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Miike's 100th movie photo
Miike's 100th movie

Blade Of The Immortal trailer: Takashi Miike's 100th film is bloody samurai mayhem

Way to celebrate #100
May 18
// Hubert Vigilla
Takashi Miike is one prolific guy. At 56 years old, he's about to screen his 100th movie (!) at the Cannes Film Festival. He's like the Robert Pollard of cinema: wakes up in the morning, makes a movie before he gets the coffe...

Review: LA 92

Apr 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221425:43497:0[/embed] LA 92Directors: Daniel Lindsay and T.J. MartinRating: RRelease Date: April 28, 2019 (NYC, LA); April 30, 2019 (National Geographic Channel)  Lindsay and Martin start not with the LA riots of 1992, but instead the Watts riots of 1965. Another case of police brutality and violence, another instance of outrage and destruction. Riots might be viewed as a type of self-harm. When a community is helpless to redress a wrong, they wound themselves. It makes sense that the specter of Watts lingers through the film, suggesting an inescapable inevitability of violence in the face of cyclical, systemic, and maybe even perpetual racism. These are decades and decades of oppression manifested in a grandiose act of self-mutilation. Tensions ratchet up following the beating of Rodney King. LA 92 notes the death of Latasha Harlins as part of the fomenting rage, which would lead to a lot of Korean businesses getting targeted during the riots themselves. Harlins was allegedly trying to shoplift orange juice at a convenience store. She got into a struggle with store owner Soon Ja Du, who shot Harlins dead at the register. Harlins was just 15 years old. The verdict in the murder case implies a lot of unsavory things about how the minority status of blacks and Asians are so different in the eyes of white America. (This goes beyond the purview of this review, but I couldn't help but think of the myth of the model minority that seems to pit blacks and Asians against one another, as if the American experience for these ethnic groups are commensurate simply by dint of minority status.) The build to the riots themselves on the day of the Rodney King verdict is so ominous. It's played out through a series of escalations; an argument over donuts, shoutdowns in the courthouse parking lot, feet on the ground, gatherings in churches. The anger has been shut in so long, it can't be contained. The cops are evacuated out of fear for their safety. The social order breaks down. Then the riot happens. The riot on screen is an unrelenting cinematic assault for at least an hour. The rage is palpable, as are the confusion and sadness. There's also a lot of sadistic happiness, the type of manic glee that comes with vengeance and feelings of dominance. A man's face gets caved in on camera, and people laugh at him in triumph. One scene I can't get out of my head. A man gets beaten, and his genitals are exposed. His attackers spray paint his face and and his private parts black. He quivers on the ground in the way that people in movies quiver when they're about to die. And then a preacher approaches the man slowly, fire and rubble around him; there's a Bible in one hand and his arms are outstretched like Christ. That's end times imagery; it happened in my own lifetime. Occasionally it feels like the gyre of a score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans will completely overtake the madness on screen. Yet the imagery is so potently organized and the emotions are so raw; the music felt like perfect symphonic accompaniment. There is nothing subtle or subdued about what's happening or what anyone is feeling in those moments. That score also enhances the unfolding chaos of what happened. As businesses in Koreatown are targeted, Korean men with guns fire at passing cars. One guy unloads a whole clip from his handgun with abandon and a psychotic determination on his face. It's no surprise that LA 92 refuses to provide a conciliatory conclusion. Rodney King's "Can we all get along?" was such a punchline of a quote even in 1992, but to see the full press conference is another matter. King's so overwhelmed saying those words. There's nothing to laugh about. It's one of the most earnest expressions of empathy he could offer, tinged by an awareness of how meek and helpless it might sound. So many images and moments of LA 92 will haunt me, but the new context of King's question chills me when I think of it. The answer seems like, "I'm not sure."
Review: LA 92 photo
Chilling, apocalyptic, and timely
It's been 25 years since the LA riots, and there are a number of films coming out that revisit this harrowing moment in the country's history. The most high-profile might be Let It Fall: LA from 1982-1992 from John Ridley, sc...

Tribeca Capsule Review: Mr. Long

Apr 25 // Hubert Vigilla
Mr. Long (Ryu San)Director: SABURating: TBDRelease Date: TBDCountry: Japan  While recovering from his injuries, our hero befriends a boy named Jun (Runyin Bai) and his mother Lily (Yiti Yao) in an abandoned slum. Lily is a former prostitute turned junkie, and her story is where so much of the melodrama stems from. There's an extended flashback that shows her tragic fall. The scene initially seems to be dropped in randomly, but thinking about the whole film in retrospect, Lily's backstory comes after a period of slowness and inertness to increase its emotional impact. It's a mood swing done with purpose. The initial outbursts of violence we see in Long's life are eventually followed by cooking and a series of hesitant gestures toward domesticity. The pendulum can only always overcorrect. I don't think Mr. Long would work as well without these dull, silent stretches, and yet while watching the movie I felt bored in these moments. That's the point. What happens in those boring scenes implies a welcome tranquility in these tumultuous lives. To the outside observer, it's boring, but for the characters, a game or ping pong or a simple day making food or giggling with mom is a reprieve from past misery. For once, the present has some sort of order. The boredom can only last so long--maybe it lasts too long in the early going--before it runs the risk of interruption. There's a lot to discuss about the film's overall cruelty and fatalism, and whether or not SABU has contempt for his characters like a vengeful god, but that would be getting into major spoiler territory. If you're patient with Mr. Long and follow the film on its own terms, the reward is peaceful boredom for lives defined by pain and heartbreak. I'm not sure what to make of that exactly, but I keep thinking about the soporific/histrionic style of Mr. Long and how it deepens my appreciation for both its quiet and brutal moments.
Review: Mr. Long photo
Nihilistic Tampopo/Slapstick Unforgiven
Juzo Itami's Tampopo was a quirky blend of western tropes and epicurean delight. SABU's Mr. Long is sort of like a nihilistic Tampopo. We follow a skilled assassin from Taiwan named Long (a brooding Chen Chang) who gets wayla...

