Monday, March 31, 2008


Written by Fumo Verde

Back in 1997 an exhibit was put up in Munich, Germany. It was an exhibit about war and the atrocities committed by those who fought it. When we think about war atrocities and Germany, we think of the Nazis and the dreaded SS, but this exhibit looked deeper into who also committed those horrible crimes.

It was known as the Wehrmacht Exhibition or Army Exhibition, and the pictures and letters that were in the exhibit showed that the German Army itself also acted like the SS death squads by murdering innocent men, women, and children. Protests from hard-line German nationalists and other older Germans who believe the exhibit is out to slander the German Army and take away what pride those fighting men had left have their say in this film. Director Michael Verhoeven captures the feelings of all those involved, from the people who brought us the exhibit to those who still live in the lie that the deaths of six million Jews never occurred. This is a disturbing documentary about a proud people and the horrific part of their past that some are trying to forget while others are trying to re-kindle.

This exhibit takes a big step by saying that the German Army was not so glorious and honorable as people would like to believe, yet it doesn’t condemn the whole Army either, nor does the film. Verhoeven opens up this can of worms very carefully by giving us views from the exhibit of those who were involved with it and those who came to see it along with those who were opposed to it. Even a boyhood friend of Verhoeven, who was there to protest because he believes that his father was just a regular soldier and would have never committed such despicable things, gets a chance to speak his peace.

From authors to historians, Verhoeven tries to figure out what made such a simple people, like his friend’s father, who was a teacher, become numb to the murdering of innocent life. As he asked people who were visiting the exhibit most seem to grasp try to tackle the idea that “orders are orders” and that hopefully their grandpa wasn’t one of the brutes committing these acts. Others say that the pictures were staged and that the Army had no idea what the death squads were doing. True, some of the pictures were faked and because of this the exhibit was taken down for a period of time, but then was later reopened to the public. This just gave fuel to the fire for the young nationalists who still believe that the Holocaust never happened. Even when one soldier, who was there and had served on the Eastern Front committing these acts himself, reads his statement about what he did and about what others had done, there are still those who believe that even this man is part of the “bigger picture,” which lowers all Germans to the level of common criminals.

The exhibit itself is dramatic with its pictures and letters, and the tour guides explain both sides of the story, not only telling of the horrors that were committed but also of the brave Germans who refused to follow such orders. The tour guides say that nothing happened to these officers and enlisted men who refused to kill Jews or Gypsies which brings the audience and Verhoeven back to the question, “Why did the Army act in a way that was against every principle of which it stood for?” These questions may never be answered but The Unknown Soldier brings that discussion back into the limelight. It may open some old wounds but if these wounds aren’t healed properly, it may infect the world and we may find ourselves once again wondering how it happened, but then it maybe too late.

As someone who has studied the subject of war and of armies, it is easy to see both sides of the argument. True some soldiers committed atrocities and others didn’t, but we need to study the past as so as not to have it happen again.


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Bee Movie is the recently released Dreamworks 3D animated feature that centers around the life of bees, or more specifically the life of Barry B. Benson, voiced by Seinfeld. For a film that got so much hype and attention, especially since it was the first major project that Jerry Seinfeld signed onto since his much loved show, I would have expected something with a little more bite, or perhaps in this case sting. Unfortunately, it was all just a lot of buzz.

So enter the world of bees, where life inside the honeycomb is as busy as, well, a bee? Barry is about to graduate from school and get a job within the community that will ultimately be his job for the rest of his life. For him, there are bigger and better things than stirring the honey everyday and he winds up on a pollen-collecting mission that takes him out of the comb. Once outside the honeycomb he meets Vanessa Bloom (how appropriate for a florist) who is voiced by Renee Zellweger; they become fast friends. This is because bees can talk to humans.

Barry soon becomes outraged with the way that honey is distributed and used by humans, therefore he sues and the bees no longer pollinate or make honey. When the bees take a break, devastation strikes the entire world; without bees to pollinate, no vegetation will thrive. With that, natural order is finally restored when the bees go back to doing what they do best and Barry becomes a pollen jock and a lawyer that represents other under-appreciated species.

The film plays more like an environmental public service announcement: save the bees, or we will all waste away. But at least it is nice to look at. Overdramatic in its devastation of all of New York, the film makes Central Park look like a landfill after the strike. Apparently with no one to pollinate, there is no more food within the year.

