Friday, October 30, 2009

October 2009: How Pregnancy Happens - The Fun Way

Time for a real educational video. What the hell, they’re film, too. I really can't recall any of the Sex Ed films that I ever saw in school as being as funny as this one, but then, who knows if this one ever got shown in a public school. This little animated gem was made for Planned Parenthood by flickerlab, a politically correct communications firm with a fun sense of humour that have done all sorts of groovy and entertaining shorts and stuff for firms like the American Heart Association (The Bad Fat Brothers) and Proctor & Gamble or shows like the Colbert Report. Among the four managing partners and creative directors of flickerlab is Harold Moss, who did the fabulous short A Brief History of the USA for Bowling for Columbine (2003/trailer).

Meatball Machine (Japan, 2005)

Another great film from the home country of Issei Sagawa... that be Japan, for those of you who don't know who he is.

The not-yet-infamous Fundoshi Corps is a Japanese exploitation firm specializing in cheap Japanese school girl soft-core (?), horror anthologies, and a whole slew of machine-based horror. Among the fun stuff they have regurgitated is Robo-Geisha (2009 / trailer), Unholy Woman (2006 / trailer), The Machine Girl (2008 / trailer) and this baby, an interesting little film called Meatball Machine. The 2005 feature-length version of Meatball Machine, supposedly directed in tandem by Yûdai Yamaguchi (the man behind Battlefield Baseball [2003 / trailer]) and Jun'ichi Yamamoto, is a low budget remake of an even lower budget short film by Jun'ichi Yamamoto alone from 1999 also entitled Meatball Machine. Some DVDs out there are said to include both films; regrettably the one watched for this review did not. So who knows to what extent this newer, longer version is different, but considering how fucking great the 2005 version is, it is hard to believe that the short one can be any better. (Sometimes, size does matter.)
This time around, oddly enough, the script is credited to Junya Kato alone, who also scribed the genre-mix Death Trance (2005/ trailer). The film tells the tale of a young milquetoast factory worker named Joji (Issei Takahashi), a wimpy virgin, who secretly yearns for the young Sachiko (Aoba Kawai), a woman he often watches hang wash on the other side of the canal during his lunch break. Unknown to them – and the rest of Japan, obviously enough – parasites that look oddly reminiscent of an horseshoe crab are on the loose in the neighborhood, turning their hosts into ugly mutants called "Neoborgs". (Where the name comes from is obvious enough, especially midway through the film when one character flatly states "Resistance is futile".) The Neoborgs are killing machines that do nothing but kill anyone that crosses their path. But much like in The Highlander (1986 / trailer), they prefer to kill their own kind; only, instead of absorbing energy of the defeated dead in a cheap light show, the winning Neoborg bloodily rip the controlling parasite out of the neck of the dead Neoborg and eats it for lunch. (We get to see one such battle before the credits even roll, when a parasite converts a would-be suicide and, shortly thereafter, first splits open the head of another Neoborg and then dines in a shower of red blood.)
After a failed attempt at losing his cherry with a prostitute, Joji ends up saving Sachiko from being raped by his boss. Later, as the two would-be lovebirds begin to get to know each other back at Joji's flat, Sachiko gets attacked and converted by a parasite in a scene that brings to mind the wonderfully tasteless death of Dr. Barbara Glaser (June Chadwick) in that sleaze sci-fi classic Forbidden World (1982 / trailer). (One wonders when the first horror film will come out using the same concept but with men and the rear door.) Soon thereafter, Joji is likewise infected, but he manages to prevent full transformation and sets out to save Sachiko. But all Sachiko wants is lunch…
Meatball Machine is very much a descendent of Shinya Tsukamoto’s industrial art-splatter B&W films Testuo: Iron Man (1989 / trailer) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992 / trailer), but in full colour, less artistic pretensions and a lot more blood, guts and latex. It is a film that easily leads to you to cocking your eye in amazement as you wonder just what the fuck did you put in the DVD player. In other words, Meatball Machine is some pretty fine gonzo trash from Japan.… No CGI, good old cheap and sleazy low budget blood and guts with inferred sex and cannibalism.
The film ends with a nihilistic twist that doesn’t really hold water but is good for a laugh. Meatball Machine is not an art film – it is far more Accion Mutante (1993) than Eraserhead (1977 / trailer) – but for fans of glibbery gross-out violence and immature humour, it is an industrial blood bath well worth visiting.

