Corpse Mania (1981)

Corpse Mania [屍妖] (1981)

Starring Wong Yung, Tanny Tien Ni, Yau Chui-Ling, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, Tai Kwan-Tak, Eric Chan Ga-Kei, Lau Siu-Kwan, Gam Biu, Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, Wong Ching-Ho, Fong Ping, Shum Lo, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Very high.


A title like Corpse Mania suggests a pretty high-octane horror film, but this particular Kuei Chih-Hung film has more in common with Hex than it does his maniacal black magic films (Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen). It’d be wrong to call Corpse Mania tame, though. It exists in a sort of middle ground between the two styles, utilizing the look of Hex (swirling fog and moonlit studio streets) and the gross-out horror of the black magic films. Corpse Mania is full of horrific delights, but above all the defining element is that it’s more of a Hong Kong giallo than anything else, building mystery and intrigue as the body count piles up. There’s even a classic Argento “Killer POV” shot!

Corpse Mania begins when Li Zhengyuan (Eric Chan Ga-Kei) moves into an old house with his sickly wife. When they arrive, they only have a single bag of luggage and Li’s wife must be carried inside, raising the suspicions of the neighbors. Li also wears sunglasses and covers his face like the Invisible Man, which definitely doesn’t help the situation. A few days later, a horrible smell emanates from the Li’s home, and when the police investigate they find the body of Li’s wife, naked and covered in mealworms. Upon further detective work, they determine that sexual intercourse had been performed after her death. As disturbing as that is, it is only the beginning of the mystery surrounding Li Zhengyuan!

Continue reading Corpse Mania (1981) →

Stephen reviews: Mononoke (2007)

mononoke_1Mononoke [モノノ怪] (2007)

Starring Takahiro Sakurai, Aiko Hibi, Daisuke Namikawa, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Eiji Takemoto, Fumiko Orikasa, Hikaru Midorikawa, Hiroshi Iwasaki, Houko Kuwashima, Kōzō Shioya, Masashi Hirose, Minoru Inaba, Rie Tanaka, Ryusei Nakao, Seiji Sasaki, Takeshi Aono, Tomokazu Seki, Toshiko Fujita, Wakana Yamazaki, Yasuhiro Takato, Yoko Soumi, Yukana

Directed by Kenji Nakamura


I know you’re not supposed to judge a book (or in this case a TV series) by its cover, but sometimes that’s all you really need. As soon as I laid eyes on the cover art for Mononoke, I knew it was going to be great. My gut refused to believe otherwise. And it’s decisions like this that have made me very trusting of my gut over the years, at least when it comes to anime. My one and only concern was that the cover was not what the actual animation would look like. Thankfully that bizarre, otherworldly art design is exactly what you get on the inside.

Those light shades and faded pastels are a very unusual choice of colors for a horror story. Usually you want some all-obscuring darkness to ratchet up the mystery, but for me that bright color palette was more mysterious than any darkness could ever be. It’s clear right from the start that you are in a completely different world when you watch Mononoke, and you don’t know what you’re going to find. All that was apparent just from the box; all that remained was seeing if the show could actually live up to my foolishly high expectations. And boy did it ever!

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Mononoke (2007) →

Arnold Quick Takes: The Long Goodbye, The Rundown, The Kid & I

longgoodbyeThe Long Goodbye (1973)
onestar

Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Jo Ann Brody, Stephen Coit
Directed by Robert Altman

Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite authors. After many, many years of procrastination, I finally read The Long Goodbye last month. It instantly became one of my favorite books from any author, and it is by far Chandler’s best. To put it bluntly: Robert Altman’s film version is a horrid adaptation of one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yet, this is a film with a fantastic reputation among film buffs! I can only surmise that they haven’t read the book. I understand that Altman’s goal was to subvert the detective genre with The Long Goodbye, but what I find most interesting is that Chandler’s novel does this better in many ways already. Much of the novel’s complexity is completely lost, and while some that is to be expected in any adaptation, it is very clear from the beginning that Altman was never interested in actually adapting Chandler’s novel. He supposedly didn’t even read the whole thing! The style, soul, and substance that made The Long Goodbye such a resonant piece of work are unceremoniously sucked out and replaced with an entirely different, Altman energy. I honestly don’t know that a faithful adaptation of The Long Goodbye could work as a film, but this sole attempt literally gets every aspect of the novel wrong. Even taking my love of Chandler out of the equation, the film itself hardly feels worthy of praise.

