2010

The Samurai of Ayothaya (2010, Nopporn Watin)

If you happened across The Samurai of Ayothaya and missed the terrible opening expository narration, you might think you found an awesome martial arts movie about a bunch of Thai Freddie Mercury impersonators in a Battle Royale situation.

Sadly, you did not. You instead found a terrible mix of a military thriller and a martial arts historical drama.

There’s nothing to recommend Ayothaya, except possibly its under two hour runtime, but the script’s the worst part of it. Every moment, every line, is either foreshadowed or just generally predictable. Director Watin really likes to speed up and slow down the film for emphasis, just in case you miss the utterly obvious events transpiring onscreen. If there were anything good about Ayothaya, Watin’s approach might suggest disgust for the viewer. But no… his filmmaking appears to be entirely earnest in its awfulness.

Lead Seigi Ozeki apparently got the job based on his bangs–he lets them do most of his acting. They don’t do a good job.

Watin’s not just bad at directing actors or its martial arts fight scenes (which are awful too), he’s generally incompetent at composition too. Chuchart Nantitanyathada’s weak photography doesn’t help either. All of Ayothaya is glossy, with hard bright lights. The film’s ostensibly going for realism; not as far as the lighting apparently. Watin’s trying to make it all look so cool and it’s impossible when the actors can’t even react naturally.

Ayothaya isn’t quite Ed Wood… but only because of CG and a budget.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Nopporn Watin; written by Watin, Thanatat Kongthong, Thanawat Thirayaowapapong and Viroj Sukchu; director of photography, Chuchart Nantitanyathada; edited by Sunshine Manooratana; music by Paphatsin Ketawongwat and Padej Boonlon; production designer, Anan Wantippa; produced by Salinee Phakdeephol; released by Mahagaap.

Starring Seigi Ozeki (Yamada Nagamasa), Kanokkorn Jaicheun (Jumpaa), Sorapong Chatree (Phra Khruu), Winai Kraibutr (King Naresuan), Thanawut Ketsaro (Khaam) and Buakhao Paw Pramuk (Ai-Seua).


Get Lamp (2010, Jason Scott Sadofsky)

Get Lamp is part history documentary, part modern examination, part something else. It changes throughout, which is only natural… director Sadofsky gives the viewer control of the documentary’s structure (but also offers a cruise controlled version).

Lamp is an affectionate look at early computer games, specifically the text-based ones–so Zork, not King’s Quest. There’s a brief portion talking about the history, then Sadofsky examines different aspects of the games. Then he covers the modern era–at least the way I watched it. Like I said above, it can vary.

This structure seems the most natural; as Lamp reaches its conclusion, one realizes how this particular entertainment medium differs from almost any other.

Fans of the medium didn’t let it die. In terms of film history, it would be like silent film fans trying to keep the medium alive. It’s not a precise analogy–the Lamp game makers Sadofsky interviews have easily accessible distribution. There wasn’t YouTube in the fifties for silent film afficandos to utilize.

As an interviewer, Sadofsky has almost no presence. His questions are rarely audible. When he does include them, the questions themselves offer insight, even before the responses.

The lack of personality–except an omnipresent gold lamp–is why I hesitate to call Lamp a loving look at the medium. I assume Sadofsky does love it, but his film is professional, not personal.

He captures a relatively forgotten piece of pop culture history and makes it exciting and expansive.

Get Lamp is a win.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed, produced and edited by Jason Scott Sadofsky; music by Zoë Blade, Tony Longworth and Nicholas Markos; released by Bovine Ignition Systems.


Refuge (2010, David Schmudde)

Refuge isn’t so much pretentious as it is dumb. Writer-director Schmudde figures out a fairly nice narrative to turn in on itself as protagonist Barret Walz keeps travels to Iowa but gets nowhere. It’s Groundhog Day as shoe gaze, white guy angst. Wait, I think that phrase is an oxymoron.

Walz is quite good in the lead, even though he has almost nothing to do. Maybe he just seems good because his most frequent screen partner, Tim Gamble, is awful. Schmudde has talent for composition and especially for tying sequences together–even the flashy, CG ones are impressive–but he has none for directing actors. Walz can cope without guidance, Gamble can’t.

Great photography from Kevin Moss helps gloss over Schmudde and Nick Martin’s graceless editing.

