Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2002, France)
A film whose timeline has been altered always begs the question as to how effective the work would be if it were linear. Would Christopher Nolan’s Memento have been more than a blip on the cinematic radar? How about Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction? The same should be asked about Gaspar Noe’s lurid rape/revenge film, Irreversible.
The plot (from end to beginning) is rather simplistic. Alex (Monica Bellucci) is in love with Marcus (Vincent Cassel). For some unknown reason the couple continue to hang out with her wet blanket ex-, Pierre (Albert Dupontel). The trio attends a party after which Alex is sadistically sodomized by La Tenia (Jo Prestia). After seeing Alex’s beaten body, Marcus (now highly coked up) and Pierre are approached by two hooligans who promise to aid in their search for justice. The quartet questions some prostitutes before learning the whereabouts of La Tenia (whose name translates as "the tapeworm"). With Pierre in tow, Marcus heads to The Rectum, a seedy gay bar, where he hopes to exact vengeance.
If it weren’t for the reverse-order timeline and two scenes of intense brutality this film wouldn’t have merited notice. As it stands, however, Irreversible isn’t much more than an art house exploitation film. Some may say that it’s a treatise on voyeurism and that audiences will feel themselves compelled to watch even when they know that every scene could be more disturbing than the last. Others will posit that Noe brings determinism to the fore with his characters dreaming about "future" events and eerily foreshadowing their fates. Yet, while I enjoyed the nauseating camerawork and the lack of temporal touchstones, I found that the film was only compelling when it delved into the disgusting.
As Skizz Cyzyk says about Chrisopher Nolan’s Following, "I liked it until the beginning." Likewise, Irreversible kept me squirming in my seat until the film came out of the underground and into the light. I had no connection with any of the characters and the supposedly "shocking revelation" that the future victim Alex is pregnant with Marcus’ child did nothing but compel me to roll my eyes. It’s as if Noe were trying to make Alex’s never ending attack even worse.
Pretentious and grotesque, Irreversible is a cinematic kick in the crotch.
Dobermann (Jan Kounen, 1997, France)
Years before they starred together in the gut-wrenching Irreversible, Vincent Cassel and Monica Belucci were paired in the hyperbolic crime thriller Dobermann. Cassel stars as the title character. He’s joined by a cavalcade of fellow criminals who take their names from animals and insects (Pony, Bulldog, Mosquito, et cetera). This motley group gets their kicks from robbing banks; the more difficult the job the better.
As clever as they are mad, the group is pursued with equal fervor by Inspector Sauveur Cristini (Tchéky Karyo who tends to play cops in the films I see him in such as Taking Lives and Kiss of the Dragon). His methods of investigation are unsound but wildly effective (if completely vicious). His excessive behavior is on par with the insanity rampant throughout the film.
Directed by Jan Kounen, Dobermann is as slick as its characters are crazed. Employing lightning-fast zooms, multiple split screens, freeze frames, and other stylistic tricks. This does well to hide the rather basic plot of the film. Far more clever and inventive than most mindless action films you’ll find; Dobermann is rife with ultraviolent fun.
Battle Royale II: Requiem (Kinji & Kenta Fukasaku, 2003, Japan)
The sequel to the controversial action film begins with a bang. Literally. Shuya and Noriko, the two survivors of Battle Royale have since formed Wild Seven, a terrorist organization who levels buildings in Tokyo in a chilling scene that recalls the crumbling of the World Trade Center.
Rather than pitting students against one another, the rules of BRII are designed to take down Wild Seven. The students of Shika-no-Toride are volunteered for this new battle. The 42 teens are divided into pairs, one boy and one girl. In order to ensure teamwork, their familiar collars are attuned to one another, meaning that if one of the pair is killed, the other will follow quickly. Their new assignment is to storm the island stronghold of Wild Seven and destroy them. The military intelligence behind this decision leaves a bit to be desired.
Among the group is Shiori (Ai Maeda), the daughter of Kitano—the teacher who lead the activities of the original Battle Royale. This time around it’s the wild-eyed Riki Takeuchi who helps convince the kids that they need to participate. Tekeuchi’s performance is the polar opposite of the cool cruel Beat Takeshi of the first film. Similarly, the politics of BRII are over-the-top and in-your-face. Takeuchi doesn’t have much to say to the BRII students other than listing off 22 countries that have been bombed by the U.S. over the last 60 years (including Japan). And, when Shuya explains that he and Noriko left Japan for Afghanistan after they survived the first Battle Royale the message of U.S. aggression is hammered home even harder.
A major shift in tone and narrative occurs an hour into the film when the BRII brigade finally meets Shuya. The students suddenly seem to come down with a bad case of flashbacks and longwinded speeches taking BRII from an action film into an inaction film. Things pick up from time to time when the Japanese military is sent in to do the job that the kids couldn’t handle but they don’t fare much better.
Battle Royale II doesn’t provide any sympathetic characters, pulse-raising action or heart-wrenching drama. It merely apes other war films and brings nothing to the table except for rampant half-baked anti-U.S. rhetoric. I’m all for calling out the U.S. on our dunderheaded foreign policy but Battle Royale II fails on this level even more spectacularly than every other.
The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (Larry Blamire, 2001, USA)
A throwback to sci-fi/horror B-movies of the past, Cadavra is rife with stereotypical characters, low budget effects, and painfully bad dialogue with exchanges like this: "In many ways, it’s hard to be a scientist’s wife, the wife of a scientist. And yet, in other ways, it’s good. Really good." "You always know the right thing to say, Dr. Paul Armstrong."
The aforementioned Dr. Paul Armstrong (writer/director Larry Blamire) is out to do some science, looking for a meteor made of pure atmospherium with his wife, Betty (Fay Masterson). The atmospherium quickly becomes a much-needed commodity for visiting aliens Lattis (Susan McConnell) and Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) along with evil scientist Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe). Determined to raise the titular skeleton, Fleming requires atmospherium to completely revive the bossy bones. Oh, and there’s a deus ex mutina (Darren Reed) in the spooky woods as well.
I’ve seen plenty of send ups of shoestring second-billed films and Cadavra with its compelling plot and uproarious dialogue ranks among the top along with Top of the Food Chain, Plan 10 From Outer Space, Mountain of Terror Day of Dread, The Collegians Are Go, and They Came for the Silion.
