Category Archives: 3.5 stars

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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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): United States – directed by Tobe Hooper

Rated R by the MPAA – contains terror, violence, some language, disturbing content

There have been a few horror movies that have caused a paradigm shift in popular culture’s consumption and attitudes toward horror films.  There were the early monster horror films, primarily courtesy of Universal, in the early 1930’s.  There was science fiction horror in the 1950’s.  Then, in 1960 there was Psycho, and a few other of Alfred Hitchcock’s self-proclaimed “healthy” horror shakeups.  In 1968 Night of the Living Dead [review here] terrified a new generation of youngsters hoping for a sci-fi monster movie.  In 1974 the genre became even more adult with the appearance of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

No film had yet had such an impact on the national psyche.  This was before Cannibal Holocaust caused people to believe the primary cast had been murdered during filming.  This was before The Blair Witch Project had audiences thinking it really was footage found in the woods.  This was a story so terrifying that it absolutely had to be based on a true story (even if it was a loose composite, in reality).  This was a story told in a way that would scar generations of movie-goers, and one that will continue to have an impact despite a low body count and a shocking lack of blood.

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Machete (2010): United States – directed Ethan Maniquis and Robert Rodriguez

Rated R by the MPAA – contains nudity, drug use, language, racism, sexual content, extreme violence, gore

Machete is precisely what Grindhouse should have been back in 2007: an homage to a simpler time, when movies had fewer production values, more blood, insane action, outrageous plots, and more nudity.  The movie starts with a bang and a slash and continues strongly to an even more ridiculous climactic battle, and all of it is tied together with a strong, silent performance from Danny Trejo.

Trejo plays Machete, a Federale who got caught up in the wrong drug war.  Three years ago the evil drug lord Torrez (Steven Segal) brutally murdered his wife.  Machete survived and eventually found his way north of the border.  Here he works as a day laborer until the day a sharply dressed man named Booth (Jeff Fahey) watches him dispatch another immigrant in a fight without even raising a fist.

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Cropsey (2009): United States – directed by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some language, disturbing content, discussions about violence

Cropsey is decidedly a documentary, and does not veer into the territory recently inhabited by The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity [review here].  It is all true, or at least the footage does not purport to be something it is not.  This is refreshing, and provides for a much more effective and affecting film.

The subject matter is interesting; is there a smattering of truth in the urban legends a child might hear while growing up?  Directors Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, growing up on Staten Island, had heard stories of a sinister person who inhabited the grounds surrounding an abandoned mental institution.  If kids entered the woods they might be targets of this killer named Cropsey.

At one point in the mid 1980’s this became a reality, when a young girl named Jennifer Schweiger disappeared.  A massive effort was launched to find her or her body after police efforts proved fruitless.  It was then revealed that there had been other children who had gone missing.  Their cases just hadn’t been so publicized.

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Mondo Cane

Mondo Cane (1962): Italy – directed by Paolo Cavara, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Franco Prosperi

Not rated by the MPAA – contains real-life violence, “scientific” sexual content, animal violence, and some disturbing material

Mondo Cane was, I believe, the first of the mondo documentaries.  They were generally produced like the travelogues of the earlier years of cinema, but focused on shocking locations and peoples and cultures.  Some of the films were much reviled upon release, and probably with good reason.  Mondo Cane is, when viewed with mature eyes, actually a fascinating and enlightening film.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a great deal of shocking behavior and customs exhibited in the film.  Rather, the footage is almost always engaging and the technique with which it is presented is remarkably effective.  The narrative, which attempts to make grand comments on life around the globe, is best viewed from a skeptical perspective: very few of the scenes are as truthful as the narrative would imply.

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Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991): Hong Kong/Japan – directed by Ngai Kai Lam

Not rated by the MPAA – contains extreme and ridiculous violence and gore, and some drug content

Note: This review contains some descriptions of violent content, and a picture that might offend those not expecting cartoonish, ridiculous violence.

Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is one of the most amazing movies ever committed to celluloid.  It is nearly inconceivable that it was ever made, and a pure joy to watch if one is blessed with the right mindset.  It must be understood that Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is not a good movie.  It is not a work of great art, or hardly any art, for that matter.  In some ways it is a wretched film, truly awful; the joy lies in that it appears its creators were taking it seriously, as is the case with Troll 2 [review here].

