Saturday, April 19, 2014

Instant Action: Sin-se-gae (New World, 2013)



This world doesn't seem like it's much better than the old one!

Screenplay By: Hoon-jung Park
Directed By: Hoon-jung Park

South Korean cinema has been a favorite of many a cinephile for a few years now. A bevy of high quality films and great directors have made the country of South Korea a bastion of cinema for the majority of cinephiles. A film like Sin-se-gae fits into the mold of what is dominating South Korean cinema at the moment. It's a smartly made crime thriller with a wee bit of a nasty side. It's not as mean and nasty as some of the more popular recent South Korean films, but it substitutes a wry sense of humor for meanness. In Sin-se-gae the story, characters, bursts of violence, and comedy all come together to form one heck of a motion picture.

I didn't expect to laugh as much as I did during Sin-se-gae. If one were to pay attention to the faces of every character, sans Jeong Cheong, Sin-se-gae comes across as the dourest of films. Everyone is so serious all the time, but when contrasted against the antics of Cheong the seriousness of the rest of the characters becomes kind of funny. Cheong is a killer, he's nowhere near a good guy, but he has an odd charm about him that makes him easy to like. He livens up the picture and his mere presence helps the other characters to find a comic middle ground. Sin-se-gae isn't ra ra funny, rather it's funny in an offbeat and deadpan manner. The humor in Sin-se-gae is the sort that's not served up for the viewer on a plate. But, if the viewer pays attention to the film they will find plenty to laugh about.

Sin-se-gae is as exhilarating as it is funny, probably even moreso. The majority of the film is calm, but peppered around said calm are bursts of violence and energy. One in particular that will catch the attention of any action minded cinephile is a gang fight that winds up with one guy against many in an elevator. It helps that one of the characters in the elevator is supremely magnetic, but the direction of that sequence is top notch as well. The end result of the violence doesn't really matter, it's the way that sequence manages to capture the essence of a character and provide bloody good energy that makes the scene special.

Hoon-jung Park's film makes good use of story and character to make sure that the story twists aren't ever actual twists. At first they appear to be twists, but thinking back about the time I spent with these characters their ultimate fates isn't a surprise twist at all. The screenplay of Sin-se-gae digs its claws into its main characters and makes their interactions matter. They are tropes, but because we delve so deeply into what makes them tick they transcend their trope origins. The story in Sin-se-gae is strong, and it takes its time to present characters who take their place in life versus being part of a twist.

Another great movie from South Korea, who would of thunk it? Sin-se-gae is well made in every way and a very enjoyable time at the movies. Park-ssi's film is full of energy, well thought out characters, and a story that is as satisfying as it is daring. While America is stuck churning out the same mob movies over and over again, Sin-se-gae proves that Asia is still where the best, and most inventive, crime movies are coming from.

Rating:

9/10

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

Friday, April 18, 2014

Episode #283: That's the Way on Terminal Island

Welocme to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week we cover Terminal Island (1973) directed by Stephanie Rothman and selected by good friend of the show Andy (Sammy couldnt make this review, he was detained sadly). We also cover That's the Way of the World (1975) directed by Sig Shore and chosen by Shaun (Sammy did make this one, just barely).

Direct download: ggtmc_283.mp3 
 
Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ministry Of Vengeance (1989)



There are certain things in life for which we all have an instinctual preference, and these preferences are usually of a binary nature.  Even when they are not, however, there is still a strong predilection to dislike one rather than simply tolerate all.  For example, you may like brunettes and dislike blondes, or you may like blondes and redheads but dislike brunettes, and so on.  But I would wager damn near all of you favor one more strongly than the others, and for the life of you, you can’t quite explain why (but I’m sure many have tried).  Maybe it’s some psychosexual thing going back to your upbringing and bizarre Oedipal/Electra issues.  That’s not the point.  The point is that anyone who has ever spent any length of time following the adventures of a couple of “good ol’ boys” from Hazzard County is partial to either Bo (John Schneider) or Luke (Tom Wopat) Duke.  You don’t know why.  It doesn’t make sense.  They were essentially the same character, but there it is for you.  Which one of the Brothers Duke do I root for more?  That’s for me to know, and for you to find out.  But just to give you a hint; Peter Maris’s Ministry Of Vengeance didn’t garner Schneider any points from me.

