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Self aware but not Smarmy
It's refreshing to see a film that knows the true meaning of the word "homage" -- something done or given in acknowledgment or consideration of the worth of another -- rather than "rip off," which is something we see far too often in films, especially horror movies.
Douglas Schulze's Mimesis is a clever homage to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead on one hand and a modern "thrill killer" movie on the other. After an opening scare starring Courtney Gaines, the audience is taken to a horror convention where Alphonze Betz (Sid Haig) rails against the media blaming horror movies for real life horrors. In the audience are Russell (Taylor Piedmonte) and his unlikely pal Duane (Allen Maldonado).
Russell is a horror fan while Duane is more keen on meeting some of the hotties at the con including Judith (Lauren Mae Shafer), a goth girl who invites the boys to a party later that night. Thinking he'll get some, Duane convinces Russell to drive out to the spooky farmhouse where they encounter some out-of-place regular people and a number of silent, spooky dudes all made up in makeup. Before the party gets too "dick in the mashed potatoes" crazy, Russell and Duane are down for the count, waking up dressed in different clothes and hanging out in some eerily familiar settings.
There's no "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" line in Mimesis but much of the rest of Night of the Living Dead is there as our protagonists find themselves cast in a living remake of the film, complete with flesh-tearing zombies.
Thus, Mimesis becomes a film with disparate characters trapped in a farmhouse with a menacing presence outside but the presence isn't supernatural, it's psychotic. Additionally, the script by Schulze and Joshua Wagner is incredibly self-aware, playing with and against the plot of NOTLD along with more current films where strangers toy with innocents (Them, Inside, High Tension, etc.).
The Killing of John Lennon (2006)
The Lesser of Two Chapmans
"I hate the movies. They're phony, so goddamn phony," says Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27. Other than The Wizard of Oz, Chapman isn't much of a film fan. The Mark David Chapman (Jonas Ball) in The Killing of John Lennon would probably disagree. Despite the opening credit in Andrew Piddington's film that "All of Chapman's Words are His Own," his Chapman liberally quotes Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now. Likewise, Piddington's direction liberally quotes Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Oliver Stone, and Spike Lee.
The Killing of John Lennon skips backwards and forwards in time quite a bit in the first two acts. The narrative begins in September, 1980 with Mark David Chapman in Hawaii. The audience sees glimpses of him working as a security guard, freaking out about his overbearing, oversexed mother (Krisha Fairchild), berating his soft spoken wife (Mie Omori), hassling scientologists, and pretending to be a sniper. Chapman must be making good money with his crappy job. While he drives a shitbox car, he can afford a gun and two trips from Hawaii to New York.
The aborted first "mission" to execute John Lennon doesn't add much to the story but appears to be included for the sake of accuracy. Unfortunately, this care about details isn't consistent. Two of the more obvious gaffes have a September 1980 news broadcast mentions that the presidential election is "next Tuesday" (a few months early) and a convicted Chapman is sent to Riker's Island instead of Attica.
The pacing of Piddington's film is clunky. Once Lennon has been shotfar more graphically than in Chapter 27 which keeps the camera on Chapman throughout the killingThe Killing of John Lennon runs out of steam but remains on screen for another 40 minutes! This final act ambles aimlessly through police interviews, psychiatric interviews, and scenes of Chapman in prison where his narration grow tiresome.
The Chapman of The Killing of John Lennon sees himself as an agent of change. He's ending the '60s with a .38 and helping to usher in a new era lead by Ronald Reagan. Election posters line the entrance of the library where Chapman rediscovers The Catcher in the Rye and a Reagan stump speech plays over the opening of the film. With a Chapman more indebted to Travis Bickle than Holden Caufield, the brief inclusion of John Hinkley Jr's assassination attempt of Reagan could have been interesting. Hinkley was another proponent of The Catcher in the Rye and swore allegiance to Jodie Foster after repeated viewings of Taxi Driver. With a dearth of material to keep viewers engaged, perhaps Piddington should have considered exploring the Hinkley parallels further.
