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This Tumblr blog, like Netflix Instant last night, seems to be having some technical difficulties. Posts to come back soon.
If half of the Star Trek things are on Instants, please just put the rest on as well. I’d like to continue where I left off and watch The Search for Spock.
To be fair, Search for Spock was available up until a couple of days ago. I have no idea why they go in and out like that.
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I’m a sucker for a good revenge flick. Give me a movie where someone spends the first 30 minutes getting horribly beaten down psychologically and physically, and then the next 60 minutes beating the crap out of those who wronged them, and I’m a happy camper. There’s something beautifully cathartic to the revenge film — something that has allowed its’ relatively simple premise to live on for as long as it has. It’s never going to take the place of “boy from the right side of the tracks meets girl from the wrong side of the tracks” or “comical talking animal attempts to join a sports team,” but every couple of years, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a Death Sentence or a The Brave One or a Harry Browne or a Taken or a That Episode of South Park Where Cartman Serves This Older Kid His Own Parents As Chili Because He Was Gloating About His Pubes And Then Radiohead Showed Up.
Stephen Kastrissios’ debut film The Horseman is, at its’ heart, a revenge film, though it’s a bit more like a grindhouse variant of Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey than the likes of a Death Wish sequel. The film kicks into high gear in the first five minutes, as Christian (Peter Marshall), disguised as a pest control worker, bursts into a fellow’s apartment and begins beating the hell out him with a crowbar, demanding videotapes. We soon learn that the reason behind Christian’s rage is that his daughter had died of an overdose after partaking in heroin on a porn set.
Unlike most standard revenge tales, Christian’s backstory is told in relatively minimal flashback, so the pacing of the film is quick, rather than brooding at first, with a sense of impending dread. Much of the film just follows Christian on his Hardcore-esque quest for his daughter, though unlike the George C. Scott classic, the daughter is already dead from frame one, adding to Christian’s sense of determined fury.
And quite determined fury it is. Christian’s acts of violence are primal and sadistic, and he’s a man clearly committed to using any means necessary to get the information he wants. The bleak, greyish tones just add to the grimy quality of it all, giving even those who’ve seen movies with multiple genital mutilations before a sense of “man, this is some serious shit.”
Fortunately, Christian isn’t painted as some one-dimensional character, so it’s compelling well beyond the simple bloodshed. Neither a sainted mourning father nor a mindless automaton of vengeance, Christian’s humanity comes into play when he befriends a young hitchhiker (Caroline Marohasy) whom he tentatively takes under his wing to keep her out of the same fate that befell his daughter. It’s kind of a standard storytelling device, but it works well to flesh out Christian’s sense of duty, and gives the film an emotional impact beyond the simple revenge plot.
Kastrissios gives The Horseman an edgy feel, using a lot of hand-held camerawork without falling into the easy trap of making things unwatchable or giving more queasy viewers a feeling of motion sickness. Impressively, not content to simply alter the revenge movie form in terms of structure, he pulls out all the stops in the finale, offering a much more morally ambiguous closure than one has come to expect.
The Horseman will certainly satisfy revenge movie buffs like myself, but it manages to go beyond expectations and offer a taught, character-driven drama with lots (and lots) of grimy exploitation elements, rather than an exploitation film with some good character bits thrown in. Highly recommended.
Tell me about yourself?
Just a fellow who stumbled across your tumblr due to a search for “Netflix,” an item I think about far too much.
Your .gif is touching me in strange places.
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Y’know, you’d think this flick would have more of a reputation. It’s got a surefire exploitation premise—an all-girl softball team gets hunted down by a bunch of rednecks. It’s got shower scenes, barroom brawls, car chases, and a gushing review from drive-in guru Joe Bob Briggs. And yet, it lacks a cult following. Released on video years ago, the film hasn’t surfaced on DVD, and there’s never been any call to even on the most desperate cult film message board.
Possibly because BLOOD GAMES isn’t actually any good, and it’s not an easy task to figure out why. It hits every exploitation element it can. It’s got violence, nudity, and baseball. The acting is about par for the course. Briggs calls it “the most carefully made revenge flick in the past 20 years.”
Which makes you wonder exactly what the usually-reliable Briggs was on. BLOOD GAMES starts off just fine, with Ross Hagen leading his team of “Babe and the Ballgirls” to a hard-earned victory over a group of stereotypical hicks. The win is supposed to net the team $1000, but Mino, the guy Hagen bets against, welshes and short changes them several bills. Hagen counters this by going to the local pub and beating the hell out of him in the bathroom.
Meanwhile, two of the girls (including Hagen’s daughter Babe, played by DR. CALIGARI’s Laura Albert) go off in search of their captain. They’re attacked by Mino’s son and his similarly red-necked friend, and Mino’s son ends up getting killed in their rescue. Mino swears revenge, gathers up his gun-totin’ friends, and starts stalking the team.
The rest is pretty formulaic, but director Tanya Rosenberg keeps things moving. It’s just a shame there’s never a reason to really care about anyone involved. With the exception of Babe, none of the softball team members are given any real individual traits, and since they’re all wearing the same outfits, it quickly becomes a hassle just trying to tell the characters apart.
