Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Retro Review: The YAD Archives (Part One)

 Greetings, readers. I was considering what I wanted to take a look at from yesteryear, and while I was looking at some old files, the Cap'n found a series of reviews from You're All Doomed magazine, an online publication I was involved in with several friends (and periodic guest bloggers here). While YAD wasn't built for the long haul, I was quite surprised how many reviews of films we posted. Many of them never made their way to my old "From the Vaults" column (the one Retro Reviews replaced), so I thought it might be fun to share some of them over the next few weeks.

 Here's a bit of a disclaimer: these reviews are from six or seven years ago, and they represent an embryonic form of Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium Reviews. I'm going to present them "as is", even if it makes me shudder a little bit. I'd like to hope that my writing has improved since then, but here are some movies from half a decade ago that haven't been covered.

 Other disclaimer: So I don't necessarily agree with the Garden State review anymore, but that's okay. We grow apart from movies sometimes.


This month:
A Very Long Engagement
Garden State on DVD
We Don't Live Here Anymore
The Forgotten on DVD
Blade Trinity
Flesh Eaters from Outer Space/Invasion for Flesh and Blood Double Feature

A Very Long Engagement
3.5 Stars

Fans of Jean Pierre Jeneut need not worry, A Very Long Engagement is indeed another step forward in his filmography; in fact, those most likely to be disappointed will expect to see something very much like Amelie. They wouldn't be wrong to assume so; after all, Jeneut places Audrey Tatou front and center, and the ads (what little there are) don't to much to explain what this movie is about, and you could easily assume A Very Long Engagement is another love story. Which it is, just in a very different way.

For those of you who have no idea what the plot is, it goes something like this:

5 French soldiers a condemned to death for self-mutilation during World War I. Instead of being executed, the military leaves them in a no-man's zone between French and German trenches to fend for themselves (i.e. face certain death) Audrey Tatou is the bride to be of one of these soldiers, and the bulk of the film is dedicated to her search into what happened to the doomed five.

While love is the glue holding this movie together, Engagement is more of a detective film, slowly piecing together the story of what happened to each man, how their loved ones react to it, and whether any of them survived.

Jeneut throws every trick in his arsenal at us during the film; for starters, since the film takes places in 1920, the film stock is deliberately tinted and scratched,  and much of the framing in wide shots resembles films of the teens and twenties. We're introduced to each of the soldiers and the hilarious (and gruesome) each one commits self mutilation before we know where the movie's going, and I suspect much of how things play out are set up in the opening moments. He also replicates newsreel footage to help with transitions and manipulates the soundtrack to sound scratchy and worn out.

Jeneut also seems to have found his acting counterpart in Tatou; he films her in such a way that you can't help but want her to succeed (to make her even more endearing, the choice was made for her to have polio and walk with a limp) I'd be surprised if we don't see them working together down the line.

Tatou is wonderful playing a very different woman than Amelie Poulain; Mathilde is a girl that's lost almost everything, and her persistence on using coincidences to reaffirm suspicions are used to great effect. Dominique Pinion turns in another touching supporting role as her Uncle, and Jodie Foster (!) speaks better french than I'd imagined. Despite the name appearance, Foster isn't American stunt casting; her role is actually a crucial part of the mystery.

If anything, I had trouble with the ending. Not how it ends, but more how quickly it ends. Don't get me wrong, the movie's a little more than two hours long, but the actual denoument comes about 2 minutes before the credits roll. We find out what happens, and suddenly the movie ends. Otherwise, A Very Long Engagement is fine entertainment for fans of the director.

Garden State
4.5 Stars

If there's one problem with Garden State, it's that the movie is too easy to love. This, understandably, is a minor problem, but waiting a few days between watching it and writing this tone my love of the film considerably.

Don't get it twisted, this is a great movie. Zach Braff put together something truly magic here: We're not just talking Wes Anderson's The Graduate (which, incidentally, is Rushmore), but at the same time, comparisons to Anderson are well made. Braff has a great eye of frame composition. Every shot is full of eye catching detail. And he's got a natural chemistry that makes him easy to relate to.

Admittedly, this isn't the most original idea for a movie, but you really don't mind seeing a movie about finding yourself and true love in the midst of tragedy because of how magnetic the cast is. Along with Braff, Ian Holm brings a subdued, nervous performance of a man who just doesn't understand his son, the always reliable Peter Sarsgard plays the affable loser that wants nothing more to smooth things over so well you tend to forget just how good he is at it. Then there's the revelation: Natalie Portman. I'd been so used to seeing her go half-assed in Star Wars that I forgot that this was the same Natalie Portman that blew everyone away in Leon. She's a force of nature in Garden State, but it's a testament to her talent that she never takes it over the top. This is the type of character that'd tempt some to go way past believable, but you never feel like she isn't a real person (even if that real person is a chronic liar who suffers from siezures. Speaking of which, kudos to Braff for avoiding the easy dramatic device of the free spirit heroine being dragged back to earth with a tragic seizure scene)

Garden State works because everyone involved wants it to, and where most movies would drag or take the easy route, things work so very well because we're invested in the characters.

* I should take a moment to talk about the music. My friend scoffed at my interest in Garden State, calling it "an advertisment for how awesome indie rock is" which, from the tv ads for the soundtrack, isn't that far off base. However, the movie, despite using indie rock as an almost excluse soundtrack, only directly draws attention to the music once. I think it's not as obtrusive as some might expect it to be (think of it as a more subdued version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Graduate" soundtrack)

We Don't Live Here Anymore
4 Stars

I'll keep this short, because the glee in this film is not from the story (which is, in essence about two couples cheating on each other with, well, each other) but the top notch performances from the four leads: Laura Dern, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause, and Naomi Watts. This is the kind of movie where the fun is watching four great actors work off of each other, and becoming invested in them. From the short stories of Andre Dubus (In the Bedroom, The House of Sand and Fog). Why this movie came and went I'll never know, but it's most definitely worth tracking down on dvd or video.

