Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Bunraku


I hadn't heard any hype surrounding this film. No trailers, no previews, no news bits, no stories, and yet it featured a pretty damn impressive cast of big names. It sat on my Netflix list for a few weeks, mainly because I didn't see anything that really drew me to flip it on and I have to admit I didn't even give it a second look beyond the title. "Bunraku"... hrm... might be good for a lazy weekend night, maybe. I don't know. I just don't care... meh.

And then I turned it on.

In a future world without guns, two mysterious drifters enter the domain of "The Woodcuter", a vicious warlord who runs the Eastern domain of Little Westworld. Josh Hartnett is the cowboy without a gun, Gackt is the Samurai without a sword, and they're both helped by a friendly bartender played by Woody Harrelson. Round that cast off with Ron Perlman as "Nicola the Woodcutter", Demi Moore as his prostitute, and Kevin McKid as Killer #2. The visuals are similar to the "Sin City" style, alot of CGI backgrounds with real actors doing their thing. There's also some awesome stunt work and I found myself really digging the fairly simple story. It's nothing new, really... but when it's done well, when it's done with style, you can't help but fall in love with it. This is Spaghetti Western meets Samurai Cinema by way of Sin City. So yeah, gape and gawk at all the awesome sauce and let it pour down your throat... this movie is great eye candy.

4 out of 5.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Purpose of my Blog

"Purpose. It's that little thing that lights a fire up under your ass."

Why do I talk about movies, plays, and wrestling? Why do I tell you what I think about these things, post it on my facebook, and then leave it up on this blog for random passer-by trolls to take a gander? Because I'm an attention whore. But, more than that, I also think there are plenty of things that people should take the time to check out and watch. That's why most of my reviews are usually based on movies that aren't as well known, aren't as well-reviewed, or aren't as publicized as the usual mumbo jumbo you can see in your daily paper or local television cable outlet. I think that local performers deserve the same glowing praise or open mockery that most blockbusters receive, though the latter doesn't happen nearly so much as the former. (I've been called an "easy sell" on more than a few occasions, but I'm still not going to pull any punches when it comes down do it.)

However, looking back at the past year... I'm seeing more blockbusters than indy and direct to DVD stuff that I used to focus on. I'm not happy with that. So I've been spending alot of time at home this past week, sick with strep, and wanting to make my blog more about me and my original purpose for keeping it. I want you, dear readers, to know about the little underground shit that has so fascinated me throughout my life. I want you to know about the movies that some executive looked at and passed it by because it didn't fit THEIR mold. I want you to look at the wrestling that SHOULD be getting standing ovations, instead of passed on in favor of a John Cena "five finger shuffle" fist drop. I want you to take a gander at the local artists and performers who buckle up a costume, get into character, and strut their stuff on a stage in front of people who might run into them in the grocery store rather than hide in relative obscurity of a hollywood mansion. So, we're going back to the woodshed this year and I plan on doing reviews of shit that really hits me hard... if it's REALLY fucking bad, I'm going to tear it apart. If it's REALLY fucking good, I'm going to sell you on something you maybe overlooked.

So... yeah, just rambling here... This particuliar post served no purpose whatsoever beyond that.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Indy Wrestling: General Thoughts and analysis

I haven't really caught up on the wrestling Indy scene since the early part of the last decade, but decided to give it a recent gander this past year. The sad truth is that the scene is not really looking all that good. It's kind of sad, really, because I think Professional wrestling is legitimate art when it's done right. It's got emotion, action, and all the glitz and glamour you could imagine. It's truly beautiful and not something I see being taken seriously... it could be that the glut from the 90's sort of killed the art of the game, or it could be that the WWE cornered the market, or it could be any number of issues. But, seeing as how this is my fucking blog and my fucking opinion, this is what I think:

1. PRODUCTION: Beyond the WWE, there really isn't much with regard to production values on any of the alternative products. TNA is supposed to be the WWE's most competitive alternative... but it's really not. While they have the budget to do better television than Ring of Honor, Chikara, or various other companies they just sort of fall into an overdeveloped sense of what the production team is supposed to do.

But, when you start getting involved with the lower rung promotions you start seeing a severe cut in the production values. The sound quality is absolute shit, the camera angles keep getting over exposed when they're pointed RIGHT AT THE LIGHTS, and the announce teams are terrible. Chikara probably has the best sound and video quality from the shows I've seen so far, but that announce team is something wretched to listen to. They don't know how to tell a story or add to a match, so it just becomes this rambling high pitch reaction scream to every spot move they see. And the majority of Chikara are spot moves. Ring of Honor suffers from a dark arena and pointing the camera at the light... and on and on. There isn't really an appreciation for post production work from any of these companies and none of them seriously want to even elevate their status to contend with WWE.

2. STARS: At the early part of the decade there were a ton of big name wrestlers who had a strong chance to be that next "big thing" in wrestling... the politics, the lack of competitiveness, that all added to chip away at alot of these guys and left them at the bottom of a very big pool of indy promotions. Now these guys are growing past their prime and anyone younger that comes into the business doesn't seem to have an appreciation for what the business was for a very long time.

Where is the next Samoa Joe? Where is the next CM Punk? AJ Styles? Heck, where are they currently? Other than Punk, whose meteoric rise this past year seems doomed for a major fall with a look at current ratings.... none of these guys have been allowed to really shine. TNA Booking took the rug right out from under these young talents and thrown them in the shitter in favor of people with big names from the 90's. ROH isn't capitalizing on the National Broadcast time they have to introduce something beyond the "UFC"-pseudo-wrestling design.

