Irina Palm (2007)    2008-04-03 17:54:45 ET
Never have I been more disappointed that a theater concession stand didnít carry Mars bars . . .

"Irina Palm" is the story of late middle-aged woman (Marianne Faithfull) whose grandson (Corey Burke) is dying of an unspecified illness. Thereís a radical new treatment being offered in Melbourne that looks hopeful, but the family is too far in debt to afford it. In desperation she takes a "hostess" job at the strip club (sheís not a whore per se, she just gets paid for burpiní the worm). She is very good at her job andbegins to form a quasi-romantic friendship with the Super Mario Bros.-addicted owner (Miki Manojlovic), but her mysterious and well-paying new job get family and friends anxious. Also appearing is my late 70ís crush Jenny Agutter as the bitchy neighbor.

Overall, the performances were quite good. Once you get past giggling over Marianne Faithfull playing squeamish over this kind of thing, you see that sheís an excellent actress. She very poigniantly plays a woman who is doing what she has to do to save someone she loves. She convincingly goes from lost to confident, and manages to find some humor along the way. Her boss comes off as surprisingly sympathetic as well. My only real complaint is with her son (Kevin Bishop), the boyís father. Heís such a sanctimonious ass that I couldnít really feel anything but disdain for him. I think the actor did a great job, the writing of the character was a bit shallow.

While the main theme of this movie, obviously, is how much one would be willing to sacrifice to save a loved one, thereís an interesting subplot concerning the price of success. As she gets better at her job and starts gaining attention, it gets her in trouble with coworkers and in difficult situations with her boss. Honestly, I thought these were some of the most interesting scenes in the film.

Despite its ABC-Afterschool-Special-meets-Skinemax premise, this movie is a surprisingly deep and moving look at difficult situations. Itís not one I would recommend to everybody, but if youíve read this far, Iíd probably tell you to go and see it.

1 comment

 Planet B-Boy (2007)    2008-03-26 22:19:32 ET
Full disclosure: This movie is about breakdancing (or b-boying). Itís made by and for those who breakdance. As Iím neither, Iím probably not qualified to review it. Either that, or Iím the only one who is. Whatever the case, here it goes.

After a quick review of the history of the dance (being one of the four pillars of hip hop, along with DJing, MCing, and graffiti) and the competition that sprang up around it, we have an overview of top b-boy crews from around the world. While many are shown in short clips, the movie focuses on five: Ichigeki (Japan), Phase-T (France), Knucklehead Zoo (USA), The Gamblerz and Last for One (South Korea). There are interviews with the members which occasionally deal with their lives and families, but mostly with the competition itself. The finals are in Germany, and take up the bulk of the film. These consist first of the choreographed sequences, in which the whole group does a performance full of synchronization, head-spinning, and, in one case, flinging a small child all around the stage. Then it comes down to the battle, which is sort of like a cross between a capoeira match and a game of HORSE.

As sports documentaries go, this one is fairly standard. It follows a few entrants up the ladder to the top, with the understanding that one of them will win. Thereís little in the way of personal drama to derail things. While there are some amusing culture shock moments (did that Korean guy really eat a bratwurst dipped in chocolate sauce?), most of it is very, very straightforward. I guess itís what I expected, but therein lies the problem. Couldnít they have shaken things up just a little?

On the other hand, since a documentary ostensibly informs us about goings-on in the real world, this aspect was more effective and interesting. I know sweet Fanny Adams about b-boying, and, while I still donít know much, I can at least say Iíve seen footage of it done competitively and have a better appreciation of what it is. Hey, that kind of thing takes talent, and I sure canít do it. Give respect where itís due.

Thereís a scene involving a dance-off between soldiers on opposite sides of the 38th Parallel. Itís probably staged, but I really want to believe that kind of thing goes on all the time.

Thereís also an element of horror, as you will see some of the worst teeth ever committed to celluloid. Iím not trying to say anything about standards of dental hygiene around the world, but it sure gave me the jibblies.

Anyway, in the end it breaks down to how willing you are to see crazy-go-nuts dancing for the better part of two hours. If youíre up for it, youíll probably find it entertaining but not spectacular. If youíre not, youíll want to pass this one by.
3 comments

 Doomsday (2008)    2008-03-26 16:34:26 ET
Iíve read several reviews of this movie, mostly negative. They say itís loud and dumb. They say itís hopelessly derivative, and that itís needlessly violent, and is a mess both in content and editing. I canít say that any of these arguments are wrong, but they are entirely missing the point.

Apparently a horrible plague breaks out in Scotland next month. England responds by walling off the whole area by land and sea to let disease and victims both die out. So sometime in the 2030ís, Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), a British drug enforcement agent and one of the last people to escape from Scotland before the quarantine is sent back in. Seems the disease has appeared again in London, and evidence exists that there are survivors in Scotland. She must find these survivors and figure out if there is a cure. Along the way she encounters a cannibalistic gang of motorcycle savages and a medieval kingdom ruled by a former doctor (Malcolm McDowell),

First off, this movie shamelessly plagiarizes from just about everything. Seriously, just name five movies at random, and I can almost guarantee youíll see something from each of them in here. That said, it manages to synthesize them into something new, or at least different enough to be interesting. Yes, youíve seen it all before, but not exactly the same way.