If you can imagine Fred Rogers ("Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood") impersonating Travis Bickle, you have a close approximation of Jonas Ball's performance as Mark David Chapman. Though his "accent" is mentioned, there's little trace of Chapman's Southern roots present in Ball's vocalization. The actor is also lacking the girth, Jim Jones glasses, and unassuming politeness of the killer. This Chapman looks more like Jim Morrison gone to seed. Leto's Chapman soars to heights and sinks to lows swiftly, often sounding like a petulant child. Ball is very even in his delivery, giving his Chapman much more of a sinister air.
The Killing of John Lennon utilizes the multi-format approach popularized by Oliver Stone's JFK and Natural Born Killers. Piddington merely seems to be following Stone's example, adding nothing of his own. Things go from bad to worse in the third act which not only meanders in tone but appears to have been made as a student film and tacked on as an afterthought. The interview of Chapman by a Bellvue psychiatrist looks as if it were shot while the cameraman was asleep. Though, at nearly two hours (and half that filler), sleep is the most natural response to this sloppy film
Le deuxième souffle (2007)
Looks nice but unnecessary...
Based on the novel Un Reglement de Comptes by Jose Giovanni on which legendary auteur Jean-Pierre Melville based his classic 1966 film, one has to admire the balls on Alain Corneau for tackling the same source material. A more colorful adaptation of the Giovanni novel, SECOND BREATH rejects all things black and white. Headlamps are amber and there's even a jaundiced light over black and white crime scene photos. In fact, Corneau's SECOND BREATH isn't just colorful; it's garish. Hues are saturated to stratospheric levels.
Apart from the color and some intensified violence, Corneau's version of SECOND BREATH is an exercise in redundancy for fans of the original Melville film. It's not to say that Corneau's film is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's simply just not necessary.
My Winnipeg (2007)
A Fever Dream
A love poem to Canadian auteur Guy Maddin's soon-to-be-former home, MY WINNIPEG feels like a fever dream that brings together past, present, and future. Repeated words and phrases form a hypnotic cadence as Maddin's cinematic stand-in (Darcy Fehr) chugs through the snowy darkness. "Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Winnipeg," is the chant, rising and falling like the locomotive drone of the night train carrying its somnambulistic fares through Manitoba's premiere city.
Winnipeg; heart of the heart of Canada, the place that raised Maddin. With a hockey arena for a father and a hair salon for a mother (for more hockey and hairdressing see Maddin's earlier COWARD BENDS THE KNEE), Madding explores the structural arteries of his home town and revisits the history of himself and his city. Narrated by the filmmaker, the prose of the film (courtesy of long-time Maddin crony George Toles) is an overwrought poem of maniacal hyperbole and enthusiastic linguistic gymnastics; a perfect pitch for the fractured visuals of Maddin's multimedia pastiche. Looking like a daguerreotype picture postcard of this snowbound wonderland, MY WINNIPEG typifies Maddin's mad genius and captures his sordid relationship with his home.
The Devil's Chair (2007)
This film thinks it's cleverer than it is....
Oh, my brothers, let me tell you the story of a film that thinks it's far too clever for its own good. By talking directly to the audience and acknowledging the obvious similarities between it and other films it wants to seem smarter. And, my brothers, by using a voice-over that recalls little Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, then that brings the irony up to such a level that can not be overlooked, yes?
SPOILERS: Let's just boil down this blood-drenched little film into its basic elements: supernatural thriller turns out to not be supernatural but the drug-addled delusions of a maniac. There's no subsequent twist at the end to say, "But, wait, maybe it *was* supernatural!" Add a voice-over to make the audience sympathetic with the low-rent Jason Statham clone playing the lead (Andrew Howard) and give him complete control over the narrative (the film stops for his pithy comments with maddening irregularity) to make the big switch even more of a surprise. Surprise for whom? For anyone not paying attention to the film, I suppose. Otherwise, this HELLRAISER / PUMPKINHEAD meets SESSION 9 film will shock and delight you, my brothers.
Diary of the Dead (2007)
George says, "Take That, Zach"
It's a good thing that George Romero does that John Carpenter thing of putting his name before the title of his films. In the case of DIARY OF THE DEAD, it may be necessary as the title doesn't show up until the end of the film. Otherwise, innocent viewers may be mistaken that the dreck they're seeing was produced by some twentysomething punks rather than a deluded, seasoned master.
