Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Movie Madness: Jackass 3D & Wall Street 2

What kind of crazy person pairs up (unintentionally at first but still) a third movie where the dipshits from Knoxville and the boys keep doing crazy stuff to and with themselves AND the long-awaited(?) sequel to Oliver Stone's 1987 iconic drama?  Well... MEEEE!!

But for real, I had Jackass 3D on my radar for a while, and took a little while to get to Stone's movie, for various reasons for both.  Why for?  Well, here goes....

Going to Jackass for me is like going to visit your idiot cousins on the side of your family you are not (or think you are not) into seeing.  You used to hang out a lot with these guys (their TV show) and thought you needed a break... then came the first big go around-renunion in 2002 (Jackass: The Movie), and it was fun times, and you thought 'hell, this was good, but what was I thinking?  I need another break'... and then came the next big reunion where you got shit-faced to hell and had even bigger fun times, and realized the break needed to be for good, no more, that's it, I got to grow up.... and now they're back for one more go around (knock on wood) and, fine, let's go for it.  And hey, it's in 3D!  Fuck it, let's bring on the kicks in the nuts, poop sprayed all over, donkey kicks to the stomach, and a giant hand giving a "high five".

What can I say as defense?  It's the true guilty pleasure of my generation, and the level of guilt you feel depends on how much you think you can take or, subjectively pure and simple, how you find it funny.  It is extreme, obscene, and knows what it's doing just as much as it now surely knows its audience.  The first two movies were huge hits, and it grossed 20 million in *one day/night* (Inception just made that much).  You might ask, perhaps naively, after so many years of this being on, 'Well, should I give it a shot?'  Let me put it this way: the (now) classic MTV characters Beavis and Butt-head make a special appearance to introduce the movie, and demonstrate some punching techniques to demonstrate what kind of Jackasses these guys are.  And this is the *smart* section of the movie!

He's blending - to PAIN!
There is by now a certain formula to the Jackass movies - what would one be without it ending with Rip Taylor?  And each movie has to have little side-steps to the guys dressing up as old people going into public and screwing with people (in this one Knoxville as an old man makes out with his granddaughter, for example).  And there have to be dangerous things with animals.  Oh boy is there fucked up encounters with donkeys, bulls, rams, pigs (or a pig's snout in a man's anus), snakes, and a (fake) gorilla. If there were dinosaurs walking around today with humans you can bet your liver and kidneys that Bam Margera would surprise his mother - who by now shouldn't be surprised by anything her son tries to put on her, but still can be - and his step-father Phil would be taking a shit while a Raptor destroys the house.

On the one hand the appeal of Jackass is something akin to wild admiration.  How can they pull off some of this and have the guts to do it?  They're really professional stunt people first, and the stuff they pull off here is the stuff of having fun.  On the other hand the appeal is pure shaudenfreude, though not always malicious... well, maybe sometimes malicious enjoyment at their expense.  They get propelled, smashed, punched, flown in the air and shot with paintballs, shot with bullets, fall from trees, bit by scorpions, and give their genitals such a run for their money you'd swear the Society-For-a-Safe-Scrotum would sue after watching this.  And yet for all of this craziness, if you can tap into the level of insanity... it's funny.

The laughs one has are proportional to the levels of absurdism on display, or close to surrealism.  One of the funniest set pieces involves a mounting midget-gag where it turns into a world of midgets.  And for all of the shit flying around (i.e. the bungee 'gag' where no one, most especially Steve-O inside the porta-pod, is safe from the feces), the most cringe-inducing moment for me is the "Lamborghini Tooth-Pull" where one of the characters gets his tooth pulled by being hooked up to a car driving fast away (part of it is the originality, and part of it is an aversion to teeth-pulling - suffice to say he's one of the few people who really cries after its done).  And how much humor comes out depends on how one is sucked into the film's treatment of bodily function-ballyhoo.  By the 14th kick in the nuts I was groaning.  When it came to the man farting darts, I was all in laughing out loud.

Bottom line: if you're already a fan, you'll get what you pay for: professionally stupid people doing lots of ridiculously stupid, harmful things as if to completely defy Darwin.  If you're not a fan, do keep away from the idiots' family reunion.


Did we need another Wall Street movie?  The story seemed to be closed-and-shut at the end of Oliver Stone's 1987 film as Gordon Gecko gives his big creedo - "Greed is Good - Greed is Right" - and is carted off to prison for insider trading.  Logically, one might think that because of the financial clusterfuck two years ago where everything went to hell until the government pulled its bail-out, its just the right time for one, to give a 21st century update with Gecko when insider trading is so... 1987.

It is logical, but the question becomes 'does the movie work'?  Yes and no.  It's a sequel that tries to make its own story without involving too much of the previous film's material outside its iconic character (Charlie Sheen makes an almost thankless cameo as Bud Foxx, and we find out what *other* stuff Gecko did to have him get eight years in prison).  But after the set-up of the story, about how Jake Moore (Shai LaBeouf), dating Gecko's daughter (Carey Mulligan) is a wall street trader who connects with the elder Gecko after Jake's mentor kills himself over the financial crisis at the firm he runs, and thus the seeds of revenge are sewn for Jake against sneaky "Pig" Bretton James (Josh Brolin), it turns into a Hollywood drama.  By this I mean not really an Oliver Stone drama that one looks forward to from his days doing them well in the 80s and 90's (maybe not so much in the 00's).

Without spoiling too much, the results of the drama in the story turn out to be a little too neat and tidy, and shockingly, considering how much the original Wall Street took chances and made one think about the financial mishaps downtown NYC was doing at the time, how it doesn't really take the bull by the horns and make the financial meltdown seem *that* important.  More than that, it feels like Stone and his writers use the big financial meltdown as a plot point more than something to leap off of as something important.  And unlike a documentary coming out this month like Inside Job, you won't really learn much about what happened with Wall Street and the financial crisis, except "hey, we're money people, we're in trouble, we can't let it "sleep", better get a bail-out."  I'm not expecting too heavy a history lesson, but like with Stone's recent W., it combs over anything really revelatory to get back to the formula of the story.

