Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Malcolm Reynolds > Leonidas

Ah, 2002. It was a simpler time. It would be years before Zack Snyder would befoul our silver screens with his slow motion propaganda, and there was a wonderful little show called Firefly that aired every Friday night on Fox. Of course the first Firefly experience most people had was really the second episode of the series: "The Train Job." This is because Fox assumed that people wouldn't have the attention spans to sit through the 2 hour long pilot episode. For all I know, they're right. People--and especially heavy television watchers--aren't really known for their patience, or intelligence. Regardless, most folk got a real sense of the show from "The Train Job." There were a number of groin-grabbing moments, and it's no wonder that the show went on to become the hit that it did. (Is that sarcasm or not? You decide!) But really, in the end, you just can't beat the humble simplicity of one fellow kicking another into the engine of a spaceship. And since everything I've typed thus far was just an excuse to post this clip, enjoy:

Also: Jewel Staite, if you're reading this, will you be my girlfriend? I promise to only call you "Kaylee" on special occasions.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Honk If You Love Giant Robots

Brad Bird. Either you're like me, and you know him from his work on The Simpsons (back when The Simpsons was good), or you're like most other people, and you know him from his work with Pixar. Which is generally pretty excellent, by the way (see for instance: The Incredibles). Yet there was a period of time when Bird wasn't working on The Simpsons, and he wasn't part of Pixar. Quite a large period of time, actually. And this is when he directed The Iron Giant, which I just watched for the first time last night, and which is now one of my favorite kids movies of all time.

When I was trying to figure out why I hadn't seen it already, I realized that when the film came out (1999), I was 15 years old. Actually, to be more precise, it came out on my 15th birthday. Unfortunately for me, Past-Keith was a surly bastard of a 15 year old, and was far too busy acting cool and watching A Clockwork Orange and Akira over and over again to take 90 minutes out of his life to enjoy a really excellent kids film. Past-Keith can be such a cunt sometimes.

In any case, The Iron Giant takes place in Maine in 1957. Cold war style. The main character is a 9 year old boy named Hogarth Hughes (best name ever?) who finds a giant robot and proceeds to (more or less) make it his pet. In terms of narrative, the film won't really shock, or even surprise. It's your basic "kid meets robot, kid loves robot, kid teaches robot significance of life, kid loses robot" kind of story, which we're all familiar with at this point. (My favorite example of this is of course Terminator 2. There's no way you will ever beat Terminator 2, Iron Giant, but I still love you.)

But the writing is sharp, the characters are solid, the animation is gorgeous, and dammit... it's just a fun movie to watch. Really took me by surprise. Shit, even the voice acting is decent. Jennifer Aniston doesn't embarrass as Hogarth's mom, Harry Connick Jr. is a passable beatnik, Chritopher McDonald is as slimy as can be as the vile antagonistic government agent. (Even though I swore he was actually Hank Azaria the entire time I was watching the movie.) Oh yeah, and a pre-Pitch Black/post-Private Ryan Vin Diesel plays the voice of the robot, which is kind of a hoot. (Don't worry, he doesn't really "talk" as such. And when he does it's electronically manipulated.)

I tried to hunt down some decent clips on YouTube to help convince any skeptics of the movie's worth, but all I could find were terrible Iron Giant themed music videos. I guess that shouldn't surprise me. I don't think there's a decent piece of animation in this world that hasn't been set to Korn at some point. This is a phenomenon we all just have to learn to accept, I guess, and we can move on with our lives. So don't search YouTube. And if you do (but you shouldn't), don't let the wreckage you find there ruin the movie for you.

