April 30, 2010

Full Metal Village (2006)

OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, my interest in documentaries has significantly increased. I’m not sure why; coincidentally, my choices in books have largely leaned in the same direction: non-fiction and autobiographies have ruled my reading list.

But while my interest in documentaries has been relatively recent, my love for heavy metal spans nearly three-quarters of my lifetime – from the moment my neighbor played me cuts from AC/DC’s Back in Black and the Scorpions’ Blackout back in the early ‘80s.

So, when I saw there was a documentary about what happens to a quiet German town when a monstrous, three-day metal festival rolls in, I stuck my devil horns up with one hand and thrust up a lighter with the other (well, figuratively speaking…at my age, throwing both my arms in the air like that could land me in traction).

Through interviews and visual montages, Full Metal Village examines the lives of the residents of Wacken (a small German town of 1,800 residents) as they prepare for the upcoming annual Wacken Open Air Festival – a three-day concert featuring some of the heaviest metal bands on the planet…as well as 50,000 of their most loyal followers who infiltrate Wacken to attend the show.


Based on Full Metal Village’s subject matter of rock-meets-rural, immediate comparisons to Woodstock (both the event and documentary) come to mind. However, unlike the Woodstock doc, Full Metal Village doesn’t jump right into the organization and execution of its concert. In fact, filmmaker Sung-Hyung Cho uses the first hour of her 90-minute film to give us a feel for the town and its inhabitants even before the concert grounds are shown, the stage is constructed, and the fans arrive.

Cho interviews roughly a dozen residents of Wacken, including:
  • several cattle farmers, featuring a married couple whose banter throughout the film is quite comical
  • a pair of elderly women who’ve heard stories about the supposed evils of the festival
  • a couple of teenage girls (and aspiring models) anticipating the festival
  • a founder of the original Wacken festival who now regrets not staying with it
Wacken’s sweeping farmlands, countryside, and small-town lifestyle are all beautifully shot by cinematographer Marcus Winterbauer – from the sprawling fields of farm crops to the tracking shots of the town storefronts. He also does a commendable job of capturing the essence of the festival and the throngs of concertgoers to close out the film.

Unfortunately, all the quiet quaintness of Wacken translates into a slow movie at times. A more balanced amount of screen time between the townfolk and the festival (or maybe glimpses of what we’ll see at the festival) could have helped liven things up.

Aside from the occasional metal riffs, Full Metal Village features a quirky, simple score by Peyman Yazdanian when Cho shows us Wacken and its people – though it’s hard to say whether the score is endearing or mocking in its tone.

Despite its promised premise of the little town of Wacken being overrun by thousands of metalheads, Full Metal Village is more about the villagers than the metal – it’s essentially a series of character studies with the impending festival as the backdrop. (We don’t see the influx of concertgoers converging on Wacken until the last 20 minutes of the film.)

Ultimately, Full Metal Village is interesting, watchable, but probably not a contender for repeat viewings. Rent it in the most metal way possible.

  • Watch for the funny scene near the end, featuring metal fans from the festival banging their heads at a nearby concert of a German fire department’s marching band.
  • There’s practically no footage of the bands that played at the festival (I suspect lack of permission from the concert organizers). If you’re interested in who performed, a complete band list is here.
German, with subtitles.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Full Metal Village is unrated, but I’d put it in the PG category due to some minor offenses:
* Some mild profanities in the translation
* A brief glimpse of a male concertgoer’s bare butt
* One of the teen girls plays a computer game where the goal is, as a male sheep, to fornicate with as many female sheep as possible. (To quote South Park’s Stan: “Dude, what the f**k is wrong with German people?!”)

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Even if she’s not a metal fan, she may enjoy Full Metal Village. At its essence, it’s more about the people of the town than the festival, the music, or the fervent fans.

Ich bin ein crowd-surfer!

Full Metal Village
* Director: Sung-Hyung Cho
* Screenwriter: Sung-Hyung Cho
* Stars: Uwe Trede, Lore Trede, Klaus H. Plähn, Irma Schaack, Eva Waldow
* MPAA Rating: N/A (mild profanity, brief nudity)

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April 22, 2010

Magnum Force (1973)

I HAVE A SOFT SPOT for Magnum Force. It was one of, if not the first, R-rated movies my dad let my brother and I watch on HBO as kids.

Of course, based on the circumstances (I’m a kid watching a violent R-rated film), I thought the movie was awesome. Still, I recently wondered: If I revisited Magnum Force 30 years later, would it still be as awesome as I remembered it?

In this second installment of the Dirty Harry series, San Francisco police inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) must bring down a group of young vigilante cops (led by a pre-Starsky and Hutch David Soul) who are gunning down criminals that the justice system can’t put away.


Some critics have said that Ted Post directs Magnum Force much like many of the TV shows he’s helmed – that the film feels like it was made the small screen. Frankly, I don’t see it. Sure, it’s a cop drama, and cop shows were plentiful in the ‘70s when Magnum Force was made, but the similarity ends there. And there’s simply no way a movie this violent could ever be made for TV. (Ever catch the edited version of Magnum Force on AMC or Pax? I rest my case.)

