Sunday, October 23, 2011

FLICKS OF THE WEEK: October 9-15, October 16-22


Let's get things started off with the strange film Hisss. This cinematic enigma, partially directed by Jennifer Lynch (Lots of controversy surrounding this production), is a horror-detective hybrid created in the Bollywood style of film making, sans the singing and dancing. The film tells of an Indian legend where a Snake woman, protective of her mate, hunts down anyone who holds him captive. The legend comes to life when a greedy and cancer diagnosed American (Damned evil Americans..haha), comes up with a hair brained scheme to capture the male companion of the Snakewoman and hold it ransom for some sort of shot at everlasting life. Supposedly doing this will help him fight the cancer that is slowly eating away at him, but it really wasn't clear on how this would accomplish that unexplainable miracle. Anyways, I kind of just took the film's word for it and allowed myself to let go and enjoy the flick. The movie does feel a bit scattered in places, but overall I came away liking it.

What I liked the most about the film was the interesting detective story that focused on the sole police officer assigned to the string of murders caused by the Snake woman's vengeful search for her mate. Series of strange cases begin to crop up in his district, leaving piles of murder victims who are riddled with multiple venom filled stab wounds. The officer, played by Irrfan Khan, also has a very emotional personal story that the film delves into, making some interesting parallels with the unsolved cases and his relationship with his wife and family. The effects for the film were also scattered, showcasing some amazing transformation sequences of the Snake woman changing into human form and then some abysmal displays of a giant CGI snake that belongs on the SyFy channel. All in all, the film turned out to be not that bad, considering all of the problems that it had during production. Check it out if you're curious.

 King Kong Escapes is an unsurprisingly wacky film featuring everyone's favorite giant ape, King Kong. The Toho Company and Rankin/Bass Productions take a stab at telling an original Kong story, taking the primate far from his Skull island origins and New York City skyline iconic imagery and instead place him smack dab in the middle of a mad scientists diabolical plot to take over the world. In the film, an evil ruler named Dr. Who plans to mine for a rare mineral called Element X at the North Pole. The only thing stopping him from obtaining this mineral and ruling the world is that these precious gems are highly radioactive, making it damn near impossible for anyone to mine for it. That is unless you have a powerful robot in the spitting image of the legendary King Kong.

Well, turns out that still isn't enough, because Dr. Who finds that not even his MechaKong can withstand the radiation emanating from Element X. Wouldn't you know it, Dr. Who's Plan B is to ape-nap the real thing, bringing Kong all the way to the North Pole to mine out the radioactive material. Luckily, Kong's new friends, three American submariners, won't stand for it and do everything in their power to free Kong from the clutches of Dr. Who. This movie is as fun as it sounds, melding the secret agent formula with an evil mastermind, femme fatale, and all, with the larger then life qualities of King Kong himself. King Kong Escapes is a great film for those who need an escape from the norm.

 King Kong vs. Godzilla, is another great Kong movie that pits the grandiose ape against the mighty Godzilla. A pharmaceutical company discovers a unique berry that grows to tremendous sizes on the uncharted island of Farou. Hoping that the research from this berry will help fast track a super product for their company, they set sail to the island to extract samples and study the produce more thoroughly. Surprisingly, they get a bit more then they bargain for, because King Kong happens to inhabit this island too. Betting that the publicity for bringing back something as big as Kong would skyrocket their product into the stratosphere, they decide to capture Kong and display him for all of Japan to see. Of course things don't go as planned and Kong escapes, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. Meanwhile, Godzilla is discovered frozen inside a glacier, but because of a submarine accident, is unleashed upon the world once again.

This sets up the innevitable confrontation between the two and man is it a slobber knocker. They might just be two guys in a rubber suit duking it out, but man do they go at it. As usual, the miniature work for the two creatures' destruction is excellently done, feeling both campy and unusually realistic. I was hoping for an epic stand off between the two and that's exactly what I got. The film is just plain enjoyable all around, like most kaiju movies are, and you really can't go wrong when these two larger then life creatures get together. Bring it on!

Nightmare Castle is a simple yet effective Gothic horror film starring the eternally beautiful Barbara Steele. The movie takes place within a stately mansion, where the recent death's of an adulterous couple seemingly haunt the residents, slowly driving them mad. Barbara Steele plays two roles in this film. The first being the murdered Muriel Arrowsmith, who was caught with her lover by her calculatingly cruel husband Dr. Stephen Arrowsmith, forcing him to torture them both and subsequently killing them. The second role that Barbara portrays is the mentally distraught sister of Muriel, Jenny Arrowsmith. She returns to her sister's home after spending a great deal of time in a mental hospital, and marries her sister's husband, the same one that violently murdered the two lovers. Looks like this marriage was dead on arrival, because not soon after poor Jenny moves into the castle grounds does Stephen fall back into his manipulative ways. Wanting to have the full deed to the estate, Stephen plots along with the beautiful housemaid Solange, to slowly drive Jenny insane, forcing her to be committed back into the insane asylum.

