never explains why it is; it just is. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody), resident straight jacket guy, has some truly bad luck, bad is probably an understatement; first a war then a gun shot wound to the head and finally set up for a murder and sent to the looney bin.  While at the nut house Jack is subjected to horrific events like being shoved into a morgue drawer pumped up on Doc Becker’s (Kris Kristofferson) special little cocktail and completely freaking out. In this death box he dreams that he has traveled into the future and has seen his death. While visiting his future self he runs into Jackie (Keira Knightley), now a grown woman; but was a little girl, he had helped on the road side, from his past. Jack is a little unsettled by this at first, but soon sinks into the illusion and convinces Jackie of who he is. She picks him up at a bus stop and takes him home. she lets him roam her house while she is taking a bath, little Keira Knightley nudity, and then kicks him out. POW! It’s back to reality for Jack, he’s pulled out of the drawer and faced with the good doc and some really fugly nurse. With some friendly assistance and guidance from Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) Jack finds a way to fix the future and stay in a state of pleasant bliss.  Make sense?  No?  You’re not the only one.

The Jacket will take it’s viewer on a very weird and tense trip down the rabbit hole. Scenes that are a little unsettling and situations that will make you cringe, but the artistic ability behind the cinematography and visuals is brilliant. Adrien Brody pulled out one hell of a performance, the audience will feel every needle prick and nauseating claustrophobic event with Jack; thanks to Adrien’s talent and brilliance on screen. Kris Kristofferson is cool no matter what he does and he plays a mean ass doctor. Keira Knightley wasn’t as convincing. It is hard to believe that she is this oppressed manic depressant that doesn’t give a crap for her life. She is just too cute, gritting her teeth, painting her nails black, wearing 3-day old makeup and snarling all the time doesn’t make it work. Some of the scenarios are weird, and I mean a little underage weird. There is a scene after Jack has slept with Jackie, that he gets to go back and visit her and her mom when she was a little girl. Lot’s of ick factor there. He’s all touching her face and looking all gooey eyed at her; she’s a little girl for crying out loud!  That is gross. Another scene that was a little off is when Jackie picks Jack up outside of the bus stop in the middle of the night. A complete stranger and she takes him home; not only takes him home, but invites him to stay the night. What’s worse than that she tells him to help himself to the fridge while she takes a bath. How many women do you know that would pick up a complete stranger and let him stay the night and munch away while your bathing?

Overall The Jacket worked for the purpose it had. It hit its goal right on the nose and psyches the viewer out.

Beauty Shop

by December Lambeth on April 15, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Add some hair extensions, nail polish, lip gloss and high heels to Barbershop and what do you get, Beauty Shop. Almost identical to its counterpart, Beauty Shop delivers the same feel good do the right thing comedy. Too bad that Queen Latifah’s first true chance at showing her acting chops as the lead is destroyed by a tired already done before (twice before) script. If you enjoyed Barbershop then Beauty Shop is the film to see.

Beauty Shop
2 Stars

(Release Date: March 30)

Add some hair extensions, nail polish, lip gloss and high heels to Barbershop and what do you get, Beauty Shop. Almost identical to its counterpart, Beauty Shop delivers the same feel good do the right thing comedy. Too bad that Queen Latifah’s first true chance at showing her acting chops as the lead is destroyed by a tired already done before (twice before) script. If you enjoyed Barbershop then Beauty Shop is the film to see.

Gina (Queen Latifah) strikes out on her own after a confutation with Jorge (Kevin Bacon) an arrogant salon owner; she finds a way to get a loan and purchases an old 70’s throwback salon. Being a single mom and purchasing an old ran down shop is more than what Gina had expected; she finds herself confronted with temperamental old-timers, electrical problems and a pain in the butt city inspector who is paid off by Jorge to give her a hard time. In the mist of trying to get her daughter through a performing arts school, dealing with the death of her husband and running the shop; the last thing Gina needs is somebody destroying everything she has worked so hard for. Gina’s shop is vandalized and she is on the verge of giving up until she remembers what it’s all about, her daughter and family. Picking herself up off the ground and walking into yet another face lift, thanks to her staff, Gina grabs her happy scissors and gets back to work. Along the way she starts recruiting costumers from Jorge’s shop who adored her and her “crack conditioner” and falls in love with the most gorgeous man, the upstairs electrician, Joe (Djimon Hounsou), who slowly wins her heart. She also gives a good healthy dose of his own medicine back to the flamboyant arrogant Jorge. All ends well that begins rocky in Beauty Shop.