Deep in The Shit in Vietnam with his platoon, David Miller (Schneider) is the stalwart among Colonel Freeman’s (James Tolkan) soldiers.  After going down into a tunnel to try and clear out the enemy, he winds up blowing it up and bringing it down.  Years later, Miller is a well-adjusted reverend in Rome with his beautiful wife Gail (Meg Register) and daughter Kim (Joey Peters).  A group of terrorists from “The People’s Army” led by Ali Aboud (Robert Miano) shoot up the astoundingly-bingo-hall-looking airport, killing Miller’s family.  Miller ordains himself as the Ministry Of Vengeance!  Boom!

There are some interesting base thoughts in this film, key among them, of course, being that of the Holy Warrior.  By and large, this trope deals with the idea that there was some pivotal defining occurrence in the life of a Man of Violence which caused him to renounce his old life and seek peace and solace in a religious life.  And while the good parts of world religions teach us to be kind to our fellow man and so on (and this is the part our protagonist fools himself into believing is the totality of this life), it is impossible to deny the fact that the holy tomes of most religions are filled with violence, acted out by both gods and men.  But we’re not here to discuss theology.  We’re here to look at how (if at all) theology can be used in Action films and how (if at all) it does here.  So, the Violent Man who became the Holy Man is almost invariably drawn back into his former life.  The key is in which path he takes or if he tries to merge the two (witness: Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, Pale Rider, El Topo, et cetera).  Miller’s discovery is that he is not made out to be a man of the cloth, and even though we never find out if he is even still religious-minded (the crucifix he wore in Nam is never seen again, if my memory serves), he knows that his faith isn’t what he thought it was.  This disillusionment is only reinforced by what he encounters on his quest to find Aboud, but it is not only the duplicity of those thought to be devout which shakes him.  He also has to deal with the government on whose behalf he once fought.  Essentially, both worlds Miller lives in are artificial and untrustworthy on some level, so he chooses a third route away from both.  Of course, this is only after he has shot up a nice chunk of the Middle East.

Of course, being a soldier first and foremost, Miller knows all about violence in the mechanical sense.  However, being a veteran of one of the most unpopular wars in American history, he can make distinctions about the righteousness of violence (basically, does the end justify the means; something rarely, if ever seen in films pre-Vietnam War).  Having seen and been ordered to participate in acts of aggression counter to most peoples’ innate compassion, he understands the idea of an eye for an eye, and he sees his mission against Aboud as one of punishment for a killer.  This also presents the viewer with a notion of duality in the film (above and beyond that of Warrior/Priest).  Normally in this type of film the former warrior is typically pared off against a fellow ex-warrior, and he is the exact opposite number of our protagonist (think: Matrix and Bennett in Commando).  In Ministry Of Vengeance, Miller’s opposite is Aboud, obviously, but unlike what we are used to, Aboud is almost characterless.  He is as devoid of personality as any of his minions are.  The only thing we know about any of them is that they are Middle Eastern and terrorists, so in the realm of the Eighties Action film, they are as legitimate a group of candidates for cinematic villainy as anybody else (certainly in the fact that they are foreign).  But let’s make no mistake, Miller is also as flat an Action hero as has ever been, so in this way, I suppose you could say he and Ali are like a five-and-dime version of Matrix and Bennett.  It’s just extremely difficult to drum up any investment in their conflict due to the film’s shortcomings.

This is the sort of film where advocates tell you that you need to turn off your mind in order to like it.  I would say I’m fairly adept at this method of viewing, though I also have problems with it, because I don’t think it’s possible to do completely (at least I can’t; maybe it’s a sickness), and I certainly don’t feel it’s beneficial when you’re watching a film in order to write about it.  With that in mind, Ministry Of Vengeance is a hot mess.  Even looking past the unenthusiastic acting across the board (and from such talents as Ned Beatty, George Kennedy, and Yaphet Kotto) and the actual sight of excitement draining off the screen like a gas tank siphoning out, there are coincidences going on in this film that just made me shake my head.  For instance, after asking government agent Mr. Whiteside (Kotto) for help in identifying the man who killed his family, David goes home, opens a magazine, and just happens to find a photo of Aboud.  Later, he sneaks into a village, and his guide takes off to locate our villain.  Glancing around, Miller spots the very man in a house directly across the street from him.  It feels as though Maris and company may as well have simply filmed the first and last scenes of the film, since none of the scenes in between build off one another.  They’re simply filler to suck up screen time, and the script dismisses obstacles with offhanded facility.  But worse than being insulting to one’s intelligence, the film is boring, and for that reason alone, you can give this one the last rites.

MVT:  The template of the film is for your standard Action/Revenge film, and it is as predictable as expected.  Everything else is largely a waste of time and celluloid.

