Friday, August 21, 2015

Dark Girls (2011)

I remember a line from CSI that went something like “It’s not what they call you.  It‘s what you answer to.”  (I’ve found similar quotes attributed to Tylor Perry and W. C. Fields.)  What people call themselves, or at least what they answer to, varies quite a bit in Miami.  Just because you have dark skin doesn’t mean you’re African-American.  Your lineage may have come through any one of a number of nearby countries like Jamaica, Haiti or The Bahamas  Even those that trace their ancestry directly to Africa may have no immediate ties to the continent.  They were born here, as were their parents and grandparents.  It’s not that easy to apply one label to such a diverse group.

This is brought up in Dark Girls.  As you might imagine, the movie is about women of color, which is a very general designation.  This includes many different women from many different places.  In the beginning, we get to see a girl reject the label of African-American, as her family doesn’t come directly from Africa.  The movie goes on to show how darker skin is often seen as worse.  A girl is given five drawings of a child.  The outline is the same for each; the only difference is the color.  When asked to pick the smartest or prettiest, she picks the lightest one.  When asked to pick the worst, she picks the darkest.

From there, the movie tends to ramble.  We have lots of people talk about what it means to be darker or lighter in a society that values being lighter.  We see how women are lightened, both digitally and cosmetically, so as to look prettier.  Several women were told by older relatives to marry lighter so as to have lighter children.  This isn’t even something that’s confined to the United States.

I’ve heard of lighter being better in India and Brazil.  (The movie points out that the reverse is true in only one country.)  I recall one story I heard years ago of a women applying for a role in a commercial featuring a husband, wife and a maid.  She wanted the role of the wife, but was thrown a maid’s uniform because she was darker.  It tends to be harder to love yourself when the media portrays your group as being lesser or worse.  It may not always be overt, but it is there.  (The fact that there’s an industry devoted to lightening skin is testament to this.)

The documentary isn’t great, but it could be used as a starting point.  It’s the kind of thing that I could see schools or other organizations using to get a conversation started.  Race is a very complicated thing.  I’m not sure one documentary could do it justice.

Consider that we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees.  Imagine the difference between any two humans.  Such a small difference is what makes us judge one another, whether accurately or not.  I’ve often thought this may explain the Fermi paradox.  Aliens bay be looking at us and seeing how we treat our own species.  How can we be expected to treat an alien race fairly?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Best in Show (2000)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I remember seeing this movie when it first came out. I was aware of what a mockumentary is at the time, but I still wasn’t that interested. For those that don’t know, a mockumentary is a mock documentary. In this case, it’s a fictional account of several people entering a dog show, each hoping for the ultimate title of best in show.

The first half of the movie sets up the various characters. There’s one couple that has a Weimaraner. The two of them met in Starbucks. Actually, they met in two different Starbucks that were across the street from each other. They also like to shop out of J. Crew catalogs so as not to come in contact with anyone.

In another case, there’s a well-endowed woman who married presumably for a quick inheritance and has a standard poodle, who will be handled by another woman. (I have to ask: If they have standard poodles, wouldn’t that imply substandard poodles, as well?)

The second half deals with the actual show, which is the 125th Annual Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. The couple with the Weimaraner is particularly stressed out. They really seemed over the top. (The movie begins with the couple and the dog in therapy. If I was that dog, I’d be depressed, too.) Others also have varying degrees of stress, but nothing like them. They actually obsess over a little bumblebee toy for the dog. For many of the others, it’s simply a matter of trying to get the dogs just right.

The dog show had two commentators; one seemed to know what he was talking about and the other seemed to know very little, making for an odd-couple pairing. Some of the discussion between the two seemed sensible, such as what a miniature breed is. Other parts of the commentary were a little bit more ridiculous, such as having a bloodhound wear an outfit reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t really watch dog shows, so I can’t really tell how accurately they were portrayed. It looks like the movie was intended for people like me, which would be people that have a passing knowledge of dog shows. I know enough to know the basic concept of what goes on, but not much else.

While I thought the movie was amusing, I didn’t think that it was particularly funny. I guess you’d have to know a little bit more about dogs, as the movie seems to be more of a commentary of that lifestyle. All of the people were a little too attached to their dogs.

Some of the humor was also a little crude. For instance, Eugene Levy plays a man with two left feet – literally. His wife seems to have dated every man they come in contact with on the way to the show.

I’d have to give this movie two stars. I really can’t recommend it. I almost stopped watching it at some points. I really think you’d be better off watching something else.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Le tableau/The Painting (2011)

Some movies I watch because I want to watch them.  Either they have an actor I like or the trailers look interesting.  Some movies I watch to see how bad they are.  Usually, these are the ones that have a reputation for being bad.  They may be on one of those combo packs, in which case I’m just looking for a review.  There are others that I come across that I want to watch just to see how they handled special effects or subject matter.

