Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Phil sees SUCKER PUNCH at the Camera 7 Pruneyard-March 26, 2011

First thing I'd like to say is that director Zack Snyder has had an interesting career so far. He made his directorial debut with 2004's DAWN OF THE DEAD, a successful remake of the 1978 George Romero classic zombie film. His version satisfied even the most diehard horror fan, while creating some new ones along the way. His next film was 300, an adaptation of the Frank Miller's comic book. That film became a huge blockbuster hit, and made a lot of people take notice of him. Then he followed that film up with what many people have said to be the unfilmable comic book property. With 2008's WATCHMEN, he proved all the critics wrong and made the film that other filmmakers couldn't accomplish. WATCHMEN became the biggest hit that summer, and Snyder became THE filmmaker to watch. Then he took a different route and directed last year's family film LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE, which was based on a children's book. Now, the road that Snyder has followed has led him to his most visually dynamic (and his first original film) SUCKER PUNCH.

The film takes place in the 1950's, and it tells the story of Baby Doll, played by Emily Browning. She is an orphan and is committed to an asylum after being falsely accused of murdering her younger sister, which was orchestrated by her evil stepfather. When it is revealed that she is scheduled for a lobotomy, she retreats from her pain by creating an alternate reality in her mind. First she and her other friends Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) work as performers in a bordello, run by the theatrical manager Madam Gorski (Carla Gugino) and owner/pimp Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac). In order to escape both the brothel and the asylum, Baby Doll and her gang need to obtain five items to win their freedom. However, to get these five items, they must battle giant ninja robot warriors,WWII German pilots and foot solders, towering winged dragons, and android assassins.

Snyder wrote the script along with former special effects artist Steve Shibuya, and the results are visually dynamic, the equivalent of psychedelic candy for your eyes. While the script is about as thin as a sheet of paper, Sndyer is going for the optical orgasm that makes his films so much fun to watch. And of course it's obvious that the films he made prior helped shape the look, feel, and outcome for this film. Also, the strong feminist overtone is laid out here; the women are the heroes, while the men (with the exception of Scott Glenn's character) are the villains.

With a great soundtrack to back up the visual eye candy, SUCKER PUNCH is just that, a punch to your senses and let's loose the imagination of what films can become, if in the right hands of course. Snyder has made a film that will take you on a magic carpet ride, and he doesn't let go until the the credits end. There hasn't been many Hollywood films that can boast true escapism while making you feel like you were taken to another world. With this film, you will finally be entertained.

SUCKER PUNCH is now playing in theatres nationwide, including at the Camera Cinemas here in San Jose. To see showtimes, visit http://www.cameracinemas.com/index.shtml

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Phil sees PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE at the Camera 3-March 22, 2011

During the 1960's, folk music played such an important role in the civil rights and anti-war movements that was transpiring then. Artist such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, and others were educating and enlightening young minds across the country about the social standards and questioning the government's role in the Vietnam War. However, there is one voice from that era that has been overlooked for far too long. With the release of PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE, that mistake has been corrected.
This informative documentary shows the life and times of Phil Ochs, one of the most important figures of the 1960's. He rose to fame in the early 1960’s during the height of the folk and protest song movement. His songs, with lyrics ripped straight from the daily news, spoke to those emboldened by the hopeful idealism of the day. Ochs himself believed to his core that he and his music could change the world for the better. From protesting the Vietnam War to supporting striking miners, from his attacks on sitting Presidents to mocking the politically disinterested, he struck at the heart of both the Right and Left wing political establishment with precisely targeted musical satire and righteous indignation.

Possessed by the American fantasy and dream he saw projected on the Hollywood screen, Phil Ochs fought for the bright lights of fame and for social justice in equal measure. In the end it was this defining contradiction that would eventually tear him apart. While he never gained the widespread attention he so desperately wanted, his solo shows and his radical politics would generate the kind of controversy that only a true star could attract.
By 1968, the mood of the country had changed. With the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the events of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, all that seemed possible just a few years earlier began to fade and Phil Ochs took this hopelessness to heart as if the failings of the movement were his own. His mental and physical health declined as he sank deep into depression and alcoholism. He took his own life in 1976 at the age of 35.
By the time of his death the FBI had a dossier on him that was over 400 pages long. They would argue that he had no respect for government policies and stood against his country in a time of war. Weaving together photos, film clips, historic live performances and interviews with an array of people influenced by Ochs; from Sean Penn to Pete Seeger, Joan Baez to Tom Hayden, “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” paints a very different picture. We are able to understand that Ochs’ lasting legacy in both music and politics ultimately mirrored the complexities and contradictions of the country he loved -- and his life, sadly, reflects the arc of the times in which he lived.
PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE reveals the biography of a conflicted truth seeking troubadour who, with a guitar in hand, stood up for what he believed in and challenged us all to do the same. Unyielding in his political principals and unbending in his artistic vision, Phil Ochs, though branded a traitor by his critics, was above all a fiercely patriotic American. This is his story.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Phil sees CLASH at the Camera 12-March 21, 2011

While attending the SFIAAFF here in San Jose, I realized that I missed out on a lot of films that the festival showed up in San Francisco a couple of weeks earlier. However on Sunday, our good friends at CAAM mentioned that their centerpiece film of the festival CLASH was being shown at the Camera 12 as a regular film release. So today, still riding high from this past weekend, I ventured back to Downtown San Jose to see the film.

