2004

December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays: Kill Bill

Kill Bill – Feet

After the brilliance of “Jackie Brown” and showing his critics that he wasn’t just an exploiter of violence, our old friend, Quentin Tarantino, stood up, brushed the dirt off of his shoulders, straightened his tie, and said “Guess what motherfu*cker, I’m going to do an old-school kung-fu flick now!  What!”

Of course that’s not what he said, but it would have been bad-ass if he did nonetheless.  After all the accolades of both “Pulp Fiction” and “Brown,” Tarantino decided to work on his first pet project.  A true genre film that centered around one woman and her blood-thirsty quest for revenge against a group of assassins that tried to murder her on her wedding day.  That movie(s) is “Kill Bill” or as I like to call it “Uma’s Got Some Hammertoe.”

*I will be reviewing these films (Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2) as one film.  Sure, I could split it up into two reviews and make you wait for the second one just like QT made us wait in the theaters, but since it’s the holiday season, I’ll do you guys a solid.

As mentioned above, the core of “Bill” is a revenge film, wrapped in a Shaw Bros. movie, encased in a Shakespearean tragedy, tied up with a nice bloody bow.  You can take Tarantino’s three previous films and throw them out the window; “Kill Bill” is a love letter to a by-gone era of 1970s chop-socky karate flicks that members of the Wu-Tang Clan were getting high to back in the early 1990s. (side note:  RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan was the music supervisor for Vol 1.)

Across a four-plus hour epic, if watched back-to-back, Tarantino takes us on a blood-spattered journey with The Bride, our protagonist, as she extracts revenge the best way she knows how; with a samurai sword crated by Hattori Hanzo and the Five-Finger Exploding Heart Technique taught to her by Pai Mei, the mysterious karate master.  If you grew up in the golden age of karate movies, watched “The Green Hornet” or were “Protectin’ Ya Neck” with the Wu back in 1993, Tarantino creates a world that you can still put in the same universe as “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown” but fashions it in a way that makes it seem other-worldly.

The plot is simple, but its the way that Tarantino weaves this revenge yarn that’s the treat.  Told through a series of flashbacks and his trademark non-linear format, we see The Bride training with Pai Mei, learn how to walk again starting with just one wiggle of one toe, her vengeance on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and finally her face-off with Bill himself.  Oh, I almost forgot;  plenty of Uma Thurman feet through both films.  No need to head over to your local adult video store if you love feet, because Tarantino shares your tastes.

I know I might be selling this movie short, and I’m withholding a ton of information, including plot twists, but my recommendation is to stop reading this review, go out and buy “Kill Bill” and enjoy it for all it’s worth.  Thurman’s turn as the killer bride is good, but its funny how she all but fell off the face of Hollywood after what you might call her magnum opus.  One of David Carradine’s last roles as Bill is almost as iconic as his turn as Caine in “Kung-Fu,” and the fight scenes, as over-stylized as they are, are extremely fun to watch with plenty of arterial spray.  Chill…..have a pill, and watch “Kill Bill.”

Fun Fact:  If you want to get creative you could call “Fox Force Five,” first mentioned by Mia Wallace in “Pulp Fiction,” as a precursor to the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.  There was a Black fox, Asian fox, French fox, and two American foxes.  Coincidence?

October 23, 2012

31 Nights of Halloween, Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Run

The bane of the horror genre for the past decade has been the remake.  Hollywood has gotten so lazy and they’ve treated the horror genre like a dumping ground for bad updates on generally good horror fare.  I understand the point; horror is cheap for a studio to produce, they can introduce fresh new actors (namely females that will bring in the male audience) and generally, they will at least break even no matter how bad the film.  Not to say there aren’t exceptions to the rule, and 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake is an example of a horror remake gone right.

Before I go into the actually movie I’m going to say this:  I do not like Zack Snyder.  I’m not really impressed by his body of work, and I think he bites off too much, thus, his work suffers.  That is the problem with “visionary” directors like Snyder.  Take “Dawn of the Dead” and compare it to something like “Sucker Punch.”  “Dawn” is great because the concept is simple, effective, and done very well (while I may not agree with everything in it, but I’ll get to that later).  “Punch” was for prepubescent boys, and it included girls in cosplay costumes, a paper-thin plot, and a severe case of style over substance.  I understand this is his style, but when big ideas are only half-realized its hard to take him serious as a director when I’m taking him as a one trick pony.

While I don’t really enjoy Snyder’s other films (see above), I did enjoy “Dawn of the Dead.”  While on the surface it’s a remake, there are things that are done well, and other things that tweak me.

The premise is the same as the George A Romero’s original; The zombie apocalypse is in full swing and a small group of survivors head to the mall to buy some Dockers and make their stand.  While the mall provides the group with everything they need, from food to recreation, they begin feeling trapped by the zombies outside the mall hungry for their flesh.  As its been told over and over, ad nauseam, the film’s setting, a mall, along with the zombie invasion, is an allegory for consumerism and how we, the “zombified” public, feel the need to endlessly consume and spend.  While Snyder’s remake does have a mall where survivors are holed up, the meaning behind the film is lost and is essentially a zombie action film.