So why is this worthwhile?  Simple: the acting here, the cast assembled, and how restrained Stone's direction is - that is when he's not going nuts with sprawling stock-numbers super-imposed over the city -  makes for very compelling viewing.  If it feels slightly stale and expected how it turns out in terms of the story points, right down to the Freudian daughter-father thing with Gecko, Jake and her father, the actors breathe a lot of life into the conflicts and make it believable.  LaBeeouf especially is given a really meaty role here dramatically, where he has to show his chops instead of surrounded by overwhelming special effectas.  His Jake is smart but emotional, impressionable and determined, a kind of nouveau Bud Fox who has his passion project to fund (the one issue that is pounded away here, maybe even *more* than the economy in Wall Street 2, is alternative energy), and he plays off very well with Carey Mulligan, who gives some depth to a girl who seems straightforward: "I'm a liberal gal whose distanced myself from my father following my brother's overdose-death that is my FATHER's fault."  For a character who should only be halfway sympathetic, she's filled with pathos and has a wonderful scene with her father on the steps in reconciliation.

Oh, and Michael Douglas.  If only he were here in every scene it would be a must-see... then again, maybe not.  Maybe Stone is wise to bring Douglas in as the big scene-stealer, because he really is, one of the great ones as a character.  And damn if Douglas doesn't deliver again on a character who is wicked but inviting, seductive but practical, witty but not insufferable, and has that snake-like charm that could draw in a tax collector into his grasp.  Every moment with him is just about perfect, even when he's put into some of the expected beats of the last reel.  Other actors like Frank Langella (for how brief he's there he makes his mark), Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, they all contribute to making it at least watchable and fun; you want to see what the actors, more than the story, will do next with the turns it takes.

And maybe the cast will be enough, and some of the dramatic situations and how they're staged without fuss will bring in audiences.  I was certainly sucked in more, without the kind of distractions of Stone's most recent output by pablum (WTC), misdirection (W.) or being just overloaded (Alexander).  Ironically when Stone brought in some of his wacky visual schematics for the stocks floating over the city and split-screens and the animation of the alternative-energy examples, don't work to the same wild effect that Stone used to pull off.  Maybe he's getting too old for this shit.  But, thankfully, he knows how to direct actors very well, or just how to assemble them, and if one sticks to that point Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is enjoyable and, oddly enough, escapist entertainment.  You'll almost forget how screwed the country still is at the end of the movie.  Almost, though not quite.  

Or, as Gecko himself says in the movie: "It's not about the money - it's about the GAME."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Night Horror: Wes Craven's MY SOUL TO TAKE and Joe Dante's PIRANHA

AAAAAHHHHHH!!  October Horror Movie Madness!  Maybe not as good as's coverage, which is day by day, but whatever, I can get through some of these.  And here are two, done back to back, one in a near empty theater and another watched in a time crunch for return to Blockbuster.

"Hush little baby, don't say a word, and nevermind that noise you heard,
It's just the beast under your bed, in your closet, in your head." (Metallica, Enter the Sandman)

In My Soul to Take we get a return to the director AND writer combined of Wes Craven - his first time doing both since his New Nightmare sequel/revamp in 1994.  His tale is of the Riverton Ripper, a killer who was a schizophrenic maniac in a small town years ago who almost killed his little girl but was killed at the last minute... OR WAS HE?!  It cuts ahead to sixteen years later where in Riverton the seven children all born at the same time in the town when the Ripper supposedly died convene to do a ritual "killing" of one in a Ripper mask.

Bug (fresh-faced Max Thieriot) can't bring himself to do it.  The next day things just seem to get weird... and weirder still.  And something more terrifying: the kids start getting picked off, one by one, by the Ripper!  But how can this be if he's alive?  Could it all be Bug, who was born and raised an "innocent" by his not-Mom and beleaguered sister, and turned into a kind of freak at school who goes presenting projects for class in a wild condor costume?  All signs seem to point to yes... but could it be... someone else?  Perhaps close to Bug?  Or is the killer still alive?  And the personal connection is...

Ah, this is Craven back alright... back to form?  That would depend on what form that would imply.  His style here, which could all be in keeping with the subject matter of split personalities, is not very concise.  He has two methods going on at once.  On the one hand he delivers a typical teen slasher story, where we have very textbook, one dimensional characters: conflicted but decent-likable protagonist, fun but stupid best friend, the jock douche-bag-bully, the goodie-too-shoes chick (in this case a Bible-thumper), and maybe (no, in this case for sure) the token Black guy (Craven does go a step further - there's a token black guy AND girl!).  They're put into a storyline where they're picked off one by one, also with the inclusion of the main character's sister who has some secrets to tell, and it all comes down to a showdown where the protagonist has to show his chops... and there will be twists!

There's that.  And then on the other hand Craven's trying to work something on that's trickier, more surreal and subversive, dealing with the supernatural and the psychotic kind of meshed into one.  This is where it gets messy, since Craven certainly has a lot on his mind just to try and come up with a concept like this where the question of if it's a serial killer still alive or a bunch of souls of the dead still in one ('souls' we're told early on as opposed to 'personalities'), *or* of it's a psychological thing, hinted at by the friendship between Bug and the talkative Alex (John Magaro, who is very good even when given little good to speak).  The ideas conflict rather ungainly in manner with the more conventional slasher pic Craven's also doing, and the clash doesn't come off anywhere near as well as something really daring like Nightmare on Elm Street.  And I don't throw that comparison around loosely, it deserves to be made here.

It also hurts, doesn't help, that Craven's dialog is clunky and, at certain times like early on in the film when he juxtaposes rather ludicrously a TV news reporter going on about split personalities as the killer is revealed in his split-personality state, just bad.  It's hard to get through some scenes where the actors, limited as they are in experience, try to get by, but are given some pretty stupid stuff to try to get through.  It really gets to a point where I would prefer an Are You Afraid of the Dark writer to come in and revamp things.  And it pains me to have to criticize the film so much since there is a lot of it that is interesting here.  And when it finally digs its heels into the big set-pieces at Bug's house (that is everything after the big revelation to Bug about his bond with the Riverton Ripper), it's well-executed in pacing and for thrills and in the confrontation between protagonist and villain (actually there are *two* confrontations ultimately, one more fight-like the other a mind-stare-down), I was sucked into the narrative.

Craven shows his talent here, but it's a messy talent, like a sketchbook that needs a fine polish and professional spit-shine to get it really acceptable.  The mood isn't too shabby, and some of the kills are staged for adequate killing-effect.  But it's hard to reconcile that the film doesn't know fully what it wants to be, and it doesn't excel ultimately at either side - Hollywood B-horror and more art-film avant-garde stuff - and it becomes a totally fascinating failure.  The hacks behind Saw VII wouldn't go this far with the jumble of ideas in its mind.  


"Terror, horror, death. Film at eleven."

