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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Krull (1983)

I'm sure a lot of you who read this blog on the regular are more than aware this movie exists, but I have noticed throughout my life that few people outside of their 30's and 40's (sans me of course) have never really heard of it. That fact alone warrants me reviewing it for you here but it also happens to be a fairly entertaining fantasy film despite being rather derivative. I am pretty sure most of you reading this know that already, but I like to keep m bases well covered lest they become "are belong to us" if you get my meaning.


Plot synopsis- On the faraway world of Krull, a hideous creature known only as The Beast and his army known as the slayers is enslaving all in their wake. Two rival kingdoms are joining forces to fight The Beast's armies, but to seal the alliance there must be a marriage between Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony). After Lyssa is kidnapped, Colwyn- with the aid of a powerful ancient weapon known as "The Glaive" (which is a pretty kickass looking five bladed flying knife)- must form a makeshift army composed of everything from thieves to a crackpot wizard on a quest to rescue her from the Black Fortress and free his world once and for all.

Sure the plot is really standard fairy book stuff, and if you've ever been exposed to a story where the hero has to rescue the damsel in distress then you know how things will turn out. But come on, this one has a fucking cyclops as a character- A CYCLOPS for crying out loud! Not a CGI one either, but one made with makeup and handcraft. Alas, this movie still manages to have a rather lackluster reputation. I can see why people would feel that way but I obviously don't subscribe to that interpretation. Critics gave mixed reviews upon it's release, probably due to it's similarity in many respects to the Star Wars franchise. Couple that with the fact that it was released only two months after Return Of The Jedi and you roughly wind up with a financial disaster.

Thanks to site like imdb, movie fans like myself can crunch numbers with ease and Krull was a bona fide FLOP. The USA gross earnings were only 16 million dollars of its estimated 27 million dollar budget (some people claim it was a bigger budget than that, but 27 sounds more realistic to me). A lot of care and attention was put into the production of this film, especially where set and costume design are concerned and I find it a downright shame this movie din't manage to find its audience while in the box office. One must never underestimate Star Wars mania.

Sets and costumes aside, this movie is pretty well cast all things considered. There are some surprising appearances in the supporting character roles (perhaps most noticeably a very early film appearance by Liam Neeson). My favorites have to be Freddie Jones and Francesca Annis, their scene together is enough to have made me cry on several occasions. This is one year before they were also cast in David Lynch's 1984 film version of Dune, and it's a pity they never had another scene such as this together. The acting in the movie is so wooden it might as well be a forest, but somehow it doesn't bother me all that much considering the bedtime story type flair the movie has coming out of everywhere.

This film was obviously designed to become a smash hit by the studio judging by the merchandise produced. While not as extensive as some films it did have an Atari arcade game, a board game, an Atari 2600 game a tie in Marvel Comics adaption, and various other brik-a-brak. These plans of course evaporated as I explained earlier. I do rather find it a shame that there were never any Krull action figures though, as a toy of a Slayer would be pretty damn awesome if I do say so myself. Alas, it was not to be, maybe I can get someone to make me one? Thankfully this nice special edition DVD came out a good long while ago and for a movie so harshly put down on it has a real cornucopia of special features.

So yeah, this movie has a hell of a lot of deficiencies. The one that bothers me the most was the obvious overdubbing of Lysette Anthony with an American accent. It is jarring and really unnecessary, and doesn't really help things. Like I already said, the acting is pretty so/so, and the fact that there's a little kid and a comic relief wizard in the mix really fucks things up. One could go on for hours about just what is wrong or perceived wrong with Krull, but at the heart of it it's just a fun fantasy movie and haters are gonna hate. This is one of very few movies I can say that I really liked as a kid and still like just as much now. If you haven't seen it then I definitely recommend giving it a go, you just might like what you see. Like I said, there's a great deal of deficiencies to ignore but let's face it- this ain't Citizen Kane, it's sword and sorcery for christ's sake, and last I checked you're supposed to have FUN when you watch a movie like this.

Critics lambast this as a b-movie, I call it awesome.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Black Rain (1989)

Throughout history cities or places where significant events happened become a watch word, often for something very unfortunate. Hiroshima and the ensuing nuclear aftermath need no introduction, and this what our review this week is about. As most children brought up in America know little to absolutely nothing about the immediate carnage and lasting aftermath of the bombing beyond what we were told and almost immediately forgot in school, this film makes for an eye opening experience. The story of the hibakusha (this is the Japanese term for survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, which literally translated means "explosion affected people") is something seldom touched upon in history books, and this film is a lasting testament to their struggle.


Plot synopsis: The film separates itself between 1945 and the present day of 1950. The story focuses on Shizuma Shigematsu, his wife Shigeko, and their niece Yakuso. Shigematsu is obsessed with finding a husband for his niece, who was covered by the infamous fall out ridden "black rain" that fell from the sky shorty after the attack. As Shigematsu goes back through his diaries in an attempt to prove that Yakuso is not ill with radiation sickness, his diary entries (related to us via flashbacks) illustrate the horrific events of August 6th through 15th, 1945 weaving past and present into a tapestry of destruction and agonizing death as he and the rest of his fellow hibakusha await the inevitable.

