Category Archives: P

The Prowler

The Prowler (1981): United States – directed by Joseph Zito

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, sex, nudity, language

Note: As I will be out of the country for a period of time, I have decided to inflict upon anyone who reads these reviews a sampling of my earlier work.  These will be shorter, less formal, poorly written, and generally crappy.  They will lack stills and links, and I will apologize in advance for their poor quality.  They have received minor edits to (very slightly) improve readability.  Some might not be appropriate for all audiences.  Enjoy.

(review originally published 11/9/08)

This film  revolves around a young GI, who, coming home from WWII gets mad or something because his girl couldn’t wait, so stabs her and her new beau with a pitchfork. At the same time. While they’re making out. Fast forward 35 years, and the college is putting on another graduation dance, which they banned since that last one. So, of course, something bad happens and a dude dressed up like a Nazi stormtrooper goes around pitchforking and slicing people.

Tom Savini did the makeup, and that’s the best compliment the film can get. It’s not really that bad, it’s just that nothing stands out as noteworthy other than his gore effects. There’s the double pitchforking mentioned above, as well as a chick in the shower pitchforked and stuck up.

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Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes (1968): United States – directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

Rated G by the MPAA – contains violence, some language

Planet of the Apes is often considerd seminal science fiction, a landmark in both the genre and popular culture.  All it takes is a quick look and listen at either “Futurama’s” Calculon or “The Simpsons'” Troy McClure to see the enduring legacy of Charlton Heston’s Colonel Taylor.  Regardless of its impact on culture, Planet of the Apes works markedly better as a broad allegory and insightful dissection of society than a scientifically correct film.

The film begins with a small crew of spacemen aboard a flight some 320 light years from Earth.  The year is 3978, though none of the men (the sole woman dies before she has a chance to understand her plight) aboard realize this until it’s too late.  A systems malfunction has sent them off course, and failed to awake crew members in proper order.  There is a planet nearby, one that seems hospitable, and the crew crash lands in a lake.

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Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D (2010): United States – directed by Alexandre Aja

Rated R by the MPAA – contains gratuitous nudity, wanton violence and gore, CG blood, drug use, bad behavior, language, and more nudity

Note: This review discusses some of the more unpleasant aspects of Piranha 3D, and should only be read by mature movie-goers.  It may also contain a few spoilers.

Rarely has a film succeeded so gratuitously in its intentions as Piranha 3D.  It is shameless in its exploitation, and manages to fill the void in true grindhouse American cinema that has been lacking for so many years.  It is what Grindhouse itself should have been.  And it’s the closest America has ever seen to the Japanese shock films of the past few years; it only took a renowned French director to bring it to life.

Alexandre Aja broke onto the horror scene with High Tension, an intense and horrific film that helped usher in a new era of European horror.  That film was initially rated NC-17, and was undeniably more unsettling that Piranha 3D.  However, it contained nowhere near the amount of gratuitous nudity or CG blood that Piranha 3D managed to sneak by the MPAA.  I would have paid a small fortune to listen in as the MPAA’s panel of “parents” discussed the film and decided it would be appropriate for any age of person if a parent or guardian accompanied them.

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Predators (2010): United States – directed by Nimród Antal

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, some gore, and language

One mustn’t expect a great deal going into a film titled Predators.  The name is a sign of its throwback cheesiness, a reminder of past 1980’s action films like its namesake, Predator.  The plot is even sillier than the title, and in a self-aware cheesy film this wouldn’t normally be a problem.  Predators, unfortunately, so relentlessly treats its silliness in such a serious manner that it occasionally crosses the line into dullness.

One might recall that in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1987 original there was a creature from a distant planet, one that pursued its victims with an intense zeal.  Its goal in life was merely to hunt, to kill creatures and take pleasure from the hunt and the kill.  In Predators the scenario is reversed: instead of a small band of humans on earth hunted by one predator, there is a small band of humans on a foreign planet hunted by a pack of predators.

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The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog (2009): United States – directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

Rated G by the MPAA – contains scary voodoo and evil shadows

The Princess and the Frog is a throwback, in a great many ways, to the Disney films of old.  The soft, hand-drawn animations and backgrounds look reassuringly familiar and markedly different from much of today’s CG animation (the exception would be Studio Ghibli’s continued output, like Ponyo [review here]).  The Princess and the Frog is done by Ron Clements and John Musker, the same pair of directors responsible for The Little Mermaid, Aladdin [review here], and The Great Mouse Detective [review here], and the result is a perfectly satisfactory Disney film.

Much attention has been given to the race issue regarding The Princess and the Frog.  And while the film does break new ground for Disney by having a black Princess, there’s more going on than just race.  In fact, the movie itself isn’t concerned with race much at all.  The heroine, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), is the young daughter of a seamstress in the opening scene.  Her mother sews dresses for the daughter of a wealthy businessman named “Big Daddy” La Bouff (John Goodman).  His daughter is named Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) and is Tiana’s best friend.

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Platoon (1986): United States – directed by Oliver Stone

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, war violence, mature themes, drug use, some sexual content

Platoon opens perfectly, with a quote from Ecclesiastes:  “Rejoice, young man, in your youth.”  The movie then launches straight into the story of a young man freshly arriving in Vietnam.  It follows him through the first several months of his year-long tour of duty, through deadly ambushes and boring days at camp, and finally through a frantic and chaotic battle.

