Thursday, June 30, 2016

Vital (2004)

Vital DVD

There's Enterprise (Japan)
Directed by Shin'ya Tsukamoto
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Tartan)

A young man survives a car accident but loses his memory. He finds his old medical textbooks and decides to resume his studies, where he is one of the top students. One day in dissecting class, he realizes the corpse on the table is his old girlfriend, who died in the crash. While he struggles to separate his memories and waking life, a pretty classmate aggressively pursues him, becoming increasingly enraged by his lack of attention. A change of pace for director Tsukamoto, a deliberately paced drama with only a couple of hints of his usual visceral style. It is not bad, it's just boring, something I never thought I would say about a Tsukamoto film.

Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947)

Films International of America
Diected by Hans Richter
My rating: 2 stars out of 4

A man who discovers that he can see inside the minds of others sells "dreams" from his small apartment to a variety of people. This provides the framework for seven "cases", each based on the works of a contemporary artist. The best is case four, with surrealist art by Marcel Duchamp and music by John Cage. However, the film suffers from a low budget and especially a lack of dialogue: it was filmed silently with voice over narration, a poor substitute.

American Psycho (2000)

Lions Gate Films
Directed by Mary Harron
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Lions Gate)

Egotistical Wall Street yuppie Christian Bale tries but fails to suppress his inner homicidal tendencies. He goes off on fellow workers he despises, but more often on the prostitutes he regularly invites to his penthouse apartment. One night he goes on a public rampage that gets the attention of the police. He confesses over the phone to his lawyer who thinks it is all one big joke. It is left up to the viewer to decide if any of it really happened. An uneasy mix of The Wolf of Wall Street and Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it fails as drama, horror or comedy. It feels more like a made-for-cable movie than a film, with a decidedly un-cinematic palette.

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

TriStar Pictures
Directed by Adrian Lyne
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
(DVD, Artisan)

Vietnam vet Tim Robbins suffers from post traumatic hallucinations while living in NYC. He sees demons on the subway, is chased down and kidnapped by strangers in a car and has frequent debilitating flashbacks to the war. Some of his old buddies are having the same issues and they suspect they were secretly given drugs by the army as an experiment. He hires a lawyer but he quits when his record shows he was never even sent to Vietnam. Dreams, hallucinations and flashbacks begin to blur as he loses his grip on reality. His young son shows up at the end to show him the way. Disturbing but effective film on the devastating effects of war.

Bright Future (2003)

Palm Pictures
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
(DVD, Palm Pictures)

Two young, bored factory workers in Japan each plot to kill their boss without each other's knowledge. One of them succeeds and is sent to prison where he hangs himself. The other strikes up a friendship with his father where he learns the value of work. He tends to a jellyfish, symbolizing the "bright future" of youth, which escapes and reproduces in the vast canals of Tokyo. Slow moving and obvious drama, using some truly atrocious-quality videocam footage.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fear X (2003)

Silver Nitrate Releasing
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
(DVD, Lions Gate)

John Torturro, in a bravura performance, plays a security guard at a mall struggling to get his life back together after his wife is murdered. He intensely studies surveillance video hoping to get a glimpse of the killer. He has hallucinations of his wife, who goes into the rental house across the street. He breaks in one day and finds photographs which lead him to a remote town in Montana where he finds an elaborate cover-up involving the police. Or does he? Elusive film will frustrate most viewers, but for those willing to forego preconceived notions of beginning, middle and especially ending plot elements, it is quite a ride. Minimalist soundtrack by Brian Eno and J. Peter Schwalm complements and enhances the tense mood. Cinematographer Larry Smith, who worked with Kubrick, successfully recaptures that director's unique visual style.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Filth (2013)

Magnolia Pictures
Directed by Jon S. Baird
My rating: 2 stars out of 4

Scottish police officer James McAvoy, going through a messy breakup, succumbs to his drug, alcohol and sex addictions. At the same time, he is trying to earn a promotion by leading a murder investigation. He can barely separate reality from hallucinations, much less perform his job. A colleague tries to step in, as does a woman he recently met, but his demons prove too much to overcome. Repulsively explicit film, aptly titled, but hiding underneath all of the slime is an emotional story, if you can shovel away enough to find it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Intacto (2001)

