Movies »Dredd

Dredd-1directed by Pete Travis (2012)

Well, what do you know!? Those shockingly good reviews for the blood splatter B-movie Dredd were right. It’s pretty darn good, in a gritty early 80’s way. There’s a fine line that the ultra violent film toes nicely: it takes itself seriously enough to be straightforward – not winking to the audience but has enough fun with the genre so as to not be mired down in pompous seriousness that plagues superhero movies these days. It’s not easy to manage the balance, if it were more popcorn movies would satisfy more often.

I’ve heard this one is very loyal to the original comics, and maybe that’s where the genius lies – someone adapted something the liked and was smart enough not to change it completely once they got their hands on it.

Dredd is played by hunky Karl Urban (not that you would know with his gruff one liners and never removing his helmet) and his lady sidekick, Olivia Thirlby is surprisingly good, empathetic even, as she blasts her way through the movie.. but it’s Lena Headley who has the most fun as a psychopath king pin named Mama.

Get the kids out of the room, settle in for some blood soaked action and enjoy.

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Posted on February 27, 2013

TV Shows »Misfits

misfitsOn Hulu

Imagine if Heroes was raunchy and had a fabulous sense of humor. If that sounds intriguing do yourself a favor and watch the British import, Misfits.

The first three seasons are more fun, entertaining, smart and creative than I expected from a show with the premise of dirty mouthed, horny juvenile delinquents gaining super powers. With the compelling cast and innovative story arcs you might even end up emotionally invested.

Which is why I point out that it’s the first three seasons that are most notable. I’m in the middle of the fourth season now, which begins with just one remaining original cast member and at a point in the story where big mysteries have been solved. While season three suffered the loss of the charming Robert Sheehan, it carried on pretty well without him. Now, though, as much as they are trying, it feels forced, but I’m still watching since its more fun than most things out there.

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Posted on January 9, 2013

Books »The Hunger Games Trilogy

by Suzanne Collins (2008, 2009, 2010)

I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about and besides a young adult romance set in a dystopian future where kids are forced to kill one another sounds exactly up my alley. There’s a prevailing and annoying habit of people, mostly men, around my age to flat out despise anything too popular (usually without ever having read or seen the offending pop hit) but I like to read before judgement (I even gave Twilight a chance) and found The Hunger Games spectacular.. Mostly.

The first book is riveting with well written action (usually hard to write and the part in most books that loses my interest) and the romance is nothing short of brilliant. I can totally understand how this captured the hearts of teen girls everywhere and frankly, it left me feeling a bit like a teen girl myself.

The plotting is smart, the heroine is complex and pishaw! to those complaints about similarities to the Korean gore fest Battle Royale. I’m a big fan of that too but feel they’re very different. Besides I ask you to name one sci fi theme that hasn’t been explored by more than one author.

The first book is intimate, exciting and heart breaking and left me very curious about book two, Catching Fire which surprised me by being equally great if not better. Collins moves the story forward in unexpected and inventive ways. After a whirl wind it ends in a cliff hanger which leads us to book three: Mockingjay and the downfall of the series.

I can’t help but wonder if Collibs was severely depressed while writing the final installment. With my love for dark material I’ll rarely say something like this but: couldn’t she have kept things a bit lighter? Given our beloved characters more satisfying justice and more romance? I mean really, this book is bleak.

Still, it’s worth reading the trilogy which takes about three days – you just may want to fabricate your own happy ending.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Charlie’s Angels

Thumbs Forgot All About It

What’s the opposite of unforgettable?

The new Charlie’s Angels!

I had actually completely forgotten we had even this until Jim reminded me.

All I remember was wondering if drug dealers really host catered parties where everyone wears white mini dresses and white suits?

This is no She Spies.

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Posted on September 28, 2011

Movies »Pale Flower

directed by Masahiro Shinoda (1964)

From the Japanese New Wave movement emerges this hard boiled noir. Pale Flower, of the gambling noir sub genre, is tough, cool, and stylish. Shot in such stark black and white that only slivers of the action are often visible, it takes us on a cold journey to the Tokyo underworld where addiction, desperation, skewed loyalty, and failed redemption run rampant.

It follows yakuza gangster Muraki who has just been released from prison for murder to find his old life changed. His gang’s in a truce with his rivals, he no longer yearns fpr the woman that waited for him, a young man enters his life unexpectedly, as does an strange, beautiful and mesmerizing gambling addict named Saeko.

Muraki is played with calm gravitas who barely registers emotion whether he’s falling in love or some one attempting his assassination. His contorted pain finally reveals itself in a surreal nightmare sequence that will have you wondering if Polanski saw this before making Rosemary’s Baby.