If one can get past this message that seems to be uncomfortably obvious, there is no novelty and it lacks the charm that is present in most 3D animated films. Films like this are so pleasant because of its genuine and enchanting way of showing us the world we already know through another set of eyes—in this case through the eyes of Barry. But when the unknown world mixes with what we already know, the line between fantasy-fun and just crazy becomes blurred. Did I mention that the bees talk to humans?

Some of the most entertaining scenes are within the honeycomb, where honey is used for everything, from hair gel to toothpaste, and it is used as the water in a swimming pool. Even their antennas are like blue-tooth headsets that pick up signals from other bees.

I just can’t seem to get past the human/insect relationship that develops between our characters. It is too unbelievable, and yes, that is hard to do in a film like this. The storyline even hints at a love story that is happening between Barry and Vanessa. This is just a perfect example of how Bee Movie took on too much for it to handle. Our protagonist just wants to do something outside of the hive. Of course he does find his place again, but suing humans and going to court is a pretty strange way to get there. Bee Movie clearly tried to be timely and appropriate for people of all ages, but in its struggle to be marketable (just look at the trailers that Seinfeld did, they are in the special features of the DVD) it lost the heart of a great story and nothing creates more buzz than that.

There is a separate DVD containing more special features in the two-disc edition of the film. This includes games and trivia about the film. An interesting extra is “Meet Barry B. Benson” and you can ask him questions about life as a bee. There is a separate selection of extras for kids that includes “A Buzz Bout Bees” and “That’s Un-bee-lieveable” which are trivia games about bees. “Tech of Bee Movie” which is a behind-the-scenes look at the film, with interviews from the director, actors and it goes into the technical side of the film. Also take a look at the live action trailers, and “Jerry’s Flight over Cannes” which documents Jerry’s trip to Cannes Film Festival.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Written by Hombre Divertido

There are two minutes in Drillbit Taylor worth seeing. That leaves one hundred minutes to avoid. One moment worth seeing is a subtle musical reference to Cape Fear, and the other is a cameo by Adam Baldwin in homage to the far superior film My Bodyguard. Yes, the only good parts of Drillbit Taylor are references to other films. So very sad. Even sadder is the fact that said moments are probably too obscure for most audience members to appreciate.

Having Adam Baldwin make an appearance as a potential bodyguard for some kids being tormented by a bully was certainly a good idea, since he played the role in the similarly themed 1980 film My Bodyguard, but the result was simply to remind the audience that a movie had been made with virtually the same story, and the previous movie was much better. My Bodyguard had both a story and characters with far more depth.

In Drillbit Taylor all we get is stereotypes and rehash. Tory Gentile, Nate Hartley, and David Dorfman, play over- and under-weight high school students who are targeted by the school bully (Alex Frost). In an effort to solve the problem they seek to hire a bodyguard. In an incredibly contrived “The story does not need to make sense” sequence, they find and hire Drillbit Taylor played by Owen Wilson. Wilson does an adequate job with what he is given here, and virtually makes the character interesting enough to generate a desire to see him in a story worth telling, but not quite.

Drillbit Taylor was written by Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen and produced by Judd Apatow, Susan Arnold, and Donna Arkoff Roth. Yes, the same Rogen and Apatow whose names appeared on last year's Superbad; another superior movie dealing with high school kids. You would think that they would have seen this as a dud prior to making it, but apparently they were not aware of just how bad the script was, or how bad the direction of Steven Brill (Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds) would impact it. The direction sucks out any humor that might have been gleaned from the typical antics of the outcast high school kids. Though in his defense, something had to be done to make it different from the scenes in Superbad, Napoleon Dynamite, etc. and this was different.

Recommendation: Wait for it to come out on DVD and then rent My Bodyguard.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Medium: "Wicked Game Part One & Part Two"

Written by Senora Bicho

Executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron’s Medium is a crime drama based on real-life, self-proclaimed psychic Allison DuBois, played wonderfully by Patricia Arquette. The fourth season of Medium has had a lot to live up to because the third season was the best of its history, but it has fallen short. The cases have not been particularly interesting and have been predictable. Last season ended in turmoil as Allison was dismissed from the District Attorney’s office after her abilities were made public and her husband Joe lost his job.