As you might have guessed, this film is pretty far from being light viewing. But as I was saying in the introduction to this review, many of us know very little about those who survived this. There are of course US Army Signal Corps films and photos made of burn victims of all ages but that is only one side of things. There are those outside the immediate blast radius who dealt with something just as insidious and deadly, but for them the effects of the bomb might not hit for years after. Their story is just a poignant (and rather misunderstood) as the stories behind the events themselves. Many hibakusha still survive to this day, and are still subject to severe discrimination in Japan. A lot of this is due to the lack of knowledge of how radiation sickness effects people, leading many to believe it is hereditary or even communicable. Try finding that in your high school history textbook and get back to me.

I could write all day about the politics faced by the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the myriad of difficulties they face (including some sufferers facing refusal of recognition by the government even to this day), but this is a film we are talking about here so I need to get back on track. All manner of documentaries have been produced about this event but this is the only theatrical effort (insofar that I am aware of, if you know of others please leave a comment at the end of this review or email me directly as I am very interested) to be made about Hiroshima not utilizing a documentary like stance, by that I mean a "here is the whole story behind this" type of movie.

While this does not make the struggles of our characters any less than compelling, it's nice to have a film maker handle a subject we all know so well already so that we can skip the history lessons and focus on the smaller things that fall through the cracks (which in this case lie directly underneath the surface). Choosing to shoot the film in black and white is a stroke of genius. I wouldn't be surprised if Spielberg saw this as an inspiration for Schindler's List, but I could easily be mistaken. The film score is minimal, and instead we are treated to a soundtrack composed mainly of the sounds of rural Japan. Cicadas and songbirds make a fitting (and mournful) backdrop indeed. This film is all about atmosphere (as you very well know by now, my favorite film element), and considering the subject matter I believe this is about as close to a true to life horror story as one could possibly get.

I firmly recommend this this film to everyone. Though the atomic bombs were dropped nearly 70 years ago, they are no less significant in how the modern world has been shaped. The aftermath of these weapons is no less serious and this film showcases that in a context everyone can grasp. The ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will always be over our shoulders as a warning to be heeded, and this film is as fine a tribute to their struggle as any memorial of stone.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Straight Time (1978)

What on earth took me so very long to finally watch this film is beyond me. Thankfully I have a friend who is a HUGE Dustin Hoffman fan and he jumped at the chance to give me my first viewing and I have absolutely no regrets. So no regrets in fact that I obviously bought myself a copy to enjoy again and again. Dustin Hoffman kicked some serious ass back in the day, and I am flabbergasted that more people do not seem to be familiar with this movie, as it's possibly Hoffman's best role.


See what I mean? Plot synopsis: Max Dembo (Hoffman) has just been released from prison. He's facing a situation that none of us can really imagine without having been on parole ourselves. He's stuck with a hardass parole officer (played to assholish perfection by M. Emmett Walsh) who just won't give him a break. Landing himself a job thanks to the efforts of a young woman named Jenny (I just love Theresa Russell!) Max finally gets on his feet. Unfortunately he decides to meet up with his old buddy Willy (a drug addict not surprisingly played by Gary Busey) who shoots up in Max's new apartment landing him back in jail. Needless to say this pisses him off, and his parole officer won't let him live it down either. Max is a man caught between two extremes, and he can't play the man's game much longer...

We've all seen lots of movies featuring safe crackers or home invaders or some such thing going after that mythical "one last score" that will end it for good, and this is definitely not one of those movies. There's nothing glitzy or very Hollywood about it. Straight Time is the real deal, and the glimpse we receive into Max Dembo's world is far from pastoral. It's a scummy, desperate, and frantic world where one wrong move will either land you back in the slammer or pushing up daisies. Crime isn't pretty and in the real world you don't always get away with it.

You really feel sorry for Max, he cannot help what he is or the ways he chooses to do them. He is a man out of step with society in more ways than one, and the frustration on his face in every scene is actually quite touching. In fact both of his ex con buddies suffer in the same way. Max's buddy Jerry (played by all time great Harry Dean Stanton) is perhaps the pinnacle of this. He has a wife, a business, and a pretty nice house. The only problem is he's suffocating, and is obviously dissatisfied going legit. You can't really blame the guy either.

Yet another film reviewed here featuring a stellar cast. Hoffman is 110% on point as is the rest of the cast. Once again Theresa Russell is spellbinding (this is only her second film appearance, and was made two years before she appeared in Nicholas Roeg's film Bad Timing which you can read about here), and her sweet girl next door charms balanced with the dead seriousness of getting romantically involved with Hoffman's character after his crime spree begins is an important lynchpin to the film as a whole. She represents the normalcy he could have but at the same time cannot. It's as if she is suspended in the ether before Max like a great spinning magnet, both attracting him and pushing him away at the same time. The chemistry between the two of them while in their respective characters is painful because you know there's only one way it can end for them.

