I’ve been sitting and waiting patiently for Old School Dos to drop, but as fate would have it, Todd Phillips has the film in production, but its not rumored to drop until 2011. In the meantime, you can catch Phillips’s newest piece, these time with a whole new cast—including Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson, and Dan Finnerty (from Old School’s infamous “Dan Band”). As you can imagine, this movie is going to be about ridiculous circumstances, but honestly the trailer speaks for itself… The Hangover opens June 5th.Vodpod videos no longer available.
I’m a big fan of Japanese samurai movies—I collected every one that the Criterion Collection offers so far; The Samurai Trilogy, The Sword of Doom, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Rebel Samurai box set, Ran, etc, etc. I haven’t gotten very into the other film facets of Japanese cinema but I picked up Sansho the Bailiff because I thought it was another epic samurai-period piece. To my surprise, Sansho was definitely not the movie I thought it was. This movie brought about an inspiration that very few filmmakers are able to accomplish, but veteran director Kenji Mizoguchi encapsulates all of film’s finest elements on screen.
The same year Akira Kurosawa finished his masterpiece, Seven Samurai, Kenji Mizoguchi released Sansho the Bailiff, which like Seven Samurai was an epic period piece that explored and dissected the depths of the human condition. This movie brought about an inspiration that very few filmmakers are able to accomplish, but Mizoguchi brings with him his directorial wisdom and vision to make the audience part of the film’s experience.
Set in the Heian period (794 – 1185 A.D.), this historical piece (jidai-geki) takes place in an age where Confucianism and many other Chinese influences were at their peak, and because of this saw tremendous contributions within the arts, especially poetry and literature. Throughout the film, Mizoguchi does an extraordinary job of conveying these sentiments through the dialogue and the emotional hardships Zushio and Anju go through. Although nothing is explicitly explained to the audience, it becomes painfully evident throughout the film that this is an inescapable tragedy.
The story begins as an honorable governor is forced into exile from his village, but not before making his children promise to remember his teachings of principles and morality. His wife and children (Zushio and Anju) are sent to live with his brother but several years later they are captured and the children are sold into slavery. The film then depicts the awful treatment the children are subjected to as they grow up slaves at an estate run by Sansho, a bailiff. As they grow up, their paths begin to separate more and more—Anju retains her father’s teachings while Zushio represses them, considering only how to survive. Zushio adopts the nature of the bailiff, void of regret and morals, but his newfound authority leads him only to find that he can’t escape his ultimate fate.
The contrast of the film shows the solitary fate of the mother compared to the brutal nature of the exiled son. In the final scene, the blind mother is only concerned with what happened to her daughter, feeling that her son had died long ago. Mizoguchi talks to his audience without words—his musical score permeates through difficult scenes while others are filled with the silent ambiance of his masterful storytelling. What’s more, his long and difficult shots allow you to see the incredible beauty that’s engulfed by symbolism—in Mizoguchi’s case, water seems to be a heavy influence, providing both grief and tranquility.
Mizoguchi proved his mastery of the jidai-geki genre in previous efforts, from The 47 Ronin to Ugetsu, which provides the setting for nearly half of his post-war films. Dealing with increasing control and censorship in pre-war Japan, Mizoguchi found that a period piece was the only type of film the Japanese would allow him to make. Experiencing this during the making of The 47 Ronin, Mizoguchi recalls, “We were virtually forced to make it.”
Overall, Sansho shows Mizoguchi as a master auteur, who has a unique vision in storytelling and visuals, but like Kurosawa believed, making a samurai film was not a skill Mizoguchi possessed. According to Kurosawa, he didn’t understand the Samurai emotion in Ugetsu and The 47 Ronin, citing that 47 Ronin even lacked the vital final samurai battle scene. Although Kurosawa makes a valid point, their directing styles in samurai period pieces are vastly different. Mizoguchi seemed more concerned about women in society compared to a Kurosawa continuously focused on his male main characters and their own personal battles, whether external or internal. While Sansho doesn’t really fit into the classification of a samurai film, I would argue that samurai emotion showed through its characters regardless, starting with the governor’s code of honor, all the way to the tragic final scene of mother and son reunited all too late.
Besides the obvious genius of the film, the way in which Criterion restored this film, as they do with virtually every one, looked marvelous. Sansho was presented in its original aspect ratio, 1:33:1, which was digitally transferred in high definition—created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. They also cleaned up the image quality by removing dirt and scratches from the print, so watching this on a blu-ray player was really enjoyable, even for a film that was made in 1954.
This picture is a definite must see for any film enthusiast, make sure to enjoy the little nuances that Mizoguchi apparently enjoyed creating, from the score to the acting to the story. Criterion released this title as spine #386 which comes as one disc, featuring video interviews with critic Tadao Sato, assistant director Tokuzo Tanaka, and actress Kyoko Kagawa on the making of the film, along with a 75 page booklet featuring an essay by Mark Le Fanu and two versions on the story which the movies were based upon—Ogal Mori’s 1915 “Sansho Dayu,” and a written form of an earlier oral variation, in a new English translation. Invest in this one.
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I don’t think I ever stopped enjoying a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. He was the first action hero that I identified with—in my mind at least. I missed out on Sly’s Rocky and Rambo and Arnold’s Conan and Terminator in the late 70’s and early 80’s, (don’t worry, I learned of their importance later) but Bloodsport and Kickboxer were movies that I can still remember seeing on the screen.
His first years in film were my favorite—No Retreat No Surrender as a Russian mob thug, a revived Vietnam Vet in Universal Soldier and I even liked The Quest and Double Team with Dennis Rodman…hey, it had awesome one-liners and a halfway decent amount of fighting (some of it was sans Van Damme). But the point remains that Van Damme was on top of the game for quite awhile, until his bankability sank steadily leading up to Universal Soldier: the Return. It was meant to be a good idea and Michael Jai White is pretty kickass, but even I, JC’s biggest fan, had finally seen how far he’d fallen. Drugs, bi-polar disorder, problems with his family and trying to fight Chuck Zito sent JC hitting rock bottom.
But then something miraculous happened—Jean-Claude made JCVD, a movie about his real life, having no money, a fading career, a child custody battle, and all of the ridiculous situations that come along with it.
Van Damme goes back to his home in Brussels for a much-needed break, only to find himself a hostage in a bank heist gone wrong—and due to an unfortunate mistake, the police think he’s the bank robber. In the end, JC is stripped down to his barest delivering a monologue right into the camera about his life and regrets and it’s there that Van Damme takes control of the film. JCVD becomes more than an emotional comedy, it becomes crafty film. But Van Damme is tired of being Van Damme, and while everyone from the bank robbers who both worship and taunt him to the public’s love/hate relationship with him, JC just can’t deal.
It’s quick, humorous, and entertaining, but it also delivers a brutal honesty. You can say this is Van Damme’s Wrestler, proving that not only is he back, but he really can act. Like Mickey Rourke who played a wrestler way past his prime, Van Damme finds himself close to the edge too—but he realizes it and takes this opportunity to let us know that he’s in on the joke too.
Let’s face it, this isn’t Cyborg, but it’s still awesome. And Van Damme might have the rejuvenation we’ve all been looking forward to—Universal Soldier 3? Check.
I’m addicted to the Criterion Collection right now. I’ve got a little over 60 titles and I’m still mapping out which cinematic adventure to get next. Danton was just released as spine #464 in the DVD collection and it’s definitely a great addition to Criterion.
Gérard Depardieu and Wojciech Pszoniak star in Andrzej Wajda’s fantastic depiction of the French Revolution and the ideological clash between man-of-the-people Georges Danton and cold hearted Jacobin extremist Maximilien Robespierre, the two key figures of this period. Wajda draws parallels to Polish solidarity, a movement that was being quashed by the government as the film was in production.
Wadja has a large body of work that includes films that are more psychological and romantic in nature—most based in contemporary Poland or in the horrific years of World War II. Danton (1983) appears to be a period piece by the front cover and conversely not about Poland at all. Wadja lays out the blueprint for an passionate allegory on the uselessness of a violent revolution—and of course the clear parallels between the French Revolution and twentieth century Poland.
The movie is based on the play, The Danton Affair, by Stranislawa Przybyszewska—a communist whose sympathies were with the radical Robespierre. Wadja then decided to flip the play on its ear in 1975, making Danton the protagonist and by 1980 at the apex of the Solidarity liberation movement, he transforms his play into a film, with production taking place in Poland and location scenes being shot in France. Just like the actual problems presented on screen, the filming of Danton was tangled up by a Soviet coup in December 1981—creating a totalitarian regime that halted production permanently. Taking the movie to Paris, Wajda only returned from Polish exile in 1989 after the Jaruzelski government fell.
Taking place in 1794, Danton starts almost five years after the fall of the Bastille. Following the period when the newly formed revolutionary government begins to create a Committee of Public Safety and the Revolutionary Tribunal to suppress its enemies and raise military forces, we find Danton and Robespierre as the central figureheads arresting and executing huge numbers of suspects, including Marie Antoinette and Duc d’Orléans—the period known as the Reign of Terror.
This film raises some complex questions in rather simple ways seen through the interactions between Danton and Robespierre, presented in opposing political, logical and humanistic ideologies. Danton is Wajda’s crowning achievement not only in the context of film, but also as a piece of historical significance, and Criterion does a beautiful job of reminding us why.
The DVD is a two-disc set with the film presented in its original 1:66:1 aspect ratio, video interviews with Wajda, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, Polish film critic Jerzy Plazewski and a 42-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film. For the history buffs, check out this little masterpiece.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Cean Chaffin
- Frost/Nixon – Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Eric Fellner
- Milk – Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen
- The Reader – Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Redmond Morris, Donna Gigliotti
- Slumdog Millionaire – Christian Colson
Who’s Going to Win: Slumdog Millionaire – Slumdog has won pretty much every award so far, at least the ones that matter. It’s international appeal, feel good story and solid cast make for a shoe in win.
Who Should Win: Milk – It’s really the most complete movie of the bunch. Gus Van Sant is the best director of the nominees, the cast is incredible, and it was beautifully written and shot. The fact that it’s a biopic shouldn’t matter because of the way Van Sant shot it, although ultimately, I think it will.
- Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire
- Stephen Daldry – The Reader
- David Fincher – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Ron Howard – Frost/Nixon
- Gus Van Sant – Milk
Who’s Going to Win: Dan Boyle – I think this year might have Slumdog all over it because it’s a film that transcends a lot of boundaries–time, place, character interaction and character study, and Danny Boyle knew exactly how to elicit all of those feelings.
Who Should Win: Gus Van Sant – He’s probably one of the smartest directors right now and it shows in Milk. The fact that he manages to pull of a biopic as something so much more, something on the level of a Forrest Gump, shows the mastery of his craft.
- Richard Jenkins – The Visitor
- Frank Langella – Frost/Nixon
- Sean Penn – Milk
- Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler
Who’s Going to Win – Mickey Rourke – Everyone knows about Mickey’s dedication to a role. Darren Aronofsky give’s Mickey this challenge, forcing his directing style on him, and ultimately got the best out of him.
Who Should Win – Mickey Rourke – If there was another actor this year that ripped his heart and soul out for a movie like Rourke did–i.e. razor blades to the scalp, staple guns to the chest, and garbage cans to the head; all for the sake of realism in the role–I’d invite you to speak up now.
- Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married
- Angelina Jolie – Changeling
- Melissa Leo – Frozen River
- Meryl Streep – Doubt
- Kate Winslet – The Reader
Who’s Going to Win: Kate Winslet – I thought her role alongside Leo in Revolutionary Road was a more challenging role, but her silence in The Reader speaks volumes. Even though it’s supposed to be her time for an Ocsar, it might have been for the wrong movie.
Who Should Win: Melissa Leo – She played her character to the T in this one. This is a the role of a lifetime and she absolutely nails it.
Best Supporting Actor
- Josh Brolin – Milk
- Robert Downey, Jr. – Tropic Thunder
- Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt
- Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
- Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road
Who’s Going to Win: Heath Ledger – His character is beyond measure in some cases, and at the same time is all too believable–it’s probably the best performance of the entire year. If you haven’t seen this performance, you live in a cave.
Who Should Win: Heath Ledger – You can honestly say this piece of work transcends genre, which is something that the academy is always looking for and his untimely death only meant that he couldn’t be around to deliver more characters with this much passion.
Best Supporting Actress
- Amy Adams – Doubt
- Penélope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona
- Viola Davis – Doubt
- Taraji P. Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler
Who’s Going to Win: Penelope Cruz – She’s the quintessential piece to Woody Allen’s puzzle, bringing a lively character to a film that might not have shined so brightly had she not been there.
Who Should Win: Taraji P. Henson – I’m sorry, but Henson’s role of Queenie just brought a tear to my eye that hardly any other piece of cinema can do–Forrest Gump was a rare one to do the same, and look whose holding the Oscar now.
Best Original Screenplay
- WALL-E – Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter
- Happy-Go-Lucky – Mike Leigh
- Frozen River – Courtney Hunt
- In Bruges – Martin McDonagh
- Milk – Dustin Lance Black
Who’s Going to Win: Milk – When Milk loses best picture and director, this is the “apology note” the academy will have to offer.
Who Should Win: In Bruges – Colin Farrell, where have you gone? It’s hard getting the best out of him, and with this story, it was very telling how powerful a script can be for an actor. Sadly, an overlooked film this year.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
- Frost/Nixon – Peter Morgan
- The Reader – David Hare
- Slumdog Millionaire – Simon Beaufoy
- Doubt – John Patrick Shanley
Who’s Going to Win: Slumdog Millionaire – It’s the juggernaut of the bunch and there’s no film that can stop it.
Who Should Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – This story was beautifully written. Fincher had his work cut out for him in how to film this story…and he slam dunked it.
Best Animated Feature
- Bolt – Chris Williams and Byron Howard
- Kung Fu Panda – Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
- WALL-E – Andrew Stanton
Who’s Going to Win: WALL-E – come on…who doesn’t like that little robot?! It’s the greatest Disney character I can think of.
Who Should Win: WALL-E – It’s WALL-E
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- The Dark Knight
- The Reader
- Slumdog Millionaire
Who’s Going to Win – Slumdog Millionaire – Anthony Dod Mantle is flawless at moving shots across vast areas, and capturing emotion from actors at different angles.
Who Should Win – Slumdog Millionaire – The aerial shots taken were incredible and the aspects presented left you in awe…expect Mantle to be leaving with a 1st place trophy.
There has been a recent resurgence of soul music that tries to remind us of a time long since forgotten. Amy Winehouse released a doo-wop inspired album almost three years ago that went back to a soul singer of the 1960s. Another British artist, Adele, has just recently released her blueyed soulful debut, 19–an album that received positive feedback and even featured a cover of Sam Cooke’s “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On” as a bonus track. A new up and comer Ryan Shaw came out with his debut album This is Ryan Shaw, which features wonderful R&B and soul covers of Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson. Raphael Saadiq however, has taken the quintessential parts of soul and R&B and throws them in a time machine destined for the 1960s. This is Raphael’s 4th studio album, and while all of his previous efforts were undoubtedly filled with soul, The Way I See It could quite possibly be the crowning achievement of a era that needed to come back.
In explaining about the making and production of the album, Raphael speaks about listening to the likes of Gladys Knight & the Pips, Al Green and The Four Tops to gain not only structural direction, but also to conjure up feelings of soul harmonies like the love ballad. His inspiration transcends time and space, while even looking to artists like Spike Lee and his documentary When the Levees Broke to create tunes like “Big Easy.”
Saadiq is really like a Smokey Robinson, a Marvin Gaye and a Sam Cooke all poured into the same paint bucket and then spread across a canvas. This album is a time piece, which is something very few artists dare to do. It’s not just a retro-throwback to Motown or an homage to the jazz and soul artists of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s– it’s a compilation where Raphael takes his cues from the masters of the genre, but it’s what he gives back that makes him a master in his own rite.
The first track off the album is “Sure Hope You Mean It,” a song that sets the tone for the album with a rhythm and sound similar to Gladys Knight & the Pips take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The following track “100 Yard Dash” elicits some of the best music composition of the album–it’s also probably the most modern-sounding track although there is still a solid oldies influence–I would have to say this tune is the most unique and consequently the best on the album.
The album showcases several hits, including “Just One Kiss,” which sounds like a youthful Al Green in his prime; it’s music that just feels good. It was like entering a time warp only to come out to Mr. Green performing a rendition of “Let’s Stay Together.” And the fact that Joss Stone makes an appearance here shows that Saadiq knows where to place his vocals. Reminiscent of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell duo, it makes me think–had Tammy not left us too soon, this is the duet they would’ve created.
“Never Gonna Give You Up” features an amazing Stevie Wonder on harmonica and CJ Hilton, where you hear what sounds like something between Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” and “I Want You,” and of course there’s Stevie. “Oh Girl” is one of the slower soul jams, and there’s also a remix where Raphael departs from the old school vintage and brings in a taste of neo-retro fusion with a guest appearance from Hov (Jay-Z if you didn’t know) who serves up some lyrical wordplay as usual.
This album is a standout because of it’s simplicity and fun, adding curb appeal, but its arrangements and production are so much more. Saadiq was asked what his feelings were on the neo-soul artist and the fact that he was going retro soul, to which he responded “I just think, who wants new soul? I want my soul to be the same as Otis Redding, I don’t wanna have a new one.” On one of my favorite tracks, “Staying in Love,” he encompasses feelings of love both in relationships and with music–“falling in love can be easy.” With The Way I See It, it’s that easy, so go on and check it out if you haven’t already.
Buy The Way I See It – Raphael Saadiq
There are two bonus tracks – “Kelly Ray” and “Seven”–both put a nice icing on the cake.
Bonus Tracks – Kelly Ray
In the first of many reviews about film on here, I decided to start with movies that are near and dear to my heart. You will all undoubtedly know about the great action films of the 1980’s and 1990’s because, let’s face it, they were all pretty awesome. Ignoring some exceptions, most of the films in the martial art/action genre that came out around this time were pure gold because of their action, but also because of their humor. Here’s a movie if you haven’t seen, you need to and if you’ve already seen, chances are you’re going to want to see again soon.
The story: Jean Claude Van Damme made his starring debut in this epic classic about honor, friendship, romance and above all, kicking ass. Van Damme plays Frank Dux who travels to Hong Kong for the Kumite, a tournament held once every five years where the best fighters in the world come to prove who’s the best. Dux, also a captain in the U.S. Army goes to visit Senzo Tanaka, his Shidoshi, a man we come to learn about in flashback. The training montage starts off by showing Van Damme as a slightly retarded kid who comes in with two buddies to steal a sword. Senzo and his son Shingo come in, where Van Damme is quickly stomped because he has no idea how to fight…yet. His training becomes an arduous task of doing splits and fighting blindfolded, which of course, Van Damme catches onto very fast. He sheds his former shell of a boy and becomes a Belgian killing machine that can also serve you tea while blindfolded.
After Van Damme promises Shidoshi victory at the Kumite, we learn that two army officers, (played by Norman Burton and a young Forest Whitaker) are right on Dux’s heels trying to prevent him from fighting because the Army can’t afford to lose their only ninja warrior. Meanwhile, Dux heads off for Hong Kong, only to run into future best friend Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb aka Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds). He runs into Jackson while he’s trying to score a date with a lady on a bus, but their friendship really takes shape when Jackson tries to best Van Damme in Karate Champ, the video game. Van Damme is too young for full contact; Jackson’s too old for video games, ergo, a life-long friendship begins.
Before going to the Kumite, which happens to be held in the rundown, back alley slums of Hong Kong, Dux needs to stretch a little. After a good warm up (see pic), Dux and Jackson go through this shady alley to get to the Kumite. Upon entering, Dux is asked for his invitation and is challenged because they don’t believe he’s Asian. To prove his worth, he’s asked to perform the Dim Mak, which translates to “Death Touch.” The judges instruct him to break the brick at the bottom of a stack, at which point Dux displays unprecedented power as he palm strikes the stack causing the bottom brick to explode. The story really could have ended there because it was so incredible, but guess what? Chong Li (Bolo Yeung from Enter the Dragon) is not impressed. His only response: “Very good, but brick not hit back.”
The Kumite starts in glorious fashion with 1980’s music pumping and plenty of guys starting to feel each other out. Of course Dux, Jackson and Chong Li go through the entire tournament relatively unharmed…that is until Jackson is matched up against Chong Li. Side note: I must say Bolo Yeung really portrays a great bad guy–man of few words, and let’s the ass kicking speak for itself. He was almost 50 years old when filming finished up, which is insane considering he’s now 70 and looks just about the same. I guess when you’re a Hong Kong bodybuilding champion, you can do anything you want. Anyway, Chong Li beats Jackson within an inch of his life and to put the icing on the cake, he takes his Harley Davidson bandana and taunts Dux with it. Fast forward to the hospital where we find out nothing is serious, Jackson’s fine, but Janince and Dux have some issues about the Kumite. Van Damme really showcases his acting range by giving Janice a lesson in upholding honor. Cue the reflecting music where Van Damme needs to get his head right if he’s ever gonna be able to topple Chong Li. If you haven’t already guessed it, performing a split on top of a stone building is just what the doctor ordered.
Skip ahead to the final fight where the only way Chong Li can beat Van Damage is to throw some sort of blinding powder in his eyes. That doesn’t stop Dux though… blinded and yelling, he takes a moment right in the middle of fighting to meditate and remember everything Shidoshi showed him about grabbing fish out of the barrel and fighting blindfolded. Thank goodness he had that training, cause now he can win the match easily and continue hitting Chong Li with those jumping roundhouse split kicks. And Van Damme doesn’t just beat him; he makes him say uncle… no one wants to lose like that. Thank god Van Damme won though, because otherwise, Ogre wouldn’t have gotten his Harley Davidson bandanna back. Drinking beer in a hospital bed = badass.
Okay, so this movie has its awesome moments, but to be a fair reviewer, one must note the obvious–Bloodsport is even better than it sounds. You can try all you want to come up with a movie which evokes intense action sequences, adventurous chase scenes, story-depth, character development, heart-wrenching drama, laugh-out-loud comedy, a kick-ass soundtrack, and a list of actors that would come to create the most amazing movie caught on film, but the truth is one will never be able to do it. Bloodsport was made from start to finish knowing full well it was going to be the archetype for any and all movies trying to consider themselves masterpieces.
Van Damme set the benchmark for the next ten years on how martial art/action movies could and should be made in America. Okay, so maybe it was like five years. Bolo Yeung really brought in a great character role, which we’ll see again in Van Damme’s 1991 epic, Double Impact. Ogre brings in some post-nerd humor and we see future Oscar winner Forest Whitaker in one of his first roles. This being one of the first martial art/action movies I’d ever seen, Van Damme really does hold a place in my heart. The 1980’s was truly the only decade that loved you back and Van Damme was an action hero that continued to give me movies to watch throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Also, it seems JCVD is coming back with a movie that parodies his life self-titled JCVD. I guess if you’re gonna parody a kick ass life, why not Van Damme’s? I know… you’re going to your shelf of DVDs right now and taking your personal copy you bought at Target for $5.99 and are thinking about putting it on. My suggestion is to do it and remember the glory days of classic action.