April 01, 2009

Notes From A DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

I’m going to make it short and sweet this month. Just the good stuff!

Two films of note (recently released on DVD domestically) by Japanese director Takashi Miike: The first is an adaptation of “Crows Zero” from the popular manga of the same name. This one might be seen as "Heathers" meets "The Sopranos" --Japanese style. The other is "Sukiyaki Western: Django". This one is Akira Karasawa’s "Ran" meets "A Fist Full of Dollars". It’s in the tradition of a spaghetti western Django movie, but has a mind-blowing color pallet, and over-the-top stylization of Miike. Good stuff all around. While neither of these movies is exactly horror or science fiction, they get special mention here because of Miike’s interest to genre movie watchers in general, and because they are so damn surreal as to quite possibly be fantasy.
Firmly in the genre is "Cthulhu". . . an independent film shot in the Pacific northwest on a modest budget. It’s a sort-of adaptation of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". The matriarch of a small coastal town passes away, and her son (who left because his family didn’t approve of his gay lifestyle,) returns for her funeral. Little does he know, his family will stop at nothing to get him to reproduce, before his TRUE nature reveals itself. Fun stuff. . . with some really effective, surreal//creepy dream logic and imagery. Not perfect, but better then most Lovecraft adaptations. And it has Tori Spelling.

If you’ve been jonesing for a rippling-muscled-son-of-Zeus, Image entertainment has your fix this month, with an Eight (8!!?!) movie box set of Hercules films, on 4 DVD’s. The set kicks off with the 1959 classic "Hercules" (starring Steve Reeves in the role that made him famous) and rounds out with "Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules"; "Hercules the Avenger"; "Hercules and the Black Pirate"; "Hercules and the Captive Women"; "Hercules, Prisoner of Evil"; "Hercules and the Princess of Troy"; and "Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops". And with the low low price of only $20, this is a bargain that shouldn’t be missed.

New Korean horror this month is the amazingly effective movie "Voices". It’s part of the “Danger After Dark Horror Festival” and is probably the best of the bunch this year. Everyone keeps getting murdered around our high-school age protagonist. The murders are being carried out by people she knows, and before too long, she herself is the target. A familial curse and some creepy murders might seem kind of standard fair, but the directing and pacing on this one are spot on, making the creepy moments spectacularly creepy. I can’t recommend this one enough.

On the American side of the pond is "House". . . a horror movie featuring Michael Madsen and Bill Moseley. Did I mention Michael Madsen and Bill Moseley? I don’t care how bad this script is, nor how banal the plot. It’s Michael Madsen and Bill Moseley, chewing the scenery like it's saltwater taffy. Check it out.

And for your monthly dose of dystopic cyberpunk adventure cum-Japanese anime, I recommend "Madlax". The creators of "Noir" continue their tradition of girls with guns and mysterious pasts. The country of Gazth-Sonika is overrun by armed rebels, spies, assassins, and covert organizations that take advantage of the chaos to ply their wares. Shadowy profit-seekers thrive in the unstable environment, including Friday Monday, the masked leader of the criminal Enfant intelligence group; and sexy female assassin Molly Millions-errr-I-mean-Madlax, who sells her mercenaries to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, rich orphan schoolgirl lives miles away in the peaceful country of Nafrece – but she’s haunted by dreams and memory lapses that hint at a hidden connection between herself and Madlax. Get all 26 episodes in one set this month.

Finally, coming this month is the movie that everyone but me hated. Frank Miller’s "The Spirit" was EXACTLY what I thought it was going to be. A Frank Miller movie. If you liked "Sin City". . . if Frank Miller’s weirdly surreal visions of love, violence and urban life turn your crank. . . then get ready for the BEST MOVIE EVER. Well, actually, it’s a rather bad movie. . . but it’s a spectacularly bad movie in the same way that Lucio Fulci’s "From Beyond" is a bad movie! It defies all conventions and rolls around in its own feces with gusto! The Spirit has a five minute monologue, wherein The Spirit talks to his cat on top of a roof. Seriously. Nobody told Frank Miller that while that shit might work in comics, it’s not very “cinematic”. . . and by god, I’m glad they didn’t. The Spirit, talking to a random tom-cat for five minutes. It’s awesome! So is Samuel Jackson wearing a Nazi uniform. I mean really. Frank Miller scripts seem to be written for someone like Sam Jackson to come along and revel in the madness. Spectacular doesn’t begin to describe Frank Miller’s "The Spirit". Then again, *you* may not like it. But *I* did.

Till next month.

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