Wednesday, September 07, 2011

What I Watched In August

August was a weird summer month filled with rewatches of old favorites and some new movies that I know I’ll be returning to in the future. Not quite in the ‘return to’ category is the willfully bizarre RUBBER. How do you make an absurdist tale about a sentient, killer car tire even stranger than it clearly has to be? Simple- you add in a mad commentary on the type of person that would seek out such entertainment and analyze the symbiotic relationship between those that make such films and those that enjoy them. The filmmakers get extra credit for stretching their argument(s) to the breaking point by challenging the viewer to be put off by the very oddness that attracted them in the first place.

Miike’s remake of the (unseen by me) 13 ASSASSINS was easily the most mind-blowing period action film I saw all month. A brilliant variation on Kurasawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI it is perfectly played, very well paced and incredibly exciting. When your film is 125 minutes long and the last 45 minutes is one long battle you really have to be able to bring tension, emotion and great characters together to keep your audience from getting tired of the action. Miike clearly understands how to construct his story and I can’t imagine a better film. The similarly themed British film IRONCLAD isn’t as great but it is still very good. It plays like a variation on THE MAGNICENT SEVEN with all the dilution of themes that referencing a remake might suggest. It is still an excellent film and one that refuses to shy away from the gray areas of hard decisions or the harsh violence of serious swordplay. I really got a kick out seeing the historic King John (played well by Paul Giamatti) dealing with his signing of the Magna Carte in the detestable way I would expect such a bastard would. The entire cast is excellent and I also liked the romantic subplot and that the siege story actually takes place over painful weeks. I hate it when screenwriters try to rush things into too short a timeframe.

K-20: THE FIEND WITH TWENTY FACES is an amazing amalgam of dozens of pulp characters, plotlines, ideas and designs shot through the mind of very clever Japanese filmmaker. A love letter to the era of Pulp Heroes and movie serials it tells a story of an alternate Earth that avoided World War Two and made great strides in super-science because of it. The downside was the rise of smart, subtle fascism that keeps most of the population in poverty while the upper classes live as kings. Into this dystopia steps master criminal K-20 carrying out his mad schemes as the police attempt to stop him. I can’t recommend this enough to its target audience but I will warn you that it drags a lot in the middle as we get to know our circus performer hero and his love interest.

RUBBER (2010)- 6 (not bad, pretty funny and sort of clever)
THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (2004) – 9 (rewatch)
INSIDIOUS (2011)- 8 (rewatch)
THE FISHMEN AND THEIR QUEEN (1995)- 1 (so bad I could hardly believe it exists)
COWBOYS & ALIENS (2011)- 9 (only very minor quibbles)
FIREBIRD 2015 A.D. (1981)- 4 (poorly directed Canadian dystopian tale enlivened by Darren McGavin)
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010)- 5 (the remake is about as good as the original)
THE CAT O’NINE TAILS (1971)- 9 (rewatch)
BLOW OUT (1981)- 8 (rewatch)
HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1973)- 8 (rewatch)
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)- 7 (good if a little facile and too many plot holes)
A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD (1973)- 8 (rewatch)
13 ASSASSINS (2010)- 10 (Miike hits it out of the park)
ALL STAR SUPERMAN (2001)- 7 (good animated adaptation)
THE ARRIVAL (1996)- 7 (rewatch)
AMUCK! (1972)- 7 (nice, sleazy mystery- Barbara Bouchet is beyond gorgeous!)
BARON BLOOD (1972)- 8 (rewatch)
THE WARD (2011)- 4 (Carpenter’s dull return to features)
THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)- 8 (well done courtroom thriller)
K-20: THE FIEND WITH TWENTY FACES (2008)- 7 (insane Japanese combination of several pulp characters and influences)
IRONCLAD (2011)- 8 (violent period action film)
THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT (1973)- 3 (bad on many levels but it has Rosabla Neri!)
VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1973)- 7 (rewatch)

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