Poster Release: Only God Forgives

The official teaser poster for Nicolas Winding Refn's  Only God Forgives was released online today.
 
 

What's neon without a little flicker?
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Ryan Gosling and the director of DRIVE, Nicolas Winding Refn, are back with this visionary Bangkok-set thriller. Julien (Gosling) is a drug kingpin tasked with avenging his brother's death, but a mysterious, unhinged policeman is following his every move. Only God Forgives is an official selection of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.


 

Desert Island Films: Superhero Movies



 
Summer is just around the corner, which means there are sure to be a whole new batch of superhero films for American audiences to watch with troughs of popcorn and milk duds in their hands. We will have the second sequel in the Iron Man franchise, for the first time with a director other than Jon Favreau. Zack Snyder will also bring us a new vision of Superman with Man of Steel, which was also helped along with writer and producer Christopher Nolan. Wolverine returns to the screen again as well, this time traveling to Japan. It is difficult to remember what a summer was like without superhero films, which is strange considering how recently the genre became so popular.


When superheroes first arrived in American culture with the prototypal emergence of Superman in 1938, they quickly became a social role as a moral beacon to give hope and guidance during difficult times, especially war. Comic book superheroes were often born out of war, including Iron Man, who became a superhero through his experience in the Vietnam War when he emerged in 1963. With this being the case it would seem that there would have emerged new or updated superheroes recently, but the success of the onslaught of comic book films on screen has mostly seemed a way for studios to cash in on a popular commodity.

 

Superhero movies seem to struggle most when they aren’t helping anyone, because after all, isn’t that what a superhero is supposed to do? The recent past has seen its fair share of these films, and an increasing number fail to appease the crowds or the critics, seemingly most often when the fight is not clear. Daredevil was a complicated comic-book world where there were more odds of encountering another superhero or villain on the street as you would a normal citizen, Elektra became even more muddled with plot and the superhero’s intentions, Ang Lee’s Hulk had an escaping creature never given an opportunity to be selflessly heroic, and The Ghost Rider was about a man that stopped one criminal and spent the rest of the film fighting otherworldly creatures in a human-barren city. Only recently have there been themes relevant to our tumultuous times which seem fitting for a superhero film. Perhaps this is why all of the films on my desert island list were made after 2001.

 

5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

 



          Spider-Man was one of the first superhero franchises to become a blockbuster success and set the standard for so many others to follow. Not only was it a major financial success, which insures sequels and copycats in Hollywood, but it did so with an interesting choice for a director. Sam Raimi is best known for his contribution into the horror genre, but his unique style proved perfect for the telling of this beloved comic book story. If it weren’t for this trilogy which began in 2002, Christopher Nolan may not have been chosen for the Batman franchise, and it is likely Jon Favreau would not have directed Iron Man nor Joss Whedon The Avengers.

 

Spider-Man was one of the first greats, though we have come full circle again and ten years later another Spider-Man franchise has begun. Spider-Man 2 continues my theory that the second film in a franchise is always the best film in the series. Godfather 2 is better than the first, Empire Strikes Back is better than Star Wars and Sam Raimi’s follow-up film has the best storyline and special effects of the three. The romantic storyline also comes full circle in this one, leaving little but disappointment for the remaining third film in the Raimi trilogy.

 

4. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)





Guillermo del Toro, who also directed Hellboy but is probably best known for Pan’s Labyrinth, seems to have been given more freedom in making his Hellboy sequel after his recent success, and the result was breathtaking and exciting. The Mexican director’s talent in creating a magical and mystical world rival that of Peter Jackson, George Lucas and the few others that have once reigned the science fiction/fantasy world with a little bit of imagination and dedication. There is no denying that del Toro’s style is uniquely his own, with creatures that seem familiar to the designs he created for Pan’s Labyrinth, a very different kind of fantasy, but he also manages to try a few new things such as a fantastic war done only with puppet-like figures. The sequence in the Troll Market alone is a fantastic and imaginative world that immediately reminded me of the first time I saw Star Wars. In other words, ignore the fact that this is a sequel. If you haven’t seen the first film, don’t worry about it, but whatever you do, don’t miss this one.

