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April 02, 2008

DVD Binge

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

As newish owners of a snazzy 47" LCD HDTV, The Wife and I have been indulging in a whole lot of moviewatching recently. Good Christ, that screen ... It's gorgeous ... It's hypnotic .. It occupies and then devours the brain, leaving nothing but cinders in its wake ... Thought for the day: An HDTV is something to be managed as well as enjoyed.

Anyway, some fast responses to some of what we've watched:

  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Loads of bright colors and scattershot silliness in this Swingin’ England, James Bond spoof. I was up for it, but I only chuckled once -- at the climax, when Johnny Rivers' version of "Secret Agent Man" came up loud on the soundtrack. I do love that song. Fast-Forwarding Score: a quarter of the DVD.

  • Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs. I found this 1974 thriller by Yukio Noda loads of satisfying fun. A lot of the Japanese exploitation movies from the "pinky violence" era are spoofy and campy, likable mainly for being bizarre, extreme, and a hoot. This one’s a surprise because -- though its script is like an episode of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” or “Mannix” -- the film itself is genuinely intense and dramatic. It’s a trash idea that has been turned into a real movie. It’s a little disappointing that the Zero Woman figure herself doesn’t take much action. Mostly she looks hot and evil, and gets beaten up and raped. But the film is so flamboyant and beautiful -- and so full of acrobatics, editing, and blood -- that it didn’t matter much to me finally. “Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs” struck me as the Japanese equivalent of one of Sam Peckinpah's commercial projects, like “The Getaway” or “The Killer Elite,” and I enjoyed it a lot. Fast-Forwarding Score: not a minute.

  • Grindhouse Presents: Planet Terror. As ever, Robert Rodriguez shows off a lot of talent, tons of bad-boy enthusiasm, and superb taste in lowbrow pleasures and films. For me, though, this mishmash of ’60s and ’70s sleaze and exploitation movies never took on its own life. It didn’t come to life “Airplane!” style, or pastiche style, or New Wave poetic-hommage style … It was so lacking in life that it left me wondering: Well, why not just rent a George A. Romero or Jack Hill movie instead? With Rose MacGowan, who Rodriguez sees a lot more in than I do. I like the idea of “Rose MacGowan,” and god knows that her public appearances aren't short on entertainment value. But her actual onscreen performances always disappoint. I blogged back here about Rodriguez's "Sin City," and here about his "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." Fast-Forwarding Score: 3/4 of the disc.

  • My Summer of Love. I recorded this picture off of Cinemax expecting a tacky nudiefest. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be a quiet, sensitive, beautifully-acted, lusciously-shot English art movie. I loved it. In a small British town, an abused and hungry-for-love working class girl (Natalie Press) is drawn into the sexy make-believe of a narcissistic and bohemian rich girl (Emily Blunt). Press and Blunt are both amazing; Press suggests hard edges as well as hidden softness, while Blunt is a dreamy mixture of arrogance, poise, and desperation. The whole film has a pulsing, stirring, everything’s-alive quality that seems to me worthy of comparison to D.H. Lawrence’s poetry and short fiction. The overgrown, irregular, Edwardian mansion that the rich girl’s family inhabits is a special beauty -- reason enough all on its own to watch the film. The talented young director Pawel Pawlikowski keeps things sensually aware, and fills the movie with obliquely-sensed, ever-shifting moods. Here’s a visit with Emily Blunt. Fast-Forwarding Score: nada.

  • Dark Water. This ponderous, gloomy, and scare-free psychological horror movie put me in a fast-forwarding mood faster than any other movie has in months. Jennifer Connelly is often reason enough for me to sit through a bad movie -- I do love her “bright co-ed with a dirty mind” quality. But not in this case. Here, playing a strung-out New York City mom who’s thrown into psychological chaos by a spooky apartment building she moves into with her child, she does a blah version of the haggard-and-distressed schtick she did so well in “Requiem for a Dream.” The only thing I found pleasing about the movie is the way it foregrounded and ridiculed the Stalinist-style Brutalist architecture on New York City's Roosevelt Island. Isn't it great that almost everyone now takes it for granted that the buildings of that era are monstrosities? Back in the ’70s, they were considered the latest chic thing -- and (big surprise) there's a movement in today's chic-architecture world to cherish and protect them. Jesus, chic-architecture people, eh? It's like they have brain damage or something. From a Japanese movie I haven’t seen. Fast-Forwarding Score: the entire damn movie aside from its first few minutes, and they were lousy too.

