Tag Archives: dvd

Trick ‘R’ Treat will be making the rounds this October–DVD/Bluray art to prove it!

17 Jul

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July 17th, 2009–

You know how there are those movies you feel like you have been waiting forever for? Like Avatar, which Cameron has been talking up for the better part of 12 years now, ever since Titanic docked at the box office. For me, Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘R’ Treat is one of those movies. Not to be confused with the Gene Simmons, Ozzie Osbourne horror flick from the late 80s, this one (for those who don’t already know) is an anthology flick following several interconnected stories taking place on Halloween night and starring the likes of Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, Leslie Bibb. The little character portrayed in the posters is apparently featured in all of the stories, particularly in a segment where terrorizes Brian Cox’s old grizzled Halloween-hating recluse. Theres a nine minute clip online that can be found HERE that gives you a flavor for that scene. Continue reading

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DVD Showcase: The exceptional James Gray tells a tale of ‘Two Lovers’

30 Jun

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Two Lovers (R) 98 min.  Directed by: James Gray. Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, Elias Koteas Cinematography:  Joaquin Baca-Asay

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James Gray’s Two Lovers is potentially the best movie you didn’t see this year. Released last February for a brief stint in theaters and simultaneously on On-Demand, the film was mostly overshadowed by the stunts of its star, Joaquin Pheonix, who showed up on the Letterman Show looking like a stoned Amish rocker. It turns out though, that Gray’s film is far more worthy of the attention and discussion that inevitably was aimed at Phoenix and his ill-advised rap career (it’s all an elaborate film stunt, wait and see). Continue reading

Scene Selection: Attack of the Meatloaf Bear!

20 Jun

 

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This is something new I’m trying at Cinematropolis. Nothing fancy, just a series of stills capturing a scene from film history. I’m heading out tomorrow to join some friends camping in Virginia and I thought it apropriate to begin then with one of the more haunting sequences from my childhood movie-watching. In 1979 director John Frankenheimer made a film called Prophecy (not the Chris Walken angel war thingee) based off a novel by the author of The Omen.  It was an environmental knee-jerk thriller with Robert Foxworth looking like Bob Ross (please don’t cut down the happy little trees), Talia Share as his wife, and Armand Assante….as a Native American. This motley crew discover mercury poisoning in the water in New England and its aberrant effects on the local wildlife. The film’s heavy is a result of the mercury mutation; an enraged mother bruin that looks like what would happen if you threw Gentle Ben and a meatloaf into the Brundle Machine and hit ‘deepfry’.  Continue reading

The Weekly Creepy: Lost’s Raymonde & Twilight’s Kendrick go ‘Elsewhere’

11 Jun

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The Weekly Creepy is a new experiment here at Cinematropolis. The goal is to help expose you the audience to newer horror/thriller films that might have slipped under your radar. Dedicated to obscure, foreign and indie fare (as well as the glorious world of DTV), The Weekly Creepy will tackle a different pic each week, with reasons why it is or isn’t worth your precious time or money.

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“Small towns hide big secrets.”

Indeed. Small towns with big secrets are my favorite kind. Maybe the principal is brainwashing all the high school students, the town priest goes furry at the full-moon and chows down on soccer moms or the entire community is worshipping a star-ship they dug up at the edge of the woods. Any of those will do. Just remember that if you are gonna give us the small town, complete with the reliable stock characters, make sure that the secret is appropriately BIG. No one wants to spend an hour and half tiptoeing around the idea of clandestine groups and mysterious disappearances to find out that the whole thing is basically your typical one-man slasher gig. Continue reading

DVD Showcase: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ director Oshii flies high with ‘The Sky Crawlers’

27 May

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The Sky Crawlers (PG-13) (2008) 122 min. directed by: Mamoru Oshii. voicework: Rinko Kikuchi, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shosuke Tanihara, Bryce Hitchcock, Ryo Kase.

 

cinemagrade b+They are known as the Kildren; eternally youthful adolescents who pilot WWII-style futuristic fighter-planes and participate in to-the-death aerial dogfights for the benefit of the mega corporations Rostock and Lautern. In the world they come from, there is no more war or conflict, and to ensure it stays that way the Kildren will compete in these global death games, filling the vacuum with an endless battle in the skies. Living like the lost boys and partaking in various adult activities including smoking and sex, the Kildren live a continuous, looping childhood; the banality of this existence is only brightened by the thrilling shooting matches they engage in while up in their planes.

That plot could be the center of a big Hollywood sci-fi picture aping Top Gun, but it’s actually the work of anime maestro Mamoru Oshii, the director responsible for films like Ghost in the Shell, Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade and the live-action Avalon. Oshii, typically known for his philosophically dense dialogue and languorous, complex visual style, takes a step closer to main-stream storytelling with Sky Crawlers. The plot almost reminds one of a Howard Hawks adventure pic or even the recent French film Der Rote Baron, and while the film contains its share of thoughtful and introspective moments its primarily centered around characters and story.