The film doesn't have any fancy camera work and I really think this does it credit. Ulu Grosbard (who has not directed many films it seems) and Dustin Hoffman himself (though uncredited) capture the world around Max as it must seem to someone in Max's position- that is to say wide open, but also completely shut off. Any sort of artsy fartsy camera moves would do this film a serious disservice, and I'm glad the directors had the skill to realize this. The script is also not to be overlooked either, which was written partially by Edward Bunker who authored the novel No Beast So Fierce which the film is based on. Michael Mann (a generally kick ass director, if you don't know who he is then go find out) was is said to have had an uncredited role in writing the screenplay also (he later used the same novel as a reference for the character Neil McCauley in his still amazing film Heat some years later), just to throw that little factoid out at you.

Do I recommend you watch this? YES. If you like crime movies, ex con movies, Dustin Hoffman, or in other words films that generally kick ass because of one or more of these elements I have described throughout this review then I strongly suggest viewing it immediately.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

NOTE: I am now all moved in in Portland Oregon and can once again resume my standard one review per week, get excited! Now all Fuckshit! photos will have that snazzy white background from my new apartment that you see below.


This is another film I saw as a teenager and didn't have feelings about it one way or the other but when I saw it again as an adult I could appreciate its genius. Films about true crime are often a bit of a mixed bag, featuring rather exploitative elements or inappropriate humor of some sort, and I am pleased to say that this film suffers from neither of these problems. In fact to top things off it takes a completely different approach all together.

Have a peek at the trailer if you aren't already familiar:

I've always had a thing for true crime movies and period pieces, so putting both together is the best possible combination for me. The film tells the tale behind the (still infamous) story behind the Parker-Hulme murder. For those of you not savvy to what I'm laying down, the events occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1954. Two young schoolmates, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme (played by Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet in their first film roles) bond over their respective ailments/injuries. They share a love of art and storytelling so vivd to them that they escape further and further into their make believe and the real world becomes an enigma. Their friendship was safe to say incredibly close, some feared too close (this later lead to mass speculation that they had a homosexual relationship which created quite a media frenzy despite such allegations being claimed false). When circumstances take a turn for the worse and it seems that they will be separated forever, Pauline hatches a plan to kill her mother, who she views as the only thing standing in her way.

Needless to say that they succeeded in killing Pauline's mum with a brick inside of a stocking pretty successfully, after that their cover up efforts were less than convincing. They claimed she "died in a fall" but their story fell apart relatively quickly and both were sentenced to prison. While the film only covers the period of time where Pauline and Juliet meet to immediately after they kill Pauline's mum (we all know how the trial turned out), I felt it a good idea to give you the whole story. Besides, you probably know about the case already if you've taken the time to find out about this movie anyway so it's not like I'm spoon feeding the thing away now am I?

But enough about the real world events that give the movie its meat, I want to talk about the film and it's rather unique vision. One thing I should note is that this was directed by now household name Peter Jackson. Heavenly Creatures was his fourth theatrical effort, and I feel it is one of his strongest. We all know him from Dead Alive or the Lord Of The Rings trilogy but a period piece about one of New Zealand's most notorious murder cases (or at least about the characters themselves) is a refreshing change of pace. I think that if this movie were made by anyone else, it wouldn't have been quite so quirky and strange, and probably would have been a bit more dramatic and by the numbers.

Why do I say that? The entire movie is basically told through the eyes of two teenage girls. All of the adults seem completely disconnected from how the two children feel about anything (sound familiar?), and good portions of the film take place in Pauline and Juliet's fantasy world- it's a place filled with life size clay people bearing striking resemblance to everyone from Mario Lanza (their ULTIMATE crush) to Orson Welles. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey's acting is terrifically convincing, definitely due to the fact that they were both teenagers themselves when they starred in this, something which an American movie would probably never ever do nowadays for subject matter like this. Large portions of narration are apparently taken directly from the Journal of Pauline Parker as well (which Ms. Lynskey delivers with incredible teenage angst and wonderment by the way) which further cements their view of the world at such a tender age. To have made this film in any other way would have been unimaginative, dull, and morose.

Also noteworthy is the lack of any scenes having to do with the trial. With a case this well known I don't really think it is all that necessary, unless something ridiculously sensational happened during the proceedings. So instead Jackson opted to have the trial information done as postscript, which I feel leaves a very strong ending to a film that at its very beginning seems cute and in a completely different place (sans the very first scene of them running about covered in blood of course). The rather playful (but still deadly ernest) atmosphere of the film is completely opposed to the subject matter but at the same time compliments it in a way that no other film could really pull off and still have it work without being an awful comedy of some sort or other (as I mentioned earlier, but sometimes it's nice to repeat oneself for the sake of effect).

Do I recommend this film? Wholeheartedly. The direction and visuals are terrific, the casting/acting is great, and I can't really find much anything wrong with it. Make no mistake, this movie is the complete package and I hope Peter Jackson will do something of this ilk again at some point in the future. Sure he's great with oodles of SFX eye candy but seeing a film where he directs characters and not a set piece is something to behold.