Thursday, May 31, 2012

May Quick Picks and Pans

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) It would be a huge understatement to say that this movie, with its creative gore effects, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  Simply stating that Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is over the top doesn’t begin to do it justice – it goes over the top and keeps on going.  So, what’s it about?  The story (such as it is) takes place in the far-off future date of 2001, when prisons are privatized and run by thugs.  Riki-Oh Saiga (Siu-Wong Fan) is sent away to prison for killing one of the men responsible for his girlfriend’s death.  Every day, thanks to the sadistic assistant warden (Mei Sheng Fan), there’s a new fight and a new opportunity to die, but Riki-Oh is more than up to the challenge.  He continually finds new and increasingly disgusting ways to finish off his opponents, but might have just found his match when he faces off against the Gang of Four, the deadliest killers in the prison.  The non-stop violence and bloodshed might turn some away, but it’s so completely beyond the realm of believability that it enters a whole new surreal universe (think Dead Alive).  Those looking for an inventively warped film experience might find just find their Nirvana here (I had a blast).  Everyone else might want to steer clear.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD

Melancholia (2011) This film starts as a relatively pedestrian family drama, focusing on two sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), on the eve of the former sister’s wedding celebration.  Oh yeah… and it’s the last few days before the recently discovered planet Melancholia will collide with the Earth, ending all life.  Writer/director Lars von Trier’s nihilistic farce is simultaneously pretentious and compelling.  The film is divided into two parts, with the first section focusing on Justine as she drifts through her elaborate wedding ceremony.  Everyone is happy (or at least putting on appearances of being happy), blissfully ignoring the bad omens that loom on the horizon.  Justine, however, is just going through the motions, making plans with her freshly minted husband that will never come to fruition.  Amidst these opening scenes of inner torment, there’s a fun little comic turn by Udo Kier as the self-absorbed wedding planner.  The world is ending, but all he cares about is that she’s making a mockery of his perfect reception.  In the second part, as the planet Melancholia gets closer to Earth, the more “rational” Claire starts to fall apart at the seams and Justine becomes resigned to her fate.  Depending on your point of view, it’s either the darkest of dark comedies or a grim drama with no respite.  With von Trier, either perspective is probably valid.  The end isn’t all that shocking or tragic when we realize that it’s not about the inevitable, but the moments in between.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

 Tales From Earthsea (2006) Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro proves that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree with his debut feature directorial effort.  While he never quite hits the high notes of the elder Miyazaki’s work, it’s still a quality effort.  The film was a critical disappointment at the time, perhaps due to unrealistic expectations about the Miyazaki name, and reports that Tales From Earthsea author Ursula K. Le Guin was unimpressed with the results.  I can’t comment on the original source material, except that the story seems to be condensed, feeling a bit like The Black Cauldron (which itself was an abbreviated version of the novel).  The character designs also look derivative, compared to other Studio Ghibli films.  Faults aside, Tales From Earthsea works as a moderately enjoyable, if largely forgettable fantasy.  Goro might not exactly be a chip off the old block, but that’s a good and bad thing.  There are hints from this film that he might, in time, establish his own unique style.  Worth a look.

Rating: ***.  Available on Blue-Ray and DVD

Lust for a Vampire (1971) This movie ranks as second-rate Hammer, which still makes it more interesting than a lot of the other stuff out there.  Director Jimmy Sangster’s follow-up to the superior The Vampire Lovers stands as a lesser entry in the Karnstein trilogy.  Yutte Stensgaard is pretty enough in the lead role as the seductive Mircalla (aka: Carmilla Karnstein), but her character is rather dull.  Ralph Bates turns in an amusing performance as the obsequious schoolmaster Giles Barton, who vows his undying allegiance to Mircalla.  The film seems to ignore most of the conventions about vampires (with Mircalla walking around in the daytime), and remembers other rules when it’s convenient to the plot (such as a cross necklace that appears around an intended victim’s neck just in the nick of time).  While it’s not terrible, it isn’t very good either.  Lust for a Vampire is diverting enough, but thoroughly disposable.  There’s not quite enough to make this a must-see, but I suppose you could do worse with your time.

Rating: ** ½.  Available on DVD

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