5 | Varied Celluloid

42nd Street Forever: The Blu-ray Edition

Posted by JoshSamford On July - 11 - 2012

42nd Street Forever: The Blu-ray Edition (2012)
Director: Various
Writers: Various
Starring: Various



The Review: Although I had no experience with the 42nd Street Forever series before taking on this review, I was certainly familiar with the basic framework for these collections. An assortment of trailers that have been placed together in hopes of emitting the atmosphere of what used to play in the infamous “grindhouse” theaters that lined New York’s infamous 42nd Street during the seventies, 42nd Street Forever is a unique experiment that could only work with the technology that we have in today’s modern world. Film geeks who find themselves pining for the days of old, or simply looking for solid recommendations, need look no further than this compilation piece that combines the best of the first two installments in the 42nd Street Forever series. If you’ve come for insane cinema, then you’re here for all of the right reasons.


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Beetlejuice

Posted by JoshSamford On February - 15 - 2009


The Plot: The Maitlands, Barbara and Adam, are a married couple who live in a house twice the size of anything they could possibly use – however the two love it and are simply happy adoring one another. However, on a routine stop into their quaint little town; they die. Wrecking into the side of a bridge and being suspended in air by a puppy dog. The two die in the waters, but soon find themselves back on the doorstep to their home. The two don’t remember how they got home from the crash, but soon find something is wrong when Adam steps outside and is placed in a desert landscape (later revealed to be Saturn) where giant sand worms look to devour him. Once Adam finds his way back to the doorway, Barbara informs him he has been gone for apparently hours an in that time she has discovered that they no longer have a reflection and a Handbook For The Recently Deceased has been left for them. In a short time however things turn from heavenly (an afterlife with your loved one with no responsibilities?) to hellish – as the Deetz family moves in: a rather uptight city couple who share none of the simple sensibilities that the Maitlands have and soon go about demolishing their quaint home. Now the Maitlands find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, as they want the Deetz family out but are unable to scare them away due to their not being able to see the ghosts. In their confusion they find a bio-excorcist by the name of Betel Geuse who promises to rid them of their pesky human problem; but could this ghost be more trouble than they care to get into?



The Review: When first formulating the basic premise that would become “Varied Celluloid”, the idea was to basically cover as many genres as I could but keep within the confines of cult cinema. I never thought I would someday be writing about a film as mainstream as Beetlejuice is, but time has a way of opening doors. Last night, while searching through my DVD collection for something to watch with my cousin (who is as close as a brother with me), we decided to check out one of our immortal favorites. A film we’ve been watching since childhood, one of the few films we are consistantly quoting in our daily dialogue (along with Pulp Fiction and Happy Gilmore). The film we’re talking about today, the always classic: Beetlejuice. A film that helped cement Tim Burton’s genius in the minds of film fans. Since those days Burton has had a few misses along with quite a few hits, but in my opinion no other film perfectly encapsulated his beautiful and mythic take on the dark underworld that lies just beneath the surface. Edward Scissorhands may have shown his visionary brilliance by going above and beyond the ordinary within suburbia, but it was his take on the afterlife that sold me.

For fans of cinema or simply fans of entertainment, Burton’s film delivers. Beetlejuice doesn’t throw everything at you all at once, Burton’s absurdest take on reality slowly creeps into the film as it gathers steam. From the opening which gives us a hint at how bizarre the film is to get, we pan over the entire city that the film takes place in – but find out only at the very end that we have been looking over the model that Alec Baldwin’s character has been building. From there we are shown the very ordinary lives of these characters and the equally ordinary town that they live in. However, after their death and the introduction of the afterlife the look of the film begins to completely change. To describe the world of Beetlejuice I can only think to describe it as a squared circle. It’s a dichotomy of impossible shapes, lighting and shares an equally impossible story that never slows down to give the audience time to question any of the logic. Believe me, there’s plenty to question as well. However, Burton sets the rules up and questioning them just seems like folly.