The first question that went through my noggin when seeing a preview for this black & white cheapie was, "How the heck did Sony Pictures release this?" It’s remarkable that a major studio would back such a parodic farce. True, it took two and a half years to happen but, regardless, it’s rare for a studio to show such chutzpa to support a small comedy at all, much less one that would appeal to such a limited audience.
Highway Amazon (Ronnie Cramer, 2001, USA)
Christine Fetzer is not an escort, a prostitute, or a dominatrix. She’s a wrestler. Fetzer travels the country meeting men in hotel rooms for wrestling matches. A champion body builder, Fetzer is a musclebound bombshell. Unfortunately, while Fetzer’s chosen profession and her fetishistic clients may be interesting, Highway Amazon doesn’t do much to gain or keep the audience’s attention.
Shot on miniDV but looking like VHS, most of Highway Amazon takes place in poorly lit hotel rooms. On the other end of the spectrum, the occasional outdoor scenes are often washed out. The majority of the documentary is static headshots of Fetzer as she "um"s, "you know"s, and "like"s her ways through meandering tales that don’t amount to much of anything. By that token, her recollections are on par with the movie’s overall lack of charm.
Only partially redeemed by the respect given to Fetzer, who is never portrayed as a freak, Highway Amazon is a documentary without structure, technical proficiency, or intrigue.
Cowards Bend the Knee (Guy Maddin, 2003, Canada)
Originally Guy Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee was an installation piece wherein participants were made voyeurs, looking through a series of peepholes to view the ten chapters of the director’s take on The Hands of Orlac. The film stars Darcy Fehr as Guy Maddin—rather than autobiography, Cowards resembles a feverish dream of indiscretion and resurrection. Set in the Manitoba of Maddin’s youth, Cowards mixes equal parts hairdressing and hockey; subjects close to the auteur’s heart.
The filmic Maddin is the star player of the Winnipeg Maroons. His girlfriend, Veronica (Amy Stewart) is "in trouble"—the old euphemism for pregnancy. Maddin and Veronica visit the Black Silhouette Salon—floozy hairdressers in front/abortion clinic in back, run by Liliom (Tara Birtwhistle), a femme fatale with a penchant for pie. Before Veronica’s procedure is even complete, Maddin’s made eyes with Liliom’s lusty daughter, Meta (Melissa Dionisio). The young Meta soon has Maddin eating out of her hand, putting him to work as a murderous tool for revenge, telling him, "No hand shall touch me until my father is avenged." Maddin does it all for the nookie.
Each new chapter of Cowards proves more outlandish and gripping than the last. A torrid tale beautifully crafted by Maddin, Cowards has quickly become my new favorite film from the talented Canadian.
Black Tight Killers (Yasuharu Hasebe, 1966, Japan)
Also known as Don’t Touch Me, I’m Dangerous, Yasuharu Hasebe’s Black Tight Killers grabs you from the fabulous opening credit sequence. Six go-go girls in a spectrum of monochromatic outfits shake their money makers to a rockin’ tune. From there, the story kicks into high gear as we follow Hondo (Akira Kobayashi), a photographer who picks up a stewardess only to lose her to kidnappers on their first date.
His relationship unconsummated, Hondo begins an investigation. Soon, he runs afoul of the fashionable females from the opening credits. The titular band of modern day ninjas employ quite an arsenal of feminine wiles, deadly sexual positions and chewing gum! Hondo teams up with the assassins as they work to take down the criminal empire that has his girl.
With a style reminiscent of his directorial sifu, Seijun Suzuki, Hasebe creates a world filled with garish primary colours and high intrigue. The plot effortlessly crosses the line between straight-out action and self-parody. Black Tight Killers makes me yearn for more Nikkatsu films to be subtitled (preferably more legibly) and released in the United States.
Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand, 2000)
The first thing you notice about this movie is its color. Painted with primary hues, the colors in Tears of the Black Tiger positively pop off the screen and envelope you in a warm embrace. The use of this surreal palette becomes abundantly appropriate as the offbeat story unfolds. Certainly, in the history of the cinema there have been a number of Musical Westerns but none so drenched in ultraviolence or coming out of Thailand.
The plot of this Asian oater doesn’t break any new ground. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy falls in with bad crowd. Girl’s new fiancé swears vengeance to bring down bad crowd. A quick survey of my DVD shelf shows a few films along those lines. In this case it’s Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan), the young peasant who falls for the Governor’s daughter, Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi). Kept apart by their status (and geography), Dum joins with a band of outlaws. He proves to be one hell of a shot, specializing in impossibly complex ricochets. As expected, Dum’s loyalties are tested when Rumpoey’s new fiancé goes after the outlaw gang. By the end, there’s fake blood everywhere and the air is thick with melodrama. Think Sam Peckinpah meets Douglas Sirk.
While the story may be rote and the film bogged down at times, Tears delivers with its themes of love, loyalty, and honor. Moreover, the over-the-top gunfights, breathtaking sets, and catchy tunes really stick with you.
Muthu (K. S. Ravikumar, 1995, India)
Definitely one of those movies whose sum is greater than its parts, Muthu is a classic "castle intrigue" film about a faithful servant, Muthu (Rajinikanth), and his zamindar, Rajababu (Sarathbabu). In order to appease Rajababu’s mother, Muthu tries to aid his master in finding a suitable wife. His master is unwilling to give up his bachelorhood until he sees the beautiful actress Ranganayagi (Meena). Scheming against him, his Uncle Ambalathar (Radharavi) wants Rajababu to marry his own daughter. Miscommunication, mischief and musical numbers fuel the movie from there as all of the other servants at the estate deal with their fractured love lives along the way.
With over 150 films to his credit, Rajinikanth (or just plain Rajni) is a superstar in his native land. He’s best known for his comedic abilities along with lacing his lines with political overtones. While the Pidgin English subtitles may have obscured any kind of politics, they managed to convey that the Muthu character has a great outlook on life, singing lines like "Man’s desire for soil, soils the desires of man." Add to that some killer dance moves and righteous kung fu to make Muthu an astounding protagonist.