This is one of the best movies Iíve seen in reason times to just turn off your brain and enjoy. Itís fun, itís loud and violent, and itís full of karo syrup blood. Thereís also a rather surprising appearance by Bob Hoskins, who has one of the most inconsistent filmographies I know of, but I like to think he was having fun here.

I could probably say more, but thereís not much point. Either youíre into this kind of thing or youíre not. Itís not Shakespeare, but itís fun.

Also Lee-Anne Liebenbergís Viper is the hottest thing ever, and she needs to be in all movies from here on out.
3 comments

 Porco Rosso (1992)    2008-03-25 17:42:44 ET
As I have previously stated, anime needs to prove itself with me. Hayao Miyazaki has hands down proven himself. I haven't seen all his movies yet, but every one of them that I have seen I've thoroughly enjoyed. So here's another one of his, and along with it a big spoiler: I loved it.

"Porco Rosso" (or "Kurani no buta") is the story of an ace fighter pilot for hire cursed with the head of a pig. In the late 1920's he battles pirates and fascists, romances the ladies, and stays one step ahead of a rival out to bring him down. Apparently this whole thing was commissioned by Japan Airlines as an in-flight movie, which proves Japanese airline companies are just cooler than others.

A lot of things about this movie amazed me, but most notable was the historical accuracy. Once you get past the seaplane-flying pirates and the hero's porcine features, it's a reasonably plausible story set around the rise of Mussolini in Italy. Granted, he's never mentioned by name, but his influence is everywhere. There are a few flashbacks to World War I air battles, which also depicts the aircraft of both sides with a better-than-reasonable amount of accuracy. And, of course, most of the female characters seem to be wearing the height of flapper fashion.

Details are great, but they do not an excellent movie make. Fortunately the content more than backs it all up. It's a fun, faced-paced jaunt that touches on some deeper and darker themes without being swallowed by them. When the movie indulges its occasional fairy tale moment, it often does so with astonishing beauty. One standout sequence involves KIA fighter pilots flying their ghost planes toward heaven. Yes, it was cribbed from Roald Dahl, but it's still an amazing piece of film making. It also does my heart good to see Disney handle the American distribution of a movie where the characters smoke like chimneys and sling hot lead at each other.

Which brings me to the character voices. Yes, it violates my film snob sensibilities, and it makes the anime purists explode with rage, but the American dub is GOOD. Michael Keaton plays Porco with a world-weary, seen-it-all resign that we imagine Bogart would have used if he'd wound up with a pig head. Susan Egan is again the sexy tough girl, and again she rocks it. Cary Elwes plays the Southern gentleman out to take Porco out, and his American accent is quite good too. However, the standout performance is from Kimberly Williams as Porco's teen girl sidekick. She was consistently good, but some of her deliveries had a subtle, indefinable quality that managed to turn what would have been throwaway lines into immediately memorable Film Quotes.

There's probably more I could say, but you get the idea. See this movie, and then watch all of Miyazaki's other movies. I can't stress this enough.

1 comment

 Assunta Spina (1915)    2008-03-16 21:21:02 ET
People just plain didnít know what to do with film at first. A lot of the editing tricks we use today were developed way back when because audiences had no clue how any of the stuff they saw onscreen fit together. Early film makers attempted to just film plays, which didnít pan out. Partly because film and stage are different mediums, where the conventions donít always carry over, and partly because verbose plays are hell to translate into title cards. And somewhere in there (1915, to be exact), Francesca Bertini and Gustavo Serena attempted a silent opera.

This may not be a completely fair description. Itís not like they took "La Boheme" and stripped it of music. Itís an original story, but very operatic in feel. It concerns a girl (Bertini) in turn-of-the-century Naples who is happy with her new fiancee (Serena), but her ex (Luciano Albertini) sets out to cause trouble. And trouble it is! Before itís over thereís fights, prison, sex, and stabbings. Nobody actually sings, but if this movie had sound, believe me, they would have.

I make it sound like Iím complaining, but Iím not. The story is pure melodrama, but itís executed well. A lot has been said about Bertiniís performance as the title character. She carries herself with dignity and maturity, especially in comparison to the sobby, bouncy parts Lillian Gish was doing for D. W. Griffith around this time stateside. Add to this that she also co-wrote and co-directed the movie (in 1915, no less!) and we see a glimpse of the breadth of her talent.

The scenery in this movie is gorgeous. It was filmed in Naples, mostly in the streets to help convey the working-class setting. Even amidst the street-level squalor, it looks like a painting from an Italian restaurant, all very scenic and, yes, even romantic. (Wasnít there a war going on?)

While thereís nothing new thematically here, the visuals and performances are good enough to warrant a viewing. The Kino DVD release has it as a double feature with "The Last Diva," which I will be reviewing soon. Check back!

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