Also, just as a warning: I'm a little biased toward movies about kids who have their own robots, so keep that in mind. The reason being of course that robots are completely fucking awesome, and even as a jaded 20-something I would still love nothing more than to gallop around on my own clanking subservient killing machine. I can hardly be blamed for that.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Lower Your Brows

So I just watched Tokyo Gore Police again, and I was in the process of typing up a blog post about it when I happened to refresh GreenCine Daily. Apparently I've been beaten to the punch! I don't mind though, because this post, which you should click on and read immediately, captures the film perfectly. If reading that post gets your blood boiling and makes you want to watch it right then and there, you will love the movie. And you should probably get off the goddam internet and watch it right then and there. But if the GreenCine post makes you go a big rubbery one, or just doesn't interest you, then TGP is probably not for you. And I'll be the first to admit: it's not for everyone. But if you're the kind of person who gets excited about "the cinematic equivalent of a Gwar concert," then for fuck's sake call up some like-minded folk and pop in Tokyo Gore Police.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Forget Everything You Know About Ponies

There's a certain measure of beauty striven for by artists in this world, a dream of absolute aesthetic perfection heretofore thought unreachable by the flawed hand of humanity. This dream has just become reality. My Little Pony: The Princess Promenade has opened a doorway to a realm of staggering beauty, one that can't be explained away with simple words. To watch this film is an experience like no other. To quaff the heady brew of its majesty is to wrap yourself in a blanket of enlightenment. You don't just see its purity, you taste it. It fills you. I am not a religious man, but this film is as close to God as one can come in this wretched world of ours.

Any attempt at analysis of how the film achieves what it does is meaningless. One can certainly break it down into its component parts, though this yields more questions than answers. (1) A narrative of staggering force and clarity. (2) Simple yet elegant camerawork, comparable to the masterworks of Ozu, yet leagues beyond even his understated beauty. (3) A swirling palette of colors, always moving yet never extravagant. (4) A troupe of actors who will accept nothing less than to become these noble beasts, to cast off the shackles of their own human identities and, through their words, conjure a kind of concentrated beauty from the very aether around them. Yet this is nothing more than a simplification--a reduction of what is by definition vast and unknowable to a straightforward list of observable attributes. MLP:TPP is so much more than the sum of its parts, and must be felt to be believed.

That this film hasn't received more critical attention is a monumental tragedy. Though perhaps... perhaps the real tragedy is within ourselves. It may be that we are simply not ready to open our hearts, let the scales fall from our eyes, and embrace the only true beauty that really exists in this world: My Little Pony.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

From Out of Space... A Warning and an Ultimatum

For your own good... don't go see the new Day the Earth Stood Still. Not even out of curiosity. I'm not joking. It's a huge step back for cinema. It's a huge step back for humanity. You have no excuse. I've made the mistake, and now you don't have to. It will give you eye cancer. It will make you sterile, and not in the good way.

I know what you're thinking: "This Keith fellow... he's prone to exaggerate to get his point across. I better go see for myself!"

No. Fuck you. I forbid it. If you really need to get your fix, watch the original again. Or just watch something else. Want some Keanu? Pop in Bill & Ted. Shit, you can even pop in Johnny Mnemonic. It's leagues beyond this travesty of a "remake." Need some Jennifer Connelly? How about Labyrinth? Labyrinth is great! Or when was the last time you watched The Rocketeer? Isn't that movie awesome?

Yes, let's all stay home this weekend and watch The Rocketeer.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Am a Gross Straight Man

It's true. I am a gross straight man, and that's a major influence on my cinematic input. For instance... do you know what I love? Unapologetic, unadulterated, exploitation schlock. I love to go see a movie that doesn't waste time on things like plot and character development, but instead focuses on (crazy!) sex and (brutal!) violence. And as with most film experiences, this is best accomplished with a large audience of like-minded folk. Before coming to San Francisco this was a much more difficult task to orchestrate, but now that I'm here I can't seem to walk two blocks without tripping over a schlocky genre festival. Another Hole in the Head, Dead Channels, Shock It to Me... and so on. It's goddam overwhelming.