Le Thanh Son's CLASH
CLASH stars the sexy, action heroine Veronica Ngo as Trinh (or Phoenix as she is also called), a tough and brooding hitwoman to crime boss known as the Black Dragon. He is holding her daughter captive, so she is forced to do jobs for him. For her "final job," she recruits a motley-looking crew (including her real-life husband Johnny Tri Nguyen who portrays the mysterious Quan) to pull it off, afterwards her boss will release her and her daughter. Soon, it all hits the fan as Trinh and her gang must fight off French mobsters, Vietnamese gangsters, as well as themselves, and of course, the Black Dragon.

Le Thanh Son's directorial debut's tribute to classic Hong Kong martial arts films resonates here, but he updates and infuses it with modern sensibility. Ngo is deadly as she is beautiful, Nguyen is strong and commanding. Together this real life couple kick ass all over the screen, and they make it look so easy. Both were the stars in another feature entitled THE REBEL. Their on-screen personas in this film are entertaining, proud, and, of course, bad asses.

Son's directing is flawless, with quick, precise editing, and solid storytelling makes this an action packed, over-the-top rollercoaster ride. It's been awhile since I've seen an action film that I thoroughly enjoyed. American action films should take notes from this Vietnamese import. CLASH is a fantastic film that really must be seen of the big screen.

CLASH is playing for two weeks only at the Camera 12 in downtown San Jose. To see the times listing visit http://www.cameracinemas.com/index.shtml

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Phil attends the SFIAAFF - Day Three

Hello folks and welcome back to the third and final day of my trip to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival at the Camera 12 Cinemas here in downtown San Jose! Brace yourselves, and here we go!

Hao Lie in Chung Mong-Hong's THE FOURTH PORTRAIT
My first film on this wet and rainy Sunday was THE FOURTH PORTRAIT, directed by Chung Mong-Hong. The film centers on a 10-year-old boy named Xiang, who goes to live with his mother and stepdad after his real father passes away. However all is not right with Xiang. Lonely and withdrawn from the kids at school and his parents, he takes to his art, by drawing to escape his problems. But things take a turn for the worse when he begins to dream of his missing older brother, which someone in his family knows the truth behind the mysterious disappearance.

From the director of PARKING, Hong follows up that film with this beautiful and painful exhibit of broken homes, escapism, isolation, and loneliness. Though only his second feature, Hong demonstrates how he has improved his directing style. He captures emotions like no other filmmaker does. Shots of Xiang playing on the slides at school all by himself, Hao Lie (who portrays his mother) is shown with regret and loss, an empty shell of the woman who she claims was once full of life. Though the film drags a bit here and there, the powerful emotional payoffs are all there, waiting for you to sympathize with Xiang and the rest of the characters.

Goh Nakamura in Dave Boyle's SURROGATE VALENTINE
The second film I saw was an amazing surprise! Director Dave Boyle's first film WHITE ON RICE was a break out hit at last year's film festival. Now Boyle, along with Bay Area indie musician Goh Nakamura teamed up to bring us the film SURROGATE VALENTINE, which was my second favorite film I saw at the festival. Goh is a shy, awkward, somewhat anti social, full time musician, who also teaches as well. A filmmaker friend of his has asked him to partake another job: teach guitar lessons to one pompous, arrogant, self delusional Hollywood actor Danny (whose claim to fame is being a famous TV doctor). Now "Goh" (who pretty much plays himself, but wonderfully though) must now contend to playing babysitter to Danny while he travels up and the west coast touring, and also trying to win the heart of his high school flame Rachel.

This was such a great film to watch and enjoy! Under Boyle's careful direction, the film feels and looks like an early 80's indie flick, complete with beautiful black and white photography. Think Jim Jamurch's STRANGER THE PARADISE, Spike Lee's SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, as well as Kevin Smith's CLERKS. Even the fonts that Boyle uses for his credits were reminiscent of those early indie films as well. This is true local independent filmmaking that I love. Chadd Stoop's portrayal of Danny is hilarious and a send up of Hollywood actors who take themselves to seriously. Lynn Chen is wonderful as Rachel, and her on screen chemistry with Goh was perfect.

