Thursday, May 28, 2015

HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT (CutPrintFilm.COM)

Here's my latest CutPrintFilm review on the Safdie Brothers' latest Heaven Knows What...


Friday, May 22, 2015

KILLER'S KISS


Not to repeat some of what I already wrote for the pink smoke, but there's nothing worse than a blind/slightly uninformed Stanley Kubrick fan. Don't get me wrong, he's quietly one of my all-time favorite filmmakers but I at least know why that is and I can talk about/praise his work beyond 2001 & A Clockwork Orange (I say "quietly" because at this point, who doesn't consider Stanley Kubrick one of their all-time favorites?? And the minute I say he is one of my favorite filmmakers my insecure side kicks in and I fear I'll get grouped in with a million other mindless cinephiles who praise his movies because they feel they have to).
There's folks out there who feel he's never made a bad film which is a clear indication to me that they've never actually seen Killer's Kiss or sat through Barry Lyndon in its entirety.
I guess Barry Lyndon isn't completely bad. It's just painfully boring. But Killer's Kiss is kind of bad (and if it's not bad it's one or two tiers away from bad). But because it's an early film that Kubrick didn't distance himself from (like Fear & Desire), certain folks treat it like it’s the holy grail of early masterworks.
Killer's Kiss was initially met with mixed reviews but almost 60 years later it sits on rotten tomatoes with an 84% fresh rating. Sorry but this is hardly a B-grade film (I have additional issues with this rating when modern noirs like Demonlover & Fear X sit with a 49% & 58%, respectively).
Killer's Kiss is just another noir/love triangle story from the mid-1950's centered around a beautiful woman, a gangster and a boxer (with an incredibly awkward climatic fight scene between our protagonist boxer and antagonistic gangster where they frantically swing axes & mannequin limbs at each other while trying not to fall over).

The fact that people try to defend this film makes me want to dislike it more than I should (I once saw The Killing at IFC with one of the most pretentious repertory crowds who treated it like some kind of gem. I mean seriously, am I missing something?) Stanley Kubrick's “second debut”/sophomore feature always gets a pass with movie fans. He hadn't completely found his footing as a director yet (that's putting it lightly) or The movie really shouldn't count in his filmography when you really think about it (yes it should). It's like when people try to defend Interstellar's lukewarm reception by comparing it to 2001 (no, dude, people didn't even like 2001 at first but they finally came around. The same thing is gonna happen with Interstellar. Just watch.)

And hey, you could very well take a lot of what I'm saying and turn it around on me. Some of my personal favorite films are early works like Eraserhead & Shadows. I know plenty people who consider those films to be sloppy amateurish casualties of a limited budget. But what films like Eraserhead & Shadows lack in craft or budget, they make up for in subject matter (Shadows) or the fact that there was an honest attempt at tackling a serious subject, like man’s fear of fatherhood in Eraserhead, in a somewhat abstract way. Killer's Kiss is no different from the hundred other old timey noirs that play on AMC on a random Sunday afternoon.

Killer's Kiss / Maniac

This mild bashing of Kubrick's sophomore feature might seem a little random but in the last few years I've heard & read too many variations of the same complaints about how Eyes Wide Shut ruined Stanley's previously perfect filmography. That's hardly the case. Eyes Wide Shut certainly has its problems but at the same time I'd watch Eyes Wide Shut on a 24-hour loop over another screening of The Killing (I've also been sitting on a review of Renoir's Rules Of The Game for over four years with the hopes that John & Chris will do another installment of Old Movies Suck at the pink smoke. So until that happens I have to fire shots at another "old" film that gets a lot of undeserved praise).
My gripe with people's acceptance of Killer's Kiss isn't that much different from Monte Hellman's Road To Nowhere - another subpar movie that gets a pass because it's directed by a legendary veteran filmmaker (read my rant concerning Hellman's Road To Nowhere and the momentary back-and-forth it brought on between myself and the film's producer).

To be fair, Killer's Kiss did plant the seeds for what eventually became The Killing (another crime noir centered around dames, gangsters & sports) and it did inspire some imagery in recent films that I do kind of enjoy, so I can't completely dismiss it. Only in the last decade or so has The Killing been put on the same pedestal as some of Kubrick's other 2nd tier classics like Paths Of Glory.

Imagine if Stanley Kubrick revisited the noir genre after finding his signature style of bold colors, polarizing hallway shots and cryptic stares. All that time & energy spent on Barry Lyndon & the second half of Full Metal Jacket could have been used on a super cool stylized crime flick (admit it, a lot of you zone out, lose interest and start surfing the internet after Vincent D'Onofrio's "Private Pile" makes his exit in Full Metal Jacket).
I guess we have to take Nicolas Winding Refn's movies as conciliation...

Friday, May 15, 2015

MEMORIES OF PAUL C. MCKASTY

Memories of Paul C. McKasty is not for everybody. If your knowledge of rap & hip-hop doesn’t extend beyond today’s chart-topping radio hits, chances are you won’t know half of the people featured in this documentary and you won’t really know what anyone is talking about. This documentary is partially about the art of sampling, engineering & producing within rap music so a lot of the dialogue is nerdy musician tech-talk which can be very off-putting & confusing to the average viewer.
But if you’re a fan of drum machines, hip-hop’s “golden era” (which at this point is just code for rap music before post-Notorious B.I.G. P. Diddy), and actually find joy in reading the liner notes in old rap albums, this is definitely a documentary for you.