Piranha knows what it needs to be, but it also sets out to want to be something a little more.  On the surface, and by that I mean just by the look-see at the poster (which, as the stock-and-trade of Roger Corman's films, you see the poster you get even *more* than you would get out of the movies usually), it's a rip-off of Jaws only instead of a huge fish it's lot of little fish - Corman himself makes this distinction on the DVD special features.  It was such a rip-off to the extent that Universal studios tried to sue Corman and the production only to stop when Steven Spielberg saw the film and loved it; not so oddly enough director of Piranha Joe Dante and Spielberg collaborated on Gremlins.  

Sure, it needs to be a typical Corman production: some kind of ACTION! or VIOLENCE! or BOOBS! every fifteen minutes or so, and it doesn't matter what kind of actors you can get - the variety of good (Kevin McCarthy), decent-dependable (Dick Miller), or not so good (Belinda Balaski) - it just matters that they can get through the lines and we get some solid bits of violence throughout and especially in the last reels.  But what it wants to be is something not so cheesy.  The actual "human" stuff on screen, the stuff with the characters, is not as thin as one might expect.  The dialog, provided by John Sayles, is fun, but it also doesn't take itself so ridiculously as to not work.  It is a serious dramatic effort first, and then via Dante's input or by the nature of the sub-genre, there are moments of comedy.  But here's the rub - when it means to be funny, it's FUNNY!

And, sure again, some of the action is cheesy; oddly enough it was only during some, though not all, of the piranha action did I think back to seeing the remake of Piranha in 3D back in August.  It's a credit to both Dante and Alexandre Aja that I didn't harkon back every five minutes to the remake when seeing the original, and really the only pure "homage" is in the climactic set-piece from this film when everyone tries to get onto the raft and it topples over back into the lake.  This Piranha is set in its own time and place of late 70's and (if you can believe it) post-Vietnam guilt-trip mania, as the fish mutated and created for attack against Charlie is instead kept under wraps until accidentally let loose into the river and down into the lakes (they can go in Fresh AND Salt water now!), and hell little by little breaks loose.

It goes by some of the numbers of the book that Jaws the movie laid out, such as the couple of people getting their wits about them and saying repeatedly to those in charge "clear the beaches, get people out of the water!" and those in authority not giving a damn and keeping things open with tragic results.  But I liked how Dante and Sayles and company kept things fresh.  I liked that our main characters, Paul and Maggie, were smart like with breaking out of the local jail and doing their best to stop what's coming.  I liked how McCarthy's scientist character comes on, does his exposition, and then as if made to be a sacrificial lamb for his transgressions he puts himself into the water to save a kid and his lower half is all eaten away.  I liked just how rampantly stupid the military and Dick Miller's water-part people were in their strict keep-everything-looking-alright quota, where it neared (or perhaps did) go over the top, but was never so unbelievable as to take me out of the film.

I liked some of the piranha effects, but some more than others.  There's an absolutely beautiful-haunting shot where a woman is dragged under water by the piranhas into the black depths of the water, and its noticeable for how much longer- even just by a few seconds- the shot is from a lot of the other piranha-attack stuff.  One can tell at times where they really did save their pennies, and who can blame them?  They had what they could work with and do the best with it they can, which is surprisingly a lot; in a sense they follow, on a smaller scale, a principle for the first half that Spielberg himself had on Jaws, though for him by default of a faulty shark: less is more.  This is thrown out the window once Phil Tippet and Rob Bottin, masters of make-up and special fx, are brought on the scene to make things more exciting.  But the tension in some of these early scenes, cheap as they are and only passably acted (i.e. fisherman with his dog on the dock), are very effective for scares.

It's a good ol' late 70's when-animals-attack movie, done with not too much tongue-in-cheek, and at a time when Dante was just about to hit his stride with The Howling and Gremlins, and is both no better and no worse than the 2010 remake in 3D, which is for the most part a very different monster of a B-movie.

25 Films I Like That You Don't

Inspired by a friend's list on facebook that was like this (he actually has a previous list as well so the one I saw today was 25 *more* films...), this is a list of movies I like and or love that you or others may not.  They may be controversial, or just stupid, but I like em.

1) Week End

About: An unhappy married couple going to visit one of their parents in the French countryside get caught up in massive traffic jams, turned-over cars, madmen calling themselves God, poets, magicians, and over-long tracking shots.  Ultimately they become cannibals.
Why do I like it?  It's Jean-Luc Godard at the peak of his powers, right before he declared (at the end of this movie) the "End of Cinema".  It's like a true apocalypse movie, only instead of seeing the aftermath you're seeing it in motion, here, right now, and it's also a hilarious, poetic, no-holds barred rip on the bourgeois. It's a fearless example of the auteur theory at work.  I'm reminded of Errol Morris' first impression on seeing Werner Herzog's films when he was younger: "You can *do* that in movies?"
Why you don't like it?  It's another over-indulgent Jean-Luc Godard movie where shots go on unnecessarily long and there's no structure.  It's like The Doors remake The Road, which sounds awesome until you realize some people hate the Doors and find the Road totally depressing.  And why are there cannibals at the end and a man who calls himself God who makes bunnies appear in glove compartments?

2) Diary of the Dead

About: A re-telling of the start of the zombie-apocalypse as a group of amateur filmmakers making a Mummy movie in the woods goes on the run in a Winnebago, all seen from the point of view of one of the filmmakers who can't seem to put the camera down.
Why do I like it?  It's George Romero in full satire mode, making a "first-person doc POV" movie while also satirizing it; the filmmakers who survive inside of a panic room, we're led to believe, edit the film on their laptop and send it out over the computer, but that it becomes preachy is Romero's meta-way of telling us how preachy docs get in the way of bigger issues in the world.  In this case flesh-craving zombies.  It's also one of the director's funniest films.
Why you Don't?  Its got some actors who look like they've been plucked out of the local community theater (in general in Romero's films the acting is the lessor quality anyway), and Romero's meta-narrative gets to be too preachy, that is the satire is lost and it becomes like a Loose Change doc with zombies.  It also has some silly sequences like a bunch of zombies being kept underwater.