Eight episodes into the new season, Joe still isn’t working, but Allison has been able to make some money for the family consulting for Ameritips, a company that looks for missing people. This opportunity came to her via the brightest part of the season so far, the reoccurring role of Cynthia Keener played by Anjelica Houston. Keener came to her in order to utilize her abilities in solving the cases she is assigned to. We don’t know much about her, just that she is feisty, skeptical and takes her job very seriously.

This special two-parter, the first of which airs on NBC on Monday, March 24 (10-11 p.m. ET/PT) and concludes on March 31, provides background on Keener viewers have been looking for. The first episode starts with a girl stranded in the rain; she is talking to her mom when a man comes along to help her. He starts her car but then knocks her out, cut to Keener waking up which turns out to all be a dream of Allison’s. She discovers that the girl is Keener’s daughter who has been missing since 1998. The next day Allison meets with Keener on a new case of a missing 18-year-old girl, and later that night she dreams again about Keener’s daughter. When she awakes, Allison confronts Keener and from the information in Allison’s dreams, they do some investigating, which reveals both cases are intertwined.

There is also a side story involving Joe and a new invention, which could solve the family’s financial problems. This causes tension between him and Allison. The resolution to this plotline is clever and amusing.

These two episodes give Houston an opportunity to show her acting talent and some range of emotion rather than just being the angry skeptic. There are good scenes between her character and Allison, and Allison and Joe. The case is the most interesting one of the season so far and finally provides an ending that I didn’t see coming. What makes this episode special is that it is not just about the case being solved, but deeper, real-world issues as well.

If you have been enjoying this season of Medium thus far, you will surely enjoy these two episodes. If you have not watched the show in the past, even though this isn’t the best season, these two episodes are still better than most other crime shows, and these days with not much new to watch it is worth trying out. If you like what you see in these two episodes, go out and rent or buy Season Three.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Written by Fantasma el Rey

Screamers are those who stand up and alert others to what is going on around them, they are the one’s that shout “there is something wrong and we have to act.” Carla Garapedian does exactly that with her documentary Screamers about genocide in the last hundred years. Garapedian’s film follows rock band System Of A Down as they tour and raise awareness regarding the first genocide of the twentieth century. The horrors that the Armenians faced at the hands of the Ottoman Empire deeply concerns the band and their own families. The band and the film scream for justice not just for the crimes against their people but for all those that fall victim to such unbelievable acts, from Rwanda to Kosovo and from the Armenians to the many Jewish that suffered the same fate.

System Of A Down has talked and sung about the Armenian tragedy since their beginning, bringing it out in their distinct sound. They draw inspiration from their culture and heritage; it’s evident in guitarist Daron Malakian’s playing style and Serj Tankian’s colorful vocals, also emerging in the way the guys put songs together and what they have to say. System’s music, which includes the songs “Spiders,” “P.L.U.C.K.,” and “Cigaro,” appear throughout the movie and we get to see some good performances as well.

Although the film spotlights System Of A Down, it goes beyond them and their music to tell the horrific tales of torture that people around the world have had to face and were fortunate enough to live through. Because bigger than the music are the personal stories, we hear Serj’s grandfather tell his story of extreme hardship as he and his family where driven from their Anatolian homeland. Serj and drummer John Dolmayan are also shown at rallies for the Armenian genocide. and caught on film is Serj’s brief meeting with house speaker Dennis Hastert, who pretty much gives Serj the brush off. As always, Serj keeps his cool and shows just how much of a class act he truly is.

Firsthand accounts fill this movie, making the tales hit even harder as we can see the look of pain in these people’s faces. Not simply focusing on Armenians, Garapedian finds screamers all over the world from Darfur, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Korea. She even has interviews with government whistle-blowers who help point out reasons why the White House will over look genocide in certain situations. Journalist Hrant Dink, who was eventually gunned down in front of his own home, was interviewed in Istanbul about his articles being against the Turkish government and for the acknowledgment of the Armenian genocide, which the Turks have yet to officially recognize.

The movie and the band aim their cameras and mics at governments the world over and ask what it is they are doing to stop such events and why do they let them happen to begin with. Many great points are made here, like the fact that without the Armenian genocide would there have been a Holocaust? If the Turks were stopped, would Hitler have been stopped as well, or would he have had the idea in the first place? These are the kinds of questions this film and System Of A Down want you to ask and to make an effort to do something about.

