Thursday, January 24, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #89: Akira

Akira is the most beautiful anime film I have ever seen.  The animation in it is so well-done that at times I forgot it wasn’t a live action feature.  That alone would be enough to get it on this list, as visually it is unlike any other animated film, but the story is also quite unique and ranks up there with the best in science fiction … even though it ultimately fails.

The movie is based on a manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film (at his insistence in order to keep creative control).  It concerns a teenage member of a biker gang with psychic powers who releases a terrible force (Akira) upon the world while his fellow bikers and the Japanese government attempt to stop him.  It is far more in-depth than that, but you really must see it to believe it.  Understand, however, that this is not an anime film for children, and it earns its R rating.  It is violent and intellectually stimulating, but it is also very flawed, as Otomo himself has stated.

The manga this film is based on is amazing.  It is over 2,000 pages of pure, dystopian science fiction that fully realizes Otomo’s vision.  The film, however, due to time restraints and whatnot, loses well over half of what happens in the manga, and has an ending that leaves viewers scratching their heads.  At that point the film and the manga seem like two entirely different creatures, and it is what ultimately makes the film feel as if it failed on one level, even though the movie was actually finished before the manga was completed.  Regardless, everything prior to that ending is a well-realized vision that has inspired films like The Matrix for obvious reasons.

Anime has tackled serious subjects, a fact non-fans may have a hard time accepting.  To them I offer this film.  The issues it presents are mature and done in such a way as to open up many debates.  Chiefly: What does it mean to be God?  How far should a government go to protect its people?  How far should people go to protect themselves?

Heady stuff for a cartoon, but no one will mistake it for Disney.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #90: Heckler

I bought Heckler (2007) on a whim because the documentary, which was an examination of hecklers and how comedians deal with them, sounded interesting … and it was three bucks and 99 cents.  I liked a lot of the comedians (Lewis Black, David Cross, Bill Hicks, Bill Maher to name a select few) in the film, too, and I appreciate some of star Jamie Kennedy’s comedy.  I figured I couldn’t go wrong.  What I got was so much more than I anticipated, however.

I’ve written about this film before.  What seems like a simple look at the role of hecklers in a comedian’s life actually becomes a much deeper exploration of the role of the critic versus the role of the artist or entertainer.  As I’ve worn both shoes, I found the film to be equally fascinating and depressing, and it caused me to examine some of what I had written in the past about certain performers.  The film was as surprising as it was vexing … and it was only vexing because it was right.

Heckler went straight to DVD, and critics and their criticisms were as to be expected.  I think some critics took the film a bit personally, however, while others did some awkward backhanded compliments, almost as if they could not give a decent review to anything starring Jamie Kennedy.  I also think many of those critics not only missed the point, but inadvertently ended up proving it. 

As a documentary on heckling, it may have seemed like it fell kind of flat because it appeared that its focus shifted.  If you believe that, though, you aren’t paying attention.  When Kennedy takes on the critics, he is pointing out that what they are doing is just another form of heckling … only they are safe behind a keyboard.  It also shows that Kennedy is perhaps deeper than anyone cared to credit him with, and those things are what make this film worth viewing.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #91: Wicked City

Within the opening minutes of the 1987 anime Wicked City (Yôjû Toshi), a man and woman have sex and the woman turns into this spider-like thing with a fang-filled, gaping maw vagina.  Things get weirder from there.

I am not the world’s biggest anime fan.  I find it hard to connect with the films on many levels, but when it is done well it is unlike any kind of animated or live action film out there.  This one falls into that category, though it didn’t get the best reviews when first released.

The Black World and our world have an agreement to co-exist in peace, and when the time comes to renew this pact, a militant group wants to ensure that a new treaty will not be agreed upon.  Two Black Guards are enlisted to see to it that the agreement is seen through without a hitch, but nothing really goes as planned, and the man they have been tasked with protecting, the powerful Mayart, ends up saving them … and that’s when we learn all is not as it seems.  Of course not. 

The film, which features copious amounts of sex, rape and other violence, has been called misogynistic, sadistic and brutal.  That’s partially true.  It’s also imaginative and disturbing in a way few other animes have ever achieved.  It took chances that panned out and made for a captivating movie. 