(the liner notes for Eric B & Rakim's "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em")

I’ve always been fascinated with unsung/underappreciated heroes of hip-hop like; Chris Lighty (manager/A&R for everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Busta Rhymes), Marley Marl (the man who introduced sampling to hip-hop), Dr. Butcher (original member of the X-men & underrated/underappreciated producer), Jazzy Jay (the man who indirectly created Def Jam records and mentored everyone from Brand Nubian to Diamond D), Dante Ross (A&R, producer & manager for everyone from Grand Puba to De La Soul), Shawn J. Period (producer for Artifacts, Mos-Def, Heltah Skeltah, various early rawkus releases, etc) and Large Professor (one of the key ingredients behind Nas’ debut album).
Producer/engineer Paul C. Mckasty definitely deserves to be mentioned alongside the aforementioned names. He became a bit of an urban legend to younger hip-hop fans like myself who discovered the culture in the late 80's/early 90's after his death."Who is this guy getting shouted out on songs and in the liner notes of all these classic hip-hop albums?" I thought.

(the liner notes from Main Source's "Breaking Atoms")

(you can hear Organized Konfusion shouting out his name at the end of one of their most famous songs around the 5:10 mark)

Before his untimely death at the age of 24, Paul C worked with Eric B. & Rakim, Organized Konfusion, Ultramagnetic MC’s, Grandmaster Caz & Biz Markie...




Only in recent years with the rise of various hip-hop sites & message boards geared towards music production has the legend of Paul C. resurfaced. Plenty of folks within the culture knew who he was, but over the years his quietly legendary status as a hip-hop producer/engineer cooled off a bit. But thanks to publications like Complex, Ego Trip & Fact magazine, his work has been rediscovered by a younger audience. Paul Mckasty produced some of the early demos for Organized Konfusion. He also went on to mentor/teach Large Professor who went on to become one of the most iconic producers in hip-hop.
Large Professor, who is sometimes labeled as Paul C's protegee, supposedly taught a young DJ Premier some early tricks on the SP-1200 drum machine (tricks he probably learned from Paul C.), he was one of only two outside producers to contribute to A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders album, and he produced other classic albums like Main Source’s "Breaking Atoms" & Akinyele’s "Vagina Diner"...



This documentary is kind of an unofficial prequel to last years’ Nas Documentary Time Is Illmatic. Some of the people, drum machines and various other spiritual elements in Memories Of Paul C. McKasty went on to have both a direct & indirect influence on Nas' classic debut album (Large Professor produced a third of Illmatic).

Memories Of Paul C McKasty also serves as a light history lesson on the Queens/Long Island hip-hop scene. With the exception of Ultramagnetic Mc’s, all the rap artists featured or mentioned in this documentary are from Queens (Large Professor, Organized Konfusion, Dr. Butcher & O.C.) or Long Island (Eric B. & Rakim & Biz Markie). Perhaps Paul C. belongs on the “mount rushmore” of Queens hip-hop producers alongside Marley Marl, Large Professor, Havoc, Ayatollah and a few others (I don’t think there’s a major rapper from Queens who hasn’t worked with at least two of those producers).


Thankfully this once rarely seen documentary is now up on youtube in one full length video. It's pretty typical in terms of execution and the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. But the subject matter is so important that I’m willing to give it a pass (hey...a lot of classic hip-hop music, some of which Paul C. is responsible for, didn't necessarily have the cleanest quality either). It’s best to treat this documentary like a raw/archival piece of hip-hop history like Wild Style or Style Wars and not get too caught up in the technical aspects.

It’s films like this that cause me to laughably dismiss Eric Dyson’s title of “hip-hop scholar” (seriously, if he’s a hip-hop scholar, what does that make me and some of my friends? Hip-hop SUPER scholars?). I feel like the only pre-requisites for being a “hip-hop scholar” nowadays is being able to speak prolifically about Tupac & Public Enemy. Contrary to what a guy like Dyson would have some people believe, there’s so much more to hip-hop culture than what Rolling Stone & Spin magazine deems important. I’m willing to bet a guy like Eric Dyson (or other so-called hip-hop scholars like Cornell West, Toure & Dream Hampton) wouldn’t know the first thing about Paul McKasty, the iconic music equipment he & his peers used, or some of the artists featured in this documentary). The more Dream Hampton, Cornell West, Toure & Eric Dyson speak on hip-hop, it’s so obvious they have a basic (scholarly) understanding of what the culture is.

Monday, May 11, 2015

FINAL SHOTS (Thepinksmoke.com)

here's part three in a new collaborative series over at the pink smoke where we list our personal favorite final shots/moments/scene in cinema.

enjoy...


