Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Lovecracked!: The Movie


Sci-fi/horror author H.P. Lovecraft has always been an enigma to all but his most dedicated fans. Focusing his most popular stories on the idea that the worst horrors known to man would come from outer space, Lovecraft intended to weave together the genres of horror and science fiction. A renowned anglophile, Lovecraft wrote in a dated form using archaic vocabulary and spelling. That method, combined with Lovecraft's strong racist beliefs that appeared frequently in his prose doesn't make his work a "light read." Throw into it his inability to create a single redeeming female character in any of his stories, and Lovecraft ends up seemingly less influential than most give him credit for. This is probably why far more people tend to drop Lovecraft's name rather than actually try and pick up one of his books.

Fantastic films such as "Re-Animator," "Hellboy," "Evil Dead 2," and "Castle Freak" were all either inspired by Lovecraft or are as close to direct adaptations as one could find. For a science-fiction author backed by a rabid fan base of hardcore nerds who've (claimed to have) read all of his work and praise the man devoutly, little is known about Lovecraft personally. The fact that little has been produced about the man is odd, considering the number of films and documentaries devoted to lesser-known icons of science fiction and horror.

The fact that most nerds have a disposable income (still living with your mom makes that possible) has lead to the creation of a plethora of never-ending crap for them to waste their money on. From officially licensed "Lord of the Rings" swords to cuddly plush Cthulhus donning Santa hats, these fans will buy anything. The sad fact is that all of these dorky trinkets will be tossed into a Dumpster when they die childless and alone in the bedroom they grew up in. They'll be found dead in their bed amidst a pile of empty Funyuns bags and shredded "Magic the Gathering" card packs. The TV will be on, the main menu for the DVD of the second made-for-TV "Ewoks" movie "The Battle for Endor" repeating itself in an endless loop. Ironically, this may be similar to the way its owner lived his sad, little life as he still breathed from his saliva-encrusted lips. If only he had used that excess of funds to leave behind something other than a mountain of collectible garbage, perhaps he could have left some sort of a legacy to his undersexed brethren.

Some sci-fi fans may think the reported ten-thousand-dollar budget wasted on "Lovecracked! The Movie" may have been better spent. Those people would have wasted it buying a hundred and sixty official "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" replica urns (I wish I were joking of their existence). At least the creators of "Lovecracked" tried to create a film as homage to one of their heroes. Too bad cranky ol' Howard Phillips himself would have hated it.

"Lovecracked! The Movie" is a collection of nine short films, all reportedly inspired by Lovecraft's macabre writing. Intercut with the internationally made shorts are scenes featuring a bumbling investigative journalist (writer/director/producer/editor/cinematographer/etc. Elias) who is looking for the truth of Lovecraft's past. While a couple of the short films are extremely enjoyable, most of them, along with surname-less Elias's interjections are just awful, some even borderline unwatchable. All of the moments featuring the journalist are best left to your fast-forward button. If you supplied your funniest friend with a super VHS camera, three random discs from "The Complete Monty Python Flying Circus" DVD set, and your dad's old dress shirt, he could come up with better material than anyone involved in this mess.

Along with skipping all moments involving the journalist, keep that fast-forward finger ready for the unbelievably self-absorbed "History of the Lurkers," which is easily the worst of the nine segments. The rest of the "films" are generally ignorable, with only a few exceptions. Ashley Thorpe's "The Remain" is extremely effective stop-motion tale of a painting commanding its artist to kill. But the two shining gems of the lot are by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Almgren, who wrote and directed the stunning "BugBoy" and scripted the simplistic yet brilliant "Chaos of Flesh" for director Grady Granros. "BugBoy" is a Kafkaesque tale as seen through a Lynchian lens, while "Chaos" is an excellent, straight-up horror yarn.

The only other short subject worth mentioning is the rather jarring inclusion of a scene from the porno flick " Re-Penetrator." It arrives at the tail end of "Lovecracked," and without much warning the audience is "treated" to an edited pornographic spoof of the classic "Re-Animator." While all of the "penetration" shots have been cleverly blocked or cut, the vision of a blood covered Joanna Angel oozing green goo after a raunchy sex scene with co-star Tommy Pistol (playing Dr. Hubert Breast) may be too much for the more-timid viewer.
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Gitmo


On January 31, 1848, an employee at John Sutter´s mill discovered gold, sending thousands of ambitious fortune seekers rushing west to stake their claim. On March 20, 2003, President George W. Bush officially announced the beginning of the Iraq War, sending (seemingly) thousands of ambitious documentary filmmakers scurrying to stake their own claim on the cinematic gold of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Most gold seekers found only dirt and broken dreams; most Iraq War documentarians managed to find something; the problem is that many of them found the same thing, all at the same time.

Swedish filmmakers Eric Gandini and Tarik Saleh filmed for three years (late 2002-2005), focusing their attention on the now-infamous Guantanamo Bay prison, better known (in military parlance as well as in the media) as Gitmo. The film, narrated by Gandini, starts with an interesting bit of information I did not know. Apparently, anyone with media credentials can simply call a number setup by the U.S. military to schedule a visit to Gitmo. You get free flights from Puerto Rico, but you have to pay $12 a night for lodging. Not a bad deal. As part of the package, you get a free tour of Gitmo and an all-access pass to talk to the prisoners. Well, OK, not exactly an "all-access" pass; in fact, more like a "don´t even think about going past the point where we´ve carefully orchestrated our media presentation" pass. And don´t even think about using any Michael Moore hidden camera tricks; as Gandini wryly notes "That´s just not gonna happen."

It´s an amusing start, but also defines the limitations of the documentary. Gandini and Saleh simply can´t get close enough to get much information. They focus partly on Swedish citizen Mehdi Ghezali who is held at Gitmo (without charges, of course) for over a year, but are stifled in their efforts to get information from him, more from Mehdi´s reticence than any military coverup. The rest of the documentary ambles abut, lazily chronicling Gandini´s efforts to contact military officials regarding various irregularities at Gitmo. The doc abruptly shifts focus from prisoner abuse to some of the odd hirings and firings of military personnel at the naval base. Few people are willing to talk, except the always loquacious Janice Karpinsky, better known for being in charge at Abu Ghraib when the soldiers started taking those holiday pics.

Gandini searches for logical answers as to why particular people are being held prisoner, or rather as "unlawful combatants," at Gitmo, but he forgets that the administration doesn´t adhere to a reality-based view of geopolitics. When you make up your own facts, the answers are easy. Rumsfeld doesn´t know who the prisoners are, but he knows for sure that: "These guys aren´t common car thieves." For Dubyah, it´s even clearer cut: "The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people." They probably never even read "My Pet Goat."

"Gitmo" is a victim of bad timing more than anything else. Much of the information Gandini and Saleh uncover is pretty potent; unfortunately by the time the film was released in 2005, it was also pretty widely known. Still, it´s nice to have an easily-accessible record of Donald Rumsfeld´s true sickness. When asked to review a series of "torture protocols" Rumsfeld only question the one in which prisoners would be forced to stand for 4 hours at a time. His complaint, scrawled in the margins: "I stand for 8-10 hours a day? Why limit standing time to just 4 hours?" Some of the shots of smiling US military "tour guides" at Gitmo are surreal as they tell visitors about the iguanas and golf courses.

The film uses some cheap editing techniques designed to make people look foolish, hardly necessary considering how outrageous the Gitmo scenario really is. But I´ve been told by my Norwegian friends that Swedes have a strange sense of humor.
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Katharine Hepburn: 100th Anniversary Collection


Katharine Hepburn was a remarkable actress, surviving as a star attraction well into maturity in an industry that usually tosses actresses away in their thirties or relegates them to minor supporting roles as they grow older. Hepburn, 1907-2003, continued as a dominant force (with her ups and downs) from the early 1930s well into the 1990s, the Academy nominated her for a dozen Oscars, and the American Film Institute named her the number-one female star of all time. When finally she was not making movies anymore, she was writing her memoirs and playing the real-life role of grande dame of Hollywood.

In honor of Ms. Hepburn's 100th anniversary, Warner Bros. have collected together a half dozen of her films in a six-disc box set. They are far from the best films of her career--most of the best ones the studios already made available separately on disc--but they do represent a well-rounded picture of her work. Let me mention briefly what's in the set, based on my past and more-recent experience with them, and then I'll discuss one of the movies in more detail.

Taking them chronologically, the first up is "Morning Glory" from 1933, directed by Lowell Sherman and co-starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Adolphe Menjou, Mary Duncan, and C. Aubrey Smith. This was only Hepburn's third film, yet she won an Oscar for Best Actress. Hepburn plays a young actress just breaking into show business (art imitates life), her rather acerbic personalty the main attraction. Otherwise, she undergos the usual troubles and tribulations we might expect. Despite the Oscar, her performance seems dated, as does the production. 74 minutes.

Next up is "Sylvia Scarlett," 1935, which I'll comment on below.

After that is "Dragon Seed," 1944, directed by Jack Conway and co-starring Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim Tamiroff, Turhan Bey, Hurd Hatfield, J. Carrol Naish, Agnes Moorehead, Henry Travers, an all-star cast. This is one of the bigger films in the set, an adaptation of the Pearl S. Buck story of the Japanese invasion of a small Chinese community. It was an attempt to follow up on the success of the movie version of Ms. Buck's "The Good Earth," but it doesn't come off with anything near the drama. Conforming to old Hollywood tradition, the film uses non-Asian Hollywood stars to portray most of the Chinese in the picture. Not convincing. 148 minutes.

The 1945 comedy "Without Love" finds Hepburn once again teamed up with her longtime friend and lifelong love, Spencer Tracy. Like most of Hepburn and Tracy's movies together, this one is light and amusing, with an emphasis on the light. Very light, but still fun. Harold S. Bucquet directed and Lucille Ball, Keenan Wynn, Carl Esmond, and Patricia Morrison co-star. 110 minutes.

