by Andrew Jupin
There I was, DVD remote in hand, sitting in my living room glaring at the DVD menu on my screen. I wasn't sure if what I had just watched was something I liked, disliked, or flat-out hated. This was my initial confusion after watching Dario Argento's latest, Mother of Tears. On the one hand, the man is far and away the most prolific horror filmmaker of his time. His films are known to horror fans and non-fans alike. He is the kind of filmmaker where the viewer can either get on board and get involved in the story and zaniness of it, or they get left behind and will not have a good time watching.
Mother of Tears is Argento's third film in a trilogy based on powerful witches known as the Three Mothers. The first film being his horror masterpiece, Suspiria, and the second being the flat-but-fine film, Inferno. With Mother of Tears Argento revists his family of witches almost thirty years later which is long enough for most audiences (even fans) remember the corralation between these films. This time, an ancient urn has been discovered in an old cemetery on the outskirts of Rome. When an art student, Sarah (Asia Argento), opens up the urn, the Mother of Tears is released to the world and her effect is felt immediately throughout Rome. People start randomly beating each other, mothers kill their children, demented people eat their victims and so on and so on. As it of course would, this epidemic all comes down to Sarah--who is a descendent of a powerful witch--who needs to harness the powers she was born with to defeat the Mother of Tears and stop the insanity that continues to plague the city.
I can't say in good conscience that you should watch this movie. Hardcore Argento fans will be pleased and those getting into the film for the gore will be more than pleased. The casual viewer on the other hand will be absolutely disgusted and mortified. This is a tough film to watch at parts however most of the violence is done very well. Do keep in mind that the gore is incredibly over-the-top and a few choice scenes had me left with my jaw hanging low. That said, for all the violence, gore, and predictable story turns, I find myself looking back on the film with fondness. I have huge problems with the movie, don't get me wrong. For example, with all the focus on Sarah needing to harness her powers and make her witch mother proud and she's such a great witch if only she could learn how to control her gifts and so on, the climax of the film shows Sarah defeating the Mother of Tears with very physical, non-magical behavior. I guess I had been hankering for some new horror to come my way and Mother of Tears filled the gap nicely. It's not a perfect film, but fun enough to get together with some friends on a Saturday night and enjoy.
Mother of Tears is out on DVD today from Dimension Extreme and Genius Products.
by Andrew Jupin
by Brett Parker
The more you watch movies, the more you realize that everything is almost always a form of something else. Specific themes, formulas, plots, and character types recycle themselves repeatedly throughout the always-evolving cinema and true moviegoers can easily spot these familiarities the second they arrive on screen. I remember I used to think Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was a highly original crime caper until a film professor of mine screened Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and highlighted strong connections, both visual and narrative, between the two. However, this doesn’t take away from the skill and impact of Tarantino’s film; one of the great pleasures of cinema is watching how different directors and performers create their own variations on cinematic formulas we’ve come to know and love.
The main key to not insulting the moviegoing audience is to bring something new to the table. If you’re recycling an earlier film, you not only have to do it well, but add something to the film’s membrane that was missing from the earlier film and makes the current update feel relevant. D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia is a film that was obviously inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Both films involved a voyeur who is confined to his home and believes his neighbor is a murderer. Both voyeurs use special lenses and photographic equipment to spy on their neighbor, hoping to catch him in the act, also while enlisting a female companion to aide in their quest for justice. Anyone with half a film intellect could detect the Rear Window lift right from the trailer, yet Disturbia found itself well-received in both the critical world and the American box office. Not only was Disturbia skillfully made with some very fine acting from youthful performers (especially from Shia LeBeouf in the lead role), but the film brought new ideals to the film that highlighted a relevance with today’s culture. Rear Window is a technical masterpiece that served as a unique meditation on the ideas and rituals of actively viewing film. Disturbia serves more as an ironical view of how easily a serial killer could conduct a life for himself in the suburbs and how average teenagers can use today’s technology to seriously play detective. It’s this present-day take that made Disturbia look everything and nothing like Rear Window at the same time.