Beauty Shop doesn’t have a great deal of depth to its script, but has plenty of cozy feel good moments. A cast that keeps the youngest audience member entertained and plenty of beat on the Caucasian jokes, most will be pleasantly entertained.

The Crapityville Horror

by Aaron on April 15, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

I didn’t expect much from this remake, but I at least hoped that it would have the same level of entertainment value of the 1979 original, and that’s setting the bar mighty low. Bay and Douglas decided that the premise of a truly evil home wasn’t enough, so instead of a gorgeous lakeside Long Island home, the demon house is borderline decrepit and that lessens the atmosphere and effect of finding out your dream home is actually a nightmare. I’m unable to let go of the atrocious use of music in the film, but I’m truly flabbergasted that horror directors continue to rely on cheap music cues to telegraph and emphasis the scares. When William Friedkin made The Exorcist (the only horror film to win an Oscar, no less), he understood that silence is scarier than music as there is absolutely no score for the film, which perfectly heightens the tension and leaves the viewer completely unprepared for the shocks in store. Of course, when you’re scares are as hokey and half-hearted as the Amityville Horror, maybe music is the only crutch available to prop up the flimsy pretense of atmosphere.

Sadly, modern Hollywood is unable to reach that low standard with it’s recent offering of horror films and The Amityville Horror is no exception. Moviegoers made Bay’s previous update The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a moderate success, so much so that a prequel is already in the works, but hopefully moviegoers will send the right message and stay away from this sub-par and aggressively un-entertaining mess of a film. Furthermore here’s hoping that Hollywood will get the message and finally realize that dead-looking little girls with black hair just aren’t scary. I’ll take that creepy redhead teen from Children of the Corn over yet another Sadako clone any day of the week.

The Amityville Horror
2 Stars

1979’s Amityville Horror seems an odd choice for big budget update. The James Brolin / Margot Kidder vehicle was laughably stupid in it’s day, and subsequent revelations about the ‘true story’ aspect make it even more suspect. Never one to be deterred by stupidity nor lack of originality, Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys 1 & 2) put on his producer hat so that the true evil of Long Island situated Dutch Colonial houses could be announced to the world. Frankly the FM radio hosts of our screening were scarier than anything residing in that spacious lakeside demon house. (Special treat: one of the DJ/MCs might have actually been the Gelfling Jen from The Dark Crystal. I’m glad he’s still able to get work.)

The poster is scarier than this movie. Seriously

In the early morning hours of November 4th, 1974, Ronnie “Butch” DeFeo picked up a .35 caliber rifle and went from room to room of his family’s spacious 112 Ocean Avenue home and murdered his parents and his four siblings. After initially claiming his family was murdered by an angry mob-connected contract killer, Butch confessed and was charged with the murders of his family. His defense put up an insanity defense, but he was eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. In 1976 the Lutz family moved into the former Defeo home, and according to the best selling book, fled in terror not 28 days later from all manner of demonic and ghostly activity.

The newly updated Amityville Horror from producer Bay and director Andrew Douglas recounts the ‘true’ story of the Lutz family and their experiences in that now infamous lakeside home with predictably neo-Horror results. Taking over the James Brolin role as George Lutz is Ryan Reynolds (Blade: Trinity, Van Wilder), who once again proves that he’s often the best thing about the sub-par movies he’s in. Melissa George (Sugar & Spice, Alias) plays his put upon wife Kathy. A trio of previously unknown moppets plays the Lutz brood, and filling out the cast is Phillip Baker Hall as the fly-covered priest (Played by a scenery devouring Rod Stiger in the original). Needless to say, blood drips from walls, furniture moves about of it’s own accord, and CGI technicians have a field day coming up with the shocks and scares which some moron decided to telegraph by a good 30 seconds with obligatory scary music cues.