Muthu is the third version of this storyline. Originally a Malaysian film called Thenmavin Kompathu (AKA Thenmavin Kombathu) and directed by Priyadarshan, it was remade in Hindi as Saath Rang Ke Sapne (AKA Saat Rang Ke Sapne). While the other films may have been fair, Muthu benefited from the combination of stars Rajinikanth and Meena along with the incredible musical talent of A. R. Rahman. Muthu can also credit some success to the film’s release in Japan where it caused a sensation. Re-edited and renamed The Dancing Maharaja, Muthu paved the way for other exports of Bollywood to Japan and helped popularize films to fans of "Asian Cinema" who forgot that Asia extends beyond Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. To add to the confusion, the Hindu language version of the film was released as MuthuMaharaja via Eros Entertainment in the U.K. Having gotten used to the Tamil version, the Hindu dubbing definitely came as a shock when trying to watch this.
After this successful release, producers scrambled to release another Rajinikanth/Meena film. They unexpectedly dug up a movie from 1993, Ejjaman (AKA Yejamaan), and gave it the misleading name "The Dancing Maharaja 2: Yajaman." This film came close to ending the Bollywood boom when two companies started distributing the movie simultaneously only to find that one owned the Tamil language version while the other owned the Hindi language version. After a few lawsuits, this matter was resolved and Indian films continue to do well in Japan.
Stacy (Naoyuki Tomomatsu, 2001, Japan) / Blood of the Beast (Georg Koszulinski, 2003, USA)
Wearing its influences on its sleeve—or, more accurately, its right hand—Stacy is steeped in zombie tradition. When girls turn fifteen, their days are numbered. They’ll soon die and become resurrected as zombies known as "Stacy’s." These deadly, albeit cute, creatures of the undead are dispatched by the brave men of the Romero Squads (whose recruiting commercials tout, "Kill your own daughters!").
In Stacy we follow Eiko (Natsuki Kato), a lass experiencing the last euphoric days before death with Shibukawa (Toshinori Omi), a hapless puppeteer who has agreed to "multiple kill" her upon her inopportune return. The audience is also made privy to the less-than-ethical experiments of zombologist Dr. Inugami Sukekiyo (Yasutaka Tsutsui) who has determined through endless study that Stacy’s continue to twitch until they’ve been cut up into 165 distinct bits.
While Stacy may have a good sense of humor (like the Bruce Campbell Model chainsaws), the action scenes feel forced and the zombies are less than frightening as they shamble around in their schoolgirl uniforms. A far more effective take on similar subject matter is Georg Koszulinski’s Blood of the Beast.
In a bit of found footage exposition that would make Craig Baldwin proud, Blood of the Beast begins with the story of World War III and the subsequent loss of virility amongst the human race. Unable to propagate naturally, the world turns to cloning. Unfortunately, when the first strand of clones hits age 19 they become bloodthirsty monsters. While Blood of the Beast begins promisingly enough, it soon falters under the weight of its ponderous plot and poor acting. Luckily, Koszulinski manages to get the film back on track in its bone-chilling final act.
After the Apocalypse (Yasuaki Nakajima, 2004, USA)
I’ve always been a big fan of post-apocalyptic cinema. From Ranald MacDougal’s The World, The Flesh and The Devil to Geoph Murphy’s The Quiet Earth, I’ve seen my share of films starring a handful of folks traipsing through barren environments. I can say without hesitation, then, that After the Apocalypse is finest entries into the genre. Similar to Luc Besson’s dialogue-free The Last Battle / Le Dernier Combat, Yasuaki Nakajima’s film tells its story without the talk and conveys its quiet beauty via beautiful black & white cinematography.
In After the Apocalypse we follow a man (writer/director Nakajima) as he travels the desolate cityscape. He becomes the third wheel in a love triangle until sickness comes to his aid, allowing him and his pregnant woman (Jacqueline Bowman) to try and make it as the world’s first nuclear family during Nuclear Winter.
At 72-minutes, After the Apocalypse might still feel too long for impatient viewers. Luckily, I found the filmmaker’s minimalist approach hypnotic.
The Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary (Damon Packard, 2003, USA)
An often bizarre experiment in editing, The Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary (also known as Episode II: The Heretic) begins as a faux documentary about the career of director (and disenfranchised fan) Damon Packard hosted by Tony Curtis. The feature presentation doesn’t begin until we’re five minutes in at which time we end up at Skywalker Ranch for a behind the scenes look at the making of Lucas’s new string of Star Wars films. Packard cuts himself and his friends into the action, poking fun at the self-serious cadre of computer geeks in Lucas’s employ. Along the way, Packard interjects an endless barrage of bizarre clips and hilarious juxtapositions.
In less than an hour, Packard effectively skewers Lucas. My favorite scene has to be the Lucasfilm crew attending a rough cut of The Phantom Menace which becomes a freaky film festival of nonsensical bits from Battle Beyond The Stars, Willow, Hawk The Slayer, The Sword & The Sorcerer, and countless others. Lucas’s comments, "It’s bold in terms of jerking people around but we may have gone too far in some places."
Calling into question the antiseptic nature of the Lucas films and his over reliance on CGI characters rather than competent storytelling, Packard’s work may be schizophrenic but it only matches the madness of King George. Ironically, Packard achieves a great deal of humor from his skilled use of offline editing and digital effects, things that he uses for good while Lucas uses them only for evil.
Willful Infringement (Greg Hittelman, 2003, USA)
This documentary poses the question, "Who owns culture?" With arguments based on the human proclivity to imitate, Hittelman showcases fan films, tribute bands, and collage artists. Pitting parody, piracy, plagiarism, and pastiche against one another, Willful Infringement covers material close to my heart. While I feel that the fall back of "Good artists create, great artists steal" is utterly counterintuitive, Hittelman’s film doesn’t try to put forth the "aping as intelligence" idea. Rather, the central theme of the film is the corporate attempt to use copyright to censor.
From the front cover of the DVD showing a shackled Mickey Mouse, I was under the impression that Willful Infringement would trace the sordid history of the Disney Corporation’s culture clash like Bob Levin’s The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney’s War Against the Counterculture. I had also hoped that Hittelman might have finally unearthed Lee Savage’s short animated film Mickey Mouse in Vietnam (1968) to justify the tagline "The movie that Disney does not want you to watch." Alas, this wasn’t to be. To be sure, Willful Infringement spends a good deal of time exposing some of the more ridiculous extremities of intellectual property. However, most of the material in Hittleman’s work will feel familiar to fans of Craig Baldwin’s 1995 documentary Sonic Outlaws (see CdC #4).