 

          The absurdity about this brilliant sequel was the fact that it was very nearly made when Sony decided to no longer fund Revolution Studios, which had made the first film, selling the rights away to Universal. With as many sequels as there are that don’t have the director’s dedication, and considering del Toro’s turning away the offers to direct I Am Legend, One Missed Call, and the forthcoming Halo and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it is amazing that Sony didn’t realize what it was giving away. Fans of del Toro can look forward to another imaginative blockbuster from him this summer with Pacific Rim.

 

3. Iron Man (2008)

 



          Much of the buzz for Iron Man surrounded Robert Downey Jr., an unlikely but extremely successful casting choice that looks likely to revive the veteran actor’s career just as Pirates of the Caribbean did for Johnny Depp. Downey stars as Tony Stark, the son and heir of a weapons manufacturing company on the cutting edge of supplying new weapons that are becoming more and more distanced from the battlefield. Stark is a technical genius reaping in all of the financial gain from creating more and more deadly weapons, until he is taken by a terrorist cell while in Afghanistan showing Jericho. After years of profiting from war, Stark is forced to witness it first-hand, afterwards leaving him a changed man in more ways than one.

 

He awakes to find that a magnet is placed in his chest, pulling the shrapnel away from his heart as the only means of keeping him alive, but this physical change is no less significant than the emotional change which has occurred in Stark after witnessing war. Stark finally sees the damage he has caused with his inventions, and as if inter-connected, coinciding with Stark seeming to grow a heart is the physical representation of an invention in the center of his chest that is keeping him alive.

 

          Iron Man seems to be most impressive when considering the elements that were most unexpected. Downey Jr. is a prime example, beating out Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage for the role, as is director Jon Favreau. Favreau has consistently as a director been able to combine things from the past with the relevance of today, and Iron Man is only the most recent proof of this. Favreau’s theatrical film debut was Made (2001), an independent comedy about incompetent men hired by a mobster in California to take a trip to New York. Made was followed by Elf (2003), a film that combines all of the nostalgia of classic holiday entertainment (singing, stop-animation characters in the North Pole, and continuing with family entertainment there was the science-fiction adventure Zathura(2005), which was adapted from the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. Iron Man successfully brings Iron Man into modern day problems and issues, which were handled and discussed in a responsible manner without sacrificing the spectacle everyone has come to expect of superhero films.

 

 

2. The Dark Knight (2008)

         




          I was one of the few people unimpressed with Batman Begins. I enjoyed it, but having been an avid fan of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, it seemed to contain less of the complexity that I had come to expect from the filmmaker. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but there was no height that the follow-up film could not match in my expectations. Of the three films in Nolan’s trilogy, this one seems to me to have the most complete themes and concepts, paired with the coolest action and most impressive performance in the series.

 

          I knew from the moment that Heath Ledger was announced dead that he was going to win an Oscar, despite the fact that The Dark Knight had not been released yet and the award ceremony was literally a year away. It was clear that his performance as the Joker would be the highlight of film, but somehow it doesn’t overshadow the film as much as elevate it to greatness that the franchise could never reach again.

 

1. Watchmen (2009)
 



 
          Director Zack Snyder was at a high point after the phenomenal success of 300, the epic graphic comic adaptation which was violently rated R. This secured enough credibility for Snyder to be allowed to adapt another violent graphic novel; one which was often said to be the greatest of the graphic novels as well as completely unfilmable. This was a script passed on by so many people because of the violent content, everyone but the fans seemed surprised when the anticipation began to build. There were lawsuits, the release was delayed, and ultimately the film probably made less money than everyone had anticipated. Part of the problem was the length at 2 ½ hours. Though it did not feel long while watching, fewer shows could be booked in most theaters and anyone aware of the length might opt for something less time consuming. Despite some excellent reviews, Watchmen was not seen by as many as anticipated. 
 



 

           The story involves a group of retired (or forced underground) superheroes. They exist in a reality mostly similar to our own in that superheroes are just regular humans in masks for the most part. They might be extremely strong, but they aren’t endowed with special powers. They began as cops wearing masks to fight the criminals who escaped the system, eventually turning into an illegal pastime. The plane of existence is similar to our own with some differences, which allows for the first superhuman to be created when a scientist is altered by a mistake, and it is also a world where Nixon has been re-elected countless times. The United States has power with the superheroes, even using them to win Vietnam War.
 



