Sunday, September 8, 2013

Metropolitan (1990)

       Based around Whit Stillman's own experiences while in Washington D.C. in late 1970, Metropolitan is a hilarious film that presents us with human characters of the debutante society (during debutante season). Featuring characters that could easily count as irritable or unlikable, we are shown men and women who we've come to know as (or feel are or are represented as) one-dimensional and who are given the true three-dimensional treatment.

       They may not all be dynamic characters, but in a way (given the film's time frame), not only is this deliberate, but very difficult. Over the course of about one December week in Manhattan, we see Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) get involved in the high society lives of a few privileged preppies (a name one character thinks is inappropriate and not reflective of their group).

       The greatest thing this film does is dialogue (it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay). What makes it hilarious for me is how accurate, yet, satirical it feels: People do have these sorts of conversations and it feels genuine in this film. While one could argue people in real life don't always (if ever) speak the way these characters do, the fact that they actually do (to some degree or extent) is what makes it so brilliant.

       Regardless of the time period this film takes place in and regardless of what "social class" you belong to, there is much to admire in the way it deconstructs high society and its players. In many respects, the film is old fashioned in the way of its comedy, only sticking to dialogue that never feels forced; at no point do crazy things happen for the sake of comedy and all that does happen is to either push the story forward or help us learn more about the characters.

       As aforementioned, majority of the characters don't actually develop; instead, they are learned about, researched in a way, as Upper West Side Tom gets to know the Upper East Siders a bit more each day -- As Tom gets to realize who and how these people really are, so do we. Tom himself is an interesting character, being on a much different spectrum than the other characters (he has less resources, lives on a different side of town, has old fashioned socialist views, and doesn't even like debutante events); his interactions with the "urban haute bourgeoisie" are nothing short of hysterical.

       We are given an insight into the lives of these characters who, as it should be, live in quite a different world than Tom. For starters, the film is based around a sort of lifestyle that may have all but vanished during the film's actual time frame (a story written about the early 1970's that takes place in the very late 1980's); this is reflected upon by a couple characters, notably Nick Smith (Chris Eigeman) and Charlie Black (Taylor Nichols). Throughout the film, the debutante's themselves provide commentary about their lives and ways of thinking (philosopher Charlie leads these proceedings while Nick the cynic complains about everything).

       As might be expected and/or feared in a film such as this, a sort of romance begins to bloom between Tom and Audrey Rouget (Carolyn Farina), which, unexpectedly and unsurprisingly, has its share of problems. Thankfully, this romance is never given primary focus, and becomes just another topic of discussion this film (and its characters) addresses, which of course makes it no less important.

       It's the topics and themes that I admired most. Like a novel from so long ago, the topics discussed here haven't aged a day, bringing up questions of one's own class, how the times are, and how (at least to Nick) the current generation of young people is the worse one there's ever been (circa 1974/1989, mind you).

       Something else worthy of note is the way the whole thing goes along: At the start of the film, things are quite lively and giddy, but by the end, the film and its characters (and their events) have lost steam. At first I thought this may have been a flaw in the film until I realized how much this was just a reflection of the events conspiring on screen: As the week goes by and as the gatherings become more empty and less frequent, it becomes more apparent whom the characters really are and what they're really up to; the characters themselves get bored as the "norm" begins to take over again at the end of their winter break and debutante season.

       With charm, honesty, hilarity, and authenticity, Metropolitan manages to address timeless issues while also presenting us with a fantastic and wonderful look at a group of young men and women who, at the core of it all, aren't so different from the rest of us.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Casino Royale (1967)

       How did a film like Casino Royale ever get released? Troubled production, over five different directors, and God knows how many screen writers (three are credited but it's said that over six others contributed), 1967's Casino Royale is a perfect example of an over-budget film being high on itself and a beautiful disaster. Spoofing the spy genre (as well as capitalizing on the James Bond name), the film is the loosest adaption of the Casino Royale novel ever made, featuring a loose as hell narrative, too many characters, plot holes, little context, and so on. Yet, for all its flaws, I still enjoyed the film greatly: I was entertained, had some great laughs, and was genuinely interested in what went on. It's such a unique and of-its-time film that I can't help but still like it (even though its infamy is well deserved).