Uncharted screenplay photo
Uncharted screenplay

Joe Carnahan talks about his R-rated Uncharted script and its crazy action sequences

Let's get crazy
Feb 24
// Hubert Vigilla
The Uncharted movie looks like it's finally moving forward. Yes fellas, honestly and for reals this time. Joe Carnahan finished his screenplay not too long ago, and Shawn Levy was plucked from left field to direct. In an inte...

Zatoichi/Motorhead combo photo
Zatoichi/Motorhead combo

A Zatoichi/Motorhead mash up is something you didn't realize you needed until now

Zatoichi is metal as f**k
Feb 19
// Hubert Vigilla
The Zatoichi series includes some of the most badass samurai films around. Starring Shintaro Katsu, the story centers on a blind swordsman who turns a new leaf as a traveling masseur. His violent past follows him wherever he ...
Home Alone with Blood photo
Home Alone with Blood

Home Alone with Blood adds gore, turns Kevin into a heartless killing machine

Keep the change, ya filthy animal
Jan 09
// Hubert Vigilla
We know that in real life Home Alone's booby traps would be a hyperviolent collection of severe bodily trauma. A full paint can to the noggin is not so pleasant. In fact, it's some straight-up horror movie stuff. That's the c...
Jailbreak trailer photo
Jailbreak trailer

Trailer for Cambodian martial arts movie Jailbreak looks like furious fun

This trailer needs a Thin Lizzy song
Jan 06
// Hubert Vigilla
My taste is eclectic, but I am, at heart, a simple man. Sometimes I want a long Hungarian art movie, or an oblique sci-fi existential meditation on trauma and pigs, or a reassuring week in the life of a working artist. Other ...
Home Alone booby traps photo
Home Alone booby traps

Watch Home Alone booby traps cause horrible trauma--happy holidays

A yuletide murder house jubilee
Dec 27
// Hubert Vigilla
[We missed this video for Christmas, but let's just pretend this is a delayed gift from Uncle Flixist.] Hey, squirt. How's it going? Sorry to miss you over the weekend, and all, but you know how it is--cold, snowy, planes are...