Rooted more in the "talking head" school of documentary, Willful Infringement is not as edgy as its posturing indicates. Regardless, it’s still an important work. I’d recommend that it be watched as a triple feature with Sonic Outlaws and ®arks’s Untitled #29.95 which looks at so-called "video art projects" that have fetched unfathomable prices among collectors (like Mathew Barney’s Cremaster series). Viewed in tandem, Willful Infringement gives the crucial information, Untitled #29.95 provides the edge and Sonic Outlaws brings it all together.
Killer Tattoo (Yuthlert Sippapak, 2001, Thailand)
A terrific example of not judging a DVD by its cover; the most "killer" aspect of Killer Tattoo was its marketing materials. When I saw guns, crazed assassins, and a guy in an Elvis jumpsuit, I thought that I had found the perfect film. Perhaps this was the Thai remedy for 3,000 Miles to Graceland.
Killer Tattoo starts off promisingly enough. Seconds after being released from jail, Buffalo Gun (Suthep Po-ngam) gets an offer to kill the chief of police for 250 Large. He puts together a crack(ed) team of odd-balls including his old friend Ghostdog (Sornsutha Klunmalee), young upstart Dog (Petchtai Wongkamlao), and EP M16 (Pongsak Pongsuwan). Each of these fellows has his own foibles: Ghostdog is haunted by the ghost of his wife, Dog is wracked with guilt, and EP M16 thinks he’s Elvisso much so that he can only communicate in English. Unbeknownst to them, their assignment has also been shopped to Kit Silencer (Somchai Kemglad), an assassin of renown who’s been searching for his mother’s killer since he was a tot. His only clue is the tattoo on the Mystery Man’s arm (thus the name of the movie would more accurately have been "Tattooed Killer ").
Despite the promising set-up with a group of motley murderers, Killer Tattoo never really pays off. Director Yuthlert Sippapak provides a handful of good set pieces, but these often come off as pale imitations of John Woo’s The Killer. The only fairly interesting aspect of the film comes from its anti-"farang" (European/American) sentiments. Most, if not all, of the main antagonist’s forces are comprised of farang and the film’s heroes note how popular white faces are in advertising when seeing their streets lined with ads sporting Caucasians. Other than fanning the flames of anti-Western sentiment, this farang theme doesn’t amount to anything. However, that’s par for the course for this disappointing cult wannabe.
Collectors (Julian P. Hobbs, 1999, USA)
In his 1999 documentary, director Julian P. Hobbs spotlights a wide array of "serial killer art" from the scribblings of Richard Ramirez to the wonderful work of Elmer Wayne Henley. Imprisoned for six consecutive life sentences, Henley comes off very well during his prison interview. The undeniable beauty of Henley’s artwork compared to the brutality of his crimes encapsulates the troubling crux of the film.
The audience primarily follows two procurers of inmate art, Rick Staton and Tobias Allen. Hobbs does well to utilize these bozos as they actually manage to be more distasteful than the idea of making a profit from deviant celebrities. Introduced by John Wayne Gacy, Staton and Allen find a little too much pleasure in morbid discussions of body counts and crime scenes. Compared to these smirking serial killer aficionados, the killers themselves don’t seem too bad!
Exhibiting a terrific sense of balance, Hobbs includes competent counterpoints to Staton and Allen via interviews with victims’ rights advocates and relatives of Henley’s victims. Likewise, Collectors includes interviews with a psychologist and artist Joe Coleman who examine the motivation behind collecting macabre trinkets.
Collectors is the rare documentary that covers its subject matter evenhandedly and with profundity.
You Can’t Stop the Murders (Anthony Mir, 2003, Australia)
When a series of murders rocks a sleepy outback town, the investigation by constables Gary (Gary Eck) and Akmal (Akmal Saleh) reveals that their victims share traits with a certain popular disco act. A biker, construction worker, sailor, cowboy...you know the drill...eventually just leaving a cop off the roster and making the local constabulary a bit antsy. In comes hotshot supercop Detective Tony Charles (Anthony Mir)—a guy with a serious Crockett & Tubbs fixation.
Rather than being a mere one note Village People joke, You Can’t Stop the Murders is bristling with deadpan humor. Written by Eck, Saleh, and Mir—veterans of Australian TV series The Fifty Foot Show and Headliners—You Can’t Stop the Murders is reminiscent of Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers but far funnier and consistent.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Robert Rodriguez, 2003, USA)
I was a big fan of El Mariachi. Its great heart, style, and low budget impressed me. After reading more about its director, Robert Rodriguez, I couldn’t wait to see what else this talented guy had to offer.
I cut Rodriguez a lot of slack for his sophomore effort, the made-for-Showtime movie, Road Racers. However, I was severely let down by Rodriguez’s follow-up to El Mariachi, Desperado. The film had two things working against it. First off, Colombia wouldn’t allow for the original Mariachi, Carlos Gallardo, to star. They felt it too "risky" having a relative unknown in a starring role and while having another actor step in for a sequel isn’t unheard of (call it "The George Lazenby Syndrome"), it was more than a little odd to have Gallardo show up in the film as another character while Antonio Banderas took over the lead. This brings us to the film’s second flaw. Rodriguez, a huge fan of Sam Raimi, decided that his sequel would not be a follow-up but a re-imagining of the first film just as Evil Dead II was of The Evil Dead (would Ash really go back to that cabin?). However, I never bought this excuse for the inconsistencies between El Mariachi and Desperado, feeling rather cheated by this film.
Despite my disappointment, I was excited to see how Rodriguez would handle the direction of From Dusk Till Dawn, having been a fan of the Quentin Tarantino script. The direction was fine with Rodriguez managing to cull the only good performance Tarantino has ever given on screen. The failing of this film came in the editing. Rather than being the finely-tuned cuts made by Kaye Davis in Evil Dead II, Rodriguez employed a method he aptly called "chopping." Indeed, From Dusk Till Dawn felt like the raw footage was hacked apart and thrown back together.
Thus, it took quite a while for me to brave Once Upon a Time in Mexico ; third in the dubious and loosely knit "Mariachi Trilogy." Even from the previews I knew that I’d be pissed as I saw Danny Trejo in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, knowing that his character, Navajas, died in Desperado and that he’d be back playing another character (Cucuy). Here Rodriguez went beyond the Evil Dead question giving a nod to Sergio Leone. More than just naming the film Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Rodriguez’s employment of an actor playing two different characters in a series of films recalls Lee Van Cleef as Douglas Mortimer in For a Few Dollars More and Angel Eyes / Sentenza in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Yet, while Leone’s Eastwood films are often called "The Dollars Trilogy," each film has as much to do with one another as Halloween II and Halloween III. Rather than succeeding like Leone, Rodriguez fails like George Miller—Trejo’s appearance and Badereas’ inability to recognize him recalls Bruce Spence’s reappearance in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Spence’s "Jedediah the Pilot" in Beyond Thunderdome may have logged some hours in a plane but he didn’t seem to be the same "Gyro Captain" from The Road Warrior.