Saeko is equally enigmatic. Wildness and lunacy stir quietly behind her doe eyes. It almost makes you wonder if she were simply perfect casting for her inherent madness or if Mariko Kaga is one fine actress who does more with her vacant eyes than all the smizing in 100 cycles of ANTM (yes, I’ve taken up watching again.)

It’s funny, I usually scoff at remakes, but I often cast them in my head as I watch classics. In this case, I’d move the story to Las Vegas, focusing on rival meth gangs. Titus Welliver would be my lead with Juliette Lewis as his former lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt as his new young friend and, if she can lose the vampiness, Evan Rachel Wood perhaps as the degenerate gambler though I’d consider Amanda Seyfried or Angela Bettis.


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Posted on April 18, 2011

Movies »Yojimbo

directed by Akira Kurosawa (1961)

Yojimbo opens on a lone, unnamed Samurai, so drifting in life that he allows the toss of a branch decide the direction he wanders. It ends up leading him to a dusty town where only the coffin maker can earn a living. Two houses of criminal gamblers are at war, fighting over territory and the entire town is hostage to the violence.

Seeing an opportunity to make some money and mess with some bad guys, he offers his incredible skills with a sword as a bodyguard – pitting the two bosses against each other for his favor.

Seemingly rough and impenetrably tough, it’s only when he gives into and reveals a kind heart that our Samurai falls prey to the bad guys and we can cheer for not just a clever man but a true hero.

Yojimbo is probably one of Kurosawa’s most comical movies and also one of the straight up coolest. Thanks in no small part to the handsome dynamic duo of Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai but you could also site all the Dashiell Hammett Kurosawa was reading at the time and the films of John Ford he found so inspiring.

No wonder it made such an easy transition to the Spaghetti Western as the Clint Eastwood classic A Fistful of Dollars. West inspires East inspires West.. though I will have to rent the Leone version to see how he interprets the awesome Samurai sword versus pistol fight.

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Posted on March 4, 2011

Movies »Valhalla Rising

directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2010)

Most likely, anyone entering Valhalla Rising expecting and wanting a Hollywood action epic will come to the same conclusion: “Boring!” (You can read lots of these interpretations on the Amazon reviews). I however, am the opposite. I turned King Arthur off in the middle of what I am sure the makers assumed was the most exciting scene and nearly fell asleep with boredom five seconds into the latest Robin Hood trailer.

Action pics just aren’t interesting to me anymore, but this, this is no action pic despite some of the most brutal fight scenes I’ve seen in some time. No, this is more akin to Aguirre The Wrath of God than Clash of the Titans and in all it’s arty pretension, I found it fascinating and wonderful.

Mads Mikkelsen stars as One Eye, an enslaved Gladiator type warrior who claims to have come from hell who has no qualms about killing men with his teeth. After escaping his captors and earning a young boy as devoted follower and translator, he meets up with a band of violent Christian crusaders bound for Jerusalem. In a fog of mist however, they wander off course from Scotland to the New World and mistake it for Hell. Hallucinating ensues and death looms in slow motion.

Shot like a gorgeous heavy metal video through the eyes of Werner Herzog, this was one of the only times I’ve been frustrated with the quality of streaming video – epic high contrast landscapes just don’t hold up to compression very well. In hindsight, I’d have gone all out and rent the Bluray.

While this is probably not a film that will please everyone I recommend it to, one has to be happy that movies like this – that defy convention, and are not afraid of their silence and allegory are still being made. With Valhalla Rising, director Nicolas Winding Refn has become one of the most interesting filmmakers to watch.

His previous works include the drug dealing Pusher trilogy but I would love to see him tackle more of the D&D type stuff (because who else really is making seriously awesome movies set in 1000 AD about soothsaying warriors?) but am intrigued by the upcoming Only God Forgives, which is described as a Bangkok-set modern western.

Click here for the rest of Valhalla Rising

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Posted on December 24, 2010

Movies »Ninja Scroll

directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (1993)

The words “Ninja Scroll” echoed in the halls of my freshman dorm. Nerds coming from all corners of the country and globe were getting introduced to anime with this bloody action packed oddity, all thanks, if I remember correctly, to one Hal Lee who passed a well worn VHS around Nickerson Hall. With explicit sex scenes, demon monsters, and arm ripping/blood soaked fights, well, needless to say the dudes were INTO it. I  however, never saw it til last night (thank you Netflix + AppleTV).

Like most things Japanese, Ninja Scroll is somewhat inscrutable, but that hardly matters. Whether you follow the story about a secret gold mine, an old man spy, and a bisexual who plays a deadly game of telephone or not, there’s just so much good stuff to look at. From rape minded rock monsters to ninja birds, from vagina snakes to magic bee swarms, the movie hits the ground running and never stops.