It’s funny hearing stories about the creation of the film and how it originally was intended to be something so completely different than it turned out to be, and how Michael Keaton took his character and creative license and simply ran with it. Keaton takes this character of Betelgeuse and creates something so majestically over the top, it inspires people like me to continue writing about a film so popular and now over twenty years old. His character is a cross between Robin Williams and the garbage pail kids, hyper fast and witty but with the low brow sensibilities of snot and fart jokes. It is a beautiful thing. Keaton delivers line after line of memorable dialogue in every scene he appears (and it’s said much of the dialogue was improvised), and takes a relatively funny feature about ghosts and makes it into something spectacular. It’s really a shame that Keaton isn’t more active and hasn’t been able to add more performances like this one to his credit throughout the years. He has stated before that the role is one of his favorites and would like to reprise it with Burton some day. Whether or not that will happen, who knows, but it’s something to dream for. The rest of the cast are all equally fitting in their roles, from Alec Baldwin (who supposedly wasn’t very happy on his character and thought he came off as bland, which I disagree with) and Wynona Ryder to the lady who plays Juno the case worker and Otho the decorator/guide to the super natural. Simply an amazing cast who all support what is one of the greatest mixes of comedy and the supernatural.

Surely this review is nothing more than me speaking to the choir. After all, who could dislike Beetlejuice? The only thing that could possibly turn off some anal viewers I suppose would be that lack of true logic within the film, which I mentioned previously. The film raises many questions that never get answered, like why Beetlejuice actually lives in the Maitland’s miniature version of the town? Throughout the film a lot of questions come up, but there’s just no way of knowing. However Beetlejuice has it’s own internal logic, and it’s best to not question it and simply sit back and enjoy it for all of it’s craziness. Like stated, Beetlejuice isn’t the most obscure film I have ever reviewed here on VC. However, if I were to cover just one Tim Burton film or one Hollywood based gothic horror/comedy – this is the one and if any member of my usual audience hasn’t actually seen the film then hopefully this review can help persuade them. Beetlejuice is a certified classic and one of my all time favorites. Five out of five.




Official Captain Stubbing Award Winner

Better Tomorrow, A

Posted by JoshSamford On July - 9 - 2008
Plot Outline: Ho (Ti Lung) is a counterfeiter for the Hong Kong triad along with his partner and best friend Mark (Chow Yun-Fat). Ho’s brother Kit has recently joined the police force, but isn’t knowledgeable of his brother’s gangster life style. Before Ho can truly give up his criminal past for Kit, he is pushed into one last job on a trip to Taiwan. Ho makes the trip with a new kid named Shing, but they soon find out it was all a trap. The meeting turns into a bloodbath and Ho is forced to turn himself into the police. Back at home things go bad when a thug shows up at Ho’s father’s home and tries to take him away. Ho’s father fights back and Kit is unable to protect him leading to their father’s eventual death. While Ho serves his prison sentence Kit becomes bitter and blames his father’s death on Ho and his friend Mark is shot and crippled while on a job. So after three years Ho is finally released from prison, Mark wants Ho to join him in one last attempt to make it big time, but Ho wants to fly straight for Kit. Not to mention that Shing has become a big name in the Triads and is also pursuing Ho to join them. Ho is torn in all directions. He and everyone around him begin to spiral down until the climatic ending.




The Review: This is perhaps one of the most important films in recent Hong Kong history. I’ve heard this called the first ever Heroic Bloodshed film and i’m not all that sure it’s not, but even if it isn’t it’s still perhaps the first important film of the genre. Not only did it influence just about every film that’s been made in the genre, but it also launched several careers. John Woo, Tsui Hark, Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung and it even re-invigerated Ti Lung’s career, showing that he could do more than just kung fu films. Not only is the film important, but it’s also pretty darn sweet too.

I would say A Better Tomorrow probably ranks in at second place among Woo’s serious films. Second only to The Killer of course. The film has everything you could want from a Heroic Bloodshed film. It’s got the guns, the style, the unnecesary melodrama and lots and lots of blood everywhere. Now, the action sequences aren’t quite as abundant as the sequel, or even The Killer really, but what is here is quite stellar.

I don’t know, maybe it’s the old school kung fu nut inside me, but i think Ti Lung is really what holds this film together. Chow is of course as charismatic as ever, but Lung is kind of the straight man here. He plays it cool and quite reserved and i think that’s what kind of brings it all together. As i mentioned, Chow is out there in this one. He starts off as the calm cool and collective Mark, and then kind of unravels. Crippled and unbalanced, Chow, although overracting quite a bit, puts in a brilliant performance. Even though he’s beaten like a dog and not a pleaseant sight to behold, you still can’t take your eyes off him and he makes for a great heroe to root for.