The Mummy (USA, 1999)

A supposed remake of the original which has little to do with any of the previous mummy films, be it the 1936 production with Boris Karloff (trailer), the tacky Hammer production with Christopher Lee (trailer) or any of the numerous sequels of both earlier versions. Other than the facts that one character goes by the name Ardeth Bay – Karloff's "human" name in the original version of The Mummy – and that the High Priest Imhotep gets his tongue cut out before being buried alive, there are few similarities between John L. Balderston's original screenplay of the Karl Freud Universal film and the special effects extravaganza Stephan Sommers serves up. The Mummy, in this case, is more closely related to James Cameron's Titanic (1997 / trailer) than the cheesy Hammer production or the artful original. For fans of state-of-the-art special effects (ala 1999) the film is a must, but anyone looking for depth, involvement, characterization, tension, suspense or anything else that might make the film enjoyable shouldn't bother.
Not to say that it is an unwatchable film. The Mummy is simply a by-the-number Hollywood product for the unthinking, uncaring masses. It is as sterile as it is predictable, as perfectly made as it is unsatisfying. More hokey and dumb than camp and enjoyable, the movie features too much second-rate Indiana Jones and not enough of a logical story or even of a mummy. Much too long, the film never excites or involves, though the effects sure do razzle and dazzle. That all the effects are computer generated is not the problem; the problem is that the film itself feels as if it were made by a computer. Sommers' direction is competent enough, but he is no master when it comes to intelligent scriptwriting, and is definitely better suited to doing more unabashedly trashy work, like his script to Gunmen (1994 / trailer) or his entertaining and almost equally computer generated (but miles better) monster flick Deep Rising (1998 / trailer). The script to this mummy movie is definitely much too flawed to warrant it's seeming A-production, though the money it has brought in at box office does little to support this thesis... but then, the taste of the masses has never been understandable, as is easily proven by such things as varied as Sly Stallone movies, Bush’s two terms as president, Sex and the City and the death penalty. Perhaps if Brendan Fraser (as Rick O'Connell) had taken his shirt off and shown more of the excellent physic he paraded in George of the Jungle (1997 / trailer) the film might have been a bit more interesting, but regrettably he, like Rachel Weisz, stays clothed throughout the whole film.
The biggest flaw to the story is the very idea behind the mummy's power. In ancient Egypt, when Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) and Princess Anck Su Samun (Patricia Velazquez) kill the pharaoh, Imhotep is punished by being buried alive with a curse that converts him into a godlike creature should he ever be awakened. (Excuse me? He basically gets converted from being a mere mortal into being an evil god as a punishment? Is there something I don't understand here?) Of course, the Egyptians then form a secret society that guards the grave for centuries, killing all who try to open the tomb but who don't really bother all that hard to stop the newest group of infidels from doing so. Most escape, so the big bad magic man follows them to town and reclaims the various urns stolen that contain the innards needed to revive his love, killing the predictable victims and visiting various biblical plagues onto the masses along the way. Though he can be stopped only by cats, the heroes don't even bother to take a single kitty with them when they go to save the kidnapped Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz). (Despite the fact that he didn't require a human sacrifice during his first attempt to revive his babe centuries ago, the all powerful godlike creature suddenly needs one in the 20th century. Not only that, but it just has to be Evelyn.) There is a brief interlude in which everyone gets transported into the movie Jason & the Argonauts (1963 / trailer) which is rather enjoyable, but it seems to me that for such a powerful creature the mummy fights rather sloppily.
Of course, all is well that ends well and our three surviving heroes ride off into the sunset, a fourth hero that by all accounts should be dead suddenly popping up to wish them well. As to be expected, The Mummy went on to spawn (to date) two unnecessary but widely popular sequels, The Mummy Returns (2001 / trailer) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008 / trailer), the last of which is the best of the three.

Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008)

OK, the truth is out: Ingmar Bergman is alive and undead and still in Sweden where he now makes low-budget vampire films.
Naw, not really, but Tomas Alfredson, the director of Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In, sure seems to have a gloomy streak comparable to the late great art house master, for his film version of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel – Lindqvist also wrote the screenplay – is as morose and grim as any of Bergman's B&W contemplations on daily misery. Really, going by the Swedish films I’ve seen to date – including this one – the question that comes to my mind is not why some Swedes commit suicide, but why they don't all do so.

Let the Right One In is in all intents and purposes a vampire film, but what a unique one it is. No sexy vampires here, no superhuman undead killing machines, no hot babes with heaving bodices, no philosophical contemplations on the nature of man and beast, death and killing. No, instead, amidst the icy, cold, depressing and alienating suburban landscape of Blackeberg, Sweden, a location populated by middle-aged alcoholics, sadistic kids, and uninterested parents and teachers, a grim and death-filled tale unfolds of two lonely "kids" that first develop a friendship with and then a consensual need for each other.
Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), who lives with his divorced mom in a bleak suburban circa 1982, is terrorized at school by a trio of future juvenile delinquents. One night as he takes his frustrations out by stabbing a tree – "Squeal like a pig. So, Squeal." – he is suddenly confronted by his new neighbor, a dark-haired and underdressed girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) who smells as if she has less than good grooming habits. She can stand no sun or food, and more than once maintains that she is not a girl, but slowly a deep friendship develops between the two – a friendship deep enough that Oskar can deal with the eventual realization that Eli is a vampire as easily as one might accept the fact that someone is left-handed or dyslexic.
Eli lives with Håkan (Per Ragnar), a man who could be her father, her lover, her Renfield or any combination thereof, who goes out at night killing people and draining them of their blood to feed his charge. (In truth, however, both times he goes out hunting in the film he is so incredible incompetent one can only wonder how he ever managed to keep Eli regularly fed.) His untimely end forces Eli to go hunting on her own, which results in the tragedy of Virginia (Ika Nord), who meets an end similar to that met by Emmanuel (Don Rickles) in Innocent Blood (1992 / trailer) but not played for laughs. Eli helps Oskar learn to defend himself, but instead of ending the torture it sets a series of events into motion that could easily mean his death... but what are friends for if not to help each other in times of need?
Let the Right One In is probably one of the most unspectacular vampire films ever made, and therein lies much of it strength. The story develops slowly and grimly, with but occasional unspectacular flashes of violence or blood, but the very lack of spectacle makes the horror of the events all the more uncomfortable. Eli may be undead, but most of those who are alive seem to be emotionally dead or crippled, and the harm that they do onto each other – emotionally and physical – can hardly be called living or humane. But even as the friendship blossoms between Eli and Oskar, as they learn that they both need and want each other's friendship, the viewer is left with an uncomfortable and queasy feeling that what to come after the film has ended can hardly be better than the horrors just witnessed.
As is the case with so many "foreign" films, Let the Right One In has entered remake hell: director Matt Reeves, the man who directed Cloverfield (2008 / trailer), will be releasing his Americanized version in 2010. Somehow it seems doubtful he'll manage a film half as disquieting as the original.

Disturbing Behavior (USA, 1998)