          This epic cautionary tale of being a superpower, in more than one way, is extremely violent but does not have much action. There are many fight scenes, but they are never fair fights, instead making them sequences of pure violence. Men punch and shoot unarmed women, attempting rape and escaping responsibilities. When the men fight each other there is always a disadvantage to one side, the superheroes able to break bones and splinter flesh while never becomes injured themselves. An elderly man is beaten by a gang of thugs, and countless other scenarios have one-sided fights that end in excessively violent ways. In other words, this is not a fun film as much as it is a painfully poignant one.

A Haunted House Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Cedric the Entertainer, Nick Swardson, David Koechner
  • Director: Michael Tiddes
  • Writers: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez
  • Producers: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • Release Date: April 23, 2013


  •  

     

              The only good thing I have to say about A Haunted House is its willingness to spoof just one film, rather than the attention deficient spoof films of the last decade or so, which essentially just make jokes out of whatever films happen to be popular at the time in rapid fire. This film takes its time, allowing a little more confidence in the material and the film’s performers. Unfortunately, they never deliver, but I appreciated the simplicity and sincerity of the attempt much more than the spoofs which feel as though they were written by a dozen unemployed comedians who watch too many movies.

     

              The main point that seems to come across in all of the jokes in A Haunted House is that Marlon Wayans believes that everyone wants to sleep with him. I’m joking, of course, but sincerely found myself dumbfounded by the number of jokes within the film which have to do with characters coming into the home and hitting on Malcolm (Wayans), the homeowner who has a ghost problem with the arrival of his demon-possessed girlfriend, Kisha (Essence Atkins). Whether it’s his best friend trying to get him to girlfriend swap, a gay ghost specialist (Nick Swardson) or any number of other visitors, they all seem to want a piece of Malcolm. Even the ghost eventually has its way with Wayans.

     

              The jokes don’t have time to get old, but the biggest problem is that there isn’t a lot of difference between the jokes. Nearly all of the jokes are sex related, and when that fails then the film turns to racism as the next humor point. Much of the film is not terrible as much as it is simply unimaginative. It almost feels as though there was no more than a rough script for the film when filming began, perhaps even as the scenes were being filmed. Improvisation can work both ways, to help a film or to send it spiraling in no direction.

     

              The Blu-ray includes a DVD and an Ultraviolet copy of the film as well. The special features include a humorous “How to Survive a Paranormal Presence” featurette.

     

                 

    Entertainment Value: 3/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 2/10

    Historical Significance: 2/10

    Disc Features: 2/10

     

     

    The Impossible Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin
  • Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 
  • Studio: Summit Entertainment
  • Release Date: April 23, 2013
  • Run Time: 114 minutes


  •  

     

              The Impossible is a straight-forward film in many respects. The narrative direction offers no surprises; we are promised a film about a family surviving a tsunami and the aftermath, which is exactly what The Impossible provides. The fact that it is based on a true story and with a title like The Impossible, we are given some assurance of a relatively happy ending for the family which is our collective protagonist for the film. It is a testament to director J. A. Bayona that despite all of this laid out at the beginning of the film, the viewing is still arduously, and at points nearly unbearably, suspenseful.

     

              Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor head up the cast as parents Maria and Henry, vacationing on a beach resort in Thailand with their three young boys when the tsunami hit. They are separated immediately, and we follow Maria as she struggles and is beaten within the swirling debris-filled water. After surviving the initial disaster, there remains the task of seeking safety and treatment. Following that is the struggle to find one-another, with diminishing hope that all have survived.

     

              This is an emotionally draining film, leaving the audience feeling as beaten inside as the stars look on the outside. McGregor and Watts do a spectacular job capturing the emotions perfectly, never seeming to manipulate or manifest false responses. Their reactions seem sincere, and as parents this is a horror that I am certain both could relate to. Watts was nominated for her performance, deservedly, but it is newcomer Tom Holland as the eldest son who I found myself most impressed with. He reminded me of a young Jamie Bell, able to handle the emotional aspects of the film with a maturity that hardly seems like acting. It is easy to become immersed in the story and the characters, because of performances and direction.

     

              The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with director J.A. Bayona, along with writer Sergio G. Sánchez, producer Belén Atienza and Maria Belón. There are also two making-of featurettes, including one about the casting process, and a few deleted scenes. 

