REVIEWS OF RENTED DVDs I GET IN THE MAIL

Archive for the ‘D’ Category

DR. NO (1962)

In Action, Crime, D, Motion Pictures on July 25, 2010 at 9:17 pm

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STUDIO – United Artists

CASTSean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee

DIRECTOR – Terence Toung

MPAA Rating: PG

In 1962, a phenomenon was born. Writer Ian Fleming had written a series of novels about a suave British spy, and Untied Artists (and later MGM) took up the mantle and delivered unto the masses a saga spanning a total of 22 movies (at least, officially, as of this writing) over the next 46 years. This ladies’ man has a penchant for baccarat, exotic locations, fast cars, and vodka martinis that are shaken (not stirred), and he always looks good no matter where he goes. These attributes, and more, are summed up in just three words:

Bond. James Bond.

In his first appearance in the role that would define him, his career, and the character he plays, Sean Connery stars as the newly-promoted 007, sent on an assignment in Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a colleague (and his secretary), who had failed to check in at his regularly-scheduled time. Upon his arrival, he suspects that someone was alerted to his presence. Later, he discovers that rock samples collected by the missing colleague at a nearby island called Crab Key were radioactive. So, with the assistance of CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), he makes for the mysterious island, which has a bauxite operation run by a man known only as Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman).

Honey Ryder and James Bond (Ursula Andress, Sean Connery) walk along the beach on Crab Key

As this is the first Bond movie in the official canon, it is also the most modestly-budgeted of the series, at a mere $1 million (or just over $7 million, after accounting for inflation). As a means of comparison, the last Bond movie, Quantum of Solace (2008)  had an estimated budget of $200 million. The beauty of this movie is that it doesn’t appear that way. For those who haven’t seen this movie yet, I will tell you this: There is no Q, and as a result, there are no gadgets. This is basically a tongue-in-cheek no-frills spy thriller, with Bond relying on only his training, his fighting skills, and his intellect to get the job done.

There are two things for which this movie is famous: Bond’s introduction to the world and Ursula Andress’ entrance. We first meet James Bond enjoying his favorite — okay, his second favorite — recreational activity, baccarat, only his back is turned to us. It just so happens his opponent is a lovely woman (Eunice Gayson) who loses hand after hand to him. Finally, she says to her crafty opponent “I admire your luck, Mr…”, at which time the camera cuts to our hero and he introduces himself in his signature style for the first time, in what is now one of the most famous lines in cinematic history. Later, on Dr. No’s island, Bond (and the rest of the world) watches as seashell collector Honey Ryder (Andress) walks ashore from the water with her latest acquisitions. Today, we would see it as a fairly innocent shot, but in 1962, it caused a sensation. According to one source, the shooting script noted that Honey was supposed to be in the nude (Of course, that wasn’t about to happen, but it’s a nice sentiment).

I had seen several movies in the James Bond series over the years, but this is the first time I watched the one that started it all. While some of the other movies provide great action sequences, others seem to have resorted to becoming caricatures of themselves, but I will visit those movies as I go along. Here, Dr. No is a well-paced straightforward action film, and a game-changing one at that. Throughout the movie, several sound effects and editing techniques were employed to hold the viewer’s attention, and Sean Connery’s witty and sophisticated take on the world’s favorite superspy helped to create a lot of buzz among the movie-going public.

It is also a safe assumption to say that the “action movie one-liner” was born with this movie, and it is even easier to see how another action star, who had followed a path similar to Sean Connery’s (military service, bodybuilding, then movies) was heavily influenced by him. I am, of course, talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Looking at Connery in his prime reminded me of some of Arnold’s more dialogue-heavy roles. The mannerisms, the deliveries, even their overall appearances are surprisingly similar. But I will get into that when I dig into the Governator’s body of work.

Dr. No makes for a worthy start to the Bond film franchise. It sets the table for what would become Bond staples (exotic locales, beautiful women, chase scenes, and a good dose of action), but its weakness is that it is a little too lean, in terms of production value. With some scenes that don’t make sense (Bond grinning maniacally as he’s being chased on a mountain road?), it is easy to see that it took a little time for this movie to find its footing. Usually, the first movie in a franchise, like the first season of a TV series, is a little “rough around the edges”, and Dr. No is no exception.

Still, Dr. No gives us a stripped-down, enjoyable movie, one that lays the foundation for the rest of the series, and it gives us the essence of Connery’s Bond, one which draws comparison to all the actors who would take on the role in the coming years.