The only thing that really works in this film is Reynolds’ performance as a good-hearted step dad who’s slowly taken over by the demonic forces of their home. In his pre-posession scenes he’s lighthearted and charming, and his post scenes have the right level of malice and confusion. Sadly, the only real competition he gets in the acting department comes from a KISS loving babysitter (Rachel Nichols) who’s dressed like she’s the 70’s era Stones backstage entertainment only to find out the only action she’s getting is from the malevolent spectra of the DeFeo’s youngest daughter.

The scares are fairly and nonsensical, and in the few instances where they do work their effectiveness is undercut by the obvious music score. There were a number of unintentionally humorous moments in this film, which only proved how inept and ham fisted director Douglas’s attempts at establishing atmosphere truly were. Hollywood can’t seem to keep the working aspects of any original, and Amityville Horror proves the rule by throwing out the original’s explanation of events for a ridiculous third act revelation that turns the film into the fetal-alcohol syndrome child of 13 Ghosts and Poltergeist.

I didn’t expect much from this remake, but I at least hoped that it would have the same level of entertainment value of the 1979 original, and that’s setting the bar mighty low. Bay and Douglas decided that the premise of a truly evil home wasn’t enough, so instead of a gorgeous lakeside Long Island home, the demon house is borderline decrepit and that lessens the atmosphere and effect of finding out your dream home is actually a nightmare. I’m unable to let go of the atrocious use of music in the film, but I’m truly flabbergasted that horror directors continue to rely on cheap music cues to telegraph and emphasis the scares. When William Friedkin made The Exorcist (the only horror film to win an Oscar, no less), he understood that silence is scarier than music as there is absolutely no score for the film, which perfectly heightens the tension and leaves the viewer completely unprepared for the shocks in store. Of course, when you’re scares are as hokey and half-hearted as the Amityville Horror, maybe music is the only crutch available to prop up the flimsy pretense of atmosphere.

Sadly, modern Hollywood is unable to reach that low standard with it’s recent offering of horror films and The Amityville Horror is no exception. Moviegoers made Bay’s previous update The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a moderate success, so much so that a prequel is already in the works, but hopefully moviegoers will send the right message and stay away from this sub-par and aggressively un-entertaining mess of a film. Furthermore here’s hoping that Hollywood will get the message and finally realize that dead-looking little girls with black hair just aren’t scary. I’ll take that creepy redhead teen from Children of the Corn over yet another Sadako clone any day of the week.

Deeper Than Deep, Your Throat

by Aaron on April 15, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

While it serves as a serious and intense look into making and mystique of Deep Throat (indeed, they go so far as to include the infamous scene in which Linda Lovelace performs the titular act), the film has no shortage of laugh-out-loud moments. (Again Dick Cavett deserves mention here. His off-the-cuff asides put the current slate of talk-show hosts to utter shame.) In fact, that humor is what ultimately saves the film from it’s half-formed secondary role as a cautionary tale on the effects of a conservative government with it’s sights on freedom of expression which, considering our current political climate, rings true and hollow at the same time.

Inside Deep Throat
4 & 1/2 Stars

The new documentary “Inside Deep Throat” might just be the wiser & hipper cinematic sibling to Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut film Boogie Nights, but where Anderson’s ode to the heydey of big theater porn arrived smack dab in the middle of Bill Clinton’s second term, (among the heady enthusiasm of the Dot Com boom and the continuing fallout of Clinton’s extramarital endeavors), Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s (Eyes of Tammy Faye) docmentary arrives in the midst of a conservative backlash against pop culture and it’s love affair with sex.

What makes Inside Deep Throat all the more unlikely is that it comes from Ron Howard’s Imagine studio, and was produced by his long-time business partner Brian Glazer. Granted HBO Films put up some cash for this one as well, but they’ll fund anything that has to do with strippers, porn stars, or (let’s face it) sluts of both sexes.  (Which reminds me:  If any HBO programming people are reading this, I’d like to talk to you about my idea for an erotic retelling of the formation of the League of Nations starring a variety of strippers, porn stars, and sluts.)

