Rambo: Angst Personified


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie as violent as Sly Stallone’s Rambo, and I don’t know if I need to see another one. Watching this movie is akin to witnessing a cinematic ballet of blood, albeit a ballet that has some underlying depth, or at least pretensions of it. Fortunately, the movie almost manages to avoid moralizing… almost.

Granted, the message here is neither particularly deep or controversial: we all know (or should know) that bad things happen in Burma, but even so I found myself quite engrossed in this kinetic little film. Unlike the many viewers who were unsatisfied with the first half of the movie, I enjoyed these character-based sequences. John Rambo is tired and weary, but still haunted, and Stallone effectively conveys a man who is sick of the world’s injustice but has become contaminated by the knowledge that there’s nothing he or anyone else can do about it. Angst is not a character I expected to see in this movie, but it’s a force so strong that it’s practically palpable.

By the time the climactic bloodbath occurs, the movie has earned the right to bathe us in violence — unlike Saving Private Ryan, which blows its load right upfront, before we’ve come to know or care about the characters. Rambo is a long way from a perfect film, but I was surprised how much it affected me. And I found some comfort in the ending, in which Rambo makes a choice which offers him at least the possibility for contentment, something he never enjoyed in any of the other movies. Good luck with that.



It’s delightful, it’s de-lovely, it’s de-struction!

I’ve got three more flicks under my belt.


I cruised by the local multiplex this afternoon for some good old-fashion Monster Smackdown, and I think I need to change my underwear.

In a word: Stunning.

In two words: Adrenalin City.

In three words: Really f**king amazing.

I’m knocked out by this film’s execution of concept. The budget on this thing must have been astounding, yet the decidedly lo-fi look makes it seem far more real than any other special effects extravaganza in recent years. The characters were far better developed than I expected, while the action set pieces were exhilarating without being intrusive. The 9/11 metaphor is driven home perhaps a bit too forcefully, and the prologue is a hair too long, but neither flaw is substantial.

It’s a shame Toho Studios never thought to make a Godzilla movie this way.


This stylish, avant-garde bio-pic about bisexual composer Cole Porter is slow to start and at least half an hour too long, but contains strong acting and some spirited performances of many beloved tunes, with cameo appearances by Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, and more. The frame story involves an eldery Porter watching the dress rehearsal of a stageshow based on his life, and one of the better gags involves the commentary from the old Cole, continuously criticizing the actions of his younger self. Kevin Kline plays both roles.

There’s so much style on display here (the final shot in particular is haunting, if vaguely reminiscent of Titanic), and yet the film never quite gels. De-Lovely is an ambitious failure, but it gets points for trying something different with one of the most tired of cinematic sub-genres.

(Doctor Who fans, look for John “Captain Jack” Barrowman in a small role.)

Girl 27

An absolutely chilling documentary about the rape of an aspiring actress named Patricia Douglas by an MGM studio executive in the 1930s, and the skillful way in which the studio and its lawyers destroyed her when she reported the incident. The filmmakers have ample evidence to support their claims, and Ms. Douglas herself grants her first interview on the subject in over fifty years to discuss the case and the effect it had on her life. Revolting yet fascinating viewing.


Jeffrey Barlow: Movie Mogul?

So it turns out I’m no longer the only filmmaker in the Barlow household! Three days ago, as he was getting ready for school, my son Jeffrey informed me that he had a great idea for “the ultimate horror film” and he wanted me to help him make it. (Keep in mind Jeffrey has never seen a horror movie in his life.)

Intrigued, I asked him to pitch the story to me. His idea concerns a vampire, a werewolf, a zombie, a mummy, and (my personal favorite) a “skeleton robot” who team up to kill humans. Each of them shares their knowledge and techniques with the others, so the vampire teaches everyone how to drink blood, the werewolf teaches them how to “eat flesh” (his phrase), etc. By pooling their knowledge, they all become better killers.

I thought it was a pretty creative idea for a seven year-old — especially the skeleton robot. (I’ve been rewatching the Terminator films recently for the podcast, and Jeffrey said he got the idea for the robot from the T2 DVD artwork. He hasn’t seen the movie.)

Still, some facets of the plot aren’t entirely worked out — when I asked Jeffrey what the zombie would teach, for instance, he said he didn’t know. So his twin brother Bryan pipes up with “How about a math or computer class?” Well, Jeffrey loved that idea, so my two boys are joining forces to further develop the plot. They’re going to get back to me after they’ve figured out a bit more of the story.

