So once again we have survived.

The Hidden Fortress

Let’s face it, I’m stupid to not have seen all the Akira Kurosawa movies. Usually when I see one it becomes my new favorite movie. HIDDEN FORTRESS is my latest favorite movie.

It’s another one with Toshiro Mifune playing a badass warrior, but it starts on two buffoonish peasants, Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara). They’re all dirty and their clothes are torn up and they’re arguing, blaming each other for the shit they’ve just been through. One of them got the bright idea they could make money fighting with the Yamana clan, but they got to the battle too late and were mistaken for the losing Akizuki clan and forced to help bury all the dead bodies. And shortly after this they get taken prisoner again, locked up in the vanquished Akizuki castle and forced to dig for their hidden gold until there’s a riot and they escape.

On the lam they accidentally break a stick that has a piece of gold inside, marked with the Akizuki seal. What the hell? And while they’re checking all the sticks in the area for more gold they run into Mifune. He starts bossing them around without telling them he’s General Makabe Rokurota of the Akizuki clan and that he’s trying to sneak the clan’s gold and their sixteen year old princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) to safety. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Postman

I seriously have been meaning to see THE POSTMAN ever since 1997 when it came out. I thought it sounded like a cool idea, and I seem to remember first hearing of it as an upcoming George Romero movie in a Fangoria Terror Teletype. But then Kevin Costner made it and I guess everybody saying such bad things about it kept pushing it down my list.

Well, I would like to thank everybody for that, because 19 years was exactly the right amount of time to wait – all the sudden there is upheaval in our country that makes this particular dystopia weirdly appropriate. Yes, it’s very corny, with slow motion images of triumph made all the more syrupy by a James Newton Howard score. And yes, it is three hours long, but still seems rushed at times, with odd time-passage issues and major scenes that fade in and out like a “previously on THE POSTMAN” highlight reel. But it has a uniquely optimistic spin on post-apocalyptic fiction, and man does it speak to me right now.

Kevin Costner (who directed from a script by Eric Roth [MUNICH, ALI], then rewritten by Brian Helgeland [PAYBACK, BLOOD WORK, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER, LEGEND]) plays a nameless wanderer in post-Doomwar 2013. The oceans have dried up (reverse WATERWORLD), civilization has collapsed and you gotta do a chemical test on water before you drink it. He’s traveling the Utah salt flats with his load-carrying mule Bill, looking for settlements where he can perform Shakespeare scenes in exchange for food. But he’s in one of these towns when the Negan-from-The-Walking-Dead-esque tyrannical warlord General Bethlehem (Will Patton, BROOKLYN’S FINEST, ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL) comes through with an army on horseback conscripting ten men from each town. And they choose him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Split

Request: please be extra careful in the comments not to give away that one surprise thing where people might see it by accident.

SPLIT is M. Night Shyamalan’s odd little thriller about three teenage girls abducted from a parking lot and kept locked in a room by a man calling himself Dennis (James McAvoy). Terror turns to confusion when he starts coming to the room talking different, acting different, claiming to be different people. It turns out Dennis is just one of 23 personalities in this guy, and they don’t all necessarily support what he’s doing.

Logically you assume this kidnapper is gonna be a rapist or killer, and these may be true, but for now he’s being told to cool it by “Patricia,” a female personality who shows up occasionally to make the girls mayo sandwiches and assure them “he’s not supposed to touch you.” Oh, okay, that’s comforting. He also shows up as “Hedwig,” an 11 year old boy who likes to dance and listen to Kanye West and giggles a little when he warns them that “The Beast” is coming.

I haven’t always been on board for McAvoy (WANTED, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, X-MEN FIRST CLASS), who’s obviously a good actor but seems weirdly prone to playing heroes who are a little too douchey to completely root for. But here he’s truly great. Each character has a different voice, accent and body language – you can recognize them even before he speaks, even if he doesn’t change his clothes. (Though he usually does. He seems to be very fast at it.) McAvoy is clearly having alot of fun with this, taking his acting skills and doing a bunch of donuts and wheelies and shit. Going off jumps.
(read the rest of this shit…)

Cabo Blanco

CABO BLANCO, or CABOBLANCO, or “Caboblanco – where legends are born…” as it actually says onscreen, is a 1980 kind-of-remake of CASABLANCA starring Charles Bronson. It’s his third collaboration with ST. IVES and WHITE BUFFALO director J. Lee Thompson (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, CAPE FEAR, CONQUEST OF/BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN), and in my opinion definitely not their best.

I guess the producer’s first choice to star was Paul Newman, who couldn’t do it so he suggested Steve McQueen, who was sick so he suggested Bronson. I guess if you have to have somebody fill in for Humphrey Bogart, it would be one of those guys, and Bronson might be the best for it. He plays the admirably named Giff Hoyt, who can’t return to the U.S. for unspecified reasons and instead runs a fancy hotel bar on the coast of Peru. (read the rest of this shit…)

Traitors

tn_traitorsTRAITORS is the story of Malika (Chaimae Ben Acha), a young Moroccan woman who fronts an all-female punk band called Traitors (no ‘The’). In the opening scene we see her looking like Joan Jett as they practice their song “I’m So Bored With Morocco.” Like any other nationality’s punk music she’s complaining about asshole cops beating and murdering people, the empty promises of politicians, living in poverty while part of the country is rich. But also roadblocks, having your papers checked, a General’s son getting away with running over a farmer.

We see that at least some of this comes from their daily life. Stopped at a roadblock, they get scared, but clearly they’ve been through this before. They know how to give the cop a bribe. Or more like a tax.

