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A few reviews
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Although it's by no means bad, 'Escape from L.A.' is such a lackluster semi-remake of 1981's 'Escape from New York' that it's not one I've rushed to re-watch from John Carpenter's filmography. The early CGI ranges from iffy, to outright terrible, which is extra frustrating due to how great the practical FX and matte paintings look. Carpenter's score is fine but unmemorable, another one of his later efforts favouring twangy Western guitars, rather than synths. Unfortunately the script doesn't give Snake enough opportunity to be a badass, instead providing plenty of opportunities for him to look incompetent. The satirical elements have remained pretty strong and enduring, like the ultra right-wing nutjob President (with a bad bouffant comb-over) and the twisting of Los Angeles tropes, especially Bruce Campbell's demented plastic surgeon character.  Guest stars Pam Grier and Steve Buscemi are great but Peter Fonda is really terrible. The ending moment is so cool, that it doesn't deserve the slightly embarrassing film that precedes it. Released a month after Sci-Fi blockbuster 'Independence Day' with it's huge scale and cutting edge FX (for not a huge amount more money), this felt so dated and still does.

The new Shout! Factory blu-ray comes with a pin sharp 1080p transfer of the 35mm theatrical trailer. It's frustrating to see how  much better the film looks in the grainy high-contrast way it was meant to be seen and the CGI looks better integrated too. They've put it up on youtube too:

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Sahara (2005)     (US Amazon Prime)

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As a fan of adventure flicks and lighthearted romps, it was inevitable that I should see Saraha at some point. Well, now I have. And, first, credit where credit is due: the movie looks fantastic. First-time director Breck Eisner, son of then-Disney boss Michael, mounts a very handsome production stuffed with top-notch desert cinematography, cleanly staged action sequences with no obvious CG work, and all-around excellent location shooting. It's practically worth a watch for visuals alone, though the disc commentary, which reportedly features tons of over-confident bluster about the many sequels to come, might be more entertaining than the movie itself.

Because, good grief, is this a stupid, stupid flick. Matthew McConaughey plays an good ol' Southern boy treasure seeker looking for a Confederate ironclad in Africa. (What? Don't ask.) Penélope Cruz plays a WHO doctor investigating a mysterious disease outbreak. So, in a metaphor for the Confederacy itself, the vessel will prove to be the source of the disease, right? Nope! These two plot threads, which end up quite literally neighboring each other in the Sahara Desert, turn out to be completely and utterly unrelated. And then our white heroes use Confederate weaponry to kill the Black African villain. But it's okay, see, because they made other Black African friends along the way. (Why the vessel's hold is full of skeletons, and how the crew perished, is not even addressed.) It'd all be howlingly offensive if it weren't so mindlessly, childishly dumb. This is, after all, a family-aimed nonstop cavalcade of violence (seriously, the whole second half is just one battle after another) and pulp serial throwback that doesn't even bother to ogle one of the world's all-time beauties, which I'm not sure whether to praise or knock it for. And don't even get me started on the notion of the doofus protagonists as former Navy SEALs.

In short, my opinion that the modern age and throwback serial adventure yarns just don't mix endures. Although loud and interminable, it's more enjoyable than the odious Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, for one, and there's something vaguely likable, at times, in its relentlessly upbeat and dopey tone. Hey, it's The Merovingian playing the villain again... that's kinda neat, I guess? And, again, it does look amazing throughout.

Grade: C
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(08-08-2020, 02:35 PM)TM2YC Wrote: Escape from L.A. (1996)
Although it's by no means bad, 'Escape from L.A.' is such a lackluster semi-remake... The ending moment is so cool, that it doesn't deserve the slightly embarrassing film that precedes it.

So, the inevitable question... any thoughts on if/how this could be redeemed through an edit?  (Bear in mind that I've never actually sat through the film, as I didn't want my heart broken.)
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Fleabag (2016-9)    (US Amazon Prime)

[Image: fleabag-2.jpg]

Fleabag is a two-season show of six episodes each about an unnamed London woman with a penchant for drinking and casual flings. It's written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who I didn't realize was the voice/performer of the female droid in Solo until I was nearly done with the show. The first season is solid but unremarkable indie sitcom entertainment in the mold of Louie and Master of None. The second season, however, benefits tremendously from a flirtation arc between the protagonist and Andrew Scott's foul-mouthed, hard-drinking Catholic priest; their interplay is really quite electric. Also, Olivia Colman is splendid throughout as the protagonist's step-mother-to-be, who takes the concept "killing with kindness" to terrifying extremes.