The usually reliable Vincente Minnelli directed Hepburn in "Undercurrent," 1946, a typical film noir of the period (although nobody called them "noirs" at the time) in which Hepburn's character begins to have suspicions about her new husband. Also typical of such movies, the plot doesn't always make a lot of sense. It co-stars Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Edmund Gwenn, Marjorie Main, and Jayne Meadows. 116 minutes.

The final movie in the set is "The Corn Is Green," a 1978 TV production, and the only film in the set that WB present in widescreen and color. It marked the final collaboration between Hepburn and director George Cukor, and it co-stars Ian Saynor, Bill Fraser, Patricia Hayes, and Anna Massey. If you remember the classic, 1945 Bette Davis film, you'll get the idea. The greatest advantage of this remake, aside from Hepburn's performance, is the location shooting in Wales, which greatly adds to the film's beauty and authenticity. Along with the set's Hepburn-Tracy film, this one is the best of the lot. 93 minutes.

Now, let's go back and look a little closer at "Sylvia Scarlett." Directed by George Cukor ("Dinner at Eight," "The Philadelphia Story," "Born Yesterday," "A Star Is Born" "My Fair Lady"), it is truly an oddball farce that I find most notable for two reasons: (1) its being the first of four pairings of Hepburn and Cary Grant; and (2) its casting of Hepburn as a young woman masquerading as a young man. As a film, though, it's one of the strangest concoctions you'll run into: a hokey, exaggerated, old-time, sometimes surreal comedic melodrama, played for the broadest possible laughs. Indeed, the film's primary appeal today may be as pure camp.

Hepburn plays the title role, Sylvia Scarlett, whose father, Henry (Edmund Gwenn) is a crook, an embezzler who needs to get out of the country, France, quickly. They head for England, where in order not to draw any unnecessary attention, Sylvia poses as a boy. For the life of me, I could not see the point of the disguise, nor could I understand how anybody would mistake the young Hepburn for a male. It's a plot gimmick you have to accept in order for the film to work, but it's frankly a dumb contrivance.
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Candy


There is a scene in this film which Dan comes home to find Candy, in drug induced insanity, has scribbled phrases all over the walls of their home. Candy is nowhere to be found; the house is empty except for her words. Dan, who before this moment seemed to be cleaning up his act, is so affected and distraught that he abandons concern for Candy´s welfare and gets high.

"Candy" is not the run of the mill love affair. It is not stuck in the boy meets girl, girl leaves boy, boy gets girl back formula. Like all good films there are layers here. But I think and fear that many audiences will never see past the surface layer into the subtext. And this is the key. The film not about addiction to the drug of our character´s choice as much as it is about the addiction of a young love. Now, that may sound cheesy, but it is true. This is not a drug story so much as it is a love story.

As for plot, all you need to know is that two young drug addicts, Candy and Dan, are in a deep love. They struggle through the usual: drug induced hazes, criminal activities, catastrophic events, and failed attempts at getting clean. But these struggles are not what make this a good and sometimes wonderful film. It is Candy and Dan´s relationship throughout this whole ordeal that keeps this movie from falling into the category of clichĂ©.

Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger are wonderful. They´re performances are nearly flawless, and their depth of character drives this film. Before seeing this film I had heard nothing of Abbie Cornish and had already made up my mind on Heath Ledger. In both cases this one movie has enlightened me and broken through my stubborn preconceived notions.

Abbie Cornish may be the best young actress in Australia. She deserved all the awards and nominations that she received for this performance. In this film she played a character—a young college girl from a respectable family—displaying traits of innocence and vulnerability. As the film progresses, she becomes an experienced, used up drug addict, but she never loses that vulnerability. She always has an aura of someone being controlled, not just by addiction, but her deep love for Dan.

Heath Ledger plays Dan, the point of view character in this film. It is through Dan´s eyes that Candy, the love affair, the drugs, and all the unfortunate events, unfold. I have seen Ledger in a number of films, and I have never felt that he was anything special as an actor. His Oscar nominated performance in "Brokeback Mountain" did little for me. This performance, though, is something worthwhile. Dan is a young poet turned to drugs seemingly in an attempt to forget a painful childhood. He unfortunately brings Candy into a life of drug addiction and from that point on shows regret for it.

Dan as a character is harmless and often weak. On the surface he gives the feel of the typical stoner found in film, but Ledger takes him deeper. Ledger contrasts moments of drug induced haze with crafty, smart actions. Dan is not a hollow shell in Ledger´s hands. Later in the film Dan makes a decision, maybe his first in the whole movie that is heartfelt, poetic, and tragic. This decision is something that Ledger builds up to the entire film.

There is one major limitation of the story, in my opinion. This is a film centered, maybe too, much on the moment. It would have been very interesting to have had a few detailed glimpses into the past—what brought Dan and Candy together? We know that they are in love, we see the extent of who they are in their relationship, but we never get to know them as separate entities. We get a little bit of Candy´s life before Dan, through the introduction of her parents, but little to nothing about Dan. What was Dan like before the drugs? Who was he before Candy?

Another issue I have with the film, which is not a deal breaker, is the director´s choice to rely on the obligatory scenes of drug use, scavenging for money, prostitution, and a failed attempt at getting clean. These are moments in film we have all seen before. There is a cadre of films that have put them on display from "Lost Weekend" to "Requiem for a Dream."

But the question that arises from this criticism is whether you can make a film about drug use that does not include these types of scenes. Maybe the best a director and screenwriter can do is to try and manipulate these scenes, looking at them with a new angle. By devising this film as love story or a narrative concentrating on the main characters´ relationship, Neil Armfield has mostly achieved. He has intermixed scenes of drug with moments of tenderness and daily life. These scenes are the brilliant scenes. They are the poetry of this film.
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Azumanga Daioh #4: Friends!


"Azumanga Daioh" is a whimsical comedy based on the antics of a group of schoolgirls, beginning when they start high school. Although the series is based off of a manga (Japanese comic, typically serialized like American comic books), this manga is a collection of daily, four-panel comic strips. In that spirit, the TV series was initially divided into five-minutes episodes, collected five at a time into one full, half-hour program. There are a total of twenty-six, half-hour programs. The second DVD contains five episodes: "Sports Fest, 2nd Year", "Culture Fest, 2nd Year", End of 2nd Semester and Christmas", "Koyomi´s Ordeals", and "One Spring Night".

There are six main girls to the story. The first is Chiyo, a ten-year-old girl who was smart enough to skip five grades to get into high school. The second is Sakaki, a tall girl whose discomfort with her height, athletic ability, and physical development renders her shy and standoffish. Yomi is generally the voice of reason, especially to her friend Tomo´s thoughtless antics. The fifth, Kagura, joins the rest of the girls at the start of year two.

The final character is Ayumu Kasuga, although one could be forgiven for not remembering her name. Her classmates almost immediately nickname her "Osaka", as that´s the region of Japan she´s from. Unlike a typical Osakan, Ayumu is not loud or boorish. On the contrary, she´s quiet, spaces out almost continuously, and loves complicated puns. Although Ayumu doesn´t like her nickname, she´s simply too out of touch to fight it. Even the teachers call her Osaka.

The second term comes and goes on this disc. Because this is Japanese high school, there´s only one year left before graduation. In Japan, high school begins at what would be our sophomore year Time just seems to pass so quickly in "Azumanga Daioh", it´s a little disappointing to think that the series ends. Although the cover features Yomi, I´m not sure more than one episode on this volume gave her a significantly greater screen time than any other character.

The episodic nature of the show makes me think of somebody reminiscing on their high school days from years and years down the road. Maybe I think that just because this year is my tenth-year high school reunion. My infamously-poor memory only has short vignettes from my high school years. Like the scenes in "Azumanga Daioh", I remember little of nothing of my time in class, instead remembering the funny or exciting times.

There are boys in "Azumanga Daioh", it´s just that none of them are central to any plot. Whatever other good qualities they might have, the boys uniformly worship Mr. Kimura, a lecherous teacher. In spite of the many good deeds he commits outside of school, Mr. Kimura openly plots to get into the girls´ swim practice and bemoans his inability to get into their locker room. Luckily, the girls don´t have much trouble keeping Mr. Kimura contained.

The very first episode on this disc has a great treat; the viewer gets to meet the creepy teacher´s, Mr. Kimura´s, family. You can´t guess what his wife looks like.

Because of the show´s roots, laughs come hard and fast. The beginning of each five-minute bit has its own title. I think each bit contains somewhere between 1-3 strips, judging by the number of punch lines.
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Monday, May 28, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima [5-Disc Commemorative Collector's Edition]



Flags of Our Fathers
Clint Eastwood is a national treasure. At seventy-five years old, the veteran actor and director just keeps churning out incredible films. Whereas he thrilled audiences with numerous memorable character roles such as Harry Callahan the infamous man with no name in Sergio Leone's spaghetti western trilogy, Clint Eastwood is one of the quintessential tough guy actors and perhaps the stereotypical image of a cinematic gunslinger. Though he has been directing films since 1971's "Play Misty For Me," Eastwood did not get the credit he deserved as a filmmaker until 1991's stunning revenge western, "Unforgiven." He has gotten numerous accolades since "Unforgiven" for films such as "Mystic River" and picked up a second Best Director Oscar for "Million Dollar Baby." In the year 2006, Eastwood signed on with Steven Spielberg for an unprecedented project – filming both sides of the Iwo Jima conflict concurrently and releasing them within a few months of each other. With the praise and support of the Japanese people and the permission to film on the island of Iwo Jima, Eastwood continues to be nothing short than amazing as both films were nominated for Academy Awards in various categories, including Best Picture and Best Director.

