Archive for October, 2007

The Rebel is an achievement of martial arts ability anchored in an intriguing tale of politics, power and betrayal. What’s more, it is the most expensive movie ever produced in Vietnam.

The hard-hitting, high-kicking lead actor has fought opposite Jet Li and Tony Jaa and even though many may still not recognize him, most of the movie-watching public is familiar with his work – he is the man inside the Spider-Man suit. Taking on the roles of writer, producer, action choreographer and star, Johnny Nguyen breathes life into this project.

Le Van Cuong (Nguyen) is considered a traitor by his people. He and his brother in arms, Sy (Dustin Nguyen), are members of the secret police, working to eradicate opposition forces rebelling against the occupying French in the 1920s. However, when Cuong is stained by the blood of an adolescent would-be assassin and witnesses the brutal torture of the rebel leader’s daughter (Thanh Van Ngo), he questions if he is fighting on the right side of the battle. Meanwhile, Sy is doing everything necessary to gain the power of a government official.

The martial arts talent in this film is stunningly significant. Ngo is as impressive as Johnny, delivering staggering hits that stand up to any of the men’s stunts. Dustin is probably best remembered for his role in the ‘80s television series “21 Jump Street,” but here he displays his acting muscle as well as physical ability. Johnny is at the center of this spectacle, providing expert co-ordination and rendering extraordinary onslaughts, while sincerely portraying a man torn between loyalty to his country and his career.

Although the story may not be original, it is a stronger narrative than many martial arts and/or action films can claim. The film does not rely on special effects to retain the audiences’ attention; instead, the simple story is driven by good action sequences in various locations and plausible acting. These elements combine to produce a gripping film worth every penny.

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When watching The Nativity Story or The Ten Commandments, did you ever think to yourself “I bet this would be better as a futuristic sci-fi epic?”

Pastor Richard Gazowsky wants to satisfy that void in film history and Mike Jacobs has captured every failing moment in his captivating documentary Audience of One. Gazowsky “really want[s] to make the greatest film ever made” but he only watched his first film – The Lion King – at age 40 and has never before touched a camera. Nevertheless, he has taken on the challenge because God told him to make movies.

With the support and inexperienced assistance of his family and congregation, Gazowsky takes his delusions of grandeur from San Francisco to Italy to shoot the multimillion-dollar, biblical sci-fi epic Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph, complete with costumes, stunts and special effects. It is “Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments,” says a devotee and the film’s producer.

Unfortunately for the cast and crew, anything that can go wrong does and no one has the first clue how to deal with it except to join together and pray for divine intervention; after all, they are shooting this movie for Him – their audience of one.

Watching these righteous amateurs sink their time and money into a doomed project is simultaneously pitiful, amusing and almost insulting to those who spend years perfecting their skills before embarking on a project of such magnitude. It is impossible not to laugh at their determined optimism and complete lack of moviemaking knowledge as they stumble over obstacles and alienate local professionals and financial backers. In addition, the disapproval of Gazowsky’s mother, the original church founder, goes further to discredit his ideas and methods.

Fans of American Movie and Lost in La Mancha will take pleasure in gazing at the parade of bizarre characters and inevitable mishaps.

They hide in alleyways. They live in the walls. You can hear them behind the plaster and in the subway tunnels. They are rats… and they are rat-people.

The apartment on Mulberry Street is going to be redeveloped so its tenants are being evicted. An eclectic group of friendly neighbors, they assist and care for each other. Clutch (Nick Damici) is an ex-boxer and building help-all. Upon returning from his daily run, he receives a message from his daughter announcing she is coming home from the veteran’s hospital. However, her homecoming is hindered by various rat attacks throughout the city. To make matters worse, all those who are bitten become infected, flesh-eating monsters.

The opening chaos is limited to newscast descriptions and a couple of images of singular attacks; meanwhile, the newly infected just look clammy and ill. As an exercise in terror, this was not very effective. A visual threat should have been established earlier in the film, rather than circling the horror for 45 minutes. Nonetheless, when the action does get going, it is enjoyable. The spirited characters once again prove the best weapons in crisis are a frying pan and the hands with which you were born.