Calling the film Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a bit of a misnomer. If one were to compare Rodriguez’s work to anything that Leone did, it would be Gui La Testa (AKA A Fistful of Dynamite or Duck You Sucker) with its Mexican coup theme. Likewise, while Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West has four main characters, the spotlight of Once Upon a Time in Mexico falls mostly on Johnny Depp’s Sands, a CIA operative, with Antonio Banderas relegated to a minor, enigmatic role. In fact, Banderas is overshadowed by nearly everyone in the cast from Mickey Rourke to Rubin Blades. Even Enrique Inglesias appears to have a larger part and, undoubtedly, more personality.
When it comes to the fleeting glimpses of Baderas’ Mariachi, Rodriguez focuses on the happy days between Mariachi and his romantic interest, Carolina (Salma Hayek), ended in tragedy. While this is better than having her mysteriously disappear between films (such as Bonny Bedelia’s Holly McClane in the Die Hard films) or die in the opening credits (like Carrie Henn’s Newt in the Alien films), it’s still incredibly cheesy. In short, Once Upon a Time in Mexico suffers from just about everything that could make a sequel bad.
The Salton Sea (D.J. Caruso, 2002, USA)
I was afraid to watch The Salton Sea. A drug movie with Val Kilmer seemed to have two strikes against it at the outset. It’s not that I dislike Kilmer; I really enjoyed him in Real Genius, Top Secret, and Kill Me Again. However, I had my doubts in Kilmer’s choice of projects after John Frankenheimer’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. And, drug movies? As I’ve written before, I’m not a big fan of watching people acting drugged up. Would The Salton Sea be more of Kilmer wobbling around as he did in The Doors?
Luckily, while Kilmer’s character hangs out in the "tweaker" community, crank (methamphetamine) provides the backdrop to the action rather than being fetishized in the forefront. Instead of being a "drug film," The Salton Sea resembles a neo-Noir. Framed as a flashback (with several additional flashbacks within), Kilmer’s protagonist leads a double life as Thom Van Allen, happily married trumpet player, and Danny Parker, a man with a mission.
Parker’s nebulous quest aligns him with two narcotics officers, Gus Morgan (Doug Hutchinson) and Al Garcetti (Anthony LaPaglia), and pits him against Pooh Bear (Vincent D’Onofrio)—a tweaker who’s taken so much gack up his nose that it had to be surgically removed. Sporting a fake plastic nose, big teeth, and a shit-kicker attitude, D’Onofrio turns in yet another terrific performance. The Salton Sea is awash with some of my favorite character actors such as R. Lee Ermey, Meat Loaf, Luis Guzman, Adam Goldberg, and Danny Trejo.
Written by Tony Gayton, The Salton Sea is chocked full of delicious plot twists and great dialogue. Along with ruminations on cowardice, Gayton also provides a terrific friendship between Kilmer’s Parker and fellow tweaker Jimmy the Finn (Peter Sarsgaard). Gayton’s adroit writing along with D.J. Caruso’s restrained directing make The Salton Sea a success instead of what could easily have been yet another cheap-ass Tarantinoesque thriller.
Deep Blue Sea (Renny Harlin, 1999, USA)
Which look better: rubber sharks or computer generated sharks? Or, does it not matter as long as you have a decent story in which to put fake sharks of any nature?
Deep Blue Sea begins with the obligatory "opening scare" in which four hapless teenagers are on a boat getting drunk and attempting to get laid. How these under-aged and over-rivileged kids wound up with booze and in the middle of the ocean without any parental supervision, we’ll never know. For they’re only purpose is to remind us, the audience, of the opening scene of Jaws in which a slightly stoned Seventies chick gets a shark hickey she’ll never forget.
But, ho ho! Instead of one teenager in danger, through the miracle of bad editing all four teens manage to make their way overboard and into the murky depths as a monstrous shark attacks their boat. All the while composer Trevor Rabin tries his best to not imitate John Williams’ score. Just when it looks like these pubescent sex maniacs are shark bait, they’re saved by our enigmatic hero, Carter Blake (Thomas Jane).
How silly! You mean you actually thought these kids were going to die? No, no, Deep Blue Sea isn’t that predictable. Okay, well, maybe it is, especially if you’re familiar with some aqueous films that seem to have greatly inspired Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea. To say that Harlin’s latest picture is derivative is an understatement. Along with Jaws, the teens in peril immediately brought to mind the climax of I Know What You Did Last Summer wherein vapid heartthrobs battle the Gorton’s Fisherman.
The premise of Deep Blue Sea is that scientists have created gigantic mutant sharks to be kept in captivity and harvested for brain secretions only to have everything fouled up when a terrific tempest hits their "impenetrable" research facility. This results in utter chaos and forces our rag tag group to make their way up and out of the complex, all the while being picked off by their monstrous and clever creations. Immediately this plot smelled strongly of Jurassic Park. But wait! Couldn’t that also be the general premise of Alien: Ressurection as well?
The aforementioned Carter Blake (winner of the Macho Name Award of 1999) leads our motley crew of heroes. Through his performance of Blake, Thomas Jane managed something I thought impossible: he made me yearn for Christopher Lambert to take over his role. In his brooding stares and flat delivery, I was certain he had studied Lambert’s style. At times I even thought I detected a French accent. Blake, of course, has a skeleton in his closethe did some time for smuggling. Instead of taking up weightlifting or dedicating his life to Allah, Blake must have studied shark wrangling while he was in the pen.
This secret allows him to be exploited (you know how tough it is for ex-con shark wranglers have it when it comes to looking for a job) by the leader of the shark-tampering scientists, Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows). Throughout the film, Harlin tries to present McAlester as our heroine and, thus, the person with which we need to most sympathize. Yet, time proves her to be completely distant and unlikable. Obsessed with saving Alzheimer victims via her nutty shark brain secretion idea, McAlester forgoes her human companions and compassion all in the name of research. And this is our protagonist? Towards the end of the film, there are rumblings about her having a relationship with rogue Carter Blake, however, the callous scientist has absolutely no chemistry with any of her compatriots.