As Screamers shows too many times governments and presidents have said “never again” and still these things happen. Maybe, as the film points out, “never again” is location specific and not really about the act/crime itself. Maybe the world needs more images of fields of bodies and mountains of severed heads to make it clearer? Maybe this film needs to be watched by all. When speaking of his plan for the Jews, Hitler said, “who remembers the Armenians” and as System’s bass player Shavo Odadjian says, and I agree, “I Do,” and you should too. And not just the Armenians, but those the world over who have gone through events such as those brought into focus here.

The DVD also contains interesting special feature as we get to follow one fan on his journey backstage to meet Serj and Daron. It’s always enjoyable to see bands having fun, especially when they’re as down to earth as our heroes in System. There is a bonus performance of the song “Question” and more concert footage that did not make the films final cut as well. We also get more information on Serj and John’s search for where the villages of their parents and grandparents are located and their thoughts on one day going there themselves.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The 2000 release and subsequent Western world success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was supposed to pave the way for more big budget wu xia films for China and Hong Kong. Much like the same promise that Life Is Beautiful would make Roberto Benigni a star in the US or that Amelie would pave the way for more French films, this promise has only been hinted at. Director Zhang Yimou answered Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger with his own Chinese epic, Hero (2002). The success of that film led Zhang Yimou to film his more romantic take on the wu xia genre, House Of Flying Daggers (2004). That movie took place in 859 A.D., as the Tang Dynasty was starting its downfall. The latest in this line of epic Chinese storytelling is The Legend Of The Black Scorpion (2006), known internationally as The Banquet.

This 2-disc release from Dragon Dynasty comes with best pedigree of all these previous epics. The action is choreographed by Yuen Wo-ping who worked on Crouching Tiger as well as 2004's underrated Kung Fu Hustle (where he worked with LOTBS director, Feng Xiaogang). The star of the film is Ziyi Zhang is arguably the most famous Chinese actress in the world. It's hardly a wu xia epic without her - she's starred in Crouching Tiger, Hero, and Flying Daggers.

Legend Of The Black Scorpion is "inspired" by Shakespeare's Hamlet. In truth, Disney's The Lion King is "inspired" by Hamlet. This film isn't the direct adaptation of the play that Kenneth Branagh's four-hour epic is either, but LOTBS never strays too far from its source material. It's the choices that the writer and director make that deviate from the original story that will make or break a movie like this.

As it starts, we are quickly set into 907 A.D., towards the end of the Tang Dynasty. While the Prince is away studying acting, his father, the Emperor, has been killed (presumably by a Black Scorpion) and his Uncle has assumed the throne and plans to marry his father's wife, a woman that the Prince was previously in love with. Assassins have been sent to kill the Prince.

This first lengthy fight scene is also my favorite scene in the film. It has everything that I've come to love about these recent wu xia films. The setting is lush. All the actors are in plain white masks. We've yet to see the Prince, so the viewer and the assassins are not sure which one is the Prince. The fight here is full of ballet-like wire effects and slow-motion shots of blood spattering. This film is noticeably bloodier than the previously mentioned efforts. It works well here, the blood appears almost like Chinese characters against the clean white backgrounds. Not until the end of the scene is the Prince identified.

The theme of masks becomes the major theme lifted from the source material. It's an effective bridge of Western (Greek) and Eastern philosophies and it helps lead us through the major events of Act Two of the film, namely the coronation and the play-within-a-play. The masks in the films are mainly white and frozen in a neutral gaze. The first good look we get at the Prince is when he removes his mask when reuniting with the Empress. The warmth of his face shows the deep love he has for her. Later, the Prince explains to the Empress that without a mask, emotions are just on the surface of the face. With a mask, the deeper feelings below the surface can come out through the actions of the body.

The Third Act brings all the story lines back together for The Banquet. The Prince returns in a mask, almost like the ghost of his father in Hamlet to watch the dramatic events. Among the tragic events, we are reminded of a quote earlier in the film that a broken heart is more powerful than any poison. The best shot of the movie is here as the camera flies above Ziyi Zhang with her brilliantly red dress splayed in the shape of a broken heart.

The most interesting decision made in this production is also what moves it into such lofty company as Kurosawa's adaptation of King Lear, Ran. Hamlet can be read on many levels. It's a political play, a religious play, a philosophical play ("to be or not to be"), and more. By changing the character of Gertrude, the movie was able to condense and lose many of the subplots without the feeling that there was anything missing. Gertrude is Hamlet's mother in the play. By making the Empress a step-mother and a former love interest, she becomes the de facto focus of the movie. Ziyi Zhang's battle for power and the mask she wears regarding her love for the Prince became the main focus of the story.