(Spoilers.) Back in 1998, in-between all the TV directorial jobs that pay the rent, director David Nutter brought out this teenage riff of The Stepford Wives (1975 / trailer), his first non-television job since his direct-to-DVD double Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (trailer) and Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (trailer) in 1994. And while Disturbing Behavior is hardly the most intelligent of films, it is at least too well made to be truly terrible, even if the story itself – from Scott Rosenberg, who also penned such great films (Not!) as Con Air (1997 / trailer), Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000 / trailer) and Kangaroo Jack (2003 / trailer) – not only relies too much on both a MacGuffin and deus ex machine, but would flat out sink in seconds if it were a boat. That aside, it does perfectly reflect true teenage paranoia: parents aren't just un-hip or a drag in this film, when they drop their two-faced smile they reveal themselves evil, unloving entities that are seemingly willing at the drop of a hat to have their mildly troublesome teens turned into robotic, academically perfect preppies (the “Blue Ribbons") with a tendency for explosive violence. Worse, authority figures such as the police are even willing to suppress double murders to ensure that the football game the next day isn't lost…
It is that double murder that opens the film: as secretly witnessed one night by stoner Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl of Terminator III [2003 / trailer]), Blue Ribbon Andy Efkin (Tobias Mehler) kills a Goth when she tries to suck out his "vital fluids" and then a cop, but Officer Cox (Steve Railsback) covers it all up – despite the fact that Andy also kills his partner. Gavin later makes friends with the newly arrived clean-cut but slightly troubled Allen Clark (James Marsden) when he and family move to the island community of Cradle Bay after his brother kills himself. (In all truth, what little one gets of his family, it seems more as if his parents are the troubled ones, not he.) Allen goes all gushy over Rachel (an eternally unconvincing but bonkable Katie Holmes), but by rejecting the friendship of the Blue Ribbons basically seals his doom – but not before Gavin's parents trade their son in for a Young Republican model.
Realizing that Gavin's prior paranoia was more than just pot-induced, and after a surreal interaction with Blue Ribbon Lorna Longley (Crystal Cass) who freaks out when giving in to her baser carnal instincts – "Bad wrong, wrong bad, bad wrong, wrong bad," she says as she bangs her head against a mirror – Allen and Rachel decide to find out what exactly the school doctor Dr. Edgar Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) is doing to the kids. This involves a totally out of place interlude in which they visit an insane asylum for an extended scene that seems first-and-foremost to come from another film. Back on the island, the two are promptly hauled in for the special treatment, but thanks to a well-stolen scalpel Allen and Rachel can escape. But Dr. Caldicott and the Blue Ribbons are out to stop them, and do – but then, just in time, the film's obvious deus ex machine, the Kurt-Vonnegut-reading and rat-hating school janitor Dorian Newberry (William Sadler), shows up with his MacGuffin and saves the day.
The German version of Disturbing Behavior ends with Gavin walking into an inner-city classroom as the new teacher, ready to re-enslave minority America.
As already mentioned, Disturbing Behavior is far from a good film, it is merely a well-made film. The mini-social studies course Gavin gives in the school lunchroom is nifty, and Rachel proves to be a babe who can well hold her own, but the story as a whole is undercooked, much like the characterization of every adult in the movie. (Unlike many of the kids, who do actually exude character, all the adults in the film are there simply to serve the function of continuing the plot; none of their actions or decisions are ever given enough background to really be understandable. But then, seeing that the film is very much aimed at the alienated teen, the adults probably reflect how they are viewed by kids in real life.) Disturbing Behavior is an acceptable time waster and a passable version of The Stepford Wives – much better in any event than the 1987 made-for-TV movie The Stepford Children – but there are really so many other, better films out there that it is, in the end, hard to recommend.

In the Cut (USA, 2003)