I grew up on military and war films. My father retired from the Air Force after twenty nine years with the rank of Master Sergeant. He takes his military history and films that portray any conflict or branch of the service with a keen and critical eye. Despite being raised in an Air Force family, I joined the United States Army and served in the Infantry during the first Gulf War conflict. As an example of my love for military history, one of my prized possessions is a World War II vintage M1 Garand rifle, complete with a 1942 bayonet. Needless to say, there was quite fervor upon hearing the news that Eastwood was going to film two pictures detailing the historic conflict that occurred on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima and give the perspective from both sides of the conflict. The only other time that a major Hollywood production attempted something like this was the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!," and though that is a remarkable film for its period, it does not delve into any great depth due to its relatively short running time of 144 minutes. By dedicating two distinct films to the conflict, Eastwood promised perhaps the most comprehensive film of any World War II battle ever to be delivered to the big screen.

"Flags of Our Fathers" was completed and released first and featured the American perspective on the battle for Iwo Jima. The film primarily deals with the three surviving men who hoisted the flag for the infamous photograph, immortalized in Washington, D.C., as the National Marine Memorial. "Flags of Our Fathers" looks at their involvement in the actual conflict trying to take Iwo Jima and its strategic airfield and their struggles in fighting a financial war across the United States in raising war bonds to help finance the final stages of World War II. Six men raised that second flag that was captured in the photograph, but only three men survived. Not all of the men enjoyed touring the country and not being involved in the final stages of conflict in bringing Japan to its knees and the event was not without controversy. Firstly, the flag was not the initial flag raised on Suribachi. It was the second. Secondly, one of the men that died and was said to have been in the photograph was part of the first flag raising and not one of the men that appeared in the famous photo.

John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and American Indian Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) were the three soldiers who survived the month-long conflict on the small Japanese volcanic island. They were promptly given a free pass home and thrust into an effort to raise billions and billions of dollars from the American taxpayers and corporations to fund the building of tanks, plans and ammunition. Gagnon and Bradley were more accepting of their roles as financial cows for the military, though Bradley was tormented by his memories of what happened on the island. Hayes suffered from alcoholism and felt himself to be a disgrace and desperately wanted to be back with his Marine compatriots and fighting the war and not trying to raise money. Hayes was haunted by the loss of his friend and fellow flag raiser Mike Strank (Barry Pepper) and truly did not view himself as a hero, but idolized Strank and thought of him as such. Franklin Sousley (Joseph Cross) lost his life as well before the end of the conflict. Hank Hanson (Paul Walker) was claimed to have been one of the six, but, in fact, he was not. The actual sixth man was Harlon Block (Benjamin Walker), and Block's mother could recognize her son from a shot of his posterior and knew immediately it was really her son in the photograph.

Clint Eastwood's film spends more time during the War Bond drive than it does on the volcanic beaches of Iwo Jima and slopes of Mount Suribachi. The three actors portraying Bradley, Gagnon and Hayes all do justice to their characters. Most impressive was Adam Beach as Ira "Chief" Hayes. In Beach's performance, you can see the torment and pain of a man who is lost in alcohol and cannot even remotely accept being called a hero in light of those that died and the unspeakable things he did and witnessed on Iwo Jima. Beach's speech given when his character is told he is no longer part of the War Bond drive was done perfectly. Jesse Bradford portrays Gagnon as a man who enjoyed the spotlight a bit too much and came across like a slimy used car salesman. If Gagnon was truly like this, then Bradford nailed it. Hayes and Gagnon did not get along and Ryan Phillippe is given the task of bringing peacemaker Doc Bradley to life. Bradley was asked to postpone needed surgery to complete the war bond drive and he is the most level-headed and aware of the three, though he is tormented by the combat he was a part of. I've never been much of a Ryan Phillippe fan, but in "Flags of Our Fathers," he earned some of my respect.

As the three principal actors and Eastwood bring about the trials and tribulations of dealing with ghosts of a conflict and the public eye, "Flags of Our Fathers" takes on a feel that is unlike most other war films. The film rides the fence as to taking an antiwar stance or a pro-war stance as it shows the horrible effects that war can have on men and how veterans can move from neo-celebrity status to being easily forgotten quite quickly. The fall of Ira Hayes is especially disheartening. The three men were more of a sideshow than they were a display of the humanity and effects of war. They are put on display and their story is distorted to have them appear to be larger than life. The uncomfortable and demeaning existence they are forced into is perfectly captured by Eastwood during the mock flag raising at Soldier Field. Each of the three actors bring about a different feel to a combat veteran, and with Eastwood guiding them, "Flags of Our Fathers" shows the unfortunate situation the surviving flag raisers of the historic photograph had befall them.

The film is not without its combat sequences. With Steven Spielberg serving as producer, the influence of "Saving Private Ryan" is certainly felt. The beach storming sequence is not initially as graphic or as hectic as Spielberg's landmark film, but the cinematography and aura of the event echoes that of the older film. In "Flags of Our Fathers," Eastwood does not shy away from blood and guts. They are prevalent. The combat is hectic and the viewer is placed in the center of the action. Gunshots fly in all directions, and as was the case with "Saving Private Ryan," the viewer is certainly given the notion of being placed in the center of the battle. War is hell and ever since that was first driven home by Spielberg, filmmakers have taken note and are no longer afraid to water down how violent and ugly battles truly are. No longer is John Wayne shot and he simply falls to his death. Instead, actors are blown to bits in violent and horrendous visions of death. Eastwood learned from working with Spielberg, and though I am admittedly tiring of "Saving Private Ryan" clones, "Flags of Our Fathers" is done well.

This is a brilliant film, and our national treasure, Mr. Eastwood, has done an amazing job delivering one of the absolute best war films ever made. War is not just about the blood that is spilled, the men that are lost, the metal that is disintegrated and the land that is conquered. It is about the men that served in the conflict and the effects that seeing the blood, destruction and death of a battle have on a man. The time that is spent on the ashen and rocky beaches of Iwo Jima does justice to the general feel of conflict on the island from the American perspective, though the adjoining "Letters from Iwo Jima" was certainly the better film in regards to showing the conflict. The battles scenes are not necessarily easy to stomach and many will object to the considerable amount of time spent by Eastwood on the War Bond drive. By devoting precious screen time to this aspect of war, Eastwood has entered near virgin territory in a war film. I'm sure the vast majority of the American public is familiar with the photograph from Iwo Jima, but I bet most know nothing about the men and the story behind about it. Clint Eastwood felt it was time to educate us and he did an incredible job.


Letters from Iwo Jima
As Dean says, director Clint Eastwood made "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" back to back in 2006 to present both the American and Japanese sides of the World War II battle of Iwo Jima. Of the two movies, I enjoyed "Letters" most. While "Flags" had some harrowing action sequences and all the good things Dean mentioned above, I thought thereafter it tended to dilute its story with too many characters and then to bog down in political rhetoric. On the other hand, I found "Letters," which also contains much the same action, a more focused, more reflective, and more affecting film.

When the movie opened theatrically, I read several criticisms from viewers who felt "Letters" was too understanding of the Japanese, giving America's enemy during the War too much credit, in essence, for being human beings like anybody else. After all, the propaganda in every war tries to persuade each party that their side is right, that God is with them, that the enemy is evil incarnate. During World War II, for instance, the Japanese and the Germans were to Americans the most loathsome, wicked people on Earth, and the Russians were our allies. Yet after the War, the Japanese and the Germans were suddenly our friends and allies, and the Russians were the new enemies. Go figure.

The book and movie that "Letters" most resembles is Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front," a story of World War I combat told from the point of view of a young German soldier. When as a child I first saw the 1930 movie version of "All Quiet" in re-release, it astounded me. I couldn't believe that the "bad" guys could be anything like us. As with "All Quiet," Eastwood's "Letters" is an eye-opener, a reminder that no matter how misguided a country's leaders may be, the common folk, the foot soldiers, are always just that--common folk--with the same hearts and minds and longings and human feelings as everyone else in the world.

Iwo Jima is one of the Volcano Islands south of Japan, a barren, rocky place with a mountain at one end, no drinking water, and hardly any vegetation. Nevertheless, by the end of the War in early 1945, it was a strategic point for both the Americans and the Japanese. The Americans wanted to seize control of the island to use as an air base for strikes against mainland Japan. The Japanese needed to maintain control of the island because they didn't want the Americans to have a convenient launching place for their airplanes and because it was a matter of national pride--Iwo Jima was the only place the Japanese had controlled before the War that the Americans had not yet seized.

It looked to be an easy victory for the American forces, as the Americans greatly outnumbered the Japanese. What the Americans didn't count on was the determination of the Japanese soldiers and the brilliant tactics of their real-life commanding officer, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe). What should have been a one or two-day cakewalk turned into a forty-day ordeal that turned out to be the single bloodiest battle of WWII.

Make no mistake, this is Watanabe's movie all the way, with good secondary support from Kazunari Ninomiya as Saigo, a young soldier. The movie concentrates on these two men for their differences and, perhaps surprisingly, for their similarities. Kuribayashi is a distinguished officer, a much-decorated war veteran; Saigo is a lowly private who was a baker before being drafted. Yet both men long for their wives and families back home, and both men are decent fellows at heart.

General Kuribayashi does his best in what he sees as an impossible situation. His plan is to dig in, literally, and fight. No beach defenses, just underground fortifications. The General has his men excavate a series of caves in the mountain in order to defend the high ground. Kuribayashi also knows they will get no reinforcements, no support from sea or air. They are completely isolated and must fend for themselves. And defend they will do, to the last man. "Not one of you is allowed to die until you have killed ten enemy soldiers," the General tells his men. "Do not expect to return from here alive." Kuribayashi realized the hopelessness of the situation and gave his men only one directive: To fight for their country and die honorably.