When I came across The Painting on Netflix, I added it to my list.  It’s about characters in an unfinished painting that go in search of the painter.  I had wanted to see how they put painted characters in the real world, but kept putting off watching it.  I knew that it was supposed to be an allegory for class.  There was also the issue of the characters finding their creator.  Either aspect could come across as contrived if not handled well.  Eventually, curiosity got the better of me.

In the movie, there are three classes: Allduns, Halfies and Sketchies.  Allduns are those that are fully painted.  Halfies are partially painted.  Sketchies, as you might expect, are just rough sketches.  Allduns live in luxury, leaving the others to fend for themselves in a garden.  Even those that are nearly finished aren’t good enough for the Allduns to associate with.  Several of the characters go out to find The Painter, hoping that he will complete the painting.  (At the very least, he might at least explain why he abandoned the painting.)

The CGI was almost obvious, especially when the painted characters cross over into the real world.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and may have been intended, as they’re basically from a two-dimensional world.  They leave their painting and search several other paintings, which serve as portals to a shared universe.  They explore this universe before going to find The Painter.

There were a few scenes where it seemed like it was geared towards younger audiences.  There is some artistic nudity and one scene where Death chases the characters, but I don’t recall anything that would scar anyone for life.   It seems like the kind of movie that would be appropriate for teenagers and above.  The movie doesn’t hit us over the head with class issues.  We see what the lower-class characters have to go through, but rather than make us feel sorry for them, we get to see them attempt to do something about it.

It was also fairly obvious that The Painter was supposed to represent The Creator.  (Why would The Painter/The Creator abandon them?  Why would he allow them to suffer?)  It didn’t seem preachy.  Instead, it was incorporated into the story line fairly well.  (The characters even wonder who created their creator.)

This ended up being one of the better Netflix finds.  The only problem I had was that I was forced to go with the subtitles.  I’m not sure if there’s an English dub, but I usually like having the option.  I’d definitely recommend watching the movie if you get a chance.

IMDb page

The Painting - Now on DVD [Official US Trailer]

Monday, August 03, 2015

Bloody Tease 2D & 3D

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I really have to stop getting these movies that have plots in them. It’s not that I don’t like a good story. It’s simply that I have other priorities when I get an adult movie. (At least, movies that I think are adult movies.) Usually, the plot isn’t that developed, the acting is bad and what little the movie has to offer simply distracts from those other priorities. I got Bloody Tease for that and one other reason: There was a 3-D version, which I’ll get to later.

First, I want to talk about that plot which barely exists. It seems that three vampires have set up a strip club to lure college-aged men. Once they have some ‘clients’ inside the club, the three vampires feed on them. (For some reason, they really like college students.) They move on when they’ve had their fill of the local selection, or at least when they’ve been found out. (It seems as though somewhere along the way, they’ve made enemies.)

One day, three friends decide to bring the vampires home for a little ‘private entertainment’, only to discover that they have to fight for their lives or something like that. The truth is that I didn’t really get that far. This was a horrible movie in pretty much every respect. The acting was the typical bad-acting acting. The script and plot were really, really bad. The strip club looked like an abandoned warehouse. Everything was horrible.

I also made the mistake of thinking that this was an adult movie. It has sexual themes and vampires are erotic, but what sexuality there was tended to be spread out and the vampire makeup wasn’t that great. Add to that the fact that the women weren’t supermodels. Yes, they were attractive, but they’re not that attractive. Also, I can’t seem to find them in any other movie anywhere. (If a movie’s main cast hasn’t been in any other movies, that alone should tell you something.)

As for this 3-D business, I saw that the movie came in the standard 2-D version plus a 3-D version. The DVD didn’t come with any 3-D glasses. I thought that I had some 3-D glasses around my house somewhere, but I was too lazy to go digging through everything to find them, especially considering what I thought of the 2-D version. The 3-D version was a nice bonus, but I never got around to using it.

There were no extras. I really shouldn’t complain about that, though. I can’t see there really being any need. It might have been fun to see the thought process behind the plot. (“Well, we were at this strip club and one of the strippers looked like a vampire…”) If there had been any extras, I don’t think that they would have been that substantial. Overall, this is a bad investment. I’m sorry that I paid anything for it. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Akira (1988)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

It’s been said that you can do a lot more with animation than you can do in real life because animation has a leveling effect on the special effects.. This is evident in films such as Akira. Let’s face it; the movie starts out with a nuclear explosion in Tokyo. The result is Neo Tokyo. 30 years have passed since the explosion. (The bulk of the movie takes place in 2019.)