Despite this oppressive society they’re very creative people. They drive around in a van projecting footage of themselves onto things and filming that. She edits the footage on her laptop as they go. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barb Wire

“Do I look disenchanted to you?”

I think it’s important to be honest, so here it is: I saw BARB WIRE years before I ever saw CASABLANCA. So now that I’ve finally seen the Humphrey Bogart one I thought I should rewatch to find out if the Pamela Anderson one really is loosely based on it.

Actually, not that loosely! It’s kind of a sci-fi world, based on a little known comic book, and it’s gender-swapped: Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson, BORAT) is the Rick character, the supposedly not-taking-sides military veteran running a club where dangerous people congregate. Curly (Udo Kier, BLADE) is the waiter guy. Police Chief Willis (Xander Berkeley, WALKER) is the pain in the ass but sort of sympathetic cop raiding the club and kissing the ass of the visiting assholes. Instead of Nazis those guys are “Congressionals” from Washington DC. But their uniforms look like the Gestapo and their leader, Colonel Pryzer (Steve Railsback, LIFEFORCE) likes to torture people. (read the rest of this shit…)

Casablanca

You guys know about this CASABLANCA? 1942, hill of beans, they don’t really say “Play it again, Sam,” etc.? Yeah, well, until recently I’d never seen it. And that’s always intimidating, trying out an iconic classic way after the fact. You don’t want to find yourself very respectfully trying to enjoy it. But that wasn’t a problem here – I loved it. I won’t have to research why it was considered good at the time.

If you haven’t seen it either, it’s a story about love, heartbreak and duty in a limited, colorful location: Rick’s Cafe Americain, a popular “gin joint” in Casablanca, Morocco, the next-to-last stop on the trail of European refugees trying to flee the war and get to the Americas. It’s based on an unproduced play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison called Everybody Comes to Rick’s, and that title is accurate: Rick’s is a hangout for people of all backgrounds and proclivities. Club owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is a disillusioned ex-mercenary from the U.S. whose alleged neutrality makes him the perfect person to welcome Moroccans, French occupiers, immigrants, police, criminals, Nazis, the Resistance. They all come to this place where Rick discourages political arguments and police overlook (and enjoy) gambling. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER is a partly satisfying, partly frustrating ending to the epic billion-dollar-grossing sextology that people all around the world have been following for 15 years and that I have been following for about a month.

Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson returns (he ended up directing all but parts 2 and 3) and follows many of the fun traditions of the series:

1. Starting off with a ludicrously long and convoluted narrated recap/revision of the story thus far

2. Sort of following up on the last cliffhanger, but in a way that suggests they abandoned the original idea they had when they made the last one. At the end of RETRIBUTION, the surviving characters were on top of the White House surrounded by millions of zombies and monsters, about to begin “the last battle to save humanity.” Now we CUT TO: Alice (Milla Jovovich) all alone in a completely destroyed and barren DC. Last time Wesker (Shawn Roberts) had just given her her powers back to fight this battle, now they tell us that was a trick and she actually doesn’t have powers. Huh? She keeps losing and regaining them without much consequence.

3. Giving it a different look and style from all the other installments. This one is very brown and smoky, everything is dirty and blown up or worn out. Even some of the areas of the Hive that they return to are weathered and grimy instead of smooth and sleek. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: Retribution

Paul W.S. Anderson stays in the director’s chair for the fifth one, RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. This one starts at the end of the action scene that starts right where AFTERLIFE left off. Then it shows us that scene in reverse, then regular, and narrator Alice (Milla Jovovich, ULTRAVIOLET) tries to summarize the convoluted events of parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. And then they remake the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, showing Alice as a suburban mom just going about her business when the zombie outbreak explodes into her life.

That’s the fun of this series: the unpredictable patchwork of set pieces and gimmicks, often playing with expectations, making it seem like the story (like a video game?) is starting over and everything is different, but things usually turn out to have a pretty good explanation.

Okay, the explanation is always clones. Clones are the reason Michelle Rodriguez and Oded Fehr, whose characters died in previous chapters, are suddenly back as different people. Multiple different people. For a while it seems like Rodriguez came back to the series after a ten year absence just for a comically brief cameo where she gives Alice a ride and then crashes 30 seconds later. Then Alice is killed by a zombie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: Afterlife

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE is part 4. Series writer-producer Paul W.S. Anderson returns as director for the first time since part 1. I really like how each chapter seems to be completely different from the previous ones, and this is no exception. The new style may be in part because Anderson hadn’t directed a RESIDENT EVIL in eight years (having only directed ALIEN VS. PREDATOR and DEATH RACE in the interim), but I think a huge part of it is that it was shot in 3D with the cameras developed for AVATAR. Not since STEP UP 3D have I so regretted not having seen a movie in 3D. It’s carefully composed with steady camera moves, lots of depth, with numerous scenes of acrobatic fight moves and projectiles coming toward the audience, many times in slow motion. Bullets, knives, swords, tentacles, people, raindrops, quarters, blood, pieces of bullet-ridden walls and shards of glass are among the things that fly out of the screen. You can just tell it would look really cool in 3D, and luckily this is a style that also looks good in 2D. Anderson has a reputation as a hack, but at least give him this: he is in a very small group of directors who actually put in elbow grease to use the 3D medium well.

As is the RESIDENT EVIL tradition, the opening is like a short film unto itself. There’s a security breach at the Umbrella Headquarters in Tokyo, which makes The Hive look like the FIRST BLOOD police station by comparison. A small army of security troops surround the elevator waiting for the intruder to emerge, a drawn out sequence playing with our anticipation for what Alice promised at the end of the last one. (read the rest of this shit…)