Review: Elle

Nov 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220908:43150:0[/embed] ElleDirector: Paul VerhoevenRating: RRelease Date: November 11, 2016 (limited)Country: France  Elle starts with the rape, in media res. Verhoeven shoots the scene with surprising restraint. There's the noise of the assault off camera. Michèle's pet cat looks on blankly. The rapist, dressed in black with a ski mask, stands and wipes blood from his hip and groin and then walks away. Michèle tidies up around the kitchen and continues about her day in a daze. She's in shock, but it's subtle. A brief bubble bath scene is so artfully done and haunting. Michèle's a bit angrier at her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) when he comes to visit than she would be otherwise. Vincent asks about the bruise on the side of her face. She says she fell off her bike. The rape goes unreported. When Michèle finally mentions it to anyone, she waits for the most awkward moment possible to bring it up. She says what happened as if she lost a credit card. Is it a coping mechanism or is it just the movie playing provocateur? Elle aims for the uncomfortable laugh, and for a while it succeeds in doling out its cringe humor. At a certain point, it's just cringes. While dealing with horrible things in life, one hundred other genres may be occurring in the world simultaneously. A portion of the film plays like a thriller, with Michèle narrowing down the suspects in her life while her attacker stalks and harasses her. As this thriller plays out, there's a family dramedy: Michèle's jealous about her ex-husband's new girlfriend, annoyed by her son's screwed up relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, and can't stand her mother's new boyfriend either. Then there's the matter of her father and an infamous trauma in her past, one essential to Michèle's character but never explored substantively in the story. Huppert's a saving grace for the film in that she plays everything so straight, even Michèle's unexpected actions and reactions. Yet these are just actions in a performance, not necessarily actions stemming from a character. I could rarely get a handle on who Michèle was or how she interpreted the world and the events around her. The rape is replayed explicitly in the film, and then played again as a kind of revenge fantasy. Later, Michèle seems to invite victimization. There's a harrowing scene in which Michèle seems turned on by the idea of the man she's with raping her, recreating the trauma that opened the film. Is she feeling pleasure? Is that pain and masochistic shame? Is it a mix of both, and if so, what then? Huppert wears an inscrutable mask before, during, and after the scene. The moment is never discussed afterward. I don't need on-screen psychoanalysis or to be handheld through a narrative, but I'd like to be given some hint of what Michèle feels about what's happened. Elle avoids exploring the emotional impact of rape. Instead the film tries to offer Michèle's detachment as some opaque and oblique portrait of her psychology, but even this amounts to a blank gray page. This is all extremely difficult and sensitive territory to explore, especially when Michèle's motives are so ambiguous. Sure, there's never a single correct way for someone to respond to trauma, but rather than provide an alternative portrait of recovery or greater insight into this personality in flux, I felt as if Elle was simply pushing buttons and inverting the traditional rape-revenge narrative for the shock value. That's easier and less painful than really getting into someone's interior life after such a traumatic experience. The film's MO seems to be keep the focus on the inscrutable surface, and make it shocking. It doesn't help that Elle's perspective is male dominated; it's directed by Verhoeven from a script by David Birke, and adapted from a novel by Philippe Dijan. Am I watching a woman's experience as she struggles to retake power as all the men in her life rob her of agency? Or am I just watching a male interpretation of all this that indulges in a little bit of rape fantasy? This might all be up for audience interpretation, which makes me surprised that so many critics have written that the film is so empowering to women and makes bold statements. I don't think it says anything at all, or intends to empower anyone; it's just well-orchestrated provocation. No surprise that by the end of Elle, I was left feeling a sour and empty frustration. Michèle is the head of a video game company, though this portion of Elle serves as a mild subtextual and metatextual backdrop. They're making a medieval action-adventure--think Warcraft by way of Assassin's Creed with really antiquated graphics. During a meeting, one of her designers--a man who may be the rapist--says that Michèle's pretentious literary background has gotten in the way of the game's basic playability. I think Verhoeven's penchant for provocation might have gotten in the way of the fundamental human concerns of Elle.
Review: Elle photo
Provocative, but is it saying anything?
Elle has been billed as a rape-comedy, but that's a misnomer. It's a comedy in the classical sense given the events of the story, but it's not necessarily funny (there are funny scenes, though). And yes, it's about rape. Elle...

Review: Green Room

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220533:42929:0[/embed] Green RoomDirector: Jeremy SaulnierRating: RRelease Date: April 22 and 29, 2016  At the center of Green Room is small town punk band The Ain't Rights, four kids Sam, Pat, Reece, and Tiger (Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole and Callum Turner respectively). Everything goes awry during a performance at a Neo-Nazi den when they suddenly witness a murder and now they've got a veritable army of Nazis and their leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) hunting them. Deciding to hole themselves up in the venue's green room, The Ain't Rights and their new ally, the mysterious Amber (Imogen Poots), try to survive the terrifying night to come.  To put it bluntly, at its core, Green Room is a film you've seen before. With its premise, it's easy to make comparisons to home invasions films or anything where it's one against many (Assault on Precinct 13 or even Die Hard come to mind), but that's where all of the similarities and predictability ends. Green Room takes the time to build an entire world around its tiny setting and it's all the more effective because of it. The film feels lived in, and it's almost as if we're jumping into a point of these kids' lives. The Ain't Rights themselves have a wonderful chemistry. An almost effortless gelling informs their life long friendship and I bought into it immediately. The four are given enough time as their characters to get comfortable and let each actor imbue themselves with little quirks and touches. In fact, some of the film's finest moments are early on when we're just getting to know the band. Because of the attention to the build up, it's all the more devastating when things come down around them.  I don't feel like I can stress this enough. Green Room is entirely unpredictable. The initial transition from humor to horror is seamless. Because of the care put into the characters, the audience essentially ends up in the confined space with them. The emotional stakes rise almost instantly and there's nary a bump in the production. It's like an emotional punch to gut, and that's before any violence takes place. Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart own these scenes in particular when the two of them speak on opposite ends of a door. Yelchin is constantly on the verge of tears (thus making us closer to him on a whole) while Stewart's eerily calm demeanor hides sinister motives. And just when you think you've got the film figured out, it changes tone completely. With controlled spontaneity through violence, Green Room continuously raises its stakes and never once feels overbearing in its tension.  The entire film's production is lined with a chilling vibe. From its metal and punk heavy soundtrack, its lighting (making sure everything is just dark enough to be unnerving while still making sure everything is visible and digestible), there's a special sense of dread permeating throughout and it's naturalistic. The crafted tone grounds its characters and setting begetting fear from a human place. Darcy's frightening introduction and speeches juxtapose Stewart's unassuming demeanor. It's kind of like how Breaking Bad slowly transformed Bryan Cranston's Walter White into Heisenberg over six seasons instead crammed into less than 90 minutes. Sometimes it doesn't work completely, but it's still utterly effective and damning. Thanks to the cast playing off of each other in such a tight space (and a stellar performance from everyone involved), it's an emotional thriller rather than a physical one. There are certainly visceral payoffs (and they're increasingly shocking in their brutality), but if you don't enjoy the film's emotional stakes then you won't connect as much overall.  Before seeing Green Room you need to know what you're getting yourself into. It's a nail biting thriller for sure, but if you're expecting some sort of all out knuckle brawl you'll be severely disappointed. This film is a thriller horror film in the traditional sense, so there's very little "action." When it does finally resort to such measures, Green Room excels. It's satisfying in such a weird, weird way.  And that's Green Room in a nutshell. It's disarming, gruesome, macabre, hilarious, cartoonish, will make you squirm, but it's a fun experience through and through. I'm going to remember this one for a while.
Green Room Review photo
Spontaneously brutal
Over the last few years, A24 has quickly become my favorite production studio. They've overseen everything from huge award winners like Room, Amy, and Ex Machina, critical darlings such as Spring Breakers and The End of the T...