Probably the nicest thing that can be said about this film is to say that it is a mildly interesting failure. Regrettably, the emphasis must be placed less on “mildly interesting” and much more on “failure.” Don’t know how someone who made films as interesting as Sweetie (1989), An Angel at My Table (1990 / trailer) and The Piano (1993 / trailer) ever ended up producing a film like this one, but then, Alfred Hitchcock also made Topaz (1969 / trailer), an equally incomprehensible filmic slip-up – sometimes, shit happens.
Supposedly, New-Zealand-born (but Australian-residing) Jane Campion had been wanting to make this film since the book it was based on – Susanna Moore's novel of the same name – came out in 1996. Perhaps the book has something to it that the film lacks, for minus the occasional artsy interludes (specifically: the dream and memory sequences involving a skating couple, the parents of Frannie (Meg Ryan) – which are also the best scenes in the entire film) the film is really not that much more than a well shot but misfired contemporary imitation of a typically sleazy mid-1970s Italian giallo film, only with a low body count and without the bad dubbing and killer in black gloves, the kind of film in which you know who the murderer is because (s)he always has the least screen time.
In the Cut is available in two versions, an R-rated or an unrated DVD. The unrated might be slightly infamous for its close-up of a blowjob (an obvious [uncircumcised] dildo to anyone with the slightest of knowledge), but the scene adds little to the film. Had it been a long shot (with, perhaps, digital enhancement of the oh-so-important fingernails), its inclusion could be justified; but as a close-up it comes across less as a necessity than as a cheap attempt to shock in a film that seems to want to shock but, for the most part, reminds one of a little boy telling a dirty joke that he doesn’t understand. (Odd, actually, seeing how many women were involved in the production.) The sex scenes between Frannie and Dt. Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) are a bit longer in the uncut version, too, but unless your particular hot to see Meg Ryan naked, the additional seconds don’t add much either. (Which isn’t to say that Meg Ryan doesn’t look good naked: her character may have the expressiveness if wet dishrag, but she is still a good looking wet dishrag.)
The plot is rather by the numbers, but just has a bit more sex thrown in for titillation. Frannie is a frustrated but sexually active creative writing teacher whose very sexual activity (and inability to commit) seems to doom her to an unsatisfying life (an oddly puritan attitude, in truth). Soon after she witnesses a blowjob in the basement of a bar, the head of the blower later turns up in the garden of the NYC tenement she lives in. (As is typical of almost any and all films that take place in NYC, almost everyone in the film, no matter what their income, lives alone in apartments that are easily ten times the size of any apartments of anyone you know who lives in NYC – hell, they’re bigger than mine here in Berlin, which is 130 qm.) An NYC detective named Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) literally turns up at her doorstep asking questions; the dead woman is only the latest victim of a serial killer that "disarticulates" women. Although Frannie didn’t see the blowee’s face, she did see his hand, and he sported a cheap tattoo just like that Malloy has on his hand. In no time flat the two be bonking away, despite the fact that he treats her rather like shit and she, in turn, thinks he might be the murderer. (Another typically American attitude: he bonks all of two times and then starts talking marriage.) Frannie’s best friend is her younger half-sister Pauline (an as-always excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh), but as to be expected she gets "disarticulated", too. Still, Malloy puts it “in the cut” one more time before Frannie suddenly decides he is indeed the murderer and runs off to even greater endangerment…
The murderer of In the Cut is so obvious from the beginning that to call the film a mystery thriller is a lie, for there is truly no mystery other than that Frannie must have incredibly selective eyesight when it comes to tattoos. Indeed, when it comes to the mystery the film is pretty much an insult to the intelligence of the viewer – anyone with half a brain can figure out which of the three most-likelies is the definite killer even through Campion continually hides the tell-tale tattoo although it should be obvious to anyone with eyes (including Frannie).
To give credit where credit is due, the film is wonderfully shot and composed, as are all Campion’s films. Likewise, with the exception of both the killer and Meg Ryan, the acting is in general excellent – assholes such as Dt. Malloy actually come across as real assholes, and Pauline conveys an oddly touching sensitivity that does much to make her the most likable person in the movie. Contrary to popular opinion, Ryan can act and in some of her films she even manages to give her good girls a level of depth not really required for her normal film product. But in In the Cut, Ryan seems to confuse not acting with acting, and gives Frannie the blank expressiveness of a post-lobotomized idgit. OK, she manages to get a bit of life into the scenes where she discovers her dead half-sister, but the rest of the time she comes across like someone with liquid Prozac as blood. Not good.
Just like the film, actually…

The Woods (Canada, 2006)

