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Monday, Jul 30, 2007


If you didn’t already know it by now, Short Ends and Leader is one year old this week. So in celebration of such a monumental achievement, we’ll be forgoing some of the standard blog entries – at least for today – in order to offer up some perspective on the aesthetic behind this daily film discussion. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing but worthless digital dung being released at the local brick and mortar. In fact, two of 2007’s best movies are making their debut on DVD, and they’re well worth your cash consideration. While SE&L will not be reviewing them separately, here are links to our previous theatrical reviews. They more than make our feelings known. Yes, we really loved these films, and with the prospect of commentaries, interviews and other added content, you know our copies will be in the cart come 31 July:



Short Ends and Leader’s 300 Review



Short Ends and Leader’s Hot Fuzz Review


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Monday, Jul 23, 2007


Hope you’ve been saving your money. Here’s praying that, during those weeks of downtime when SE&L couldn’t be bothered to mention the derivative DVD junk hitting your favorite B&M, you squirreled your available ducats away for a rainy entertainment day. The reason is simple – Hollywood is about to ‘make it rain’ at your favorite retailer, turning this Tuesday into a veritable nonstop spending spree. Among the seven titles mentioned below, other noteworthy offerings include The Host (South Korean monster movie), Raise the Red Lantern (reissue of Yimou Zhang epic), Les Enfants Terrible (the Meville masterwork) and Last Hurrah of Chivalry (one of two John Woo efforts). Indeed, finding a way to stretch that hard earned buck is going to take some serious consumer concentration (and consternation). Even the choices provided herein make 24 July a bank account draining day of digital infamy. At the very least, you have to pick up:


Zodiac


With David Fincher behind the lens and the most notorious unsolved serial killer case in California’s history in his sites, how could this film be bad? In fact, it wasn’t. It remains one of 2007’s best, a three part symphony of personal obsession, police procedural, and public pandemonium. After dispensing with the crimes early on, the man responsible for Se7en and Panic Room plays cat and mouse with the audience, daring them to decipher the seemingly clueless crimes along with the cops. We are also introduced to two sides of the same journalistic coin – a flamboyant beat reporter played brilliantly by Robert Downey, Jr. and a nerdy cartoonist with insight into the murderer. As essayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Graysmith (whose books formed the basis of the narrative) finds himself drawn to the investigation, and he almost loses himself in the process. A strong cinematic effort from a man noted for same, here’s hoping DVD revives this film’s fortunes. It didn’t thrive at the box office as it should have.

Other Titles of Interest


Hard Boiled


Of the two films that really cemented John Woo’s legacy among Western audiences (The Killer being the other), this tale of an undercover cop working with a no nonsense government agent to take down a ruthless mobster and his men is considered his best. Both balletic and brazen, showing violence as both glamorous and grotesque, it remains a definitive action thriller statement. This new Dragon Dynasty version should satisfy those longing for Criterion’s long OOP edition.

Ivan’s Childhood: The Criterion Collection


The debut film from Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky (who would later go on to helm Solaris), this straightforward story of a orphan boy who works as a messenger during the war is intriguing for the conflicting stances it takes. On one side, it seems to be aggressively anti-war. On the other, it’s clearly posited as pro-Soviet propaganda. No matter the meaning, Criterion cranks out another must-own foreign film classic.

The Monster Squad


Like those holy grail titles that keep messageboards and blog entries pumping for years, this coming of age horror comedy from the 1980s is finally finding its way onto the digital medium. Unforgettable only to those for whom this film was a vaunted VCR rite of passage, the story of a group of kids who interact with real life versions of classic Universal creatures has its moments. It’s more memory than memorable, however.

The Number 23


Jim Carrey gets all metaphysical on us as he essays the role of a morose public servant who becomes obsessed with a novel he swears is mimicking his life. Even worse, he discovers the Discordian ideology surrounding the title integer. Before we know it, Mr. Comedy is going bonkers and director Joel Schumacher is once again pushing the boundaries of believability. Some actually liked this mannered movie. Most didn’t.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer


Tom Tykwer, best known for his amazing international hit Run, Lola Run, goes the way of the period piece to present a captivating tale about a young perfumer’s apprentice. His obsession with finding the perfect feminine smell leads to death and destruction. Stanley Kubrick once considered the story unfilmable. That Tykwer succeeds at all – and he does – bodes well for this surreal cinematic experience.