Hardcore Henry clips photo
Hardcore Henry clips

Watch a clip and behind-the-scenes music video for Hardcore Henry (NSFW)

Apr 08
// Hubert Vigilla
Hardcore Henry is now out in theaters, a live-action blood-drenched movie done in the style of an FPS game. In case you were wondering how the action unfolds in a given scene (hint: it's violent!), STX Entertainment put out a...
Hardcore Henry PSA photo
Hardcore Henry PSA

Alamo Drafthouse PSA: Hardcore Henry gets violent about talking/texting during movies (NSFW)

I'll use my violence on him!
Apr 04
// Hubert Vigilla
The "don't talk/text" PSAs by Alamo Drafthouse have always been great whether they feature intimidation from Michael Madsen or charming repartee by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Of course, nothing does the job like violence......
Deadpool  photo

Deadpool banned in China over graphic violence

Jan 18
// Nick Valdez
Despite the numerous trailers, images, and impeding release date, I still can't believe Deadpool is a real film. It was talked about for years, Ryan Reynolds personally lobbied for it at every opportunity, and now it finally ...

NYPD/LAPD boycotts of Quentin Tarantino reinforce negative stereotypes about cops

Nov 09 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220111:42692:0[/embed] Soon after, the LAPD joined the NYPD in calling for a boycott of Tarantino's films. "Hateful rhetoric dehumanizes police and encourages attacks on us," wrote Los Angeles Police Protective League (PPL) president Craig Lally. "And questioning everything we do threatens public safety by discouraging officers from putting themselves in positions where their legitimate actions could be falsely portrayed as thuggery." There are good cops out there, of course, but none of these statements by the PBA and PPL are going to make it easier for them to do their job. Remarks like these make it sound as if the NYPD and LAPD are beyond reproach. If you've paid attention to the news at all or even have some passing familiarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, that's obviously not the case. The issue is police brutality related to systemic racism and/or general problems with hiring and accountability in law enforcement, but reps for the NYPD and LAPD would rather not address those issues. Because hey, look, Quentin Tarantino! Worse still, police reps recently ratcheted up their rhetoric, and it's still not helping their own cause. Late last week, Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, made a cryptic statement about Tarantino and the police boycott effort. "Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element. Something could happen anytime between now and [the premiere of The Hateful Eight]. And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable." Pasco added, "The right time and place will come up and we'll try to hurt him in the only way that seems to matter to him, and that's economically." So again, rather than try to figure out how to prevent the deaths of more innocent people, how to reach out to underserved or marginalized communities, and just generally figuring out how to be better police officers, high-level police union reps would rather try to organize a major boycott of a new Quentin Tarantino movie and intimidate the filmmaker, and by extension other voices critical of the police, into silence. This is, frankly, stupid. The NYPD, LAPD, and the Fraternal Order of Police come across as petty and tone deaf. The boycott will accomplish nothing substantive with regard to police brutality; it may simply make current perceptions of the police more negative. At the heart of these statements isn't just a general defensiveness but an unhealthy inability to accept legitimate criticism. We're not talking about the deaths of innocent people or good cops who died doing their job. Instead, police reps have dogpiled on a citizen who was protesting peacefully. In case you were wondering, The Hateful Eight comes out in select cities on Christmas Day.
Police vs. Tarantino photo
Police rhetoric not helping their cause
The NYPD and LAPD really hate Quentin Tarantino right now, labeling him a cop-hater and anti-cop. In the process of explaining their dislike for the filmmaker, the NYPD and LAPD are also providing more reason to lose faith in...

Bans on Star Wars cosplay photo
Bans on Star Wars cosplay

Lightsabers, blasters, masks banned from AMC and Cinemark screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Jar Jar Binks cosplay also prohibited
Nov 03
// Hubert Vigilla
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is about six weeks away, and a lot of people are getting psyched about seeing the film on opening night. (Though some dumb nerds want to boycott the film. Freakin' nerds.) These sorts of screening...
Deadpool Trailer photo
Motherf**ckers and avocados
We've been anticipating this first bit of footage for some time. After all of the talk, all of the images, all of those years stuck in development, and all of the advertising, Deadpool is actually film that exists. The traile...


