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Dance With Pigeon in Pale Moonlight – BIRDMAN

Michael Keaton is the real deal. For decades he’s proven it: Whether In a full tilt farce like Johnny Dangerously (1984), an odd ball dramedy like The Paper (1994)taking on the flat-out dramatic in Clean And Sober (1988)- Hell, even  One Good Cop (1991) comes to mind. Throw the guy the right material and he flat out shines.  And such it is with art film director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s [Amores Perros (2000), Babel (2006), Biutiful (2010)] latest film, whose full mind boggling title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), where Keaton plays a nearly washed up actor named Riggan Thomson who’s desperate to show the world he isn’t just a tent pole superhero thesp, but a serious, important artist. This movie plays like an X-Ray of cinema itself, peeling the layers away until you’re sick to your stomach, exposing us to the madness underneath it all. Inarritu uses a ‘single take’ technique (a clever budgetary cheat) to force us to witness it all without release, as Keaton becomes increasingly unhinged and scenes descend to mania. The film opens on him in his underwear floating off of the ground Swami-like a’la Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen (2009), and it only gets crazier from there. It’s a joy to behold. Obviously Keaton is a bit of stunt casting, reminding us of those glorious Donner and Burton days, when the bedrock for cinematic superdom was first being laid and Marvel Phase 3 was just a twinkle in a fanboy’s eye. But his presence turns Birdman into a remarkably personal journey, adding layers of meaning to the whole affair. His creepy “inside voice” drives the narrative, forcing Batman, er, Birdman towards more dizzying heights of self-reflexivity. And the rest of the cast is to be commended as well, especially Edward Norton, a notoriously difficult actor to work with who taps into that meta-text here as well. If there’s one grievance with the film it’s that the material gets thin where Emma Stone and Naomi Watts (who worked with Alejandro on 21 Grams) are concerned, giving the impression these characters were afterthoughts. Tiny nitpicks really, because Birdman delivers the goods in hallucinatory doses, its surreal imagery of a New York as seen from a deteriorating mind accompanied by a jazzy drum score courtesy of Antonio Sanchez. Venture down this dark tunnel with Birdman, and you’ll find that by the time you reach the other side, Keaton’ll be your dark knight yet again.

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November 3, 2014   No Comments

The End of an Era – THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES seals the deal with a bang.

At the inception (yup) of writer/director Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Gotham has had 8 years of peace – with nothing remotely as threatening as The Joker (respectfully not mentioned ONCE the entire film) having surfaced during this long period of tranquility. Law enforcement is happy, the Gotham elite are happy, life is good, and as a result Bruce Wayne has hung up his spurs and retired the Batman. But of course when shit hits the fan this permanent vacation is cut short. It seems old buddies The League Of Shadows have a score to settle – not only with Bruce but also with Gotham city. Enter a new foe named Bane (Tom Hardy), trained by Ra’s al Ghul himself (the ubiquitous Liam Neeson), who’s come to finish what was started in the first chapter of the trilogy: namely to raze the corrupt city to the ground by any means necessary, in this case a good ol’ fashioned Atom bomb – and to break the Batman in mind, body, and spirit. Add to the mix master thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who complicates matters for Bats and rides the fence about whether Gotham and is worth saving, and you have a heady villainous brew. Of course our brooding hero has a few friends to help him on his journey, in the form of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and “hothead” police officer Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a cop inspired by Batman and more than willing to go beyond the call of duty. Will The Dark Knight and his allies save Gotham? Will Batman endure, as Alfred once foretold? Or does he have a death wish, as Alfred foretells early on? These are the stakes in Nolan‘s final yarn. Does the film work? Yes, though it never hits the levels of excellence of the previous films – there’s nothing as emotionally compelling as the interrogation scene from The Dark Knight, and there’s some pretty silly shit in the form of a mobile atom bomb (why not just level the damn city from a distance?) and a subplot involving police trapped in tunnels for months – all a bit much. But taken as a whole, The Dark Knight Rises merges perfectly with Nolan’s vision, and is a fitting ending – averting the disaster that claimed Sam Raimi‘s Spiderman 3 and Richard Lester‘s Superman 3 – and by so doing achieving that rare feat, of a single-director-superhero trifecta. As for the cast, it’s all accolades – Bale is a solid Bruce/Bats but finds himself in the shadow of some stellar co-stars: Michael Caine is without flaw, the perfect Alfred, end of story. Hathaway and Gordon Levitt are wonderful additions to the lore, expelling any iffy feelings you may have had about their casting within minutes of screen-time. And Hardy does so much with eye contact that it almost (almost) makes his massive muscles unnecessary. He’s creepy, his voice is demented, and it just works. And talk about payoff – the last 5 minutes of this film are truly special, and a brilliant send-off to the entire saga. He saved the franchise with Begins, and gave us two solid films afterwards: though it has minor problems, they aren’t so big as to blemish the big picture- with The Dark Knight Rises Nolan sticks the landing and proves that Comic Book Cinema is here to stay. Allow yourself to fall in, and you’ll find it’s a satisfying ride.