And Now for Something Completely Different
Renaissance


If you married Blade Runner to Sin City, and then let their motion picture offspring inbreed with the aid of a computer, this fascinating animated film from France would probably be its bastard seed. Novel in its visual style, yet wholly derivative in its narrative, this thinly disguised film noir is more private dick lit than full blown speculative fiction. Some of the sequences seem lifted directly out of the Fritz Lang German Expressionism playbook (think Metropolis as a pen and ink parable). Others mimic Ridley Scott’s sci-fi whodunit right down to the formulaic plot beats. Still, the film feels fresh, and the desire by director Christian Volckman to literally avoid any and all shades of gray gives the design a stunningly stark quality. In one of the rare cases where the English dub betters the original French soundtrack, this is a film that’s light on character and heavy on creativity. Luckily, the overpowering optical splendor employed here helps to overcome some of the storyline weaknesses.

 


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Monday, Jul 16, 2007


Hey! How’s it going? Long time, no see. Everything okay? Good. Glad to hear it. Sorry we’ve been away for the last couple of weeks, but when the digital domain can’t be bothered to provide the home video enthusiast anything other than recycled rejects and mindless merchandising, there’s no reason to help in their senseless shill. Indeed, had SE&L decided to struggle on with regular updates of any and all DVD releases, we’d be championing crappy independent horror, oddball double feature combinations, and more than one bottom of the barrel Z-list title. So we sat back and waited – waited for a Tuesday when things weren’t unbridled bilge. And so, here we are again. Granted, there’s still some god awful gunk here (just say no to more mutant mayhem – Wes Craven), but for the most part, 17 July provides a few forgotten gems, including our choice for product du jour:


Ace in the Hole: The Criterion Collection


Billy Wilder often said that he never cared about genre or style. He just made movies of the kind he himself would like to see. This 1951 attack on the Fourth Estate, starring Kirk Douglas as a reporter who turns the story of a man trapped in a mine collapse into the original ‘media circus’, is a perfect example of this creative mantra. Mixing elements of comedy, drama, noir and the thriller, we soon realize that nothing much has changed in the press over the last fifty years. Publicity breeds corruption, the possibility of the spotlight (and the profits that can be generated from same) taking priority over morals, precedence, and life itself. The film alone would warrant an easy DVD decision, but thanks to those practicing preservationists over at Criterion, we get a much better window into what Wilder was aiming for (via a clever commentary and a series of interviews), as well as why the film remains as effective now as it was a half century ago. Apparently, art is timeless. The proof is right here for all to see.

Other Titles of Interest


Factory Girl


The story of Andy Warhol’s Factory – a literal bohemian oasis amid ‘60s Manhattan’s cosmopolitan cool – is, apparently, an elusive entertainment ideal. Several semi-successful films have been made about the various infamous personalities linked to the effete artist, this take on the tragic Edie Sedgwich being one of them.  Surrounded by controversy both during and after production, the results are uneven but intriguing, even if just from a fictional historical perspective.

The Hills Have Eyes 2


Wes Craven needs to have his horror credentials revoked – and we mean NOW! As he continues to whore out his legacy for the almighty dollar (he’s currently directing a remake of his own Shocker), he’s forgotten how to be relevant in the realm of fear. Responsible for the script of this terrible re-quel, the former fright king believes that mutant rapists and bungling army dullards equal stellar scare stuff. In truth, it’s one of the worst movies of 2007.

Okie Noodling


It’s a unique practice, and some say, a culturally significant tradition. In the lakes and rivers of Oklahoma, a distinctive brand of backwoods sportsman practices the time honored art of “noodling” – catching giant catfish with their bare hands. While many do it for food, others merely enjoy the danger and thrill of the kill. A long time cult favorite, DVD will hopefully open up this documentary - and its bizarre practices - to a larger mainstream audience.

Raymond Bernard – Eclipse Series 4


In what seems to be a neverending line of important French filmmakers, this more or less forgotten auteur remains incredibly significant. Helping to formulate the country’s cinema as it emerged from silents into the sound age, this Criterion Collection subdivision release offers two of his most significant works – an anti war epic (Wooden Crosses) and the adaptation of a literary classic (Les Miserables). Unfairly overlooked by scholars, here’s hoping the set jumpstarts his renaissance.

Yo Yo Girl Cop


She’s a kid. She’s a cop. And she uses a common playground toy as her weapon of choice. A revamp of a classic Japanese franchise from the ‘80s, this update boasts a more serious subtext (our heroine must stop student terrorists bent on bringing Japan to the point of anarchy) and amazing action sequences.  And where else but in a film like this would you find a credit for a ‘Yo Yo Director’?