Make Or Break:  The Break is the aforementioned scene in the village.  Coincidence in film is a funny thing.  We can usually accept one (okay) or two (well, maybe) incidences of it.  But when the entire plot and action of a film is a neverending series of coincidences (oh, c’mon, already), it reeks of amateur hour.

Score:  4.5/10    

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Lock In (2014)







Directed by: no one was listed at time of writing.
Produced by: Holy Moly Pictures 
Runtime: 98 minutes

I learned about this movie from an online news site that likes to report on the more offbeat things. The headline for this movie compared this movie to The Room. Being an idiot I went out and bought this movie expecting a train wreck just like The Room.




This is The Room. It is an amazing train wreck of a movie. It is incompetently edited, has insane direction and things happen without rhyme or reason. It also has lots of passion and charm that makes it a memorable train wreck.


This is The Lock In. Or rather this is me holding an empty bourbon bottle because The Lock In is streaming on demand and does not have a dvd release. This is a competently made film that understand the horror genre, and understands how to make a believable found footage film. Yes The Lock In has a different message but it conveys this message better than The Room could ever hope to do. Well I bought the ticket so let me take you on the ride that is The Lock In.

Since this movie is not twenty years old, I usually try to write a spoiler free review. However, four minutes in to the movie it spoils itself. So just to let you know the rest of this review is full of spoilers.

The movie opens with former youth pastor Chris explaining that the footage the viewer is about to see is disturbing. So disturbing that he quit being a youth pastor and took up selling insurance. Then he says the most horrifying thing in the whole movie, all the kids involved in the footage live.

This leads into the movie's title card and introduces the main characters. Due to not really caring and the rushed pace the movie introduced the main characters I did not really get the characters names. So I will just use the nicknames I gave them from my notes. The movie rapidly introduces Born Loser, Camera Guy and Mr. Mugging. Born Loser get lectured a lot for things he either didn't do or for things that are not as big an issue. Camera Guy is behind the camera eighty percent of the film and then there is Mr. Mugging. Every time the camera goes near Mr. Mugging this tool is trying his best to be annoying and is a great success at this. Most of my notes about this movie involve wanting this character to die horribly in this film.

The trio are going to a church lock in. A lock in is where a bunch of kids get locked in a church overnight and play games and do youth related stuff. Mr. Mugging thinks that this night will be epic and wants the events filmed. So Camera Guy and Mr. Mugging go pick up Born Loser and Mr. Mugging proceeds to cause problems for Born Loser. Mr. Mugging nearly shouts about how Born Loser had pizza and studied with a girl. This leads to Born Loser's parents taking him aside and giving him a lecture about the evils of premarital sex.

The plot starts to move again as the trio make their way to the church lock in. However, Mr. Mugging hasn't been annoying in two minutes and guilts the other two into cleaning his car. So they pull up to the nearest dumpster and end up finding an adult magazine.Mr. Mugging thinks it is a brilliant idea to hide the magazine in Born Loser's stuff. This plan goes about as well as most barely thought out ideas, the magazine is found and the trio get in trouble. Though Mr. Mugging does make himself human and likable by admitting it was his stupid idea but youth pastor Chris is blaming all three of them for the magazine.

So youth pastor Chris and the three protagonists go outside and burn the magazine. Back inside the church, the trio are amazed that they only got a lecture instead of being sent home and ending the movie early. This amazement is brought to an end when the adult magazine returns unexpectedly in Camera Guy's stuff. So the trio run upstairs to throw away this new magazine when everything goes wrong. The trio throw the magazine in the first trash can they can find and the trash can starts moving. Scared the daylights out of them, the trio run down stairs to find all the doors locked and there is no one else in the church.

This starts the bulk of the movie were the protagonists running around the church with the demon appearing at random to scare the trio to another part of the church. I liked how you never get a clear look at the demon in this part of the movie but it would have been better if the demon hurt some of them. Like Mr. Mugging for example, he could have used several needless beatings.

My pettiness and blood lust have nothing to do with the plot so back to the plot. As the trio are trying to escape the church and the demon they run into the girl that Born Loser likes. There is more running and not a lot of Mr. Mugging being injured. At one point they hide in a kitchen and Token Female Interest reveals that her parents divorce was caused by the images pornography put in her father's head. After some pointless dialog and a short nap, Token Female Interest hears her friend at the door and foolishly opens the door and is pulled out of the scene and the rest of the movie.