If the only thing truly going for an unofficial remake is the borrowed inspiration itself, then it will be extremely difficult to stay afloat. Just look at the disastrous case of The Girl Next Door. The film is an obvious rip-off of Risky Business, the wonderful comic-of-age dramedy starring Tom Cruise. Both films involve a straight-laced teenager who gets involved with a female sex worker and uses this relationship to try and make some good money on the side. While this might sound like a sleazy concept on paper, Risky Business had an artistic depth and maturity that not only explored the human comedy but the serious emotions involved with the concept. It was less interested in being a teen sex comedy and cared more about exploring a teenager’s sexual awakening and ride on the wild side, one desperately needed. The Girl Next Door is pretty much a showcase of every way Risky Business could’ve gone wrong. It lacks precisely the depth and maturity the earlier film demonstrated so well. The Girl Next Door marches through just about every plot development Risky Business displayed and fumbles at every turn. Luke Greenfield is nowhere near the same filmmaker Paul Brickman was on his 1983 film, and it shows terribly: the gags are painfully unfunny, the characters come across like bizarre caricatures rather than actual people, and the film’s use of pop music is horrible as it tries to fit hit songs in scenes where they don’t belong (the film even uses Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” at precisely the same moment in the plot Risky Business did). This disposable comedy could’ve been the perfect opportunity to explore the current sexual cravings of YouTube-Era teenagers or the current boom in porn culture, yet the film doesn’t have the brains or the courage to move beyond “knock-off” status.
The strange thing is, director Sydney Pollack and star Robert Redford put their own distinct stamp on the material and this retread becomes an entertaining showcase of these two men’s talents. Pollack brings a visual zest to the material, attacking this Hollywood product with the eye and energy of a true visual artist. Pollack goes to great lengths to capture the great beauty and tension of Havana’s landscape, allowing the viewer to get a gritty feel for every bar, gambling joint, and restaurant the characters occupy. While Casablanca was confined to studio sets, Havana takes its cameras out into the streets, creating a grander landscape. Robert Redford also takes us to grand depths as well. Redford is one of my favorite actors, mostly due to his reserved coolness and relaxed charm. As Jack Wyle, an aimless gambler, Redford’s movie star talents hit on all cylinders and the performance becomes a nice showcase of everything we’ve come to love about the actor. He does true justice to Bogart’s image, compelling us through the film with an outsider’s appeal and subtle intelligence. I love so much about this film that the only thing holding me back from calling it an exceptional film is the obvious Casablanca connections. It’s not hard to imagine the suits at Universal cooking this project up to rekindle some of that classical Hollywood magic. It’s not the most dishonorable thing, yet it may not have been approached in the wisest manner. I can’t deny the knock-off factor of the film, yet I wouldn’t discourage you one minute from placing this on your Netflix list.
by Brett Parker
For those who found The Matrix trilogy too dark and dreary, the Wachowski Brothers have gone to complete opposite ends with their new film, Speed Racer, creating a world that drowns in bright, primary colors and candy-coated CGI work. In adapting the cult anime cartoon from the 1960s, the Wachowskis have blasted cinematic heat under their fond memories of the whimsical cartoon concept and they create a movie world unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. In terms of concept, this may be a family friendly venture, but I can’t remember the last time a family movie was so cool or so visually dazzling.
The film centers on the life and racing career of a speed junkie named Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch). As a child, Speed can think of nothing else but racing and dreams of one day competing professionally. His Dad (John Goodman) runs a motor company that supports his eldest son Rex (Scott Porter) who is in fact a talented competitor in the sport. Rex gets caught up in corporate sponsorship and ends up leaving the family business, enraging Dad to the point of disowning him. As Rex tries to compete in the corporate world, shady incidents take place on the track and Rex is eventually killed in a suspicious racing accident.
