Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ken Burns' The Civil War (1990)


IMDB Link:
The Civil War

Directed By:
Ken Burns

Buy the DVD from Amazon



Summing It Up:
Ken Burns' epic documentary about The Civil War and the key players involved in it.


Quick Thoughts: 

I never really paid much attention in history class back in high school, so I didn't know too much about The Civil War. However, after watching Ken Burns' sprawling 9-part documentary about it, I now have a huge appreciation for the war and those who fought in it.

Now over 20 years old, The Civil War is still highly regarded as the best documentary ever made on the subject, and I would have to agree. With 9 episodes, each ranging from around 60 - 140 minutes in length, it's not a quick watch by any means, but it is definitely worth it; especially now that it's on Netflix Instant. To make it a bit more manageable, I spread it out over a couple weeks' time.

Burns does an amazing job telling the story of the war here, and I never really found myself losing interest while watching. Everything from the cause of the war to the battles and the fallout afterwards is covered, and many pictures, footage and written works from the war are featured. While much of the film is told in narrative, the personal accounts sprinkled throughout, coupled with the images from the time period, really give the whole thing a personal feel, and it helps drive home the tragedies and triumphs that occurred throughout.

To be honest, I don't think that there is any way this documentary could have been better, and I highly recommend it.


Verdict:

5 out of 5
 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)

Yes, I watched this one again. And, yes, it was still as hilariously bad as ever. In fact, I think that I turned a few new people on (or off) to it this evening.

If you want my thoughts on the film, you should check out my Original Post.

If you want the DVD or Blu-ray, you can head on over to Amazon.


Best Worst Movie (2009)


IMDB Link:
Best Worst Movie

Directed By:
Michael Stephenson

Buy the DVD from Amazon


Summing It Up:
A documentary about the cult phenomenon surrounding Troll 2 - a film that is notorious for being one of the worst movies ever made - told by its child actor and featuring the majority of the cast and crew from the film.


Quick Thoughts: 
I had the pleasure of seeing this in a local theater last summer, so this is not the first time I've watched the film. While I admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit the first time, I have to say that it was even better this time around.

I'll admit that I've never been a huge Troll 2 fan. I first saw the film as teenager - only a few years after it was first released on VHS - and at the time, I just remember being appalled by how awful it was. Several years later, I revisited it when it first was released on DVD, and while I still thought it was a gigantic piece of shit, I found a lot to laugh at this time around. Well, imagine my surprise when, a few years later, the film began to become a pop-culture phenomenon. As such, I can't say I blame Stephenson for setting out to capitalize on this newfound popularity.

It goes without saying that Best Worst Movie is a much better film than the movie it looks at. In fact, it was easily one of the best documentaries that I've seen in recent years, and I know that I will watch it many more times in the future. That's why, when I saw the DVD on Amazon for less than $10, I had to grab it.

Best Worst Movie walks a line between being many things. Not only is it humorous and fun, but it's also nostalgic and borderline sad in some ways. Many of the cast have moved on the find their own careers, but there are several of them who seem to have trouble finding work doing what they love. Meanwhile, Troll 2's director, Claudio Fragasso, struggles to understand why people laugh at his film, which he considers to be a serious work of art.

In the end, Best Worst Movie is successful in that it manages to lovingly pay tribute to Troll 2 and its cast and crew while still acknowledging how silly the whole thing is. It also does a wonderful job introducing "normal" society to the world of the "midnight movie" crowd. However, what takes it from being an interesting and humorous documentary, and makes it into a great film, are the heartfelt human stories that lie beneath the surface. This element was even more powerful on second viewing, and it is what will keep me coming back for years to come.

Because of this, I wholeheartedly recommend Best Worst Movie to pretty much everyone. Whether you're a film fan, a B-Movie nut, a documentary junkie, or just a casual viewer, I think you will find something to love here.


Verdict:

4 1/2 out of 5



Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tapeheads (1988)


IMDB Link:
Tapeheads

Directed By:
Bill Fishman

Buy the DVD from Amazon


Summing It Up:
A couple of strange, yet creative, guys accidentally become famous in the video music industry after they are fired from their day jobs. Seizing the once in a lifetime opportunity, they try to help revive the career of one of their favorite Soul groups. However, they soon find themselves tangled up with a crooked politician and his goons.