The actual landing of the Americans and the struggle for the island does not begin until about halfway through the film, and then the violence becomes intense. Eastwood pulls no punches in his depiction of the savagery of war, much of the action reminding us of "Saving Private Ryan," which is no doubt in part because of co-producer Steven Spielberg's influence. I think I read somewhere that Spielberg himself offered the script to Eastwood because he had already done something so similar. Anyway, the battles are realistically severe in the extreme.

The movie does not take sides, but it does not portray the Japanese as the cruel and vicious opponent that many people insist they were. Screenwriters Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis based the story on letters from the Japanese that reveal the soldiers as all too human. Whether you agree with Eastwood's approach or not is beside the point; the filmmakers did their best to be as accurate as possible in their depiction of the battle and the attitudes of the men who fought it. On both sides we see men acting as savages, true, but mostly we see men who would rather be home in bed.

"Letters from Iwo Jima" is a sad, lonely, melancholic film, for all its brutal action and bloodshed, with moments of sheer poetry and others of heartbreaking grief. Yet never does Eastwood sentimentalize the situation, nor does the simple, haunting soundtrack music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens ever glamorize the story.

The film's only flaw is that at 140 minutes, it's too long, rather wearing out its welcome at the two-hour mark. Also, Eastwood uses the same gimmick Mel Gibson used in his last two films, that of having his actors speak in their native tongue. So the characters in "Letters" speak Japanese, and anyone who doesn't understand it reads subtitles. I have to admit that I'm a fairly fast reader, but I had some trouble keeping up with the English subtitles that flashed quickly on and off on the screen. Thank heaven for the "Back" and "Pause" buttons on the remote.

Minor concerns aside, "Letters from Iwo Jima" is a fine example of modern filmmaking, and Watanabe deserved another Oscar nomination, which didn't come. But the Academy nominated the picture for four other Oscars--Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, and winning for Best Sound Editing.
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Skeleton Key


It´s Hoodoo magic baby! And "The Skeleton Key" is not a horror film, but a supernatural thriller that limps along throughout much of the film and finally redeems itself in the closing moments of the picture. Under the guise of being a horror film, "The Skeleton Key" is a slow building thriller that combines a few jump frights with hints of the final outcome that makes this film one of those rare pictures that isn´t very good the first time through, but is a far superior film the second time around. As I watched "The Skeleton Key," I kept hoping the film would step up and become either scary or begin to unleash the horror and plot that was slowly building. With only a few minutes left until the film´s running time was reached, the payoff came in a big way and the ending of "The Skeleton Key" completely changed my mind and a film that I was not enjoying became so much better.

To save ruining the important plot twist that occurs before the final credits roll, I´ll avoid telling much of the story featuring Kate Hudson, but provide a brief setup to the story and background on the main characters. Caroline (Kate Hudson) is a hospice worker who is fed up with the business-like treatment that the elderly are given in a Hospice center where she works. She is a young girl who cares about people and is abhorred by the way they are forgotten and discarded the moment they did. She takes a job working at an isolated plantation in the bayous of Louisiana. She is hired by the lady of the house, Violet (Gena Rowlands) and her lawyer Luke (Peter Sarsgaard). Violet´s husband Ben (John Hurt) has had a stroke while spending time in the attic and Violet needs help taking care of him.

Against her reservations, Violet hires Caroline on Luke´s recommendation, but is worried that the girl will not be able to understand the house. Ben has been completely paralyzed and is unable to speak. Caroline is leery of Violet and finds concern on Ben´s condition and is set on uneasy ground when Ben starts to show some recovery from the stroke and unusual happenings being occurring during the house. Caroline continues to care for Ben, but finds some resistance and unusual behavior from Violet. Luke becomes somebody for Caroline to talk to and she slowly uncovers some of the history and secrets that reside in the house and within a locked room that her skeleton key is unable to open in the attic.

John Hurt is especially good in his role as Ben. It isn´t easy to play a catatonic stroke patient, but the veteran British actor brings about the strongest suspense in the film. His facial expressions and stares into nothingness are impressive. Rowlands, Sarsgaard and Hudson are all solid in their performances, but they aren´t John Hurt. Much of the film is based upon interaction between the strong willed Caroline and the equally strong and stubborn Violet. Instead of focusing on creating individual suspenseful moments, "The Skeleton Key" builds into one final scene where everything is quickly explained and many of the seemingly uninteresting and unimportant bits of dialogue and happenings in the film quickly become relevant and interesting. I had not enjoyed "The Skeleton Key" for nearly its entire length, but the ending was quite well done. This isn´t a horror film, but a suspenseful thriller with a payoff that bests anything M. Night Shyamalan has done.

Video:
"The Skeleton Key" is provided with a gritty and determined looking 2.35:1 VC-1/1080p transfer. The bayou and old plantations are never pretty things and the imagery and scenery are far from lovely in "The Skeleton Key." Thankfully, the HD-DVD transfer brings every ugly and dirty moment to the screen in beautiful detail. Bright colors are often drowned out by a larger sea of the drab, but when a pretty color is present, it is perfectly rendered. The dark color scheme and heavy use of shadows are delivered with good shadow delineation and strong black levels. Detail is strong throughout, even when the screen looks the murkiest. This is a moody film that never tries to be lovely in its visuals. The HD-DVD transfer is solid and aside from a few scenes where the extremely low lighting creates a flat looking picture, this is a top-notch transfer.

Sound:
English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are the sounds du jour for this HD-DVD release. The soundtrack is just as moody as the film and is filled with the sounds of the bayou and the frightening emptiness of an old plantation home filled with hoodoo. The soundtrack is rather enveloping when the source material permits and a few swirling moments do occur in the rather creepy attic. The film´s cinematic score jumps to life to help provide thrills and chills on a routine basis. The .1 LFE channel thumps a number of times during "The Skeleton Key" to help the things that go bump in the night feel all the more suspenseful. This is not an overly aggressive soundtrack, but it is a quite effective sounding release that perfectly suits the foreboding sense of danger that slowly builds throughout the film. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout the film and this is a very technically competent mix.
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Fast Times At Ridgemont High


"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is writer Cameron Crowe´s cult coming-of-age film that helped launch the career of actor Sean Penn. Featuring an ensemble cast of familiar faces from Eighties pop culture, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has cemented itself as a seminal teen comedy with its strong sexual themes and glamorization of drug use that have carried on today with films such as "American Pie," "Dude, Where´s My Car?" and "Road Trip." Many characters, situations and elements from the film are still a familiar part of pop culture references and many of the actors that appeared in this film have went on to have very good film careers. In addition to Sean Penn, fellow Academy Award winners Nicolas Cage and Forest Whitaker were unknowns when they took a role in director Amy Heckerling´s film.

The film is a look at love and lust through high school years. Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a high school freshman who has just turned fifteen. She works with the sexually experienced and active Linda (Phoebe Cates) and has a strong interest in finding a boyfriend and having sexual experiences. She lusts for a number of men and has no fears in being aggressive in her pursuits. Her brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) is a senior who views himself as a successful male after a long career at a fast food restaurant. He has strong urges for Linda, but tries to remain composed and mature as his life starts to fall apart during his senior year. Mark "Rat" Ratner (Brian Backer) works across the way at the mall from Stacy and has a huge crush on the pretty freshman girl. His friend Damone (Robert Romanus) has a high opinion of his own suaveness and tries to educate Rat on getting the girl of his dreams.

Stacy is seduced by an older man who thinks Stacy is much older. This opens up her thirst for sex and she agrees to a date with Rat. However, when her forward advances sent Rat leaving in a panic, she is sexually unfulfilled and loses interest in the boy. Her next victim is Rat´s friend Damone and he has no problem having a quick and nervous sexual encounter with Stacy, which leads to problems between Mark and Stacy and Mark and Rat. After this encounter, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" grows up quick and moves away from being a comedy about drugs, rebellion and sex and morphs into becoming a serious look at teenage responsibility due to the consequences about spontaneous sex.

Surfer dude Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is another example of how the film utilizes comedy to build a case early in the film and then prove a serious point by exposing the consequences. He is the adversarial student of teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston) and is routinely truant in his classroom attendance and seemingly does what he can to perturb Mr. Hand during class. When Spicoli has no chance of passing Walston´s class and resorts to filling in quiz answers in the shape of a surfboard, he is certain to fail and the concerned teacher ruins Spicoli´s planned evening and shows up at his house to educate him on history and make up for time wasted after Spicoli was so disruptive during Mr. Hand´s classroom time.

Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe found his big break as the writer of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and quickly moved on to become a very successful director. He followed his success as the writer of this film with the coming-of-age romantic comedy "Say Anything," the Seattle music scene film "Singles," his biggest hit "Jerry Maguire," the autobiographical "Almost Famous" and other films. The characters of this story are still among his most memorable and best written. There are not many people who do now know who Jeff Spicoli is; with both Cameron Crowe´s writing and Sean Penn´s acting deserving equal credit. Crowe´s love of music bleeds through the frames as well, as the soundtrack for "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is very solid. The music, the humor, the story and the performances of this film keep "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" a highly entertaining film a quarter of a century after its theatrical release.
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Sunday, May 27, 2007

El Calentito


The absolute worst thing I can say about "El Calentito" is it takes roughly 45 minutes to get to the pivotal plot development the story hinges on: the February 23, 1981, failed Spanish coup d´etat led by Antonio Tejero. On that day (also known as 23-F for the date), the Spanish Congress of Deputies was held hostage for 18 hours by Tejero; ultimately, no one was hurt and the coup was a failure. But enough history, especially since "El Calentito" requires the viewer to know this piece of Spanish history to fully understand the film, though never gives the information itself.