Before the film, the audience was treated to a quick performance by Goh himself. He played two songs, the last one was the theme song of the film. After the screening, Goh, Boyle, and Stoops participated in a rousingly fun Q&A. Two very big thumbs up!!

Phan Dang Di's BI, DON'T BE AFRAID
The third film I saw was BI, DON'T BE AFRAID, by director Phan Dang Di. The film's main character is Bi, a six year old boy who wonder about town unsupervised. He like to spend most of his time hanging out at the ice factory. His mother and his very attractive aunt are preoccupied, taking care of their sick grandfather, who has just arrived to live with them. His father spends his days away from his family, drinking beer with his friends at their regular hangout. Throughout the film Bi begins to explore his family and life, exposing the frank sexuality of his parents and his aunt, and of death.

While there are layers to the film, and metaphors abound about men, women, sex, death, some of its meaning fell flat for me. While the film itself was very well directed, and all of the actors were brilliant, it didn't resonate with me at all. I didn't really care about the characters, nor did I feel like Bi was the central protagonist, even though his name is in the title. This felt cold to me, and I wasn't too impressed with it.

Goldy Notay & Shabana Azmi in IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE
The last film I saw at the festival was IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE, the latest film by famed Indian director Gurinder Chadha. The film's about an Indian mother named Mrs. Sethi, who's only wish is to see her daughter Roopi married, but it's not easy. Those who have turned down Roopi and belittled her, Mrs. Sethi has murdered. However in a comedic twist, the victims' ghosts have been haunting Sethi, but only she can see them. The only way the ghosts can pass over is if she does too. But alas, poor Sethi cannot leave until her daughter is married and taken care of. So the ghosts help Sethi to get her daughter a husband. However the London police are on the trail, and so they all must act quickly before it's too late.

This, of couse, was my third favorite film of the festival. And what a film this was! Right from the beginning, you automatically know that you are about to have a good time while being entertained! I don't want to say to much, but this was a lot of fun to watch. Chanha has thrown in numerous film references in here, the most obvious was CARRIE. Another one was SEVEN, and even the title is a reference to that beloved holiday classic. Great acting, great directing, great story, great music, everything was great! A definite winner here!!

What a weekend I had! Nine films in two and a half days equals one fun weekend! Well folks there you have it. My first film festival blog is finally finished. Hope you enjoyed reading it, as much as I enjoyed watching and writing about all these amazing films! If you would like to know more about these and other films, about CAAM, and how to become a member, visit their website at http://caamedia.org/ 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Phil attends the SFIAAFF - Day Two

Welcome back to Day Two of my trip to the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival!! Let's get started shall we?

While picking up my tickets at the Camera 12 in downtown San Jose, I met up with my film partner in crime Jason, who's film blog mentions mine and gave me praise for my write up of last night's opening gala. You are too kind Jason! FYI folks: he's blogs are fun to read and, personally, I liked his write up better.

The first film that I saw was THE PIANO IN A FACTORY, directed by Zhang Meng. The film focuses on Chen, who works at a deteriorating steel plant as well as a musician. Chen's life is starting to unravel. He's current wife is divorcing him and his lead singer in his musical group is in love with him but he's not sure of his feelings for her. However, he's too distracted because his ex wants their daughter to come live with her. In order to keep her, he wants to give her the ultimate present; a piano. With no money, he and his friends go to great lengths to achieve this present, including trying to steal one from a school. Then Chen comes up the idea in building one using material  found right there in the factory.

Director Meng uses the widescreen format to full use. Everything within the frame has a purpose. His directing styles reminds me of early Woody Allen films; comedic timing infused with dramatic seriousness. The story is strong with fully developed characters who, like us, are flawed, honest, and real. A really funny and dramatic film, and the perfect film to start off the day with.
Stephan Gauger's SAIGON ELECTRIC
The second film I saw was SAIGON ELECTRIC, a faced paced dance film that, believe it or not, has a real plot! Which, by the way, is a rarity nowadays. The film begins with Mai, a traditional ribbon dancer who comes to Saigon to audition for the prestigious National Dance Academy. When she fails her audition, she meets a young rebellious hip hop dancer named Kim, who introduces Mai to her dance crew, Saigon Fresh, and a new dance style. Their leader Do-Boy informs her that they are training to take on their rivals The North Killaz in the nationals dance off, upon winning they will be able to save their youth center from being demolished. Along the way Mai, Kim, and Do-Boy learn the meaning of love, friendship, and family while also displaying some amazing dance moves that must be seen to believe.

Unlike the STEP UP films here in the states, this Vietnamese film offers the audience something the other dance films lack, which is character development. Throughout the film, we see our three main characters grow, evolve, and change. Mai who is naive of her surroundings and unsure of her dancing talent, becomes a source of inspiration to her new friends and begins teaching children at the youth center. Kim, who is a tough street smart girl, meets a young man who shows her that love is possible, and Do-Boy, who is an orphan, learns that the friends in his life are his family.