There’s not a great deal of exposition in Platoon, merely Charlie Sheen’s narration as Chris, a lowly grunt in the infantry.  He writes home to his grandmother, the only member of his affluent family who still talks to him after he enlisted.  His reasoning is that it shouldn’t just be the poor and the unwanted that fight for society.

There isn’t much of a greater context for the war, though Chris talks about it in an idealistic way.  This, too, is soon swept away by the torrent of war that he faces continually.  The challenge he faces of being the new guy, a man who is more expendable because he hasn’t put in as much time.  The longer a man’s been serving, the more he should be put in cushy positions, in the opinion of many men, including half-crazed grunt Bunny (Kevin Dillon) and the vile Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger).  On the other side is the “waterwalker” Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe).  He has concern for the fresh meat, as well as for the innocent civilians the platoon encounters on their maneuvers.

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Prospero’s Books

Prospero’s Books (1991): United Kingdom/Netherlands/Italy/France/Japan – directed by Peter Greenaway

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violent material, a plethora of nudes, and mature themes

Peter Greenaway is quite a character.  He is famous for allegedly stating that “continuity is boring.”  It also seems as though he thinks cinema has not evolved as an art form.  This would explain why, after the relatively straightforward masterpiece The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, he started crafting films more akin to art.  Also, his belief that the nude has not been adequately utilized in film is apparent in the fact that his next film, Prospero’s Books, is a rather bold amalgamation of editing and nudity.

It might be helpful for some to know that Prospero’s Books is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  For others, even this piece of information will prove useless when trying to comprehend any sort of plot or narrative in the film.  It seems Greenaway is more interested in conveying the story and its ideas through the composition of each frame, in the movement and actors onscreen.  He uses a variety of techniques: varying opacities, picture-in-picture, heavily textured screens, to evoke a feeling or transmit an idea in an emotional or intuitive way.

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Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction (1994): United States – directed by Quentin Tarantino

Rated R by the MPAA – contains constant profanity, some graphic violence, mature themes and dialogue, and some graphic drug use

Pulp Fiction has been regarded as one of the 1990’s premiere films for quite some time now.  After Quentin Tarantino blew up the independent film world with his fast talking characters in Reservoir Dogs, he followed it up with another “independent” film, Pulp Fiction.  The $7 million budget and host of huge stars seemed to make the independent label ridiculous, but the point was that smaller studios were now able to pump out quality material that could compete with the big Hollywood studios.  It signaled a change in the way the film system worked.

In the years since, numerous college kids have latched onto the film, often enjoying the frequent profanity and absurd, sudden violence.  The first full-sized poster I bought in college was of Vince Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson).  The movie is often quoted and analyzed, particularly the gold-glowing contents of the briefcase.  But this, too, is just a MacGuffin, like much of the plot.  Pulp Fiction prefers its characters to its events and its dialogue to its actions.

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The Prestige

The Prestige (2006): United States – directed by Christopher Nolan

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains violent content, and mature themes

Christopher Nolan, along with his brother Jonathon as writer, has proven time and again his knack for deep, complex films filled with an incredible visual flair and a penchant for entertaining.  With The Prestige some of his themes become a little too obvious, but as a multi-layered thriller/drama the film has many secrets in store.

In what could easily be dubbed Batman vs. Wolverine, if not for the trappings of a sumptuous period piece, The Prestige features both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as leads, each afforded nearly equal sympathy and screentime.  Bale takes on a Cockney accent, which is a jarring switch from Bruce Wayne’s husky growl though it is much more native to him than an American accent is to Hugh Jackman.  The pair of them star as feuding magicians in late 19th century London.  Their lives involve an incredible amount of secrets, many of which they cannot even tell their loved ones.

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Protégé (2007): Hong Kong – directed by Tung-Shing Yee

Rated R by the MPAA – contains drug content, some violence, some sexual content, and some disturbing thematic elements

Protégé follows in the style of Hong Kong cop films like Infernal Affairs, with a hint of the melodrama that John Woo added to most of his Hong Kong movies.  Except that here the sadness and melancholy are oftentimes brutal and difficult to swallow.  Protégé follows an undercover narc, Nick (played by Daniel Wu), as he attempts to work his way higher in the drug organization headed by Lin Quin (played by Andy Lau, who, incidentally, was in Infernal Affairs).  Nick’s supervisor wants him to remain undercover long enough to unearth the supplier of the gang in order to take down the entire group.  Nick doesn’t mind; he doesn’t have much else going for him.

He sees the effects of the drugs on his neighbor Jane (Jingchu Zhang), a young woman who has hidden from her husband with her young daughter.  She’s a junkie, blaming her husband for getting her started.  Unfortunately, her daughter Jane-Jane is probably the cutest little girl to grace a movie screen in quite some time.  She is also quite the little actress, provoking a very strong emotional reaction every time her mother’s drug problem cause the small family to go hungry.  This is how Nick first gets involved; Jane asks to borrow some food and proceeds to stuff bread into both of their mouths.  The scene is rather moving as Nick struggles to deal with her problems, keep the kid alive, and still maintain his ruse as an up and coming drug dealer.

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