     

                 

    Entertainment Value: 7.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance: 8/10

    Disc Features: 7.5/10

     

    Pawn Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Ray Liotta, Michael Chiklis, Forest Whitaker, Sean Faris, Nikki Reed
  • Director: David A. Armstrong
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
  • Release Date: April 23, 2013
  • Run Time: 88 minutes


  •  

              I’m not quite sure if Pawn has a simple plot at its core which has been intentionally overcomplicated by stylized filmmaking, or if it is an over-complicated plot which is laid out in sloppy narrative manner. Either way, Pawn has more potential than it seems to know what to do with. Perhaps this is due to the fact that this is cinematographer David A. Armstrong’s first attempt at directing. Pawn looks great but rarely matches up in other areas. For one thing, the acting is uneven at best, despite a star-studded cast.

     

              The film takes place almost entirely in a diner late at night. There is the usual cast of characters in the diner, though we soon find that there is much more going on than it seems. When a cop (Forest Whitaker) walks into the diner and notices that all of the customers are distressed, it is quite clear that the place is being robbed, but the plot is much more convoluted than that.

     

              A group of British thugs (led by an occasionally convincing Michael Chiklis) enter the diner to rob it, but they are there for something in the safe other than money. This item is valuable enough to peak the interest of the cops and the local mob bosses (Ray Liotta among others). It may also provide an escape for one of the unfortunate diner hostages (Sean Faris), who the police mistakenly believe is behind the robbery turned hostage situation. Add in a hostage negotiator (Common), mistaken identities and a pregnant wife and you have most of the film in a nutshell.

     

              The Blu-ray includes a behind-the-scenes featurette.

    Entertainment Value: 6/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 5/10

    Historical Significance: 2/10

    Disc Features: 2/10

     

    Not Suitable for Children Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Ryan Kwanten, Ryan Corr, Sarah Snook, Bojana Novakovic
  • Director: Peter Templeman
  • Format: Widescreen, NTSC, Digital Sound, Dolby, THX
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: April 16, 2013
  • Run Time: 97 minutes


  •  
              Not Suitable for Children is an adult romantic comedy in the vein of many Judd Apatow films, specifically Knocked Up. Though there is potential for much more vulgar material with the plot, instead it finds a way of being surprisingly sweet instead. The cover clearly wants to cash in on the success of HBO’s “True Blood” co-star Ryan Kwanten’s role in Not Suitable for Children, plastering his face on the region 1 Blu-ray cover. In reality, the one stand-out element within this Australian romantic comedy isn’t Kwanten, but his female co-star, Sarah Snook.

     

              The plot is a bit ridiculous, but also a simple set-up which provides numerous opportunities for the plot. Jonah (Kwanten) is accustomed to a bohemian-type style of living, sharing a house with his best friends; a crass and oblivious guy named Gus (Ryan Corr), and his sarcastic and practical female friend, Stevie (Snook). These are the friends he turns to when Jonah discovers that he has testicular cancer. After all of his options for having a child begin to disappear, Jonah realizes that his only chance for children is to get somebody pregnant before his scheduled surgery, which will leave him infertile.

     

              Stevie begins to help Jonah as a mediator to find someone willing to carry his child, whether a lesbian couple or a lonely middle-aged woman, but we can see that she will ultimately end up with out protagonist. The wonder of romantic comedies is their ability to remain enjoyable despite having few to no surprises with the direction of the plot. What makes them particularly enjoyable is the writing and the performances, and this film is blessed with a charmingly real performance from Sarah Snook. She is like an Australian Emma Stone, beautiful while remaining grounded and real. I have no doubt that we will see more of her shortly.

     

              The Blu-ray includes interviews with cast and crew members, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from the production and a trailer.  

     


    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10

    Historical Significance: 6/10

    Disc Features: 6/10

     

    Naked Lunch Blu-ray review


    Actors: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider
    Director: David Cronenberg
    Format: Blu-ray, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
    Language: English
    Subtitles: English
    Number of discs: 1
    Rated: R (Restricted)
    Studio: Criterion Collection
    Release Date: April 9, 2013
    Run Time: 115 minutes


                David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S. Burrough’s beat-era novel, Naked Lunch, shows as much about the filmmaker as it does the author in subject. The novel was once thought unfilmable, filled with hallucinatory sequences of drug induced illusions and paranoia. Rather than tackling the film head-on, Cronenberg splits the screen-time with a focus on a character based on Burroughs as he writes his novel in a drug-addled stated. The result is an examination of the act of creating a work of art, along with drug addiction. All of this is done with consideration to the story within Naked Lunch, inserted during the illusionary drug-induced state, and with the distinct visual style and themes of the Canadian horror director.