       The film's cast list includes, but is not limited to: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Barbara Bouchet, Deborah Kerr, Joanna Pettet, and Woody Allen. A brief synopsis of the film feels almost as unnecessary as it is impossible, but: Sir James Bond (David Niven) is called out of retirement to stop SMERSH, which includes beating Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in a game of baccarat (he owes SMERSH money, if you can believe it). Along the way, Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers), a man who knows his baccarat, is recruited by Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) to play against Le Chiffre and stop SMERSH from....doing more evil doings. The character of Tremble is essentially the other big important character aside from Sir Bond, but so many characters get introduced and so many get offed that I honestly didn't notice when one character disappeared and another reappeared. To top it all off, while each of the characters has a different name, many of the characters are given the title of James Bond 007; this is devised by Sir Bond himself as a way to confuse the enemy (as well as the audience, if they're trying to keep up with who is being named James Bond).

      While the film is a spy spoof, it has no other form of identity; scenes go all over the place, the direction is always changing (certain scenes and actors were specifically shot by certain directors), but the story is probably the biggest disaster because there almost isn't one. To explain: The story concerns defeating SMERSH by beating one of their own at a card game. Simple enough, right? Well, being that the film is over two hours long, it feels the need to provide scenes of characters doing certain things for over twenty minutes or more. Wanna see Sir James Bond visiting M's household? Wanna see it go on for over twenty minutes? Wanna see one of the many 007's infiltrate a SMERSH cover operation? Wanna see it go on for over twenty minutes?

       What happens is that these scenes go on longer than they need to and introduce even more characters that, more than likely, don't need to exist as main characters, let alone as minor characters. If these scenes were cut and made tighter in their focus, this film would be so much shorter, believe me. Yet, once again, something about the film filling and wasting its own time on unnecessary length and "exposition" fascinates me and keeps me interested; the only reason I can find for why I don't mind this or why I like it is because it makes the overall film that much more interesting to follow, giving it a slower pace than it should have. Plus, I like lengthy films. Or, maybe it being so unnecessary makes the film worse and that much more of an entertaining and sensational disaster. Who knows.

       So what other problems does this film have? Well, one huge problem I noticed is that it doesn't really care for context. How did we get form here to there? Why did this happen? Whatever happened to so and so? If you're really paying attention, you more than likely will be asking questions about what's going on. Of course, not like it matters, since this film barely has a story to hold onto. Still, there are moments where I'm not sure what's going on or what happened simply because no one has provided the context. Of course, some moments do have good context, but so many others have next to none. This also goes for transitions, which this film obviously has never heard about -- In fact, one moment in particular stands out above all the others: a scene transitions from a kidnapping, to one of the 007's looking for the kidnapped, to an unrelated scene, to the secret agent having been captured. Context? A transition explaining what happened? Don't count on it.

       So what does this film do right? Well, it succeeds in being an entertaining disaster, but I'm not sure that was the film's intention. What it did succeed most in was making me laugh. Not every scene is a hit, and many moments are more humorous than they are funny. Still, other times I was laughing out loud and enjoying what was happening on screen. Any moment something blew up, I was having a ball (the explosions truly are a highlight). As it turns out, the funniest moments for me where when certain characters were killed off. Not every single character's death was amusing, and it isn't the sole fact that they died that amused me: It was the way they were killed. (I won't spoil anything for those that want to see it all for themselves.) I will also add that the acting was actually not bad and the film ended exactly the way I wanted it to.

       The music is probably the biggest highlight and most positive thing one can say about the film. Composed by Burt Bacharach, the music is deliciously late '60s, making scenes more entertaining than they should be. There's also the song "The Look of Love" by Dusty Springfield that is surprisingly well done.