The tragedy is not just that of the Prince. The female characters of the Empress and Qing (the Ophelia character) are at the center of this film. They are the ones making the important decisions that drive the plot. Their conflict is shown directly, unlike that of the Prince and the Emperor. There just aren't subversively feminist films like this being made in the U.S.

Like the best tragedies, the plot here seems simple on the surface, but below the masks, there's more complex ideas. If this is the type of offspring that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has spawned, I'm more than happy to wait two years between such beautiful, thought-provoking films.

HITMAN (Unrated)

Written by Pollo Misterioso

For a video gamer, Hitman was one of the first games that allowed you to become a stylish killer in a black suit with a red tie that killed for no reason at all and was given a loose structure, allowing you to play in many different ways. As a movie Hitman takes the man in the black suit and tie and makes violence and espionage stylish, sexy, brutal, and relentless. I guess it transfers to the silver screen.

From director Xavier Gens comes the film version of the popular videogame, Hitman. Starring Timothy Olyphant (Live Free or Die Hard) as Agent 47, this film definitely caters to the videogame viewer, but is also well made, considering the story belongs to the narrative world of interactive gaming.

Within the opening credits, we are introduced to the world of cloned assassins. From a young age, apparently without parents, these young orphans are trained in the art of killing, ultimately resulting in a high-performance killer that goes by a number that is tattooed on the back of their heads.

Sent on missions through a computer database, Agent 47 must kill the Russian president Mikhail Belicoff. But things go wrong and it turns out that he has been set up. It is now his mission to find out who did this and kill them, of course. Agent 47 picks up his female companion, Nika, after she is used as bait to set him up. It is not that they are romantically involved, but she does allow him to show some mercy towards his enemies and she walks around naked. Both necessary in a movie like this.

So there isn’t much of a plot in this film. There is a definite target and obstacle that our hero must overcome, but no real substance behind any of the killing. That brings us to the violence—and it never looked better. Although there are only a handful of fight sequences, they are the most interesting. Along the lines of the film Shoot em’ Up, this movie is as deep as its title. Therefore, violence is the necessary glue that will keep it together. This includes the fight scene among other hit men in a train cab with swords.

Olyphant’s portrayal of Agent 47 is impressive, given that he must capture a mood, more than a character. His face has the perfect hint of aggression and indifference to it—as though no death affects him. He plays a character that has such a fan base in the game world that he has much to live up to and it works.

For gamers, this film could have too much plot. Especially since in the original game Agent 47 was never really given any storyline. For filmgoers, there really isn’t much a plot at all. But for what it is, it succeeds. This is a stylish and sleek film based off a video game, where our hero is not a very admirable hero, but he knows how to kill and he looks good doing it.

The DVD extras on this film are definitely worth looking into. Most interesting are the three segments: “Digital Hits,” “Instruments of Destruction,” and “Settling the Score.” “Digital Hits” talks about the videogame and interviews the creators of the Hitman world. “Instruments” actually gets into the gun technique and different guns used in the film. The “Score” segment talks about the original score that was created, which is very interesting because the score pairs so nicely with the film. There are also behind the scenes and bloopers on the DVD that are always fun to watch.

Monday, March 03, 2008

101 DALAMTIONS (1961) (Two-Disc Platinum Edition)

Written by Senora Bicho

101 Dalmatians is narrated by Pongo, an adult male Dalmatian, and starts cleverly with him introducing us to his human pet, Roger. Both are bachelors and Pongo is trying to find them suitable mates. He spots a lovely female Dalmatian, Perdita, and her pet, Anita, walking in the park. He manages to orchestrate a meeting and both couples are married soon after. Fast-forward several months and Perdita is now about to give birth to puppies. This brings Cruella De Vil, a long-time friend of Anita’s, into the picture. One of the great classic Disney songs, “Cruella De Vil” is introduced at this point. Roger is a songwriter with a new melody but no words and her visit inspires him. Cruella wants to buy the puppies for top dollar but Roger and Anita are unwilling to sell. Perdita is scared of her and knows she is nothing but trouble. The birth scene of the puppies is really cute as the housekeeper counts up to 15 in the new litter.

