Tristan + Isolde

tristanrating-3.0The proto-"Romeo & Juliet", Tristan + Isolde is the tale of its young namesakes, Briton and Celt, who fall in love despite the war between their peoples and are, then, torn apart by her marriage to Tristan's adoptive father.

A career-long dream project of Ridley Scott, he produced this very decent though not tremendously compelling love story, carried mainly on the backs of its leads, James Franco and Sophia Myles. Franco is obviously well-known from a bevy of parts over the past several years, most prominently in the Spider-Man franchise. The beautiful Sophia Myles probably stands out the most to American viewers as Erika, Kate Beckinsale's blonde vampire friend in Underworld.

Rufus Sewell lends some extra weight to the proceedings, though I feel bad for the put-upon man. It seems like he never gets to play a good or happy character. In this film, he plays the dour and dark (but kind) Marke, who took in Tristan as a child after the murder of his parents. Tristan becomes more than a son to him and grows into a great war leader. After his apparent killing, actually stunned by a paralyzing toxin, Tristan's given a quick funeral and is pushed out to sea, only to wash up alive on the banks of Ireland to be nursed by to health by the princess Isolde, who never reveals who she really is. He comes back to a happy welcome from his family and heads back to Ireland to win his father a bride in a contest of arms, uniting Ireland and Britain, and to find his lady love. Of course, there's the damnable discovery that, once he's won his father's bride, he finds out it's his lover.

His father, Sewell, is of course good to her and loving, but is hurt deeply by the affair and there's a certain bleakness in the performance. I'd love to see Sewell play a hero (or at least someone happy) again, as I've never seen such a thing since Dark City. He's been nothing but pain, darkness, and anger. I don't know if he searches it out or it's just luck, but he needs to freshen up his prospects and get a good lead again.

Well, he adds some gravity to the film, though Franco and Myles do their part. The film is a bit slow at parts and never really builds to any interesting climax, though, so it somewhat detracts from the interesting build-up coming throughout, but the movie was always billed and sold as more of a romance, so I can't say I'm entirely surprised.

All in all, amusing enough to watch but of no exceptional merit.

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The Amateur

the_amateurrating-2.5There is something so dark and bleak about the texture of every 1970's espionage film that it makes you wonder how people made it through the decade without killing themselves. Every movie has a certain dirty, earth-tone wash. Every script seemed to be a method by which writers could transfer a certain cold, soulless lack of self-knowledge to the screen. There were no action-packed extravaganzas, no upbeat action films full of spectacle. In its day, The French Connection was a thrill-ride of action and intrigue. Today, it seems like a bleak foreign art film, full of gritty purpose and the nihilistic reality of a world without climaxes or happy endings, tossed away in the wake of Vietnam's stripping-away of the happy Technicolor sheen of the 1960's.

Until Reagan came full-steam into office, the jingoistic propaganda of Schwarzenegger and Stallone would have seemed a bizarre cartoon to the unhappy and staid viewers of the 70's, more inclined to view their matinee idols in fluffy Burt Reynolds capers and its ilk when not buried in the dark belly of the crime dramas of the time.

The Amateur is such a film, coming slightly after the curve in the early 80's, reminiscent of The Eiger Sanction and other laid-back espionage movies, more procedural than the wild, unrealistic Bond films.

The Amateur focuses on a CIA cryptographer, busily working on their computer programs to help decode codes, whose wife is killed in a terrorist attack in Germany. After the CIA shows no interest on following up on his wife's murder, the man, played well by the understated John Savage, goes about compiling information and blackmailing the CIA into letting him become an assassin. He goes through a quick training while "the Company" scrambles to find his stash of information and is on his way to Europe, to sneak into Prague and track the three terrorists behind the embassy attack that cost him his wife.

Sneaking across the border, the CIA finds his negatives and sends in their own men to kill him, so he's on the run to track the terrorists while being tracked himself.

The tagline claims that "The first 11 minutes will absolutely shock you. The last 11 minutes will rivet you to your seat." Looking back now, the film seems far too tame to imagine real shock in an age where we've seen Saw, Funny Games, and Guinea Pig. Those 11 opening minutes are interesting, but ramp up no tension for the modern viewer. And those last 11 minutes are a decent climax, but nothing less grand that you would expect of any given movie.

Perhaps it's just too late to look back on certain movies, but I was somewhat surprised that The Amateur didn't offer a little more in the way of plot. But, for that bleak, hard time and its generally dour and slow cinema, its an intriguing little film.

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Trick Or Treat

trick_treatrating-2.0Do you remember the episode of "Family Ties" where Skippy got into metal, grew out his rock mullet, and listened to backmasked messages on his vinyl until a Satanic rocker showed up to destroy the world through him? If you do, you're actually thinking of Trick Or Treat, featuring the fine acting talents of young Skippy in a totally incoherent fable of rock evil and overcoming personal demons so you can get a date in high school (at the expense of dozens of lives).

Trick Or Treat is, ostensibly, a satire of the 80's fundamentalist anti-heavy metal movement that brought us the PMRC, Congressional hearings on the spooky Satanic boogeyman of rock & roll music and guys wearing fishnets and too much eyeliner, and Parental Warning stickers.

At least that's what I'm told and what I assume, given the obvious love that the filmmakers have for the subject of metal, the appearance of Gene Simmons as a sleazy local disc jockey and a cameo by Ozzy as a TV preacher, both of whom earn more space on the DVD cover than anything else, because they're the only people that seem to be memorable from the film. God knows young Skippy isn't on there, even though he's the star.

