Sep 30, 2014

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968)

It seems impossible to not mention the similarity between Goke, the Body Snatcher and the same year's Night of the Living Dead. Both are quasi-science fiction/horror films about, among other things: a small band of people trying to survive, interplanetary happenings, racial politics, humanoid monsters that devour their victims in whole or part, and a conclusion that doesn't aim to have you skipping out of the theater. In it's own way, Goke is just as brilliant, beautiful, and entertaining as Romero's first zombie masterpiece. Here, it's a flight of passengers that crash lands on a remote island, after sighting a UFO. Divulging further details would be criminal.

Visually, Goke is almost an inversion of Night's impressionistic black and white imagery; the widescreen Fujicolor images burst with hypnotic splendor, suggesting nightmares remembered with all the exuberance of a kid in a neon-colored candy store. The opening setpiece is a hard achievement to top, yet the film continues to outdo itself, barreling through character drama and dreamy monster menaces with a remarkably elastic sleight of hand. As archetypes, the broad-stroke characters fit the B-movie bill snugly, not that it matters in the bitter end. Already a great achievement, Goke fully commits to the course of its vision, and the end result is something at once savagely beautiful and sure to have caused many nightmares in those whose young eyes saw it.

Sep 12, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Have my tastes changed since I last saw the original 2005 Sin City, or is it nine years later and we now have a shitty sequel on our hands? The latter possibility is the obviously correct one to these eyes, not the least because the original film had its pick of the litter from Frank Miller's original serialized creations. Nor is it entirely the fact that new work from the past-his-prime (some would also say taste) artist comprises around half of this new feature, and also to blame, clearly, is Rodriguez himself, who has now slid into laziness courtesy his self-indulgent and shapeless love affair with the ease of digital cinema.

No doubt cinema comes in all shapes and sizes, but it's to no one's advantage that the recent work of Rodriguez (the horrid Machete jokes and now this, both outdone by the perfunctory fourth Spy Kids film, which is specifically not saying much) is defined by its half-assedness, in all of the ways that that sounds bad, and them some. Every take feels rushed, perfunctory, and unfelt, and many of them insincere at that. Some of the performances still bring the pathos of the original film, but at best, Sin City: A Damn to Kill For can be described as the talented performers of an apathetic circus master, all wound up with no place to go (or, in the words of Trent Reznor, an echo of an echo of an echo).

Reciting plot points from this bastardization of a sequel is enough to nudge me towards depression – not just because the worldview the film espouses is ultimately bitter and cruel, but more so because it lacks the courage of its convictions. Rodriguez sells these ideas without owning up to any of them. It's nihilistic dress-up. Maybe he only fooled me last time, but he still did so beautifully. The permeation of death here is, on the other hand, is not only meaningless, but soulless, less neo-noir than Underworld bullshit, and without enough of a context to establish, say, why Mickey Rourke is back after biting the dust last time (some of us haven't committed the books to memory, mind you – it's called having a functioning adult life, paying off debt, and being interested in things from before the year of one's birth, among other things), or even just simple stuff like visceral edge and narrative thrust, the effect is that of the kind of stale greatest hits albums Aerosmith seemed to put out every three months during the 90s. We remember how you used to kick ass - now please do more than just remind me of what once was.

While there's still something stirring about Nancy (Jessica Alba, still not nude), here edging closer toward self-destruction, with Hartigan (Bruce Willis) now forced to try to help her from the other side of mortality, these are moments adrift in a nothing with a great choice of skin. Is it a memory, or a fluke? Maybe both. It can be well argued that the movie looks good, but without a reason to care, why should I want to look at it? What with the tsunami of violence herein so lacking in wit or substance (and, frankly, the style isn't all that this time around, either), it becomes full-on parody without even necessarily recognizing it, and quite possibly everything the detractors of the original said was wrong about that film. Rodriquez is not without talent, but I can't tell why he does it anymore.