Lucky McKee made a more than auspicious directorial debut in 2002 with May, a quiet but seriously disturbing, effective and sad horror film. His follow-up film, The Woods, was perhaps doomed from the start, as May is a hard movie to top or follow. Finished in 2003, The Woods was promptly shelved and sat around three years gathering dust before it finally went direct to DVD, where it was and still is generally met with total disdain or high critical kudos. Both extremes are, however, unwarranted, for while The Woods is a well-directed, finely acted and effectively moody psychological horror tale, it also fails to pack a truly convincing punch and the ending feels more than rushed and unresolved.
Still, McKee's film is a far more engaging and engrossing film than many other bigger budgeted horror releases that have made it to the big screen without problems – say, anything by M. Night Shyamalan since The Sixth Sense (1999 / trailer) and most of the untold number of Hollywood remakes of Asian horror films that have flooded the market since The Ring (2002 / trailer); as such The Woods is more than worth putting into your DVD player. But don’t expect blood, gore and T&A: despite its girl's school setting (which would seem to lend itself perfectly to sexploitive horror), The Woods is as low on exploitation as it is high in restrained dread and a slowly growing sense of unavoidable doom. There is, in the end, far more of the original (and best) version of The Haunting (1963 / trailer) in The Woods than, say, Suspiria (1977 / trailer), the film that probably inspired it.
Unlike in Suspiria, in which a young dancer (played by Jessica Harper) goes to a dance school in 1970s Rome and discovers it to be run by witches, the heroine of The Woods is a troubled teenager in 1965 who is sent by her parents to a private school called Falburn Academy located deep in the forests of New England that is, she slowly discovers, run by witches. The troubled girl in question, Heather (Agnes Bruckner), is estranged from her parents Alice (Emma Campbell) and Joe (Bruce Campbell) since she burnt down the tree in the backyard. At the school, she is quickly christened Fire-Crotch and finds it difficult to find her place between her teasing classmates and the decidedly odd spinsters that work there. (Hmm, did they actually call unmarried women "Ms." In 1965? I seem to recall still having to differentiate between "Miss" and "Mrs" all the way up to the 80s.) An attempt to escape through the forest proves only to be a nightmare experience, and soon thereafter she learns the scary legend of the school about a trio of young girls with special powers that killed the original head mistress way back when…
Thing is, Heather has special powers, too. Students disappear, and then the hot blonde bitch that’s been harassing her (Rachel Nichols as Samantha) "kills herself" after revealing to Heather that she is in danger. Daddy and Mommy come to take Heather away, but the woods prevent them and in no time flat Mommy is dead, Daddy is a hexed catatonic and Heather is back in school in the clutches of Head Mistress Traverse (Patricia Clarkson, who since her feature film debut as the wife of Eliot Ness in The Untouchables [1987 / trailer] has become the US version of Alice Krige – i.e., a classy and excellent actress that’ll star in anything). At this point the film becomes a bit muddled as it rushes towards its climax in which… well, watch the film yourself and find out.
As mentioned above, The Woods is not the bloodiest of films – although the final ax fight does allow for some slight blood and innards – nor is it the most action packed, but then neither was May. And like May, The Woods is full well acted and engaging, if not far less depressing. The biggest narrative flaw is that the what and the why behind the actions of the witches is hard to follow, but if you’re satisfied with the simple explanation that the girls are needed for the witches to become freed, then that shouldn't bother you any. (Still, one would think that a school active for over 100 years at which girls keep disappearing would gain some infamy and notice.)
In short: Though flawed, The Woods is another interesting, effective, dread-laden and well made and acted film by Lucky McKee that can easily be watched with the gore-disdaining other-half. The original Suspiria, by the way, is currently going through pre-production hell so as to be remade in the near future; currently (Oct 14, 2009) David Gordon Green, the director of Pineapple Express (2008 / trailer) is set to direct.

Django 2: il grande ritorno / Django Strikes Again (Italy, 1987)

Twenty-odd years after the original film and following an untold number of "sequels" Franco Nero finally returned to star in this "official" sequel to Sergio Corbucci's classic Spaghetti Western, Django (1966 / trailer). And what a misbegotten piece of shit it is. Lacking any and all the style, wit and craftsmanship of the original – or, for that matter, many of the unofficial sequels – Nello Rossati's film not only bores, it is often painful to watch.
Cobucci's Django was a violent film, but for all its excesses it never felt filthy, and featured an excellent sense of style and action, a grasp of both black and low humor and a decent script. Likewise, Nero's original characterization of the title character was richly in nuances, which definitely helped make the anti-hero keep both one's interest and sympathy. In Django 2, Nero has dumped all the depth and humor that he gave in his original characterization and made the man into a cardboard figure, a glaring and uninteresting bore bent on a mission of revenge who should gain our sympathy because he's supposedly the hero, but never does. In short, he’s all the Spaghetti Rambo as personified in some of the movie posters.

