Friday, January 2, 2015

Thomas' De Hart Attack Awards for 2014

Top Dozen Favorite First Time Viewings in 2014:
Welcome to the second annual De Hart Attack awards. This a way to honor the movies that I saw for the first time in 2014 that became instant favorites. While I watch a hell of a lot of movies again (HD makes all the difference sometimes), these are my top butcher baker's dozen of first time outings.

RIGOR MORTIS (2013): Not only one of the best films to come out of Hong Kong in years, but one of the best horror movies to come out of any country in years. Easily my favorite film of 2014.

FIRE, ICE & DYNAMITE (1990): Willy Bogner gives us the thinnest of plots since THE CANNONBALL RUN (1981) as an excuse to have insane professionals do extremely dangerous things in the snow.

DARK COUNTRY (2009): Thomas Jane's truly under-appreciated 3D homage to "The Twilight Zone" and '50s film noir, scuttled by a boneheaded studio who didn't know what to do with it.

TERMINAL CHOICE (1985): Wonderfully sinister Canadian bitch-slap to the medical profession, executed with style and a solid cast.

THE SPY (2013): Maybe it is just because most South Korean movies are so lacking in originality and subtlety that this one caught me by surprise. Like many Seoullywood movies, it is aping a US film, but for once, does it so much better. If only modern Bond films could be this much fun.

GALLANTS (2010): Highly entertaining, tongue-in-cheek tribute to old-school HK martial arts films starring Leung Siu-lung, Chen Kuan-tai and many other old kung fu stars. Done without getting too sentimental or mocking the subject matter, this film hits exactly the right tone and boasts some great old school martial arts fights. Probably the second best thing I've seen out of Hong Kong in a very long time. Of course, that isn't saying much at all.

TALL BLONDE WITH ONE BLACK SHOE (1972): Yes, I know that you are thinking that this is one of those "film class" movies, where the instructor blathers on about how wonderful French cinema is, invariably leading up to yet another monologue on the brilliance of Jean-Luc Godard. Inspite of that, this François Perrin vehicle is an absolute corker of a satire, sending up the conventions of the spy and film noir genres, while throwing out a surprisingly bold visual style. Sure there is some slapstick, but there is plenty of multi-layered wit to balance it out. There is one caveat however: this movie will make you want to see the sequel, RETURN OF THE TALL BLONDE (1974) or god forbid the shot-for-shot Tom Hanks remake THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE (1985). Don't do it. It's a trap.

CHINA LAKE MURDERS (1990): Neat, twisted USA Network thriller starring Tom Skerritt as a small town Nevada sheriff and Michael Parks a big city LA motorcycle cop who may have some serious issues to deal with. I can't say much more without giving out spoilers, but the metaphoric game of chess between the two not only makes for a riveting movie, but gives two solid actors a chance to show just how good they are when they are cast in meaty roles.

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2014): I weep bitter tears every night over the fact that Jodorowsky couldn't manage to get his ultra-ambitious vision of Frank Herbert's classic novel "Dune" past the pre-production stage. This documentary actually makes things worse. Covering a large amount of of the history of the project, my only gripe is it should have been a full two-hours minimum. The 90 minute running time feels rushed, but is still a great movie about the greatest science fiction film never made.

SUPER HERO TAISEN Z (2013): Absolutely insane Toei mega-mash-up with countless Kamen Riders, Super Sentai and the Space Sheriffs thrown in for good measure. The action moves so fast and so furious that the 90 minute running time seems like 9 minutes. Plot? Oh jeezus, I don't know if I could explain it if I tried. If your only experience with tokusatsu is the cheap and cheerful "Power Rangers" you don't know what you are missing. Warning: This movie is a gateway drug. Video Junkie bears no responsibility for sending you down that rabbit hole.

THE NICKEL RIDE (1974): Nearly flawless, low-key crime movie in the vein of THE FRIENDS OF EDDY COYLE (1973), about a small time fence, Jason Miller, who's business is starting to turn sour and is starting to crack under the pressure of the cops and the mob. Perfect, if unusual, casting choices include John Hillerman and Bo Hopkins as, believe it or not, mafia men.

SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK (2013): Easily the best computer animated film to come along in years, this readaptation of the manga that was turned into a children's anime and now into a stunning visual feast that dumps the slapstick in favor of dark, mature themes. Well, mostly mature. There is that zero-g shower scene.

