September 25, 2012

7 x 7 = an award for FilmFather!

Alyson of The Best Picture Project has deemed me worthy of the 7x7 Link Award (well, me and six other bloggers).

What is the 7x7 Link Award, you ask? It highlights a blogger's favorite pieces of work and is passed on to others so they too can do the same as a way to promote posts and/or blogs.

Without much ado or further adieu, my answers to the 7x7 Award's questions.

1. Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you.
In Little League, I was picked off second base while talking to the opposing shortstop about Atari games.

2. Link to your posts that best fit the following categories:

a) Most beautiful piece:
I'd hardly call any of my reviews beautiful, but the one I feel is the most elegantly haunting is We Need to Talk About Kevin. Writing about that film made its disturbing and harrowing subject matter burrow even deeper into my psyche.

b) Most helpful piece:
My review of LEGO: The Adventures of Clutch Powers, because it helps bring attention and exposure to a criminally little-known yet fantastic family film (that includes parents, too).

c) Most popular piece:
Aside from the occasional blip, it's been my most consistently popular post, according to that widget on the right: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

d) Most controversial piece:
That's a toss-up: either my review of The Land Before Time or The Secret of NIMH. I'm no fan of Don Bluth (the former Disney animator and director of both films), and I let it show in what I wrote. I let any differing opinions stay in the comments sections, but I've actually had to delete personal attacks on me and my children from die-hard Bluth fans. Looking back, I might be less harsh if I reviewed these films today; my then-only son was a preschooler at the time, so I was definitely more protective about what he saw.

e) Surprisingly successful piece:
I knew it would be successful, but I had no idea how successful: my review of the exploitative, entertaining, B-movie classic The Sword and the Sorcerer, with 19 comments as of this post. It even received a comment from the director himself, Albert Pyun - the first comment, and on my birthday no less!

f) Most underrated piece:
Sadly, my review of L.A. Confidential. I worked hard on that one, and was certain that my take on this modern classic would open the floodgates for comments of agreement by fellow cinephiles. Unfortunately, the only comment I got was, "Hey, where are all the comments?"

g) Most pride-worthy piece:
Can I substitute "pride" with "schadenfreude?" If so, I choose my review of the absolutely horrible Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The filmmakers gave me so much to sink my fangs into, I should really thank them for it.

3. Pass this award on to 7 other bloggers.
Cinema du Meep
Daddy Geek Boy
Dinner with Max Jenke
The Droid You're Looking For
Enter the Man-Cave
Luke, I Am Your Father
Me and You and a Blog Named Boo

September 18, 2012

Chico & Rita (2010)

AN ELDERLY MAN shines shoes in modern-day Havana. Later, at his cramped, run-down apartment, he turns on the radio and listens to an oldies station play a Latin jazz hit from the late 1940s. He sets his fingers on the window sill, and softly plays along with the opening notes of the piano as a sultry female voice begins to sing…

The old man is Chico (Eman Xor Oña), the song is one of his recordings with Rita (Limara Meneses), and Chico & Rita is their story. Told over a span of 60 years, it follows Chico and Rita as they meet at a Havana nightclub, and after a torrid one night stand and a few misunderstandings (oops, he has a girlfriend), they chase their dreams and each other from Havana to New York, Paris, Hollywood, and Las Vegas – all while encountering missed or blown opportunities in their careers and their relationship.

The animation in Chico & Rita is a fresh detour from most major releases these days. It’s a unique, captivating style, like rotoscoping by way of CGI – with dimension, depth, and an amazing attention to detail, especially in the cityscapes of Havana, New York City, and Paris.

The Latin jazz soundtrack of Chico & Rita permeates nearly every frame, either in the background or front and center. It features original music by legendary Cuban pianist/composer Bebo Valdés (on whom Chico is loosely based) as well as legends such as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Tito Puente, and Chano Pozo (who all have animated cameos in the film).

Ironically, for all the excitement, passion, and life that the soundtrack brings to Chico & Rita, the story itself is a predominately quiet one, with most action and conversations very reserved and mellow. And despite all the globetrotting and love-hate yearnings Chico and Rita share and experience, there’s not enough of an investment in the time they spend together to make us feel for the times they’re apart.

Chico & Rita was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (along with Kung Fu Panda 2 and the deserving winner, Rango), and directors Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba should be credited for bringing something unique to the animation genre. But even the engaging animation and lively Latin soundtrack can’t save or elevate the muted love story that could have been.