Here is everywhere Liam Neeson has killed people

Someone should have died in Nell
Sep 18
// Matthew Razak
Liam Neeson has killed a bunch of people throughout his career, but important questions remained like where and how many. Now those questions are answered thanks to this map the UK publicity company behind A Walk Among the To...
ABC 2 Trailer photo
ABC 2 Trailer

First red band trailer for The ABC's of Death 2

Easy as one two three
Sep 04
// Nick Valdez
The ABCs of Death was a neat experiment in which twenty six different directors took a letter of the alphabet and crafted a horror short. With as frantic of a premise as that naturally some of the segments were more enjoyabl...

Production has begun on the Herschell Gordon Lewis co-directed Herschell Gordon Lewis' Bloodmania

Aug 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Production Begins Today On A New Major Horror Movie Entitled “Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania”  Monday, August 4th, 2014 - Production begins today on a new major horror movie, entitled “Herschell Gordon Lewis’s BloodMania.” Acclaimed horror genre director Herschell Gordon Lewis will co-direct the project, which is being produced by HGB Entertainment Ltd. for Diabolique Films, the film division of the premiere horror publication, Diabolique Magazine. Mr. Lewis is internationally recognized as the originator of the contemporary splatter film, and he chuckles at being dubbed “The Godfather of Gore." The Producer of the film is Diabolique Films executive James Saito, and the film is being shot in its entirety in Calgary, Alberta Canada. Lewis explained his “co-director” role, an unusual relationship with the production company: “BloodMania is a series of four episodes, each one unique. I’ll personally direct two, and Benjamin Ross Hayden (Agophobia, 2013) and Kevin Littlelight the others. So I can promise a variety of ‘flavors to satisfy even the most ardent horror fans!’” Asked whether “BloodMania” will be a step beyond any film either he or anyone has directed before, the answer was as expected from this maverick director: “What do you think?” A major factor contributing to his reputation in the film industry is Herschell Gordon Lewis’s insistence on never repeating a theme. “BloodMania” he promises, will set a new standard for, as he so eloquently puts it, “off-the-wall outrage, doused in a wild sense of humor!” Producer James Saito has assembled a cast of well-known Canadian actors and actresses, as well as crew highly skilled in special effects. “Enthusiasm is extraordinarily high,” he reports, “and much of that enthusiasm is the happy anticipation that our effects team will have the opportunity to participate in a motion picture whose potential is truly world-class. BloodMania is our gift to Mr. Lewis’ many fans and all fans of the horror genre.” The release of “Herschell Gordon Lewis’s BloodMania” is set for Spring of 2015. Important links: Website: Twitter: @BloodMania Facebook:
H. G. Lewis' new movie photo
By Herschell Gordon Lewis
If you don't know the name Herschell Gordon Lewis, then you have missed an extremely important part of film history. H. G. Lewis' effects are seen in cinemas all over the world even today; his 1963 film Blood Feast was t...

Green Inferno Trailer photo
Green Inferno Trailer

New trailer for The Green Inferno shows lots and lots of promise

Time to rewatch Cannibal Holocaust...
Jun 02
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
I've been anticipating Eli Roth's upcoming cannibal film, The Green Inferno, since it was announced. As a fan (if that's the right word) of the 1980 classic (definitely the wrong word) Cannibal Holocaust, I wanted to see wha...
PG-13 > R photo
PG-13 > R

Study shows PG-13 films are more violent than R films

Gunny McGunnersons over here.
Nov 13
// Nick Valdez
You know what? PG-13 rated flicks get away with quite a bit as long as they refrain from using "f**k" more than once and show less than 2 naked breasts. You may have noticed the increase in allowable body counts in say...G.I....

New Oldboy trailer comes complete with images

Three-hour Director's Cut already claimed to be better
Nov 07
// Matthew Razak
We have another Oldboy remake trailer here and its not showing us too much new, but it's green band so it has way less blood. While Alec is most likely correct in thinking the film is almost totally pointless I can't he...