     

              Cronenberg’s films all seem to share a common fascination with the mutilation and metamorphosis of human flesh, particularly in terms of technological advancements. In Videodrome it is a living, breathing videotape. In Naked Lunch the typewriters are alive, talking alien bugs, agents in a sinister plot involving exterminator and drug addict Bill Lee (Peter Weller).

     

    All of the problems arise when Lee accidentally shoots his wife, leading to a series of drug induced delusions. As he travels to a nightmarish world called Interzone to escape his accidental crime, Bill meets a woman identical to his wife and a espionage plot that he becomes involved in. What remains at the end of this trip is the writings that Lee does, as his official reports ordered to him by a giant bug.

    The Blu-ray release of Naked Lunch has a high-definition digital transfer and DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack, approved by Cronenberg, who also provides a commentary track alongside Weller. Also included in the special features is the 1992 making-of documentary by Chris Rodley, Naked Making Lunch and an audio recording of Burroughs reading from the novel. There are also galleries of photos Allen Ginsberg took of Burroughs, as well as a marketing gallery and one of the special effects artwork and photos. The package comes with a 40-page booklet with reprinted pieces from film critic Janet Maslin, novelist Gary Indiana, filmmaker Rodley, and Burroughs.

     

                 

    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance: 9/10

    Disc Features: 10/10

     

    The Bible Blu-ray review

  • Language: English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: April 2, 2013
  • Run Time: 440 minutes





  •  

    I’m actually surprised that this didn’t happen sooner, especially after the success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I had imagined that Gibson’s gruesome film would have opened the eyes of studio decision-makers to see the potential for violence within the religious text. Instead, the most blatant of the attempts to duplicate Gibson’s success was A Nativity Story, which is another equally well-known story, but one without the amount of violence audiences seem to crave in order to watch this type of material.

     

    The epic ten-part miniseries, “The Bible,” understands the need to embellish and glorify the violent aspects of the text over all else, and that helps to set the series apart from other filmed versions of the same events. There are points within the series that the effects and the action choreography modeled after 300 and the “Spartacus” series. This seems to be in hopes of enticing a mainstream audience into hearing the Sunday school tales, as opposed to the watered down versions that would actually be shown in church.

     

    Although a great deal more material is covered in creative ways, each episode essentially focuses on one major character from the Bible. The first episode begins with a brief introduction from Noah as he drifts through the storm in his arc, but moves on quickly. As each episode focuses on a specific character, it also progresses through the Bible, hitting major points until the finale of Easter’s origin’s, finishing in time to air this past holiday.

     

              All ten parts of the series are fit onto four discs, along with a series of making-of featurettes and a music video. The visual aspects of the series lend themselves to the Blu-ray format, making this a worthwhile package for fans of the series.

     

                 

    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10

    Historical Significance: 6/10

    Disc Features: 8/10

     

    The Sorcerer and the White Snake Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Jet Li
  • Director: Siu-Tung Ching
  • Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Cantonese
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Dubbed: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: April 9, 2013
  • Run Time: 93 minutes


  •  

    The usual kung-fu choreography and tree-top ballets are not enough for The Sorcerer and the White Snake, which also throws in large snakes, demons and other supernatural elements for a special effects melting pot of eye candy spectacle. Unfortunately, the film has little else to offer. It is a candy-coated film which offers little nutrition for discerning the viewer.

     

              The film is based on a Chinese legend which centers on a man who unwittingly falls in love with a woman who is secretly a thousand-year-old snake. When her presence becomes known, a sorcerer (Jet Li) sets out to put the snake back where she belongs, restoring the order between humans and the supernatural world. This means the separation of the pair of star-crossed lovers.

     

              The Blu-ray release of The Sorcerer and the White Snake is the preferred home viewing method for a film so heavily reliant on digital effects. There is also the added bonus of the special features, which include four featurettes on the making of the film. Most of them are concerned with the visual aspects of the film, though the most entertaining is one on the fight scenes with Jet Li. There is also one on the visual effects and production design.