And Now for Something Completely Different
The Happy Hooker Trilogy


For those too young to remember it, the release of Xavier Hollander’s autobiography The Happy Hooker: My Own Story in 1971 was a sensationalized scandal. As a madam and former call girl, the Dutch East Indies born beauty lifted the veil on sex for sale, and argued that pleasure for pay could be safe, erotic and positive. Naturally, the post-free love era wasn’t ready to be pushed that far, and the backlash made her an instant pariah – and highly sought after personality. Soon, her tell-all tome was being made into a film (Lynn Redgrave essayed the role of ecstatic whore), but the tone was tweaked away from significance and more toward kitsch. By the time the two sequels came along – The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (with Joey Heatherton in the lead) and The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood (with Martine Beswick) – the series was nothing but pure camp. Finally available on DVD, these tame artifacts of a bygone era remind us that the subject of human horniness has come a long way in the last three decades – for better and for worse.

 


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Monday, Jun 25, 2007


As June comes crawling to a close, the final retail Tuesday sees some interesting choices, all available at your favorite local home entertainment emporium. Granted, they tend to represent the less than successful members of the mainstream set, movies that failed to make their mark at the box office four to six months ago, and are just now seeing a seismic turnaround onto the fiscally friendly format. But there is a great deal to enjoy here, including a solid second film from a critically acclaimed director,  a stereotypical uplifting sports film, a by-the-numbers actioner and one of the most intelligent looks at the horror film ever created. Toss in some off title entities and the usual under-performing suspects, and its standard Summertime fare. While it would probably do better come October, SE&L suggests you forget the sunshine and pick up its selection for 26 June. It will have you thinking of Fall’s autumnal terrors lickety-split:


Behind the Mask: The Rise of Vernon Leslie


Attention all horror fans – it’s time to rejoice. After six months of fading fortunes at the box office, there’s a new scare sheriff in town, and his name is Scott Glosserman. An obvious genre maven, this first time filmmaker has crafted one of the cleverest, most inventive movie macabre spoofs since Wes Craven made us Scream. Using the novel idea that all slasher serial killers (Jason, Freddy, Michael) are real, and that they all conform to a kind of slice and dice code of ethics (can’t enter closets, must locate virgin to act as ‘survivor girl’), Glosserman deconstructs the ‘80s splatter favorites and turns them into psychological studies worthy of Freud. Then we meet the title character, a mass murderer wannabe who has hired a documentary film crew to follow him around. It’s their interaction, and the last act switch into a standard scary movie, that really sells this sensational experiment. If you’ve been burned by the recent redundant dread, give this indie effort a shot. You’ll be glad you did.

Other Titles of Interest


Black Snake Moan


For a follow up to his wildly successful Hustle and Flow, writer/director Craig Brewer decided to go down the old fashioned exploitation route. He came up with a story about a black blues musician taking a slutty white girl under his wing, attempting to cure her ‘provocative’ ways by chaining her up. While it wants to be a Baby Doll for the new millennium, there’s more tenderness than taboo here.

Dead Silence


It took James Wan almost three years to return with an answer to the massive sophomore success of Saw. The result was this movie macabre oddity, the story of a killer ventriloquist and her possessed dummies from Hell! Trying to fuse old school terror with nods to both the Italian and Japanese styles of horror, many fans failed to see the fright. DVD will be the perfect place to rediscover this potential cult classic.

Peaceful Warrior


Victor Salva is at it again. No, not THAT. Instead, he is making yet another film about a loner like teenage boy looking for guidance, and in this case, finding it from a kindly older man. Salva’s scandalous past, including a conviction for child molestation, doesn’t seem to deter his directorial fortunes. While other artists struggle to get movies made, he consistently finds films to forward. Such is the weird workings of the industry.

Pride


At this point in the genre, it must be harder and harder to find motivational stories of unlikely sports teams beating the odds and showing the status quo that they too matter. But this tale of the Philadelphia Department of Recreation swim club started by urban do-gooder Jim Ellis (a decent Terence Howard) has a nice period feel, as well as an inspirational hook that most movies of its type can’t match.

Shooter


Mark Walhberg is a marksman lured out of hiding to protect the President from assassination. Naturally, he is double crossed and accused of the eventual crime. What follows is another standard big budget action extravaganza with too much bombast and not enough believability. It’s a shame that director Antoine Fuqua has had such a troubled time of late. All Tru Blu scuffle aside, he remains a promising feature filmmaker.


And Now for Something Completely Different
Frankenstein Conquers the World/ Frankenstein vs. Baragon


It has to have one of the greatest premises of any Toho production. The heart of Frankenstein’s monster is recovered from a European stronghold during WWII, and is kept in a Japanese lab. When the Hiroshima bomb is dropped, the organ takes on a life of its own. Soon, it’s guiding a feral boy with a freakish facial deformity. Baragon shows up, and the two square off in standard man in suit style. Originally scheduled as another Godzilla sequel, this unusual take on the giant monster movie has to be seen to be believed. And what makes matters even more unbelievable, DVD distributor Tokyo Shock is giving this far out film the two disc special edition treatment. Offering both the original and English language versions, as well as commentary and other contextual tidbits, we gain insight into series creator Ishirô Honda, and how seriously said film were taken. Fortunately, for us, it’s all fun and foolishness.