Review: Machete Kills

Oct 11 // Nick Valdez
[embed]216615:40773:0[/embed] Machete Kills is the story of Machete (Danny Trejo), an ex-federale who gets roped into a mission into Mexico by United States President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen Carlos Estevez ), as he tries to get over the loss of a loved one by killing lots of bad guys. As Mendez (Demian Bichir) and Voz (Mel Gibson) threaten both the United States and Mexico with a fleet of nuclear warheads, Machete has to put aside himself and fight for justice.  As you can most likely tell from the summary (and by the first few minutes of the film itself), this film is not meant to be taken seriously. But at the same time, a lot of effort put into the film can be mistakenly brushed off to the side as "exploitative schlock." It's important to decide on the kind of film Machete Kills wants to be. Is Machete Kills an intentional Grade B Movie or an unintentional one? The difference between the two is that when a film is intentionally trying to be as goofy and Grade B as possible, there is a greater potential to fall flat on its face as neither its humor or seriousness hits the mark. Thankfully, that isn't a problem here. Machete Kills joyously shreds through convention and becomes a wonderful parody of exploitation and send-up to fans of Robert Rodriguez's line of films. Robert Rodriguez has mastered the art of goofy grit. Through his years of experience in the "Mexploitation" genre, he's found the perfect balance of violence and hilarity. Think using an intestine to rappel through a hospital window was the best kill you'd see in the Machete series? Machete Kills upps that ante tenfold. There're helicopters, boat motors, space rifles, and even triple bladed, electrified machetes. If none of that sounds interesting to you in any way, you're not going to like this movie. In fact, that's Machete Kills's main problem. It carves such a niche for itself, it's nearly impossible to reach in from the outside (especially if you're a woman). At times Machete Kills has so much going on, its convoluted story struggles to make sense. Sure you can write off its story problems or bad dialogue as part of its intentional Grade B charm, but unfortunately so much of the film is spent setting up a sequel that may never happen or ogling women's breasts (In retrospect, Machete Kills will be far better as a Grade B film if Machete Kills Space never comes to be), it tends to forget to explain what's going on at any moment.  While the story can get confusing and goes on about 20 minutes too long, thankfully everyone involved with the film knows exactly what kind of film they're in. Amber Heard (as Miss San Antonio) and Demian Bichir (as Mendez) deliciously chew through the scenery and own their personas. Bichir's Mendez wields multiple personalities and is the main reason the rough second act (where Machete has to take Mendez to America for reasons I won't spoil here) is bearable. Heard's Miss San Antonio is deadly sexy and has some of the best lines (and Planet Terror paralleled sequences) in the entire film. Sofia Vergara gets some points as well as she uses her horribly sexist caricature to its full potential, elevating her terrible, terrible lines. Honestly, her character wouldn't have worked ("man-eating dominatrix") if it were anyone else.  As for Danny Trejo? Unfortunately, he still can't anchor a movie. He's certainly gotten better in the past few years thanks to starring in whatever Grade B or C film that offered him money, but there's only so much a stone faced man could do when confronted by folks who can actually act. It's a big strike against the exploitation genre when you're boring big hero is upstaged by the villains.  Speaking of villains, Mel Gibson is such an excellent exploitative villain (and a cut above Steven Seagal's goofiness from Machete) I'm sad he hasn't been used this way before. He just gels into the role and becomes such a wonderfully despicable, yet humorous person who loves Star Wars. Every other cast member in the film brings their B-game to the script and Kills's use of stunt casting will certainly get both laughs and eyebrow raises (there's one cast member who wasn't spoiled through the advertising that's just wonderful in her bit part). Don't like how Sofia Vergara or Lady Gaga acts? Don't like Alexa Vega's gratuitous outfit? Don't worry, they'll be gone after a few minutes. It's a brilliant use of their famous names.  All in all, Machete Kills certainly kills it. Sure it's not all gummi bears and rainbows (rougher than rough plot, overbearing sexualization of women and cleavage despite its attempts at strong female characters, intentionally bad dialogue falls flat a lot of the time), but Machete Kills somehow holds it together and manages to accomplish quite a bit for what it is. A sequel to a movie branched off of a joke trailer.  If you enjoyed the first Machete, if you've ever enjoyed anything made by Robert Rodriguez (and love the idea of a Sex Machine shout out), and if you understand what kind of film it is trying to be, you're going to have so much fun with Machete Kills. For everyone else, maybe a rental. 
Machete Kills Review photo
Bigger budget, bigger kills...bigger boobs.
It's a miracle Machete Kills even exists. It's a sequel to a film originally based on a joke trailer before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse. With that in mind, it was easy to forgive potential flaws i...