                 

    Entertainment Value: 4.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 3/10

    Historical Significance: 2/10

    Disc Features: 7/10

     

     

               

    Youth Without Youth review


     

     

    There was a great deal of hype inevitable to come with Francis Ford Coppola returning to direct a feature film for the first time (credited at least) in ten years. This is remarkable considering how passionate and consistently he made films earlier in his career, and many believe the reason to be that the stress from Apocalypse Now was too much for him too bear. Youth Without Youth did not cause any life threatening situations on Coppola, and in fact it was a film entirely produced by his successful vineyard in California. This is a much more leisurely film by the director, who has obvious relaxed a great deal himself in the last ten years, and for this reason many fans were not entirely pleased with the film, already pining for a three-hour director’s cut that will be much better. It seems to me that this was meant to be a slower and more thoughtful film, and returning a few subplots back into the film is not likely to change anyone’s opinion of this intricate and intelligent film.

     

    Part of the reason so many fans are convinced there will be a director’s cut is because of the fact that there was an initial three-hour cut made from the 170 hours of footage shot for the film in the 85 days of shoot. Much of the success of the film is due to the dedicated performance by Tim Roth as linguistics professor Dominic Matei. When we join Dominic he is an elderly man of about seventy, lamenting at the fact that he was unable to finish the book he has spent his life writing on the origins of language. Living in Romania in 1938 the country is on the brink of war with Germany and Dominic seems to be in even worse condition when he is struck by lightening on Easter morning. Surprisingly the old man doesn’t die, and even more surprisingly he begins to age backwards from 70 to 40, even growing new teeth in the process. This remarkable occurrence coincides with a German experiment testing what high currents of electricity will do to the body, so Dominic becomes a precious scientific treasure and must escape.

     


    Easily able to blend in considering they were trying to find a man who was 70, Dominic creates a new identity and begins exploring his new powers. Dominic finds that he has other new abilities, specifically ones involving knowledge, allowing him to have a superior gift to those around him however discreet he hides it. When Dominic falls in love he finds that he may be destroying her by the research he is doing himself for the book, and suddenly realizes he must make a decision to be the same or different than the German scientists that want to find and study him. Youth Without Youth is a touching and poignant film, though it may not be Coppola’s most accessible. It is a thinking film, brilliantly carried by thoughtful direction and impeccable acting.

     

    Zack and Miri Make a Porno review

     
     
                In the 90s Kevin Smith was the cutting edge of comedy, the underground raunchiness delivered to audiences unsatisfied with the usual sense of humor of Hollywood. Smith isn’t much of a director, as he has often admitted, but his screenwriting is unmistakable, pushing the envelope on sexual content without ever showing anything. The dialogue was simply that vulgar and creatively offensive. Anyone who witnessed the unrated teaser for Zack and Miri Make a Porno knows that this much has not changed about Smith’s style, though his films grow increasingly sweeter and his directing improves with each film he makes.

     

                If it feels like it has been some time since Smith has made a film, this may be true, but he always seems to take his time in-between projects. The difference with his return now is that there have been some changes in the field of comedy, as Judd Apatow has been involved with nearly every successful comedy in the last few years. Apatow is a director not unlike Smith in many ways, with an emphasis on dialogue and acting that leaves little consideration for any camera work that could make his style as a director more distinguishable than his words. Apatow also enjoys an R-rated comedy, but the main difference between the two directors is the way that they handle their actors. Apatow encourages his actors to ad-lib, improvise and create dialogue of their own, while Smith his notoriously picky about having his script recited word-for-word. Three successful regulars of Judd Apatow films star in Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno, making this an interesting collaboration that often feels influenced by the style of both directors.

     

                Seth Rogen sports especially long hair and unkempt hair along with a beard and glasses as Zack, an obvious surrogate for Smith himself. Zack lives with his best friend since high school, Miri (Elizabeth Banks), and they are so comfortable with each other that they can have conversations about masturbation toys with absolutely no shame or embarrassment. Even though they seem to have few aspiration with their lives, Zack and Miri seem content despite the piling debt that they have somehow retained through their lifestyle. When they attend their high school reunion, Zack and Miri have a chance encounter with a former school mate (Brandon Routh) who now makes a fortune starring in gay porn with his boyfriend (Justin Long). This is an inspiration to Zack, and eventually he has convinced Miri that they can set aside their friendship and sleep together in order to get out of debt.