Director Stephan Gauger made a splash with his first film THE OWL AND THE SPARROW, which was shown at the SFIAAFF back in 2007. Gauger keeps the film moving forward with strong characters and, with quick edits, showcases some of the best hip hop dance moves this reviewer has seen in years. Both Gauger and Executive Producer Anderson Lee were present and participated in a Q&A session after the screening of their film.

Bertha Bay-Sa Pan's ALMOST PERFECT
Third film of the night for me was ALMOST PERFECT, a romantic comedy starring Kelly Hu, who finds her "almost perfect" love of her life, but has to contend with her very dysfunctional family and her doubts about marriage. The film features an all star cast, including Ivan Shaw, Christina Chang, Tina Chen, with Edison Chen and Roger Rees. This film was my favorite film of the day. It contained all of my requirements that I look for in a film: a solid script, believable characters, fantastic acting, great directing and editing, and a relatable topic which I hold very close to me; finding love despite your shortcomings.

Director Bertha Bay-Sa Pan was in attendance and participated in a Q&A session after the screening. I was able to introduce myself and informed her how this film radiated with me. I told her that even though the lead was a Asian American female living in New York, I can relate to her because of the subject matter of the film. We all want to find love, and when we have it, we are unsure of ourselves sometimes. Letting thoughts of doubts and our fears interfere with something that we treasure so much. Love is a very powerful emotion, one that we cannot live without. This film touched me in a way that won't be leaving me for quite sometime. Highly recommended!!

Chito S. Rono's EMIR
The fourth and final film that I saw was Chito S. Rono's EMIR, a very entertaining musical that surprised me a lot. The film is about a Filipino girl named Amelia, who decides to help out her family by working as a nanny to a royal family in Morocco. According to the director, this was the biggest musical ever made in the Philippines, and it shows! This was a spectacular musical, shot in exotic locations, numerous dance musicals, fantastic singing from the entire cast, and once again, a film that you can relate to; helping out your family in tough times, sacrifices of love and happiness, finding a new family to call your own, being asked to rise in extreme circumstances, and finding your place in the world. Another great film that I thoroughly enjoyed!

Today was a great day of film watching! Five films in two days, with another four more left to see on Sunday. Tickets are still available for the Sunday screenings. To purchase yours online visit http://caamedia.org/ or visit the boxoffice at the Camera 12 Theatre.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Phil attends the SFIAAFF Friday Night Opening Gala in San Jose

This year the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) celebrates 10 years of screening films here in San Jose. Tonight was the opening ceremony of the film festival, which was held at the Montgomery Theatre in downtown San Jose. Once again the festival was kicked into high gear with style and culture. First the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) thanked all their sponsors, which play a huge part in the festival. Then the audience was treated to a spectacular dance routine by the Chhandam Youth Dance Company. Then the festival screened the world premiere of Hoku Uchiyama's documentary entitled UPAJ.

Pandit Chitresh Das (left) & Jason Samuels Smith (right)

This stunning documentary showcases how individuals from two very different worlds can come together and create something that transcends boundaries. The film focuses on Pandit Chitresh Das, who is a master of Kathark, which is one of India's classical dance forms, and rising tap star from New York's Hell's Kitchen, Jason Samuel Smith. Through backstage footage and intimate settings in and around India, we see the bonding of Das and Smith, and how passionate they are about their art. It is also inspiring to witness two distinctly different cultures drawing inspiration from one another. Through the art of dance, they are able to cross language barriers and bring people of different races and generations together.

The film also touches on how we are responsible for passing down our knowledge to the next generation. Das is well aware of his own mortality, and has taken the necessary steps to ensure that the Kathark will live on. Through his dance schools he has all over the world, his teachings and philosophies will continue to inspire and radiate within the youths of today. The same story can be said for Smith, who has been teaching tap dancing to the children in his community as well. Both draw the teachings of the past, so they will live on in the future.

After the screening of the film, we were again treated to the amazing dance techniques of both Das and Smith. Needless to say, to witness the two of them dancing and feeding off from one another was absolutely awe inspiring. I have never witnessed dancing like this ever in my life. Just amazing! Afterwards the director and stars participated in an informative and philosophical Q&A. Then everyone headed over to the San Jose Museum Of Art for the reception, where fine wine, spirits, and food was served.

Overall it was an amazing night, and this was just the beginning! There are still two more days to see films. If you would like to learn more about the film festival and the Center for Asian American Media, please visit their website at http://caamedia.org/ 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Phil sees RED RIDING HOOD at the Camera 12-March 16, 2011

Tonight's film review is a tough one ladies and gentlemen. Now usually whenever I see a really bad film, I take a page out of my favorite television show MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000. Meaning I'll talk back to the movie, saying funny accidoents while escaping the ugly reality that I paid to see that movie. Now when I went to see RED RIDING HOOD this evening, I was rendered speechless. Which, by the way, doesn't really happen to me that often.