A lot of time is spent on character development, creating a relationship between the audience and on-screen personalities. This effort, however, makes the attempts at forcing emotion through music and stylistic changes unnecessary.

In an attempt to avoid being a “cookie-cutter” “zombie” flick, director/co-writer Jim Mickle and co-writer Dimici set the film in the city rather than the suburbs and allow most of their characters dignified deaths as opposed to death by cannibalism. Furthermore, the ending is somewhat inconclusive and far from happy.

A “lo-fi do-it-yourself homegrown movie,” all the apartment interiors were shot undetectably in Dimici’s apartment, which was redressed and repainted for each location.

The filmmakers seem to be afraid audiences will forget the title of the film, repeatedly filling the screen with the Mulberry Street sign. Unfortunately for them, their fears may be valid.

David Arquette puts the axe to a group of hippies in his directorial debut but fails to capture the slasher charm.

A music festival in the woods is drawing dozens of hippies to dark seclusion illuminated by strobe lights and clouded by smoke. Unfortunately for the drug-addled teens, a maniac in a Ronald Reagan mask has taken offence to the gathering and intends to dismember it – literally. Sheriff Buzz Hall (Thomas Jane) is being directed to keep things quiet but his sense of duty takes over when the body count starts to rise.

The most intriguing element of this plot was the concept of a Ronald Reagan serial killer. Regrettably, Arquette does not take advantage of the iconic persona. It would have been enjoyable to hear the killer utter Reagan catchphrases before slaughtering his victims; after all, he is killing based on his allegiance to the president’s beliefs.

Furthermore, the free love and rampant drug-use of the 1970s is impractically transplanted to the new millennium. The characters created are less credible in the current age; therefore, it would have been more feasible to situate this murder spree during the Reagan era.

The all-star cast includes Kevin Smith’s sidekick Jason Mewes, Lukas Haas and Jaime King as doomed party-goers, Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens as the shady concert promoter, Balthazar Getty as the rejected Republican boyfriend, as well as cameos from Arquette and his wife Courtney Cox Arquette. But with a cast this big and recognizable, the anonymity that made slasher characters so relatable is lost. On the other hand, it is entertaining to see the celebrities get maimed. The stand-out performance among them, however, is Jane’s Sheriff, whose performance overshadows even the stalker’s.

The originality of the killer’s disguise and psychedelic style adds to the usual slasher fair from which The Tripper is derived but does not bring it to par with its forebears.

Most drivers could not imagine living without their precious vehicles. But how much would any one of them be willing to sacrifice to stay on the road?

If you have seen The Little Shop of Horrors, the story may seem familiar – only a bloodthirsty car has replaced the carnivorous plant.

It is the very near future and gas prices have risen to over $30 per liter. No one drives anymore. In fact, most cars have been sent to the graveyard. Archie (Mike Brune) is a kindergarten teacher determined to get his car running again using wheatgrass as an alternative fuel source. But his attempts remain unsuccessful until a little blood accidentally gets added to the mix.

Archie soon learns having the only car in town is equivalent to having the coolest and guys with cool cars have sex in those cars. So when the loose girl of his wet dreams (Katie Rowlett) starts riding shotgun, the cute Greenpeace girl in glasses (Anna Chlumsky) is left watching taillights. Of course, all the vegan schoolteacher has to do to keep the car rocking is keep the tank full. And do not think the government is not on to his little science project.

The film’s social relevance is evident as gas prices had just recently risen to all-time highs and the search for alternative fuel sources seemed invaluable. Moreover, if one wanted to attach more significance to it, oil has brought death to numerous life forms through spills and war, so the idea of a car running on blood is not inappropriate.

On the other hand, the film is an absurd comedy about a man who has sworn not to kill any living creature discovering getting laid takes priority over his oath. Watching Archie’s pathetic attempts at obtaining fuel propels the film and keeps audiences in stitches.

Then again, the film is littered with obligatory tit shots and a running gag involving strangers having random car sex.

Blood Car is not about to be entered into the lexicon of great horror flicks but it is good for some laughs and mixes in some political significance for good measure.

