Thursday, October 26, 2006

Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan

Since I wrote about Logan's Run earlier this month I might as well write about another favorite sci-fi film I love. I'm really into '70s/'80s sci-fi--the period right before CGI took over--and I'm an admitted lifelong Star Trek fan (there's no shame in it!). Like a lot of people, my two favorite films in the Star Trek series are parts 2 and 3 (The Search for Spock). It's been awhile since I've seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and it still warms the cockles of my Federation lovin' heart.

There are a lot of reasons to love this film. There’s a great villain in Ricardo Mantalbon as the genetic superhuman Khan. What makes this villain resonate is he’s a character from the TV show that wants revenge on Kirk, who sent him into exile on a barren planet years earlier. Mantalbon, the one time Fantasy Island actor, is wonderful as the bad guy. He hams it up in his beefed up rubber muscle suit in very entertaining ways.

Wrath of Khan is so great because it has a suspenseful revenge element that blends in bits of humor and great action as Admiral Kirk returns to the spot he loves: the helm of the Enterprise. Khan wants to get his hands on the Genesis Project (a technology that creates livable planets on ones that were not livable in the span of a few days) to start again on a newly invigorated planet but he wants to kill Kirk even more. Revenge is a disease in Khan's mind and he can't control it until he either kills Kirk or dies trying, it's good stuff people.

I'm a Spock man myself and would have liked to see more of the genius Vulcan and much less of the always annoying Kirstie Alley (who was seriously miscast as a Vulcan--she doesn't deserve to step on board the Enterprise!). No way did I believe for a second that she's a Vulcan. Come on!

I need to re-watch all the Star Trek films now after watching this. Except maybe Star Trek V, the crap one Shatner directed, I’ll pass on that mess. The word is, JJ Abrams is directing the new Star Trek film and it’s going to be about Kirk and Spock at Starfleet Academy. I’m excited at the thought of such a movie. Don't even try to tell me Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan isn't good and remember, live long and prosper.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I like my zombie movies to be chock full of gore and tension. If it doesn't have those two things it better be funny. The best zombie movies can have all three of those elements that work together. The Hong Kong film Bio-Zombie (1998) is kind of low on the tension and the gore but it’s still fun because of the humor on display.

Bio-Zombie is definitely a tribute to American zombie films as we get a couple of video store slacker clerks who work in a mall who accidentally unleash a biological weapon that turns people into zombies if they drink it. Naturally, the mall is soon running over with the undead and the pair plus their fellow mall workers have to fight for their lives.

Bio-Zombie’s gore is pretty lackluster. So is the tension level as this is more of a horror-comedy than something that is either going to scare you or gross you out. Bio-Zombie uses some of the usual Hong Kong comedy stylings—lots of physical comedy, broad, over the top acting, and general silliness by all the characters. I like that kind of stuff, so I found myself chuckling quite a bit as these people fought off these zombies.

Bio-Zombie is a fun little film from Hong Kong (with terrible subtitles by the way, which kind of adds to its charms) that takes the simple premise of “zombies” and runs it through the Hong Kong comedy blender. Expect to laugh a little but not be scared or disgusted by the low-gore levels.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I know, I know, I’d trashed remakes and sworn them off when writing about Logan’s Run and I go out and watch a remake. I was at a friend’s and choices were few. And what a mistake it was as Poseidon (2006) has to be the worst piece of garbage I’ve watched all year. I can’t imagine how a film could be worse—that’s how bad this embarrassingly overdone, empty and lifeless film is.

At least I had the satisfaction of knowing that Poseidon was a complete bomb at the box-office when it came out over the summer. Not that that will change the mentality to make another one as it’s failure will be blamed on poor marketing tie ins rather than the fact it’s an awful bit of moviemaking across the board.

Coming next to the multiplex near you: Inferno, which is of course the remake or Towering Inferno. Or, better yet, Airport ’07, which will be an extension of the other ‘70s “Airport” films. You have to love the current state of Hollywood for putting this kind of junk out time after time after time.

The only redeeming element of Poseidon is that SD and I just sat there and ragged on the silly dialogue, the over the top dramatics and the lack of tension. That was kind of fun. The Poseidon Adventure, which came out in 1972 looks like one of the great films of all time compared to this shite and it’s not really even a good movie!

Avoid Poseidon with all your strength and courage. I’m going to swear off remakes (again) and this time I’m going to up my resolve and make my pledge stick. Why wouldn’t I, when they (film studios) try to make me suffer through films such as Poseidon and their ilk. No thank you.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Borat will soon be here

Less than a month until Borat arrives in theatres! Borat! Borat! Borat!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Logan's Run

Since I reviewed Planet of the Apes yesterday to combat any perceived film snobbery, I might as well talk some about another sci-fi tale from my youth that I really enjoyed. Sure, Logan’s Run (1976) is a bit dated but the ultra-futuristic setting in the 23rd century completely blew me away as a kid and I still love this movie. One reason the Logan’s Run is dear to me as it was an early foray for me into the fantastical world of science fiction films.