This is going to be the best movie ever, just you wait and see!

In other news, episode 102 of the podcast was released this week. Here’s the iTunes show description:

Cinemaslave #102: No Country for Old Songwriters

Inspired by the abundance of Terminator movies he’s been watching lately, Joe decides to fend off his current head cold by sending Arnold Schwarzenegger back in time to give him some chicken soup before he got sick. It didn’t work, so please excuse the sniffles and coughs this week.

Who would believe that Joe would discover his two favorite films of 2007 within 24 hours of each other? Not Joe, that’s for sure. But it happened, and your intrepid host is bursting at the seams to spread his love for the Coen Brothers’ mesmerizing No Country for Old Men, and the haunting Irish anti-musical, Once. But then he has to ruin the fun by bringing up Terminator 3. He’s sorry.


Not playing in a Scranton theater near you * No Country for Old Men * Once * Listener feedback * Terminator 2 memories * Silent movie comedians finally get their due * Rob Zombie’s Halloween: A Rebuttal * Pixar and the Visual Revolution * Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Play episode #102 here or visit the main site


Cinemaslave #101 Released

Cinemaslave #101: Little Juno Needs to Terminate

Oh beloved HD-DVD, we hardly knew ye. In this week’s episode, Joe bids farewell to the apparent loser of the Hi-Definition Format War, but isn’t very happy about it. Nonetheless, he finds the strength to carry on and talk about Werner Herzog, the much-hyped Oscar contender Juno, and the various ways to win friends and influence liquid metal cyborgs, with none of that unpleasant schmaltzy aftertaste.


Watch The Sarah Connor Chronicles * Mourning HD-DVD * Little Dieter Needs to Fly/Rescue Dawn * Juno * My Neighbor Totoro * The General * Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Play Cinemaslave #101 here or visit the main site


The Meaning of Life… without HD-DVD

With all the chatter over the recent Warner Brothers‘ HD-DVD announcement (see my last post), I completely forgot to mention that episode #100 of the Cinemaslave podcast has finally been released. Check it out at the main site. Topics include Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, I Am Legend, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and a look back at James Cameron’s seminal sci-fi film, The Terminator. I also spent some time trying to unravel the mystery behind the REAL director of Poltergeist. A good time was had by all. (Well, by me. Nuts to the rest of you.)

Rumors continue to fly that the Blu-Ray camp may soon extend an olive branch of sorts to mourning HD-DVD fans, though no details have yet materialized. But the expectation is that we’ll be looking at some sort of exchange program, in which HD-DVD discs can be swapped for their respective Blu-Ray versions. That’d be nice. It wouldn’t entirely take the sting out of being forced to switch to a more expensive (and region-coded!) movie format, but it would be a nice gesture nonetheless. For folks like me, who buy a large number of movies from overseas vendors, the HD-DVD format and its lack of region coding was a godsend. I do not look forward to having films stuffed back into small, arbitrary geographical boxes by Sony and its partners.

I sat down last night and popped in the HD-DVD of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, a disc I obtained about three days before the Warner Brothers defection, back when the future of the format still looked bright. I’ve always loved this movie, and seeing it for the first time ever in widescreen, and in hi-def to boot, was a real treat. The transfer was pretty solid considering the film’s age, and the sound was stellar. (Indeed, Terry Gilliam‘s delightful The Crimson Permanent Assurance, the short film which precedes the main feature, has perhaps the longest sustained use of a subwoofer I’ve ever heard, in the segment where the office building turns into a pirate ship and sails merrily down the street. I didn’t expect such a heavy bass workout from an early ’80s comedy! Well done, Universal.) A great movie, presented in a great format.

So many fun moments:

* The Crimson Permanent Assurance!
* “This is the machine that goes PING!”
* “Every sperm is sacred…”
* “Can we have your liver?”
* Eric Idle’s “Galaxy” song!
* John Cleese’s sex-education class!
* “Let’s not give him the cake!”
* “Oh sir, it’s just a WAFER thin mint…
* And of course, the Grim Reaper skit at the end is probably the most cinematic thing Python ever created.

The Meaning of Life may be a minor masterpiece, but it’s a masterpiece nonetheless.


Warner Brothers and New Line Make Movie Lovers “Blu”

Those of you who have been sitting out the hi-def war between Toshiba’s HD-DVD format and Sony’s Blu-Ray format may soon be able to enjoy prettier pictures. The misguided and counterproductive conflict took another inexorable step towards its conclusion this week with Warner Brothers and New Line’s surprising decision to terminate HD-DVD support in 2008 and focus exclusively on Blu-Ray.