The plot takes a few twists and turns, while a plethora of ghostly occurrences happen, throwing the audience off the scent a bit and having us question if Stephen is in as much control as he thinks he is in this plot. As usual Barbara Steele does an amazing job with the material and also against the Gothic backdrop of the castle. There's also a nice inclusion of fellow scream queen and genre favorite Helga Line to spice things up. The film has a perfect, haunting simplicity to it and it makes for a perfect October viewing.

Twins of Evil is a sultry little tale about a pair of twins who get mixed up in the bloody dealings of witches and their witch-hunters. Produced by Hammer Films, the movie follows recently orphaned sisters, Frieda and Maria, as they come to find themselves under the watchful eye of their guardian uncle Gustav Weil, a cruel witch-finder who has burned countless women at the stake. Some guilty, but most innocent. The clash between the twin sisters and their uncle become quite apparent when Count Karnstein, occult enthusiast and frequent Jimmy Fallon impersonator, steps onto the scene. Placed high up on the mountain side, Karnstein Castle is a constant reminder of the world outside their metaphorical prison under the watchful and judgmental eyes of their uncle. Frieda finds herself drawn to that other world and sees Count Karnstein as an escape from this oppressive new life she has found herself in. She sneaks out to the castle and finds that the things that her uncle have been hunting his whole life are actually real, thus setting up the rest of the movie for an epic confrontation between good and evil, led by the stern god-fearing witch-hunter.

This film has that Hammer goodness oozing from every inch of the frame. The Gothic setting is both haunting and beautiful, while the duality of the witch-hunter and his methods are both cruel yet intriguing. Of course it wouldn't be a Hammer film, well a seventies Hammer film, without the inclusion of some ridiculous cleavage and I do mean ridiculous. Both Frieda and Maria have no qualms about giving the girls some breathing room, even at the dismay and possible prosecution of their uncle Gustav, played by veteran Hammer actor and all around kick ass guy, Peter Cushing. The film's got all the staples of why we love Hammer Productions so much, so check it out if you have the chance. You won't be disappointed.

X-Men: First Class is probably the most enjoyable entry in the X-Men franchise, at least in my opinion. The film brings us back to the beginning and shows us how all of these crazy mutants got together, often through some tremendous hardships and excruciating growing pains. The two main forces that molded the modern era of super humans, Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr, are the main show-runners here, giving the film that much needed levity and substance. Charles, played by James McAvoy, lives a mostly coddled life, never feeling the oppressive nature of mankind which enables him to see the better side of the human race. Eric on the other hand, played by Michael Fassbender, has been used, abandoned, and stripped of humanity, all for the simple reason that he was different. Both of their views on the human race couldn't be any more different, but the fact that they become friends and attempt to fight side by side is an absolutely compelling thing to see play out and the filmmakers use this notion with great skill. Magneto's early life as a James Bond-like Nazi hunter is just amazing to witness, while Professor X's equally Bondish wit is wildly unexpected but wholly perfect.

What makes these elements so worthwhile is that they allow us to see what made these two iconic characters what they are today. The struggles that Professor X and Magneto overcame in their early years are perfect throwbacks to what occurs in the modern films and the way each character approaches and reacts to these moral dilemmas showcases the exact reason I was drawn to the first movie in the series. In First Class, they keep the idea of segregation, extermination, and the societal fears that come about during great change and they amped it up to ridiculous levels. This inherently makes the film feel more grounded in reality and absolutely plausible. The same effect was established in the first film, where we see a young Magneto being ripped from his parents arms at the concentration camp. The concept of rooting these fantasy heroes in historical fact, made me sit up and take notice. With First Class, they take this concept and run with it and what we end up with is an extremely entertaining film that blends our human history with their mutant history, creating a hybrid that surprisingly makes sense. The struggles that are presented on screen have happened throughout human history, making it that much more prevalent and real. There are tons more I could say about this film, but in the end you have to see it for yourself. If you're not into super hero movies or comic book adaptions, give this one a chance.


Ikarie XB 1 is an incredible Czechoslovakian science fiction film that's subtle in its execution while having some substantially heavy concepts to hit us over the head with. The year is 2163 and the crew of the Ikarie XB 1 have just set off on their expedition to the Green Planet, a place that they hope they will find life or at least a place to start life. The first opening moment of the film is a premonition on what's to follow, displaying a disillusioned and hysteric man as he roams aimlessly aboard a seemingly empty spaceship. The dire sequence gives the audience a foreboding feeling that this expedition isn't in for a pleasant ride, but fortunately the journey isn't as bumpy as first to be believed. Strangely enough, most of the voyage is pleasant, giving us a great deal of information on how society is during this time period for the space explorers. There seems to be a good amount of civility among the crew and if there is a problem they seek counsel with mediators right away, even over something as silly as a group of men feeling made fun of by a women who chooses to dance with more then one man at a party.