The story is a little bit silly, the gore effects are absurdly violent, and the acting and technical skills are lacking.  However, despite its shortcomings (all of which add to the true charm of the film) Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky is, at its core, the story of a very strong Jesus-figure.

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The Fountain

The Fountain (2006): United States – directed by Darren Aronofsky

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains violence, mature themes, very brief nudity, and a little sexual content

Darren Aronofsky is one of this generation’s most interesting contemporary directors, one whose most outrageous and daring projects are interesting even when they don’t entirely succeed.  Starting with Pi in 1998 he made a name for himself, following that up with the best film of the past 10 years, Requiem for a Dream [writeup here].  It took six more years for The Fountain to see the light of day, thanks to a variety of production issues, but only two years after that he gave the world The Wrestler, itself a fantastic movie.

The Fountain is not Aronofsky’s best-received film, with some saying that it was a failure, but an interesting one.  I don’t believe it is a failure at all, just a film with more outstanding flaws than one might expect from Aronofsky.  Some may say it’s pretentious and hollow, and this criticism, while more to the point, is also not entirely accurate.

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Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 (2010): United States – directed by Lee Unkrich

Rated G by the MPAA – contains some action

Pixar hasn’t fooled around much with sequels, outside of Toy Story 2 [review here].  And why should they, with so many unique and original ideas?  But there was a story lingering after the second Toy Story movie, one aimed at those who were children when Toy Story [review here] was first released.  As the audience grew, so did Andy (John Morris).

In Toy Story 3 Andy is about to head off to college.  He is now a young man, responsible and caring, even if his younger sister still bugs him and his mom embarrasses him at times.  He’s faced with a difficult decision; does he pack up and store all the toys he used to enjoy, or take them off to college with him?  Or does he merely throw them all away?

Thanks to a misunderstanding the toys get mixed up, with the majority of them being donated to a daycare center.  Here they are warmly greeted,  especially Barbie (Jodi Benson), by Ken (Michael Keaton) and the leader of the Sunnyside Daycare toys, Lotso (Ned Beatty).  But not everything is as hunky dory as it seems and the toys are soon relegated to the preschoolers, where they are  constantly drooled on and torn apart.  All of them except Woody (Tom Hanks), who ended up in Andy’s college packing.

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Micmacs (2009): France – directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violent content, some language, and some sexual content and partial nudity

Jean-Pierre Jeunet hasn’t done a great deal since his masterpiece Amélie [review here] in 2001.  There was A Very Long Engagement in 2004, but that was a bit of a departure in tone; more serious and romantic than whimsical and fantastic.  Now, with Micmacs, Jeunet is back to his old form, proving once again that his attention to detail and visual aesthetic have virtually no peers in cinema today.

Before the opening credits a man dies courtesy of a landmine.  He’s a Frenchman, surveying some ground that has been littered with deadly ordinance.  His family takes the news rather badly, but these somber scenes are filled with Jeunet’s touch of the absurd and the morbidly skewed, reminiscent of Amélie’s suicidal goldfish.

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Best Worst Movie

Best Worst Movie (2009): United States – directed by Michael Stephenson

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some strong language

Some years after the release of Troll 2 [review here], correctly regarded as one of the worst films ever crafted, some of the cast started hearing reports that the film had become popular in certain circles.  After years of hiding the film on their resumes (who, after all, would be willing to hire anyone who appeared in Troll 2?), some members of the cast eventually started to come to terms with the idea that their movie might have found an audience.

Best Worst Movie is the story of Michael Stephenson, who played young Josh in Troll 2.  He has grown up now, and embarks on a personal quest to rediscover the old cast and learn why a new generation of people have fallen in love with his wretched film.  The star of Best Worst Movie is George Hardy, who played Josh’s father in the film.  George is, and was even before the film, a dentist in a small Alabama town.  A gregarious figure, he is well-known around town and well-liked.  He starts receiving calls from fan clubs to appear at their annual screenings of Troll 2.  He soon learns that there is an underground circuit of Troll 2 screenings, and their popularity is growing.

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