The plot is straightforward enough: the young metalhead loner, who is hated and abused by a school full of preppie people, looks up to his idol, a hair metal god who went to the same high school before moving on to bigger and better things; the rocker dies and his fan mourns; the young man is given the last, unreleased album by his DJ buddy, a cursed piece of vinyl, featuring backmasked messages and dark evil... Of course, the young man keeps playing it and bad things start to happen. Vengeance is laid out upon his tormentors. Finally, he realizes he has to stop it before it kills more people. So he does the heroic thing and gets the girl.

The bigger question of this movie is why you would attempt to lampoon Christian fundamentalists and the notion that metal is evil and Satanic by having the fantastic thesis of your movie be that metal is evil and Satanic? Isn't that counterproductive to your cause? Doesn't that make you look like a stupid asshole or opportunistic douche?

Now, despite Skippy's very decent acting (and my apologies on continuing to call him "Skippy", but it's easier), much of the rest of the movie is crap. It's silly, it's dated, and it's laughable, but I can see why some people continue to enjoy it. It wasn't awfully produced for that time period and wasn't a wretched film. It was just a bit hokey on some of the effects and had an incredibly stupid plot, but one could do worse, though you can't find things much less comprehensible.

It stands as a testament to a time when evil records could possess all your electronics and music could be a deadly killer, without even getting into Ozzy or Metallica making anyone slash their wrists.

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Running Scared (1986)

running_scaredrating-4.5Rarely these days do you see anything with the furious fun of a 1980's comedic buddy cop movie. And that's a damned shame, because those movies were a lot of fun.

And no buddy movie was better than Running Scared, a Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines movie, skipping the usual buddy movie staple that the principal leads don't like each other and are forced to work together... These men are the best of friends and closest of brothers, which provides for the best comedy. They aren't spending all their time butting heads, they're spending all their time recklessly going after criminals and delivering comedic one-liners that the other builds on.

The movie starts with the pair of sports-loving jokesters looking for trouble and finding it, chasing down drug-dealing bad guys and attempt to extort information on criminal operations. The lines are fast and furious and it was the action/comedy equivalent of "The Gilmore Girls", references and gags coming as quickly as they can spit them out. Most of the other characters are in on the game and give as good as they get, with the exception of uber-serious villain, Jimmy Smits, in one of his better roles, backed up by Joe Pantliano, in a bright fauxhawk.

Going too far, the two are sent on forced vacation, where they decide to give up the force and buy a bar in Key West. They go back to finish their work before retiring and, of course, get involved yet again in trying to stop the drug dealers and save Billy Crystal's ex-wife.

Really, one can't do much better than this kind of fun, upbeat action/comedy and more filmmakers in this modern age should draw from a source like this.

Billy Crystal should also be reminded that he used to be an excellent and funny actor, back before he killed everythign that was good about him with romantic comedies and other shitty pap.

At least we have this high point to look back on and cherish.

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feastrating-3.5A large part of what makes Feast is how it was made. If you missed out on the third season of "Project Greenlight", you might think this just another direct-to-video horror movie. Far from it, my friend!

This is the product of the third and last Project Greenlight competition, as seen on Bravo, produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Wes Craven, and Chris Moore. The winning writing partners and hand-chosen director did a fine job, after much work, and deserved the full theatrical treatment, though it barely received that, getting limited release in theaters only days before DVD release. The director in question, John Gulager, is a chubby David Lynch-like fellow with a famous cowboy actor father, who also appears in the film as well as John's long-time girlfriend. They fill out a cast full of odd actors like Balthazar Getty, Duane Whitaker, Judah Friedlander, and Henry Rollins, all giving the performances of their lives.

For those familiar with the neverending drama of the TV series, the movie turned out very well and those little reshoots and additional tweaks to the movie perfected what is an incredibly humorous and enjoyable splatterfest, the type of thing that Dead Alive would be, were it not a retarded piece of shit.

For those that didn't see the show, it ended with uncertainty as the Weinsteins and Dimension broke away from Disney and Miramax. Part of the deal meant that only a hand-selected few movies could be carried with the Weinsteins to reboot the Dimension name with, the rest of the catalog going to Buena Vista. Looking back, Feast might have been better off with Disney, as they likely would have dumped it immediately onto DVD, if not theaters, and it would have come out while it was still fresh in people's minds. Instead, it was saved and the Weinsteins took it with them to their new company and the refreshed Dimension... where it proceeded to sit for over a year before being unceremoniously dumped.

It's rather sad after all the hard work and given that this is easily one of the best straight-up fun horror films to hit the market in years, especially since everyone is either pushing Saw-level torture fetishism (not that it's a problem for me; I like it just fine) and shitty Japanese ghost movies being remade into shittty American ghost movies.

So, anyone that's a fan of a good bloody comedy should definitely dig in to this film. As seen on the show, the script was pored over by the writers endlessly, cutting down the necessary budget, honing it to perfection and, you know what, it worked out great. There's a touch of kitsch there, but it absolutely takes every genre cliche and twists it. It knows its references and toys with them, from the little bar beseiged by beasts to the hero to the various character archetypes. It's a self-aware deconstruction of horror, putting back in all the humor and fun it deserves.

I find it hard to believe that any fan of genre films would dislike this movie. It's chaotic, silly fun and attempts to go against every expectation you have by changing up at every turn.

We should be so lucky as to see more of this. I want more Gulager! I want more silly fun! I want more Project Greenlight doing movies that aren't coming-of-age films!

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