Quick Thoughts: 
This is one that I constantly saw sitting on the video store shelves while I was growing up, but I never actually watched it. Over the last couple years, I had heard people talk about it more and more, so when it showed up on Netflix Instant, I decided to give it a go. Ultimately, it's a quirky comedy that was definitely worth my time.

John Cusack and Tim Robbins are great in this film, and there are tons of cameos by some of my favorites from the music industry of the 80s. Stiv Bators, and his then-band Lords of the New Church show show up, as do Fishbone, Ted Nugent, Weird Al, and a whole host of others. One of my favorite of these involves three odd-looking foreign synth-pop musicians rocking out to a very weird tune from Devo (you have to see it to understand, and the scene alone is worth watching the movie for). Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead) also makes an appearance as the crooked politician with a penchant form being spanked by fairy-tale characters.

If that sounds strange, it's because it is. In fact, the whole film is pretty off the wall. You can tell that Fishman was trying to make a cult film, and that's exactly what he did. The comedy is so bizarre at times that I really can't describe it. This is a film that could have only been made in the 80s, and the whole thing feels like a tripped out old-school tribute to MTV. I wish I had given it a shot sooner.

In the end, Tapeheads is definitely worth your time. I plan on adding it to my DVD collection in the near future. It's currently out of print, but there are still decently-priced used copies available. For now, though, you can always watch it for free if you are a Netflix subscriber.


Verdict:

3 1/2 out of 5



Monday, February 28, 2011

Let Me In (2010)



IMDB Link:
Let Me In

Directed By:
Matt Reeves

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon



Summing It Up:
The American remake of the 2008 film, Let The Right One In, which is about a bullied young boy and his relationship with a vampire that moves in next door to him.


Quick Thoughts: 
I'm not going to lie, as much as I love the original Swedish film adaptation of Let The Right One In, I think that I may be starting to like Let Me In a little more than its predecessor. You can call blasphemy if you'd like, but every time I watch this re-adaptation, it resonates with me even more. That is something that just hasn't happened with the 2008 version.

That's not to say that Let Me In is a better film overall. I just think that it approaches the source material in a different manner. I also think that the decision to set the film in the 1980s really helped, as that is the precise time that I was in my childhood. While part of this is purely nostalgic for me, it also helps me to identify with Owen (the young boy) even more.

Visually, the film is not as striking as LTROI, but I have found that it is just as satisfying over time. The reason is that I feel Let Me In is much more subtle with its cues, and multiple viewings had really allowed it to grow on me. The same goes for the score in the film, which is about as haunting and beautiful as they come.

I've heard some people bitch about the film's visual effects, claiming that the CGI is too striking and obvious. However, when I hear this, I can't help but wonder if they have ever seen the first film, as there are a couple moments in it where the CGI is just awful; one, in particular, that involves cats. Regardless, I found the effects to actually be quite well done. They certainly are not perfect, but they are seamless enough, and I wasn't distracted by them whatsoever.

In the end though, the story really hinges on the performances, and Let Me In is about as good as they come in that department. Chloƫ Grace Moretz is amazing as Abby, the vampire, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is equally great as Owen, the boy who falls for her. I can't even begin to describe how effective the bullies are. Let's just say that, any time they were taunting Owen, I just couldn't help but begin to feel a seething rage creep over me. What's more, classic character actor Richard Jenkins does a much better job as "The Father" in this film than the actor in the original, and Elias Koteas gives a standout performance as "The Policeman," a broken man who seems to live the loneliest of lives.

If the last two names above sound a bit plain, that's because they are. By pulling the focus away from the adult characters, Director Matt Reeves is better able to draw it to the children. This works perfectly here, with all of the adults remaining nameless and/or faceless throughout.

As far as the quality of the Blu-ray is concerned, Let Me In looks and sounds stunning. Anchor Bay has done an amazing job with the transfer on this one. Even though the imagery is dark, it remains crisp and far from muddy. The blacks are solid and the subtle color palette is beautiful to look at. The lossless audio is also top-notch, with the surrounds adding just the right amount of ambiance, and the music and sound cues swelling beautifully. The film is mostly quiet, but this just makes the loud sequences all that more jarring; especially the noises that Abby makes when she shows her true form.