In short, though, Jubei is a ninja for hire who talks with the insensitive staccato of a teenage boy that just learned the word ‘shit” as in “Shit! A cast off skin!!”. He meets up with a girl ninja Kagero who is poison to any man that sleeps with her. Together they reluctantly (since they are fiercely independent, of course) join forces with a sneaky old man to defeat a team of demons with strange abilities who want nothing more than world domination through destruction and a pirate ship full of gold.

In a huge sea of anime, which is daunting to traverse, this one stands out with it’s inventive monsters drawn from folklore, stunningly beautiful artwork and a plot that speaks to my D&D heart.

The movie spawned a sequel series and word has it that Leonardo DiCaprio owns the rights to a planned live action movie coming next year.

Click here for the rest of Ninja Scroll

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Posted on December 19, 2010

Movies »The Mad Max Trilogy

directed by George Miller (1979, 1981, 1985)

The Mad Max trilogy is a grim, inventive B-movie blend of sci fi and action the likes of which I wish was made more often. Instead of drawing from established science fiction, it made its own mark on the genre and is frequently imitated to this day.

The first film, Mad Max, is the bleakest and the most menacing. Set in a nearer future where the world has certainly changed but some semblances of society are still intact (like family, a police force, and community – albeit broken versions), Gibson plays a law enforcer driven to “Mad”ness Max when a crazy band of outlaws, headed by psycho Toe Cutter, mow down his dearest (if you thought Bambi’s mom being killed was dreadful…) It’s the most convoluted of the three films, and the roughest around the edges, but it sets up the believable dystopia (with a distinctly Australian grit) that endures throughout the trilogy.

Road Warrior, also known as Mad Max 2, finds Max mid road battle with a band of incredibly awesome punk bad guys before stumbling across a ragtag, more peaceful group of gas hoarders in need of just the kind of reluctant heroism a once likable and handsome Gibson was capable of before he became such an evil prick in real life. The story is spare and harsh and once again there’s eye popping, over-the-top costumes and art design which might border on silly if designer Norma Moriceau weren’t so ballsy about it all.  In fact, the entire series benefits from the no apologies, true B-movie bad-assness that can spawn straight-faced characters like Lord Humungus, Gayboy Berzerkers, The Toecutter, and Pig Killer. The second installment might just be my favorite of the bunch with its straight forward, almost all action punch.

The trilogy gained some considerable gloss (which rears its ugly head with that head scratching saxophone that was so prevalent at the time – see Ladyhawke) with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but it’s a film very dear to my heart; as a kid my sister and I would quote “Master Blaster runs Bartertown!” endlessly. While it definitely ventures into Ewokish territory with the nearly cartoonish second half that features a band of lost kids and goofier violence (it seems strange that the menacing Ironbar played by a sneering Angry Anderson should  leave this world in such a Wile E Coyote fashion), still it’s visually stunning and unique with unforgettable set pieces. Bartertown itself, a literal cesspool of vice run on pig shit where feuds are settled in the Thunderdome (two men enter, one man leaves!) has got to be one of cinema’s most memorable post apocalyptic towns and to be honest, I was on Aunty Entity’s side when Max plus brats tore it apart. Like it or not, Aunty (played with the kind of sexually bold bravado that only Tina could lend the role) brought order to an insane world… but perhaps I’m thinking too deeply about it.

There were once rumors of a fourth starring Heath Ledger, which obviously is no longer the case and with Mel’s latest rants of hate and general horribleness, I hope the rumors of his cameos are not true. More intriguing are the latest chit chat circulating about the dashing Tom Hardy (the guy that out did Leo in Inception) taking over the role in a plot that includes “Five Wives” that need protecting. Let’s hope creator George Miller, whose been behind all of the films continues his vision of pure, exploitation cool.

Click here for the rest of The Mad Max Trilogy

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Posted on October 9, 2010

Movies »Hard Ticket to Hawaii

directed by Andy Sidaris (1987)

We just went to see Piranha 3D and can say it’s a fun barrel of trash that at least goes literally balls out with its sleaze and B-movie tropes. It lead to a discussion about how hard it is to make good bad things. Which, aside from a full monologue about my favorite Seagal films, eventually, inevitably lead to a lesson in Andy Sidaris. His soft core oeuvre is incredible, and Hard Ticket to Hawaii is his finest – truly the Citizen Kane of soft core action films. All the signature Sidaris touches are here – Playboy actresses, long shots of airplanes taking off and landing, the excessive use of toy helicopters and cars to deliver either explosions or drugs, elaborate death scenes, and a bad guy named Seth.