       It's fully understandable why Casino Royale has a bad reputation: the script's narrative is beyond loose, the direction is all over the place, and the overall feel is overly goofy, ultimately confusing the audience with a film that doesn't know what to do with itself. I don't blame anyone involved in this picture with disowning or disassociating themselves from it. Still, there's something charming about this mess, something fun and entertaining. It spoofs plenty of 007 conventions well, and its erratic nature and overblown ways is something you just never see. A film like Casino Royale rarely ever exists; It's the result of the trends, the times, and the hype of Old Hollywood before the New Hollywood age came into town. It's the sort of film that is worth checking out for its sheer infamy alone. Whether you're a 007 fan, a fan of the late '60s, a fan of disasters, or you're masochistic, Casino Royale is a rare kind of picture that will (hopefully) never come into existence again.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Miami Connection (1987)

       Every so often, there comes a film so bizarre, so unique, so out there, that it ends up being a must-see for those very reasons alone, regardless of whether the film itself is actually good or bad. Miami Connection is one of those movies, a low budget, martial arts film that has a lot of spirit and passion from the people who made it. Conceived by director Richard Park, and Tae Kwon Do grand master Y.K. Kim (who also wrote, produced, and stars in the film), Miami Connection (which barely takes in place in said location) is about a Miami ninja biker gang (seriously) that runs the cocaine circuit in Miami and sets its sights on conquering Orlando as well. Orlando is where we meet our protagonists, a band called Dragon Sound with band members that are all black belts in Tae Kwon Do. When these two clash, things get really crazy.

       Miami Connection was only released regionally in Orlando and West Germany during its original release time. It was only until recently that it was rediscovered by Drafthouse Films and shown to a wider audience with positive reception. When originally being made, no distributor gave it a chance, until a small distribution company bought it for $100,000. It became an underground cult film during this time and an old shame for Y.K. Kim. However, it has recently garnered a resurgence with positive reception from critics and audiences alike.

       So why was this film hid away so long? Maybe because it's notoriously so bad that it's amazing and the critics of back then couldn't figure it out. The film is so incredibly '80s that it can be seen as a time capsule of that area. From the hair, to the music (which we get to hear in full '80s synth rock glory), to the cars, to the everything – It's all '80s all the time.

       The aforementioned plot is as basic as it gets, giving our heroes every and any opportunity to kick butt. There's even a fight against some band members and a night club owner/manager! Any excuse to simply hit people is given in this film. It helps that the main characters that compose Dragon Sound (five men and a female singer) are all black belts in Tae Kwon Do in real life (save for the female). The action scenes range from stupid awesome to just stupid: sometimes characters do or don't get hit, sometimes characters do moves that have no reason to be made, and sometimes the moves being made make sense, but the fights are almost always unnecessary, which is what makes it all so great. The fights get really crazy at the end when our heroes have to go against the Miami Ninjas, who use all sorts of blades.

       In case you're wondering, yes, all these actors are bad actors. However, they have spirit and do try (not too hard), so it's actually not as painful as it sounds. On the contrary, the acting is hilarious most of the time, featuring terrible dialogue and a man who can't speak English (Kim). Some of the acting goes to really bad heights, and other times the acting is, well, obvious, which, in turn, can make it painful to watch.

       The music is really awesome, being as authentic of the time as ever. Featuring original songs such as "Friends" and "Against the Ninja," these songs are so radical that I couldn't help but dance like a goof when they played. The opening credits (which feature the song "Escape from Miami") are really cool for being so serious, which noticeably contrasts with the movie, which can't be serious even when it tries.

       I like that the setting is authentic, meaning that when they say they're in Miami or Orlando it's the real deal. They even show footage of the University of Central Florida, which is located near the downtown Orlando area. It is curious that nearly all the characters refer to their location as Central Florida, which is accurate, but still interesting; it's as if I were in Miami all the time but always referred to it as South Florida – it is accurate, being in the general South area, but there are other cities that compose South and even Central Florida. In that respect, Miami is always referred to as Miami (whenever it's even mentioned at all).