When I first saw Let Me In last Fall, I called it one of my Top Five Films of 2010. After seeing it again, I'd say that it was easily in in the top two or three. Immediately after this viewing, I felt the desire to put it on again with the Director's Commentary, and I'm sure that many future viewings will be in order. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it, and if you have seen it already, then I think you should watch it again. It's that good.


Verdict:

5 out of 5


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Drive Angry 3D (2011)


IMDB Link:
Drive Angry 3D

Directed By:


Summing It Up:
A vengeful father escapes from Hell and chases after the men who killed his daughter and kidnapped his granddaughter.


Quick Thoughts: 
I might as well preface this write up by letting you know that I love the work of both Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, the Director and Writer behind Drive Angry. As such, I was very stoked to see the film. In fact, this marks the first 2011 feature that I have actually gone to the multiplex to watch, and I am glad that I did because it's a hell of fun ride (no pun intended).

If you've seen the Directing-Writing team's remake of My Bloody Valentine, then you probably already know that they not only love 80s cinema, but they also know how to effectively use 3D technology as well. This means that the 3D effects in Drive Angry are more than just a gimmick used to increase ticket prices. The gags actually serve a purpose, and they are cool to watch.

The film itself is a pretty crazy ride that only takes the subject matter seriously enough to actually tell story. What this means is that it doesn't pretend to have a deep meaning, and Lussier and Farmer wear their hearts on their sleeves here. To me, it was obvious that they wanted to make a fun, violent, action film that captured the feel of some of their favorite films from the 1980s. Thankfully, they succeeded in just about every way.

Everything about Drive Angry is over-the-top, but it never once feels like a parody. The film unloads with both guns blazing from the minute it opens, and there is hardly a period of more than a few minutes when the shit isn't hitting the fan. Sure there are some moments of exposition, but every one of them is followed by some of the most ridiculously fun set pieces that I've seen in a theater over the past few years.

The film also looks great, sounds amazing, and the performances are very strong. Nic Cage is great as the main character, and fans of his strangely captivating performances shouldn't be let down here. Amber Heard is also surprisingly great (and smoking hot!) as his badass "sidekick," and William Fichtner (who also starred in one of the most criminally underrated and prematurely canceled shows on TV, Invasion) damn near steals the show as The Accountant, one of Satan's minions who is sent to reclaim Cage's character.

The more I reflect on Drive Angry, the more I like it. It's really a shame that it isn't doing so well at the box office, because this is the kind of movie that is actually worth making a trip to the multiplex to watch with a crowd. If you haven't seen it yet, and you're a fan of anyone involved (or of over-the-top 80s Sci-Fi/Action films), then do yourself a favor and go see it before it disappears.


Verdict:

4 out of 5



Saturday, February 26, 2011

Island of Death [aka Devils in Mykonos] (1977)


IMDB Link:
Island of Death

Directed By:
Nico Mastorakis


Summing It Up:
A crazy British couple go on Holiday to a Greek island where they proceed to murder, torture, and terrify the other inhabitants while spouting religious doctrine.


Quick Thoughts: 
Island of Death is another film that was part of the Video Nasties scandal in the UK during the 80s. After finally watching it, I can totally understand why people were so offended by it.

I don't say this because I was personally offended when watching it, but because the film is so off-the-wall and filled with so much perversion, violence, and all manner of weird shit that I doubt your common movie-goer would be able to handle it. In fact, I'd be surprised if they even knew what to make of it. Hell, I've seen all kinds of ridiculous stuff over the years, and even I couldn't believe what I was watching.

Rape, bestiality, torture, transvestites... This movie has pretty much everything. In fact, the only thing it doesn't have is any real sort of meaning or story; something that the director himself has admitted to. Still, in the end, many of us don't watch films like this for the story, and the movie does succeed in being as balls-out weird as possible.

Would I recommend Island of Death to you? Well, it really depends... I'd say that, if you are a huge fan of the genre, and like to seek out the most fucked-up titles that it has to offer, then yes, you should watch this. However, if you are easily offended, or you can't watch films that serve no other point than trying to shock their audience, then you can probably skip it.

I couldn't find the trailer for the film, but below is something that might give you a small taste of what it's about.


Verdict:

2 1/2 out of 5