Regardless of what issue was at the center of the coup, the central theme of this film is freedom. Freedom to be who you are in whatever flavor you decide to be; freedom to do as you want without answering to anybody; freedom from fear and tyranny. And, once the production reaches it´s halfway mark, those themes become obvious. It´s the set up to the story which tends to grind on with no real aim in mind.

Sara is stuck in a conservative household where her mother rules with an iron fist. She lies to go out to a bar, the Calentito, to meet her boyfriend for, as her mother terms the act, "it." When she finds him in the arms (and pants) of another girl, Sara finds herself in the bed of a lesbian rocker, Carmen. Though she is straight, Sara is enchanted by the rock band The Suix and becomes their third member. On the night of their major record gig, the coup takes place, throwing everything the family of transsexuals, bisexuals, homosexuals and other malcontents holds dear into the path of a speeding train.

"El Calentito" nearly hits the audience over their collective head making its point about the value of freedom and the fear associated with taking it away. Even in the haven for this group of characters-the Calentito-the threat of that freedom being taken away is omnipresent during the coup. The most fascinating aspect of the film isn´t that it combines a real life event with fictional people to great effect; it´s how many different types of freedom are expressed in a hair under 90 minutes.

Of course, there is sexual freedom and gender identity freedom. There´s personal travel freedom and the freedom to do what you want despite the people who might tell you not to. There´s also the freedom to choose the way you relate to another person. The people in favor of the coup, like the old couple who live above the bar, even take their freedom of speech for granted as they first harass transsexual owner Antonia and then threaten the patrons with a loaded gun. One of the new rules broadcast over the airwaves by Tejero and given prominence in the film is where citizens can go and who they can go with. Groups must be limited to four people; no more than two can walk on the street together; and so on.

Compare his dictums with Sara´s mother, who bellows at the top of her lungs for the kids to join the family for dinner or demands Sara´s younger sister give up her passion for football (soccer in America) because girls don´t like the sport. As we see from the opening moments of the film, she is the dictator in the house, while the father sits idly by, presumably in order to keep from fighting with his wife. Taken deeper, she is a stand-in for Tejero, while the seemingly deposed king of Spain resembles Sara´s father. Only when they´ve both had enough does either of them stand up and demand to be counted.

"El Calentito" is a slow build in that we´re allowed to know the participants and the world they live in before the drama begins. Yes, we are thrown into the restrictive yet free household Sara lives in with an opening sequence which talks about blow jobs while showing Mom at her demanding worst. It certainly sets the stage for the film, but it just feels like it´s biding time until story structure warrants the coup to be introduced. In the meantime, though, the relationship between punk rocker Leo, lesbian Carmen and Sara is allowed to grow and mature from a need-Sara takes over for a former band member who has left-into a want-especially considering what Sara gives up to join the band fulltime for the gig.

Ah, yes, the gig. The event the entire film revolves around…except, of course, the coup. In order to secure their recording contract, the girls agree to play a live set in front of the music company exec. Easy, right? Furthering the freedom theme, Leo and Carmen clash over which songs to sing: one says they need to perform only "safe" music while the other wants to be herself. For Spain of 1981, this is a fascinating conversation if only because they never make the connection between their fight and the coup.

Every character and subplot furthers the central idea of freedom, which isn´t something many films do in our culture. Antonia, formerly Antonio, is berated constantly by neighbors telling her what a freak she is. Her own son, who has called her "Dad" for years, finally breaks free of societal norms.

Only two problems rear their heads in the film. The first, and biggest, is the lack of background material on the coup. Sure, the script does hit us over the head with the freedom theme every chance it gets and we should be able to draw the parallels instantly. However, for foreign audiences who weren´t alive in 1981 and don´t know about Tejero or Franco, a verbal reference to how the country used to be would have been helpful. Still, it is enough to know freedoms are being taken away from the people and some of them were scared.

The other problem, as already stated, is the coup doesn´t happen until halfway through the production. By the time the first radio reports come in, the audience is on the brink of not caring about the situation anymore. Knowing these people face the prospect of their lives being turned upside down and becoming not just societal outcasts, but also illegals in their own country, is a terrifying thought. On the flip side, the audience wouldn´t be emotionally invested in Sara, Leo, Antonia or anyone else. And that emotional investment is crucial to experience the fear running through every trip to the bar door on the night of the coup. We constantly expect the door to open, obstructed by a wall, and secret police of some kind to barrel in.

Distilled down to its barest threads, "El Calentito" is about rebellion, some of which is successful and some that isn´t. Sara´s journey as a girl yearning to do what she feels she needs to do parallels Spain´s lurching into democracy. Both are fraught with peril and imminent disaster, yet the primary players carry on, doing what they feel they need to do.
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Friday, May 25, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers [2 Disc Special Collector's Edition]


Clint Eastwood is a national treasure. At seventy five years old, the veteran actor and director just keeps churning out incredible films. Whereas he thrilled audiences with numerous memorable character roles such as Harry Callahan the infamous man with no name in Sergio Leone´s spaghetti western trilogy, Clint Eastwood is one of the quintessential tough guy actors and perhaps the stereotypical image of a cinematic gunslinger. Though he has been directing films since 1971´s "Play Misty For Me," Eastwood did not get the credit he deserved as a filmmaker until 1991´s stunning revenge western, "Unforgiven." He has gotten numerous accolades since "Unforgiven" for films such as "Mystic River" and picked up a second Best Director Oscar for "Million Dollar Baby." In the year 2006, Eastwood signed on with Steven Spielberg for an unprecedented project – filming both sides of the Iwo Jima conflict concurrently and releasing them within a few months of each other. With the praise and support of the Japanese people and the permission to film on the island of Iwo Jima, Eastwood continues to be nothing short than amazing as both films are being nominated for Academy Awards in various categories and the adjoining film to "Flags of Our Fathers," "Letters from Iwo Jima" is up for Best Picture and Best Director.

I grew up on military and war films. My father retired from the Air Force after twenty nine years with the rank of Master Sergeant. He takes his military history and films that portray any conflict or branch of the service with a keen and critical eye. Despite being raised in an Air Force family, I joined the United States Army and served in the Infantry during the first Gulf War conflict. As an example of my love for military history, one of my prized possessions is a World War II vintage M1 Garand rifle, complete with a 1942 bayonet. Needless to say, there was quite fervor upon hearing the news that Eastwood was going to film two pictures detailing the historic conflict that occurred on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima and give the perspective from both sides of the conflict. The only other time that a major Hollywood production attempted something like this was the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and though that is a remarkable film for its period, it does not delve into any great depth due to its relatively short running time of 144 minutes. By dedicating two distinct films on the conflict, Eastwood promised perhaps the most comprehensive film of any World War II battle ever to be delivered to the big screen.

"Flags of Our Fathers" was completed and released first and featured the American perspective of the Battle for Iwo Jima. The film primarily deals with the three surviving men that hoisted the flag for the infamous photograph, immortalized in Washington D.C. as the National Marine Memorial. "Flags of Our Fathers" looks at their involvement in the actual conflict trying to take Iwo Jima and its strategic airfield and their struggles in fighting a financial war across the United States in raising war bonds to help finance the final stages of World War II. Six men raised that second flag that was captured in the photograph, but only three men survived. Not all of the men enjoyed touring the country and not being involved in the final stages of conflict in bringing Japan to its knees and the event was not without controversy. Firstly, the flag was not the initial flag raised on Suribachi. It was the second. Secondly, one of the men that died and was said to have been in the photograph was part of the first flag raising and not one of the men that appeared on the famous photo.

John "Doc" Bradley (Ryan Phillippe), Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and American Indian Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) were the three soldiers that survived the month long conflict on the small Japanese volcanic island. They were promptly given a free pass home and thrust into an effort to raise billions and billions of dollars from the American taxpayers and corporations to fund the building of tanks, plans and ammunition. Gagnon and Bradley were more accepting of their roles as financial cows for the military, though Bradley was tormented by his memories of what happened on the island. Hayes suffered from alcoholism and felt himself to be a disgrace and desperately wanted to be back with his Marine compatriots and fighting the war and not trying to raise money. Hayes was haunted by the loss of his friend and fellow flag raiser Mike Strank (Barry Pepper) and truly did not view himself as a hero, but idolized Strank and thought of him as such. Franklin Sousley (Joseph Cross) lost his life as well before the end of the conflict. Hank Hanson (Paul Walker) was claimed to have been one of the six, but in fact, he was not. The actual sixth man was Harlon Block (Benjamin Walker) and Block´s mother could recognize her son from a shot of his posterior and knew immediately it was really her son in the photograph.

Clint Eastwood´s film spends more time during the War Bond drive than he does on the volcanic beaches of Iwo Jima and slopes of Mount Suribachi. The three actors portraying Bradley, Gagnon and Hayes all do justice to their characters. Most impressive was Adam Beach as Ira "Chief" Hayes. In Beach´s performance, you can see the torment and pain of a man who is lost in alcohol and cannot even remotely accept being called a hero in light of those that died and the unspeakable things he did and witnessed on Iwo Jima. Beach´s speech given when his character is told he is no longer part of the War Bond drive was done perfectly. Jesse Bradford portrays Gagnon as a man who enjoyed the spotlight a bit too much and came across like a slimey used car salesman. If Gagnon was truly like this, then Bradford nailed it. Hayes and Gagnon did not get along and Ryan Phillippe is given the task of bringing peacemaker Doc Bradley to life. Bradley was asked to postpone needed surgery to complete the war bond drive and he is the most level-headed and aware of the three, though he is tormented by the combat he was a part of. I´ve never been much of a Ryan Phillippe fan, but in "Flags of Our Fathers," he earned some of my respect.