The film is about Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), a beautiful young woman who is torn between two men. She's madly in love with her childhood friend Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), unfortunately her parents are arranging her to marry the wealthy and utterly boring Henry (Max Irons). To escape her mundane fate, Valerie prepares to run away with Peter. However their plans are put on hold when they learn that Valerie's older sister has been killed by the werewolf that prowls the dark forest surrounding their village. Thirsty for revenge, the villagers summon famed werewolf hunter, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), to help them kill the wolf. But Solomon's arrival only causes more problems as he warns that the wolf, who takes human form by day, could be any one of them. To make matters worse, the wolf has targeted Valerie as his next victim, but the creature knows who she is. Now she must figure out who is the werewolf before Solomon kills everyone in the village looking for it.

The most obvious targeted audience the film is trying to capture are fans of the TWILIGHT saga, which also helps thanks in large part to WB by snagging the director of the first film Catherine Hardwicke. And also like the TWILIGHT saga, there is love triangle here as well. How boring and unoriginal. If the werewolf were to kill all three of these annoying kids, then the film would be interesting. There are more red herrings in the film than in a episode of Scooby-Doo. Seyfried has the same wide-eyed, dowe look on her face throughout the film.  Fernandez does the same, with his trademark Gap Ad smirk and obvious gelled up hair style. I didn't know they had hair products in the Grim Fairytale world of yesteryear's. And I am not going to even try to explain the bizarre dance sequence from the film. There are some things that need to be left unsaid.

To make a long story short, I would rather have full frontal lobotomy than to view this film ever again. Sometimes I wonder how films like this ever get the green light for it to be made in the first place. RED RIDING HOOD is just awful. Just plain awful. Nothing needs to be said more. Now go and read the book. At least that is more entertaining

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Phil sees HALL PASS at the Camera 12-March 15, 2011

Ok, so I will admit that I am on Facebook quite a bit, but for good reasons! Some of my friends would ask me what I thought about a film, or they would recommend one to me. Recently my lovely friend Angela posted that she loved the Farrelly Brothers' new film HALL PASS and suggested that I should see it. So guess what? I went out and saw the film tonight. I had no expectations for the film whatsoever, and I walked out of the theatre feeling like I finally got my money's worth.
The film stars Owen Wilson as Rick, who is married to Maggie, played by Jenna (The Office) Fischer. However Rick is feeling a bit restless. He just can't seem to stop checking out other women, which causes problems in his marriage. Jason Sudeikis portrays Rick's best friend Fred, who is also guilty of being restless, even though he's married Christina Applegate's character Grace. When push comes to shove, Maggie grants Rick a hall pass; one week off of marriage to be single and to be free to do anything he wants. Fred also obtains his hall pass (even though he gets arrested for masturbating in his car in public to get it) and the two friends live it up for the week while the wives leave for Maggie's parents' beach house. And this where the fun begins.

The Farrelly Brothers cleverly sets up the days a la a CSI episode, each day getting the all-to-familiar jingle. From Rick and his friends playing golf while high on pot brownies to trying to pick up women at Applebee's, we get to see their attempted affairs fail each day. However Rick and Fred's luck turns around towards the end when Fred gets to make out with Rick's babysitter's aunt (who is really after Rick, so Fred pretends to be him) and Rick finally gets the opportunity to have his dream girl Leigh, played by the absolutely breathtaking Nicky Whelan. Meanwhile the wives are living it up as well as both Maggie and Grace find potential affairs as well.

The film was written and directed by the Farrelly Brothers, the two wild and crazy guys who brought us classics such as DUMB & DUMBER, THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY and SHALLOW HAL. Brothers Peter and Bobby keep the film loose and funny, while at the same time *gasp* tugging on your heart strings. While we want to see Rick and Fred wreck havoc among the female population, they are reminded of what they have and what would happen if they lost it. The Farrelly Brothers handle middle age with comedic wit, vulgarity, male nudity, and, believe it or not, style and grace. As I watched the credit roll by, I felt that I saw a transition with the Farrelly Brothers. Here was a comedy that has all of the trademark elements to make it hilarious, while at the same time made you feel like you couldn't wait to tell the person in your life how happy you are to have them. HALL PASS is more than just a comedy, it's a comedy that has a heart.