Warner Sogefilms (Spain)
Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
(DVD, Lions Gate)

A man who "steals luck" from gamblers winning too much money at a casino gets fired and has his "power" taken away by his boss, who seems to collect other people's luck. He seeks out another lucky man, the lone survivor of a plane crash, to use him to make money and get revenge on his employer. The duo work their way through a series of contrived games in order to qualify for the ultimate showdown with the casino owner. Ludicrous plot that implies luck is some kind of real power that can be passed from one person to another stretches the limits of believability.

Santa Sangre (1989)

Republic Pictures
Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
(Blu-ray, Severin)

A "child magician" working in his family's circus witnesses his father's adultery with the tattooed lady and subsequent mutilation of his trapeze artist mother. This trauma lands him in the psychiatric hospital as a young adult. He goes on a movie outing one day with the other patients, where they are given drugs by a pimp. Later, he climbs out of the asylum window to meet his mother and they start a new act. Instead, she uses him to commit horrendous murders. Uneven mix of Jodorowsky's usual surrealism with 80's style Italian horror. It's a poor combination that reduces the former's intellectual tendencies to the latter's for gory exploitation.

Dune (1984)

Universal Pictures
Directed by David Lynch
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Set on a distant planet in the far future, two warring families vie for control of the planet's spice, the most valuable substance in the universe. It is apparently the byproduct of the giant sand worms which show up whenever they hear sounds on the surface and swallow up the source. A duke's son is predestined to become the messianic leader of the natives which he fulfills by taming a giant worm and becoming addicted to the spice. He leads them in a revolt against the invading factions seeking to exploit the spice. David Lynch's first studio film is an adaptation of the massive Frank Herbert space opera. It's a decidedly mixed affair. Some of the characters and effects are unintentionally hilarious, Lynch's penchant for weirdness just does not sit well in this serious sci fi setting. Other times, however, it all comes together. The longer cut supposedly fleshes out some of the characters, but I have yet to view it. 

The Moon Over the Alley (1976)

British Film Institute
Directed by Joseph Despins
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
(Blu-ray, BFI)

The lives of several people who live and around in a run down London apartment building intertwine. A bartender trains a new employee while his long time girlfriend begins working in a nudie bar; a young boy romances a neighbor and takes her out to the movies; the couple upstairs raises their newborn child. An elderly homeless couple that sleeps in the alley host the story and show up here and there as familiar, friendly faces. The drama occasionally, and jarringly, breaks into songs at times. The result is a sort of kitchen sink musical. Dated and odd, but worth a look, and much better than the previous and better known Despins/Dumaresq effort Duffer.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

Mongrel Media (Canada)
Directed by Panos Cosmatos
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
(Blu-ray, Magnet Releasing)

A teenage girl is kept prisoner by a doctor who runs a New Age type of institute originating from experiments with drugs in the 1960s. They both possess psychic powers and may be related. He takes drugs that keep him from aging while she is given some to keep sedated. She eventually escapes the institute but he pursues the outside world for a final confrontation. Stylish throwback to sci fi and horror films of the 1970s and 1980s will please fans of that era. It doesn't bring anything new to the formula, but is very entertaining and well made.

Friday, June 17, 2016

November (2004)

Sony Pictures Classics
Directed by Greg Harrison
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
(DVD, IFC Films/Sony)

Photographer Courtney Cox and her lawyer boyfriend stop at a convenience store late one night. He goes in alone and is caught in a deadly robbery. Cox tries to regroup in the month afterward but seeks a psychiatrist's help for her debilitating headaches. Strange things begin happening which seem to indicate the events of the robbery may have happened differently. We see at least two more versions, and she becomes more directly involved each time. The final version may or may not be the real one, but it is certainly the most emotionally devastating. Finely crafted, dreamlike film may be a little to open-ended for some tastes, but suited me just fine. Extremely short running time of just over an hour, with nearly 10 minutes of credits, indicates characters could have been fleshed out a little more for an even better film.