Regarding the violence: 30 people are killed in Magnum Force, the highest body count of any of the five Dirty Harry films. In fact, there’s so much gun violence, bloodshed, and nudity that at times the film feels like an exploitation flick with a budget, rather than a mainstream Hollywood film. But that’s not to say Magnum Force isn’t fun to watch; it’s as entertaining as it is gratuitous.

Eastwood doesn’t really bring anything new to the Callahan character (which is fine), though he is given a love interest (Adele Yoshioka) and forced to work with a new partner (Felton Perry) while trying to figure out who’s bumping off the bad guys. However, it’s interesting to see Eastwood balance the dichotomy of Callahan: a lone-wolf misanthrope who makes his own rules in the name of justice, but draws the line at becoming a vigilante.

That being said, it can be easy to get behind the young cops who are carrying out the killings. There’s no doubt the criminals they’re targeting are, essentially, scum: Drug dealers, mob hitmen, pimps…but when these vengeful boys in blue start turning their slanted form of righteousness on their fellow officers, it’s just as easy to ask, “Where does it end?”

A couple cons: At 124 minutes, the film’s a bit long for a Dirty Harry action flick – it probably could’ve been cut by 15 minutes if sequences of Callahan walking and long shots of cars driving were trimmed. And the great Hal Holbrook is a bit underused as Callahan’s clichéd, by-the-numbers lieutenant.

All in all, Magnum Force is good, trashy fun (though not quite trashy enough for Trashterpiece Theatre). It was definitely worthwhile revisiting it.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Even though I got to see Magnum Force as a kid (hey, it was the ‘70s), I would have to say “uh-uh” for kids today: adult language, drug use, male and female nudity (including a cameo of a topless Suzanne Somers), scores of bloody shootings, a shot woman falls to her death from a penthouse, and a pimp kills one of his hookers by pouring Drano down her throat.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many female fans of the Dirty Harry series, let alone this overly violent entry. Save Magnum Force for when everybody else in your house is away or asleep.

Pimpin’ ain’t easy…especially on my eyes.

Magnum Force
* Director: Ted Post
* Screenwriters: John Milius, Michael Cimino
* Stars: Clint Eastwood, Hal Holbrook, David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich, Felton Perry, Mitchell Ryan, Adele Yoshioka, Albert Popwell
* MPAA Rating: R (adult language, graphic violence, nudity, drug use)

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April 16, 2010

Dinosaur (2000)

LIKE MOST BOYS HIS AGE, Dash has a healthy interest in dinosaurs: books, toys, TV shows, etc. And like most kids, he also has an affinity for Disney films.

Combine those two factors with the growing list of PG-rated movies my wife and I have been letting him watch, and Dinosaur seemed like a plausible choice for a father-son review.

Through a series of events, a dinosaur egg ends up with a family of lemurs, who raise the hatched dino – named Aladar (D.B. Sweeney) – as one of their own, despite the fact that dinos usually eat lemurs as snacks.

After a meteor shower decimates their homeland, Aladar and his lemur family join a traveling herd of dinosaurs, led by the demanding Kron (Samuel E. Wright), to find a supposed nesting ground of paradise.


I find myself struggling to say much about Dinosaur. Not that it was horrible, nor was it great…it’s just that not much stood out in terms of plot or character development.

Regarding the latter, we’ve seen all the character types before, especially in Disney films:
  • The put-upon hero who stands up against adversaries bigger than him for what he thinks is right
  • The sympathetic girl (in this case, Kron’s sister Neera (Julianna Margulies)) who eventually thinks our hero may be on to something
  • A comic relief (lemur Zini (Max Casella)) who’s only mildly amusing
  • A token, sassy female (dino Eema (Della Reese))

The CGI animation in Dinosaur is just a hair unrefined compared to today’s standards, but younger viewers probably won’t notice or care. Interestingly, the scenery and backdrop animation are much more impressive and realistic than the animated creatures.

In the end, Dinosaur walks a tightrope between kid feature and adult film (stop it, you know what I mean): talking dinosaurs to attract the kids, but tone and occasional content that does warrant its PG rating (see Is it suitable for your kids? below).

Bottom line: There are worse ways to spend 82 minutes.


What did Dash think?
Dash watched Dinosaur with silent intensity, which to me seemed like he enjoyed it and was maybe secretly relishing the fact he was allowed to watch another PG-rated movie. The only part of the film he didn’t like? “The meteor shower.”

Is it suitable for your kids?
Dinosaur’s PG rating is accurate and appropriate. Some examples as to why:
  • The devastating meteor shower near the beginning is a bit intense, and it’s implied that the entire population of Aladar’s homeland, except for his family, has been wiped out.
  • The giant carnotaurs (think a T. rex with more spikes and teeth) are quite menacing, and their attacks on Aladar and the other dinos could be scary to very young children.
  • Several dinosaurs die from falling rocks, being mauled, or plunging off a cliff.
In short: Watch Dinosaur with caution around the wee ones.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
The fact that Dinosaur is about, well, dinosaurs, might make it more of a boy/guy thing. Still, there are a few strong female characters that may keep her interest.