The idiots three decide to go running around some more and end up in a office with video camera setup. Like all normal people trapped in a church with a demon they do the most logical thing and watch the footage on the camera. The camera is being used to record a counseling secession of some guy who is dealing with porn addiction. After a few minutes of the addict explaining his on going problems with porn addiction the pastor leaves the frame and then things get weird. The guy looks into the camera and starts talking to the trio by name with a demonic voice.

This leads to the best part of the whole movie, Mr Mugging gets so scared that he leaves the group. Sadly this act does not lead to his grisly destruction but I will take victory where I can. Camera Guy and Born Loser run away and take shelter in a broom closet. The camera is running low on power at this point so the light on the camera goes out and the two of them take a quick nap. When Camera guy gets the camera up and running he find that Born Loser is gone.

Now Camera Guy is on his own and goes wandering around to find a way out and other people. Instead he finds and confront the demon, none of this is shown. There is  lots of yelling and growling but nothing is shown. Somehow Camera Guy gets away and runs into the main part of the church where everyone is sitting looking sleep deprived. They are all puzzled as to why he is talking nonsense about everyone missing an demons. As far as they know, he was with the group of kids the entire night and just left to go to the bathroom only to come back ranting and raving crazy nonsense.

The final scene is of the trio talking in the not dead Mr. Mugging's car. Born Loser and Mr. Mugging don't doubt that Camera Guy what he had experienced but they don't remember any of the events he is talking about.  He gets dropped off at his house and films himself throwing out his collection of adult magazines that he collected by dumpster diving. Then the movie just abruptly ends without credits.

MVT: Underneath the message there is a horror film begging to be let out. The writer of this movie understands horror and with a rewrite or two and a budget this would be an amazing horror film.

Make or Break: What makes this movie for me is the technical competence. Cgi is used sparsely and only when there is no budget for practical effects. Character conversations are framed so that you can see who is talking to who. As for breaking, the purpose and tone is what broke this movie for me. This is a film aimed at teenagers and goes out of it's way to try to speak to teenagers. This makes watching for entertainment rather difficult especially if you are in your thirties.

Score: 1.4 out of 10  


 



Covert Action

Between the release of Goldfinger in 1964 to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, the James Bond films inspired hundreds upon hundreds of spirited, colorful, often nonsensical European spy films about smarmy super-agents trotting the globe to foil the dreams of assorted madmen megalomaniacs. These films took the Bond template and ran with it, and thanks to the inexpensive access to glamorous locations that Europe offers, even the films that couldn’t afford a proper office set could still afford to pop down to the Amalfi Coast or Monte Carlo or Paris for a couple days of filming. By the end of the 1960s, however, even though the Bond franchise was still going strong, the Eurospy films inspired by 007 all but vanished from screens, much in the same way as the sword and sandal films of the early 1960s.

It was no mystery where they went. Part of it was simply a case of over-saturation, the gluttonous overkill European cult cinema (usually led by the Italians) always bring to the table when a genre becomes popular. But even more so, the social and political climate of the 1960s rendered these frothy, goofball spy fantasies not just anachronistic, but even insulting to a generation that was now in the midst of civil unrest, warfare, and terrorism. When Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof are running through the streets, it’s hard to work up much interest in some smirking spy in a sharkskin suit chasing after a dude who invented a spore gun. In 1972, against the backdrop of Black September terrorists massacring Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich, the breezy fun of the Eurospy era gave way to the grim, nihilistic vision of the poliziotteschi film.

Still, much of the crime in Europe was politically motivated -- or at least so the criminals claimed -- and although tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union had relaxed a little, there was still a Cold War on. The spy films of the 1970s were a very different beast than those spy fantasies of the previous decade (even though that previous decade had seen the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis). More paranoid, more realistic, reflective of a world in which authority figures were no longer trusted or given the benefit of the doubt. Given the cross-over potential, it’s surprising how few times poliziotteschi and espionage met. Covert Action (Sono stato un agente C.I.A.) is one of the higher profile examples, if not one of the better ones, because it stars Maurizio Merli, the poster boy of the entire poliziotteschi genre.

American David Janssen (The Green Berets, O’Hara: U.S. Treasury) stars as retired CIA man Lester Horton, who spends his disgruntled retirement as a failed fiction writer and occasional author of scandalous tell-alls about the CIA (the character was allegedly based on real life CIA dirty laundry airer Philip Agee, who even sued the production company). When he pops up in Greece, for vacation he says, the CIA gets nervous, and before too long Horton is caught up in a convoluted plot revolving around murder and a taped confession that would be particularly damaging to the CIA.