Oh yeah, I was watching this because of Arnold’s cameo. Even this was a disappointment! Arnold doesn’t get to say anything, although for what it’s worth, he sports a weird mustache and strips down to his underwear in one of the oddest gangster confrontation moments I’ve ever seen. WTF.  And don’t even get me started on the recurring Long Goodbye theme song… [and then, then I made a noise like this — HHUUUAAHH  HHUUUAAHH  HHHUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHH] I’ll stick with the book, thank you very much.

the_rundownThe Rundown (2003)
twohalfstar

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, William Lucking, Ernie Reyes Jr.
Directed by Peter Berg

The Rundown was the first starring role for The Rock, and he easily proved that he could be a capable leading man. It’s not a great film by any means, but it has an odd charm that most mainstream films, especially ones from this era, don’t have for me. Arnold’s cameo isn’t anything more than the quick line, “Have fun,” but in this single moment during the film’s opening, Arnold effectively passes the bodybuilder-turned-action-hero mantle to The Rock. He’s a perfect fit, too; he’s got the body, the charisma and the acting chops to do very well. And now, 13 years later, he definitely has! But The Rock isn’t Arnold, so The Rundown isn’t the type of movie that Arnold himself could have starred in. The Rock is given a few hand-to-hand fights, and the action choreographer (Andy Cheng) wisely incorporated wrestling takedowns and the like into the choreography to take advantage of The Rock’s special skill set. Capoeira figures largely into the film’s most impressive fight, as well as some excellent wirework. I was honestly taken aback by how much I liked the choreography. It felt very Hong Kong-influenced, so when I discovered that Andy Cheng was a stunt double/member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team for a few years, it all made sense. Overall, the action is pretty good, the comedy not so much, but it was still a lot more fun than I remember it being.

The Kid & I (2005)
threestar

Starring Tom Arnold, Eric Gores, Linda Hamilton, Joe Mantegna, Henry Winkler, Richard Edson, Shannon Elizabeth, Brenda Strong, Arielle Kebbel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gabrielle Sanalitro
Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Kid & I genuinely surprised me. It’s well-written and it boasts a great cast with a bunch of fun cameos (including Shaq and Arnold as themselves). I wasn’t expecting anything, but I was instantly won over by the unexpectedly dark suicide humor that opens the film. What makes the film even more interesting is that it’s a blend of fact and fiction. The film revolves around Tom Arnold writing a vanity project for a billionaire’s kid to star in, and the kid is played by Eric Gores, son to real-life billionaire Alec Gores. The Gores family lives next door to Tom Arnold, so the film serves as both the vanity project AND a sort of documentary peek inside the making of the movie. This kind of thing could have easily gone off the rails, but the cast performs admirably and it is impressively well-directed and edited. I’ve wanted to delve into the work of Penelope Spheeris for a while now, but The Kid & I solidifies that inclination to explore the work of this interesting and varied filmmaker.

Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
threestar

Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren
Directed by David Cronenberg

Naked Lunch is one of those movies that’s hard to classify. I’ve never read the source novel, but from what I understand it was always assumed to be unfilmable. Cronenberg definitely found a way around that, incorporating elements of William S. Burrough’s life into this wild, weird, paranoid tale. It’s something of a horror movie with its gross-out physical FX work, but it’s also nothing like a horror movie. I mean, does a living typewriter that looks like a bug automatically make this into a horror movie? No, I don’t think so, but this movie would be a hard sell to any “normal” audience, that’s for damn sure. If you are intrigued by the creative process or surrealism, Naked Lunch is a must. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s definitely a movie that you won’t be able to shake easily.

MButterfly_1M. Butterfly (1993)
threestar

Starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon, Shizuko Hoshi, Richard McMillan, Vernon Dobtcheff
Directed by David Cronenberg

On the surface M. Butterfly seems like an odd film for David Cronenberg to make, but its themes of sexual politics and identity fit right in with much of his other work. Both of the lead characters, René (Jeremy Irons) and Song Liling (John Lone), are compelling and very well acted, but together I don’t think their relationship is satisfactorily developed. It always felt a bit cold emotionally, but I suppose that’s part of the point of it all, isn’t it? In any case, because of this I didn’t connect with the film as I’d have liked to, but as Cronenberg clearly made the film he wanted to, I’m sure that’s more my fault than his. Shooting the film in China, on back alleys and grand vistas alike, with some truly exceptional lighting, M. Butterfly is one of Cronenberg’s most beautiful films, and that’s saying a lot within his filmography. My personal obsession with China and its culture probably helped, too. A good film that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much.

crash_1Crash (1996)
threestar

Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeill
Directed by David Cronenberg

Speaking of films that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much: Crash. But in this case, I think Crash is a much better film than M. Butterfly. It’s incredibly bold, telling its story almost entirely through car crashes and sex scenes. Surprisingly then, there’s a ton to deconstruct and engage with intellectually while the actors writhe on-screen. This is Cronenberg exercising his visual storytelling abilities to the absolute max, creating a non-traditional, challenging film to stand the test of time. The cars and the taboo sexual desires associated with them in Crash are provocative and integral to the film, but it also feels like they could be replaced with non-offensive, traditional elements to craft a more mainstream pleasing film. But where’s the fun in that? I feel like if I saw Crash a few more times, I’d really come to understand and appreciate it more fully. I can’t say that I liked it, but Cronenberg definitely didn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s probably one of his finest achievements.