 I CAN'T BELIEVE WE'RE IN A UWE BOLL FILM: A scene from In the Name of the King. (Photo: Toronto After Dark Film Festival)A star-studded cast, expert stunt coordination, $60 million budget, epic tale of heroism… and it is directed by notorious German filmmaker Uwe Boll.

As most of Boll’s previous films, this one is also based on a video game – Dungeon Siege. When asked why he turns to video games for source material, Boll said “In a video game you have all kinds of genres, you have all kinds of characters, you can cut ideas for production design, for art direction, for costumes, for fighting styles. You can take a lot of stuff out of the video game what you turn into the movie. And I like that: to have something to work with in the beginning.”

The main player, Farmer (Jason Statham), believes a man is what he does, hence the name. He does not care for the world outside his home, which consists simply of a farm, wife, child and surrogate father (Ron Perlman). However, his outlook is forced to change when an evil horde pillages his home, kidnaps his wife and kills his son; Farmer soon realizes to rescue his wife and avenge his son, he must also save the kingdom. Aligning himself with the King (Burt Reynolds) and his powerful mage (John Rhys-Davies), he must fight against the evil horde and defeat its leader, a deliciously wicked, over-the-top Ray Liotta.

While Boll has also been responsible for misses like House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark and BloodRayne, the negative feedback has led him to take more time to develop his scripts and stay true to the film’s sources. Consequently, his two recent productions, In the Name of the King and Postal, have received positive reactions from fans and critics alike.

All big picture fantasy films that follow Lord of the Rings are unjustly compared to it, leaving Boll’s fantasy picture to be commendable but definitely different. The story is a classic: circumstances force an ordinary man to become an epic hero; but it also does not take itself too seriously, relaying numerous jokes throughout and taking advantage of the pre-determined character types.

In addition to those already mentioned, the cast also includes Kristanna Loken as a forest guardian, Leelee Sobieski as the mage’s daughter and Matthew Lillard as the king’s drunk but ambitious nephew. Lillard is often underestimated as an actor, but he displays his talent here with a dominating screen presence and scene-stealing performance.

This is a vast improvement for Boll and an entertaining choice for audiences.

MORE IN THE NAME OF THE KING ON POPJOURNALISM:

It is a vampire’s dream: 30 days of total darkness.

Barrow, Alaska is the northernmost community in the world and for 30 days in the dead of winter, with temperatures well below zero, not a ray of sunlight falls upon the town.

The film begins with the annual closing of the town and the departure of many of its residents. However, the usual peace and quiet of isolation is increasingly disturbed by the presence of a stranger (Ben Foster). Eben (Josh Hartnett) is the town sheriff and, therefore, responsible for its safety but he is not prepared for the scourge that overtakes his town in a matter of hours.

Led by a nearly unrecognizable Danny Huston, the vampires have come to indulge and gorge on the townsfolk unopposed. All Eben and the decreasing number he holes up with have to do is survive until the next sunrise.

The film is based on Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith‘s graphic novel of the same name. These vampires are not the neat, eloquent, romantic creatures of Anne Rice’s fantasies; on the contrary, they are vicious and feral. Although dressed for the Monster’s Ball, they are predatory and attack rather than seduce. Above all, they are survivors, vulnerable only to sunlight and the destruction or removal of the head.

Director David Slade employs the effective horror tactic of not allowing viewers to see the fiends clearly during their initial attacks; instead, they are slowly revealed as the film progresses. Even some of the murders are performed off-screen, leaving the grisly nature of the process to the audience’s imagination. Filmmakers also revive horror’s terrible child in a young girl found feeding on an adult.

The make-up effects are distinct and effective, creating a realistically inhuman bloodsucker. On the other hand, their communicative howls are reminiscent of the T-1000’s death cries in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Foster is effectively creepy as the harbinger of death, speaking with authority, menace and no fear. In contrast, Hartnett appears weak and whiney in the beginning but his uncertain, non-Herculean heroics fit the average guy his character is meant to represent – a Bruce Willis-type would not have been convincing in the situation. In addition, the other characters are not really stereotypical, particularly as events lead them to reveal more of their personalities and secrets.

30 Days of Night is the big-screen vampire story for which fans have been waiting.