The Forgotten (with and without alternate ending)
1 Star

The Forgotten is a movie with nothing worth watching in it. The ads did nothing for me until the VERY end of the trailer, when we see Oz's Lee Tergerson sucked into the sky. along with the cabin around him. That's it. And I should've known that in itself couldn't sustain the movie. Because, guess what folks, this is a twist movie without the twist. What happens is exactly what you'd expect seeing someone sucked into space without any good reason. Fuck it, *SPOILER*, The Forgotten is an ALIEN ABDUCTION MOVIE. And a terrible one at that. The mystery might've been interesting if the payoff wasn't so fucking stupid. No, that's not true, because it's pretty clear about 25 minutes in where this movie is going, and things just get more and more preposterous, with plot holes a mile wide by the time we get to the end.

Oh yeah, the ENDING. The chief differences in the two endings offered on the dvd boil down to this: One has Julianne Moore taking her empowerment back from the alien, the other has him give her the child back. The difference is literally whether she's on the ground or standing up when he loses. (Yes, the means by which she discovers her son are slightly different, but the alternate version is so inept I'll spare you the details) Either way, same stupid happy ending closes the film, implausible though it may be.

If you're wondering, the movie got 1 star for Julianne Moore, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodard, and Lee Tergeson, who really should've known better. Shame on this fucking movie. Suck!

Speaking of Suck:


I promise. There isn't a movie that could come of during the rest of 2005 that was so blatantly stupid. I'm aghast how something this retarded was commited to film. I mean, David Goyer wrote Blade. He wrote Blade 2. Shit, he wrote Dark City. And you're telling me not only did he write Blade Trinity, he DIRECTED it too? This floating turd? Oh, where to start....

Let's start it this way: in the first couple of minutes, Parker Posey's Vampire Skank gives the Sun the middle finger (seriously) right before they resurrect Dracula (oh, wait, pardon me, DRAKE). Or maybe we could talk about Triple H's mind blowing line delivery of "How the fuck do you know how big my dick is?" Or Ryan Reynolds taking EVERY joke too far. For example:

Parker Posey: Where's the tracking chip?
Ryan Reynolds: In my right buttcheek.
(Triple H punches Ryan Reynolds)
RR: Okay, It's in my left buttcheek.
(Triple H hits him again)
RR: All right. Seriously. It's in the meat of my ass.
PP: Stop it!

Now, I'm not certain of this, but I'm guessing the "stop it" wasn't in the script. I hope the rest of it wasn't, but considering how utterly dopey Blade Trinity is, nothing's certain. This is a movie that takes the Reapers (remember that? The strain of vampires that nearly killed everyone in Blade 2?) and reduces it to Vampire Pomeranians. Seriously. A movie where Dracula goes to a vampire themed store and kills some goth kids. That's it. He just goes in and kills them. It has nothing to do with the plot. How about a blind woman who creates 3D models on her computer? When Wesley Snipes is the least stupid thing about the movie, you know you're in trouble.

Oh yeah, I guess Jessica Biel kicked some ass. You sort of forget about her (unless you're my roommate, but that's another story entirely).

Now, allow me to explain why I'm giving Blade Trinity 4 stars, when The Forgotten only got one.

Blade Trinity is one of "those" movies. The kind of movie that kept MST3K on the air for 10 seasons. You shouldn't see this movie alone. You'll curse my name if you do. But if you get properly ripped on cheap liquior and drive to the $2 theater for a late showing, Blade Trinity will be the funniest shit you've seen in years.

oh, and speaking of which:

I've been using Netflix to rent pretty much any movie I read a dvd review of (courtesy of DVD FILE, DVD JOURNAL or DVD TALK), and the Warren F. Disbrow double feature of "Flesh Eaters from Outer Space" and "Invasion for Flesh and Blood" was so great I went out and bought the fucker. And I promise, a better $11.99 won't be spent on two movies.

These little gems were made in 1988 and 1992. In New Jersey. And the coup de gras, on HOME VIDEO. That's right, Camcorder horror movies. I know, I know, you've been burned before. Camcorder movies always suck. Not so, my friends.

These movies (which, according to the credits are actually called A Taste for Flesh and Blood 1 and 2) make Splatter University look like the crap it is. True, the acting isn't much less inept in these doozies, but there's something endearing about the scope of these no budget chucklers. We're talking about a movie that starts in Space! (Well, a cut out of a space ship over Earth, and a space shuttle on a black rod) And Disbrow never wimps out on excessive gore (the movies have a running joke about a guy getting his dick ripped off) and every other possible cliche you could hit in 90 minutes. The first movie is just kind of stupid, but the lameness keeps you entertained until it's over. The sequel, however, eschews coherence for comedy and sci-fi geekery that only exists in the basement next to a D&D set. There's a sub-plot about two losers driving around town trying to film naked girls for $10,000 apiece. Really, and it's complete with goofy synth music that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The biggest star in either movie is the Director's Father (also the BEST ACTOR in either movie) Oh wait, I forgot that Marilyn "37" Gighliotti has a cameo in the second movie. The box proudly proclaims "CLERKS MARILYN GIGHLIOTTI", but I promise, Disbrow's father is second only to the monster in reasons to watch this shit. This is the kind of movie to kick back a few brewskis with and laugh your sorry ass off. Oh hell yeah.

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