Stephen reviews: WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002)

wxiii_patlabor_the_movie_threeWXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 [WX3 機動警察パトレイバー Wasted 13: Kidō Keisatsu Patlabor] (2002)
AKA Patlabor WXIII, Wasted 13: Patlabor the Movie 3

Starring Hiroaki Hirata, Katsuhiko Watabiki, Miina Tominaga

Directed by Fumihiko Takayama


Though Mamoru Oshii has left the scene, the third Patlabor film definitely inherited his influence. And although I wish I could say that it inherited his stylish visuals, oddball sense of humor, or knack for finding unique thematic content, I’m afraid that all this film inherited was his sluggish pacing. It’s clearly trying to imitate Oshii’s distinct flavor, but it learned all of the wrong lessons from him and none of the right ones. It uses a lot of Oshii’s techniques from the earlier Patlabor films, but where Oshii used them for a reason, WXIII only uses them to disguise itself as a Mamoru Oshii film.

The story centers on two police detectives (I’ve already forgotten their names) trying to figure out who or what has been wrecking all the labors, the giant robots of this particular series. One of the guys is young and inexperienced while the other guy is old and grizzled. It turns out that there is a giant monster swimming around out in the bay, and soon the creature graduates from wrecking vehicles to eating people. The investigation turns into a quest to find out where it came from and how to stop it. It has elements of a police procedural, horror film, psychological thriller, buddy cop flick, and just a dash of giant monster action. All this doesn’t mesh so much as it turns into a pile of mush. In its attempts to accommodate all of those things it winds up sabotaging all of them.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: WXIII: Patlabor the Movie 3 (2002) →

Marlowe (1969)

marlowe_5Starring James Garner, Gayle Hunnicutt, Carroll O’Connor, Rita Moreno, Sharon Farrell, William Daniels, H.M. Wynant, Jackie Coogan, Kenneth Tobey, Bruce Lee, Christopher Cary, George Tyne, Corinne Camacho, Paul Stevens, Roger Newman

Directed by Paul Bogart

Expectations: Low.

twostar


It’s never a great idea to watch the movie version of a book right after you read it, but yet I can never help myself from doing just that. Like almost every other Raymond Chandler adaptation, Marlowe misses the mark by quite a bit. It’s a shame, too, as I think they really could have had something good here if they didn’t inject a bunch of corny bullshit into the novel’s tight plotting. At the broad level, though, the film is a pretty fair and faithful adaptation of The Little Sister‘s plot. It hits many of the novel’s events in basically the same way, even making use of many lines of Chandler’s dialogue. But while it may bring most of the plot to life, it does so without a single shred of the novel’s tone, an offense far worse than changing a plot point or adding something corny.

One of the finest aspects of The Little Sister is how beaten and downtrodden Marlowe has become. It was the fifth Marlowe novel, and over the course of the novels his character becomes more disillusioned with Los Angeles and the shit he’s always dealing with. Marlowe in The Little Sister is the same witty, sharp detective he always was, but instead of being a leg up, he’s almost always playing catch-up. Unfortunately, Marlowe doesn’t attempt to replicate any of this version of Marlowe, instead giving him a cocky smile, a happy relationship with a girlfriend(!!!), and a swanky jazz score whenever he does something “cool.”

Continue reading Marlowe (1969) →

Oldboy (2003)

oldboy_6Oldboy [올드보이] (2003)

Starring Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jung, Ji Dae-han, Kim Byeong-ok, Oh Tae-kyung, Yoo Yeon-seok, Woo Il-han, Yoon Jin-seo, Oh Dal-su

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


I know I’m late to the party, but Oldboy is incredible, y’all. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read another word. I’m going to stay away from spoilers, but still… watch the film knowing as little as possible about it. I managed to avoid virtually all spoilers (except for knowing the vague circumstances of a specific scene), and it served me very well. Oldboy is first and foremost a mystery film, so a good portion of the joy derived from watching it is in trying to piece together what’s going on and why.

Oldboy begins on a rooftop. A man with long, crazy hair holds onto the tie of another man who is hanging over the edge of the roof and clutching a white dog. The first man tells the other that he wants to tell him his story and the film begins in earnest. We meet the long-haired man when he was somewhat younger, and he is drunk out of his mind. He is loud-mouthed, garrulous and uncaring for those around him. As with any story that begins in the future and flashes back, we are compelled to wonder how this man became the man we met on the rooftop.

Continue reading Oldboy (2003) →

Page 1 of 4123...Last »




Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 71 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages