Film Review: American Splendor (2003)

Release Date: January 20th, 2003 (Sundance)
Directed by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Written by: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Based on: American Splendor and Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar
Music by: Mark Suozzo
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Judah Friedlander, James Urbaniak, Donal Logue, Molly Shannon, Josh Hutcherson, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Toby Radloff

Good Machine, Dark Horse Entertainment, Fine Line Features, HBO Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Why does everything in my life have to be such a complicated disaster?” – Joyce Brabner

Even though I grew up burying my head in comic books, I wasn’t really aware of Harvey Pekar until my late ’20s. Initially, his comic book style wasn’t something I sought out. I was more into superhero comics and sword and sorcery style fantasy epics.

However, I would say that I found Pekar (and Robert Crumb) at the right time in my life. Both men’s work captivated me and spoke to me in a very human but amusing way. Crumb was attractive to my deviant sensibilities, while Pekar spoke to that cynical observational part of myself that’s always watching and analyzing the shit show around me.

I’ve seen a lot of Pekar in interviews and things over the years and I’ve got to say that Paul Giamatti’s performance as Harvey Pekar is fantastic. While he might not exactly look like Harvey, which is actually joked about within this film in a fourth wall breaking critique by Pekar himself, Giamatti just captured the right type of charm and charisma and did this role justice.

Additionally, Judah Friedlander was absolutely spectacular as Pekar’s best bud Toby Radloff. Friedlander was so good, in fact, that even though I saw his name in the credits, I didn’t realize that it was him playing Toby until really late in the film.

All the other performances are also great. Especially Hope Davis as Joyce, Harvey’s wife, and James Urbaniak, who played Robert Crumb in a few key scenes.

The film covers the important parts of Pekar’s adult life quite well. It’s a film that has a lot of time pass in its 101 minutes but nothing feels rushed and every scene seems pretty vital, as the narrative hits the points it needs to in showcasing what was most important.

For someone that’s a professional creative and pretty grumpy on most days, it was easy for me to relate to Pekar and this film. It was a moving picture that tells a sweet story, even if the main character isn’t someone that would be likable by most people on a first impression.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Crumb and Basquiat.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Release Date: April 4th, 2003
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Jose Manuel Gomez, Brian Yuzna (uncredited)
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Xavier Capellas
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Tommy Dean Musset, Jason Barry, Barbara Elorrieta, Elsa Pataky, Santiago Segura, Simon Andreu

Castelao Producciones, Fantastic Factory, Filmax International, Lions Gate Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“She’s not getting any fresher.” – Herbert West

I really like the Re-Animator film series but this was the weakest chapter out of the three. I’m not sure why, as taking things into a prison setting should have provided some interesting developments and new territory. I think it may have fallen short because there was so much time between the second film and this one, the third and final.

That being said, this is still pretty fun and I do like the film. Re-Animator is a horror film franchise where every movie does a good job and brings something fresh without simply being a retread. Then again, the series stopped at three films. Although, I’d really be game for a fourth even though it has been a long time since the third. But Dr. Herbert West is still out there.

I guess the biggest thing about this film that sets it below the others is that the big grand finale isn’t bigger and crazier than the previous two movies. The first film’s finale was ridiculous in the best way possible. The second film upped the ante and was as visually impressive as it was completely insane. This film still has an awesome ending full of insanity, violence, gore and a lot of dark humor but it didn’t go any further than what we’ve seen before.

I feel like the prison riot scenario could have been so grander and with a lot more re-animated corpses ripping human flesh to shreds. It was cool seeing what happens when a junkie shoots up with Dr. West’s syrum but it felt like an understatement in the way the film handled it.

At the end of the day, Jeffrey Combs is still money as Dr. Herbert West and this is still a good horror film that fits within the franchise, even if though it came out after a thirteen year break.

Film Review: House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Release Date: April 11th, 2003
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Music by: Rob Zombie, Scott Humphrey
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Karen Black, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, Erin Daniels, Jennifer Jostyn, Matthew McGrory, Dennis Fimple, Robert Allen Mukes, Tom Towles, Walton Goggins, Harrison Young, Irwin Keyes, Michael J. Pollard

Spectacle Entertainment Group, Universal Pictures, Lions Gate Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Goddamn, motherfucker got blood all over my best clown suit.” – Captain Spaulding

House of 1000 Corpses was a movie that was highly anticipated before it came out, as everyone wanted to see what Rob Zombie could do as a legit film director. I remember there being delays and it felt as if this was never going to come out and when it did, it didn’t show up in my town and was sort of sparsely released unless you happened to live in a big city. I had to wait for the DVD to drop, six months later.

For the most part, Zombie did not disappoint with his debut and while it was a strong homage to films in the vein of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, it was still very much a part of Rob Zombie in style.

Although, it mostly feels like a really long music video littered with gore and deplorable actions. Not that that is a bad thing but it sort of limits the film’s audience and narrative, as the film’s style is put in front of everything else.

House of 1000 Corpses works for what it is, even if some of the stuff is really outlandish. This style wouldn’t work as well for Zombie going forward, as all of his films after his second one are pretty awful. His overemphasis on highlighting white trash and gross shit really wears thin after The Devil’s Rejects, the only sequel to this picture.

In fact, I grew to dislike Zombie’s work so much that I hadn’t sat down and watched this movie in years. I’m glad I revisited it but I see more flaws in it now than I initially did a decade and a half ago. But it is cool seeing this ensemble cast of a lot of talented people, many of which are horror icons, playing off of each other.

Also, Zombie’s wife, who he casts in every film, hadn’t grown tiresome and grating yet. After The Devil’s Rejects she would become as unwelcome on the screen as her husband as a director.

The real highlights of this film is the amazing work of Sid Haig, who isn’t in it enough, and the role played by Bill Moseley, which is really a retread of his more famous character Chop Top from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

Film Review: Destino (2003)

Release Date: June 2nd, 2003 (Annecy Animation Film Festival), originally began production in 1945
Directed by: Dominique Monféry
Written by: Salvador Dali, John Hench, Donald W. Ernst
Music by: Armando Dominiguez, Michael Starobin, Dora Luz

Walt Disney, 7 Minutes

Review:

In 1945, Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali and American animator Walt Disney started work on this collaborative effort. While it didn’t actually come out until 2003, 58 years since the project began, it is a perfect marriage of the two artists’ styles. Taking the surrealist style of Dali and bringing it to life via Disney animation.

From 1945 and into 1946, Dali and Disney studio artist John Hench worked together on storyboarding the project. Due to financial woes during the World War II era, Disney had to halt production. Hench put together a seventeen second animation test in an attempt to keep the company happy and on board with the project but it was put on hiatus for decades.

Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, rediscovered the project in 1999 while he was working on Disney’s Fantasia 2000. He decided to resurrect the amazing collaboration and Walt Disney Studios worked on it until it was finally completed.

Twenty-five Disney animators fleshed out the project based off of Dali and Hench’s storyboards and notes. They also got help from Hench himself and delved into the journals of Dali’s wife, Gala Dali.

The final production uses the original Hench animation while the newly animated parts are a combination of traditional hand drawn animation and some computer animation. It all comes together beautifully, however, and is consistent with the originally conceived style.

The short film follows the story of the god Chronos and his love of a mortal woman. The woman dances through surreal imagery in the style of Dali’s paintings. All of this is brought further to life by the musical score of Mexican composer Armando Dominiguez and the vocals of Dora Luz.

If you are a fan of Dali and classic Disney animation, there is nothing not to like here. It blends the two styles together magnificently along with the fabulous score.

The public and critical consensus was very positive for the film and it even received an Academy Award nomination in 2004 for Best Animated Short Film.

 

Film Review: The ‘Battle Royale’ Film Series (2000-2003)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Battle Royale, so I figured I’d pop the DVD in and rewatch this almost masterpiece. After doing that, I figured that I’d watch the sequel, which I have never seen.

Battle Royale (2000):

Release Date: December 16th, 2000
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku
Based on: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Music by: Masamichi Amano
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando, Kou Shibasaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Takeshi Kitano

AM Associates, Kobi, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai, MF Pictures, WOWOW, Gaga Communications, Toei Company, 113 Minutes (Original Release), 121 (Extended Cut)

Review:

“So today’s lesson is, you kill each other off till there’s only one left. Nothing’s against the rules.” – Teacher Kitano

This film is a classic. That is a bold thing to say but unless you have seen the film, it may be hard to understand why.

I could rave about the direction, the material, the stylistic approach of the gore-filled bits and so many other factors. Apart from all that, the film just hits you in the stomach. It is over the top and the fact that all this gruesomeness is happening to kids, really has an effect unlike any film I had seen before it. It’s severely dark, somewhat campy, sometimes sweet and insanely ambitious.

For those who don’t know what it is about, the Japanese government gets tired of asshole kids and passes a law. The law creates a lottery where a school is picked and its students are tricked into going on a field trip, only to be gassed and wake up on a strange island and forced to kill one another until their is just one survivor. It’s like Hunger Games without the suck factor. Also, it came first and is about a thousand times better, as a film.

Battle Royale is a symphony of a lot of beautiful dark shit leading to a crescendo that is jaw-dropping and for lack of a better word, “awesome”. There is a reason why this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films. Truthfully, in the history of Japanese cinema, this cracks my top ten for sure… maybe even my top five.

I actually don’t want to reveal too much because I’d rather people just experience this incredible motion picture.

Battle Royale II: Requiem (2003):

Release Date: May 18th, 2003 (Cannes)
Directed by: Kenta Fukasaku, Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: Kenta Fukasaku, Norio Kida
Based on: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Music by: Masamichi Amano
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Shugo Oshinari

Fukasaku Group, TV Asahi, WOWOW, Tokyo FM, Sega, Toei Company, 133 Minutes (Original Release), 152 (Extended Cut)

Review:

“We declare war on all adults!” – Shuya Nanahara

Considering that I hadn’t seen this film and have such a high level of respect for the first one, I was excited to throw this in the DVD player. And then it started.

Battle Royale II tries to capture the magic of the first film but fails in many ways.

I can’t completely trash it, as there are bits that I enjoyed. But ultimately, even though these films have ridiculous premises, this one just had a lot of really unbelievable shit, even for being a sequel to a film with such an over the top story to begin with.

The plot follows a new group of kids who are forced to raid an island in an effort to murder a terrorist who has been banding kids together in an effort to destroy the evil adults of the world. Wow, it comes off as even more ridiculous summing it up in one sentence like that. Anyway, the format of the film was different than the first but it just didn’t give us anything worthwhile even though they attempted something fresh.

I enjoyed the first hour of the film, which centers around the raid on the island. Once that part is over and the two groups of fighting kids meet face-to-face, the film just gets boring as hell and quickly goes downhill. The last act is more action and violence and it keeps one’s interest but does so just barely.

I could’ve done without seeing the sequel and Earth could’ve done without it even being made. The open-ended ending of the first film was perfect and should have been left alone.

Plus, this thing is so damn long and it didn’t need to be.

Documentary Review: Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)

Release Date: June 17th, 2003 (Los Angeles Film Festival)
Directed by: George Hickenlooper
Music by: Anthony Marinelli, various artists featured in the film

Lakeshore Entertainment, First Look Studios, 94 Minutes

mayor-of-the-sunset-stripReview:

Rodney Bingenheimer should be a rock god. No, he isn’t a musician, at least not in the sense that he is known for picking up an instrument or singing to crowds of thousands, but he is a legendary DJ and instrumental in discovering a multitude of rock legends.

Bingenheimer isn’t a rock god, however. He is beloved by many icons in the music industry and is a friend to nearly everyone but mainstream knowledge of him isn’t as widespread as one would think, considering his contributions to pop culture.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip examines this and it also examines the personal life of Bingenheimer.

The film interviews several of the legends and friends who have all reached success because of Bingenheimer’s ear for great music. Bingenheimer, in many cases, was the first DJ to give radio play to so many of these great bands. He also had serious charisma and a great personality, which helped him evolve from a groupie to a man that shaped the future of rock and roll.

It is hard to believe that he isn’t a household name outside of L.A. or to hardcore rock aficionados. Maybe it is because he is a small, sweet man and off the air is very reserved and shy. The film does paint a picture of a man who is soft and kind but maybe that is its agenda. He seemed uncomfortable around the cameras documenting his life and not too keen on revealing too much about his childhood and personal relationships. One gets the feeling that there is a lot of pain there.

Mayor of the Sunset Strip is thoroughly enjoyable but it does leave you feeling sorry for Bingenheimer in regards to his lack of fame and his seemingly nonexistent love life. It leaves you thinking that he is a man that hides behind his own legend and maybe he just isn’t comfortable with the spotlight so he never just grabbed it.

Rodney Bingenheimer loves music. He was able to turn that love into something monolithic.

In the end, he should be looked at on the same level as Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Paul McCartney but from what I can tell, he probably really doesn’t want to be.

If you love rock and roll and especially music history, Mayor of the Sunset Strip should be required viewing. I knew of Bingenheimer before the film but it made me really appreciate his contributions to music even more.