Although a conclusion to the format war is undeniably in everyone’s best interest, the Warner announcement nonetheless came out of the clear blue (ahem) sky for supporters of HD-DVD. Warners in particular has been gamely serving up some amazing discs in both high-def formats, including the recent five-disc Blade Runner package, the Harry Potter film series, and Batman Begins. Such an about-face is particularly puzzling now, given the recent spike in HD-DVD hardware sales.

Warner Brothers’ ludicrous press release states that they are switching to exclusive Blu-Ray support in order to “give consumers what they want.” Sure… those of us who bought Batman Begins in HD-DVD surely don’t want to own The Dark Knight in the same format. Likewise, Harry Potter HD-DVD fans are no doubt turning cartwheels over the discovery that they’ll have to buy a Blu-Ray player to own the forthcoming 6th and 7th movies in hi-def. Way to look out for us, guys! Turning our HD-DVD collections into the modern equivalent of laserdiscs is a favor I’ll never be able to repay.

And New Line, while not a huge player in the HD market thus far, owns the rights to the “killer app” that many people have been waiting for: the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The knowledge that Jackson’s much-loved adaptations of Tolkien’s novels will never appear on HD-DVD could be a mortal blow on its own.

I call “bullshit” on the timing. The fact that both companies waited until immediately after the holiday season to make this announcement is ridiculous. A *lot* of people bought HD-DVD players this Christmas, thanks to some drastic price cuts and the belief that future quality titles were on the way. (And they are: David Fincher’s Zodiac, arguably the best film of 2007, will shortly be released as an HD-DVD exclusive, and despite Michael Bay’s incessant whining, Transformers continues to be unavailable on Blu-Ray.)

But the writing is on the wall for the red camp. Losing the support of Warner Brothers and New Line is a blow from which HD-DVD can’t possibly recover, and everyone knows it — even Toshiba.  If Warners *really* wanted to give the consumers what they wanted, they would have made this announcement prior to Christmas, thereby ensuring that more people didn’t buy into a terminally ill product line.

Rest in peace, beautiful HD-DVD format. We’ll miss your region-free discs, powerful interactive scripting features, cheaper and easier disc replication, and more reasonable copy protection schemes.




Amish Fury

We’re mostly in the house at this point. And although a few choice pieces of media are still missing (two Monty Python DVDs, a copy of the Japanese horror film Audition, and one of my beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000 videos), I’m confident they’ll turn up by the time the last box is unpacked.

In between the unpacking of boxes, I found time to check out a couple of documentaries this week.

The Filth and the Fury: A Sex Pistols Movie

As someone who fancies himself a bit of a rock-and-roll historian, I’m rather embarrassed by how little attention I’ve paid to the Sex Pistols and the whole “punk” movement over the years. Rescuing me from my ignorance is Julien Temple’s excellent documentary The Filth and the Fury: A Sex Pistols Movie, which, despite the name, is not only a great overview of the most famously self-destructive band of all-time, but a good primer on the origination of punk culture in the UK as well.

It’s rare to see a documentary directed with something approaching visual style, but Temple does a great job of avoiding the usual “talking head” format all too common in these sorts of films. Some contemporary interviews with the surviving band members, shot entirely in silhouette, reveal much about the music and the punk mindset, while stillkeeping the Pistols themselves suitably mysterious. Interesting subject matter, innovative presentation.


The Devil’s Playground

You may think you know the Amish, but this interesting documentary from Lucy Walker will likely convince you otherwise.

When Amish teens turn 16, they are given free reign to leave their communities and explore the outside world — the world of mainstream America, overflowing with sin and decadence. After a certain period of time, ranging from several weeks to several years depending on the person in question, these teens must decide whether to abandon their Amish upbringing and remain among the “English” (as they call all non-Amish); or forever return to their former life, with no further interaction with the larger world outside.

This documentary follows a group of Amish teens as they struggle with this choice, torn between two conflicting ways of life. Virtually all of them speak with equal parts warmth and resentment about their strict religious upbringing, and several swear like sailors. Many have become enamored with the vices of mainstream culture, including smoking, drinking, wild parties, and, in one tragic case, crystal meth addiction. Some desperately want to return to their traditional way of life, but fear they won’t be able to live without the cars, video games, and technology to which they’ve become accustomed. There’s soul-searching aplenty, rest assured.

Although the documentary is lacking in the audio/visual department, the subject matter remains gripping the whole way through.