The most troublesome character, though, turns out to be the owner the company that has sponsored McAlester’s research, Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson). Franklin acts as the foil for the audience; asking all the cornball questions and delivering his Grade Z lines with improper enthusiasm. After flipping out aboard the ship in Sphere, however, I was on edge and waiting for Jackson to request some eggs or to talk about Jules Verne.
Eventually Franklin goes off the deep end with a tale of nature being an unforgiving beast. After allusions to him being the hero of an avalanche in the Himalayas, Franklin reveals that "Seven of us survived but only five of us made it back." Perhaps we were supposed to recall Quint (Robert Shaw) and his memory of being attacked by tiger sharks—"Eleven hundred men went into the water, three hundred sixteen come out." Up to this point, the crappy dialogue in Deep Blue Sea is peppered with trite poetic lines that have no place in a movie that makes The Deep look like A Night to Remember. Luckily, the "poetry of the deep" is lost when the film finally kicks into gear and has the little group running around dank corridors a la The Abyss, Deep Rising, Alien, Titanic, Virus, et al.
Being under water is a regular occurrence in Deep Blue Sea. Yet, the heroes of DBS never fear drowning. Perhaps in their genetic tampering they finagled some DNA from Patrick Duffy’s Man from Atlantis or Kevin Costner’s Mariner from Waterworld for everyone in Deep Blue Sea appears to be able to stay under water indefinitely.
Rather than drowning, the crew of the "Aquatica" spends more time worrying about which doors need to be opened and which need to remain closed. Door closings and openings occupy the crux of nearly every action scene in the second act of the film. Even LL Cool J’s movie has door-related themes.
Oh, did I forget to mention that along with all of the scientists, the shark wrangler, the radio operator, and the company’s boss, that there’s a cook on board? As deadly as Steven Seagal’s culinary killer in Under Siege, Preacher (LL Cool J) is the hero of the film in which he stars. A film unto itself —it isn’t really a subplot—it’s a fully functioning movie within a movie.
"The Preacher Movie" is similar to the main story of Deep Blue Sea in that he’s trapped in a watery stronghold and pursued by a shark. Preacher’s film is also reminiscent of Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful. In his striped pants, Preacher’s attire resembles that of a concentration camp prisoner. I got that impression even before our hero is forced to take refuge in his own oven, thus taking the kitchen scene in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park one step further and adding a touch of Spielberg’s Schinder’s List.
More doors open, others close, people die. Then, finally, Preacher’s film intersects with this other garbage and, suddenly, we’re in the midst of the last act of Jaws cum Anaconda. At this point, the audience has long since given up on this film and is in need of some good self-reflexivity. Not one to let his public down, Preacher mutters a line about "brothers never making it out of situations like this." Perhaps this was done in protest of his role in Halloween H20, or to make us doubt for a second that Cool J is not playing the role of Ice Cube in Anaconda which, of course, he is.
Things work out pretty much the way you’d expect. The third act boasts one "twist" that I didn’t expect and it made me so happy (both that there was an unexpected moment and that the result brought joy to my heart) that I whooped it up right there in the theater. But then I was the "sick bastard" laughing my head off as poor Martyn (Rupert Graves) took a nasty fall over a balcony in Louis Malle’s Damage and when Halle Barry took a bullet in Sword Fish.
I’m sure that the money spent on special effects for Deep Blue Sea could fund another offensive strike against Kosovo, yet, like the United Nations peace-keeping force, one just doesn’t really see satisfactory results. The Flash Film Works’ computer-generated sharks’ movements are unnatural and jerky (a fact explained away by the fact that they’re "supersharks" perhaps). The film would have been better served with spending some of the special effects budget on a rewrite or three and hiring two guys to roam around in a beat up rubber shark suit.
The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick (Mark Steensland, 2000, USA)
I own a shitload of books. Until early this year, I never had all of my books in one place. They had been scattered among storage bins for years. When I dug everything out, I realized that I had quite a number of books but not too many that I was in the mood to read.
"Why not try some more Philip K. Dick?" I thought. I had read Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep years before and had just recently watched Total Recall and Minority Report —both based on Dick stories. Not really having a grasp on Dick’s body of work, I decided to check out a documentary on this prolific and mysterious author, The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick. Big mistake.
My first clue that Mark Steensland’s documentary was trouble should have been the excruciatingly long computer animated opening credit sequence. Bits of this animation rear their ugly head throughout the movie between the droning talking head interviews. Philip K. Dick might be an interesting fellow, and the folks interviewed here might be relating some fun or insightful anecdotes, yet Streesland presents everything in such a way that I ended up not giving a shit.
I’ll admit that I didn’t know Dick before this movie and don’t know much more after seeing The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick. True, I ended up watching this on "Fast Forward" after a half hour out of this 80-minute work, but even the occasional snippets that I caught after that bored me to tears. This documentary doesn’t do much to shed any light on the author or his work. The entire piece seems frustratingly determined to dole out small bits of information over an over-extended period.
Shot on video with an estimated $1.97 budget, if you’re interested in Dick I’d recommend saving your time and money and reading some of Dick’s work instead of trying to sit through this insufferable flick.
2009: Lost Memories (Lee Si-myung, 2001, Korea)
Shortly after seeing Vincenzo Natali’s Cypher, I became aware of two other films that appeared to have been cut from a Philip K. Dick cloth; Min Byung-chun’s Natural City and Lee Si-myung’s 2009: Lost Memories. Where Cypher felt close to Dick’s "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" and Natural City his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, 2009 was under threat of falling through the cracks as it smacked of a Dick novel that has yet to have an "official" adaptation, The Man in the High Castle.
What if the Axis powers had won WWII? That’s been a question long posed in alternative versions of history. 2009: Lost Memories goes back further to the 1909 assassination of Chosun Governor Ito by Choong-Kum Ahn, proposing that this event could have sparked a flurry of dramatic shifts in history. No longer enemies, the United States and Japan would have fought as allies in World War II, atomic bombs would have been dropped on Britain, and "The Great East Asian Union" would serve as the second largest superpower in the world.
The majority of the movie takes place in Seoul—third largest city in the Japanese Empire. When the Korean Republican Army (also known as the Hureisenjin) take over Ito Hall, Japanese Bureau of Investigation agents Sakamoto Masayuki (Jang Dong-gun) and Saigo Shojiro (Toru Nakamura) are called in to diffuse the situation. Like their American counterparts, the JBI tends to shoot first and never ask questions later. The sole exception to this is Sakamoto who insists on digging into the KRA’s activities.