The lifestyle that is on display seems distant and disconnected from our own, but there is a purpose for this of course. It isn't the fact that this is a Czechoslovakian film, because that doesn't hurt, but it's because the filmmakers are trying to subtly ease our minds into realizing that this society is something outside our own conceited imaginings. This idea of being detached from an earthly state of mind is then hammered home in the closing moments of the film and I personally loved it. Many films and stories have run with this same concept, but none of them have executed it as beautifully or skillfully as director Jindrich Polak. If you're looking for a smart science fiction film, then look no further. Hunt this lost gem down, because it really is worth a look.

Technotise: Edit & I is a Serbian animated science fiction movie that has a hell of a lot going for it. Set in Belgrade in the year 2074, the film follows a young girl by the name of Edit. After struggling to keep up in school, she opts to have an illegal memory chip inserted into her arm, enabling her to consume more information that would, in effect, allow her to pass her classes. The initial injection goes without a hitch, but inexplicably something begins to morph and change inside her. This metamorphosis begins to wreak havoc with her life, bringing about strange hallucinations, unexplainable abilities, and unwelcomed guests. The combination of all of these introductory and foreign elements begin to threaten her very existence, forcing Edit to make a choice that's easier said then done.

This energetic film is a blast from beginning to end, showcasing enough action, drama, and wit to forgo its sometimes simplistic art style. Ambitious in almost every aspect of its production, the film brings to life an original story about man's mortality and machine's frighteningly possible future of becoming more then just metal and circuits. The main core of characters were charismatic enough and the banter between each other was enjoyable and often entertainingly perverse. The direction of the action was also very inspired, cranking up the tempo to match the overall tremendous arc of the intimate story and metaphorical allegory. If you're dying for some Akira style story elements mixed with some sleek computer generated and traditionally crafted animation, then Technotise: Edit & I is for you.

Yes, Madam! is a fun early Michelle Yeoh action flick that gives me yet another reason to claim that Michelle is one kick ass lady. Playing the role of the tougher then nails cop Inspector Ng, Yeoh must get to the bottom of a murder that has hit rather close to home. Her teacher was recently murdered in his hotel room by an unknown killer, and it's up to Yeoh to solve the case. Accompanied by a hard nosed foreign agent, played by Cynthia Rothrock, the two will stop at nothing until they get their man.

Now here's a movie that lets the ladies really kick some ass. Both Yeoh and Rothrock are brutal in this flick, demonstrating how both female artists have excelled in their individual studies, Yeoh being an impeccable actress and Rothrock having held the title of US Karate Champion for a solid 5 years. The film does its job in presenting the two as action stars, yet it's not so serious that it can't also focus on the more lighter side of life. Yes, Madame! has a great sense of humor, provided by the main focal point of the films twists and turns, the three thieving friends. These mischievous trouble makers bring a great deal of fun to the film, that would have ordinarily been sterile and cold. There's the usual slap stick style comedy, but the film also has a heart, relying on the relationships of the three friends and their often shaken loyalty to each other. Overall the movie is a special little Hong Kong produced film that really is just a whole lot of fun. There's also one hell of an ending.

The Dead is a film that I've been waiting ages to see. Much like the Ford Brothers long and strenuous journey in filming their epic zombie masterpiece, I've been trudging through horror forums and scouring zombie sites in order to get just a shred of news that the film would be available to the masses. Finally, the wait is over and I can say with all honesty and fervent enthusiasm that the film was worth the wait. The Dead is a zombie film, not like any you've seen before. This is not a movie for those of you out there that want a non-stop action roller coaster ride of a film that gives you nothing but over the top kills and non-sensicle characters. Neither is it a movie that revels in the macabre nature of the zombie, trying to dissect it or compare it to some social political world theme. This is a road trip movie in essence, following a man just trying to survive the zombie apocalypse in a terrain that would normally kill him, because of the harsh conditions already inherent in the area. In all aspects of the word, it's authentic.

The story takes place in Africa during a zombie up rising that has made the already unstable region a true hell on earth. American Air Force Engineer Lieutenant Brian Murphy survives a horrible plain crash during his attempt to flee the falling country, only to find that he has been washed ashore, broken, battered, and primed to be served for a zombie feast. With a few supplies and an ounce of strength, Murphy heads into the thick of the war torn terrain, hoping to somehow find a way back home to his wife and young daughter.

The film is just awe-inspiringly simple, never bloated with unnecessary exposition or bogged down by irrelevant love triangles, I'm looking at you The Walking Dead. Yeah I'm looking right at you big daddy. With The Dead, we get essentially a film that strikes just the right kind of tempo to complement the weary and draining experience that it would be like to try to survive a zombie apocalypse. There is such a strong sense of paranoia and unnerving stress throughout the film. You feel the weight of always looking over your shoulder and you sense the feeling of death in the air in every frame of the film. I'm just going to leave it at that, because you either get the film or you don't. Thankfully I got it and thankfully the Ford Brothers made a film that didn't pander to a demographic or aim for the almighty buck in place of a vivid tale of truthful despair. Check it out zombie fans!

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