Despite coming from two action-packed genres, and having “action” in its title, Covert Action isn’t an action film. It’s more of a brooding espionage thriller, paced slowly but not boring. Director Romolo Guerrieri was fairly low-key in the world of Eurocrime, compared to the big names like Lenzi, Massi, and Castellari, but he directed a few really good crime films in the 1970s (The Police Serve the Citizens?, City Under Siege, and Young, Violent, Dangerous), and Covert Action is similarly low-key. It’s about the paranoia and hopelessness one faces when trying to get out from under an organization that basically has carte blanche to do anything, anywhere in the world. When the action does heat up, it’s pretty damn good, including a good car chase, a harrowing interrogation scene, and a fight between co-star Maurizio Merli and a gang of hired killers. Merli co-stars as Lester’s friend, a man who is finding himself pushed out of the CIA and targeted for permanent retirement. Merli brings the intensity for which he’s known from cop movies, but this a more complex and vulnerable role than what’s he’s known for.

Covert Action isn’t essential viewing except for Maurizio Merli completists, and unless you’re predisposed toward appreciated slow burn spy films and character studies, it might try the patience a little. But if a measured pace doesn’t stick in your craw, then Covert Action is a deceptively intense thriller with some great performances, a few good stunt sequences, and a relentlessly bleak and exhausted mood. If you enjoy films like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Three Days of the Condor, Covert Action will slide in nicely as a lesser but still plenty enjoyable example of the genre.

MVT: Although I’d love to give it to Merli for getting to do something other than grimace and box ears, it has to go to David Janssen. “Understated” is sometimes used when people don’t want to say “dull,” but it truly applies here. Despite maintaining his cool as best he can, Janssen’s performance bristles with a mix of intensity, frustration, and weariness. If James Bond was the spy who made people want to go out and have adventures, Janssen’s Lester Horton is the one that makes you want go home, collapse on the couch, and stare pensively at a tumbler of J&B.

Make or Break: Merli slaps some fools in a Greek amphitheatre. We all love watching Merli smack around criminals in his many cop films, but when he finally gets to bust out the backhand in Covert Action, it’s an entirely different sort of experience. Instead of the aggressor, he is the defender, and there is a savage desperation and sense of “the good man’s final stand” doom that lends the scene a melancholy air.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Episode #282: Of Unknown Wandering

Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents have two more picks for the toy drive we did last year and they were chosen by Antti and Randy!!! Antti chose Of Unknown Origin (1983) directed by George P. Cosmatos and Randy chose The Wanderers (1979) directed by Philip Kaufman. We want to thank them for the choices and support!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_282.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Galaxis (1995)



Even though she was the star of the 1985 non-epic Red Sonja, which debuted months before it, I think a great many of us remember the first time we saw Brigitte Nielsen as being in Rocky IV portraying the icy Russkie, Ludmilla.  This is probably due to the former film being an absolute box office bomb.  Arguably, she made an even bigger impact in both Cobra as the icy cult target, Ingrid, and in Beverly Hills Cop II as the icy thief, Karla Fry.  Are you noticing a trend here?  Honestly, I don’t think Ms. Nielsen’s appeal was ever in her looks (though her chiseled features are certainly attractive) but in the underlying threat she poses.  Between her statuesque physical build and the forbidding demeanor she cultivated in her onscreen performances, I think the fact that she looks like she could snap you in half during the act of lovemaking is her real draw.  It’s sort of like how so many women (and men, let’s be fair) say they like “bad boys” in that it’s strictly a superficial allure, but holy shit, it’s effective (and also applicable to strippers).  I couldn’t say whether the same applies to people in regards to Richard Moll, but in William Mesa’s completely non-seminal Galaxis (aka Terminal Force aka Star Crystal) you can make the comparison for yourself.

The people of the planet Sintaria are besieged by the evil minions of Kyla (Moll), an interplanetary despot determined to get his hands on a special crystal that will bestow upon him enormous power.  Said crystal is in the hands of the noble Lord Tarkin (Craig Fairbrass), but after a valiant battle is waged, Kyla finally gains control of the crystal.  But wait!  It seems there is another crystal, and Tarkin’s sister Lidera (Nielsen) travels guess-where to find the second relic and save her people.  