That’s not to say that most famous (and infamous) of porn films, Deep Throat, isn’t worthy of a documentary. On the contrary; made in 6 days and for only $25,000 Deep Throat is conceivably the most profitable film ever made, having raked in a staggering 600 million dollars. Unlike the stag films that begat it, Deep Throat was high-chic for the intelligentsia and social liberals, with everyone from Jack Nicholson to Jackie Onassis packing the seats during it’s Times Square run. It also holds the distinction of being banned in 23 states, and it’s government persecution resulted in the first American court case in which an actor (Harry Reems) was convicted for his part in a motion picture. In fact, the factual account of Deep Throat and its impact on American culture puts modern day ‘losers make it big’ films to shame. Mob violence, protests, courtroom drama, and even a couple of obligatory Behind the Music-esque downfall and recoveries, this is one of the most fascinating stories on modern filmaking ever made.

insert pithy porn joke here

As a documentary, Inside Deep Throat knows the inherent titillation factor of it’s subject matter and frames it appropriately. Fast cuts, porny 70’s graphics, and a soundtrack just chock full of ‘wakki-cha’ guitar combined with the lazy cool of counter-culture icon Dennis Hopper’s voiceover work to make this one of the slickest documentaries in existence. Context and color commentary is provided from a staggering array of famous figures of the intellectual bend like Gore Vidal (of course), Norman Mailer (of course), Camille Paglia, Erica Jong, Carl Bernstein, and Alan Dershowitz. The sheer variety of access given these filmakers is staggering. Nixon prosecutor Charles Keating, Hugh Hefner, Memphis prosecutor Larry Parrish, FBI Agent Bill Purcell, and an incredibly witty Dick Cavett, are just a few more of the talking heads who weigh in on the impact of Deep Throat. There’s big money behind this and it shows. Though for all it’s flash and snap, the heart of this documentary lies in the recollections and lives of those men and women directly responsible for the phenomenon that was Deep Throat.

Gerard Damiano (the director), Harry Reems (the lead actor), production manager Ron Wertheim, and archival clips of the star Linda Lovelace (who died in 2002 from injuries sustained in a car wreck), tell an immensely entertaining and riveting story of some 70’s swingers who just wanted to make movies. With the exception of Lovelace (who testified against the porn industry for two congressional committees as well as in her auto-biography, but later recanted her sentiments and accusations), those involved look back on their experience with fondness and candor (and more than a little regret: None of the principals involved saw more than the tiniest kernel of profit compared to what the film went on to achieve for it’s mob-affiliated owners). The world’s most foul-mouthed location manager steals every frame he’s in with his disgusted and dismissive reminiscing, and a Florida man who distributed the film in the South is constantly upstaged by his wife, who continually chides him for talking about their mob run-ins. While their talk about the artistic value of Deep Throat may seem naive and self-important, these people believed in what they were doing and that conviction comes through.

While it serves as a serious and intense look into making and mystique of Deep Throat (indeed, they go so far as to include the infamous scene in which Linda Lovelace performs the titular act), the film has no shortage of laugh-out-loud moments. (Again Dick Cavett deserves mention here. His off-the-cuff asides put the current slate of talk-show hosts to utter shame.) In fact, that humor is what ultimately saves the film from it’s half-formed secondary role as a cautionary tale on the effects of a conservative government with it’s sights on freedom of expression which, considering our current political climate, rings true and hollow at the same time.

Overall, Inside Deep Throat is an absolute treat of a documentary. After all, what else is the genre for if not for showcasing interesting people telling fascinating stories about a endlessly compelling subject? It also proves how powerful a format documentary filmmaking can be when backed by big studios and all the access and money they can provide. Deep Throat ultimately proved to be an aberration, as porn soon lost it’s chic and celebrity accolades with the advent of VHS and the continuing decline in quality and lightheartedness that followed. Sex still sells, but the only cultural relevance of porn remains in it’s ability to show just how weird and twisted our sexual fantasies can be. But for one brief shining moment average men and women sat beside movie stars and cultural adventurers as Linda Lovelace found her tingler on a 30 foot screen, and that impact is still being felt today. For that reason alone, Inside Deep Throat is worth your time, but if you need another selling point try this: Where else are you going to get the experience of hearing 83 year old writer, magazine publisher, and feminist Helen Gurley Brown talk about rubbing semen all over her face, neck, and breasts? (Note: If you have an answer for that, I don’t want to know it.)