Biker gangs are everywhere. The police go after them, but there are always more. In the beginning of the movie, one gang is chasing after another. As soon as the police show up, they scatter. Still, one gang member wants to chase down another. One thing leads to another, which in turn leads to an accident. Tetsuo (the one doing the chasing) is taken away in a helicopter. None of his fellow gang members can figure out where he’s been taken or what happened to him.

Tetsuo is taken to a secret research facility where experiments are done on him. (These experiments are related to what happened in Tokyo in 1989, but you don’t find out how until much later in the movie.) The experiments have very serious consequences, including hallucinations and the development of incredible powers. Tetsuo doesn’t understand what’s happening to him or what kind of power he has.

It’s really hard to go into the plot from there for two reasons. First, it’s way too complicated to explain. Second, I’d also have to give out a lot of the plot twists. It’s better to just watch the movie. I have to warn you that it’s a very violent movie with disturbing visuals. I should point out that this is not a movie for children unless they like having nightmares. In one scene, you get to see a giant teddy bear with liquid pouring out of it and Tetsuo is terrified of it for good reason. I’d say the movie is more appropriate for those of high-school age or older.

The movie is a good movie for several different reasons. First, the animation is great despite the fact that the movie was made in 1988. (I was going into middle school the summer this movie was released in Japan.) Also, it’s a great story. Yes, you’re thinking that animation is kids’ stuff. Might I remind you of the last paragraph? This is not a kids’ movie. It’s a story about someone who starts out as someone the gang leader protects to someone the gang leader (and everyone else) fears.

From what I understand, there are several translations. Even on the same DVD, sub and dub are different. I’ve usually gone for dub, even though most people go for subtitles. I find that having to read subtitles is too distracting. I’d rather be able to see the animation than have to look down every few seconds. (One of these days, though, I’m going to learn Japanese.)

The movie gets five stars. I would recommend this, but to older audiences. I couldn’t see a small child watching this and coming out ok. Even for an adult, you have to be used to disturbing stuff.

Official Site {Japan]

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Gate (1987)

There are some movies that can withstand the test of time.  They have a quality that allows them to be understood and enjoyed equally by any generation.  Such movies can be watched and rewatched and never lose their appeal.  The Gate is not such a movie.

The movie starts with a boy named Glen returning home to find it abandoned.  It looks like his family left mid meal.  He goes to his tree house, which is promptly hit by lightening.  He awakens to find it was just a nightmare.  When he looks out of his window, he sees said tree being cut down, leaving a geode exposed.  Glen and his friend, Terry, manage to dig it back up after the workers burry it.  Glen’s parents are going out of town for the weekend.  In their absence, Glen’s sister, Alexandra, will be in charge.  (This basically means that Alexandra will be inviting her obnoxious friends over.)

If you’ve seen a lot of mid-budget horror movies, you’re probably wondering by now what could possibly go wrong.  Well, the hole that’s been reopened by the boys happens to be a portal to a netherworld.  Inside the geode is a set of instructions meant to let a demon and its minions through to our plane.  It just so happens that Glen and Terry manage to set off a series of bizarre and horrifying events.

When I say horrifying, remember that this is a 1987 movie.  It’s not for small children, but it’s not particularly nightmare inducing, either.  (Teens on up should be fine.)  Those that grew up on more modern movies will probably find the effects and the scary parts laughable.  The scariest thing is a large demon coming out of the floor.

There are also some things that would be either cliché or lost on today’s audiences, such as playing a vinyl record backwards for a satanic/subliminal message.  You don’t really hear about that much any more.  (I guess it wouldn’t be hard to play an MP3 backwards, but still…)  I also find it odd that there’s always exactly one character that knows exactly what do to.  It just so happens that Terry knows all about the portal.  This is because he has a record made by a band that had previous dealings with the portal.  This one and only album has liner notes with very helpful instructions.

Also, despite the characters’ best efforts, various requisite acts, such as offering blood, occur either accidentally or without the main characters’ knowledge.  I don’t want to give away too much, in case you want to experience the movie for yourself, but when you have instructions on how to open a portal to hell, you have to know that every step will eventually be followed.  (How is it that Glen is even able to read the instructions, anyway?)

I vaguely remember seeing this movie when I was in middle school.  I also remember a friend referencing the movie’s sequel, which I may look in to.  I don’t remember if I overlooked the movie’s shortcomings at the time because it was on par with other stuff of the era or if it was because I was 11 when the movie came out.  I’m not saying that it’s a total waste of 85 minutes. I suppose if you have just over an hour to kill, there are worse things you could watch.  I’m just saying that there are probably better horror movies if that’s what you’re looking for.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) full movie

I finally decided to upload a public-domain movie to my YouTube channel.  It's one that I've already reviewed before. I figured I'd give everyone an easy way to view it.  If I can get enough subscriberws and viewers, I may consider posting more.  I'll have to see how it goes.