Sakamoto uses his Japanese moniker despite being a Korean. In this brave new world, Korea is merely an extension of the East Asian Union’s territory. Korea’s cultural history and language have long ago been officially dissolved and its citizens are second class at best. When Sakamoto’s investigation into the KRA threatens to rock the foundation of the illustrious and mysterious Inoue Foundation, he’s framed for murder and told by his superiors, "You’ll find lots of friends in jail since most of them are Korean."
While Dick’s use of an alternative future is far from wholly original, The Man in the High Castle is a highly satisfactory science fiction tale. Dick’s novel lacks an organized rebellion to the alternate timeline but has The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an underground novel which paints a much more familiar world in which the Axis powers fell. 2009: Lost Memories also owes a debt to Chris Marker’s La Jettee in Sakamoto’s future/past dream.
Moreover, director Lee Si-myung appears to be aping the style of John Woo just as Jang Dong-gun shares quite a few facial expressions with Chow Yun Fat. Additionally, the relationship between Sakamoto and Saigo recalls the tempestuous alliance between many of Woo’s characters. It’s ironic, then, that the disassociative plot of 2009: Lost Memories should so strongly recall the work of Philip K. Dick when Woo would later helm the adaptation of Dick’s "Paycheck."
Rather than tracking down the overlong 2009: Lost Memories, I recommend sticking with Peter Hyams’ Timecop for a much better time travel adventure film.
Gory Gory Hallelujah (Sue Corcoran, 2004, USA)
Another entry in the long tradition of Jesus Motorcycle Gang movies, Sue Corcoran’s Gory Gory Hallelujah is the groovy tale of four actors who try out for the role of Jesus in "The Greatest Play Ever Written." The quartet approaches their roles from different perspectives. There’s Rahim the black revolutionary (Jeff Gilbert), Sky the bi hippie (Tim Gouran), Joshua the mensch (Todd Licea), and Jessie the feminist (Angie Louise). When the four Jesuses run into a pack wild Elvis impersonators things get all shook up. On the run from the law after one of the King of Kings lays low one of the Kings of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the group happens upon the wrong backwater Podunk town.
It’s about here where this wild movie settles down; perhaps a little too much. Our four Jesuses become prisoners in Jacksville and are placed with various pillars of the community, only to find that they’re not everything they pretend to be. Unfortunately, this was about the time that I lost interest in the movie. I could have done for more hysteria and less histrionics. It’s a shame that this flick didn’t live up to its potential. Even the zombie-filled finale can’t save the tepid second act.
Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (A.J. Schnack, 2002, USA)
I have a few big caveats I need to give at the outset of this review. I came into this film with a lot of baggage. First, They Might Be Giants is one of my favorite bands (see CdC #9 & 10) and I’ve been dying to see this movie since I heard that it was being made. That said, it took an embarrassing amount of begging and pleading to get a screener copy. I contacted the producer, Shirley Moyers, on countless occasions, asking for a copy as it didn’t come close to my hometown. Yet, for some odd reason, I was told that screeners would only be provided to journalists in towns where the film was playing. The logic of this escaped me.
Couple this with my knowledge that the filmmakers were offered a bevy of film footage starring the nascent Giants which they didn’t accept and that could have finally uncovered the story behind Dave Kendall’s claims that They Might Be Giants were roadies for The Replacements. The reluctance to have their film reviewed by a beseeching journalist and the brush-off of potential contributors (despite posting a desire for stories, pictures, et cetera) lead me to believe that A.J. Schnack’s Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns would be a suboptimal work.
Between the interviews and fleeting bits of archival footage is a kickass concert film. I think I’d rather that Gigantic was a full concert rather than putting up with the inane celebrity endorsements (Harry Shearer, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Richter, Michael McKean, et cetera) and the horribly awful voice of interviewee Sarah Vowell of NPR’s "This American Life." After about a half hour of Gigantic I realized that I’d have gleaned more information about TMBG, from re-reading the liner notes of Miscellaneous T than from Schnack’s documentary.
I tried to come in to Gigantic with an open mind. I also tried to look at the movie as both a fan and someone who might not have ever heard of They Might Be Giants before. As a fan, it was mighty fun watching TMBG going through their creative process. They’re one of the most prolific and inventive groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. As a newbie, I didn’t really have much of a reason to buy in to these two dweebs and their silly little songs. I would have liked to have gotten more of their impact and history much earlier in the film. Tell me the appeal of these guys rather than making me dig it out from amongst the interviews. And I could have done without the five minutes of stories about coffeemakers.
In short, Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns wasn’t worth the frustration or the wait. If you’re a fan or coming to the band fresh stick to their music videos and albums.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (Ivan Dixon, 1973, USA)
Re-released with nary a bang nor a whimper by Tim Reid’s New Millennium Studios in early 2004, The Spook Who Sat by the Door remains one of the most striking and important films of the 1970s. Based on the novel by Sam Greenlee, Spook is the subversive tale of Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook) who’s hired into the CIA as a "token Negro" and political tool for a Senator to appeal to black voters.
Freeman does his best to keep his head low and nose clean as he soaks up as much of the CIA’s tactics as possible before taking his leave. He heads back to Chicago, adept now at pushing paperwork and, more importantly, making explosives, handling guns, and a wide range of other "covert ops." Freeman maintains his air of respectability via his Social Service job. However, his life outside of work includes organizing and leading an underground guerilla army, recruiting from the gangs with which he works. "You really want to mess with Whitey? I can show you how."
Known on the street as Turk, Freeman’s group could give Al-Qaeda a run for their money. Freeman knows the "rules" and "the game" and he plays it expertly. For example, when Freeman needs funds for his domestic terrorism operation, he asks the lightest skinned members to rob a bank, knowing that such a well organized group would be mistaken for white, leading authorities on a wild goose chase. "This took brains and guts, which we don’t have, right?"
An incendiary tale of revolution, Spook should have lit up the country—had it not been pulled from theaters almost immediately after release. The film is as chilling now in an era where people jump at their shadows for fear of terrorists, as it must have been when it came out originally when cities still smoldered after the riots of the late ’60s. Only available for years via grey market dealers in a less-than-pristine video version, the DVD release of The Spook Who Sat by the Door has been given the deluxe treatment this must-see film deserves.