DRAGON FIRE (1993): Out of the multitude of BLOODFIST (1989) remakes cranked out by Roger Corman's New Horizons Pictures, this is the top of the heap, eclipsing even the original. Set in a BLADE RUNNER (1982) dystopian future, this tells the BLOODFIST story of a guy who enters and underground martial arts tournament looking for the killer of his brother, but goes completely nuts with the retro-future set dressing, well choreographed action sequences and charismatic stars. Hell, it's even got a cameo by Jim Wynorski as a stri-club announcer, what more could you want?

Worst Films Viewed in 2014:
These are simply the most unentertaining and insipid films I've seen for the first time this year. I know some folks liked some of these, which is fine, you are welcome to them.

THOR: DARK WORLD (2013): Along with IRON MAN 3 (2013), this ranks as my least favorite of Marvel's films and found it even more tedious and uninspired than the first one. I am taking it that writers Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are under the assumption that nobody foolish enough to go see this has seen any of the STAR WARS films. Granted all of Marvel's output seem to be inclined to rip-off 1983s RETURN OF THE JEDI dogfight scenes (by way of the 1996 film INDEPENDENCE DAY), but this seems to take that source of inspiration one step further. In addition to completely wasting Christopher Eccleston with a thankless role, under a load of Darth Maul make-up, Stellan Skarsgard returns to provide the comic relief, which he should never do again. Then again, at least he keeps his clothes on. I think the best thing about this movie was the fact that the photoshopped poster that replaced Natalie Portman with Tom Hiddleston in Thor's embrace was accidentally used as legitimate advertising in China. Now that's funny.

TORRENTE 4: LETHAL CRISIS (2011): I understand the appeal of bad taste comedies, I actually used to like Santiago Segura and have enjoyed some of his past efforts, but I don't get the TORRENTE films at all. Yes, I understand that a parody of BAD LIEUTENANT (1992) is not a bad idea, but the jokes in TORRENTE 4 take this to extremes that are so low brow, the fact that I'm bitching about them will only make me sound like some PC tree-hugger. Other than a running fart joke, lots of masturbation jokes, homosexual jokes and some pretty shocking racist jokes, there is not much comedy to be had. Then again, is it a joke if you are constantly patronizing black people and calling them "sambo" and "fucking blacks"? They have a scene where Torrente and his cronies "accidentally" break a black guys leg (with the bone jutting out of the leg) in a soccer match and the black guy is so gullible he doesn't realize that his "friends" set him up, while the white guys laugh over his stupidity. During a prison shower scene, Torrente is being eyed by a big black man who is clearly about to rape him. To defend himself, he throws a bar of soap down behind the guy next to him and as the guy bends over to pick it up and we get his bent-over ass complete with hanging brains shoved out of the screen in 3D. Then we cut to the black guy charging like a bull at the exposed man bits. I really would like to find TORRENTE 4 crassly funny, but it's just crass for the sake of being crass. Of course this film broke box office records in Spain when it was released, so what the hell do I know?

NURSE 3D (2013): An intentionally campy neo-slasher film that desperately tries to be edgy by forcing bad puns, ridiculous caricatures, and shameless mugging while desperately trying to push the envelope with lesbian sex and sexual killings. A scantily clad nurse, Abby (the cartoonish looking Paz de la Huerta), swings her hips around a hospital that apparently has no dress code, having sex with anything that moves and killing them afterwards. The exception to the rule is a fellow nurse (Katrina Bowden) who is seduced by Abby, who genuinely likes her at first, and later begins to figure out that Abby is a psychopath. I'm sure if I was 13, I would have loved this movie. It's got full frontal female nudity, buckets of blood and slick, glossy production values. Since I'm not 13, the things that stand out are the completely idiotic attempt at a plot, ill advised CG effects, pointless use of 3D, and de la Huerta's performance which is arguably the worst fumbling attempt at acting in the history of modern cinema. Even if it didn't seem as though she was reading her lines off of a cue card, it would still be put to shame by any FRIDAY THE 13th sequel. NURSE makes JASON TAKES MANHATTAN (1989) seem like Dickensian literature.