As the three principal actors and Eastwood bring about the trials and tribulations of dealing with ghosts of a conflict and the public eye, "Flags of Our Fathers" takes on a feel that is unlike most other war films. The film rides the fence as to taking an anti-war stance or a pro-war stance as it shows the horrible affect that war can have on men and how veterans can move from neo-celebrity status to being easily forgotten quite quickly. The fall of Ira Hayes is especially disheartening. The three men were more of a sideshow than they were a display of the humanity and effects of war. They are put on display and their story is distorted to have them appear to be larger than life. The uncomfortable and demeaning existence they are forced into is perfectly captured by Eastwood during the mock flag raising at Soldier Field. Each of the three actors bring about a different feel to a combat veteran and with Eastwood guiding them, "Flags of Our Fathers" shows the unfortunate situation the surviving flag raisers of the historic photograph had befall upon them.

The film is not without its combat sequences. With Steven Spielberg serving as Producer, the influence of "Saving Private Ryan" is certainly felt. The beach storming sequence is not initially as graphic or as hectic as Spielberg´s landmark film, but the cinematography and aura of the event echoes that of the older film. In "Flags of Our Fathers," Eastwood does not shy away from blood and guts. They are prevalent. The combat is hectic and the viewer is placed in the center of the action. Gunshots fly in all directions and as was the case with "Saving Private Ryan," the viewer is certainly given the notion of being placed in the center of the battle. War is Hell and ever since that was first driven home by Spielberg, filmmakers have taken note and are no longer afraid to water down how violent and ugly battles truly are. No longer is John Wayne shot and simply falls to his death. Instead, actors are blown to bits in violent and horrendous visions of death. Eastwood learned from working with Spielberg and though I am admittedly tiring of "Saving Private Ryan" clones, "Flags of Our Fathers" is done well.

This is a brilliant film and our National Treasure, Mr. Eastwood has done a simply amazing job in delivering one of the absolute best war films ever made. War is not just about the blood that is spilled, the men that are lost, the metal that is disintegrated and the land that is conquered. It is about the men that served in the conflict and the effects that seeing the blood, destruction and death of a battle have on a man. The time that is spent on the ashen and rocky beaches of Iwo Jima does justice to the general feel of conflict on the island from the American perspective, though the adjoining "Letters from Iwo Jima" was certainly the better film in regards to showing the conflict. The battles scenes are not necessarily easy to stomach and many will object to the considerable amount of time spent by Eastwood on the War Bond drive. By devoting precious screen time to this aspect of war, Eastwood has entered near virgin territory in a war film. I´m sure the vast majority of the American public is familiar with the photograph from Iwo Jima, but I bet most know nothing about the men and the story behind about it. Clint Eastwood felt it was time to educate us and he did an incredible job.
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Smokey And The Bandit


Some might consider my great enthusiasm upon the arrival of "Smokey and the Bandit" on HD-DVD as a pure sign of insanity. The sudden desire to throw on a light colored cowboy hat, my red button down shirt and take off in my T-Top equipped F-body with "East Bound and Down" forever looping could be further evidence that I´ve lost what marbles I still retain. The possibility does exist that I am not insane and that my deep seated love of Hal Needham´s 1977 Burt Reynolds film is built from genuine affection for the film and it is purely normal for somebody to enjoy a little action film where one of the main stars was a black Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Maybe I am a little touched, or maybe this film that I´ve known for nearly all my life is one of those odd pictures that I can watch time and time again and always enjoy it. Whether it is the sight of Burt Reynolds behind the wheel of the iconic American muscle car or the vocals of Jerry Reed´s memorable theme song, I never turn down a reason to watch this thirty year old movie.

Burt Reynolds is Bo Danville; the Bandit. He is a man known for his legendary skill in truck driving and never backing down from a challenge. One day he is approached by Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his son Little Enos (Paul Williams) and asked to illegally deliver Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta at a time when it was not allowable to transport Coors outside of its geographical limits. The catch is that the Bandit is asked to do so in only twenty eight hours. He aggress to do so, but only if they provide him with a fast car, the infamous 1977 Pontiac Trans Am, and the aid of a friend and partner, Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed). With the Snowman and his Basset hound Fred behind the wheel of the hulking truck carrying the beer and the Bandit driving interference against the police in the Firebird, their chances of meeting the Burdette´s challenge is cutting it close, but also very risky.

The law is not the only obstacle that the Bandit and the Snowman run into during their high speed trek across the Southern United States. Along the way, the Bandit picks up a runaway bride named Carrie (Sally Field) that is running away from her fiancĂ© Junior (Mike Henry). To make matters worse, the Bandit catches the ire of a local sheriff, Junior´s father Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). Sheriff Justice doesn´t stop his torrid and hot pursuit of the Bandit after county lines are crossed. Capturing the infamous driver becomes quite personal and the chase lasts all the way to Atlanta with Buford vowing the capture that sum-bitch, the Bandit. The Bandit and the Snowman are a potent team in their own right, but also on the Bandit´s side are legions of truck drivers who are familiar with his legend and his exploits and they are always willing to aid their hero out of a bind with the Sheriff and his beat up car narrowly missing capture of the wily Bandit.

"Smokey and the Bandit" is an action film and it is a comedy. It is a road film with a tremendous amount of entertainment value. Jackie Gleason is a timeless comedian and his attachment to the "Smokey and the Bandit" franchise of films was a testament to his ability at sidesplitting physical comedy. Burt Reynolds was one of Hollywood´s biggest names during the late Seventies and his role as the "Bandit" became his trademark performance. The romantic elements between Fields and Reynolds work nicely and Reeds and Reynolds made for a believable pair of close friends. Whereas Gleason and Reynolds commanded the screen with their performances, the supporting cast held the road nicely. Not to be overlooked is the V8 powered F-Body. I am on my third Chevrolet Camaro and I´m not sure that the decision to buy my ´99 Z/28 wasn´t rooted in my original enjoyment of this film as a child. It isn´t black and it isn´t the sister F-Body Firebird, but it is as close as you can get. I don´t know what I´d do without my big rear-wheel drive V8 powered muscle car. After owning them for sixteen years, it wouldn´t feel right. I´m pretty sure my first love of the F-Body family of cars came from watching this film.

I can watch this film without hesitation and I´ve seen it over a dozen times in my life. The car chases are spectacular and credit needs to go to veteran stunt man / writer and director Hal Needham for creating "Smokey and the Bandit" and making its exciting car chases as memorable as they are. Fused with Jerry Reed´s all-too-familiar song, the third and final chase sequence is one of the best car scenes in Hollywood history. It was the second highest grossing film of 1977 after a little space epic. This film still finds itself as an object of pop culture nearly thirty years later for good reason. There is Burt Reynolds and "Smokey and the Bandit" references in the currently popular "My Name is Earl," with the Trans Am making an appearance on the show. This is one of those movies that strikes a chord and combines a fun story with a lot of worthwhile on screen moments. Reynolds and Gleason were great in this one and I´m still quite happy to have an updated copy of the film on HD-DVD. And yes, I have driven with the T-Tops off and "East Bound and Down" blaring through the car speakers on at least one occasion.
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Good German, The


With director Steven Soderbergh you really never know what you're going to get next. I mean, the guy gives us films as diverse as "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" (1989), "Kafka" (1991), "The Limey" (1999), "Erin Brockovich" (2000), "Traffic" (2001), "Oceans Eleven" (2001), "Ocean's Twelve" (2004), Ocean's Thirteen" (2007), "Full Frontal" (2002), and "Solaris" (2002), among others. These movies run the gamut from light to serious, from pretentious to weighty. With "The Good German" (2006), we get something a little in-between: A homage to the romantic noir mysteries of the 1940s, a tribute that tries hard but, alas, misses the mark.

I should mention first that "The Good German" did poorly at the box office, which is perhaps why Warner Bros. did not bother offering any extras on the DVD. While the movie cost something like $32,000,000 to make, it took in little more than $1,250,000. That's disappointing big time. But think about it: The studio put the film into limited distribution and did so at almost the same time that Universal released its big spy drama, "The Good Shepherd," a film with a very similar title. (Prompting my friend Ed Wood to comment that they're already making a sequel to both movies called "The Good German Shepherd.") To make matters worse, in order to simulate the era in which it's set, Soderbergh filmed "The Good German" in an extremely high-contrast black-and-white, which must have turned off a lot of young, modern filmgoers who would rather have curled up in a hole than watch a movie that wasn't in color. Well, they'd really hate this DVD then, because either Soderbergh or the studio decided to go whole hog and not only offer it in its original B&W but in a full-frame ratio as well, rather than in its theatrical ratio of 1.66:1.

Needless to say, the filmmakers meant the 4x3 screen dimensions and the black-and-white photography to simulate the look of an old movie, in this case a story set in Germany just after the close of World War II. It was Soderbergh's intent to recreate a period forties' noir melodrama with romance and intrigue along the lines of "Casablanca" and "The Third Man." And, you know, with stars George Clooney looking as much like a forties' leading man as you can find, Cate Blanchett looking as much like a forties' femme fatale as you can find, and Tobey Maguire looking as much like an all-American boy as you can find, the movie almost pulls it off. The problem is that word "almost."

First, the plot. Clooney plays Capt. Jake Geismer, an army journalist on assignment in postwar Germany, 1945, to cover the Potsdam Conference, the meeting in which Truman, Churchill, and Stalin worked out the details of the peace settlement and drew up a new map of Europe.