The conceit of the film is that it's actually a cinema verite documentary, DEATH OF DEATH, by student filmmaker Jason Creed (Joshua Close), his band of friends, and his soused professor. The "handheld camera-work" device fails miserably as we're never privy to the team of gaffers that run ahead of our intrepid heroes to light everything (flatly) before they arrive. Also, the "handheld shots" are obviously steadicam. I'm sorry to geek out about this but Romero never lets up on the "you're watching people tape this" aspect, causing me to see all of the ways in which it wasn't. In other words, it's not BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, BLOOD OF THE BEAST, or Zack Snyder's remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD.
With the camcorder, Winnebago travel, and insistence that "dead things don't run," it appears that DIARY OF THE DEAD is Romero's commentary on Snyder's reworking of his film. Unfortunately, Romero only succeeded at making me long for the verve and gallows humour of Snyder's film instead. The jokes of DIARY OF THE DEAD induce more groans than a legion of zombies. Meanwhile, the thrills never managed to get me anywhere near the edge of my seat. Worse yet, the obligatory Romero social commentary is handled ham-handedly via voiceovers from the vociferous Bree (Michelle Morgan looking very Eliza Dushku-esquire) and occasional montages of re-appropriated news footage. These sequences put the brakes on the already plodding story. To be fair, the story moves just like a Romero zombie; it shambles along.
The only bit that provided some good laughs and thrills came from the all too brief appearance of a deaf Amish man. Sadly, this segment felt like it came from another, less self-important film.
My Enemy's Enemy (2007)
Want To Know Why The U.S. Is Hated?
I never consider myself worldly or well-learned until I see a "No Duh Documentary." I'm not an expert on the U.S. policy of hiring and protecting Nazi war criminals but MY ENEMY'S ENEMY didn't manage to tell me anything that I didn't already know about the recruitment of "The Butcher of Lyon," Klaus Barbie, and his post-WWII life in Bolivia. Barbie's greatest hits include the deportation of 44 children to a death camp, the murder of French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, backing several South American putsches, and teaching the U.S. a thing or two about effective torture methods (some still being used today).
This French/UK documentary showcases quite a few skeletons from the U.S. closet but spends more time demonstrating how the French government refused to bring Barbie to justice for several decades thanks to the post-WWII French government's comprise of unsavory Vichy loyalists on whom Barbie held dirt.
Another damning indictment of wrong-headed decisions made out of greed and alleged anti-communist fervor, MY ENEMY'S ENEMY holds more answers to Americans who just can't fathom why our country is so despised in the international arena. A truly enlightening film.
San taam (2007)
My Partner Sees Ghosts
While I like the name "MAD DETECTIVE," due to the double meaning of "made," I think that this HK film should bare a more classic HK title such as "MY PARTNER SEES GHOSTS" (since HAUNTED COP SHOP was taken). MAD DETECTIVE is a parboiled supernatural police thriller starring Lau Ching-wan as Inspector Bun, a brilliant detective who went a little over the edge when presenting his retiring boss a present that only Vincent Van Gogh could have appreciated.
Years later, Ho (Andy On) visits his spiritual sifu in an attempt to break the case of Wong (Lee Kwok Lun), a cop who went missing when he and his partner, Chi-Wai (Lam Ka Tung) were in pursuit of a suspect. It doesn't take long for Bun to come out of retirement and see that something is very wrong with Chi-Wai. Rather than being one man, Chi-Wai is a seven spirit collective (with each perhaps representing an aspect of the Seven Deadly Sins). Ho doesn't know whether to buy into Bun's sixth sense or simply watch in awe and hope that there's more than madness to Bun's method.
Unfortunately, the "secret" of the case isn't very difficult to discern and the audience can most likely beat Ho and Bun to the punch (especially as Ho gets more dense as the film goes on). The addition of a "B Storyline" or even simply more of the better elements of the main storyline would have reduced the muddled feel of the film's second act. Too often MAD DETECTIVE feels like a rejected pilot from the makers of "Medium" or "Ghost Whisperer." A fairly enjoyable bit of HK fluff, don't be surprised when the U.S. remake is announced.
Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)
The line between Japanese samurai films and Italian Westerns (called "spaghetti" in the West and "macaroni" in the East) has been blurry from the days of Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. The widescreen expanses of 19th Century lawlessness was a cinematic language easily translated between chambara and Euro oaters.
Prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike forgoes the pasta and dubs his dabbling in the horse opera a "sukiyaki" western. This Japanese stew-like metaphor is appropriate as Miike throws in a great number of influences and references into his dish. What cooks up may bear the name "Django" (and he introduces a coffin hiding a machine gun midway through the film) but it owes more to Kurosawa than Corbucci in its acknowledged inspiration from YOJIMBO. The unnamed black clad antihero rides into a previously thriving town to find it a wretched hive of scum and villainy; occupied by a handful of citizens and two warring clans, the Genji and Heike.
Clad in red and white, Miike injects some heavy duty rose overtones into the film, calling out the War of the Roses, Henry VI, and a hybrid rose bush named "love" quite frequently. At least two of the film's characters are products of Genji (red) and Heike (white) love affairs.
Even with a wealth of past ideas to pilfer, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO can't sustain itself for its full two hour running time. Things slow down about an hour into the proceedings. In order to inject some life into the faltering action, Miike breaks into the cartoon sound effects library and attempts to make SWD a life action anime film. These instances feel completely out of place, even after the highly stylized pre-credit sequence starring living cartoon character Quentin Tarantino.
It's strange with actors speaking English as a second language (for the most part) and who muddle through some tricky pronunciations (thank goodness for the English subtitles) that the worst performance of the film comes courtesy of a native English speaker. Quentin Tarantino seems to be doing some kind of Western drawl crossed with a fluctuating German accept as if channeling a drunk Klaus Kinski through a faulty connection. Tarantino's embarrassing "acting" may be brief but every second he spends on screen is excruciating.
Sure to be a hit with every hipster who has never seen an Asian in a cowboy hat (allow me to recommend TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER and THE NEW MORNING OF BILLY THE KID), SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO could do with some tightening up and a complete Tarantino-echtomy.
Light Snack Pretending To Be Three Course Meal
A by-the-numbers cop movie with sci-fi elements, this French policier felt very tired than being the fresh, slick thriller it so wanted to be. Loud gunshots, car crashes and fist fights are utilized as an attempt to break up the monotony of the script by Leclerq, Nicolas Peufaillit, Franck Philippon , and Aude Py (yes, it took four people to write this film when it felt like one person could have written it in their sleep).
Plugging into the generic lead role this time out are Albert Dupontel as David Hoffman, the take-no-prisoners cop who'd rather get the job done right than follow procedure. Hoffman looses not only his partner in the opening gun battle but his wife as well. Now it's personal times deux. He's partnered with the well-meaning newbie Marie Becker (Marie Guillard) and the two work to find the truth behind a series of deaths. Of course, these murders are ultimately tied back to the fateful opening gunfight and to the plot of Doctor Brugen (Marthe Keller) helping her daughter regain her memories after a tragic auto accident.
The large, gleaming neon sign points out the insidious mucky-muck plot device of a terrible weapon that's fallen into the wrong hands. Think "Project Janus" of JUDGE DREDD or any other number of government-funded weapons that have gone awry. This time it's a set of head gear that can download, erase, or implant memories into a subject. As government stooge Patrick Bachau (producer of CHRYSALIS) explains to his niece, Marie, the Chrysalis machine could be used to implant the memory of a fervent jihadist into innocent minds to create an army of terror killers. Likewise, a powerful business man could go on living forever by putting his mind into a younger body. If you just thought of FREEJACK, you're not alone.
The only scene missing from CHRYSALIS is the rewriting of Hoffman's memories and his struggle to maintain his identity. (That might not be in the film but the scene of him handing over his gun and his badge is!) Rather, Hoffman's mind is wiped. This may actually be a good thing as it removes the demons of his haunted past and allows Maria the chance to be the weak protagonist for a while. Things shake out just as you know they will. There's even a "the media will love this" scene with Guillard and Bachau at the end.
CHRYSALIS isn't a bad film so much as it's misleading. It's a light snack that pretends to be a three course meal.