Interestingly enough, this movie, which was also known as Supernatural Beast City, was also made into a live action feature which differed from the animated one on many levels, though it was still fun to watch.

I don’t have many animes on my 100 Favorites list, but this one has earned its place here.  It may be dark and a bit nasty, but it sure as heck beats the crap Disney keeps vomiting forth year after year.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review. Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #92: The Gates of Hell

The first Lucio Fulci film I saw was 1980's The Gates of Hell (a.k.a City of the Living Dead).  I had read about it in Fangoria, so I thought I knew what to expect.  I was, as I sometimes am, wrong.

As with any Fulci film, The Gates of Hell’s plot is a bit … abstract.  What you need to know is that a priest in Dunwich (Lovecraft, anyone?) hangs himself and opens up the Gates of Hell with his suicide.  Zombies with some pretty strange powers are then let loose upon the town.  Later, a reporter who is investigating what is happening in Dunwich, finds out that this is all part of a prophecy, and he and a psychic then try to put an end to the horror.

The film was banned in Germany and was cut in England due to scenes such as a head getting drilled and a woman throwing up her intestines.  The intestines, it should be noted, weren’t fake.  They were really sheep intestines that she had in her mouth and had to actually vomit forth, though a fake head was used for close-ups.  And they say DeNiro gets in character.  I don’t think he ever puked up animal guts.  Live maggots were used for a rain scene, as well, but that hardly matters after putting sheep parts in one’s mouth.

The movie is not what I’d call a “great” film, but it is a fun one full of Fulci moments of head scratching madness.   It nearly left me in a state of awe, as it was so obvious this was not the product of an American mind.  It was horror that could only come from some sort of deranged foreign maestro.  Would George Romero think of using teleporting zombies?  No, and that is what makes this film so crazy.  The unthinkable is thought and done. 

The Gates of Hell, as it was released in America and how I fondly remember it as, is a work of flawed genius, but I guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like it.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, and clicking on a link may earn me some dough.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #93: Voodoo Rhythm -- The Gospel of Primitive Rock 'n' Roll

As far as music documentaries go, Voodoo Rhythm: The Gospel of Primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll is one of those that must be watched before you die if you like music that is outside the norm.  It did something that music documentaries often fail at: it gave me new insight into its subject matter.  More on that further in.

I reviewed this film for Film Threat some time ago, and interviewed the director, M.A. Littler, about it on the same site for my Excess Hollywood column.  That’s how much I enjoyed the film.  I did not say it was without its faults (namely that it could isolate those who don’t like the types of music the Voodoo Rhythm record label provides), and I stand by that assertion.  To let something like that keep you away from it is a crime, however, especially if you consider yourself open-minded when it comes to music.
For some history, Voodoo Rhythm is out of Switzerland and puts out the most eclectic sounds you could imagine.  One man bands.  Swamp rock.  Pure rock ‘n’ roll.  Funeral music.  Blues.  Zydeco.  Country.  Many of the genres are primarily considered American, but most of the bands on the label aren’t from America.  Because of that, you get an almost magical take on the music … something that has been lost by a lot of our bands over here, and this film documents just what makes these bands and Voodoo Rhythm special.     

Littler took a small label with not enough followers, and captured its spirit on film.  When I saw this feature, I was already a fan of these acts and the label, but I knew little about either or the man behind the label, Reverend Beat Man.  Voodoo Rhythm helped change that.   If anything, Littler helped make me an even bigger fan.  I don’t know if I can say that about any other music documentary, as those are rarely filled with new information for fans.  Perhaps you’ll find out that your favorite singer has a love of toast or something, but for the most part you know all the key points because you’ve learned about them elsewhere.  Voodoo Rhythm, on the other hand, had very little written about it in America other than some reviews.  Until this documentary, all my info came from Beat Man in e-mails or his bombastic press releases.  This film opened up the story, and that’s why it is one of my favorite films of all time. 

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did receive this film for review many moons ago.  If you click on a link, I may earn some cash.