Friday, May 1, 2015

13 ASSASSINS


Don’t ask me why but back in 2006 I went to the theater and paid full ticket price to see Eli Roth’s Hostel (I was with a group of friends and I didn’t wanna be the one party-pooper that didn’t wanna see the movie everyone else agreed upon). To no surprise the movie was incredibly stupid. The only thing that got any kind of a rise out of me in that movie was Takashi Miike’s unexpected cameo. “Does anyone sitting in this sold out AMC theater even know who this is?” I thought. What was a respected art-house filmmaker doing in an Eli Roth movie??
But then I remembered that Eli Roth comes from the school of Quentin Tarantino who is heavily influenced by a lot of (overly violent) modern Asian Cinema like Miike's and his cameo suddenly made a lot of sense.
Side note - violence & censorship in Japanese media has always perplexed me. The genitalia in Japanese pornography is always censored yet there seems to be no problem with extended scenes of some of the most over the top violence in modern cinema.

Besides his own Kill Bill movies, Quentin Tarantino goes so far as to attach his name to certain Asian films that have nothing to do with him outside of a random "producer" credit.





Quentin’s association with modern Asian cinema is so deep that his name has already been dropped in this very review numerous times before we’ve even delved in to the movie I'm supposed to be talking about.


Takashi Miike’s reputation is bigger than a cameo in a silly movie directed by one of Tarantino’s pupils. Chances are you've either seen or at least heard about one or two of his movies like Ichi The Killer or Audition. And I'm not sure how many of you know this but My Chemical Romance based one of their music videos on Audition (and I'm not saying that like it's something cool. I don't like My Chemical Romance. I'm just pointing out that Miike's influence has gone outside of just Japanese arthouse)


For those of you that are familiar with Miike's work, you know he isn't shy about showing blood, guts and over the top violence (sometimes to the point where you can barely take it seriously). But after over two decades of exploding body parts, gruesome murders, projectile vomit and graphic scenes of old women giving birth to full grown men, his cinema has gotten a little old (I'm aware he's branched off in to other genres, but I think we all know the kinds of movies he's most known for). We get it - you're trying to shock us. Cool. I sometimes feel like his core movies are the kinds of movies 15 year old boys get together and watch just to say they saw something disturbing. I spent a lot my early 20’s exploring his work and I often found myself looking away with an annoyed/disturbed look on my face as if to say “why am I watching this?”

But with 13 Assassins Takashi Miike finally had an excuse to be as bloody & violent as he wanted to be.

From artwork to classic cinema, there’s a very romantic image that a lot of us have of the graceful samurai when in fact their world was probably really gritty & violent. Samurai armor was archaic (when compared to what came after) so I imagine it was difficult to do anything damaging to your opponent. I’m willing to bet a lot of samurai chose to not use their bulky armor because it slowed them down, which made them a lot more vulnerable to sword blows. Death by sword has to be one of the worst ways to die. It isn’t always quick and has to be incredibly painful. In movies we always get that slow cliché shot of one samurai gracefully slashing another samurai across his chest with minimal blood spurting out. That can’t be how it really was. I’m sure samurai battles were drenched with blood & organs spilling all over the place.

Who better to show all of that than a sick individual like Takashi Miike?

Takeshi Kitano tried his hand at the samurai genre with the Zatoichi remake, but that movie felt more about him (Kitano) and less about the story. In the last 15 years there have been other cult/crossover samurai-based films like Ghost Dog and it's knock-off Kill Bill, but 13 Assassins is probably the best film of the last 15-20 years to deal with Samurai culture


The basic plot is straight out of a Kurosawa samurai film. In Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, we get a crew of assassins who are hired to put an end to a group of bandits that are terrorizing a defenseless village. In Miike's 13 Assassins we get an even larger crew, led by main character; "Shinzaemon", each with their own unique style & personality, that are hired to kill a sadistic authoritative figure ("Naritsugu") that's disrupting the peace & tranquility throughout an area of Japan (he rapes, murders & tortures innocent villagers just for the fun of it).
Unfortunately, Naritsugu is the shogun's brother. This makes him "untouchable". So the 13 assassins' mission to kill him is technically illegal. And to make things worse, Naritsugu not only has a small personal army of his own, but his right hand man/bodyguard; "Hanbei" is one of the deadliest samurai around and a former rival of Shinzaemon (some of the characters in 13 Assassins are based on real historical figures)

As one would expect in a film like this, 13 Assassins has epic battles (which are extremely entertaining and choreographed); the classic one on one showdown between the two rival samurai; lots of blood and just all around amazing action. What also sets 13 Assassins apart from a lot of other recent martial arts/samurai films is that there are good/memorable performances. Goro Inagaki's Naritsugu is an incredible villain but he isn’t given the same amount of camera time as the other characters. Plus he’s calm & a bit apathetic so it’s easy for his presence to go unnoticed (I urge you all to go back and pay close attention to his performance).

I'd go so far as to say this is Miike's best work after Audition (that may not be saying much as I'm not the biggest fan of his work). Anyone who likes; Kurosawa, Tarantino, martial arts films, or “men on a mission” movies (from Dirty Dozen to even Lord Of The Rings) should enjoy 13 Assassins. This is also a good starting point for the average movie-goer that doesn't want to sit through something like Seven SamuraiYojimbo or even Hidden Fortress.

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