Spanish, with subtitles.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Chico & Rita is an animated feature released by the largely kid-friendly GKIDS, but it is definitely not for children. Rita is fully nude for an extended scene, she and Chico are both nude while making love, and several women’s bare behinds are shown. In terms of violence: Chico’s girlfriend and Rita fight across Chico’s apartment floor, Chico is shot in a dream sequence, and another character is shot several times and killed. There is also drinking, smoking, profanities, and one racial slur.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a fan of the Latin jazz movement, she may enjoy the sounds and scenery of Chico & Rita. But if she’s a fan of love stories, she may feel underwhelmed by Chico and Rita’s romance.

Her name was Rita / She was a showgirl...
His name was Chico / He wore a diamond...
I heard they played at the hottest spot north of Havana.
Chico & Rita
* Directors: Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba
* Screenwriters: Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Fernando Trueba
* Stars: Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, Mario Guerra
* MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent Chico & Rita from Netflix >>

September 5, 2012

Starcrash (1979)

IT’S NO SECRET that after the blockbuster success of Star Wars in 1977, a glut of quickie, low-budget space sagas flooded the market over the next few years, all looking to cash in on the phenomenon.

And probably no one in the history of motion pictures has successfully mastered the art of “quick” and “low-budget” like the legendary Roger Corman. So it’s a no-brainer that he entered this stampede of sci-fi schlock by producing the 1979 turkey Starcrash.

Marjoe Gortner (Bobbie Jo & The Outlaw) and Caroline Munro play a pair of interplanetary smugglers recruited by an emperor (Christopher Plummer) of a nearby planet to help defeat the evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell) of the League of the Dark Worlds (DUN-DUN dunnn…), who’s planning to use The Doom Machine (DUN-DUN dunnn…) to destroy the emperor and his planet (dun, dun, DUNNN!!!).

Picking the best worst element of Starcrash is like trying to pick a favorite color of the rainbow. There are so many to savor: unconvincing miniature spaceship models, jarring editing, poor matting, the dated use of wipes and lap dissolves, melodramatic dialogue with expired phrases like “we’ve studied all the videotapes,” and cheesy stop-motion animation that immediately makes you yearn for anything by Ray Harryhausen. (Irony alert: Munro faced off against Harryhausen’s classic stop-motion creatures in 1973’s The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.)

The cast’s ham-fisted performances make it obvious they’re in on the joke. Gortner plays leading man Akton as part hero, part guide: Much of his dialogue consists of explaining oddities or advancing the threadbare plot. As space vixen Stella Star, Munro’s sexy British voice is removed and dubbed by American actress Candy Clark (Gortner’s then-wife). To compensate, Munro is scantily clad for much of the film – which is an additional blessing since her acting consists mostly of a raised eyebrow, scowling, smoldering stares, or a head-shake-and-grin combo.

As the Emperor, a slumming Christopher Plummer (who shot all his scenes in one day) gives as much regality and class as possible to his role, while Spinell (Rocky, Maniac) does such a good job hiding his Noo Yawk accent that is sounds like someone else dubbed his lines. And since everything can use a little Hoff, the Emperor’s son Simon (David Hasselhoff) shows up around the one-hour mark to help with the cause. However, it’s soon after Hasselhoff’s appearance that Starcrash starts to lose its playfulness – lumbering into a mundane, anemic third act despite lots of stuff getting blowed up real good.

Directed by Italian schlockmeister Luigi Cozzi (under the name Lewis Coates) and originally released in Italy as “Scontri Stellari Oltre la Terza Dimensione (Stellar Clashes Beyond the Third Dimension),” Starcrash wasn’t Corman’s only entry in the post-Star Wars sci-fi boom: He also produced the far superior Magnificent-Seven-in-space epic Battle Beyond The Stars.

In the finale of Starcrash, the Emperor orders his imperial battleship, “Halt the flow of time!” At many points during this clunker, it does indeed feel like time is standing still.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Starcrash is rated PG: Several people are shot dead by laser guns; victims of a spaceship crash are shown frozen in the snow; Stella, Akton, and Simon engage in hand-to-hand combat with enemies at various points; and there is one utterance of “damn.” Basically, if your kids have seen Star Wars, there’s no reason they can’t watch Starcrash.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
The two of you could have some fun with Starcrash by goofing on it MST3K-style, but the novelty may wear off before the end credits roll. You’re probably better off exploring it alone as a morbid curiosity to see what makes it such a talked-about train wreck.

Yes, that’s a light saber. No, nothing is sacred.

* Director: Luigi Cozzi
* Screenwriters: Luigi Cozzi, Nat Wachsberger
* Stars: Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff, Robert Tessier, Judd Hamilton
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent Starcrash from Netflix>>


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