If Harlan Ellison could sue James Cameron and Orion Pictures over The Terminator, than I would say that all three plus George Lucas could easily bring suit against the producers of this film (and the producers of damn near every Sword And Sorcery film ever made could probably get in on the action, too).  You have the very first scene, which is straight out of the original Star Wars, with a large battle cruiser firing on a smaller, less-well-armed ship.  You have the idea of an evil empire trying to crush a peaceful people who have learned to fight back with what they have.  You have the “advanced” Science Fiction character having to wade through the “primitive” world of modern Earth.  You have the character that slowly discovers his heroic side (kind of).  And there’s the idea, once again, that Earth is the fulcrum of the entire Universe.  It’s funny how often this is the case in films of a fantastic nature.  On the one hand, it’s the sort of conceit that seems fairly, well, conceited.  On the other hand, it’s cheaper than trying to build sets and create an alien world for a low budget movie.  Plus, for as self-involved as it is on its surface, it also touches on the idea that there is something innate in humanity itself which marks us as exceptional.  Call it the “human spirit,” if you like.  Of course, the veracity of this concept can be debated for years, but it is inarguable that it holds a strong fascination for the majority of film-going audiences.  

Two of the themes that not only Galaxis but also its progenitors rely heavily on are those of a normal person discovering their inner hero and the old fish out of water gimmick.  The Rising Hero has been a motif for centuries (for example, King Arthur and the sword in the stone), and it’s something viewers enjoy, because it touches on that silent longing everyone has that they can (or would; take your pick) defeat the villain and rescue the damsel, that they make a major difference in the world.  Of course, this can inspire people to genuine greatness.  But what it discounts is that we do make a difference in the world, it’s just that we’re blind to it, because we don’t feel particularly special.  It’s the whole premise on which It’s A Wonderful Life is based.  Similarly, the fish out of water is typically played for humor.  The juxtaposition of disparate cultures (and the subsequent culture shock) is funny, because of the reactions the proverbial fish has to what he/she encounters.  It’s only when the fish begins to assimilate into and interact with this foreign culture that they can (usually) get down to the business of the first of these two themes.  All of this said, this particular film, while having these elements in it, do little to nothing with them (what a shock it must be hearing that from me).  Our milquetoast hero Jed (John H. Brennan) never becomes half the warrior that Lidera (or Sarah Connor, for that matter) is.  Likewise, neither Kyla nor Lidera seem at all perplexed by what they encounter on Earth.  It’s as if the filmmakers saw the films they were ripping off, but understood nothing about how they work.  Naturally, it’s also conceivable that they saw these tropes and decided to try to do them differently.  But it doesn’t totally succeed if that was their intended goal.

Still, this is a direct-to-video Sci-Fi/Action film, and it does load the running time with the exploitable elements required for a hybrid of these genres (with the exception of nudity).  There are some quite good practical effects throughout the film, including a lot of nice miniature work.  The matting is sometimes a bit spotty, but you can’t have everything.  There are also lots and lots (and lots) of explosions, and they are impressively large.  The one thing you can say about this film is that for what it lacks in budget, originality, and plot and character development, it makes up for with its breakneck pacing.  Helping this along are the subplots centering on goofy criminal kingpin Victor’s (Fred Asparagus) pursuit of Jed and hard-bitten, overwrought detectives Carter (Roger Aaron Brown) and Kelly (Cindy Morgan, a long way from Caddyshack) and their pursuit of whomever is blowing up their city.  To call the execution of these threads unsubtle is like claiming that Rip Taylor likes confetti (hint: he really, really does).  However, if you happen to be a big fan of cinematic ham, Galaxis is a pork-filled, seven-course repast.

MVT:  For as commonplace as everything else in the movie is, I truly was dazzled by the effects in the film (all things considered).  Nielsen and Moll, less so.

Make Or Break:  The Make is the opening scene.  You understand explicitly how derivative this film is going to be, and you also get a taste of the quality level of the production.  It’s a perfect set up of expectations for a film of this caliber.

Score:  6/10       

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Instant Action: True Lies (1994)



Jamie Lee Curtis performing a striptease always makes for a good time!

Screenplay By: James Cameron
Written By: James Cameron

True Lies is a very ridiculous film, but it owns its ridiculousness. From the start of the film until the very end logic and common sense are thrown out the window. This can result in a lesser film, one that is too concerned with being a cool action movie. However, such an approach can also result in a film that is lots of fun because of its willingness to go with the ridiculous. Whether it's our hero cracking someone over the head with a hand dryer he ripped off the wall or our villain managing to prance across the top of a moving jet there's no such thing as grounded in True Lies. That's okay though, because the film is about lying and it makes sense that the film would build a fantasy world full of lies.