A lot of critical commentary has gushed over the series, the second season especially, but to my male eyes, it wasn't as daring or searing as Louie, a show I'm not going to pretend no longer exists despite CK himself having suffered a well-earned career implosion. That said, the Fleabag/Priest romance is certainly as entertaining as anything in Louie or Master of None.

S1 Grade: B
S2 Grade: B+


Why the priest couldn't have quit the Catholic Church for the Church of England, thereby preserving his relationship with Fleabag, I don't know...

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(08-08-2020, 04:17 PM)mnkykungfu Wrote: So, the inevitable question... any thoughts on if/how this could be redeemed through an edit?  (Bear in mind that I've never actually sat through the film, as I didn't want my heart broken.)

Escape from L.A., for better or worse, is what it is. If one wants to watch Escape from New York, watch that. But whereas New York plays everything completely straight, L.A. practically winks at the camera throughout, except maybe in that final scene. Accept that, and you may enjoy it. I remember it as being pretty okay for what it was the one time I gave it a spin...
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(08-08-2020, 04:17 PM)mnkykungfu Wrote:
(08-08-2020, 02:35 PM)TM2YC Wrote: Escape from L.A. (1996)
Although it's by no means bad, 'Escape from L.A.' is such a lackluster semi-remake... The ending moment is so cool, that it doesn't deserve the slightly embarrassing film that precedes it.

So, the inevitable question... any thoughts on if/how this could be redeemed through an edit?  (Bear in mind that I've never actually sat through the film, as I didn't want my heart broken.)

I got part way through a fanedit ages ago. It's got a clear center channel, so the score can be replaced but a lot of the problems are baked in. It could be improved but not completely fixed.



Bande à part aka Band of Outsiders aka The Outsiders (1964)
It feels like Jean-Luc Godard probably had a lot of fun writing, shooting and editing 'Bande à part'. There some really memorable moments like the hyper-fast edited intro titles timed to music, a minute's silence being an actual total silence on the film's soundtrack, the characters running through The Louvre in record time, doing a spontaneous synchronized dance routine in a cafe and passing notes to each other in class like they were kids, while a teacher reads from 'Romeo & Juliet'.  It centers entirely on three young Parisians (Odile, Franz and Arthur) in a love triangle who hatch a plan to steal a stash of money.  The way Godard narrates the three character's internal, unexpressed thoughts became an iconic motif of the French New Wave (much imitated and parodied).  Quentin Tarantino's production company was called 'A Band Apart' in reference to the film and the "Jack Rabbit Slim's" dance scene in his 'Pulp Fiction' has a very similar vibe.



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Bone Tomahawk (2015)
At over 2-hours, this Western/Horror hybrid twist on John Ford's 'The Searchers' has some pacing problems. It needed a classic three-act, 90-minute structure, 30-mins to introduce the characters and get the posse rolling, 30-mins on the road, 30-mins at the destination. Instead there is a prologue that deflates the impact of the end (and overshadows everything leading up to it), about 75-minutes of character setup/development and then a wam-bam last act. Fortunately the character stuff is so good it nearly overcomes these problems. Lots of grizzled, grouchy cowboys mumbling wonderfully fruity dialogue of the "reconnoiter that inhospitable locale over yonder, if it please you kindly" sort, instead of just "look over there". The performances are also fantastic, lead by perfectly cast Kurt Russell. Director S. Craig Zahler fills up the rest of the cast with well known character actor faces from 80s/90s genre/horror/sci-fi like Sid Haig, David Arquette, Richard Jenkins, Fred Melamed and James Tolkan in small impactful roles. I bet they thought "who can we get that won't cost too much but who people will recognize and who will fill up the screen with their personalities?". It only cost $1.8m which sometimes shows in the overall look and limited locations. It's unbelievably violent at points and isn't your typical Western, blending genres together, so it might not be for everybody.