3) Death Proof

 About: 2nd half of the Grindhouse double feature, and a story told in two parts: the first is about a group of girls hanging out at a bar, and they meet a devilishly charismatic ex-stunt driver for the movies named Stuntman Mike, who has a 'thing' for following the girls in his car and getting into accidents where his car, being "death proof" kills everyone else he hits while he survives.  The second half is about a group of girls who are stunt people on a movie who get chased by Mike... and turn the script on him.
Why I like it: This goes for the theatrical cut, but it's one of Tarantino's wittiest scripts, and it's kind of like a Reservoir Dogs for chicks, as it's mostly girls, unlike last time mostly all men, talking in the way Tarantino is best at.  And Kurt Russell is incredible, as are the car chases, which are some of the best since the heyday of George Miller.
Why you Don't Like it: This may be in some part since most people who dislike the movie see the "uncut" version that adds a half hour of unnecessary material that QT was wise to cut for the original American release.  The dialog goes on for long stretches - a diner scene that is its own homage to Reservoir Dogs' opening diner scene, is in an unbroken shot for 8 minutes - and it becomes 'Tarantino' speak without the kind of magnetic drive of Pulp Fiction's dialog. And it's stupid.  And homage-y.

4) Point Break

 About: An FBI agent infiltrates a group of surfing bank robbers, in Presidents of the US masks.
Why I like it: See the 'what it's about' section.  It also has one of Patrick Swayze's most charismatic performances, and some kick-ass bank robbing scenes.
Why some don't like it: You might just be a jerk.  Or Keanu Reeves hasn't gotten his chops quite yet as an FBI agent who scoffs, "You want me to *surf*?"  And the premise is pretty damn silly.

5) Fight Club

 About: A man who is in a dead-end job meets a man who makes soap named Tyler Durden, and with him starts a 'Fight Club' that is exclusive until it spreads out through the country and they become terrorist-pranksters.
Why I Like it: It's David Fincher's thumb-my-big-fuck-you-nose-at-society movie, with great cinematography and energy, dynamic performances from Norton and Pitt, and a breakthrough turn for Helena Bonham Carter who you see differently the second time from the first time you see the movie.  It also has nice big cocks spliced into family films.
Why you don't like it:  It's "Macho Porn" (to quote Roger Ebert) and is so misanthropic as to be more depressing than it is funny. And it's got some stomach-churning moments and is really fucking bizarre (i.e. Norton fights himself in his bosses office).

6) Red Dawn

About: In 1984 small-town mid-west America the Russians and Cubans invade!  A group of teens led by Patrick Swayze run for the hills, get armed with whatever guns they can find, and become "The Wolverines", a guerilla group set to destroy the damn Ruskies once and for all.
Why I Like it: It's propaganda for the Right at the time of Ronald Regan's presidency, but it also has a lot of amazing action set-pieces and it has a lot of genuine moments of emotion and the conviction behind John Milius' direction makes it entertainment first, polemic second, and he entertains like a shameless showman.  It also gives great early roles for Charlie Sheen, Swayze, Lea Thompson and C Thomas Howell.
Why you don't like it: It's Let's-Bash-The-Reds porn and it's completely implausible; as the #1 American super-power in 1984 and the Soviet Union crumbling day by day at the time, it was highly unlikely anything like it could happen.  And it's stupid action movie-ness.

7) September

About: A Character study by Woody Allen set in a Connecticut home and involving the ups and downs of middle aged folk who may be falling in or out of love.
Why I Like It: It's one of Woody Allen's sharpest screenplays that makes its big points about how much people need connection emotionally, or as in Bergman how intellectually high-minded people can be emotionally stunted, and it has terrific performances from Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston among others.
Why you Don't Like It: Dreary, in the vein of another Allen Dark Drama, Interiors, and its chamber-drama quality keeps it like a filmed play.  It doesn't go into the kind of philosophical quarters that Allen at his best does.

 8) A Serious Man

 About: A mathematics professor comes upon a crossroads in his life when his wife divorces him for Sy Ableman (seriously, Sy Ableman??) and his son has problems with smaller things like a bully and getting high before his Bar Mitzvah.  And it concerns questions of life and death and what anything means.
Why I Like It: The Coens have their 'carte blanche' movie after winning with No Country for Old Men and make a wonderful screenplay about life in suburban Minnesota that comes off like a re-telling of the Book of Job set in a very Jewish quarter.  The humor is delightful (just look at the parking lot!) and the music matches well with what's on screen ("Somebody to Love")
Why some don't like it: The opening sequence, set a hundred years ago in a Russian-Jewish home and involving Yiddish superstition (a "Dybyk" for example) has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, even if one thinks it might.  The ending frustrates in ways not even No Country for Old Men got to where characters' resolution is left completely up in the air.  It becomes a story like the Goy's Teeth in the film.  Who Cares?

9) Dodeskaden

 About: Based on a collection of short stories, Akira Kurosawa's first film in color is about a group of people living day by day in slums and tells their various tales: one is a retarded kid who goes around making the sound of the film's title like a train; a man has an affair he is tired of having; a man tries his best to take care of his son but is failing at it; a man holds a dark secret from a woman who cares for him.
Why I Like It: Kurosawa's first feature in color is bright and vibrant and also has time to show darkness in such a slum as the one he films here, done on location.  The characters aren't the usual lot of actors AK works with but that's part of the charm and there's some wonderful work by the actors here.
Why You Don't Like It: Depressing, dour, with only minimal hope for humanity in scope (Kurosawa, after the film failed, tried to commit Seppuku but thankfully without success), and some of the acting is amateur hour.

10) The Dark Crystal

 About: In another world and another time, the Gelflings, creatures who are somewhat human-like but also like larger fairies, have mostly been wiped out and the Skeksis, a group of wretched creatures who have big robes and bigger, disgusting appetites, have their own empire until one of two remaining Gelflings in the world is set on a quest to set the missing shard of the Dark Crystal into its rightful place.
Why I Like It: It's like Lord of the Rings only done by Jim Henson, and it's an all-Muppet cast.  And Fizgig, cause he's awesome.
Why You Don't Like it: It's like Lord of the Rings only done by Jim Henson, and it's an all-Muppet cast... actually, you don't you like it, for realz?

11) Mars Attacks!

 About: Little Green Men from Mars in flying saucers come to Earth and attack the world and an all-star cast of Hollywood figures from Jack Nicholson to Jim Brown.  And it's directed by Tim Burton like a colorful 1950's sci-fi movie parody.
Why I Like It: See the 'About'; Jim Brown got an MTV Movie Award nomination for best fight scene for a fistfight he has with the martians.
Why you don't like it: ... Jim Brown?  Really?  And the way they stop the aliens is by yodeling music? Or it's just too stupid and overcrowded with stars.