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The beautiful hand-drawn animation blended together with a near photo-realistic CGI presents rolling English countryside, vast manor houses and golden-hued cloudscapes where soaring machines fire endless rounds of ammunition, shells raining down to the world below. The battle scenes recreate the daredevil antics of WWI pilots and there is even a Red Baron character called The Teacher. When I saw the stills for Sky Crawlers months ago, I was worried that those sequences would come off like video-game cut scenes. At first, thats exactly what they seem like, but Oshii frames even these images with a painters eye for composition and the zig-zagging planes, framed against either rain-clogged thunderheads or wispy white cotton balls, are almost poetic in their movements.

Visually lush and patient in regards to it’s texture and detail, set to a sometimes tranquil, sometimes thrilling score,  The Sky Crawlers works as a purely sensory experience. In fact, all of Oshii’s films do. My previous gripe with his work, and indeed most of the recent anime feature films, is that its almost too obscure in its intent and holds the audience at an unecessary arm’s length. The Sky Crawlersis the first Oshii film in, well, perhaps ever, that actually manages to cultivate a strong emotional core in addition to an aesthetic one. The general layout is still subdued, but there are humans here behaving as humans  and each of them has human issues. The Kildren do not age, and this brings its own set of problems, but ultimately they still struggle like your average person.

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Yuichi Kannami is the Kildren pilot at the center of the film and it opens with him landing his plane on the Rostock air-base in Northern England. He has no memory of the base or where he previously was, but picks up the swing of things quickly, befriending fellow pilot Tokino and starting a tension-filled relationship with his  commander, the icy Suito Kusanagi. She obviously posesses information she refuses to share with Kannami, and as the plot evolves secrets both on the ground and in the sky begin to manifest themselves. The battles in the air punctuate the human drama and the movie finds a nice balance between the action and the intrigue.

The story is speculative fiction and it’s been intelligently adapted from the novels by Japanese author Hiroshi Mori. Mori’s other novels are known as rikei mysterys because they revolve around some sort of scientific or mathematical puzzle. The Sky Crawlers novels were constructed in such a way where it was not always immediately clear what was happening or why, and as the series progressed all of the elements became available to solving the mystery.

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To a lesser extent, Oshii does that here, weaving events in and out of one another and suggesting what the flow of time must feel like to a person trapped in an endless state of youth. However, theres a clear narrative thrust and the film doesn’t fly off on too many theoretical or existential tangents as the Ghost in the Shell sequel did. Instead there is a far more natural rhythym to the drama in Sky Crawlers and the film has an almost pastoral idealism that reminded me more of Hayao Miyazaki (particularly Porco Rosso, another anime involving dog-fights) than any of Oshii’s ouvre.

I haven’t enjoyed an anime film this much in quite some time, and the market has been rather scarce with quality product. A new Miyazaki is on the way right now, and there have been a few choice entries like Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and the recent The Place Promised in Our Early Years,but that’s about it. Oshii’s Sky Crawlersis a breath of fresh air in that respect and an exciting remembrance of the potential of anime to tell thoughtful stories in detailed fantasy worlds. It’s not just a great animated film, it’s a great film period and well worth recommending to the both the hardcore anime fan and the filmgoer who could care less about little moving scribbles. Yes, it really is that good.

The Sky Crawlers was released on dvd and Bluray on May 26th, 2009.

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Movie Review: S. Darko, take off that stupid bunny suit…

11 May

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S. Darko (2009), rated R, 104 minutes. Director: Chris Fisher, Screenwriter: Nathan Atkins, Cast: Daveigh Chase, Ed Westwick, Briana Evigan, Elizabeth Berkley, James Lafferty.

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Ahhh, sequels. A few weeks into Summer 2009 and this is the third one I’ve seen. Within the next two weeks we get another pair, with several more on the way all season long. I’d ask why, but I think we all already know the reason. The studios want a sense of assurity and comfort; audiences paid before, and rewarded the original, so naturally if you can recreate the same experience with familiar elements the sense of “risk” is lessened. For audiences, if you’ve loved a certain film or franchise, it’s likely that “good” or “necessary” won’t be factors that need to be met before you plop down cash to check out the next one; you simply have to see it. After all, where’s your loyalty? 

This goes double for sequels to cult classics. If you raved about it for years, you’re going to find a way to see what they did to “your” movie, even if you deny watching it later.  The folks behind S. Darko are counting on the original film’s fans to adopt this mindset. But don’t buy it(the movie or their crap). This latest ‘Donnie Darko Tale’ is a complete disaster; an amorphous blob of half-cooked ideas, appropriated imagery and mind-numbing boredom.

The original  Darko seemed to resonate most strongly with the college crowd; it’s characters were all teenagers and it’s time period was the 1980s and these elements created a familiar and nostalgic vibe for an audience in the waiting room of adult life. It was quirky, sarcastic, creepy, sometimes theological and a little existential.  The odd mix of a Philosophy 101 lecture and a sunday school lesson run through the filter of John Hughes and Sam Raimi was intoxicating. Good or bad, it was something new. Richard Kelly’s energizing little tale lived in the valley between It’s A Wonderful Life and 2001: A Space Odyssey and for a certain cross-section of people it was just as well loved.