3-1/2 (out of 5)

DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)

In Comedy, D, Independent, Motion Pictures on June 17, 2010 at 1:53 am

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STUDIO – Universal/Gramercy 

CAST – Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Shawn Andrews, Michelle Burke, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Cole Hauser, Christin Hinojosa, Sasha Jenson, Milla Jovovich, Jason London, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Anthony Rapp, Marisa Ribisi, Wiley Wiggins 

DIRECTOR – Richard Linklater 

MPAA Rating: R 

Every so often, a movie comes along and takes a nostalgic look at the innocent days of youth from years long past. Arguably, the greatest example of this is George Lucas’ American Graffiti. In 1993, writer/director Richard Linklater tweaked the Graffiti formula, relocated it to Austin, Texas, set it in 1976, added lots of beer and grass, and gave us Dazed and Confused

The movie takes place over the course of 24 hours, starting on May 28, 1976. But this isn’t just any day picked at random; it is the last day of school for students in Austin, Texas. At Lee High School, the outgoing juniors are preparing to wreak havoc on the new crop of freshmen. For the girls, it’s a series of humiliating, yet relatively harmless, stunts, including being covered in ketchup, mustard, and oatmeal. then cleaning off at a car wash. But for the boys, it’s being hunted down like prey by gangs of upper-classmen and getting swatted with custom-made paddles. One of the new seniors, star quarterback Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) seems less interested in the hazing than he is in the so-called “team pledge” he feels he is forced to sign so he can play football next season. Meanwhile, one of the freshmen, Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), starts to blend in with the upper-classmen after getting “busted” earlier in the day. But everyone is geared up for the event of the year: an end-of-school-year blowout at Kevin Pickford’s (Shawn Andrews) house. But the beer arrived early, his parents cancelled their trip, and the party got nixed before it even started. Bummer! Enter David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), an old-school party animal who quickly rustles up the gang for an impromptu gathering at the Moon Tower. Before long, everyone is drinking beer, smoking pot, and making out at the party. 

Dawson, Wooderson, Pink, and Mitch (Sasha Jenson, Matthew McConaughey, Jason London, Wiley Wiggins) hang out at the Emporium

 It goes without saying that Dazed and Confused is a very loose movie. Basically, the plot has at least five different story lines. First, “Pink” Floyd doesn’t want to sign a written pledge made out by his coach to stay off drugs, though his teammates want him to. Next is a small group of freshmen trying to evade getting “busted” by the seniors (with mixed results). Then there are the three intellectuals (Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Sabrina Ribisi), who try to fit in, even though they can’t stand anyone else but each other. There is the two-time senior – and major jerk – Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck) who gets his comeuppance, masterminded by freshman Mitch Kramer. And, of course, there is the aforementioned party that got busted and relocated. 

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this move, so much that it took two screenings to get it all. I had seen this movie before several years ago, and quite frankly, I didn’t get it. After watching again, there are some things I now understand, and others that make me think “My God, were things really that anarchistic in the ’70s?” Behaviors exhibited in this movie clearly demonstrated how lax things were back then. Public hazing, pot smoking, underage beer consumption, and an apparent lack of curfew were among the many things that were not only not enforced, but in some cases even encouraged (as evidenced by one junior-high teacher who smiled when the seniors came over to announce their intentions). I wonder how today’s kids would view this movie. Would they inspired into some kind of radical behavior, or would they look at their parents (and even grandparents!) in awe at imagining them doing even some of the things seen here? Given that the school year is wrapping up here in Southern California, and that my car got egged while I was working this evening, I’m more inclined toward the latter. Egging a car? Not very original… 

Upon viewing this movie, I started drawing comparisons to my own high school experiences. No one got paddled my freshman year. The preferred method of hazing was called “trash-canning” (I got it twice; the second time, they tied my laces together). Drugs were pretty pervasive my first two years in high school; there was a spot near the girls’ locker room known as “the field”, where hundreds of students would get stoned during recess. The seniors in my freshman year were quite rowdy, too; the Senior Class President was actually forced to resign when he was busted for shellacking Playboy centerfolds onto the school’s lunch tables! Mind you, this was the late-70s and early-80s, not 1976, but there are some similarties, nonetheless. 

Dazed and Confused is Richard Linklater’s personal American Graffiti. Some would argue the movie is semi-autobiographical. Several residents in Austin, Texas, tried to file a defamation lawsuit against Linklater and Universal Studios because some of the characters had names similar to theirs, but the statute of limitations had passed. Still, Dazed and Confused launched the careers of some of today’s more popular Hollywood stars (Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, and Matthew McConaughey), and it is an amusing and nostalgic look back to a time when our whole lives were ahead of us, even if momentary terror made it appear otherwise. 