12) Heaven's Gate

 About: A dramatization of the Johnson County Wars, where in Wyoming (or is it Montana) an "Association" of cattle ranchers got together a bunch of bounty hunters and got ready to systematically kill all of the immigrants from Europe coming into their territory, circa 1890.
Why I Like It: It's got spectacular brown-tinted cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond, Christopher Walken shines as he did in Cimino's previous movie Deer Hunter (although very different characters), its populated by some very good actors, and when the director has his exceptional sequences like the roller rink dance (or a more intimate dance between Kristofferson and Hupert set to soft fiddling) or the big forty-five minute battle sequence(s), it soars into brilliance.
Why You Don't Like it: Over-long and super over-self-above-indulgent, the 'carte-blanche' movie that was mostly responsible for killing UA and firing a lot of people, and it has so much movie that anything complimentary gets sucked down into its dreary state of being and melodramatic nature.  Hubris is all over this.

13) Robert Altman's Popeye

 About: Popeye hearts Olive, Bluto hearts Olive, Bluto hates Popeye, Popeye tries to steer away, Bluto and Popeye fight, Popeye eats Spinach and kicks ass.  Oh and there's a town too with a bunch of other characters.
Why I Like It: Robin Williams does surprisingly well in the Popeye role, Shelly Duvall was cast perfectly as Olive Oil, and several of the songs are fun and catchy (one of which, 'He Needs Me" later used for the most whimsical romantic moment of the past decade in Punch Drunk Love). Altman's panoramic vision works also well for the town the movie's set in, and it's very funny work by its large cast.
Why You Don't Like It: Too many characters, too many songs (some of which just aren't any good), and why is Popeye not into the Spinach all the time and it takes being force-fed to have the spinach?  You'll make Popeye angry? You don't like Popeye when he's angry?!

14) Visitor Q

 About: The most dysfunctional family in the world (but, rightfully so, set in Japan) indulges in incest, rape, necrophilia, lactating tits, bullies and murder by a knife to the head.
Why I Like It: It's Takashi Miike completely unbound by "good taste" and morals and makes the ultimate satire on suburban mores.  It makes Todd Solondz look like a Care Bear, and it's viciously funny with the kinds of perverted twists that keep me on the edge of my seat.
Why You Don't Like it: ....what the fuck was that?!  And it's shot on video.

15) Hi, Mom!

About: A peeping tom played by Robert De Niro spies on girls with his telescope in a 1970 apartment in New York, and there's some stuff about the black power movement.  Ultimately De Niro becomes a local terrorist.
Why I Like It: One of the most irreverent of all satires, done at a time when Brian De Palma and Robert De Niro didn't have much to prove yet except how insanely talented they were, and it has memorable sequences like a faux documentary shot on the streets of a black woman asking everyone she sees what it's like to be Black in America - mostly all white people!
Why You Don't Like It: No firm plot, totally episodic, dated Vietnam-paranoia-pre-Watergate ballyhoo.  And why does De Niro's character become a terrorist near the end?

16) Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams

 About: The titular caracters go around in an 'ice cream' truck selling weed, almost get caught in Operation Go-Get-Em by the cops, meet up with Pee Wee Herman on coke and end up in a mental asylum with Pee Wee and Timothy Leary.  Wackiness always ensues.
Why I Like It: Perhaps it's partly nostalgia (though I saw the film again a few months ago and feel the same way), but it really captures a stoner-comedy spirit that comes as close to Up in Smoke as possible without being that film.  Its plot is loose but that's kind of why I like it, and there's barely a moment a laugh isn't to be had with Stacy Keach as Sgt. Stedenko or especially Pee Wee as the "Hamburger Dude" with a looot of coke.  The Mental Hospital scenes especially are the most masterfully (yes, matserfully) directed work Tommy Chong's had as a director.
Why You Don't Like It: It's a stupid Cheech & Chong pot comedy that doesn't go anywhere and the stuff with Stedenko and the lizard-weed is idiotic.  And why doest that one drug dealer completely zone out from the start?  Where did Timothy Leary come from?

17) Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings

 About: Frodo Baggins is charged with the unenviable task of taking the one-ring-to-rule-them-all to Mordor to cast into the fire as it's a pretty important ring that could rule the world.
Why I Like It: Bakshi's style as an animator is whimsical meets harsh lines and rotoscoping that looks frickin frightening (watch the Ring Wraiths in this one, scariest things you've ever seen in a 70's animated movie), and Bakshi remains faithful to the spirit of fantasy-middle-earth Tolkien.  It's dark but not too dark for kids, and isn't too light fare like the 1977 The Hobbit for adults.
Why You Don't Like It:  Actually this might include me to a small degree.  They say you can criticize a movie by making one, and in this case Peter Jackson made the best criticism possible: Bakshi's film condensed Fellowship a bit but especially condenses The Two Towers down to very little screen-time (ultimately it's 137 minutes long as a film), and there's nothing for Return of the King.  And some of the animation/rotoscoping is dated and just weird.

18) Tideland

 About: a 9-year old girl living with his junkie father who dies and lies dead as a doornail in his recliner has an imagination fantasy life with her doll-heads and befriends a mentally challenged guy as they have fun in the fields of whereversville-USA.
Why I Like It: Considering it's a 9-year old girl, this feel like an intensely personal film for Gilliam, and I love how strongly his style compliments the deranged nature of the material.  This is a hard story to pull off, but he does it with radical-dark humor and a sense of decorum that is enjoyably disgusting.  The caricatures created by Brendan Fletcher and Jeff Bridges are very enjoyable, and Jodelle Ferland is intensely likeable as Jeliza-Rose, though there's a wonderful complexity to her being so damaged by her home-life and being basically all alone in this crazy world.
Why You Don't Like It: ... again, what the fuck is this horseshit?  This is funny?  This is tasteless and doesn't come anywhere near the heart and depth of a film just like it that came out the same year, Pan's Labyrinth (which is true, though that I can speak it in the same sentence is sign enough of its impact).  Some didn't even bother seeing it because of its distasteful premise and subject matter, and Gilliam's style that is so wild and exuberant gets lost in the dark matter.

19) Every Which Way But Loose

About: Clint Eastwood with his pet orangutan Clyde goes around getting into bare-knuckle brawls for money and romances a country singer with her own motives for going along for the ride.
Why I Like It: Clint Eastwood bare-knuckle fights to awesome 70's era (Good) country music and has a pet orangutan in a crowd-pleaser.
Why You Don't Like it: ... Clint Eastwood with an ape?  WTF?  And at one point he goes on a quest at 2 AM to get the Oragnutan laid by breaking in with him to the zoo?

 20) Glen or Glenda

 About: Bela Lugosi narrates from his arm-chair and pulls the string while Ed Wood can't decide if he wants to be Glen or Glenda.  A case-study and debut feature for Mr. Wood Jr that is an intensely personal film about his own tranvestitism.
Why I Like it: For all of its low-budget faults, it shows a very unlikely position of knowing where to put the camera in creative ways.  It also breaks into a twenty minute stretch of surrealism that takes on its own quality of being out of this world like a nightmare; it's the kind of sequence that inspired David Lynch on Eraserhead.  Also, it has Bela Lugosi pulling the string and sitting quixotically on his chair pontificating about what people need to be aware of ("Beware... take care...")
Why You Don't Like It: An Ed Wood movie that has all of its bad trademarks: bad staging, poor acting, what kind of shit script is this, and Bela Lugosi saying "PULL THE STRING!" with super-impositions of buffalo?  It's not as bad as Plan 9 From Outer Space, but still...

21) Synecdoche, New York

 About: A playwright who has some various mental and physical maladies gets an McArthur grant to do whatever he wants, and so he does a long-term (that is for-the-rest-of-his-life) preparation for a play where he recreates New York City, his life, his loves, people, to the point that his doppleganger gets a doppleganger, and major characters get introduced near the end (i.e. Dianne Wiest).
Why I Like It: (and, the same coin, why you don't like it): To be honest, I was very mixed on it the first time around.  I was disappointed by how ambitious Kaufman really got to and how despite a first half hour that had a lot of his great misanthropic social satire and a very fine Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, once it got into the building of the city it just got out of hand into a kind of labyrnthine structure, and its depressing nature took control.  Seeing it once I still would've felt that way... but then I gave it another chance on a 2nd viewing, and it worked a lot better for me as a deep-rooted and existential thesis on why we're alive and what we're made to live for - and what it's really like for those alive when other drift apart, lose lose, or burn up in a house that is always on fire.  Its surrealism finally worked for me, but it doesn't for a lot of others.  Some like it a lot (it's Ebert's favorite movie of the past ten years) and some don't like it much at all.

22) The Fountain

Previously on Avatar..
About: Stretching across a thousand years and across present, past and future-out-in-space, this inspired tale looks at what it means to really be in love and go to the ends of the Earth to find a cure for an ailment for the one we love.
Why I Like It: A vision that soars for Darren Aronofsky, even after only seeing it from start to finish once many images stick in the mind like Hugh Jackman in the Mayan garb or bald and on some weird planet-thing like he's David Carradine in the Holy Mountain remake.  And Rachel Weisz and Jackman bring a lot of heart to what is already so grandiose a vision that it needs an emotional anchor.  Its themes are timeless but explored in ways we haven't seen quite like this before, at least on film.
Why You Don't Like It: Doesn't connect emotionally, and is so surreal as to go past being believable even as romantic science fiction.  And, again... what was that when he gets to the Tree of Life?

23) Eyes Wide Shut

About: A successful NYC doctor finds out one night during a discussion of fidelity that his wife had an intense desire to *want* to sleep with a passing sailor on vacation, and while she did not this drives the doctor into a jealousy-fueled odyssey into the night of NYC where he winds up an observer at an orgy on Long Island.  There's a murder investigation, but how much of that night's emotions will stick around?  What really happened?
Why I Like It: Stanley Kubrick's swan-song explores the nature of sexual desire and the psychological implications of love, lust and everything that goes with the dark side of the erotic.  If Full Metal Jacket was his take on Vietnam and The Shining his take on a slasher flick, this is his take on the erotic thriller that was so popular at the time.  It has the kind of morally questionable characters that one also saw in Lolita, who have conflicts even when they're seemingly normal and become twisted up into the quagmires they create for themselves.  And it's another "odyssey", heh.
Why You Don't Like It: Over-long, Tom Cruise isn't effective, the humor doesn't work (i.e. Leelee Sobieski), and Sydney Pollack's exposition near the end is a little loaded.  And what's with all of the masks at the orgy?  And it's boring.

24) Postal

 About: Crazy satire based loosely on a video game by Dr. Uwe Boll.
Why I Like it:
Why You Don't Like It:  It's a tasteless Uwe Boll film with intensely unlikeable characters and really stupid, trashy, juvenile comedy.

25) Inland Empire

About: A woman in trouble, and what happens when Jeremy Irons tries to remake 'On High Blue Tomorrows'
Why I Like it: ... I'm still not sure.  They do the locomotion at one point and Laura Dern gives her best multiple-character performance ever.  A friend said it's like a 3-hour remake of Un chien Andalou, and it's a good comparison.  A lot of things happen, some of them make no sense, and there's some really amazing (digital) cinematography, at least considering it's Lynch's first go around with the new medium.
Why You Don't Like it:.... I can't blame you.  Lynch needs to get back to film.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Film Unfinished, or how to stage sickening propaganda

We can all agree that Nazi's are damn evil.  That's the kind of fact like 'the sky is blue' or 'a clock is right twice a day.'  For a period of twelve years they came, they saw, and made a mess of the world, certainly not least of which for Jews.  Documentaries have come and gone over the years about the Nazi atrocities during the war, some more harrowing and sticking-in-the-mind than others (Resnais Night & Fog being the go-to example as the first to show the horrors).  But it's always valuable and important to discover things not known before, and in this case Yael Hersonski's documentary on the 1942 Warsaw Ghetto footage is so harrowing to watch because she doesn't do much except let the film clips - and some useful narration from survivors and a diary from the Warsaw Ghetto circa May 1942 - speak the volumes they need to.

The footage, originally found as titled "The Ghetto", was considered to be the most concise and complete footage of what life was like in the ghetto.  But little clues in the film reels, and a whole lot of outtakes, reveal that it was shot as propaganda material, staged "scenes" and set-pieces with the Jews as have-no-choice players.  The SS ordered a camera crew (the cinematographer, Willy Wist, is interviewed in the film and is the only surviving cameraman from the crew) to go into the Ghetto and shoot with small groups and sometimes larger ones for what life in the Ghetto was "really" like to show to Gentiles who weren't quite sure what was going on with the "Jewish Problem" at the time.  More than that, not perhaps but definitely thinking in the long term, it was seen as a way to show the future Aryan race what these horrible Jews were like.  Or, conversely, that this Ghetto-life wasn't so shabby after all...

Staged scene of reverie and dancing
Barely a moment, it seems, by testimony of the survivors that the director has in the screening room watching the silent black-and-white footage, was truly natural as "objective" footage like that of Night & Fog.  This could be evidenced simply by the outtakes, where shots seemingly as simple as a woman walking into a food shop to buy some "goose" (really horse meat) takes a few takes to get just "right" somehow.  But it's more than that; one can see the pain on the faces, hiding only so much the fact that to the side of them were guards ready to fire on command if they didn't do exactly as they were told.  Most egregiously it would appear that the SS had the Jews that weren't quite starving to death put in nice clothes and acting out scenes where they were in a fairly nice apartment with several rooms and flowers having a wonderful meal.  One of the survivors comments, "Who had flowers in the ghetto?  We would've eaten a flower!"

But how did they deal with the hordes of people starving, begging, living just barely in the meager conditions set in the Warsaw Ghetto?  Contrast, naturally: have the more well-off Jews stroll by the beggars without giving them a cent.  Wist is up front with how he was given the orders - sometimes, he notes in a shockingly pragmatic manner in retrospect, without regard to how the 'scenes' would be lit - and basically made most times a kind of neo-realist effort.  That is if the neo-realists took un-reality to a sick dimension and without the point in the artistry.  In perhaps the most shocking scene we're shown the abject humiliation of a group of several emaciated Jewish men put into a large bath, and then a group of several not-so-emaciated women put into the same bath.  That this was even considered to be shown to the public, any public, boggles the mind like little else.

To be sure Hersonski gets to the footage of all the dead bodies and them being rounded up and buried (which, as dutifully as anything else, were shot by the camera crew).  But her point isn't to shock with the corpses, which one can get well enough in a short documentary form by Resnais.  What's so disturbing in A Film Unfinished is the lengths to which the Nazis took to creating artefice by torture.  Some moments shown seem so clear to tell as being staged like the Jewish audience for the song-and-dance show (narration telling us that they sat there for hours without food or lavatory).  But others are trickier, such as dozens of Jews running in the streets from something or other, it really being guns fired off, to show... how panicky they could be(?)  Most heartbreaking of all is to hear the one survivor tell the tale of being ordered to not look at corpses on the ground (at least as filming was in progress), and how one day she just tripped and fell face to face with one and it finally hit her how doomed she was.

This year documentaries have had an unintentional streak of dealing with reality vs. fantasy, and more specifically how media itself becomes like another character, from the matter of artistic hype (Exit Through the Gift Shop) to the powerful danger of social networking (Catfish) to faux-real-celebrity (I'm Still Here).  A Film Unfinished has a kinship to those documentaries, but is dead serious about its intentions.  This isn't a film that fucks with its audience about 'is it real or not?'  The film cans, unearthed and scratchy and worn by age, fucks with the viewer well enough on its own.  I'm reminded of the French critic Andre Bazin's observation about how almost every film is in its own way a documentary (i.e. Laurence Olivier's Hamlet is about how Olivier acts out Hamlet as much as it is "Hamlet").  

One sees this twist in how image is used to distort reality with the footage shot by Wist and his crew, how terrified the people are on screen, and forced by point of (more immediate) death to do what they're told for the sake of the camera lens.  One of the survivors at one point asks point blank, "They wanted to show contrasts - who cares?  Sure there were contrasts, we weren't always miserable, but we had to stay alive and keep our dignity."  This may be true, but the footage shot by the Nazis goes to such extremes to point to deconstruction of a people - through ritual (circumcision, praying), through class differences ("rich" vs "poor") and as general low-as-life - that there's little else like it in film history.  It's a documentary about a "fiction" made out of a documentary done in the gravest of circumstances.  What Hersonski provides the world is miraculous.  

Some notes on Kick Ass the Movie vs Comic

It's hard sometimes to look at the original material that's been written when you've seen the adaptation and want to take it on its own terms.  The Kick-Ass movie that came out earlier this year is in many ways very faithful to the comic.  And in other ways not at all.  I have to mention that I wasn't a huge fan of the movie when I saw it; Vaughn's style was, at least in the action scenes, like a Tarantino rip-off and not in a good way, and the disturbing element that I was enjoying of Hit Girl and Big Daddy was diluted by Joan Jett and Ennio Morricone blaring on the soundtrack during such scenes.

Coming to the comic, I have to admit I've yet to read a lot of Mark Millar's work, though his reputation as a kind of mainstream-punk-rock comic book writer, if that makes any sense, precedes him and the one book I have read of his- Superman Red Son- is one of the essential books about the Man of Steel.  With this, I kept thinking back to the movie, if in some part because Vaughn was *so* faithful that full lines, scenes and sequences were recreated, if not to Watchmen accuracy then close enough.  Yet I think that overall I found that the Kick-Ass story and writing in the comic was much more suited to that medium than it was to film.

In a comic you can make your own speed with the images, go back and look at something again (or, in this case with the ultra-violence, maybe move along or gawk for an extra few seconds depending on the mood), and in a movie you have to really show what's going on - and give flesh and blood and performances to it.  I felt more connected to Dave/Kick-Ass here than in the movie, and maybe that is because of something I found lacking in Aaron Johnson's portrayal of the character, or just how the writing translated over into the film.

Ironically where I found Dave/Kick-Ass' story really compelling in Millar's writing and in Romita's "cool" artwork (no other word for it), I was less so drawn in to the Big Daddy Hit Girl story.... that is until their issue comes around (#6) and especially a mammoth revelation Big Daddy has near the end before his demise that was unwisely cut out of the film.  The satire here is sharper on Millar's end by giving Big Daddy that dimension.  The only major thing the film improves upon with this is the casting: Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz are so brilliant and conscious of who they are in their roles they make up how they're ultimately only somewhat in-depth characters and more play-things for the director.

But is this comic all the bees-and-ees?  Not quite.  Millar tries to skate a line between doing a raucous, dangerous satire on superheroes and the comic book mythos in the real world and just doing a immature thing for 13 year olds, and sometimes he really slips over into he latter.  Some of the writing I felt like I could've done at an earlier age, and the very last few pages, which is also faithfully recreated in the film, just made me groan - this despite the fact that a lot of the comic ala Tarantino (in a good way) is smart in its referential nature.

Perhaps the film itself was as good as it could be based on the nature of the material and who was directing and cast and how it was recreate it.  Another thing, to momentarily digress into bitching, is how much more funny and insightful into the high school bullshit-relationship realm it is between Dave and Katie, particularly with the resolution in issue #8 when she finds out the whole truth, as Millar doesn't let *anyone* off the hook easy, save for Hit Girl whose final pages bring some much needed emotional resonance.