Whole (Melody Gilbert, 2003, USA)
If I had my druthers, I’d have a few of my moles removed and, perhaps, my teeth corrected. I don’t think that this qualifies me for an Extreme Makeover from the ABC show nor do I think that I suffer from Body Integrity Identity Disorder. Some people obsess over the shape of their noses or the size of their breasts and there are others who live out their lives convinced that their limbs are not their own. Psychologically, these folks have been compared to men and women with gender dysphoria. Yet, while some can readily accept the idea that a person doesn’t feel comfortable with their gender, the notion of a limb being superfluous strikes most as utterly irrational.
Director Melody Gilbert interviews a handful of men who feel, or have felt, the need to have a limb removed. She does a fantastic job of documenting the pain and confusion of those who wish to be free of their limbs along with the impact this unrelenting desire has on their family. One of the most harrowing scenes details the man who set his leg on dry ice for two hours, damaging it enough to merit removal and knowing, within millimeters, what flesh "belonged" to him and what didn’t.
The men who live with their limbs intact refer to themselves as "wannabes." One man finds some satisfaction in bicycling only with this "good leg" while another ties his "bad leg" up and ambulates via crutches or wheelchair. These men often seek therapy (or have been institutionalized) only to be left without answers. Dr. Michael First readily admits that psycholinguists lack the knowledge and understanding to help these people. At the moment, there isn’t even an official term for this in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). First has coined "Body Integrity Identity Disorder" for now as the next closest term—Apotemnophilia—is often used more for sexual arousal gained from amputation fantasy or amputated limbs (also known as "amputee devotees"—see www.ampulove.com for more details).
Is this body mutilation or correction? The peace of mind that the amputees feel compared to the anxiety of the wannabes seems to testify that these men genuinely are "whole" when others may consider them lacking. Kudos to Melody Gilbert for bringing this phenomenon to light. More than being a "freak of the week" documentary, Gilbert handles the matter with compassion, understanding, and fine filmmaking.
Winter Soldier (The Winterfilm Collective, 1972, USA)
By the time this is published the presidential elections of 2004 will be over—as long as there are no dimpled chads to be had this time around. At the moment, with just weeks left before Election Day, I can’t go for more than a few minutes without seeing a political ad on television. I’m most captivated by the latest round of ads in which John Kerry and George W. Bush try to paint themselves as the bigger patriot and cast their opponent as anti-American. Most often I see footage of Kerry as a shabby-haired young man as he testifies on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) before Congress in 1971. Kerry is portrayed as holding a knife wedged between the shoulders of America and said to be only slightly less evil than "Hanoi" Jane Fonda.
It’s ironic, then, that in this period of time when theaters, bookstores, and even movie retailers are awash in political tracts from Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry to Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, that a powerful documentary about the VVAW movement should remain in obscurity. Taking its name from a Thomas Paine quote, the Winter Soldier investigation took place in late January/early February of 1971 in Detroit, Michigan. Over three days more than 100 veterans testified to a barrage of atrocities committed during their service in Vietnam. Documented in Mark Lane’s Conversations with Americans (ISBN: 0671207687) and the film Winter Solider, the harrowing tales told by these men have been subjected to attack ever since.
Just as some people have made careers out of trying to debunk the Holocaust, some people deny that the tales of the Winter Soldiers are complete fabrications. These people often go so far as to claim that the Winter Soldiers never were soldiers nor had they ever stepped foot off American soil. Visiting www.wintersoldier.com (an Anti-VVAW website) would lead a reader to believe that U.S. soldiers were more polite than Boy Scouts as they fought in Vietnam. This leads me to wonder how they reinterpret the photos from the Iraq prison Abu Ghraib...
Winter Soldier is a straight-forward documentary that captures typical testimonials from soldiers. They talk about what they did or saw in Vietnam along with the way their spirits were broken in boot camp. The harrowing tales of dehumanization they spin sheds a good deal of light on how these men could abandon their morals and compassion once they got into Vietnam. "They could just about gear you into doing anything they want," says one veteran.
On par with Peter Davis’s Hearts and Minds, there is an injustice of Winter Soldier being sentenced to oblivion. Rather, this film should be rediscovered and celebrated as a testament to the horrors of war and the bravery of the Winter Soldiers.
Akumulator 1 (Jan Sverak, 1994, Czechoslovakia)
Ever feel run down? Lethargic? When Olda Soukup (Petr Forman) falls into an unconscious stupor for four days, he’s awakened by "Doctor" Fisarek (a great performance by Zdenek Sverák), a healer who puts Olda in touch with the ceaseless natural energy that surrounds us. Soon Fisarek has Olda tapping into the stored power in wood, art, opera, and sex. When Fisarek’s old friend Mikulík turns up dead the two begin an investigation of what insidious forces could drain a healthy man of every bit of energy and leave him as an empty husk. Ironically, it’s the same thing that’s long been blamed for the decline in box office revenue: television!
Shortly before Olda’s coma, he appeared on TV in a man-on-the-street interview (or "vox pop"). This created a second Olda that exists only within the crazed Disneyland of television. Now whenever the real fOlda watches TV (and he does so quite a bit), his energy feeds his second self. It’s as if television is his Kryptonite. With TV’s everywhere, this leads to some embarrassing moments of powerlessness including one scene involving a remote control and love making with Mikulik’s daughter, Anna (Edita Brychta).
Akumulator 1 is a clever and compelling tale of prioritizing one’s life and finding the power to take control of one’s destiny.
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004, United Kingdom)
A sucky job, an uptight flat mate, an overbearing step-dad, and a row with your girlfriend; can a town full of zombies really make things much worse? Starring Simon Pegg as Shaun and Nick Frost as his mate Ed, Shaun takes the piss out of zombie movies with its referential dialogue and many scenes of having fun with the recently resurrected (such as trying to take them out with Shaun’s prized record collection).
Shaun follows the typical zombie structure with its group of mismatched survivors constantly seeking safety from the flesh eating former folks. Completely unprepared for the walking dead, our heroes use an assortment of shovels, cricket bats, and other blunt objects to fend off the zombie menace. Apparently they never read Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide! Favorite scenes include Ed and Shaun doing a sing-along of Grandmaster Flash’s "White Lines" with an undead chap and the remarkably choreographed bashing of a zombie all set to Queen’s "Don’t Stop Me Now." Funny stuff.