DEAD-ALIVE (1992)

In Comedy, D, Horror, Motion Pictures on April 21, 2010 at 1:24 am

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STUDIO — Trimark Pictures 

CAST — Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Ian Watkin, Brenda Kendall, Stuart Denevie, Jed Brophy 

DIRECTOR — Peter Jackson 

NOT RATED
(MPAA Equivalent: NC-17) 

Something tells me that, from watching this movie, Peter Jackson was the pride and joy of Fangoria magazine back in the early 1990s. 

This is the second of two requested samples of Peter Jackson’s early work (Heavenly Creatures is the other). Originally titled “Braindead”, Dead-Alive follows the budding romance of Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme), a local chap with a penchant for clumsiness, and Paquita María Sanchez (Diana Peñalver), daughter of a local shopkeeper whose store Lionel frequents. But Lionel’s mother, Vera (Elizabeth Moody), still thinks that her son is a child, and she still treats her as such. 

One day, Lionel visits the market to place his mother’s order. Paquita, after a Tarot reading by her grandmother, is convinced that Lionel is the man of her dreams, so she delivers the order to Lionel’s house. She then talks him into a date at the local zoo. The next day, at the zoo, while spying on her son, Vera is attacked by a Sumatran creature called a “rat-monkey”. The next day, she dies, and… it kind of goes downhill from there. 

Lionel (Timothy Balme) and Paquita (Diana Peñalver) try to escape zombies

Be warned: This is one of Jackson’s goriest movies among his early work. It is by far the goriest movie I have ever seen. But it is also a movie with a lighter side, both in the setup to how Vera became a zombie, to the film’s inventive climax, including my personal nominations for Most Creative Use for a Lawn Gnome, as well as Most Effective Zombie Weapon. 

Jackson’s handling of the material shows a master in the making, though still a bit rough around the edges. The zoo sequence, with Lionel and Paquita enjoying the day together, played out like it would if this was a silent movie. The smiling, the innocence, even the kissing, all are reminiscent of such a scene with Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, or Buster Keaton. Too bad Mum had to spy on them, get bitten by that… thing, and ruin everything. 

As a “B” movie, it goes without saying that you won’t find anything Oscar-caliber in it. The script has its cheesy moments, and most of the characters are one-dimensional. For example, Ian Watkin is Uncle Les, a greedy slimeball who tries to take Vera’s estate from Lionel. Then there’s Harry Sinclair as Roger, a butcher delivery boy — and rival for Paquita’s affection — who’s obsessed with rugby more than he is with anything else. But what the film lacks is compensated with strong camera and editing work, energetic performances, and irreverent humor (some of it gross, but necessary to offset the goriness of the third act). 

This is the first movie from the horror genre that I had seen in a long time. When I got the DVD in the mail, I read the sleeve, then I checked out the trailer. Finally, I did a quick “sneak-peek” in the scene selection menu. After all of that, I asked myself, “My God! What did I get myself into?” But I pressed “Play” and braced myself for impact. And I am happy to report that I survived what has got to be the bloodiest movie ever made. 

Gross, shocking, gory, funny, energetic, and with enough blood to send the American Red Cross into panic mode, Dead-Alive is a very funny movie of the rancid kind. Hard to believe this came from the same mind that gave us the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’ve got the stomach for it, then by all means, rent it. Those of you with weak constitutions may want to try something lighter, instead… 

DISTRICT 9 (2009)

In Action, D, Motion Pictures, Sci-Fi/Fantasy on February 7, 2010 at 9:14 am

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STUDIO — TriStar

CAST — Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike

DIRECTOR —  Neill Blomkamp

MPAA Rating: R

In 2009, the science-fiction/fantasy genre made a generally strong impression upon moviegoers. Among the top-grossing films of the year were Star Trek, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Terminator: Salvation, and of course, a small little-known movie called Avatar. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

But not all sci-fi is big-budget tentpole films. Meet District 9, one of two movies in the sci-fi/fantasy genre to receive an Oscar™ nomination for Best Picture of 2009 (Avatar is the other). This movie, the cinematic directorial debut of Neill Blomkamp, made with a modest budget, and featuring a cast of unknowns, is one of the boldest and most eye-popping movies of 2009. It is also one of the most polarizing. This is one of those films that received both critical praise and derision, and sometimes both at the same time. On a personal note, I can say that more than a few of the people with whom I have spoken did not like this movie, and my brother hated the first half when I popped this movie into my DVD player (But he did love the second half). But this isn’t my brother’s review, nor my friends’, nor a recap of what the professional critics said.