The sad thing about Logan’s Run is they are in the midst of a remake (how many times do I have to write it--Hollywood is so out of ideas now they’ll redo anything, from cheesy TV show--C.H.I.P.S. anyone?--to cult films from the '70s like Race With the Devil, or yes, Logan's Run). It makes me sick to think about how they are going to CGI it up like there’s no tomorrow and ruin it of the b-movie fun that this 1976 version has. In a way, it was remade in The Island, a crap Michael Bay film from 2005 that stole all kinds of ideas from Logan’s Run.

I love the first hour or so of Logan’s Run as we see a futuristic utopian pleasure world that is inhabited by those 30 and under. Every person who lives in this society is beautiful. When a person turns 30, time is up and a crystal installed in their palms begins to blink. When the blinking starts, you have two choices: you turn yourself in or become a runner. Runners are chased down by men known as Sandman who look at it as if sport, to hunt a runner down and kill them. I love it!

Michael York plays Logan 5, a sandman who begins to see his world in new light after he meets Jessica 6 (played by the sexy as hell Jenny Agutter--American Werewolf in London, Walkabout). Faced with this choice, the pair go on a “run” that leads them outside this sealed world and an eye-opening discovery.

I admit, the last part of Logan's Run becomes kind of silly and drags itself down, but as I said, the first of it does a good job of trying to create a future, utopian city. And the fact it is done without all the computers that are used nowadays, with lots of miniature work and other tricks, make it way more visually interesting to me despite its age. Logan’s Run may not look as “real,” but I prefer the futuristic design efforts in this instead of a generic, computer drenched film released now.

I love not only Logan’s Run, the movie but check out that poster! Now that is some great ‘70s science fiction design right there. Fits the film its promoting perfectly. In fact, I need to find me a Logan’s Run t-shirt or something to really let my nerd out.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Planet of the Apes

To combat the fact that I’ve reviewed a lot of foreign films and docs recently, I want to do a couple of genre pictures that I love so y’all won’t think I’m a “film snob”. Actually, calling me a film snob is one of the worst insults you could deliver. I like it all, as long as it’s good.

I love genre pictures and The Planet of the Apes (1968) has one of my favorite premises in movie history: a world run by apes, where humans are the animals who reside in zoos, cages or live in the wild, trying to avoid being captured. That’s genius, folks, pure genius.

The idea of 'apes as humans' is so engrossing to me that I can ignore the couple of dated moments or the overacting by Charlton Heston ("Get your stinkin' paws off me you damn dirty ape!"). Those elements actually add to the film’s overall charm.

Set late in the 38th century, Heston plays Taylor, one of three astronauts who crash onto an unknown planet. The men begin to look for other forms of life and when they find it, aren't they surprised when a bunch of apes ride up on horses carrying and shooting off rifles in their direction? Taylor gets a confused, stunned, what the hell is goin' on look on his face when the apes start to speak to one another. Friggin’ genius!

Planet of the Apes is a real classic of the period, when science fiction meant ideas, unlike today, where effects are at the forefront of any sci-fi movie. Planet of the Apes can mean a lot of things and makes statements on evolution, race relations, science and the role of man/ape, oppression and class. Or, it can just be an entertaining yarn about apes controlling man in the future.

Co-scripted by Twilight Zone's Rod Serling, the film has his earmarks all over it, as it is full of his paranoid vision from the get-go. The DVD has all the trailers from future ape films and boy do they get cheesy, so unworthy of following this first film. So ignore the films that followed and just think how great the first one is.

I have a very fond memory from my youth connected to the Ape films. I was 11 or 12 and sick, home from school. At around 10 in the morning the TV began an all day ape festival with all the films from the series. I lost myself for the next dozen or so hours in a haze combining my illness and the ape universe. I so loved these films that day I was happy to be ill. Decades later, I still love Planet of the Apes.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Rebels of the Neon God

I love Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang. He’s one of my favorite directors and he has such a unique and beautiful vision of the world. His films are a running collection of the same themes—urban isolation, loneliness, love, and the power of the mundane daily existence. Tsai’s style is deceptively simple as he often barely moves the camera or delivers unbelievably long takes on his non-action. His films are always beautifully shot and at times resemble paintings or vibrant photographs.

Unfortunately, living in Oklahoma means I’ve missed his most recent films—I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone and The Wayward Cloud—but I recommend these two I saw in 2001 while living in New York and Goodbye, Dragon Inn and What Time Is It There? as must see Tsai.

First up, Rebels of the Neon God from 1992. Tsai’s first feature is a brooding rumination on the lonely wanderings of lost youth during the night in Taipei.