Semi-related: I blogged about the "blaxploitation" movie genre here, and wrote an introduction to Naomi Tan, a star of Japan's "pinky violence" era, here.



posted by Michael at April 2, 2008


You know those intros and outros that Robert Osbourne does for Turner Classic Movies? His co-host is Rose McGowan:

I watched The Apartment a couple weeks ago and after the movie, the two of them are sitting on one of those faux-Art Deco sets, chatting about the film and I'm like, "WTF?"

Posted by: Bryan on April 2, 2008 1:33 PM

Just throwing my 2c in as supportive for Rose McGowan being hotter than a jalapeno milkshake, and that Grindhouse movie sucking like Shop-Vac. Thank God I got it on BitTorrent and only wasted some spare electrons, heh heh. A better question to ask is, how did he go so wrong, and was it Tarantino's fault?

Posted by: Scott on April 2, 2008 11:41 PM

Those big flat-screen tvs are wondrous, aren't they? I got one myself a few weeks ago and have been wondering since why it took me so long to jump on the bandwagon. One thing I've noticed, though: A lot of my old DVDs look like trash when played on that big screen, as do many that I rent from Netflix. I'm wondering if this tv will turn me into one of those techy nerds who complains about things like "ghosting," "color bleeding," "combing," "artifacting," etc. whenever I watch a sub-par DVD. Probably.

Also, any widescreen film that isn't anamorphically mastered will make you feel supremely let down when you watch it on the big tv. I felt a twinge of pain when I sampled my Black Stallion disc and found myself staring at a tiny rectangle of video surrounded by a fat moat of black. Sad.

On the other hand, I popped in the Criterion edition of Kurosawa's Ran the other day, which I'd bought when it came out but never sampled, and I was blown away by how good it looked. Perfect colors, clarity, even a lot of visible film grain. I wasn't ga ga about Ran when I first saw it years ago, but now I'm looking forward to revisiting it. I think I'll revisit a lot of things now that I have this tv...provided I have a quality DVD.

I had a similar reaction to Planet Terror. Rodriguez's stuff often feels like knitted-together ideas and moments to me. His movies are eye-popping jumbles, like a kid's wall with lots of badass fanzine posters tacked up on it.

Still, seeing Grindhouse in a theater with an audience was a lot of fun--possibly the most fun I've had in a theater in the last few years. People were laughing, yelling at the screen and clapping at all the gross-out moments. Even the girl I convinced to accompany me ended up having a great time. I liked the Tarantino portion, called Death Proof, a lot more (though I still had reservations about it). In fact, I think it's my favorite Tarantino after Jackie Brown.

Posted by: Ron on April 3, 2008 8:34 AM

If you care to waste the time, Planet Terror for some reason is much better on the second viewing. I was going to abandon it until someone said try again. Now I'm hooked.

Btw, saw Jennifer Connelly in this "Actor's Studio" clone called "Movies 101" with Professor Richard Brown. She came off as very very vapid, sadly. She's such a looker.

Posted by: yahmdallah on April 3, 2008 12:12 PM

Geez, no love for 'Dark Water.' I think Connelly trades in the kink to display some real acting here, but to each his own taste in actresses. But did you really not think John C. Reilly's fantastic (supposedly mostly improvised) monologue wasn't a hoot? And more importantly, did you not dig the fond nods to Polanski's 'Repulsion'? For atmosphere and set design alone it deserves a close watching.

I think (or thought; it's been a while) the film is one of those rare horror movies today in that it's set in the city and largely in a miserable, greasy flat akin to the one Catherine Deneuve went bonkers in. And while it might not have the modern jolts that today's ant-tention span audiences are used to, it was plenty scary enough for me and I'd presume anyone else who has to deal with life's curveballs and handicaps, WHILE raising a child alone.

Posted by: Hartz on April 4, 2008 1:35 AM

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