Onechanbara is a perfect example of the kind of glorious film experience this city has to offer, assuming you know know where to look. (Hint: try the Roxie.) This is exploitation pure and simple. You might imagine the film's conception as something like the following: "Let's see... what's popular these days? Oh, I know! Zombies! And babes! And killing! Let's make a movie of that." This is surprisingly close to reality. The only difference is that Onechanbara is actually based on a Japanese video game (series) of the same name. But video games can be exploitation too! And exploitation movies based on exploitation games are like extra-bonus exploitation. You can't really get much better than that without making the transition to hardcore porn (which I'm not necessarily against).

There is nothing you can dislike about this game (assuming you're a lusty heterosexual male).

To be honest, I wish we had more of this kind of thing in American cinema today. It just doesn't seem like there's much of a market for low budget wonders like these, nor is there really a system in place to answer the pitiful demand that does arise. It's easier in Japan for the simple reason that they already have various frameworks in place to pump out waves of cheapo films. If we had something like Japan's V-cinema or pink film industries... well, life would be sweet. In the US, shitty cinematographers like Yohei Fukuda would never get the chance to direct shitty (awesome) movies about girls with swords. And that's sad. Think of what could be!

(Anyone interested in learning more about pink films--or who doesn't believe that worthwhile art can rise from the depths of the low-budget sex-film industry--should probably check out Jasper Sharp's new book, Behind the Pink Curtain. And by the way, I'm not suggesting that Onechanbara is a pink film. It's clearly not. It just got me thinking along those lines.)

So the rest of us have to rely on the likes of Quentin Tarantino, it seems. And while any true exploitation fan probably has somewhat ambivalent feelings toward Tarantino, I'll be the first to admit: I think the guy's got his heart in the right place. He loves schlock, and tries his damnedest to spread that love as far as it will go. For me, that simple fact outshines any shortcomings he may have, artistic or otherwise. I may let my frustration slip out a bit occasionally, but who doesn't?

Notice a pattern? Neither do I...

Luckily we (which is to say the US) also have a pretty decent independent schlock scene, so we're not totally deprived of low budget exploitative crap. But distribution is few and far between, naturally. Unless you're catching these movies at festivals (like Another Hole in the Head), you're probably watching them on DVD at home. If there's ever an exception, I try my best to be on top of it. Zombie Strippers, for instance, played a short run at the Lumiere Theater here in the city, and I made sure to be there at midnight on day one for the special opening "event." Unfortunately I was one of fewer than 10 people, 1 or 2 of whom were asleep moments into the show. Fuck! (The movie was hilarious, by the way. Not great by any means, but wonderfully disgusting. And the amount of dead nudity was... well, a lot. It will make you uncomfortable.)

Jenna Jameson is a talented actress.

Actually, talking about dead nudity just reminded me of the Masters of Horror series on Showtime. This is probably the closest thing we have (had, rather... or is it still on?) to V-Cinema schlock. A bunch of filmmakers get a bit of a budget to make an hour long horror film, which then goes straight to TV and DVD. There's not too much risk, so the directors can fuck around and make some really weird stuff without too many (financial) repercussions. A lot of these are terrible, but a few of them are totally worthwhile. (I think Argento's Pelts is the best of them, personally.) And they're all fun to watch!

Incidentally, if you missed Onechanbara and are looking to make up for it you can catch Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police this weekend (at midnight on Friday and Saturday, respectively) at the Roxie. I've seen both of these a few times now, and you're missing out if you can't say the same. And having seen them both on DVD and in the theater, I can tell you without hesitation that it's better in the theater (obviously). Not to mention the fact that it's being presented by Another Hole in the Head, which means there'll likely be mountains of free Red Hook to quench your thirst. No one has an excuse to miss this. (And for anyone participating in the Month of Terror, these totally count as horror films. Another bonus!)

What would Freud say?

Um... shit. I just realized that I sat down to write about Onechanbara specifically, but ended up getting completely sidetracked. Oh well, no big deal. The important thing is for everybody to go see it if/when they get the chance. And support your local purveyors of filmic filth! Honestly, where would you be without them?