SNOWPIERCER (2014): Much like the recent hubub over THE INTERVIEW (2014), this South Korean film is ham-handed dystopian future effort, based on a manga of the same name, got a huge reaction from the public based on what they would not be allowed to see. Here the Weinsteins proposed to release the film at some undetermined date, with a multitude of cuts. So, in other words, business as usual for them. For some reason the bastardization of this particular film, out of the hundreds that they have butchered, caused metaphoric rioting in the streets which eventually caused them to release the film in its untampered form. This meant lots of free publicity and a buzz that wouldn't quit with people who hadn't seen the movie citing it as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time that was being kept from the people by an iron fisted czar. While the public was whipped up into a frenzy of nerd rage, those of us who saw the film via Korean video found it to be nothing more than a paper tiger.
The visuals are bland, the acting is flat and the story-line is not only predictable, but laughable. A group of people are confined to live on a speeding train after global warming turns the earth into a frozen wasteland. The lower classes live in the back of the train eating protein bars and occasionally being punished by having one of their limbs pushed out of a specially made porthole where it instantly freezes and falls off. It's difficult to believe that a) energy would be wasted keeping a train moving for decades when it could be used to power and heat an entire building complex and b) that the designer of this last hope for humanity would engineer special holes in the hull for which corporeal punishment could be meted out. And don't get me started on the protein bars, the origins of which the filmmakers expect you to be horrified by, but are hilariously tame, the preachy politics, the self-indulgently long running time and the trite, cheesy ending. This is a movie, again like THE INTERVIEW, that without the controversy would have come and gone with barely anyone noticing.

THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (2014): Knowing that DREDD (2012) actually pre-dated THE RAID (2011) in script form makes one wonder if Gareth Evans had any real talent at all for anything other than directing action sequences. That question is clearly answered in this self-indulgent, rambling, inconsistent imitation of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese's more recent efforts. Completely dropping any relation to the first film, except for anything other than the main character, Evans slowly drags Rama (Iko Uwais) through a deep cover operation into the gangland. Shot with pretensions of art-house grandeur, the film feels like it was cobbled together from several cable TV show episodes. Lots of slow, cliched scenes in beautiful minimalist environments, ala Scorses, punctuated by hyper-violence with cartoon characters lifted out of KILL BILL (2003) and its plethora of imitators. Clocking in at a punishing 150 minutes, you could easily Weinstein 30-60 minutes out of the movie and no one would ever know the difference. In one scene Rama is attacked by a group of thugs who turn out to be cops. Why? They didn't know he was under-cover. It's not a terrible scene and the action is well choreographed, but it certainly doesn't advance the plot in any way. Fistfuls of non-sequitur scenes are the norm rather than the exception here.
For instance in the middle of his wannabe CASINO (1995), he has a boy friend / girl friend team of 20-something assassins, one who uses a baseball bat to hit hardballs into his targets skulls from a distance, the other a deaf girl who is blind in one eye (but otherwise attractive) and uses two claw-hammers to attack her victims. They both have two very long sequences of them killing random people that serve no purpose whatsoever, except to introduce them as two of the people our hero needs to fight at the very end of the film, like a video game mini-boss. Without the DREDD script to rip-off, it is clear that Evans is left to desperately grab at straws to try to put together a movie.

3 Reactions:

  1. I'm kind of giddily thrilled that I've not seen *any* of your best-of picks, because it means the quest will continue full throttle without any of that pesky "Oh, I've seen that already" to slow me down. In fact, I've only heard of three (RIGOR MORTIS, DARK COUNTRY, and TALL BLONDE...SHOE). On the flip side, I've not seen too many of your worst-of list, but I applaud your defiant stance against RAID 2 and SNOWPIERCER. I liked the former, but it definitely felt bloated and meandering, and I love that you offhandedly reference THE DEPARTED, since I just name-checked it having just seen INFERNAL AFFAIRS. Haven't seen SNOWPIERCER, primarily because of a few mixed reviews shouting in the face of the mass adulation. I'm still curious to see NURSE, mostly to see how my inner 13-year-old responds.

    Thanks for continuing to lead the charge - looking forward to more madness in '15!

  2. Glad I could help feed your addiction. Good luck with NURSE, I'd rather have my fingernails chewed off by a crocodile than watch it again.

  3. I liked Thor: The Dark World much more than Iron Man 3 or even the original THOR which was nothing special...


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