Don’t be mistaken though, Chow is certainly playing second fiddle here. Leslie Cheung and Ti Lung are the center points of the story. Chow’s character takes a larger and a whole lot cooler role in part two which i heighly reccomend for a night of fun.

When i first saw A Better Tomorrow i wasn’t all that familiar with Johnn Woo’s work, or even the HK movie scene post 1980 really. So when i first watched it i completely missed the cameo’s by Woo himself and even Tsui Hark. Woo plays the detective in the film and Hark plays one of the judges at Jackie’s recital. He’s also the one that gets the cello through the window.

A Better Tomorrow is number three on my John Woo film list, first would be Hard Boiled followed by The Killer and then A Better Tomorrow. It’s really like comparing Apples and Oranges though, they’re all great in my opinion. If you’re new to Woo’s work though, i would reccomend starting with The Killer or Hard Boiled though. After that it should help you appreciate how great A Better Tomorrow is.



Official Captain Stubbing Award Winner



Better Tomorrow II, A

Posted by JoshSamford On July - 9 - 2008
Originally written between 2003-2006, this review was one of my (Josh) earlier reviews and thus not up to my standards. There has only been some slight editing and revisions done here in 2010. If you think the review is bad as of now, I’m just glad you didn’t read it before the edits.

Plot Outline: After serving his time in prison, Ho is offered a chance to be free if he’ll go undercover and help bust his former mentor Si Lung (Dean Shek). Ho refuses until he finds out Kit is already on the case, he changes his mind so he can help protect his brother. Once out he is placed as an informant but almost immediately, Lung is framed for murder by his right hand man Ko. Lung flees Hong Kong and heads to America to stay with a friend, but the triads soon find where he is and try to assassinate him only killing his friend instead. Lung is traumatized and almost in a comatose state. He is sent a mental hospital, but thankfully Mark Gor, twin brother of Ken Gor from the original A Better Tomorrow, also happens to be in New York and takes him in. Mark must bring Lung back to reality, but things are going to be tough since the triads have sent hitmen to kill him. Back in Hong Kong Ho and Kit are both working undercover, but Ko may suspect them. In the end everyone is going to have to band together to defeat the common enemy: Ko.


  


The Review: Before there was Hard Boiled, there was A Better Tomorrow II. I mean that in the fact that both films are examples of John Woo being given free reign to make as large of an action movie as he possibly could. The parallels between ABT2 and ABT1 kind of resembles the comparison of The Killer and Hard Boiled. The Killer and ABT1 are much more story driven films from John Woo’s library, and carry the patented John Woo melodrama that has made him so famous. Hard Boiled and ABT2 however are simply over the top action films to the core. With Hard Boiled however there’s really not as much blood as in his other films, one assumes because the action scenes are so huge. Could you imagine how much it would cost to load a squib on every person that dies in that movie? Well, ABT2 is kind of the opposite of that. The action scenes, while huge, aren’t quite as grandiose and are much more grounded and a whole lot bloodier as a result.

The climatic gun fight here rates in as the most violent gun fight Woo has ever made. People die left and right with exploding squibs literally painting the walls red. Woo actually almost reached the sleaziness of Ringo Lam’s Full Contact, but not too many films can top that one. The action in the film is, for lack of a more sophisticated sounding word, awesome! ABT2 isn’t all action though, it can get a bit drowned in the melodrama. The film is soulless you may think, and you may be right, but it’s so fun I could care less. According to John Woo: King of Gunfire the film was made so Woo could help out his friend Dean Shek, who also stars alongside Chow Yun-Fat and Ti Lung, because he was having financial trouble. Although I’m not familiar with Shek’s work he seems like the kind of guy who shouldn’t have trouble getting roles. He has an interesting look to him, well, when he’s not groveling at Chow Yun-Fat’s feet over his dead daughter that is.

In this film Ho and Kit’s story kind of takes backseat to Chow Yun-Fat’s character, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the person. Chow’s story is weak, but Chow’s performance is not. Chow plays it over the top per usual and seems more like comic relief this time around. You know, I think of ABT1 and I think of chow, battered and bruised yelling at Ti Lung about responsibility. Then I think of Chow in ABT2 and I think of him standing in front of a door with a silly look on his face as a gigantic explosion goes off behind him. Although the characters are twins, Chow certainly made them as different in character as could possibly be made.