The first forty-five seconds are truly wondrous; by the last fourth the narrative tripe is obvious and debilitating. Refuge–unfortunately–fails.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Schmudde; director of photography, Kevin Moss; edited by Nick Martin and Schmudde; produced by Kathryn Henderson.

Starring Barret Walz (Grant), Tim Gamble (Farmer), Ann Sonneville (Eachelle) and Jacquelyn Zook (Anne).


Jackpot! (2010, Tony Ducret)

Jackpot! is a fairy tale for violent misogynists; writer-director Ducret probably sells it mail order to convicts. Here’s the premise–New York City is infested with fetching young black women who trap successful black men by manipulating themselves into pregnancy. Luckily, these successful black men are able to call a lothario (an awful Anthony Laurent) who drugs the women and aborts the pregnancies.

During the short, I was a little curious why Ducret made the protagonist–poorly played by Kimberly Holloway–so unlikable. The successful man she dupes–an NBA player (Damiyr Shuford in Jackpot‘s only good performance)–is practically likable just because she’s so hideous. Now I get it. He’s the guy and this evil harpy is trying to steal his riches.

Ducret’s direction isn’t bad and some of his dialogue is decent. His editing, however, is hilariously inept.

Jackpot! is disturbing for all the wrong reasons.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Tony Ducret; director of photography, Salvador Bolivar; music by J.A. Rah; production designer, Navlah Abdul-Aleem; produced by Ducret and Todd Tucker.

Starring Kimberly Holloway (Shontae), Anthony Laurent (Grant) and Damiyr Shuford (Deandre).


Bedevilled (2010, Jang Chul-soo)

Until about halfway through, I knew how to start talking Bedevilled. It was about a yuppie workaholic (Ji Seong-won) flipping out and going on a forced vacation. Only she goes to this remote island where she used to visit her grandfather as a kid. Instead of a vacation paradise (though the island is lovely), she finds a patriarchal missing its patriarch. There’s a matriarch, though–a chilling Baek Su-ryeon–who props up her two idiot nephews as they abuse any non-elderly woman they come across.

Park Jeong-hak plays the main nephew, an utterly contemptible character who terrorizes his wife (Seo Yeong-hie). Seo and Ji were friends as children and, for the first half, one might think Bedevilled would involve Ji inspiring Seo to make a change for the better.

Except that expectation ignores Ji being a selfish yuppie and, halfway through, Bedevilled changes into something I’m tempted to call a feminist slasher movie. And selfish yuppies don’t make good heroes.

Director Jang has some really difficult scenes to get through, not to mention a dream sequence or two, but he succeeds. The film is almost always unpleasant, even before Ji arrives at the creepy island; there aren’t any happy moments, just extremely well-made ones.

Choi Kwang-young’s script deserves a lot of the credit for the film’s success, even if Ji isn’t necessary for the plot. She adds layers.

While Ji’s excellent, Seo’s even better.

Bedevilled is a hard two hours, but worth it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jang Chul-soo; written by Choi Kwang-young; director of photography, Kim Gi-tae; edited by Kim Mi-joo; music by Kim Tae-seong; production designer, Sihm Jeom-hui; produced by Park Kuy-young; released by Boston Investments.

Starring Seo Yeong-hie (Kim Bok-nam), Ji Seong-won (Hae-won), Park Jeong-hak (Man-jong), Baek Su-ryun (Dong-ho’s granny), Bae Sung-woo (Cheol-jong), Oh Yong (Deuk-su), Lee Ji-eun (Kim Yeon-hee), Kim Gyeong-ae (Pa-ju’s granny), Son Yeong-sun (Sun-yi’s granny), Lee Myeong-ja (Gae-tong’s granny), Yu Sun-cheol (Old man with Alzheimer’s), Jo Deok-jae (Police officer Seo) and Chae Shi-hyeon (Mi-ran).


The Expendables (2010, Sylvester Stallone), the director’s cut

Ah, the utterly useless director’s cut. Thank you, DVD.

Having only seen The Expendables once, I’m not entirely sure what Stallone added for this version. The opening titles seem long and awkward (there’s now a montage introducing the team, which is even sillier since most of them disappear for the majority of the run time) and the big action scene has new music. Neither addition makes any significant difference, though there do seem to be some additional moments with the cast and the cast is what makes The Expendables work.