Jake's staff driver is a young corporal, Patrick Tully (Maguire), who just happens to be living with a German prostitute, Lena Brandt (Blanchett), for whom Jake is still carrying a torch since before the War. Coincidence? What's more, Tully is more than just a soldier ferrying people around bombed-out Berlin; he's also a black marketeer, making a small fortune in contraband goods. And he's trying to get Lena out of the country before she gets hurt, because both the American government and the Russians want to get their hands on her husband, Emil Brandt, for reasons the movie only suggests at the end. Yes, this Lena gets around: She's got a husband, a current lover, and a former lover all at the same time. Then, after Tully makes a deal with the Russians to get Lena safely away, he winds up face down a river with a bullet in his back.

Jake finds himself involved up to his eyeballs because he still loves Lena himself and will do anything for her. When somebody murders his driver (and Lena's boyfriend), Jake decides to investigate, and thus do we have a story.

Here's the thing: Soderbergh works so much to make the film another "Third Man" or "Casablanca" that he almost turns it into a parody. He duplicates the lighting of an old noir film, he uses stock, vintage footage of the day, he has all the right sets, the right costumes, the right casting, the fog, the shadowy alleys, the even shadier characters, so much so that it begins to play not so much like a tribute to old movies but like a spoof of them. By the end of the movie, when we get to a sewer scene right out of "The Third Man" and a closing scene at an airport at night right out of "Casablanca," I was actually giggling. I was thinking of Peter Falk in "The Cheap Detective." Not the reaction Soderbergh was aiming for, I'm sure. (Unless he really did mean "The Good German" as a satire, in which case I guess it worked perfectly, if you don't mind a perfectly straight, perfectly unfunny satire.)

The other thing Soderbergh does wrong, if, in fact, he was trying seriously to imitate old films, is to include far too much sex and profanity. I can understand his wanting to make a movie that would conform to today's sensibilities, but he can't have it both ways; it's too awkward. The Wife-O-Meter left the room about twenty minutes in, I suspect not only because she found the plot hard to follow but because she found the number of f-words, the infamous "word that won the War," excessive. Remember, in 1945 a "damn" or a "hell" spoken more than once in an entire film would have been extreme. So, Soderbergh wants to remind us of old films and be realistic at the same time. It doesn't work.

What the director does get right, as I say, are the details, right down to Thomas Newman's music, which sounds for all the world like that of an old Warner Bros. studio production of the 1940s. But, again, it's too much of a good thing. Like the rest of the film, Soderbergh gets the look, sound, and feel of the movie right, but not the tone or the script. There is nothing interesting or intriguing in the characters, nothing funny or clever in the dialogue, and nothing romantic or suspenseful in Paul Attanasio's screenplay (based on a book by Joseph Kanon). Those were, after all, among the main ingredients of "Casablanca" and "The Third Man." Missing, you haven't got much more than a picture postcard of a noir film.
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Pinky Violence Collection [DVD CD Combo : Criminal Woman: Killing Melod, Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law ..., ...]


Back in the 1960´s, to counter declining theater attendance in Japan, independent movie studios like Toei introduced pinku eiga or pink films, a form of softcore exploitation films that became very popular in the 60´s and 70´s. Unlike its hardcore Western counterpart, these pink films were intended for theatrical release and have to conform to strict Japanese screen censorship laws, which prohibits the depiction of genitilia and pronounced sexual activity. Using the genre´s required sex scenes as a form of titillation may be its primary objective but as this genre grew, it eventually matured into adding some sort of character and story development as well. In any case, even offering big helpings of nudity and sex is sometimes not enough to lure skeptical audiences back. To further spice things up, gore and violence was later added into the mix, which, by most account, seems like a natural fit for the exploitation film scene.

In the early 1970´s, Toei Studios came up with a sub-genre of pinku eiga that has become known as "Pinky Violence". This new sub-genre of tough-girl exploitation films features unbridled nudity, gratuitous violence and even scenes of bondage and sadomasochism. The executives at Toei figured that by jacking up the "blood and breast" quotient in their films, it would give audiences what they could not see on television. In 1968, Toei achieved some success with their "Red Peony Gambler" films with actress Junko Fuji. When rival studio Toho released the now-famous female revenge film "Lady Snowblood", Toei decided to up the ante by creating an ultra-violent film that features even more sex and nudity. Toei essentially had two types of "Pinky Violence" films: one is the sukeban (delinquent girl boss) films and the other, the "Elder Sister" films. Toei´s continued success could be attributed to two of the more famous actresses from this genre, the irresistible Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto ("Zero Woman - Red Handcuffs"). While Ike helmed the two "Elder Sister" films to great acclaim, she also teamed up successfully with Sugimoto in three other famed sukeban films, "Girl Boss Guerilla" (Sukeban Gerira), "Terrifying Girls´ High School – Lynch Law Classroom" (Kyoufu Joshi Koukou Bouroku Rinchi Kyoushitsu) and "Criminal Woman – Killing Melody" (Zenka Onna Karoshi Bushi). Ike, the more beautiful of the two, has a classical beauty that is better suited to the period era "Elder Sister" films while Sugimoto has the intense tough chick look that serves her very well in the more modern sukeban films.

Films from this particular genre almost always follow set plot points that are often recycled and tweaked ever so slightly every now and then. For example, the yakuza gangs, which are mostly entirely made up of men, are often depicted as caricatures that essentially label them as lecherous dim-wits or misogynistic morons who would readily sell out their own mothers for a pack of smokes. The street-wise all-girl criminal gang is also a recurring theme in many Pinky Violence films, where the underdogs are almost always sexy but deadly groups of girls who are capable of going up against the traditional male-dominated yakuza establishment. Most of these characters, especially the male ones, typically behave in an over-the-top and exaggerated manner. Of course, in these films, all the female protagonists are expected to suffer through varieties of sexual humiliation--most likely some forms of bondage or torture--before they return to outwit the gangsters by using not only their voluptuous bodies as bait but most importantly, their brains as well.

After releasing the two Reiko Ike "Elder Sister" films, "Sex & Fury" and "Female Yakuza Tale" on great DVD packages earlier (complete with beautiful video restorations), specialty arthouse studio Panik House Entertainment is back with a unique 4-movie DVD set that would make 70´s Japanese exploitation films fans salivate in anticipation. This loaded DVD set consists of the following four films:

"Criminal Woman – Killing Melody" (1973) (Zenka Onna Karoshi Bushi)
"Delinquent Girl Boss – Worthless To Confess" (1971) (Zubenko Bancho Zange No Neuchi Mo Nai)
"Girl Boss Guerilla" (1972) (Sukeban Gerira)
"Terrifying Girls´ High School – Lynch Law Classroom" (1973) (Kyoufu Joshi Koukou Bouroku Rinchi Kyoushitsu)

Let´s now take a closer look at each of the four movies:

"Criminal Woman – Killing Melody"
The one and only movie directed by Atsushi Mihori, "Criminal Woman – Killing Melody" is perhaps the best among the four movies included here. Helmed by both Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto, this film further advances the girl gang archetype that is so prevalent in the sukeban series of films. It opens with Maki (Ike) foolishly trying to assassinate a Yakuza figure but instead ends up in jail for the unfinished deed. The film then quickly switches to the prison where Maki is incarcerated. There, she gets acquainted with three of her other cellmates, Yukie, Natsuko and Kaoru but runs afoul of the nastiest inmate in the prison, resident bad girl, Masayo (Sugimoto). A woman´s prison seems to be the most ideal setting for exploitation films (remember "Caged Heat"?) but here it does not quite live up to expectations. Featuring only a knife fight between Ike and Sugimoto in the muddy prison compounds, the film then fast-forwards a few years to the day that Maki is released from prison. Having spent her many years behind bars thinking about how to exact revenge on Oba Industries (the yakuza organization responsible for her father´s death), Maki´s determination is as fired up as the first day she went to prison.

Partnering up with her three former prison mates, Maki devises an ingenious plan designed to bring down Oba Industries--by secretly pitting it against a weakened local rival, the Hamayasu clan. Maki´s specific plan is to rile up Tetsu (Takeo Chii) (the mad dog son of Hamayasu´s old leader) and to prod him into attacking Oba´s interest, which would definitely generate a response in kind from Oba. However, Maki´s quest for revenge isn´t quite that simple or straightforward. A little bump in the road emerges when her old rival from prison, Masayo, turns out to be the Oba boss´ girl. Things get a little complicated when Masayo is able to recognize one of Maki´s girls when they try to pull a fast one on the Oba gang. What ensues is a pretty nifty story that is fast-paced and chockfull of exploitation film staples like nudity, sex, catfights and torture. With "Criminal Woman – Killing Melody", director Mihori is able to craft a wholly enjoyable and creative story that successfully merges the sexually explicit elements of exploitation cinema with touches of drama and even some comedy.

Without a doubt, the irresistible Reiko Ike carries this film on her slender and sexy shoulders, with an undeniable screen presence that lights up every scene that she appears in.

"Delinquent Girl Boss – Worthless To Confess"
Possibly the weakest of the four films, "Delinquent Girl Boss" offers plenty of melodrama but substantially dials down the exploitation elements--to the point where the main star, Reiko Oshida, doesn´t even show any skin and we get very few of those outrageous and unrestrained moments that Pinky Violence films are famous for. The fourth and final installment to go under the "Delinquent Girl Boss" (Zubenko Bancho) banner, this film sees the return of director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who also directed an earlier entry in this series.

This film opens at a girls´ reform school where Rika (Reiko Oshida) and Midori (Yumiko Katayama) are fellow inmates. One day, Midori receives a visit from her father (Junzaburo Ban) whom she´s estranged from, but refuses to see him. Sad and brokenhearted, Midori´s father hands Midori´s favorite childhood toy over to Rika to pass on to his daughter. However, Midori refuses the toy and Rika decides to hold on to it. Years later, Rika, now released from the reform school, looks forward to starting her life anew and she decides to pay Midori a visit and return her toy. There, Rika learns from Midori´s father that she is no longer living there but is shacked up with a good-for-nothing louse somewhere in the city. Taking pity on Rika, Midori´s father offers her a job at his garage, which she gladly accepts. Later on, Rika finds out about the trouble that Midori is having with the local yakuza. It seems that Midori´s unemployed boyfriend is gambling away not only Midori´s already meager earnings but has managed to rack up quite a large debt as well. Now Midori´s father is getting visits from the yakuza, demanding that he clears his daughter´s boyfriend´s debt or else they would hurt both of them.