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July 26, 2012   5 Comments

Baroque Kung Fu – FIVE DEADLY VENOMS

FIVE DEADLY VENOMS is a genre classic, but not for the reasons you think.

Part whodunnit, part horror film, with a pinch of Mexican wrestling thrown in for good measure, Chang Cheh‘s Five Deadly Venoms (1978) is a film that’s earned a reputation as a must-see for people interested in exploring Kung Fu cinema. The tale of a Kung Fu Master who dispatches his last student to discover which of his past pupils – Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Lizard or Toad – is putting the clan’s special Poison skills to evil use (imagine that!), it’s a movie which features more sidelong glances, suspicious ducking down alleyways, and guessing games than it does actual martial arts. But despite the fact that it fails to wow in the action department, Five Deadly Venoms ultimately proves to be a thoroughly entertaining affair which grows on you with repeated viewings, thanks to director Chang Cheh’s knack for “borrowing” from other directors. Here he seems to be channeling Mario Bava, creating a palpable dread whose color scheme feels like the Kung Fu version of Planet of the Vampires – at once both colorful and grey – and whose violent passages feel sublimely campy and overwrought. What little kung-fu there is is first rate, the pedigree and skills of the cast – tough guy Lo Meng, strongman Lu Feng, nimble Chiang Sheng, superkicker Sun Chien, and all-around bad ass Philip Kwok – never in question. It’s just that there isn’t that much of it, by Shaw Brothers standards. While the earlier films of director Chang Cheh (The One Armed Swordsman trilogy, Shaolin Temple, Heroes Two) were loaded with innovative martial arts, by the late seventies – following the departure of choreographer Lau Kar Leung to begin a directing career of his own (36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter) – the action began to dwindle and become over-reliant on weird machismo, cartoonish violence, and fancy acrobatics. But despite this, there are incredible sets, crazy costumes with iconic masks, and ridiculous plot twists to keep you occupied, and when the five styles of venomous animals are on display it’s as if you’re watching a heady mix of 1960’s TV Batman by way of Kung Fu Panda. It might not be the best martial arts film in “godfather of Kung Fu fimmaking” Chang Cheh’s career – which spanned nearly a hundred films – but Five Deadly Venoms is nevertheless a one-of-a-kind cult classic any fan of filmdom should experience.

And hey lookee here- the movie available in its entirety!

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June 13, 2011   2 Comments

Great Comic Book Adaptation – DANGER: DIABOLIK

DANGER: DIABOLIK was the greatest superhero movie of the last century.

Mario Bava injects the spirit of Giallo – which he helped create – into this Fumetti (how’s that for a pretentious sentence) to create one of the most memorable movies in the history of genre filmmaking. Played by John Phillip Law, Diabolik is the man, cooler than Batman and James Bond on their best days put together. I mean, the guy’s got matching leather body suits and sweet ass Jaguars! Plus he’s in a monogamous relationship, which frees him up to concentrate on what he does best – stealing! When they’re not foiling an unidentified European country’s attempts to NOT have their shit stolen, he and girlfriend Eva (played by the beautiful Marissa Mell) live in a secret underground lair on a gigantic circular bed, making love beneath a pile of money. But when a gangster named Valmont sets out to kill Diabolik – upset by the grief he’s bringing upon criminals everywhere – things get dicey. What Bava brings to the table is his horror mentality, complete with canted camera angles, crazy mood lighting, and creepy direction. Made in 1968, the movie reeks of its era, achieving an almost radioactive level of SWANK. But don’t take my word for it… you can tell how cool this movie is by its other fans. Check out this Beastie Boys tribute, in Body Movin’, which uses actual footage from the movie (contains SPOILERS):

…and the tribute to both Diabolik and Barbarella – another Dino De Laurentiis produced classic starring John Phillip Law – in Roman Coppola’s movie-within-a-movie, Dragonfly, from the very decent CQ:

It’s a must-see! Just check out this cool poster!


June 7, 2010   1 Comment

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