After.Life

Perhaps funded and distributed on the promise of Christina Ricci in her skivvies and less, After.Life is weirdly compelling for such a marginal movie. Its premise is a little coy, toying with the expectations of audiences that have had their fill, lately, of stories with characters caught in some strange limbo between living and dying where they work out the psychological issues that hectored them in the real world.

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Django

Franco Nero in <em>Django</em>

When Django, the title character and hero of director Sergio Corbucci’s seminal spaghetti western, first appears on screen, he’s slogging on foot through mud, dragging a coffin behind him. The image is evocative and challenging. In classic American films, western heroes had generally been dignified cowboy types saddled up on strong horses. They were lawmen or simple ranchers with a code of honor. They rode into town in a cloud of dust and plainspoken righteousness backed up by a sharp eye and a six-shooter, and they stood for the endurance of traditional values on a wild frontier.

Django thinks those guys were pussies.

Read the full review at FilmFreakCentral.

The Deadly Duo

<i>The Deadly Duo</i>
This 1971 Shaw Brothers martial-arts flick is definitely full of action — energetic camerawork, gallons of stage blood, and a widescreen frame full of gracefully choreographed movement on the part of dozens of performers wielding an impressive variety of weapons all contribute to the film’s sense of urgent forward motion.

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Clash of the Titans

Ray Harryhausen's Stop-Action Medusa in <i>Clash of the Titans</i>

I review Clash of the TItans (the golden oldie, not the screwy newie) on Blu-ray Disc at FilmFreakCentral.net:

Clash of the Titans saw Ray Harryhausen’s special-effects efforts reach a technical apex, with his glowering, snake-haired Medusa and smoothly articulated Pegasus winning deserved plaudits. But the old-fashioned filmmaking style felt dated at the time—consider that this po-faced sword-and-sandals adventure arrived in theaters on the same day as Raiders of the Lost Ark and you’ll get an idea of the magnitude of this unfailingly earnest film’s crisis in tone—and it proved to be Harryhausen’s swan song.

Broken Embraces

Penélope Cruz and José Luis Gómez in <i>Broken Embraces</i>

My review of Broken Embraces is online at FilmFreakCentral.net:

The box describes Broken Embraces as an “acclaimed tale of sex, secrets and cinema,” which makes me go, “Uh-oh.” Pedro Almodóvar reliably delivers heady blends of glamour, melodrama, and emotional turmoil, but such stuff still runs hot and cold from movie to movie. So although I liked his Bad Education, a film that was all about “sex, secrets and cinema,” the prospect of Almodóvar returning to the tortured-filmmaker well filled me with trepidation.

It Might Get Loud

Jimmy Page in <em>It Might Get Loud</em>

My review of It Might Get Loud is online at FilmFreakCentral.net:


The Edge represents something especially modern in rock-and-roll: the idea of the guitarist as pure technician. A great riff for him isn’t so much a combination of notes as a combination of noises — harmonics, distortion, wah-wah modulation, an echoed din chiming out into infinity like church bells in the Grand Canyon. The guitar itself is just an input device; the pealing tones and rhythms are created elsewhere.

Moon

Paying homage to the science-fiction films of his youth, where space-base bulkheads and otherworldly landscapes were more likely to be styrofoam than CG, story writer and director Duncan Jones’s debut feature, Moon, is a surprisingly effective–even moving–story of isolation and alienation on the lunar surface. It’s one of those science-fiction movies made on a spartan budget that gives it a special kind of low-key tension. The closest forebear I can think of offhand is Shane Carruth’s time-travel drama Primer, which had a bargain-basement aesthetic that only amplified the general air of desperation and dehumanization. Moon, with its carefully-designed sets and frugally-executed visual-effects work, is a much more expensive proposition than Primer, but still dirt-cheap by multiplex standards. Moon may not be the best science-fiction film of 2009, yet it feels the most personal, its loving, handmade quality smoothing rough patches in the storytelling and landing the film’s essential emotional blow.

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