 


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Monday, Jun 18, 2007


This is clearly a week to thank your favorite higher power of choice for the existence of a company called Criterion. If you had to rely on the standard studio DVD decision makers, you’d get nothing but second tier theatrical titles and usually unnecessary ‘special edition’ cash grabs. Since their inception almost two decades ago, the cinematic artform’s number one advocate has been doing its best to preserve important films while introducing unknown and forgotten movies to the post-modern audience. More importantly, they understand the value of context and do their best to fill out their packages with as many explanatory extras as possible. On 19 June, this dynamic distributor will deliver three prime examples of their production policy. One is a renowned work of ‘60s social commentary. The other two introduce a new voice to the ever increasing motion picture mix. In all cases, the results defy standard digital convention and provide an approach to film rarely seen in your standard release.


If…- The Criterion Collection


The English boarding school system is a setting ripe for motion picture allegory. Therefore it’s no surprise that Lindsay Anderson’s class conscious metaphor of youthful rebellion taken to extremes remains a strong socio-political statement. In fact, it more or less fell out of circulation once the awful events of Colombine suggested a vague, virtually indirect connection. But no matter the pundits’ position, this is one incredibly strong motion picture. Trading on star Malcolm McDowell’s inherent wickedness (it was something that moved Stanley Kubrick to cast him in A Clockwork Orange) and the closed knit, good old boy network nature of British education, Anderson argued that the sins of the father – or in this case, the Establishment – will always come back to revisit him/them. It also complains that pain, not power, is the instigator for most violence. Thanks to Criterion’s insight-heavy treatment, the real intention of the film can be debated for decades to come.

Other Titles of Interest


Bridge to Terabithia


Disney, ever desperate to jumpstart their waning live action fortunes, teamed up with former animation giant Gabor Csupo (Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys) for this mostly successful adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s award winning children’s book. It’s not just the fantasy sequences that work here – and they’re indeed magical. This is the rare family film that has both heart and head to spare, resulting in a richly rewarding experience for young and old alike.

Miss Potter


When did Renée Zellweger become the mock Brit du jour? Granted, her work in the Bridget Jones films proves she can pull off the proper UK accent, but do the English really appreciate a born and bred Texan taking over their favorite female leads. Case in point – this rather syrupy story of Beatrix Potter, famed author of the Peter Rabbit books. Thankfully, Chris Babe Noonan makes it all go down with minimal schmaltz. 

Reno 911 – Miami


The list of successful small screen (TV) to big screen (film) translations is minute, to say the least. In the case of this Comedy Central COPS parody, the jury is still out. True fans will enjoy seeing their favorite characters cavorting in and around the South Florida setting, unencumbered by the burden of basic cable censorship. Others will wonder why efforts that manage to perfectly conform to one medium try to broach another. 

Sweet Movie – The Criterion Collection


Those preservationist experts at Criterion are apparently desperate to introduce the work of Yugoslavian surrealist Dusan Makavejev to the uninformed segment of world cinephiles. In one of two releases available, we are drawn into his world of weird juxtapositions, interpersonal propaganda, and outrageous irrelevance. Be prepared for hardcore imagery, narrative indecipherability, and self-important postulating. Clearly, these will be ‘love it or hate it’ offerings, even for the most adventurous film fan.

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism – The Criterion Collection


It’s supposedly about sex. It also claims to be about politics and imperialism as well. Somewhere inside Dusan Makavejev’s half fact/half fiction take on female genitalia and fascism is a really evocative take on how we allow ideology – personal and political – to thwart our basic humanity. Or it could all be just some elaborate in-joke on the part of the director. Perhaps Criterion can clear it all up. Or perhaps not.


And Now for Something Completely Different
The Abandoned


To call the 8 Films to Die For After Dark Horrorfest a hit or miss affair is to state the stunningly obvious. At least four of the films were outright rejects (Wicked Little Things, Dark Ride, Unrest, and Penny Dreadful) while the other four offered varying levels of cinematic success. This visually dazzling offering from Spanish wunderkind Nacho Cerdà (famed for his necrophilia short Aftermath) may not be the best (that right is reserved for Grudge helmer Takashi Shimizu’s Reincarnation), but it definitely builds on the basic delights of The Gravedancers and The Hamiltons. In this tale of an American movie producer haunted by her past, we get mountains of atmosphere and dread. Too bad then that the story is little more than a movie macabre molehill. What could have been epic ends up simply eerie. However, in a genre desperate for anything remotely terrifying, Cerdà’s semi-success is greatly appreciated.

 


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