P.S. If by chance Nicky Whelan just happens to see my movie blog and reads this, I just want you to know that I love you. You are the most beautiful, enchanting, sexiest women that I have ever seen and I want to marry you. And I promise you, you will never, ever have to give me a hall pass! I promise!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Phil sees NOSFERATU at the California Theatre during Cinequest 21-March 11, 2011

Movies have the power to provoke a wide array of emotions. From tear jerking dramas to hilarious comedies, movies can touch our souls like no other art form. However, films can also tap into our subconscious and surface our most inner fears. Those kinds of emotions can bring on a tidal wave of terror and horror, emotions that you are not prepared for. With this in mind, I went to the beautifully restored California Theatre  in downtown San Jose for the Cinequest 21 Film Festival, where they were showing the 1922 German silent film classic NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR.
Original NOSFERATU movie poster
Made by famed German silent film director F.W. Murnau, NOSFERATU is a perfect example of German Expressionism from the 1920's. Using distorted shadows, Gothic sets and locations, the mostly black costumes, and atmospheric mood, these films would go on to have such a strong influence on the Universal horror films of the 1930's, as well as the Film Noir genre. It would also go on to influence the Goth subculture and its music several decades later.

The film is based on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, however the filmmakers could not secure a copyright agreement with Stoker's Estate. As the result, Murnau had the names of the characters and locations changed to avoid infringement charges. But Stoker's widow didn't approve, so she took to the court system, where the judge ordered all prints of the film to be destroyed. Thankfully the film survived and now lives on as the very first vampire film ever to be made.

The story of the film goes as follows: a real estate agent named Knock sends his assistant Hutter to Transylvania to have some paperwork signed by his new client Count Orlok, who just happened to purchase the old, deserted house right across the street from Hutter. However his innocent wife Ellen senses danger on his journey, and she is correct. From the moment he arrives at the Count's castle, strange occurrences unfold, and when Orlock leaves for his new home, the shroud of death follows him across the sea and to his final destination; Wisbourg, Germany. It is here where the lovely Ellen realizes that only she can put an end the Count's reign of terror.
Max Schreck as Count Orlok in NOSFERATU (1922)

With his rodent-like face, long spider fingers, and soul piercing eyes that will make your skin crawl, Max Shreck's performance as Court Orlock has become an icon in not just silent horror films, but for the horror genre in general. Few can come close to achieve his personification of dread and evil, a creature devoid of humanity and pathos. While the vampire itself has evolved, thanks to actors such as Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, Klaus Kinski (who stared in the 1979 remake), and Willem Dafoe (who protrays Max Schreck in the 2001 film SHADOWS OF THE VAMPIRE), none have come close to capture the feel of death and darkness  as Schreck achieved back in 1922.

This past Friday night's screening of the film was spectacular. A fully restored print was shown, with newly translated subtitles and the color tints for several of the scenes were restored as well. Also the music was fantastic, thanks in large part to the one and only Dennis James, who wrote a magnificent score for the film. I have seen Mr. James play up and down the coast for several years now and he is without question, the most electrifying musician to ever perform on the Mighty Wurlitzer. I am also proud to call Dennis as one of my friends as well.

Today's kids seem to think that vampires are cool, trendy and, with a little bit of sparkles, even sexy. But for a while, vampires were seen as grotesque creatures of the night, ready to suck the very life from you. History has proven that NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR still remains as one of the most haunting and terrifying films ever made. After almost 90 years of its release, its power to chill you to the bone has not diminished. That my friends, is what a horror film should be.

NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF HORROR is available on DVD. To purchase a copy visit http://www.kino.com/ 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Phil sees BATTLE: LOS ANGELES at Camera 7 Pruneyard-March 11, 2011

So today I woke up feeling good. It's Friday morning, the sky's blue, birds are chirping, and I'm thinking to myself, "I'm gonna see a movie." So I hop online and see what's playing at my favorite theatre chain: The Camera Cinemas. Then low and behold I see that BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is playing in an hour, so I get cleaned up, drive down to the Camera Seven in the Pruneyard, walk to the boxoffice and pay for my ticket. Then I stroll into theater one, pick out my favorite seat, the lights go dim and I'm ready for the movie to begin.

The film stars Aaron Eckhart as SSgt. Michael Nantz, who after his last mission where he lost his entire platoon, signs off to be retired but first he and his new replacement, 2nd Lt. William Martinez (portrayed by Ramon Rodriguez) are called to help fight off an alien invasion that has landed in Los Angeles. Nantz and Martinez led a newly formed platoon to infiltrate a police station to rescue civilian survivors that are holding up in there. However the city is crawling with hostile aliens and they must fulfill their mission in three hours before the city of angeles is obliterated.