Directing the film as "Ted Archer", director Nello Rossati — whose only other film of note, L'Infemiera / The Sensuous Nurse (1976) is remembered only for the scenes of Ursula Andress hot-looking naked flesh — definitely lacks the ability to make an involving, multifaceted movie. Despite its obvious budget, this waste of celluloid is as exciting and interesting as a dull television movie, and features about as much logic and continuity. Even Gianfranco Plenzio's music is so inconsistent as to become annoying. For much of the film, he seems to be parodying Morricono, the rest of the time his crass use of a synthesizer is better suited for a cheap horror movie. Instead of in any way underscoring emotions or emphasizing mood, the music serves only to emphasize how crappy the entire film is. The script is likewise disappointing. Flat, uninteresting and predictable, characterization is minimal and development nonexistent, the action about the level one would expect from a western starring Lorenzo Lamas, if he were ever to make one. Hell, the average Andrew Stevens film is more gripping and involving than what Rossati's vomited on the screen. As to be expected in a film this bad, Donald Pleasence makes a small, pointless appearance as Gunn, a fellow prisoner at the silver mine cum concentration camp who exists only to supply some unfunny and misplaced humor but, for that, he still turns out to be one of the few highlights of the film.
The best part of the whole flick is the pre-credit opening scene, which seems to be cut from many English language versions of the movie. In it, two old timers meet up for a shoot out, each missing the other on purpose in the hope that the other will kill him, thus allowing him to die "with his boots on." Afterwards, over a bottle of whiskey, they talk about how all the great gunfighters are dead and gone, unable to even remember the name of the guy with the machine gun. Then, when hit by a cannon shot from El Diablo's steamboat, with his last breath one of them gasps out "Django! His name was Django!" before dying. Hey! Really intelligent humor, or? Still, as flat as the joke is, it is the best one in the whole movie.

Filmed in Columbia, Rossati trades the mud and grime of the original Django for a dried out landscape of baked dirt and shrubs. Il grande riturno begins with Django in a monastery, now a monk and retired from his evil ways. Visited by a seemingly tubercular Maria, she informs him that they have a daughter and requests that he should take care of the child when she dies. Visiting Maria's town he arrives after it has been raided, Maria is dead and the daughter kidnapped by "El Diablo" Orlowsky (trash actor Christopher Connelly, in his last film). "El Diablo" is a mad Hungarian who goes up and down the river in his steamboat collecting butterflies, slaughtering people indiscriminately, kidnapping the girls to sell to whorehouses or banditos, and kidnapping the men as slaves for his silver mine. In no time flat Django is also digging in the mine. Realizing that he can no longer deny the use of violence, he escapes, goes to a graveyard and digs his old Gatling gun out of a grave marked "Django". Teaming up with a young boy out to both revenge his father's death and retrieve his bleached skull from the fore of the steamboat, the rest of the movie has the two riding around in a hearse, machine gunning bad people down.
The movie drags along until the big showdown at the silver mine, where Django shoots or blows everything and everyone up, saving thousands of men at the same time. He is obviously still a great shot, for when he indiscriminately shoots into the masses with his machine gun, only the bad guys get hit and all the innocent people can run away unscathed. Ditto when it comes to the dynamite. "El Diablo" bites the dust when he falls into the once enslaved masses and is killed by the mob, the young boy buries his dad's skull in a shallow hole under a tree decorated with what looks like golden bottle caps, the daughter is saved and Django returns to the monastery "to think".
"Il grande riturno" my ass—more like "Il grande fuck-up".