       And that leads me to my only complaint: It barely takes place in Miami. Consider this a precaution and not a spoiler: You don't wanna go into this movie thinking it's all in Miami, or else you'll end up a bit bummed like I was at the fact that, no, it doesn't take place on the mean streets of Miami but on the sorta-mean streets of Orlando. The title, as it turns out though, is a reference to the Miami Ninjas and not just the city; this ends up making more sense, since they're in Orlando but from Miami, hence, the Miami connection.

       Aside from the aforementioned complaint, I have no other problems with this movie. There's barely any filler (and if there is it's never boring), the music is out of sight, and the whole ride is always entertaining. There are many laugh out loud moments, as well as awkward scenes, dialogue, and so on. There's a few scenes where I'm pretty certain I saw the production crew standing around, too, which is classic.

      Overall, all I can say is that Miami Connection is so bad it's awesome. I recommend it to basically everyone and anyone who likes exploitation B-movies, hilarious movies, martial arts films, and films that are great to watch with others. And remember: Eliminating violence through violence is always the answer. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dragonball Evolution (2009)

       Based on the highly popular manga series Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama, Dragonball Evolution is a bastardization as well as an insult. Anyone who loved good ol’ Dragonball more than likely would despise this film – yet, there’s something ridiculously entertaining about the whole thing. When it comes to what makes a film bad, it almost always comes down to execution: Dragonball Evolution manages to actually have good cinematography, entertaining moments, colorful design, and a general sense of fun. However, it also has bad acting, bad scripting, and less than stellar special effects (some of the practical effects are fine, though).

       Dragonball Evolution (why is it called that?) tells the story of Goku (played by Justin Chatwin), who basically has to save the world from the evil Piccolo (James Marsters) and gather the seven Dragon Balls which will grant anyone one who has them one perfect wish. The rest of the story and its details are, as one might expect, not at all important or necessary to talk about in a review. Sure, I could talk about Goku’s love interest Chi-Chi (played by Jamie Chung, who’s attractiveness is one of the film’s strengths), about his grandfather (Randall Duk Kim), and other pointless stuff, but that would mean actually talking about the story (which doesn’t do this film any favors), so instead, I’ll point out moments that either showed the film’s strengths or weaknesses.

       The beginning is nice, showing some insight into Goku’s high school life and how cliché the bullies are (dur hur lameo). These are actually some of the best moments in the film, especially when Goku goes to Chi-Chi’s party and opens a can of whoop ass. Other neat moments are when the characters are in that place with the tournament and temple (I can’t find or remember the location’s name for some reason). Chow Yun-fat as Master Roshi in himself is always entertaining, appearing to have a lot of fun in the role. There’s also an editing technique used early in the film that I found particularly cool.

       So where does the film do wrong? In the most important of places: Acting & Scripting. The acting is the most noticeable problem of the two, but I guess it wouldn’t be there without the bad script, either. Awkward moments, terrible dialogue, and strange plot points are at full display. I call out Emmy Rossum (Bulma Briefs) and Joon Park (Yamcha) specifically for her bad acting and his lame dialogue (though I guess his acting isn’t much better). It’s amazing that Justin Chatwin is one of the better actors here – in fact, he’s one of the most likeable characters (for me, anyway). The best actors are obviously Chow Yun-fat and Randall Duk Kim. Here’s the rest of the problem, though: These characters have odd dialogue a lot of the time, the film itself has odd pacing, and a bizarre plot that made me question the entire premise within the first two minutes.

       It may not be the easiest thing to specify why, but I know for sure that Dragonball Evolution is not a good movie. I could blame it on the acting, the script as a whole, the disgrace it is to the source material, but in the end, all I’m able to really muster is that it’s a bad movie – not an awful one, not an unwatchable one (it’s actually entertaining largely for its badness), but just a bad one. It didn’t fail in its premise at all: I asked for an entertaining, pointless, bad looking film and by God I got one. But that’s the biggest problem of all: It had no reason to be made whatsoever.