Review: The Ring (USA 2002)

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Finally watched the American remake after all these years and … not overly impressed. I’ve had people argue to me that it’s better than the original but I don’t see it. Seemed largely an adequate copy with some minor cultural changes, except the remake was weaker in two very important regards. First, the film shows way too much of Sadako/Samara, weakening the impact of the final attack (the scene that MAKES this film and franchise). Second, the finale is left non-specific in a way that weakens the horror of what the protagonists will have to do to survive.

Am I missing something? What is it in this that folks see as better than the Nakata original (not being facetious, genuinely curious)?

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Review: Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 (Japan 1968)

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Part 2 of the Goro saga moves to Tohoku, and gives us snow instead of city for a while. Tetsuya Watari is back as honorable (now former) gangster Goro – he tries to get out but they keep pulling him back in! – and Chieko Matsubara returns as his long-suffering love interest, but now we get Hideaki Nitani in his usual role as “brother on the wrong side” and my favorite Nikkatsu sleazebag Kunie Tanaka as a frenemy who has beef with Goro (well, maybe second favorite sleazebag, I do love Nobuo Kaneko).

Formulaic but fun, with a nicely edited confrontation/dance sequence featuring everybody’s beloved Meiko Kaji, and continuing the series’ portrayal of train stations as horrific death traps.

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Review: Judex (France 1963)

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Georges Franju’s tribute to the silent serials of Louis Feuillade. Franju takes a different path than Olivier Assayas, whose tribute to Les Vampires, Irma Vep, recontextualized the action into a meta-tribute to Feuillade and Maggie Cheung. Rather Franju does something more akin to Noboru Iguchi‘s take on Karate-Robo Zaborgar – condensing the material into feature length while playing up its inherent absurdity with a loving touch. Perhaps an even better point of comparison would be De Laurentiis’s Flash Gordon.

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Review: The Beach Bum (USA 2019)

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Why do I keep watching Harmony Korine movies? I hate Harmony Korine movies. I can only imagine the pitch on this one: “Spring Breakers, but with old people!”

I spent the whole first half of this movie thinking these people are total degenerates, but mostly harmless other than the fact that they are all constantly operating motor vehicles while drunk and high. Whoops.

2 points for everything with Martin Lawrence (who briefly steals the film) and 2 points for the ending.

Added to my “Florida” list: boxd.it/5SCta

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Review: The Old Guard (USA 2020)

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Solid sci-fi actioner with a Highlander twist from the Netflix factory, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Greg Rucka (and man does this feel like a Rucka joint thematically). Weakened a bit by low stakes and a really lame villain (Harry Melling doing his worst Evil Jesse Eisenberg) – it kind of feels a bit like the pilot episode of a USA or HBO original series. But I’d be interested to see if it gets a bit more outré in the sequels. This first part just lacked a bit of pizzazz – I wanted something fresher. And more fun from Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom I usually love.

And please for the love of god stop using CGI blood splatter. It looks so bad.

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Review: Outlaw: Gangster VIP (Japan 1968)

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First in the series (working my way through a box set I received as a present). Apparently I’d watched this before but had no memory of it. Somewhat old fashioned Yakuza high melodrama starring Tetsuya Watari covers all the cliches: protagonist released from Abashiri Prison, long-suffering girlfriends, not one but two brothers on the wrong side of a gang war, dishonorable evil gangster boss, tragic deaths of young sidekicks, the list goes on. Watari is good though, and there are some really nice touches like overlaying the final battle with an enka ballad and almost comically foreboding scene at a train station.

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Ennio Morricone, RIP

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Man, what can you say about Ennio Morricone. Man was a legend. When people ask about my favorite film composers, he’s always one of the first couple that come to mind, along with other titans like Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, and Lalo Schifrin. I’d like to remember him with one of his lesser known but brilliant scores:

Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion

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Review: We Are Little Zombies (Japan 2019)

we-are-little-zombiesFirst off, that is not a “zombie movie” per se. Just had to be said. Horror movie fans should check this out – everyone should – but don’t expect any gut-munching.

Rather, We Are Little Zombies is about a metaphorical deadening of the soul, focusing on four pre-teens on the cusp of maturity who meet after losing their parents – to suicide, to murder, to misadventure – and find themselves isolated and unable to express their emotions in any “normal” way.

That may make the movie sound treacly or unappealing but We Are Little Zombies feels more like Nobody Knows as directed with the video game aesthetic and pop visuals of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and the savage angst of Shunji Iwai. Director Makoto Nagahisa comes from the world of music videos and it shows in this, his first full length feature. Hell, Zombies is constantly threatening to become a full blown musical, much to its benefit. The kids form a band and even pay tribute to what may be the greatest walking dead act of all, The Zombies (Hell, this sent me back to Odessey & Oracle for the first time in months).

The film isn’t flawless, some of the kids are a bit stereotypical – bullied kid, fat kid, punk, ice princess – and not all get their due (the chubby boy in particular gets shortchanged). Not to mention that at two hours, the stylistic aggression can get a bit enervating.

And while I wouldn’t call this a flaw, Zombies can get extremely dark, not every filmmaker would have the chutzpah to present a father beating his son as a digital boss fight.

But it’s engaging, emotional stuff and I look forward to seeing more from Nagahisa (and to checking out his earlier short).

We Are Little Zombies comes out on in US theatres and digital platforms July 10 from Oscilloscope.

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Review: Deathsport (USA 1978)

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This thematic sequel of sorts to Death Race 2000 from the Corman factory doesn’t capture any of the magic of that film (I mean, hey no Paul Bartel involved) but is a goofy good time. It’s post-apocalyptic silliness full of trash royalty like a strung out David Carradine and Claudia Jennings, and has a typically enjoyable villainous performance from Richard Lynch. Lots of “futuristic” motorcycle action and lucite swords, lots of slow motion explosions and stuntmen on fire, and lots and lots of butt naked Claudia Jennings.

Oh, and apparently the behind the scenes was much crazier than what made it in camera, with multiple directors, Carradine decking a director, and Jennings being completely out of control. Read up on it and watch this:
trailersfromhell.com/deathsport/

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Review: Da 5 Bloods (USA 2020)

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I liked it just fine overall, but didn’t think it was one of Lee’s stronger films – too much that didn’t work. But in lieu of a real review (having trouble being coherent on this one – hard to disentangle the message from the quality of the film-making), some thoughts on the good, the bad, and the weird:

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