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Yeah, nearly overcomes those problems.  I was unsure how to read some of the potentially problematic thematic elements in this film.  However, since he's gotten more films produced, his viewpoints have become more clearly defined, and he's become a bit of an icon in the incel/proudboy community.  I won't get political here, but he doesn't make films so good that I need to see them no matter what messaging they're advocating.
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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
I knew I was going to love Celine Sciamma's latest film as soon as she choose to open with a closeup showing the scratch of charcoal on paper... I could almost smell it. The story follows Marianne, an 18th century French female portrait artist who arrives on an island to paint the likeness of noble woman Heloise, so it can be sent to her prospective husband. She's refused to sit for other male painters, so her mother engages Marianne on the pretext of being a hired companion for Heloise. While the mother is away the two begin to fall in love and share a brief oasis with Sophie, the maid of the household, where the rules of 18th century society and morality don't exist. There's a shot that begins on hands doing embroidery but it's revealed that it's Sophie doing the sewing and Heloise doing the cooking. We know and they know it can't last.

It's one of the best looking digital films I've seen, I thought it was shot on film from the warmth of the images. A lot of it is about looking, really looking, artistically, thematically, emotionally and romantically and the viewer is invited to join in via the long searching reciprocal POV shots. Sciamma's script is perfect, every moment is there for a reason and resonates with later scenes. It was such a joy to behold a total modern masterpiece like this. During the final beautiful and moving scene I had to stop myself physically applauding my TV. Oh I wish I had been able to see this at the cinema but my local multiplex sucks, so I couldn't. 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' sometimes reminded me of other 17th-18th century period films like Milos Forman's 'Amadeus' in it's retrospective structure and Peter Greenaway's 'The Draughtsman's Contract' in it's contractual artistic premise... two worthy comparisons. I reckon every Sciamma film has been twice as brilliant as the one preceding it, so judging by 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' and her past form, her next project should be the greatest film ever made.



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Battle of the Sexes (2017)
An enjoyable, very watchable but formulaic sports biopic about Billie Jean King's 1973 "battle of the sexes" tennis match against Bobby Riggs. I like watching Wimbledon and I knew the broad strokes of this story but the stuff about the homophobic Margaret Court playing Riggs beforehand and the larger context of King (and some of her fellow players) founding the 'Women's Tennis Association' a few years before, was all new to me. Emma Stone is perfectly serviceable as King but it's Steve Carell who steals the limelight as the eccentric Riggs. The film has a couple of interesting elements like the way in which King's supportive husband is portrayed, even as their marriage becomes strained and the hairdressing scene is powerfully sensual in a unique way. For a tennis film it doesn't feature much actual play though.



Maybe I'd have enjoyed the 2013 documentary it's based on more:



Everything: The Real Thing Story (2020)
A feature-length BBC musical documentary about trailblazing Liverpool Soul/Funk/Disco band 'The Real Thing'. It's unremarkable technically but the story is fascinating: Being a black UK Soul band in the 60s/70s, getting their start with The Beatles acting as their impromptu backing band, touring with David Essex, working with Jeff Wayne... and I must check out their cool sounding Liverpool concept-album.



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The Whip and the Body (1963)
Disappointingly Christopher Lee isn't in this Mario Bava Gothic Horror for very long and he's dubbed by somebody else anyway (even in English). He plays Kurt, the estranged "mad, bad and dangerous to know" son of a wealthy Count, who gets bumped off in the first 15-minutes, then the rest of the movie is mostly in a holding-pattern of general spookiness, as he (possibly) haunts the occupants of the castle. The lack of any real plot made it difficult to stay awake and focused. The terrible quality print on the blu-ray I watched didn't help because I couldn't even enjoy Bava's lurid coloured lighting. 'The Whip and the Body' is notable because it features sadomasochistic themes, in which Kurt whips his lover... until her clothes fall off. The film was declared "contrary to morality", scenes were heavily cut in some versions (rendering the story incomprehensible), copies of the poster were ordered to be destroyed and the studio's press officer was given three months probation.



Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966)
A Mario Bava Italian Gothic horror in the Hammer style about a village being terrorised by a ghostly blood-letting child. The use of vivid stylized coloured lighting looks fantastic in HD. This and all the cobwebs, shadows and ominous music create a really scary atmosphere. The English dubbing on the version I watched on Amazon Prime is some of the best I've heard. There is too much going round in circles plot wise, made worse by all the sets looking kinda similar. If it had started before the main character arrived in the cursed village and then only taken us to the evil Villa in the last act, it might have felt like there was a bit more direction to the story. The sequence where the hero runs repeatedly through the same room, faster and faster, until he catches himself was very cool. I think it was done with doubles and hidden cuts.

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