After the birth, when Cruella is unable to convince Anita and Roger to sell her the puppies, she uses her henchmen to kidnap them. Once Pongo learns that the puppies are gone, he utilizes the “twilight bark” to issue an all dog alert. This stretches all over the city and even makes it out to the country where the puppies are discovered by some farm animals along with 84 other Dalmatian puppies. Once news of their location gets back to Pongo and Perdita, they are off to the rescue and the rest of the movie is action-packed.

According to the information in the DVD collection, a restoration team found the original Technicolor “dye transfer” of the film. They were able to confirm the color palette approved by Walt Disney and the artists, so that they could enhance the lines and proper shading of the puppies. Their work doesn’t go unnoticed. The newly enhanced picture is fantastic. The colors are vibrant and the animation brings the characters more to life. The dreary look of London also creates a great backdrop for the story. The detail on the puppies is amazing and really adds to the enjoyment of watching the film. The restored soundtrack is very well done as well. It is crisp and clear.

The 2-disc DVD set is jam-packed with bonus features. “Pop-up Trivia Facts” offers information that pops up throughout the film. There are two levels, one for the family and one for the fan. The information is interesting but the pop-up format is rather distracting and takes up a lot of room on the screen. There is also a new “hip” version of “Cruella De Vil” performed by Selena Gomez, star of the Disney Channel Original Series Wizards of Waverly Place, and the set includes the corresponding music video. I had no idea who this was nor did I enjoy the new version of the song but it will probably appeal to teens.

“Backstage Disney” includes the featurette “Redefining the Line: The Making of One Hundred and One Dalmatians”. The interviews, with many noteworthy people, and information provided here are really interesting. 101 Dalmatians was a new form of animation for Disney and the details behind this change are fascinating given the state of animation today. “Cruella De Vil: Drawn To Be Bad” continues the interviews and more in-depth specifics on how Cruella came to be. Walt Disney began correspondence with Dodie Smith, the author of the novel the film was based on, prior to the release of the movie that then continued for years. “Sincerely Yours, Walt Disney” offers a dramatic re-creation of that correspondence. “Trailers, Radio and TV Spots” is exactly what the title implies. “Art Galleries” showcases the art behind the animation.

“Music & More” features deleted, abandoned, extended, and alternative versions of the songs from the film. “Games & Activities” gives children the opportunity to adopt a Dalmatian puppy to play with either on the computer or on TV. It also includes a questionnaire to help match up the viewer with the right breed of dog. I have a feeling this was done to help encourage parents to buy the right kind of pet for their kids and to not rush out and buy them a Dalmatian. There is some fun with language games for younger viewers too.

101 Dalmatians is Disney at its best. The storyline serves as a solid foundation for the movie to build from. The puppies with their different personalities are adorable. You come to care about them and their safety and the farm animals introduced during the rescue are delightful supporting characters. Cruella, voiced fabulously by Betty Lou Gerson, is also the perfect villain that you love to hate. All of these elements together make for an amusing and entertaining film.


Written by Fantasma el Rey

If you expected some sort of porno, as many people did when I mentioned my latest assignment, then look elsewhere. If it’s high-flying, Kung-Fu humor you’re after, then Royal Tramp and Royal Tramp II are what you seek. Putting the spoof on Kung-Fu epics of earlier years, “The Royal Tramp Collection” pokes fun at them all, turning a humorous glance on the visions of past masters. The plots aren’t so great, but the high jinks and mis-adventures of a kung-fu con man are what keep folks watching.

Royal Tramp stars Stephen Chow, (Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer) in the early days of his fame as Wei Siu Bo, a brothel entertainer (complete with goofy-looking tiger cap) with no real kung-fu skill, who is suddenly thrust into a plot against the Empress of the Ming Dynasty. He must use his con-man skills to survive and maneuver through the imperial palace. In the process of botching his assignment Bo becomes the servant of the Emperor and actually winds up saving him from an assassination attempt that reveals the Empress is actually an imposter and a leader of a rebel sect, thus setting the stage for…

Royal Tramp II, filmed at the same time as the first film, finds the plot thickening and the pace quickening as our boy Bo finds himself between a rock and a kung-fu hard place. The imposter Empress, Lone-er, is back and seeks revenge against Bo, who outted her as a sham. She is sent to protect the Emperor from a known threat. A problem arises now that Bo is not only a royal official but also a friend and kinsman to the Emperor. The story gets a bit twisted here, but the fun and wire-flying stunts are ceaseless. Bo is the Emperor’s right-hand man, and eventually Lone-er gives in to his con, allowing Bo to receives 80% of her kung-fu power (that’s right, 80%) and he is then able to truly help in the fight to save the Emperor’s life.