What Snyder does right is pay homage, in part, to some of the original actors.  Both Ken Foree and Tom Savini have fun cameos as a preacher and a sheriff, respectively.  He also, as opposed to his other films, keeps the slow-motion to a minimum and tries to flesh out his characters with somewhat of a back story.  The actors look like they are having a good time, and while cheesy at times, the acting is solid for a horror film.  As a Troma fan, I also appreciate the fact that James Gunn wrote the original script of “Dead.”  An independent dude makes good.  Now, let me explain why run is the word of the day.

What I can’t get behind, and the problem I’ve always had was this……the running zombie.  Oy vey!  I’m a purist first of all, zombies are shamblers, walkers, they might have a little giddy-up, but they are not sprinters.  When you die you develop rigor mortis brain/body decay, which would have a major effect on the way that you move and react. 

I’ll also say this; I love “28 Days Later.”  There is an explanation why those “zombies” run.  They aren’t zombies!  They don’t die, re-animate, and come looking to eat your brains, this is because they are infected with a virus (a rage virus to be exact).  If you’re going to be the “living dead” you shouldn’t be able to run, its physiologically impossible.

For as much of a problem that I have with the running zombies, I enjoy “Dead” very much, it’s just the little quirks that stop me from saying this remake is better than the original.  It appeals to the ADD crowd with running zombies, slow-motion, quick cuts, and isolates the purists a bit, but overall, Snyder creates a neo-zombie film that gives the audiences everything they want; hardcore zombie gore, boobs (a little), and intense action.  Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” is worthy of your time.

Fun Fact:  While the original “Dead” took place in the greater Philadelphia/Pittsburgh area, the remake takes place in Milwaukee, WI.

September 10, 2012

The Wire, Wrap-Up

*Spoilers Ahead*

The case is closed on “The Wire.”  Some of the good guys won, some of the bad guys won, and there were plenty of people caught in the cross-fire, but it was a ride that everyone should be willing to take if you enjoy story and character-driven dramas.

While this is not so much a review, as a wrap-up, I will be detailing characters, plot lines, and a few top ten lists, including; Top 10 Characters, Top 10 Tragic/Offing Moments. (Just to clarify, an offing is a death or murder of a character)  Now allow me to drop you back into”The Wire.”
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Cheese: “This is some shameless shit!”
Omar Little: “Oh, ain’t no shame in my game, doe.  I’m here about my business, ain’t dat right Joe!”
– Season Four
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It’s a little difficult to pick just ten characters that I would classify as the best from the entire series.  In such a character-driven show all your characters should be great, and trust me they’re all great.  So here goes nothing as I unveil MY Top 10 characters on “The Wire.”

10.  Det. Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski:  The funny thing about Prez is that he went from an asshole detective who was messing up left and right to someone who I truly respected come the end of the show.  Once he started his new career as a middle school teacher, the character became a tragic reminder of someone who continues to have hope in a hopeless situation.

9.  Dennis “Cutty” Wise:  Cutty, a former Barksdale enforcer, has been recently paroled when we first meet him.  He tries to get back into the drug game when he leaves prison but realizes that the life isn’t meant for him anymore and decides to open a boxing gym for the troubled youth of West Baltimore.  He is one of the lone bright spots in the show as he not only saves his own life, but indirectly saves the life of Namon Brice, the son of incarcerated Barksdale enforcer, Roland “Wee-Bey” Brice.

8.  Brother Mouzone:  While he only appeared in a few episodes, the suit, glasses and bow-tie of Brother Mouzone left a lasting impression.  Essentially Mouzone was a mirror image of Omar Little, only Brother wore a smart suit and sported a pistol while Omar preferred a brown duster and a shotgun.  The duo also supplied one of the more surprising deaths in the series when they gunned down Stringer Bell at the end of Season Three.
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Omar Little: “I knew you’d come back.”
Brother Mouzone:  “I trust you didn’t lose much sleep over it?”
Omar Little:  “Worryin’ about you would be like worryin’ if the sun gonna come up.”
-Season Three
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7.  Michael Lee:  During Season Four we were introduced to the youth of West Baltimore and the one character that really stood out from the rest of the pack was Michael.  From a broken home, Michael tried his best to walk the line between right and wrong while trying to protect his friends and his younger brother, Bug.  In the most poignant moment of Season Five, Michael, now on the run from Marlow, Chris, and Snoop, has to say goodbye to both his friend Duquan and Bug and disappear from Baltimore.

6.  Chris and Snoop:  I consider both Chris Partlow and Snoop pretty much the same character, just one male and one female.  They are both extremely loyal, and similar to Omar and Brother Mouzone, they both have a “code.”  Chris is the more calculating of the two, and while it’s not said directly, seems to be a victim of childhood abuse.  Snoop is the colder of the two and would do anything to protect the reputation of Marlo Stanfield.