After a promising start, the second act of this film essentially lulls its audience into a false sense of melodramatic optimism. In fact, the story becomes so relatively innocuous that one would be hard pressed to notice that he or she is actually watching a Pinky Violence film. If you were expecting topless catfights and unbridled bloodletting, you would be very disappointed till this point. It is only when the final act rolls along that this movie is saved from pummeling further down into exploitation mediocrity. Featuring an all-out vicious fight between the yakuza minions and a group of samurai sword-wielding girls (all clad in shiny red polyester coats) led by Rika, this explosive final scene oddly makes up for all the disappointments thus far. Having sat through so many promising scenes that turned out to be frustrating non-events, this chaotic fight scene at the end brings the film to a memorable and very bloody close.

"Girl Boss Guerilla"
The third movie in the popular sukeban (delinquent girl boss) series, "Girl Boss Guerilla" is a thoroughly enjoyable Pinky Violence film that brings out all the best elements of Japanese exploitation films. Helmed by legendary director Norifumi Suzuki and brought to life by the beautiful and dangerous tag team of Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto, "Girl Boss Guerilla", like the other sukeban films, brings forth the ever-popular concept of notorious but sexy all-girl gangs. This time, it is a group of four motorcycle-riding chicks calling itself the Red Helmet Gang and is led by the beautiful but tough Sachiko (Sugimoto). Originating from Shinjuku in Tokyo, the gang has decided to leave the big city behind and move to Kyoto, the birthplace of one of the girls, Yuki. However, these girls run straight into trouble with the local girl gang, setting up a large scale all-girl gang war. Sachiko is able to get the better of the local gang´s leader, Rika in a one-on-one fight for control of the city but Rika tries to renege on the deal. In steps Nami (Reiko Ike), the former leader of the Kyoto gang, to enforce the honor-bound deal made by Rika, effectively surrendering control of the gang to Sachiko. However, we´ve not seen the last of the disgraced Rika. Sachiko must now deal with not only the vengeful Rika but also the local yakuza gang that is demanding money from the girl gang. Thing get complicated when we find out that the yakuza´s leader is none other than Nami´s estranged brother, Nakahara.

After this great opening, "Girl Boss Guerilla" unfortunately gets mired in a rather uninteresting and melodramatic plot that delves into the relationship between Sachiko and her boyfriend, Ichiro, a handsome boxer looking for a break in the sport. Here we get to witness another side to Sugimoto´s on-screen persona, not the tough chick exterior but a tender lover with a soft side. While Sachiko´s love life is an unneeded distraction to the overall plot, Suzuki also saddles us with some low brow and gross-out humor that never quite works. However, like clockwork, Suzuki comes through in the end with a gruesome torture scene and the final confrontation between Sachiko, Nami and the yakuza. Another highlight is the enjoyable fight scene between Sachiko and Nami that starts on land but ends up in the river, with a couple of sexy muddied bodies in between.

"Terrifying Girls´ High School - Lynch Law Classroom"
Another Norifumi Suzuki offering, "Lynch Law Classroom", like "Girl Boss Guerilla", again features the Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto sister act. However, this time Ike gets only a small but memorable role while Sugimoto takes the lead once again. This film starts off with a well-shot and terrifying opening scene that could have come straight out of a B-grade horror movie instead of a Pinky Violence film. As the film opens, we find a frightened young girl, bound, gagged and topless inside some sort of a science lab. Around her is a group of other girls in student uniforms, with their faces covered by surgical masks and wielding scalpels. As the victim´s blood is slowly drained into a clear bottle, she suddenly breaks free and manages to escape to the roof of the building. As the other girls run after her in pursuit, a one-sided fight ensues and the poor victim is seen falling off the roof. This provides a startling but suitable introduction to the members of the Disciplinary Committee, a group of student enforcers who does the cruel biddings of the sadistic and power-hungry assistant principal, Ishihara (Kenji Imai).

This film takes place inside the ironically named School of Hope, a school for troubled girls. Ishihara has his eyes set on the principal´s post, currently held by the weak Mr. Nakata. His intention is to take over Nakata´s position right before the school´s founder, crooked politician Sato (Nobuo Kaneko), arrives to commemorate the school´s 25th anniversary celebration. To achieve his goal, Ishihara gets the Disciplinary Committee to keep the other rebellious students in line and to further seal the deal, he also supplies Sato with young girls for his carnal pleasure.

Things begin to fall apart with the arrival of three new students: girl gang leader Noriko the Cross (Sugimoto), Remi (Misuzu Ota) and Kyoko (Seiko Saburi). Ike makes an appearance as Maki, a former student and Noriko´s rival on the outside. Together, these girls prove to be more than a handful for the Disciplinary Committee and Ishihara. Featuring plenty of nudity, sex and torture, "Lynch Law Classroom" moves a long at a good clip and is able to focus on the essential ingredients that make this film such a joy to watch.

On face value, "Lynch Law Classroom" may seem like any common exploitation film that features the popular combination of repressed horny teenagers and dirty old men set inside the irresistible all-girl high school. But look deeper and you will find that it contains surprising social commentary on the corrupt nature of authority and the rise of the weak against cruel suffering and indignity. The chaotic but highly enjoyable full-scale riot at the end of the film is a fitting end to one of the best film in this excellent collection.
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40-Year-Old Virgin [Unrated Special Edition]


Steve Carell´s comedy about a forty year old virgin who is faced with peer pressure driven urges to engage in sexual activity has made the star of television´s "The Office" a box office star. The film does not break any great ground and is reminiscent of so many previous comedies where an unlikely underdog tries desperately to get into the pants of a woman that will ultimately fall in love with him. It is complete with the misfit band of friends and sexual humor that has been present in successful comedies such as "Office Space," "The Wedding Singer" and the overlooked "Grandma´s Boy." Fortunately, it is far better than Dane Cook´s horrible "Employee of the Month." These comedies are populous on store shelves and theatrical screens for a reason – they sell tickets to males between the age of eighteen and thirty eight.

In "The 40 Year Old Virgin," Steve Carell is the quiet and nerdy Andy Stitzer. He works as a stock supervisor for a Circuit City like electronics retail store and is ridiculed and ignored by his peers. They see him as a quiet outsider who may or may not be a serial killer. When they are one man short for a game of cards, Andy is invited to join David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco), Cal (Seth Rogen) and Mooj (Gerry Bednob). When Stitzer sharks them on the card table, the conversation turns to sex and everybody boasts about their dirty exploits. Andy tries to take part in the explicit conversation, but badly fumbles when he states that a tit feels like a bag of sand. His secret quickly becomes the story of the century as his coworkers quickly learn that Andy is a forty year old virgin.

Against his wishes and desires, his newfound friends try to do everything to get him in the pants of any girl willing or drunk enough to sleep with Andy. His awkward social skills and unfamiliarity with women, relationships and sex prove to be an almost insurmountable wall and Andy remains a stoic virgin. Eventually, he meets a single mother that works across the street, Trish (Catherine Keener). They form a friendship and begin to date, but make a pact to not engage in sexual activity for twenty dates. This allows Andy to hide his sexual inexperience and brings Andy and Trish´s feelings to a deeper state, but puts Andy in a situation that will become quite sticky when it comes to finally doing the deed.

There is a lot of bedroom humor in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" that is adult enough to warrant the ´Unrated´ badge of honor worn by the HD-DVD release. There are more than a couple big and beautiful breasts to torment Andy and his fear of having sex. Plenty of jokes about genitalia and sexual techniques fly throughout the film. At more than a few points in the film, "The 40 Year Old Virgin" becomes far dirtier and filthier in content then most other genre entries. The language is quite rough and anything from the F-bomb to the feared N-word are used freely. The always necessary drug jokes and references are sparsely placed in the film and there are of course some rather funny bits of drunken humor. Whether you label the type of humor found in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" as juvenile or potty humor, it is damn funny film.

Besides the tits, curse words and puke, there is a very good story to "The 40 Year Old Virgin." Andy is a geek who fears sex and has been grossly unsuccessful with the ladies. He doesn´t want to remain a virgin, but he is frightened beyond belief at the prospect of having sex. He is a good person, who is kind, intelligent and personable, but a woman´s vagina is his kryptonite. Catherine Keener is a lovely lady of nearly fifty years and she is not the typical object of affection in these films. She is older, an A-cup and her character is a grandmother. "The 40 Year Old Virgin" has main characters that are ´real´ people who can easily exist in society. Their relationship builds on friendship and understanding, not driven entirely by hormones. Their love story is believable and genuine and the humor of the film is a way to manage a true fear of the main character and the situations help him finally overcome these fears and, as we say, lay some pipe.

This is a very funny film that I greatly enjoyed. I place it alongside perennial classics "Office Space" and "Grandma´s Boy" in this genre of comedy. I don´t necessarily like "The Office" and have not experienced much of Carell, but he is perfectly suited for this film. Carell and his co-stars have me laughing my ass off. I know some people that are not far off of Carell´s character and have his same fears, profession and general attitude. I also know somebody that has a massive action figure classic, but they married my sister. I still see some of Andy´s mannerisms in him. It is rare when one of these comedies that relies on sex jokes and foul language to generate laugher actually has a nice and meaningful plot. "The 40 Year Old Virgin" is one of these rare films and an absolute blast for anybody that isn´t afraid of some off-color humor.
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