Rebels of the Neon God uses little dialogue (a Tsai trait) and has damaged, lonely teens that drench Taipei with neon lights, seedy wet streets, back alleys, kids on motorcycles, love hotels and video game parlors.

Ah Tze lives with his brother in squalor in an apartment that has serious problems with drainage as water seeps up and covers the floor with an inch or two of water. Ah Tze and his pal Ah Ping sleep days and at night commit petty robberies, such as stealing from phone boxes so they can play video games all night.

Hsiao Kang (Lee Kang-Sheng, who is in all of Tsai's films and is kind of his screen alter ego) is silently drifting through life. Not into school, at odds with his taxi driving father and his mother thinks he's the reincarnated, mischievous god Nezha (which produces a very funny scene with Hsiao Kang pretending to be possessed). Hsiao Kang begins to follow Ah Tze around during the night and trouble may ensue.

I like Tsai's style, as he will linger on a shot or scene much longer than usual in films today. Sometimes there are these long takes where hardly anything at all is even going on, just a person sitting smoking or wandering around Taipei streets minute after minute. Tsai’s willingness to hold the camera on these mundane aspects so fearlessly allows him to really carve into the void of these empty young people's lives.

Rebels of the Neon God is not only good and unique, it is a great beginning place to discover the world of Tsai Ming-Liang.

The Hole

Next up, The Hole from 1998. This movie was a part of the series from France that had various filmmakers doing stories on what year 2000 might be like. Tsai's 21st century Taipei has a monsoon of a rainstorm (he has a thing about severe rain and water in apartments as leaks are a common theme).

The rain is so relentless most of the city has been evacuated except for a man (the ever present Tsai regular Lee Kang-Sheng) who lives above a woman (Yang Kuei-Mei) in a dingy, faceless, leaking apartment building. Due to the incessant rainstorm leaks create a hole in the middle of their floor/ceiling and the pair become acquainted whether they wanted to or not because of the hole.

This is a strange and interesting little film that mostly takes place without dialogue and in these two crappy apartments. Most surprisingly, and kind of bizarrely, the woman breaks into these musical song and dance numbers all over the apartment building! She sings and dances in the elevator, the halls, stairwells and all in colorful dresses to the music of Grace Chang from the '50s.

These fantasy musical numbers have color that is bright and eye catching when the rest of the film is shot kind of drab and grey. Toss in the epidemic of "Taipei Fever", an illness that makes people think they are cockroaches and causes them burrow into closets or other lightless areas and you see what I mean when I say there are some interesting story elements in The Hole.

The Hole is all at once an odd, end of the world drama, a romance, a musical that equates to another wonderful movie from one of the world’s most unique cinematic voices—Tsai Ming-Liang.

Monday, October 02, 2006


With the German film Head-On (2004), writer/director Fatih Akin has fashioned a film that is powerful, intense, gloomy, romantic and drowning in the kind of despair that you only get to witness in movies from another country. Head-On is just so unrelenting in its bleak outlook on life that there is no way in the world it would have been made by Hollywood.

Head-On is a great movie and all, but I wonder sometimes why I subject myself to such heavy, unrelenting stories when I could just be watching The Guardian like all the other multiplex loving drones. The answer: deep down (well not that deep as this is a surface love) I love film and the experience of cinema and I don’t care if it’s fun and laughs or tears and anguish that is on display. If a movie is good—I want to see it.

Sometimes film is a raw, painful and harsh experience that doesn’t uplift you in the end. Real life doesn’t always have happy endings. Films like Head-On make me realize just how sugarcoated the entire Hollywood mentality is. I don't need happy endings or sugary romances all the time, I do need good movies.

Head-On is a romance as two people come together in Hamburg and go on a swirling, out of control relationship that is doomed from the moment the pair meet in a mental hospital after both attempt to kill themselves. You’d think that a couple meeting after committing suicide would have nothing left but good times ahead of them, right? Yeah, sure.

Sibel is a beautiful young Turkish woman who is so desperate to get out of her stifling, conservative family she begs Cahit to marry her despite the fact he’s twice her age and basically a step above bumland. Cahit is Turkish and that will please her family. Sibel wants to go out and have sex with lots of guys, do drugs and live it up while pretending to be married. Cahit is drunkenly buried in the grief of his wife dying. It’s a match made in heaven afterall as Sabil convinces Cahit of marriage after she sticks a shard of broken glass into her veins. Didn’t I say this was a romance?

Head-On does not flinch. Not once. It swims in so much despair from beginning to end that I felt a wave of gloom weighing me down when it ended. There are moments when you feel hope in your heart for these two lost people but Akin doesn’t want to make that kind of film. Head-On will stick to you for days after you have seen it—can a film like The Guardian say the same?

is one of the saddest, most depressing films I’ve seen all year, but it’s also one of the best, as I admire a film that is brave enough to look despair in the face and not look away.