5.  Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins:  With a show so grim, it was great to see how one character in particular went from a hopeless drug addict to a reformed member of society.  That character was Bubbles, a police informant, heroin addict, and just maybe, the lone bright spot on “The Wire.”  In the series finale, Bubbles finally opens up at an NA Meeting about losing a friend, and it always brings a tear to my eye.  It’s truly a beautiful moment in the series.
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Bubbles: “Ain’t no shame in holdin’ on to grief.  As long as you make room for other things too.”
-Season Five
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 4.  Russell “Stringer” Bell:  If anyone knows anything about “The Wire” you know Stringer Bell, portrayed by Idris Elba.  Stringer was the brains, while Avon was the brawn of the Barksdale Crew, and when Avon went away to prison he took over the crew and tried to steer them in a different direction.  Unfortunately, Stringer thought that drug dealers could be rationalized with and “trained” but the one thing he forgot about was the fact that he was still a drug dealer trying to move past his station in life, and that is pretty much what finished him off in the game.

3.  Marlo Stanfield:  Marlo was a different breed of drug dealer then what we had seen from Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, or Proposition Joe.  He was ruthless, had enforcers that would do all of his bidding, and he got to the kids early, looking for the next generation of hopper even in middle school.  But not even money mattered in the grand scheme for him, it was knowing that people feared him.

2.  Preston “Bodie” Broadus:  Bodie was one of those characters that I didn’t think much of when I first started watching “The Wire.”  I personally just thought he was some low-level drug dealing prick that would get killed early in the series, but as time went on, Bodie really fleshed out and became my 2nd favorite character on the show.  After Avon’s arrest, and Stringer’s death in Season Three, Bodie pretty much became all the Barksdale Crew had left and was the only dealer on the street that wasn’t scared of Marlo, and eventually, it cost him.
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Omar: “You got the briefcase……I got the shotgun…..It’s all in the game tho’.”
-Season Two
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1.  Omar Little:  I can pretty much sum Omar up in a few words.  “Omar don’t scare.” 

It is difficult to pick just ten characters as the best of the bunch on “The Wire” because they are all so damn good.  Moving on to the tragic/offing moments.

*Warning, there will be spoilers ahead*

10.Chris and Snoop torturing and killing Butchie for information on Omar.
9.  Seeing Duquan succumb to drugs.
8.  Bodie being gunned down by the Stanfield Crew while defending his corner.
7.  The death of Wallace by Bodie and Poot.
6.  Cheese being shot and killed by “Slim” Charles.  Probably the most “satisfying” death in the entire series.
5.  Frank Sobotka murdered by “The Greek”
4.  Stringer Bell gunned down by Brother Mouzone and Omar in his own building.
3.  Michael saying goodbye to Duquan and Bug
2.  Seeing Bubbles’ revenge plan backfire and kill Sherrod.
1.  Omar being gunned down by Kenard.

August 29, 2012

Simplistic TV: The Wire, Season Three

The Wire, Season Three – Stride

*Spoilers Ahead*

 I believe that the third season is very interesting in any television series.  Usually it works this way;  if the first season is exceptional and gains a sizable audience the second will have much loftier expectations.  The second season comes and it can really be a make or break (see “Heroes” for a prime example of how good series’ go wrong).  If a series can get past a lackluster second season and moves into the third season, a network usually has faith.  Also, a series can usually hit its stride in season three, and that is exactly where “The Wire” found itself after two seasons in the books (Wow, that has to be a record for using the word “season” in a single paragraph).

I like to call this season of “The Wire” The Comeback.  We move away from the docks of Season Two and re-concentrate back on the East and West Baltimore drug war and the City of Baltimore’s “war on drugs”.  We meet some new characters including Marlo Stanfield, an up and coming dealer who lives by his own code, and his two lieutenants, Chris and Snoop.  On the “law” side we get better acquainted with “Bunny” Colvin, a police Major on his way to retirement with his own ideas on how to solve West Baltimore’s drug problem, and Tommy Carcetti, a councilman with mayoral aspirations.

The first episode really sets the tone for things to come with a very symbolic “downing” of the Franklin Terrace Towers in a scene very reminiscent of the 9/11 tragedy.  However,instead of using Muslim extremists as terrorists, we see the City of Baltimore bringing down the Towers and the dealers looking on, helpless, seeing their way of life, essentially, coming to an end.  After this event, battle lines are drawn all over the city and by the end of this season, several characters meet their “ends.”

Overall, if you’ve stuck with “The Wire” for two seasons, this is a great payoff for your time spent following everyone from Bodie Broadus to Lester Freamon as their characters, and several other main characters, continue to develop.  If by the end of season three you don’t think “The Wire” is the best TV drama ever (I won’t go best show ever) you should stick to your Kardashians or “Jersey Shore” shit.

Fun Fact:  You might know Tommy Carcetti, or Aidan Gillen, for playing another scumbag; Petyr Baelish, aka, Littlefinger on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”


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