Wednesday, March 21, 2012

INTRUDERS invade our dreams!

INTRUDERS (2012- Spain/U.K) D: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.
The latest genre effort from the director of the excellent 28 WEEKS LATER (200) is a subtle and atmospheric psychological drama about the dark side of childhood and reoccurring nightmares.  Beautifully shot with extremely low key lighting, the story focuses on and deeply explores the parallel traumas of two youngsters, Juan and Mia and the sanctity of the mother/son and father/daughter bond.  Both children are visited nightly by a tall shrouded entity known as 'Hollowface' who needs a face badly and tries to steal one for himself.  The plot is complex and psychologically twisting and the deliberate pacing allows your own mind to unspool the implications and recall the dark side of your own childhood.  Clive Owen (CHILDREN OF MEN, SIN CITY) is 'John Farrow' and he takes on the battle to help his daughter 'Mia Farrow' (Ella Purnell) save face, literally.  While Juan's mother turns to a priest for help and Mia's dad seeks the aid of a psychologist, both religion and science fails to resolve the ascending nightmares.  In the end, love saves the day.  As explained in the film ,the wild concept of 'shared dreams' is supposedly based on a true but rare mental condition.  The performances and dream sequences are intense and the ending is emotionally stirring.  Also stars Carice van Houton (Verhoeven's THE BLACK BOOK, HBO's GAME OF THRONES) as Owen's confused wife who is skeptical of the nocturnal threat.  She also provides the film's only fleeting moment of unexpected nudity.  INTRUDERS is refreshing because it is artsy filmmaking without being over-designed and too visually intricate for their own good, the way Guillermo del Toro's recent films have become (del Toro is great but his recent work is starting to look redundant.  Too much of a good thing.).  According to the director, the characters names are purely coincidental.  (In real life, the great film director John Farrow was actress Mia Farrow's father.)  Coming soon on the heels of Hammer's THE WOMAN IN BLACK, I am hopeful that this might be a trend allowing the horror genre to get back to its roots of exploring the primacy of 'fear' with richer (not digitally processed, overly tinted) cinematography and slower pacing (rejecting trendy action-style editing) to stress atmosphere and mood over shock and awe.  INTRUDERS is a memorable, worthwhile film from a consistently solid director.

Let's hope INTRUDERS benefits from some good word-of-mouth!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Burton throws Barnabas to the APES!

If you think Tim Burton pissed off the legions of PLANET OF THE APES fans with his ill-conceived, utterly lame remake several years ago, imagine what wrath he'll feel from the DARK SHADOWS faithful just based on the trailer (see link above)?  It will be a bloodbath to put it mildly.  SHADOWS actually received a respectful upgrade by DS creator Dan Curtis, himself, for prime time television in the early 90's and DS fans have always dreamed of another big screen treatment, practically tracking Burton's production on a daily basis.   I was never a true fan of the series but I did see HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970)  and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971) in theaters upon first release and, yes, everyone would expect Burton's treatment to contain some element of camp- but this?  It looks like a throw-away parody, 70's retro satire with Barnabas as a comical cartoon character, a cross between Max Schrek's Nosferatu, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Eddie Munster!  And Burton is acting shocked in current interviews that anyone would dare perceive his remake as comedy?!  For the record, I'll see it just for Christopher Lee's cameo.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

THE RAID delivers and you shall receive!

THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011- Indonesia)  Original Title: SERBUAN MAUT.  Sony Pictures Classics.  D: Gareth Evans.
One of the most savage, speed thrill martial arts films every made.  It's like the finale of Jackie Chan's original POLICE STORY on steroids- just plain nuts and ridiculous by all civilized standards.  An orgy of bone-crunching, head-slamming, machete chopping, sweat-soaked, blood-drenched insanity.  And that's me trying not to over-hype this picture with gushing, bloated rhetoric!  A SWAT team raid on a  drug lord's tenement results in a floor-by-floor bloodbath obstacle course that only a few souls survive.  Plotwise, that's about it.  The beautifully minimal premise sets up a GAME OF DEATH type structure as we get to know a handful of officers on a suicide mission to apprehend a drug kingpin on the top floor.  The characters are sketchy and minimalist as hell but we know just enough to actually care about two brothers on opposite sides of the law.  There is a hint of male bonding but it never gets too sentimental or overblown in the John Woo/Hong Kong tradition.  All the performers are excellent and you really feel their pain throughout!  Welsh director Evans somehow has created one of the most epic, detailed and complex kung fu films ever!  It's hard to believe that he's not a veteran stuntman or martial artist himself.  The choreography (highlighting an obscure style of Islamic based martial arts- as opposed to the Tony Jaa-style Muay Thai) is sophisticated, lighting fast, stylish and brutal.  The camera work is just as breakneck and melds to the action making the viewer a participant.  Evans is the man to helm a much-needed digitial 3D martial arts slaughterthon.  Evans directed two previous action films but this is the one that will put him on the map.  Features a suitabley harsh and heavy  electronic score by Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda.  There's a pointless Hollywood remake in the works and two more films to round out a trilogy.  Unfortunately, plans call for more back story to explain what led up to the raid.  I hate back stories and lots of good movies and franchises have been ruined by it (think STAR WARS!).  Any real action or kung fu fan can not afford to miss THE RAID and expect to resume a normal life.  I can't say enough good things about it and I don't want to sound like a drooling, bribed studio shill, so I'll stop now.  The film opens theatrically in select major markets on March 23rd.  You'll want to shower immediately after.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I AM BRUCE LEE and you're not!

(2012) SPIKE TV HD Broadcast.  D: Pete McCormack.  This is the latest and perhaps first officially sanctioned full-length feature film documentary on the life of martial arts icon Bruce Lee.  While the production is slick and fast-paced, it's basically a shallow primer for casual or new fans.  Hardcore Lee minions will not be overwhelmed by the information, comments, trendy graphics and stock images flashed across the HD screen.  Basically a talking-heads program with film clips and still images interspersed, the choice of interviewees is quite odd.  There are lots of mixed martial arts stars and other athlete fans but only a few folks who actually knew and/or worked with Lee (for example- wife Linda and Danny Inosanto).  There's lots of talk about Lee's colleagues like Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis but they never appear on camera to speak for themselves.  The always entertaining Bob Wall does get ample screen time but doesn't get to tell some of his crazier stories and there's way too much of earnest fanboy Reginald Hudlin, although the welcome presence of veteran stuntman Gene LeBell is much appreciated!  Mysteriously MIA are John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Fred Weintraub, Jhoon Rhee, Robert Baker and any of Lee's stellar Hong Kong cohorts!  It's sort of weird including all these MMA stars who weren't even born when Lee died and totally ignoring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung and especially Tony Jaa, who actually knew, worked with him and/or followed in his footsteps!  The majority of Lee's presence is centered around his only surviving (and much overused) TV interview on the Pierre Berton show (Berton's sideburns are a major distraction).  Also, the numerous film clips from Lee's TV appearances and kung fu films are all displayed cropped and altered from their original aspect ratios.  What's with that?  Overall, the show is very good but I did wish it would have premiered some shred of new or rare footage.   The show doesn't really give a good, cohesive explanation of Jeet Kune Do's philosophy, spending more time talking about what it isn't.  It would have been nice to show Lee's continuing influence on today's action cinema too.  Without a doubt, I AM BRUCE LEE is very West Coast, MMA-centric.  For my money, the best documentary to date is still John Little's A WARRIOR'S JOURNEY (2000)   which focused on Lee's unfinished GAME OF DEATH and totally blew me away at the time with the outtakes and the surprising amounts of unused footage.  For die-hard fans, it's also worth seeking out some of the more obscure, non-official Lee documentaries where you get super rare interviews with many of his Hong Kong cast and crew members and even autopsy photos!  I expect I AM BRUCE LEE will get a few more Spike TV airings before hitting DVD and blu-ray.  (It did play several major cities for a limited theatrical run before the Spike TV premiere) so definitely check it out in your preferred format.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hail King Conan! Dark Horse does it again!

The powerful, brute force team of Timothy Truman and Tomas Giorello are back with another killer limted series, KING CONAN: THE PHOENIX ON THE SWORD.  Issue #2 is already out!  King Conan is  now elderly and slightly unhinged as he recalls the time that Thoth-Amon's plotted to usurp him!  Truman and Giorello prove to be the greatest Conan creative team since Thomas and Buscema and they bring back the 'old school' virtue that the writing and artwork actually matter!  Giorello's intricate and stylized work is a tour-de-force of barbaric splendor and there are a few eye-popping full page spreads per issue! Truman channels REH at his darkest and always tells a gripping tale!  Check it out now!  Also check out their previous limited series, THE SCARLET CITADEL, that VC heralded last year.