3. MATCHES: A good match is more than a spinning back flip triple jump springboard huuzamagigit from the highest balcony. It's about telling a story, it's about yanking the audience out of the "It's fake" mentality and making them belief that something is on the line, that there's a heel and a face and that these people aren't just sharing beers after every show. It's not just about glitz and smack talking, it's about selling and understanding ring psychology. And none of these smaller promotions are promoting this... they've become display cases for acrobatics. It simply isn't really all that much fun to watch the same flippy flappy nonsense from one match to the other... I want to see anguish on the faces, glory in a victory, and a heel who revels in hurting his opponent. Psychology works and that seems to be missing in the independent circuit as of late.

4. SOLUTIONS: Well, how do we solve any of these problems?

First off, Smartmark video could try to attend a few video production classes and learn a little bit about lighting, framing, and sound balance. Beyond that, everything else is an intangible... the WWE owns a brilliant library of classic matches that I'd like to see put into the market for history sake. Also for my own collection... as it is, I have a subscription to WWE Classics and you know what? I'm able to see the production quality on pre-high def quality video cameras during the Territories era... and these smaller companies really have no fucking excuse.

Secondly: Stop guarding your friends and trainers and students and make them earn the crowd reactions. Listen to your audience because that's where your bread and butter is, not in the politics of a company. Don't be afraid to have a big name walk in and beat your big face, and don't be afraid to job out a big name when you're paying his air fare. A big name is supposed to get your guys over, and your guys are supposed to learn something from wrestling with a big name.

Finally: Watch matches. Watch your own matches, watch classic matches, find out what works and really what makes no fucking sense.

Just my humble thoughts on indy wrestling.

DVD reviews: The Presidents Analyst / Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

The Presidents Analyst (1967)

This is a bizarre comedy and send-up to the time period in which it was made. It skewers the age of "flower power", psychiatry, the cold war, and American Liberalism with respect to satire. James Coburn stars as Dr. Sidney Schaeffer, whose comedic timing is perfect as the eager doctor sent in to take care of the Presidents psychiatric needs. Schaeffer is always on-call, so what at first seems a great and wonderful honor quickly cascades into a burden. Not only is he constantly having to see the President for the "great mans" many issues, he's also living under a state of constant scrutiny from the "FBR" and "CEA". Enemy states want to kidnap him and discover the nations deepest secrets and he isn't even quite certain that his lover, Nan, isn't part of the conspiracy surrounding him. After a paranoia-induced breakdown, Coburn is on the run from all the various agencies and this is where the film's story mostly takes place.

The film begins with what has to be one of the most intense narratives regarding racism, anger, and the very nature of a man in the line of work that CEA agent Don Masters. Masters is recruiting the good doctor and confesses to the recent assassination of an enemy agent in the process. This sets up the doctors' cool and analytical reaction to the situation, surprising himself and his "patient" in the process before opening the door to his new career.

There are so many great scenes in this film, including a wonderful kidnapping attempt that's ruined by multiple assassinations while a clueless Schaeffer makes love to a hippie in a field. Agents move forward only to find themselves killed in silence from another agent behind them until the lone Russian agent left standing is forced to watch as Schaeffer and his paramour return to the relative safety of the hippie camp seen in the near distance. As a fan of both Coburn (probably the coolest cat in cinema) and spy films, I really had a great time watching this film and would highly recommend it as a good change of pace to the blood and guts I normally tend to watch. Coburns' performance absolutely drives this film, so it's worth it for that alone.

5 out of 5.

Now, how do I segue from a cool little late 60's spy comedy into a Wuxia martial arts film? Just switch your gears over like I do on a regular basis...

"Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame"

Director Tsui Hark brings the wire-fu back in style with Detective Dee. The very capable Andy Lau stars as the titular detective in this period piece set just before the rule of China's only Empress. So right off the bat we're in for some great wire stunts, martial arts, and bits of slapstick comedy in the style Hark is very well known for.

This film is strongly comparable to the Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes, which may have been the leading inspiration when Hark went into this project. Dee is an exiled officer brought out of imprisonment to solve a string of murders where the victims suddenly burst into flames upon contact with the sun. How are the victims being poisoned and who is behind it? The over all mystery isn't much of one as the story progresses, but there are enough red herrings thrown in to make the film entertaining and the characters are very enjoyable. It is, of course, Lau who carries the bulk of the story and he capably handles the task with all the charisma he's known for.

4 out of 5.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin reviewed.

The Adventures of Tintin.

Based on the comic strip of the same title, this movie follows the adventures of an intrepid young reporter and his wily dog as they try to uncover the mystery surrounding the sinking of an old ship. The script has some serious fan-boy geekgasm names attached, including Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), Steven Moffat (the current Doctor Who series), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). Directed by Steven Spielberg, under the "Amblin Entertainment" brand, the animated feature includes the voice talents of Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg in lead roles. Have you geek-gasmed yet? So, is the film worth the hype surrounding such an illustrious set of names attached with the project? Yes, actually... it is.

Make no mistake, this is a family feature paced with high octane action measured between bouts of comfortable humor. Comfortable? Yes... something that struck me with the watching of this film was it's lack of cruelty. There were several tense moments, some scenes with quick bits of violence, and a set of villains devoid of any sense of morality but the overall feel of the film lacked any real sense of cruelty. Tintin is a hero first and foremost and he avoids killing, avoids making people suffer, and he's never once motivated by a sense of vengeance. The humor is never cruel, despite several slapstick moments where villains slip, slide, or fall in the heat of a chase. Tintin is much more innocent and bridges the gap between "Family friendly" and flat out damn entertaining. My son rooted for the hero, laughed at the villains, and was worried for the dog. And I was right there with him, never once feeling as though the film felt a need to speak down to me in order to MAKE the audience understand.

5 out of 5 is a pretty damn good start to the New Year, eh?