As I’ve mentioned already, the action in this film trumps the original big time. There are more gun fights, and they’re just infinitely more cool this time around. Chow has the best shootout in my opinion. It may not be long, but the shootout in the hotel is one of my favorite action scenes of any film. Chow jumps on his back and rolls down a staircase while shooting two 45’s into some mafia guy, and he gets to fire off the biggest freaking shotgun I’ve ever seen. It looks more like it’s shooting grenades rather than shells. There are sparks everywhere! Which is ridiculous… but how can you even be bothered to question anything with all of the bonkers action going on around you?

The ending of the film has to be seen to be believed. Chow and the gang get in Reservoir Dogs style suits and just go nuts, destroying a home with more weaponry than the armed forces, and killing what has to be thirty thousand armed men. The whole scene is just insanely over the top, and is downright hilarious. Our heroes enter the front gate, with about thirty men sitting on the front lawn, and proceed to kill every single one without so much as getting a scrape. They do eventually each get shot mind you but only when it serves a dramatic purpose, like in all Woo films. A single bullet hole here and there is nowhere near enough to stop a REAL hero!

The Conclusion
Anyway, what else do I have to say to get you to see this film? It’s got John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, Ti Lung, guns, bloody gunfights and explosions. With the most action outside of Hard Boiled, there is absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t already be in your library.



Audition

Posted by JoshSamford On June - 28 - 2008
Plot Outline: Ryo Ishibashi plays Shigeharu Aoyama a man going through somewhat of a mid-life crisis. After many years of being loyal to his deceased wife, he feels (after some encouragement from his son) it’s the right time to begin dating again. So after hearing this, Aoyama’s friend Yasuhisa who happens to be in showbuisness, decides to set up a fake casting audition in hopes that his friend can choose who he wants to pursue as his new wife. Aoyama then goes through countless portfolio’s looking for women to audition, but as soon as he sees the beautiful Asami’s picture he knows that she’s the one. After the audition Aoyama makes his move on Asami and the two then begin dating. Everything seems perfect at first, but is Asami all that she seems?




The Review
If you’ve never experienced the insanity of a film directed by the mad genius Takashi Miike, this may or may not be a good start for you. Of all his films I’ve seen, this is the most atmospheric, artistic, and even subdued. Yet in some ways, it’s also his wildest. The violence in the film isn’t as abrasive as in something like Ichi the Killer, but the fact that it’s more relaxed and less in your face gives it a much harsher delivery. How anyone could ever be disturbed by something as outrageous as Fudoh or Full Metal Yakuza I can’t imagine, but I can definitely understand how Audition could get under the nerves of some. When I first watched the ending it was an actual emotional experience, and anytime a movie can provoke a reaction like that from me I know it’s truly something special.

I’ve heard Miike compared to David Cronenberg or David Lynch for this film, but to my knowledge, as fantastic as both those directors are neither have ever done anything quite as drastic as this. For the first 60% of the film’s running time it seems as if we’re in a somewhat dark romantic film with a pinch of black comedy. Then somewhere along the way Miike starts to let things unravel, giving us glimpses at just how dark and seedy things can get.

The ending, while disturbing and graphic, is also extremely confusing. I still don’t understand it completely. Even so, I don’t really care all that much. What matters more than all that though is the emotional ride the film takes you on. I’ve probably already said a bit too much about the ending, likely some who read this won’t be too shocked when the finale comes. If you can though, try and disavow all I’ve said and watch the film with no expectations and see where it leads you.

Takashi Miike has slowly turned into one of my personal favorite directors. With this, Visitor Q, Dead or Alive 1, 2, Ichi the Killer and Fudoh he’s proven to be one of the most imaginative and prolific directors of all time. Miike has taken violent cinema to a completely different level. He isn’t afraid to show anything, but this isn’t the only reason to love his work. The style, ambiance and energy in his films are unmatched in my eyes. His style variations are as prolific as his pace of filmmaking, he can move from the fast paced editing of Giy Ritchie to the dark and moody atmospheres of David Lynch. If you haven’t seen any of his work then you really owe it to yourself to see this film at least. If only to check the waters.

The Conclusion
So, if you’re open to avant garde cinema and wanting to jump into the Japanese film scene, then Audition may be a good place to start. Just don’t expect a fast paced story or a gore fest, that isn’t what this film is about. There is some gore yes, but if that’s all your interested in then please stick to dead-alive, versus, premutos, or something else because this isn’t the film your looking for.

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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