The big kick here and major jab at kung-fu films is the fact that it takes a movie and a half for the main character to use, in this case gain, his kung-fu fighting skill. Up to that point, Bo is simply a con who uses his wit and “powers” of seduction to get by. Yet the action and swordplay in these two films is fantastic and innovative, Tramp II even more so. Where Tramp I is filled with high-flying wire scenes set to mimic the stunning visual work of legendary kung-fu films, Tramp II has more originality and ups the spoof level like when Bo must fight against deadly hula-hoop-ring-throwing human puppets and must defend against a one-armed nun, which is a play on the one-armed swordsman movies, sent to take out the Emperor. The finish fights of both films have their moments of glory. Tramp I has its kung-fu magic and tree-trunk accordion while Tramp II has its sunset swordfight and burial-chamber standoff.

Again, both films are an eye-catching good time, especially as kung-fu film expert Bey Logan provides his encyclopedia-like knowledge on commentary tracks for both films. Logan is non-stop with his kung-fu-movie facts and knows just about all there is to know on the majority of the film’s cast and the meanings of the jokes and gags that the average fan may not realize. His brain set against the visuals is outstanding, and I’m sure true kung-fu fans will adore this two-disc set even more than I did. There is also a ten-minute interview with writer/ co-director Wong Jing where he tells of the film’s origins and explains the importance of class struggles in his lowbrow, humor-filled comedies.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Written by Pollo Misterioso

Nightmare Detective plays like an intense dream; things happen that you are not really sure of, some things about it are vaguely familiar, and yet it stays with you after you wake up and you don’t really know why. It is scary, but not really frightening, just haunting.

Part of Dimension Films “Dimension Extreme” collection, the film is a thriller where writer/director Shinya Tsukamoto creates a world based in between dreams and reality, where killings occur within dreams and somehow the killer must be caught.

The film’s groundwork lies in suicide and the difference between killing yourself and having others kill you. If someone is to have thoughts about killing oneself, why not get someone to do it with you? If one wants to commit suicide, but not alone (which is really a contradiction in itself), they can dial “0” to contact a man so that he will die with you. For some reason, with every intention of killing himself as well, our killer (played by Tsukamoto) connects from across the phone in a way that gives him some sort of power as he kills his co-conspirator in their dreams.

What looks to be a suicide to the police is really a murder that occurs in the unconscious world. Our victims are shown being chased and killed, not by their own will, but by a creature, that is unseen, but heard.

One of the head detectives on the case, Keiko Kirishima (Hitomi), is transferred to the detective branch of the police force and this is her first job. She sees the first victim, mangled and sprawled out on her bed next to a pair of scissors. The last number that she had dialed on her phone, happens to be “0”—to later appear on all the victims phones.

Soon after another man is seen calling this anonymous hotline to kill himself. After he is chased through his office building, we see him stabbing himself in bed with his own knife, all while he is asleep.

So is it murder or assisted suicide?

At the beginning of the film we are introduced to an interesting character, played by Ryuhei Matsuda, that can enter dreams, assisting and helping people in trouble. But his disdain for this ability becomes more of a curse, than a unique gift. When Keiko finds out that the only way to find the killer is through dreams, with the help of the Nightmare Detective she enters into his world.

The most intense scenes happen on the phone, as the killer can get through to his victims after they have dialed his number and told him that they want to kill themselves. But most disturbing is the idea that these people wanted to die, but that they are not in control anymore.

The film points out the consequential and often dismissible attitudes towards suicide because the characters are punished for their decisions to take such actions, or to even think of suicide.

Nightmare Detective seems to be just a bloody thriller, but like a bad dream, it makes light of things that you were not very sure that you were even conscious of. It is entertaining and definitely gory, but keeps you thinking more about the act of killing and who is in control, than the killing itself.

The DVD only has two extra features, the most interesting being the “Making of Nightmare Detective” which is a very in depth look into the creation of the film. This includes the director’s long-term commitment to this original idea, to the very specific casting of the film. Definitely worth watching after viewing the film.