HMU Manager Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) serves eviction notices in District 9.

District 9 is the story of an alien race who had been stranded in Johannesburg, South Africa, for over 20 years. Since their arrival, a series of incidents with the aliens (known derisively as “prawns”)  created tensions among the locals, leading to the formation of a designated colony in town known as District 9. Eventually, District 9 turned into little more than a shantytown under the jurisdiction of corporate giant Multi-National United (MNU). Finally, the locals demanded the aliens be dealt with once and for all, so MNU moved in to relocate them to a new settlement 200 kilometers away. Even though they are being served eviction notices, the move is mandatory. And the man placed in charge of the evictions is Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley).

Now that you know the premise, I won’t go any further into the story for the sake of spoilers, except to say that Wikus (pronounced “VEE-kus”) has an eye-opening experience which leads to his discovery that his employer is not as benevolent as he thought they were. The first half of District 9 was a chaotic mix of shooting styles to give a documentary feel, including news, corporate, file and security footage. This mix of mostly hand-held footage sets up the story in a rapid, if not unique, way. As the movie progresses, the camerawork evolves into a more cinematic feel, with some of the documentary footage mixed in to provide tension in key scenes. For example, now a wanted man, Wikus walks into a restaurant and tries to order food. A security camera shows him entering, then the cinematic storytelling takes over when the news splashes his face on the TV. It may be a gimic, but for the most part, it works with great effect.

This movie took advantage of parallels of South Africa’s own history (The title itself is a nearly direct reference to an area in Johannesburg once known as District 6 during the Apartheid era, and the alien settlement was once a real slum near Soweto). In the opinion of this writer, science-fiction is at its best when it makes social and political commentary based on either historical or current events (hence the appeal of the Star Trek franchise all these years), and the story of District 9 is both frightening and real in its examination of the human race, which fears the “prawns”. And we all know that people fear what they do not understand.

The choice to shoot this movie on location in South Africa, using a South African cast and a native South African director was both bold and visionary (I may be a little prejudiced – for lack of a better word – as my grandfather was born in Pretoria). District 9 is not for everyone, but it is gripping from start to finish.

4 out of 5

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

In Action, D, Motion Pictures, Movies, Sci-Fi/Fantasy on January 23, 2010 at 1:31 am

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The Dark Knight (2008)

STUDIO — Warner Bros./DC Comics

CAST — Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman

DIRECTOR —  Christopher Nolan

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Where do I begin? As most people would say, “From the beginning, of course!” So, that is where I will start.

Our movie opens with a bank heist like no other: A carefully laid-out plan by a team of crooks in clown masks quickly turns ugly as, one by one, they systematically kill each other until one remains. And we all know who he is, don’t we?

At the end of Batman Begins, we are literally handed a hint of what is to come. There’s a new criminal on the streets of Gotham, and no one knows anything about him, except that he leaves a calling card: a joker from a deck of cards. So, we all knew The Joker would be in this movie. What we got was the creepiest, most psychotic, most manic Joker who ever put on a purple suit.

In the 1960s “Batman” movie and TV show, Cesar Romero played the Clown Prince of Crime with absolute glee; each time he appeared on the show, it was easy to see just how much fun he had in the part. In 1989, Jack Nicholson’s performance in Tim Burton’s Batman was so gloriously over-the-top, that it became a new standard in superhero movie villian performances.

Until now.

The Joker (Heath Ledger) crashes a fund-raiser

Enter Heath Ledger. His take on The Joker was so eerie, so chaotic, so fun to watch, that finding the actor behind the character was difficult, at best. When he (posthumously) won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor of 2008, I thought it was a sympathy vote more than anything else. After seeing this movie, I can say that my initial judgment was… premature.

(Is this a good time to say that I had made a promise to myself not to spend the entire review talking about Heath Ledger? Okay, then! On with the show!)

This movie needed to be at least as good as its predecessor in order to sustain the franchise, and The Dark Knight delivers. Oh, and I should note Aaron Eckart’s take on District Attorney Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) was nearly equally as strong as that of Heath Ledger’s Joker. And, like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight was well-paced, beautifally shot, and held me from start to finish.

It is sad that Mr. Ledger passed away; he left big shoes to fill should the Powers That Be revisit The Joker in a future movie. But this “Batman” franchise still has teeth in it, and The Dark Knight has a large bite.

4 out of 5