BaadAsssss Cinema (2002)

BaadAsssss Cinema (2002) DVD poster

director Isaac Julien
viewed: 05/20/2015

A really pretty solid primer and overview of Blaxploitation cinema, featuring Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Quentin Tarantino, Gordon Parks, Larry Cohen, Samuel L. Jackson and Melvin Van Peebles and many others.   I don’t know what else to tell you about it other than it’s quite worth the while and a great starting point for delving into the genre, understanding its context and history, and getting a great sense of the stars and the films.  Definitely worthwhile if you are interested.

Pam Grier is such a fox.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) movie poster

director George Miller
viewed: 05/17/2015 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is probably the best movie of the year.

It’s a seriously fun two hours of near nonstop action and cars and violence.  I can’t say how awesome it is that 70 year old George Miller came back to Mad Max, as he’s directed all of the films in the series, though the last one thirty years prior, and has landed in 2015 with one of the most vital and entertaining action movies in years and years.

Kudos galore.

The Descent Part 2 (2009)

The Descent Part 2 (2009) movie poster

director Jon Harris
viewed: 05/16/2015

You know something extremely rare happened here for me.  having just re-watched The Descent (2005), H watched The Descent Part 2 (2009) with Clara at her behest.  The weird thing?  I had totally and utterly forgotten that I had seen the sequel before.  I not only had forgotten it before we started watching it, but nowhere through the film did I suddenly get jarred to recall that I’d watched it before.

For a movie I only watched five years ago, I’d say that that is something.

In writing about it before, I sort of hit the nail on the head.  It picks up right after the first one, lacks the surprise element that the original developed so well, and while it was not directed by Neil Marshall, the original film’s director, it’s actually reasonably decent for a sequel of lesser quality.

Clara agreed.

Now, I wonder if I’ll remember having watched it again.

The Descent (2005)

The Descent (2005) movie poster

director Neil Marshall
viewed: 05/16/2015

The Descent (2005) was one of the more noteworthy modern horror films that I recall having seen in the past decade.  Frankly, it doesn’t come up a lot in life.  Director Neil Marshall went from promising director to one lacking great consistency.  I think he’s currently working on episodes of Game of Thrones, which actually seems like a good fit for him.

Anyways, I asked Clara if she was interested in watching a horror film and she said yes, so I suggested this one, which I recalled to be good.

It’s the story of an all-female sextet of cave divers for whom the exploration of an unknown cave system in the Appalachian Mountains goes awry.  And then gets invaded by some creepy crawlers.

One of the most interesting things about the film is that the creatures don’t show up until the final third of the movie, making their initial appearance that much more surprising and shocking.  Frankly, Clara was getting a bit scared.  She started asking if we could “not finish the film”, though I coaxed her through it.  By the end of the film, she was wanting to watch the sequel.

I still think that this is one of the better horror films of the century so far.  It’s not perfect but it’s original, and it’s crafted with a real build up to the eventual weird horror and mystery.  It does have some feminist quality to it as well, starring six strong women against a horde of evil, blind bat-men.

To each his own.

Seeding of a Ghost (1983)

Seeding of a Ghost (1983) movie poster

director Chuan Yang
viewed: 05/15/2015

Notorious Shaw Brothers’ bananas horror film, Seeding of a Ghost, most certainly has its charms.  It’s the wacky story of a cuckolded taxi driver, who is cursed when he accidentally gives a crafty wizard a ride.  Long, convoluted story shortened, his wife is raped and murdered and to seek revenge he employs his former evil fare to wreak revenge via black magic.

This includes several levels of reviving the corpse of his wife and eventually “seeding” her.  Um, yeah, that is what it seems to suggest.

There are lots of very kooky and pretty awesome traditional FX and some outréness of which to be quite proud.  Definitely worth seeing if you like your Hong Kong horror as coo-coo and outrageous as it gets.

I can’t recall when or where I first read about this film, but I think it goes back a couple of decades.  I’d never seen it before, but let me tell you, it’s a keeper.

Maps to the Stars (2014)

Maps to the Stars (2014) movie poster

director David Cronenberg
viewed: 05/10/2015

You had me at “David Cronenberg”.  I’ll still watch any new David Cronenberg film.  Doesn’t really matter what it’s about.  Well, actually, after Cosmopolis (2012), maybe I should temper that.

And, that said, Maps to the Stars is the second feature in a row for Cronenberg to feature Robert Pattinson, largely ensconced yet again inside a limo.  This time, though, he’s the driver and the subject isn’t Wall Street but Hollywood.  Cronenberg’s first film ever shot in the United States also features Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, and Olivia Williams.

It’s a funny, sordid affair.  I’d argue that the film’s ability to skewer Hollywood and Hollywood types is a bit more tin eared than other aspects of it.  Mainly, it’s a very dysfunctional family horror show, with a heart in Mia Wasikowska, who plays the scarred mystery girl who hunts the celebrities like a world-class stalker, but whose motives are more mysterious and bizarre.

It’s kind of weird but I liked it.  In fact, I think I liked it more than I expected I would.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) movie poster

director Brett Morgen
viewed: 05/10/2015

I’d been reading about Brett Morgen’s documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and felt interested.  21 years since his suicide, Cobain’s music and legacy have endured, and many films have been made about him.  This film was the first to be authorized by his estate, to feature the music of Nirvana, and to have a pretty full cooperation of Courtney Love and other friends and family.  It was also produced in part by his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain.