There are parts of True Lies that are irksome. It's a bit too flabby, and it overdoes the bombasity on a few occasions. It does seem to go a little overboard in its presentation of its female characters as essentially helpless beings. I'm willing to let those problems slide because of how much fun I had with the film. The problems the film contains are easily overcome by James Cameron's willingness to go with the crazy ideas in his head. Maybe some of the crazy comes from the original film that True Lies is based off of. Whatever the case may be True Lies sticks to its guns and that allows the film to be better than it has any right to be.

This is the second time I've reviewed an Arnold Schwarzenegger film for this column. I was hoping to avoid double dipping too early, but in this case it's necessary as Mr. Schwarzenegger is not the focus on my review. Rather, it is the aforementioned James Cameron. He's not the best writer in the history of cinema, and his sense of humor is very broad (but effective, truth be told), but he's as dynamic of an action filmmaker as I've ever come across. Not only is the action of Mr. Cameron able to oscillate from small to incredibly large, with relative ease he's able to give a consistent view of his action. This isn't the fast cutting and editing of the Chaos Cinema approach to action. Mr. Cameron likes longer cuts that establish place and space nicely. It's hard to get lost in Mr. Cameron's action because he always make sure to let the viewer know the where and what of the action.

Maybe I'm going out on a limb here but I feel comfortable saying that Mr. Cameron is one of the best action filmmakers in the history of cinema. I much prefer his style to that of say, Michael Bay or Paul Greengrass. Their style is definitely their own and there are plenty of fans of the Chaos Cinema approach. The landscape and structural style of Mr. Cameron connect with me in a way that Chaos Cinema has never been able to. At one point our hero, Harry Tasker, is fighting his way out of a warehouse. There's a lot of action going on, and the film spreads the action evenly between the foreground and the background. When someone is shot we know where they are in relation to every other character and their general surroundings. That seems like such a small matter but it's so important to well framed action.

Another aspect of Mr. Cameron's action filmmaking that consistently impresses is his use of varying weapons and methods of action. True Lies isn't two hours of the same guns being used in the same shootouts over and over again. The artillery used is varied, and so are the scenarios for the action. There's a small bathroom shootout that is about the intimacy of combat. There's a chase scene that is about the thrill of the catch. Finally, there's a big end piece that is about the importance of scope. Mr. Cameron presents varied and unique action that is always compelling and always well done.

It's not the best film from James Cameron, but True Lies is a great piece of popcorn entertainment. I use that term lightly because while the thematic content of Trues Lies is superfluous the same cannot be said for the action. True Lies is a terrific example of an action film that is great because of the mechanics of its action. In an action film the action kind of matters, but that's not all True Lies has going for it. Equal parts funny and adventurous, True Lies is a rip roaring great time at the movies.

Rating:

9/10

Cheers,
Bill Thompson

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Episode #281: Miami Romance

Welcome back to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week we have two selections from two great friends of the show!!! First up Wendi from Double Page Spread podcast chose Romance (1999) directed by Catherine Breillat and then Kelly chose Miami Vice (2006) directed by Michael Mann!!!

We want to thank them both for the choices and the support!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_281.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Screwballs (1983)

The one thing that becomes readily apparent when one enters high school is that everyone is in a clique of some sort or another.  And as broad and dismissive as it may be to say it, they really are as we’ve come to expect from pop culture.  You have your nerds, your jocks, your loads, your punks (Goths, whatever), and so on.  Most people, however, are not defined solely by the company they keep nor by the seemingly self-defined, self-limiting rules ascribed by their social status, so they can, will, and should associate with those outside their clique, at least on some level.  What’s interesting is that once one gets out of high school, one discovers that cliques carry on through college, into the work place, and they even run the world (shocking, I know).  It’s all a part of man’s tribal nature.  We gravitate to those who either share our personal belief systems or seem to have the most to offer us (or a combination of both).  Of course, this isn’t meant as a blanket statement.  There are exceptions to every rule.  But I think that even a person engaging with the broadest spectrum of societal cliques recognizes that these do exist, and that they, in fact, belong to them, even if they belong to a lot of them.  Thus do we come to the main characters of Rafal Zielinski’s Screwballs.  I don’t think anything else needs be said (but I’m going to say it, anyway).

Five high school horndogs, jock Rick (Peter Keleghan), rich boy Brent (Kent Deuters), nerd Howie (Alan Deveau), slob Melvin (Jason Warren), and new kid Tim (Jim Coburn), all find themselves in detention because of the cruel manipulations of the snotty, virginal Purity Busch (Linda Speciale).  The five disparate youths vow to get a glimpse of Purity’s boobies before the Homecoming dance and set about making it happen.  Hilarity is supposed to ensue.