Mirrors (USA, 2008)

(Spoilers) If the length of movie reviews were regulated by laws unwritten or written to be reduced in proportion to the artistic success of the movie they are about, then the blurb I stumbled upon in The New Yorker (issue Aug 11 & 18, 2008) on the Hollywood movie Mirrors would be the appropriate review of the flick. In its whole, it reads: "A horror film, directed by Alexandre Aja, about a family being targeted by evil forces that enter their home through mirrors. Starring Kiefer Sutherland."
But what the hell, I feel like writing something a bit longer, if only to vent my spleen about this piece of shit that was released as a sorry excuse for a horror film. Mirrors is one of those kinds of films which is best left unseen. It nominally functions as an excuse for drinking beer or getting stoned – it is, in any event, more entertaining than any given episode of Desperate Housewives, Heroes or Supernatural – but if you’re out for anything else other than a painfully boring experience you’re truly wasting your time. It is an unexplainable mystery how Alexandre Aja, the man behind the brutal but fascinating French film Haute tension (2003 / trailer) and 2006 version of The Hills Have Eyes (trailer), one of the best Hollywood horror remakes of the decade, managed to make a piece of ham as putrid as Mirrors. The film is nothing less than a prime example of everything that is wrong with Hollywood horror films.
As should be the case with a film with a budget, the acting and production is top notch, but the film itself is all fluff and no content, with a script that has enough holes in its logic to be a Republican president. Having never seen the original Korean film that Mirrors is based on – Sung-ho Kim's Geoul sokeuro / Into the Mirror (2003 / trailer) – I’ve no idea how much blame must be placed on the original source, but seeing that Hollywood can make improved versions – as was the case with The Ring (2002 / trailer), which despite all the naysayers is actually better than the original – there is no excuse for Mirrors to be as shitty as it is no matter what the quality of its inspiration.
Mirrors is a Valium disguised as a supernatural detective flick that thinks it a horror movie. It opens with a bloody scene of a desperate watchman running from something who ends up dying a bloody death when his own reflection slits his throat. Then Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) enters the flick as his replacement as the night watchman at the Mayflower, a burnt down luxury department store. Ben is a recovering alcoholic cop who is off the force since he shot his partner. Estranged from his wife Amy (Paula Patton, last seen as the lead female in Deja Vu (2006 / trailer), the to-date least successful film of the Tony Scott/Denzel Washington team-ups), he now lives with his hot sister Daisy (a sadly under-used Amy Smart). In no time flat Ben realizes there be ghosts not only in them there changing rooms, but in them there mirrors, too. Worse, not only can them there ghosts travel from mirror to mirror but them there ghosts can actually go from reflective surface to reflective surface and are also, like, extremely evil. Daisy bites the dust in what is undoubtedly the money shot of the entire film, a scene that is truly horrific but sadly makes sure that everything that follows is sort of yawn-inducing.
Realizing that the evil reflections have something to do with someone named "Esseker", Ben goes into detective mode and traces the name back to a girl that was treated for schizophrenia in the Mayflower waaaaay back when the building was a nut house. She, however, has long retreated to the safety of a nunnery and has no intention of giving herself back up to being the physical hostess of the evil spirits trapped in the mirrors since her treatments as a child – at least that is the case until Ben forces her to come with him at gun point, upon which she suddenly becomes extremely acquiescent. That is, until the spirits get back in her; after that she sort of goes into super-human unnatural psycho mode. Mirrors ends with a really stupid twist that might have been interesting if the film itself had been good, but after all the boredom preceding it the viewer can only yawn at it.
So, superhuman demons that can obviously travel freely from reflective surface to reflective surface but don't bother to get everyone who looks into a mirror to search for Esseker? Demons that, way back when, haunted Esseker's family enough that they put her in a nunnery but that wait until 2009 to force lowly night watchmen to search for her? And why, if they can obviously also haunt during the day, do they leave the day watchman so totally untouched? Hell, they can effectively attack from the reflection on doorknobs but not from the shiny, reflecting wedding ring the nun wears? (She is, don’t forget, married to god.) Or the windows of the nunnery? Or the shine of the polished floor? I mean, they could have the whole fucking world looking for their original hostess, but prefer instead to bide their time angrily "eating souls" (as the Nun puts it) from mirrors until the next loser night watchman stumbles across their path? Whatever.
So, to return in closing to the concept of "If the length of movie reviews were regulated by laws unwritten or written to be reduced in proportion to the artistic success of the movie they are about," then my review of Mirrors should probably read: "Mirrors is a misfired remake of a Korean horror film that starts out well and has one effective money shot, but in the end is only a boring horror-cum-detective flick that comes across like an over-budgeted direct-to-DVD mistake."
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