     


                Smith’s treatment of the relationship between Zack in Miri is always respectful, and actually quite sweet. It helps that Rogen and Banks seem to have a sincere chemistry with each other that makes their friendship completely believable. That being said, the porno film quickly involves many more than just these two friends, and some of the other sex scenes filmed for the porno are anything but sweet, and Smith shows that he has retained his immature sense of humor along with the more sophisticated relationship dynamic. Gone are the days where Smith was vulgar enough by words alone.

     

                I will say that I respect that this film has not been released with an unrated version. There are so many films released this way that I have to question if the filmmakers have stopped fighting to get the cut they want released in theaters or if it is simply a ploy to take consumer’s money. There is never any telling until you watch both the theatrical and unrated version, and the fact that this film is the same as it will ever be shows the strength that Smith does have as a director.

     

             

    Youth of the Beast review



     

                The new Criterion Collection release of Seijun Suzuki’s Youth of the Beast is exactly the type of film that has come to be expected from Criterion, and yet the DVD is less flattering than other Criterion releases have been in the past. The transfer still looks as beautiful as always, but there isn’t much else to the actual DVD. Even the menu is somewhat flat and uninspired.

     

                Youth of the Beast is a crime film which may not seem original to new viewers because it has been duplicated countless times since it was released in 1963. It is the story of an ex-cop who takes revenge on every local gang in hopes to find the killer of his old friend. The ex-cop joins two rival gangs, attempting to find information, but also never hesitating to use violence as much as necessary. The film was far ahead of its time, using violence in such creative ways that not much needs to be shown for the audience to get the picture and be shocked. The film begins in violence and ends very fittingly in the same way.

     


    Youth of the Beast is visually stunning, with great use of colors that is so inventive and creative, while at the same time shows horrific violence. It is a great in classic Japanese cinema that belongs on any avid collector’s shelf, even if it is only taken off and watch every so often. Criterion makes a great habit of releasing films that we may not watch all the time, but can appreciate far longer than the films which we enjoy watching more.

     

                The DVD has an amazing restored quality, making the film seem even sharper, and it also boasts a newer and more improved English subtitle translation. There are also a few filmed interviews and the theatrical trailer. None of these features are as solid as one would hope for a film of such high caliber, but the film itself is worth the price.

    Zatoichi review


     
                Takeshi Kitano is an artist. I don’t simply mean this because he is a simple and subtle actor, able to convey meaning and humor through minimal movement and dialogue. I also don’t call Kitano an artist because of his unique and creative style as a filmmaker, or his passion for poetry and Japanese game shows. The reason I refer to Kitano as an artist isn’t because of one of these things, but rather, because of all of them. If he were only an actor I would still refer to him as an excellent actor, but it is his passion for continually challenging himself in new forms of artistic creation which makes Kitano such a mesmerizing artist to follow. His unpredictable nature seems to come with the joy of discovery, the artist obviously enjoying the process as much as the outcome.

     

                The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is a perfect example of this unique need to be inventively original. Zatoichi is an iconic name in Japanese pop-culture history, like Robin Hood to England. Previously played by Shintaro Katsu in 26 Zatoichi films, Kitano adapts the popular blind fighter to his own unique vision. The plot is traditional in the basic description, but the presentation is nothing like the film series from Japanese film history. The action sequences don’t display the abilities of the actors like the past, but instead are done with lightening speed and CGI effects to detach the violence from realism (much like Quentin Tarantino’s method in Kill Bill Vol. 1).


     

                Upon its release there were some complaints by film fans about the realism of the deaths in the film. The blood is all created on the computer, as are many sword blades during the fights. When the sword enters the flesh, blood spurts out with creatively stylized splatters. Even the high definition presentation cannot hide the traces of obvious digital effects, but this effect has its benefits. The film’s action sequences are fast and over quickly, but they remind the audience that it is simply a film, heavily stylized. This makes the unusual musical choreography of the film editing much easier to understand. Throughout the revenge plot in a small 19th century village there is a building being constructed, and the percussion soundtrack follows in the pattern of their progression. This all builds to a final dance number which is spectacularly inaccurate to plot and period.

     

                The high definition on the Blu-ray may not improve the rustic special effects in the otherwise violent battles, but the audio on the Japanese track actually sounds much better than I expected. The back of the Blu-ray says that the audio for the English dubbing is 5.1 DTS-HD, and yet the Japanese track with subtitles sounded much better to me, even though it is listed as only Dolby Digital. The special features include a behind-the-scenes featurette and interview footage with the crew.