Considering that I’d suffered through the insufferable Kurt & Courtney (1998), I felt I owed it to myself and the subject matter to at least see a film with some shred of integrity and dignity on the musician.  (I’ll never watch another Nick Broomfield film ever again).

The film is intimate, having access to tons of home video and personal papers, notebooks, audio tapes to augment the interviews and archival information.   In that sense, you do get a better sense of who Cobain was as a person.  Really, a cool guy, a loner, but into interesting stuff, the kind of person who might have been fun to hang out with and watch a movie with or something.

Because really, wherever you get your information about who he is or was, it’s a construct.  I recall when I first heard of Nirvana and when I first heard of people who had known Kurt in real life, the rumors and stories and whatnot.  There is still very much the real person behind all that.  A real person who got sucked into mainstream culture and celebrity essentially out of nowhere and succumbed to his many demons and shortcomings and fears despite his intensive gifts and talents.

Really, though, the film isn’t amazing.  In fact, it’s kind of long and drawn out.  Parts of it are more successful than others, and in the end, it doesn’t feel as definitive as it strives to be.  The intimacy is achieved, though, I would say, and I’ve been listening to Nirvana and appreciating them and Cobain more since watching the film than I have for some time since.

It’s one of those things typical in my relationship with popular music.  The more popular and ubiquitous it is, the harder time I have of having my personal relationship with it.  But I’ve had that with Nirvana and I’m glad to have reestablished our relationship.

Şeytan (1974)

Şeytan (1974) movie poster

director Metin Erksan
viewed: 05/09/2015

I’d heard about the Turkish knock-off of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), as well as a number of other 1970’s Turkish knock-off films, but I hadn’t ever seen them before.  Şeytan is essentially a pretty straight-up re-make of that classic, game-changing American horror film, but made on the cheap within the context of Turkish culture.

It’s quite marvelously bad, but I have to say that I regret maybe not having re-watched The Exorcist more recently to perhaps more fully appreciate the film’s rip-offs and variances more fully.

Quite entertaining in its way.

Men Behind the Sun (1988)

Men Behind the Sun (1988) movie poster

director T. F. Mou
viewed: 05/09/2015

When I first started on my trek through “most disturbing” or “most disgusting” films last year, one of the movies that constantly showed up on lists was T.F. Mou’s Men Behind the Sun.  It didn’t ring bells for me.

The film is a narrative approach to the frightening, horrific true-life human experiments performed by the Japanese Unit 731 in the waning days of World War II.  Inspired by the Nazis and the things that they were doing, Lt. Gen. Shiro Ishii led outrageous and most terrible human tests on things like frostbite, starvation, human vivisection, all sorts of sick and twisted stuff.  The reality is in many ways far more stunning and shocking than the contents of this film.

The film, which I believe was made with educational intentions, goes from potentially serious to absolutely hilariously grotesque in its exploitation-style special effects and overall sensibilities.  From a perspective of horrors and shock and grotesqueries, it’s far more comically gruesome than impactful like Come and See (1985), a Russian film about horrors of World War II that often makes many of the same lists of gruesome films.

I say that not to devalue it, but more to differentiate.  Come and See is tremendously powerful and upsetting.  Men Behind the Sun is not quite a laugh-riot, but far more so.  The realities that it attempts to depict are as horrific as you can imagine.  But the film is far enough detached from reality in its production, so it’s really almost fun.

The Tin Drum (1979)

The Tin Drum (1979) movie poster

director Volker Schlöndorff
viewed: 05/08/2015

I’m going through my biggest lag in time and backlog of films to write about for some years of late.  I’ve been somewhat uninspired on the writing front, no reflection on the movies I’ve been watching, more my own state of being.

Case in point here, Volker Schlöndorff’s 1979 adaptation of Günter Grass’s novel of The Tin Drum.  I first saw this movie on cable in the 1980’s.  I think it was one of my first foreign films that I’d seen, or at least one of the first foreign films that I’d seen that really had a significant impact on me.  NAot sure, but I can imagine having heard of it through Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel’s At the Movies show.  Either way, it really struck me.

The strangeness of the film, the story of Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent), a boy who at the age of three decides to stop growing and stay small forever, all in  the rising shadow of Nazi Germany.  Highly metaphorical and to a large extent stylized with aspects of magical realism, the film is full of vivid and weird images and striking and powerful ideas.

I went on in life to read Grass’s novel, which is also brilliant, in fact featuring much more than is even entailed in this nearly three hour film.  I’ve highly recommended it over the years and still do.  Grass, of course, much later in life owned up to being a member of the Waffen SS, his greatest crime being in hiding that fact for so long and taking his particular moral stance.  I don’t think that it shortchanges the novel or the film, but adds layers on the outside of the whole of the context.

I watched The Tin Drum with my kids, with whom I had discussed the film for a few years, especially in contexts of other films that dealt with similar time periods and subject matters.  Oddly enough, they were somewhat ambivalent about the film.  It is indeed very long and strange and harsh in ways, but I kind of assumed they would enjoy it more.  Maybe they are too young for it.

David Bennent, 11 years old at the time of the film, is a strange and amazing figure, with his intense eyes and mien.  Really, he is the film’s utter coup in casting.

A pretty great film, I would say.