Flash-forward (literally) years later and Speed, in his family-made Mach 5 car, is blowing away the competition. He too is under the support of the family business and, after the tragedy with Rex, refuses any corporate sponsorship. This causes the snaky tycoon Royalton (Roger Allam) to try with all his money and power to persuade Speed into his billion dollar racing empire. Speed refuses and Royalton begins a mad quest to destroy Speed in every form and capacity, especially on the race track. This battle between Speed and Royalton will involve a dangerous race across deserts and ice, a corrupt racer named Taejo (Rain), deadly ninjas, British gangsters, and the aide of the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox), who may or may not know something about Rex’s death.
Speed Racer is like watching a cross between Tron and Rollerball if it were written by an imaginative 12-year-old. This is a fast and fluffy imaginary landscape that owes more to an adolescent’s daydreams than any form of real life. Like Sin City or 300, this is a movie where real actors occupy an abstract CGI background for the entirety of the film. Yet there has never been a CGI world as colorful or as cartoonish as the one Speed Racer presents. All of the imagery shines brightly like Crayola on drugs and brings an eye-popping fascination to almost every shot in this film.
It may seem obvious to call Speed Racer a two hour cartoon, but that’s precisely what it is. The plot and the dialogue are exactly on the level of a cartoon and never strive to go higher than that. One could knock the film for not being more mature or thoughtful, but how could it be? In honoring memories of a lightweight cartoon, the Wachowskis firmly establish the film as such and trying to make it more grown up would only damage the tone of the film. After all, we’re talking about a race car driver who knows kung-fu here.
Certainly the performances help the material greatly. All of the actors here take their characters seriously and play them with surprising conviction. Both Matthew Fox and Christina Ricci (as Speed’s sexy and sweet girlfriend Trixie) perfectly embody their cartoon incarnations and while Paulie Litt is relentless as Speed’s kid brother Spritle, you can’t help but be charmed by the little goofball. The performance I was especially surprised with was John Goodman’s as Dad Racer. He brings such warmth and sincerity to his thankless role that he is both fun-loving and touching at the same time. As for Speed Racer himself, the gifted Emile Hirsch fits perfectly into the role. Hirsch’s roguish charms and rebellious spirit suit the character well and he has that right touch of Steve McQueen-coolness to make this cartoon hero a compelling screen figure. A lot of critics have been truly upset that Hirsch has gone from the poetic grandeur of Into the Wild to the comic book fluffiness of this special effects venture. I think it’s cool to see that Hirsch knows how to have some Hollywood fun and he relishes the excitement of the role in a way that makes us truly care.
The first time I saw this film, I relished the film’s effects, admired its childlike sensibilities, and moved on. Yet for the rest of that weekend, I couldn’t shake the film from my thoughts. Certain sequences kept haunting my mind. I was in love with a fight sequence where every character gets their kung-fu on in a snow-covered mountain top. I realized how grand and unique the Casa Christo 500 Race scene was in hurtling cars through exotic dangers completely alien to normal race tracks. I also relished how the film’s climax, in which Speed makes a mad dash for racing glory, tries to achieve the visual grandeur of the “Beyond the Infinite” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It doesn’t quite get there, but my God does it dazzle in it efforts! All of this made me want to see the film again and I did, liking it a whole lot better the second time around. For film is a visual art form, so if a movie is visually grand it can sometimes transcend its content.
The Speed Racer movie may be a lightweight cartoon, but its one of the most exciting and breathtaking cartoons I can remember gracing the silver screen. The Wachowskis treat every visual and action sequence with the same care and precision as they did in The Matrix and the result borders on the sublime. Like Dick Tracy, this is a colorful comic universe compelling in its skill and confidence. As a family film, it’s not just a cross-cutting adrenaline rush but pauses to endorse values such as family, facing adversity, and staying true to your self. As a spectacle, it’s a dream-like thrill ride that’s extremely difficult to resist. The film scholar within may have had some issues with it, but the 12-year-old within was cheering the whole time!
Speed Racer is out on DVD tomorrow, September 16th.