The Teen Sex Comedy has a long tradition, and following in the popular trend in youth-oriented media of the time (think Happy Days, Porky’s, The Wanderers, etcetera), Screwballs is a period piece.  Outside of the window dressing (and scant though that dressing is due to budgetary constraints), the film doesn’t feel of the Fifties.  This is really neither here nor there, since it’s so focused on its grabassery, you would never notice the disparities.  Despite the film’s more graphic sexual references (throbbing erections [yes, really], blunt character monikers, female nudity), it is little more than a collection of misadventures along the lines of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon or a silent comedy of the Twenties.  We don’t need more development of the characters or the plot than what we’re given, because none of it matters.  This is the broadest of broad comedies in the vein of a turd in a punch bowl.  Characters have names like Jerkovski, Howie Bates (get it?), and Sara Bellum (before The Powerpuff Girls).  The librarian silences people who use sign language in her library.  The school is referred to as T&A High (named after Presidents William Taft and John Adams, natch).  The film lacks any of the sophistication of its aforementioned ancestors.  In a way, this makes Screwballs almost critique-proof.  You can’t truly complain about its prurient interest or its unsubtleties, because the only reason it exists is to give fourteen-year-old boys hard-ons  (witness the fascination with and multiple closeups on women’s lips, tongues, and breasts) and make them giggle at humor that would likely still make fourteen-year-old boys groan.  Yet, there are some things at play underneath because of its base, primal makeup.

Comedy and Horror share a lot of common traits, perhaps the most prevalent being the attention given to obvious set-up and payoff scenarios.  So, in Comedies like this we have things like Howie setting up an elaborate series of mirrors just to see up the skirts of the school’s girls.  Similarly, in Horror films, we have lone characters walking through excessively dark spaces.  Both build tensions on simple expectations and then pay them off by fulfilling or subverting those expectations (and if you’ve seen enough of either, those subversions can be rare).  Nonetheless, Screwballs very intentionally uses Horror-type images to play as humor.  Bootsie (co-writer Linda Shayne) finds herself (and more importantly her breasts) pushed against the rear window of a van as she screams and struggles in vain.  Melvin rises out of the beach like a member of the living dead.  A girls’ gym class feign being hypnotized and march, arms out, like zombies.  Most telling on a subtextual level is the scene where Purity cuts into and eats a sausage, while the lads wince in sympathy pain.  

Along those same lines, the plot of the film is a Revenge tale.  Purity is the antagonist, and she delights in tormenting everyone around her by getting them into trouble for following their natural instincts.  The other characters are all fascinated by her, because she’s a virgin, and in a way, this is the sin she commits (combined with her attitude of superiority) that garners the indignation of her peers (and something which would signify her as a Final Girl in a Slasher movie of this era).  For being slighted, the boys seek revenge, and the route they choose to achieve it is through Purity’s humiliation.  This seems sort of lopsided, since none of the boys seem in any way humiliated themselves in how they came to be in detention.  If anything, they are proud of how they got there.  In fact, it seems like a regular occurrence in their scholastic careers.  What they are miffed about is that they got caught at all.  

For all her haughtiness, Purity is little different from everyone else, and she has the same urges they do.  She simply represses them, making her shenanigans something of a werewolf motif (work with me on this).  This is illustrated in the scene where, while deep in dreamland, she hits on and dry humps her oversized teddy bear.  It serves to knock her down a peg and almost even humanizes her in the eyes of the audience, but it doesn’t absolve her misbehavior.  So, like Larry Talbot, she has to be proverbially clubbed with a silver-headed cane.  Purity may be a human in private, but she is a monster in public.  The cost is her chaste public image.  Even though she doesn’t lose her virginity, her exposure comes close, because now everyone has seen what she has held back.  It somehow feels anticlimactic, since there are so many naked boobs throughout the film, another pair really doesn’t seem all that special.  I’ll leave it to you to compare and contrast, if you like.

MVT:  There is pulchritude in excess herein, and if your life has been short of this, then Screwballs is the perfect remedy.

Make Or Break:  The opening scene is the Make.  Bootsie and Rhonda (Terrea Smith) are hanging a sign outside the local diner.  Meanwhile, a giant inflatable sausage flops thither and yon between them, poking both lasses in the nethers.  Really says it all, doesn’t it?

Score:  6/10