Review: A Touch of Sin

Oct 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216431:40743:0[/embed] A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding | 天注定)Director: Jia ZhangkeRating: NRCountry: ChinaRelease Date:  October 4th, 2013 (New York); October 11th, 2013 (LA) In retrospect, the wuxia allusions are pretty apparent. The protagonists of the four vignettes are struggling against larger forces and they carry themselves like the chivalric heroes of old. Three of them, at least, strike poses or achieve gaits that put me in mind of wandering swordsmen. The irony is their social position (these are all everyday working class people elevated to the level of martial folk hero), the kind of violence that occurs (there's no spiritual or philosophical sense of refinement as there would be to the martial arts, this is simply violence as a desperate lashing out), and the emptiness of the violence they enact (there's a sense that nothing will come of the violence). The references begin in the opening scene following a striking image of an overturned tomato truck. A man on a scooter drives an empty freeway -- a massive extension under construction is visible in the distance -- and is accosted by teenage bandits wielding hatchets. Axe-wielding baddies have appeared in plenty of kung fu films from Chang Cheh's Boxer from Shantung to Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. He dispatches of them quickly and then rides on. There's nothing glorious about what just happened as there would be in a wuxia film, it's just violence, and he continues on his way. In the opening vignette, we watch a worker played by Jiang Wu struggle with political corruption at a local level. Next we get acquainted with the man on the scooter (Wang Baoqiang) who took out the teens with hatchets. Then comes a woman who works in a sauna (Tao) who's pushed to extremes partly because of an affair. The last vignette involves a young man (first-time actor Luo Lanshan) trying to make it in different demoralizing workplaces. Even before knowing these were all based on true stories, I could recognize the non-fiction elements in the final vignette. Part of it centers around an electronics factory/worker dorm not unlike Foxconn; the other portion of that vignette centers on a brothel where teenage girls give themselves to businessmen. It's difficult not to notice the sharp bitterness in the connection. I sensed a few sources of tension throughout A Touch of Sin that underline these ironies and allusions. The violence is so brutal and so ugly, and yet most of the film is based on these artfully paced characters studies with delicate, emotional moments within them. The film is also so beautifully shot, with several images that keep cycling back through my head even days after I've seen the movie. A Touch of Sin is the kind of film where you watch a man's jaw get blown off with a shotgun in graphic detail, but you also experience the quiet desperation of the man who pulled the trigger. There's also a scene where the silent, awkward reticence as a man reunites with his family implies so much about the entire nature of their relationship. All of this is against the backdrop of modern China, rapidly changing, always leaving people behind, the country in the process of trying to catch up to its own ambitions as an economic super power. One of the most memorable images that highlights the differences between the haves and have-nots involves a New Year's fireworks display. Across the water where skyscrapers light up the night, the skies are illuminated by a lush pyrotechnics display. In a lowland, working-class area opposite the skyscrapers, a father amuses his son with the closest available equivalent: he fires his pistol into the air. Since the point of view of the film is that of the working class, I couldn't help but read an us vs. them moment in this act, which wasn't just to make the man's kid happy but to punctuate a kind of thesis statement for the violence in the film: Them, they have industry and so many other tools to degrade and to dehumanize; us, all we have left is violence. But violence is a limited kind of power given how it's manifested in the film. I mentioned above that it seems like nothing can come of violence in and of itself, and it may have something to do with the way these vignettes end. There may be a sense of narrative closure, but not a sense of closure when it comes to affecting actual change. What happens after an act of murder to feed a family other than a cycle of murder out of necessity? Or say political violence when it's just one man and his gun? Violence may not be the answer, but it's the only option. In A Touch of Sin, and by extension China itself, violence is the manifestation of a larger social frustration, the voice of the alienated oppressed cast into steel, the only means of making a statement even when the statement will be negated and the speaker silenced once the authorities come into play. So if not violence, what is the answer to all these social woes? This is the frustrating thing about art as social criticism. It can offer a mirror and hint at possibilities, but there's no requirement to propose actual, workable solutions. But maybe that's the proper way to go about it since any simple proclamations on how to solve the ills of a quickly developing nation would be insulting and naive. Jia offers an interesting closing note for A Touch of Sin, suggesting that these stories are not just ripped from the headlines but are touchstones to the concerns of older tales. And these older tales are a reflection of history which itself cycles into the concerns of modern people. There's an interrelation between different narratives, mirrors down a hall, all points to reconsider what's gone before and what's to come. Maybe there's a leveling principle at work in art, not just art that's also a form of social criticism, or at least a space of sympathy and understanding. Maybe underlying all these acts of human degradation and woe there's a whispered acknowledgement: "There but for the grace of the global economy go I." A Touch of Sin opens in China next month. Somehow the film made it past cultural censors mostly intact despite its harsh, despairing criticism of modern Mainland  China. I'm curious about how it will be received, and also what, if anything, the viewers will be able to do with what they're shown. Like the freeway and the airport being built in the film, the future is uncertain and a work in progress.
A Touch of Sin Review photo
A collage of real-life violence across Mainland China
It's remarkable what a little context can do. My initial impressions about A Touch of Sin were generally positive but also ambivalent. I wasn't sure of what to make of the four loosely connected vignettes, each a mix of right...