This would be fine if the film was done with an exceptional degree of, well, misanthropy, but everything’s about as predictable as you can get. There’s nothing particularly memorable about the attacks, especially since they’re both commited by and towards folks the film’s never bothered to establish.
Not to mention that the whole thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why would Hagen drag a team of women down to the middle of nowhere to play softball for the reward of a mere $1000, which split amongst the team, would be a mere $100 a piece? How does the group of rednecks manage to catch up to the team’s bus when they’re clearly headed on a straight path out of town? Why doesn’t this group, clearly in a town far away from home, bother carrying a map?
It’s all pretty lame, unexceptional stuff, with neither enough wit, sleaze or character development to make it worth more than a really desperate choice for late-night viewing. It’s like a musician that plays all the right notes, but you can tell their heart isn’t into it.
Oh yeah, and the black woman dies first, so that’s a case for the “black character must die” theory of exploitation.
Starting today, a hefty chunk of films distributed by Blue Underground, one of the best purveyors of cult titles out there, are available via Netflix Instant Watch. I probably won’t get to reviewing all of them, but they’re all worth a look.
Four of the Apocalypse — Fulci
Shock (Beyond the Door II) — Directed by Mario Bava
New York Ripper — Fulci directs a Donald Duck killer
The Loveless — Willem Dafoe biker drama
Made in Britain — Excellent Tim Roth skinhead film
Shock Waves — Best underwater Nazi zombie movie ever
The Shape of Things to Come — Crap sci-fi with Jack Palance
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Stpehen Okazaki’s Living on Tokyo Time is pretty much exactly the sort of movie I’m writing this blog for. It’s a barely-released indie film from the mid-’80s, never issued to DVD, from a director whose other work consists of a few documentaries, with a cast of complete unknowns. (Literally. For most of the folks in the film, Tokyo Time is their sole acting credit.) Basically, it’s virtually impossible to stumble across using Netflix’ current system, as it’s never going to get enough votes or queuing to get to the front of the “Low Key Indie Relationship Drama” (or however it’s classified) sub-section, and since the cast and crew don’t have any other real credits, nobody’s going to click on a name and happen to wonder what this one’s about.
Of course, up until last month, you may have stumbled across it if a friend of yours happened to like it and rated it highly, but all of the “social networking” features have been eliminated, so you’re pretty much just at the mercy of knowing what’s worth seeing by virtue of something being popular enough to make it to the front couple of pages. Because, let’s face it, nobody’s going to browse to page 237 of “Drama.” They’ll just give up after a while and watch the next thing featuring a cover with a pensive guy staring off to space that they see.
Netflix’s site for Living on Tokyo Time doesn’t even have any cover art! You’ve got to wonder why they bother sometimes.
Fortunately, there’s me, who can point out such diamonds in the rough. I am also majorly sexy.
I’m probably overselling Living on Tokyo Time a bit. It’s not some undiscovered classic, potentially capable of changing the course of film theory. It’s just a mild little slice-of-life story with a culture clash subtext, but it’s the principle, dammit!
Minako Ohashi plays Kyoko, a young woman who moves to San Francisco from Tokyo in order to get a new start after her parent-arranged relationship goes to pot. When her visa expires, she decides she wants to stay in the United States, still not ready to go back to face her friends and family back home.
She’s introduced via a co-worker to Ken (Ken Nakagawa), a Japanese-American factory janitor with no real ambitions outside of the vague notion of becoming a famous rock star with his go-nowhere band. Essentially dared to do something to forward his life somehow, Ken agrees to marry her for a green card, and the two move in together, despite the fact that they don’t have any chemistry whatsoever.
As far as set-ups go, Tokyo Time sounds as though it may as well be Generic Romantic Comedy 101, as the standard procedure from this point would be to have some comic misunderstandings mixed in with some tender moments, meandering to the inevitable scene when they figure out they they actually do love each other. Fortunately, what emerges is more of a slight character-driven tale that’s more mumblecore than Green Card.
The central relationship between Ken and Kyoko unfolds awkwardly, with the emotional distance between the two never really getting any closer. Ken has no ties to his Japanese heritage, and doesn’t really seem that interested in learning any of it, while Kyoko makes some attempts to blend into Ken’s life, but they’re little more than tokens, wearing his t-shirts and trying to get him to enjoy Japanese food. It quickly becomes obvious that these characters are more roommates that share a bed than anything resembling a romance, and we see them outside of their relationship much more than we see them together.
Not to say that this is some kind of Robert Bresson film, mind you. It’s certainly not all grim and gritty, and there are some funny moments, especially with Ken’s band, an assorted bunch of folks who rehearses in the lead singer’s basement, much to the chagrin of his wife. (“I’ll be more supportive when you get more successful,” is her attitude.) The staging of the film isn’t dour or awkward, it’s just very plain, almost to Jarmuschian levels. Okazaki seems to just want to show you some individual moments that made up this weird little relationship, rather than tell much of a story with it.
Living on Tokyo Time is the sort of movie you have to be in the correct frame of mind to enjoy — anyone craving action, movement or much in the way of plot or non-somnombulistic acting (most of the talent seems to be playing variations of themselves, but barely) is going to duck out quickly — but those seeking out a Low Key Indie Relationship Drama could do a hell of a lot worse.
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