You can’t really come up with a more self-contained film than the original Donnie Darko. Donnie’s experience is like the opposite of George Bailey’s. George gets to see what the world would have been like without him, and why his life was important. Donnie, a troubled teen who has started to wonder if there is something grander going on in the univserse than what he sees in his hometown of Middlesex Virginia, is given the opportunity to cheat his own death and see what the world would be like if he stayed around longer than he was meant to. For Donnie, it has the same affect as George: it makes him see his life has purpose and that he fits into a greater design.

The God of the universe gives this messed-up kid the chance to peek behind the curtain, to be  a hero, experience first love, reconnect with his family, and gain free will in the face of his own death. Donnie himself makes the choice that ends the film, and as he does he reflects that “there will be so much to look forward to.” Donnie hasn’t garnered a new lease on life as much as he has eschewed his fear of death and his uncertainty about the existence of God. At the end he hands his life over to the machinations of something bigger than himself and in the process saves his family, friends, and his entire town from destruction. Ultimately, it’s as if his adventure never happened at all, at least to those who knew him;his is a silent sacrifice.

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So, whats the complex plot at the heart of S Darko? Well, Samantha wanders off from Middlesex with her friend Corey (Briana Evigan) and they are on their way to L.A. when their car breaks down in the barren small town of Conejo Springs. Samantha petulantly walks around town, meets a few of the locals like Elizabeth  Berkley’s creepy christian lady and James Lafferty’s Iraq Jack, a messed-in-the-head war veteran who lives on the outskirts and may or may not be a killer. And then Sam decides that this isn’t her path, parts ways with Corey, and presumably goes back to her parents. The end.

As far as Sam is concerned, those are the events of the movie. More does happen, but honestly it’s nearly incomprehensible and it all seems designed to just mark off moments from the first movie.  And Sam, the titular character doesn’t really experience any of it because by the end everything has been re-set by someone else. Samantha Darko never interacts with the supernatural or time-travel elements of the story. The writers leave that to other, odder and less interesting characters. Not that Sam, as presented here, is very interesting. She is a vague concept and bears almost no relationship to the quirky little girl who was Donnie’s sister. sdarkochase

Meteorites fall from the sky, children go missing, Iraq Jack starts seeing a ghostly version of Sam who instructs him that the world is going to end and then we have that always helpful title card that informs us how many days are left. But then, one character makes a Donnie-like sacrifice half-way through the film and re-sets the timeline. The next time we see the title card it’s gone from 4 days left to 6. Why utilize a title card if it’s very presence is rendered obsolete? Easy, because the first Darko did it. That seems to be the only reason behind anything happening in this film. Why have one sacrificial event when we can have two? Why stop with a suspicious guru who makes kiddie porn when you can have one that might be actually killing children? Burned down someone’s house? Lets burn down a church this time! And don’t forget Frank the Bunny! We gotta get him, he’s the most recognizable image! Isn’t he like the Freddy or Jason of this franchise?

The movie’s biggest misstep, at least from a continuity perspective, is that adding in things like Frank and The Philsophy of Time Travel book don’t make any sense. Part of Frank’s appeal is that he is specific to Donnie and the events of Donnie’s journey. There is a mystery to Frank, revealed in the final third. In this movie Sam tells Iraq Jack about Frank and gives him a picture. Where did she get the picture? Why is Roberta Sparrow’s book in her backpack? If Donnie succeeded at all, then those items shouldn’t even BE in Sam’s posession and she should have no knowledge of them. Wasn’t there anyone working on this movie that actually saw the first film?

It may sound like I’m nitpicking, but thats not the case. At the technical level S Darko is accomplished enough but it doesn’t have anything of it’s own to be proud of. The odd, creepy score, the wormhole visual effects and that hulking bunny menace have just been lifted wholesale, and they don’t even make it over in the same shape. The Frank mask in this film has been hammered together in a garage and it looks like a fanmade costume of the original.

S. Darko isn’t a failure just because it’s an inferior sequel. Even divorced from the original, S Darko would be a turkey. It doesn’t make any kind of logical sense and it doesn’t have any central storyline tying together it’s events. Things happen at such a random clip that it eventually becomes disorienting. I was no longer certain what day it was, who the characters were to each other, whether the little boy was actually missing or not, and what exactly the ghostly Sam was trying to save everybody from.

S Darko is a dim bulb of a movie, a cut and paste hackjob of an original vision. No one has any idea why the first movie worked, and they labor here like color blind children trying to recreate the Mona Lisa with crayons and tracing paper. If all you require in a sequel is that it remind you fondly of the original, S Darko still fails. It only manages to evoke Donnie just enough that we become eager to turn it off and watch the original instead. And that, I’m in favor of. You just don’t need to suffer through this experience to do it.

S Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale releases on DVD and Bluray on May 12th, 2009.