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Review: Only God Forgives

Jul 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216068:40444:0[/embed] Only God ForgivesDirector: Nicolas Winding RefnRating: RRelease Date: July 19th, 2013 (limited, VOD) Only God Forgives is such a different animal from Drive. Refn's latest is an excruciatingly mannered art house exercise in style. There's no weight to anything that happens -- not the sex, not the violence, not the over-the-top offensiveness of Kristen Scott Thomas's character -- since there's no substance to the events. It's a work of accidental self-parody in line with Terrence Malick's To the Wonder and Brian De Palma's Passion. The movie is a series of ellipses followed by punctuation. It sort of makes sense, though. Here are some of my favorite lines from Ryan Gosling's character in the film: "..." "..." [nostrils flare ever so slightly] "..." "...(?)" "TAKE OFF THE DRESS!!!" "...(!)" "(...)" "...You wanna fight?" Actually, Only God Forgives is not an animal. Like Gosling's quiet-type, Refn's film is more like a robot or a machine. It's cold, empty, lacking in humanity, but undeniably well-designed in order to achieve its purpose, which was, as far as I could tell, merely to be well-designed. A drug dealer named Julian (Gosling) runs some kind of kickboxing school/gym in Bangkok. His brother Billy (Tom Burke) rapes and murders an underaged girl. Billy is murdered, and a cop played by Vithaya Pansringarm has something to do with his death. Julian and Billy's mother (the psychotic evil twin of Kristin Scott Thomas) comes into town seeking revenge on the "yellow n**ger" who's responsible. Everything she says is about as absurdly offensive as that, which makes almost everything she says play out like a farce on the ugliest ideas of ugly Americans. Throughout the film, Gosling looks like he's in a daze, barely emoting but always looking good barely doing it. In Drive there at least seemed to be thought behind those eyes. Here, you get the same expression from Gosling from beginning to end. You'd get a comparable expression from your pet cat if you showed it last year's tax return. In one scene a gorgeous prostitute named Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam) presents her crotch to Julian and then masturbates in front of him while he's tied to a chair just a few feet away. Julian looks like he's watching a tea kettle on the stove. When he later paws Mai through hanging love beads in the corner of a room, he looks like he's glancing blankly out the window on an overcast day. When he's at dinner with Mai and his own mother and his mom calls Mai a "cum receptacle" (or something along those lines), Gosling looks like he's watching paint dry. The stoic posturing became so annoying that I wanted to yell at the screen, "Just friggin' say something already, you dumb jerk!" And yes, I understand the characters are empty because they're really symbols for revenge, righteousness, indecision, and other thematic stuff. And yes I understand the critique of revenge as something hollow. And sure, the cop is doling out warped vigilante justice to lowlifes which suggests a different and almost noble dimension to his brand of violence. And yeah, I noticed the portentous dog with a bum leg hobbling around in that one shot. And sure the passivity of the Gosling character reframes the idea of what sort of revenge film this is. And of course I get the subversion of unpleasantness by shooting it so well. And yeah, I totally see the Oedipal stuff between Gosling and Thomas because the movie is so blunt about it -- it reeks of Freud like Hoboken reeks of Axe Body Spray on a Friday night. But getting it is not the same as liking what I got. These are all interesting ideas and they might work for some people, but for me interesting ideas and style cannot sustain a movie alone. Sometimes sure, but I want a sense of weight of some kind that goes beyond the merely aesthetic and intellectual -- some marrow in the bones, some heart in that chest. Instead we get zonked-out Gosling looking dreamy while Thomas drops vulgarities like prepositions. But the film's biggest sin, like Beyond the Black Rainbow, is that it's just plain boring in stretches. Live by vapid style, die by vapid style. To the film's credit, vapid imagery has never looked so good. Neither has gratuitous violence. Limbs get hacked off, torsos get split open, there's a torture porn scene, there's a blood-drenched room, and it all looks splendid. Refn and cinematographer Larry Smith seem incapable of creating bad visuals, and I admire the deep shadows and the stark Dario Argento monochrome in the hallway shots even though the most interesting thing about those tracking shots is the wallpaper. (To be fair, it is very nice wallpaper.) Makeup artists Vitch Chavasit and Pattera Puttisuraset know their way around stylish viscera. If only the mayhem actually meant something. The film ends on an odd and abrupt note followed by a dedication to cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, Santa Sangre). Refn is a major fan of Jodorowsky's, and for his next project he wants to adapt The Incal, a brilliant science fiction comic that Jodorowsky did with Moebius throughout the 1980s. I can't want to see what Refn does with that material, and I hope the movie happens. Yet his invocation of Jodorowsky made me realize what differentiates the fascinating violence of a Jodorowsky movie from the banal violence of Only God Forgives. Jodorowsky declared "I LOVE VIOLENCE!" during an episode of Jonathan Ross Presents for One Week Only in 1991. Blood can be anything in a Jodorowsky movie -- grapes, blue paint, birds, smoke, paper, whatever's handy. It's all operating on a metaphorical level because everything Jodorwosky does is about acts of alchemy. We're base material, here's art turning us into something different -- horror into Guernica. "A child comes into the world covered in blood -- that is violent," Jodorowsky said in a 2000 radio interview with CFRB in Toronto. Violence is creative, and it's a force of life. It's an idea that goes all the way back to his early obsessions with convulsive art and the panic movement. The violence is just violence in Only God Forgives, no matter how aestheticized. It's generally non-transformative (unless you count broken noses as transformative) since there's little change in the characters (aside from becoming amputees or corpses) or in the movie's tone or approach to violence. Here is violence that seems merely tautological: A = A. It's not even like that tautology towards the end of Gravity's Rainbow: "The knife cuts through the apple like a knife cutting an apple." With that line in the novel, there's an odd, unveiled moment of truth. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of dense metaphor, and suddenly revelation. Hallelujah! In Only God Forgives, the man gets sharp things stabbed through his forearms like a man getting sharp things stabbed through his forearms. It's about as profound as it sounds.
Only God Forgives Review photo
What shall we do with all this useless, violent beauty?
Anyone who goes into Only God Forgives expecting Drive 2: Bangkok Drift is going to be disappointed. Drive was the unlikely combination of Nicolas Winding Refn's aestheticized violence and the fuzzy feeling of John Hughes. On...


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