Donna Speir, who grits her teeth for dramatic line readings and babysitter gone slightly naughty Hope Marie Carlton are special agents and copter pilots who stumble upon a drug ring mastered by Seth. Total babes Ronn Moss and Harold Diamond are their Agency mates and, in Donna’s case, tit rubbing lover (no worries about being too embarrassed a la Travis Bickle to watch this – the most you’ll get is semi nude heavy petting – though the stills after the jump/below might not be safe for work).

From the opening song “Hard ticket to Hawaaaaaii, it’s not paradise all the time” you know you’re in for a treat, a treat that includes a dangerous cancer infested snake (which in theory would just make it sick and likely to die but here makes it a man eating killer machine that can bust through toilets with a radio active glow), a weapon made from a frisbee and razor blades, and one of the greatest “action” scenes of all time that includes a blow up doll, hot dogging skateboarding, and explosions (you’ll find a moment by moment break down of this scene below).

Sidaris, who my family contacted as fans and was a lovely man with a co-creator wife that sent us all signed photographs, sadly passed away a few years ago, but his legacy is vast. My guess is he’s unknown to you, so you have plenty in his archives to discover – after this immaculate classic, try Picasso Trigger and Return to Savage Beach.

Click here for the rest of Hard Ticket to Hawaii

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Posted on August 29, 2010

Laughs »The World’s Most Action Packed Movie

at Everything is Terrible!

Brought to my attention by friend Luke, and featured on Everything is Terrible! This is indeed the world’s most action packed movie. Which, if you’re curious means lots of gun shots, punching, screaming and a man being beaten with his own severed arm of course.

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Posted on August 8, 2010

Movies »Oldboy

oldboyDirector Park Chan-wook's revenge thriller Oldboy is a noted entry in the cinematic canon of Asian Extreme… which is an apt moniker for the genre – and this movie in particular. The plot is extreme: a man is imprisoned in a room for fifteen years without any reason only to be unexpectedly released into a bazaar game of cat and mouse.

The violence and action sequences are extreme: some scenes will make you squirm and, unlike most cinematic combat scenes, the ones here are memorable and pop off the screen – one in particular took seventeen days to perfect and was shot in a single, continuous take. The movie leaves you feeling socked in the gut – and liking it.

It's based on a manga series by Nobuaki Minegishi and Garon Tsuchiya who, someone along the line, must have been inspired by my favorite sci fi writer, Jack Vance. We were thrilled to see so many of his classic ideas on screen, even if it is just a coincidence (nowhere online can I find any concrete evidence of his influence… perhaps I'm the only pseudo scholar with a dual Vance/Park Chan-wook interest?).

The movie itself falters at the end; as is often the case, the conclusion of a compelling mystery can never be as intriguing as the initial investigation. Still, it's a worthy investment if you crave an action thriller and find that Hollywood just hasn't been delivering.

Chan-wook has a new vampire thriller out in theaters now called Thirst.

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Posted on September 7, 2009

Movies »Inglourious Basterds

Truth be told, it's been quite awhile since I've been smitten with Mr. Tarantino. I know people love his recent films, but Jackie Brown was the last one to hit home with me. So, I really had no expectations going into Inglourious Basterds and, to my shock, I absolutely loved it.

It's a ballsy, insane movie with pops of extreme violence, unexpected laughs, and cinematic beauty. Not to mention a cast of extremely handsome, strapping young Jews and allies. There were so many armed and bloody men to swoon over, that it will take some time to include them all in my hunks list.

Clearly taking cues from suicide mission military films like The Dirty Dozen and the original Inglorious Bastards, which shares very little with this film except the title and Nazi bad guys, he is equally inspired and paying homage to classic spaghetti westerns – punctuated with the clever use of music by our favorite Ennio Morricone.

It's an odd bag of tricks and the result is all just a little bit off: Mike Myers is strangely cast in a Peter Sellers role (but is his usual old bullshit self) within a fairly straightforward scene, a tense confrontation between old enemies over dessert is interrupted by extreme close ups of fresh whipped cream, and David Bowie's song from Cat People plays over a putting-make-up-on-to-kill-Nazis montage.

Like his revolutionary hit, Pulp Fiction, the movie has a way of knocking you back after you've seen it. In part because of the graphic gore, but moreover – it's a talky, unique and shocking remixing of popular movie genres turned completely inside out. Unlike the typically somber tone of films like Defiance, Tarantino actually rewrites history so that we all get the bloody revenge we always wanted in an extremely satisfying, cinematic way.

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Posted on August 24, 2009