Basically, the film is a hybrid of several different films. Think INDEPENDENCE DAY meets BLACK HAWK DOWN with the unique camera style of CLOVERFIELD. While the story itself is nothing original, the movie does provide a fun, rollercoaster ride for the audience. But the film doesn't bring anything new to the table. I mean let's face it, how many times have we seen Earth being invaded by hostile aliens? Quite a lot, since the 1950's with films such as EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956), WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) and the classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951). But ever since INDEPENDENCE DAY was released back in 1996, there have been very few sci-fi films that have challenged or changed the genre. Director Neill Blomkamp's 2009 masterpiece DISTRICT 9 is one example of originality, combining social commentary and pathos while fulfilling the sci-fi criteria.

The cast of the film did turn in some excellent performances, but how many times are we going to see Michelle Rodriguez (TSgt. Elena Santos) playing the same military type role? She's done this role already in 2002s' RESIDENT EVIL (as Rain Ocampo) and as Trudy Chacon in last year's hit AVATAR. Seems to me that she is now typecast in military roles for the rest of her career.

While BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is not a bad movie, it's not a great movie either. It lies somewhere in between. While the special effects were top notch, and the aliens were very scary looking, I left the theatre feeling kind of let down. I don't know what I was hoping for. Maybe I was expecting the movie to blow me away in some fashion. Maybe make me say "Wow! That was a cool film!" But, alas, that wasn't my feeling. I saw the film about three hours ago, and now I'm ready for a nap. Not the kind of reaction to an big budgeted, action packed, sci-fi movie Hollywood was expecting. But when Hollywood does make a GOOD big budgeted, action packed, sci-fi movie, then by all means wake me up for that one. I'll buy the popcorn.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Phil reviews A MARINE STORY-March 10, 2011

For over 17 years, the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy restricting openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from serving caused over 13,500 people to be discharged from the service. Many of these brave and closeted men and women fought in The Gulf Wars during that time frame, and some have died in combat to protect our rights and freedoms that many of us here have taken for granted. While the policy was recently abolished, there are thousands of stories of people who's lives were affected by its discriminating words. It is within this political climate that director Ned Farr’s A MARINE STORY tells one of those stories.

The film stars Dreya Weber as Alexandra Everett, a decorated Marine officer who was discharged when her sexuality became known. Returning to her hometown and trying to adjust to civilian life, she is immediately recruited to help out troubled teen Saffron Snow (Paris Pickard) to train for boot camp. All the while Alexandra also struggles with her sexuality and her role in society as a civilian. Eventually, the truth of why Alexandra was discharged is revealed and threatens her friendship with Saffron as well as with everyone in town.

Writer, editor, and director Farr made a name for himself with his first feature film THE GYMNAST, which also starred Weber in the lead role. That film garnered him acclaim and the film would go on to win 12 awards from festivals ranging from San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival to L.A.’s Outfest.  Farr once again teams up Weber (who is also one of the producers) to tell a true story, one that has affected so many lives. Farr has written a beautiful, tight script that grips you from the very beginning and doesn’t let you go until the end credits roll. Strong performances by Weber and her co-star Pickard (who also co-producer) lift the story by infusing raw emotions and tenderness to their respected characters.

Stars Paris Pickard (Left) and Dreya Weber

While it’s interesting to view Alexandra’s love and her wishing to return to the military, it is the military’s way of discharging Alexandra that is so alarming. It is this contradiction that really stops and makes you think. While it is known that many gays and lesbians are willing to die for their country (even though they still are denied their basic civil rights such as marriage), has anyone wondered just how absurd and behind the times the military’s mentality is? These people, who are treated like second-class citizens, love their country so much that they, just like their straight counterparts, are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us. Alexandra is just one of the many casualties that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy caused.

A MARINE STORY first debuted at L.A.’s Outfest in June 2010 and won both the Audience and Grand Jury awards and Weber also won Best Actress. Since then it has gone on to win sixteen awards at film festivals around the country. Just like THE GYMNAST, Farr once again crafted a film that transcends boundaries and blurs the line between gay and straight films. It is a film about human interest.

The film was recently released by San Jose based distributor Wolfe Video, but what makes this event even more important is that it is the very first Blu-Ray release for the company. The Hi-Def transfer looks flawless and crisp. The extras are the same as on their DVD release: behind the scene feature, director's commentary, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, closed captioned, stereo 5.1 and 2.0, and 16x9 anamorphic widescreen.

Actress/Producer Dreya Webber

We all know someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They might be someone in your family, or someone you go to school with. They might be a co-worker you’ve known for years, or your neighbors who you have BBQ’s with every holiday weekend. It doesn’t really matter who they choose to be with. What matters is are they a nice person? Are they are there to help you if you’re sick and they go get medicine for you? Will they lend you their hand in a crisis? They’re always be there when you need a friend, because they are your friends and you’re good friends with them as well. We all bleed red, white and blue. We are all Americans fighting for the same American Dream. For some reason though, the American Dream is a lot harder to achieve for some. A MARINE STORY reminds us that we all have the same right: to serve our country if we want to, and to fight, protect, and die for our country. But being gay shouldn’t interfere in showing how proud you are to be an American.