Kick-Ass does its name service when it works best, and Millar and Romita do their best to take a fresh take on a the "what-if" angle of comic book superheroes as an influence on popular culture and society.  This doesn't mean it lives up to its absurd over-proclamation on the back voer "THE GREATEST SUPERHERO EVER" or whatever the hell.  But it is, I have to say, more entertaining and packs a sharper, visceral punch than the film (which, if you haven't seen, I might suggest doing the opposite of what I did and check out the comic first).  


In my line of work I come a whole lot of science fiction - that is when I want to come across the slew of movies, done not at the blockbuster level of Star Wars or Alien or Blade Runner or one of the classics like Forbidden Planet or 2001, but at the more mid-level range that is just a notch, in subject matter or production budget or even a studio, above that of a B-movie.  Johnny Mnemonic is a 1995 science fiction film written, its original story and screenplay, by William Gibson, who was one of the primary authors behind 'cyberpunk' movement in sci-fi literature, to which Blade Runner owes a huge debt (as the film, I don't know about the book).  Maybe it's in comparison to the other great science fiction films that came out that year - Twelve Monkeys and Strange Days and even Virtuosity - that it really pales.  Or, simply, that it's just a very odd duck of a movie.

Visual flattery will get you somewhere... and then nowhere
This has mid-90's Hollywood written all over it.  By this I mean there's kind of a schitzo thing going on about it: it wants to be a smart and cutting edge movie and it has a premise that has a lot of meat on its bones about a future world where people, "Mnemonics", can store gigabytes of information in their brains and are walking hard-drives that can be plugged into and have their minds downloaded, though at severe costs to their own (obvious) mental well-being.  It has that in mind, and Gibson sure does, but it's also a dumb-stupid action movie with Keanu Reeves.  And this isn't the Keanu Reeves that works so well when he's used in his more subtle form like The Matrix or A Scanner Darkly, or by the right director in My Own Private Idaho or Devil's Advocate.  No, this is Reeves... I won't say slumming it, but doing something similar that Johnny Depp was doing at the time (i.e. Nick of Time), trying to find his footing in a studio system that saw him as a sort of oddball: a star with marquee value, but what to do with him?

In Johnny Mnemonic he gives a performance as the titular character that doesn't do the movie any favors.  Maybe it's because Johnny is skittish, nay an ass who keeps complaining about the gigabytes in his head that might kill him and then has trouble comprehending how he might have the secret cure for some virus that has ravaged the people of 2021, is hard to play to start with.  He may not need charisma, but it helps to have someone who can inject a little more personality into the framework, and Reeves doesn't pull it off.  He either looks blank-faced or contorts himself and gets enraged in such a way that other characters watch at first in bemusement then annoyance at how Johnny goes - or rather how Reeves does it.  He tries for quirks that aren't there, and when he gets angry like in such a scene that he erupts in a junkyard about why he's even there and should be at a bar eating a club sandwich drinking beer etc, that it's a showstopper.  Maybe just not the way intended.

Is it all Reeves' fault that he comes off so weird and warped here?  Maybe some of it is in the script, where Reeves has no choice but to get his character up another notch to match the other actors he's paired with - very distinct and impressionable people like Ice-T, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier, Takeshi Kitano (yes, seriously, Zatoichi!), Dolph Lundgren, who I'll get to in a moment - that he has to get his character up to that point and is cringe-worthy at that point the script dictates.  Or it's the director, Robert Longo (who, by the way, hasn't made a theatrically released feature, or anything according to IMDb, since), who doesn't take the material in general as far as it needs to go.  Or maybe it's the Hollywood thing again.  A director with full vision could take this concept, which has the nugget of brilliance to it, and Reeves as star, to some uncharted territory.

As it is it's just... lacking in some way.  A key might be how he stages action, which is nothing special, just bang-bang, reverse this and so on.  Or another facet is how he has some neat post-apocalyptic production design in post-war-zone Newark, and doesn't do a whole lot with it.  He has the sense of atmosphere up to a point, as a director of music videos, but of story?  I didn't feel the tension or wonder that should be there when a female-apparition comes to Kitano's character telling him what he should do.  It's just another special effect.  Or, simply enough to criticize the direction, the pacing feels off.  It shouldn't be, but it just is.  It's like coming up to a piece of music where half the four-piece band has it right, and the other half is off to a point were one can see the stitching in the rhythm box.

Some in the reviews have suggested that simply Gibson's material is hard to translate to film.  That may well be; I've yet to read his work, but from the looks of the subject matter he deals best in the ideas, how the technology and hard-wiring of people to other machines and can fax their data over waves.  The warring factions - the underground movement versus gangsters and especially the Yakuza - are less fascinating.  In a way this is like the lessor precursor to The Matrix, with a lower budget and less sight really on the future than that film had on technology's effect on society at large and dominance of what it means to be controlled and manipulated in the existential sense.

But why watch it then if it has such problems and a sense of Hollywood gloss and bullets and shit blowing up over the ideas?  Well, if nothing else, the supporting cast I mentioned, and Dolph Lundgren. One comparison that can be made to Blade Runner is the facet of Lundgren as this film's Rutger Hauer, only used less than Hauer in that film and with a little less acting ability.  Yet Lundgren has such an inexplicable kind of performance here and design as a character that I have to admire it on a WTF-were-they-thinking level.  He comes on the scene and is, naturally, the bad guy, but is also a kind of cult figure, with Jesus hair and a Jesus beard and preaching salvation by way of his fist and as one of the handful after Johnny that doesn't want to beat around the bush with hooking up with chords but slicing into his head to get what he's after.  Lundgren is imposing and baffling and a whole lot of fun.  The same could go for the other actors as well like Rollins and Kier if they had more to do.  Kitano fares best as a quiet villain, but only in one scene that is already weird enough where he talks in Japanese to an underling that he forces to speak English to him do we feel his threatening presence.  And that white-faced woman apparition, Jesus...

There is promise here, and it's only fulfilled as much as its ambitions will allow, which aren't much.  Without Keanu Reeves I could almost see this being made as a Sci-Fi channel movie... okay, maybe not that bad, more like those Friday night movies they used to play on HBO that were made for little and were meant to make back their buck quick.  The substance of Johnny Mnemonic is present.  Less so are the conventional bits (i.e. strange love interest for Johnny) that seemed to have been jammed in, either by the producers or studio interference or just the general thing of a first time director doing his work on it without a lot on his mind or a vision of something grander.  And yet I have to admire some of its nuttier moments, like the dolphin that has psychic energy that Johnny can tap into....

...Seriously, did Jack Gattanella from Lines of Glory write that?