Oh, get a cave, you two.

* Directors: Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag
* Screenwriters: John Harrison, Robert Nelson Jacobs
* Stars: D.B. Sweeney, Alfre Woodard, Ossie Davis, Max Casella, Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright, Julianna Marguiles, Della Reese
* MPAA Rating: PG (intense images)

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April 6, 2010

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

SO MUCH HAS already been said about Saturday Night Fever and its impact as a pop culture phenomenon; it can be hard to put the film into perspective. Decades of parodies, tributes, and white guys goofily pointing up and down on the dance floor at weddings make an objective review even harder.

Based on an article in New York magazine, Saturday Night Fever tells the story of 19-year-old Brooklyn native Tony Manero (John Travolta) – hardware store clerk by day, king of the local discotheques by night. Despite his kingly status on the dance floor, Tony wants bigger things in life. (He thinks the only way out of Brooklyn is to make it big in Manhattan…but doing what?) In the meantime, he hangs with his boisterous crew of friends and juggles two very different women: a desperate, lost-puppy hanger-on (Donna Pescow) and a hard-to-get older woman (Karen Lynn Gorney) who dances at the studio where Tony works part-time as an instructor.


Director John Badham lets long passages of Saturday Night Fever unfold without dialogue, letting the music and dancing do the talking. When there is dialogue, Norman Wexler’s script isn’t very memorable, but that’s part of its appeal – the conversations between Tony, his crew, and the women in his life all seem virtually unscripted, providing a high sense of realism.

In short, there’s no true plot; the film just kind of…happens. (That being said, a subplot involving the return of Tony’s priest brother Frank (Martin Shakar) does seem unnecessary.)

But then there’s the music. Bust all you want on disco, but there’s no denying the sheer power of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack by the Bee Gees, which was a bigger juggernaut than the film – it went on to sell approximately 2.1 kajillion copies and was the number one album for the first six months of 1978.

And it’s not just how connected the Bee Gees’ music is to the film – it’s how specific songs define key scenes:
* “Staying Alive,” as the film opens to Badham’s iconic tracking shot of Tony’s feet strutting down the sidewalk
* “Night Fever,” as Tony goes through his evening ritual of styling his hair, putting on the gold chains, and donning the polyester
* “You Should Be Dancing,” as Tony dominates the dance floor at the local disco with his solo dance sequence

Of course, Saturday Night Fever sent Travolta into the stratosphere of global movie star, jumping from his supporting role on TV’s Welcome Back, Kotter to the big-screen production of the musical Grease (and more recently, Disney's animated feature Bolt).

* In addition to Saturday Night Fever, composer David Shire also provided the score to another gritty New York drama of the 1970s: The Taking of Pelham 123 (whose 2009 remake featured Travolta as the villain).
* Watch for the cameo by The Nanny’s Fran Drescher, who delivers the infamous line to Travolta, “Are you as good in bed as you are on that dance floor?”


Is it suitable for your kids?
Despite the glitz and glamour of the nightlife and dance sequences, Saturday Night Fever is often a dark and brutal film: coarse language, racial slurs, graphic sex scenes, stripper nudity, date/gang rape, and one of Tony’s cronies falls to his death off the Verrazano Bridge.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Maybe for nostalgic reasons, and to see a very young Travolta in the role that made his career. But she’ll need to be prepared for the rougher scenes interspersed with the fun disco parts.

Click Play, sit back, and soak in the awesomeness.

Saturday Night Fever
* Director: John Badham
* Screenwriter: Norman Wexler
* Stars: John Travolta, Donna Pescow, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller, Joseph Cali, Paul Pape, Bruce Ornstein
* MPAA Rating: R

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April 1, 2010

Coming soon: Despicable Me

I'VE BEEN ASKED to help promote Universal's upcoming summer film, Despicable Me. It features the voices of Steve Carell (Horton Hears a Who!), Miranda Cosgrove (she of the too-catchy "Raining Sunshine" from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), Jason Segel and Russell Brand (both from Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

Here's the official synopsis:

In a happy suburban neighborhood, surrounded by white picket fences with flowering rose bushes, sits a black house with a dead lawn. Unbeknownst to the neighbors, hidden deep beneath this home is a vast secret hideout. Surrounded by an army of tireless, little yellow minions, we discover Gru (Steve Carell), planning the biggest heist in the history of the world. He is going to steal the moon (yes, the moon!) in Universal's new 3-D CGI feature, Despicable Me.

Gru delights in all things wicked. Armed with his arsenal of shrink rays, freeze rays and battle-ready vehicles for land and air, he vanquishes all who stand in his way. Until the day he encounters the immense will of three little orphaned girls who look at him and see something that no one else has ever seen: a potential Dad.

One of the worlds greatest super-villains has just met his greatest challenge: three little girls named Margo, Edith and Agnes.

Despicable Me opens July 9, 2010.
Check out the new trailer here.

Official Website


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