To purchase your copy of A MARINE STORY on Blu-Ray and DVD, visit http://www.wolfevideo.com/ 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!

Phil takes a double shot of Godard-March 10, 2011

Sometimes I find myself looking online to see what films are playing so I can write a review, and realize that there isn't anything playing that tickles my fancy. Luckily, there is a vast world of films on DVD and now on Blu-Ray that demands my attention more than ever. It is in this world that I decided to reacquaint myself with an old friend of mine. His name is Jean-Luc Godard, the father of the French New Wave movement from the 1960s'. Godard first started out as a film critic for the highly influential periodical Cahiers du cinema, then became one of the most important filmmakers of our time. Drawing from politics, film history, French intellectualism, existential and Marxist philosophy, Godard's radical films challenged the conventions of Hollywood cinema and influenced French cinema. For a number of years, the fine folks at The Criterion Collection have been beautifully restoring most of Godard's classic films. I was fortunate to purchase two of his best: his film debut BREATHLESS and the underrated VIRE SA VIE.

Director Jean-Luc Godard

If you have never seen, or heard of BREATHLESS, you are missing out on film history. Like the description says on the box, "There was before BREATHLESS, and there was after BREATHLESS." That pretty much says it all. With all the energy of a 1940s' American gangster B-movie, it tells the simple story of Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a French petty street thief, who steals a car and kills a policeman, while at the same time pursuing a naive American girl Patricia (Jean Seberg). She is wary of Michel's intentions and questions his lack of ambition, but proving that nice girls have a thing for bad boys, Patricia spends time with him in Paris before turning him in to the police. Using ragged editing techniques, handheld cameras, and a musical soundtrack that seems out of sync with the action, Godard succeeds at constantly reminding his audience that his film is an artificial reality having little to do with actual reality, but at the same time, drawing the audience into this fast-paced, madcap world of love and crime.

Jean-Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg in BREATHLESS (1960)

The new dual-disc Criterion upgraded edition of BREATHLESS includes a restored high-definition digital transfer (approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard), interviews with Godard, and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg, video essays: filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport's "Jean Seberg" and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Breathless as Film Criticism," an eighty-minute French documentary about the making of Breathless, with members of the cast and crew, the French theatrical trailer, and a booklet featuring writings from Godard, film historian Dudley Andrew, Francois Truffaut's original film treatment, and Godard's scenario.

The year was 1962 and Jean-Luc Godard and wife, Anna Karina have worked on two films together: "Le petit Soldat" (created in 1960 but released in 1963 due to the film being banned) and the 1961 film "Une femme est une femme" (A Woman is a Woman). By that time, both Godard and Karina's marriage life became a public spectacle, especially rumors that their marriage was on the rocks. However, Godard was determined to make Karina a serious actress, and in 1962, VIVRE SA VIE is released upon the world.

Actress Anna Karina in VIVRE SA VIE (1962)
VIVRE SA VIE (MY LIFE TO LIVE) tells the story of Nana, portrayed by Karina, who is an aspiring Parisian actress but ends up becoming a prostitute. The film is more of a documentary, chronicling the downward spiral of Nana. The film is based on the studies of prostitution from " en est la prostitution" by Marcel Sacotte. Godard's filmmaking style improves with this film, but it's still unpolished, in the sense that it doesn't have the typical Hollywood ending. With this in mind Godard's ending for the film is that much more shocking, but even from the first chapter, we see Karina's fate. PRETTY WOMAN it ain't, so don't be expecting a happy ending. Like in real life, it is what it is, and it ends like it should.

This Criterion upgraded edition includes a new, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, audio commentary featuring film scholar Adrian Martin, video interview with film scholar Jean Narboni, conducted by historian Noël Simsolo, television interview from 1962 with actress Anna Karina, excerpts from a 1961 French television exposé on prostitution, Illustrated essay on La prostitution, the book that served as inspiration for the film, stills gallery, director Jean-Luc Godard’s original theatrical trailer, new and improved English subtitle translation, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Atkinson, interviews with Godard, a reprint by critic Jean Collet on the film’s soundtrack, and Godard’s original scenario.

Sometimes I'm amazed that most people have never heard of Godard, or any of his films. These played such an important role on influencing the next wave of film directors that would transform Hollywood films and make it art. Directors Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese have all stated how important Godard was and how their lives were never the same after seeing his films. It is important to inform people that there are films out there that need to be rediscovered, that need to be shown, that need to be talked about, and that need to be remembered. If you are reading this and you're interested in seeing these films, than I have done my job. Just make sure you share these films with the people in your life. After all, movies bring people together.

To purchase Godard's films and other DVD's, Blu-Rays, etc, visit http://www.criterion.com/ 

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the show!