Most of the film’s performances are good. Nearly all of them actually, which is startling given much of the cast is traditionally laughable. Even the wrestlers are all right, though having Steve Austin knock out a woman probably makes him a lot more menacing. Randy Couture has a fun, against type monologue and Gary Daniels is good in his little part.

But the film’s best performance is, shockingly, Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren’s drug-addled behemoth is constantly frightening, but also somewhat touching and amusing. Jet Li’s appealing. Eric Roberts and Jason Statham, no surprise, are both excellent.

Stallone, other than showing off his retirement age physique, doesn’t do much. But he’s fine.

Mickey Rourke is amazing. He does more to make The Expendables “real” than anything else. Though even he wouldn’t be able to combat Jeffrey L. Kimball’s incompetent photography.

The only bad performance is David Zayas, who’s awful.

The Expendables is sometimes too long, but the acting makes it worthwhile.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sylvester Stallone; screenplay by Dave Callaham and Stallone, based on a story by Callaham; director of photography, Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Ken Blackwell and Paul Harb; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Avi Lerner, John Thompson and Kevin King Templeton; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross), Jason Statham (Lee Christmas), Jet Li (Yin Yang), Dolph Lundgren (Gunner Jensen), Eric Roberts (James Munroe), Randy Couture (Toll Road), Steve Austin (Paine), David Zayas (General Garza), Giselle Itié (Sandra), Charisma Carpenter (Lacy), Gary Daniels (the Brit), Terry Crews (Hale Caesar) and Mickey Rourke (Tool).


Meet Monica Velour (2010, Keith Bearden)

In the listless younger man, experienced older woman genre, Meet Monica Velour is a painfully obvious modernization (the older woman is a former porn star, the younger man is an… avid fan). I use the ellipses because Meet Monica Velour’s protagonist is the finest example of the stalkers of the eighties growing up to be the leading men of today (which There’s Something About Mary proudly started).

The lead of Monica Velour is Dustin Ingram who does not look seventeen, even if he was nineteen shooting the film. He’s also not very good. When the film’s about him being this awkward youth (he lives with grandfather Brian Dennehy), the film’s really weak. Bearden fails to properly establish Dennehy as the grandfather, instead making one wonder why the kid’s calling his dad “Pop Pop.” It’s also unclear the kid’s a kid. The high school graduation scene seems out of place.

But Bearden’s casting of Jee Young Han as the object of Ingram’s affection is interesting, as she’s not a skinny beauty queen.

Velour gets consequential once Kim Cattrall arrives (as the titular character). She gives a stunning performance; I never thought Cattrall had the ability she shows here. Every line delivery is revelatory.

Great supporting (glorified cameo) from Keith David, who should have been in it more. The same goes for Dennehy.

Bearden doesn’t seem to have realized the lead role needed to be someone besides a boring kid (especially one played by Ingram).

But Cattrall’s performance makes Velour significant.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Keith Bearden; director of photography, Masanobu Takayanagi; edited by Naomi Geraghty; music by Andrew Hollander; production designer, Lou A. Trabbie III; produced by Gary Gilbert and Jordan Horowitz; released by Anchor Bay Films.

Starring Kim Cattrall (Linda), Dustin Ingram (Tobe), Sam McMurray (Ronnie), Tony Cox (Club Owner), Jee Young Han (Amanda), Daniel Yelsky (Kenny), Keith David (Claude) and Brian Dennehy (Pop Pop).


Sharfik (2010, Karina Gazizova)

Sharfik should be amazing, but director Gazizova seems to think her audience is full of idiots. Until the last two minutes, the only bad thing about the short is the music. The music’s this terrible, melodramatic singing and it completely fails. The short’s otherwise so strong it doesn’t matter.

It’s a simple story—a kid slowly gets abandoned after a war starts. It takes place in Russia during World War II, which I sort of got, just because it’s the easiest example. It could take place anywhere though.

The animation’s this cute little big eyed kid and there’s almost a “Peanuts” vibe to it. Slowly, it becomes clear the whole thing’s in layers of flashbacks, which Gazizova uses quite well. The bad ending is out of tune with Gazizova’s other narrative choices.

I wish the ending weren’t so bad, because it leaves me with an intensely negative reaction to Sharfik.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed and animated by Karina Gazizova.


It’s Natural to Be Afraid (2010, Justin Doherty)

It’s Natural to Be Afraid is a series of fractured moments in the lives of two (or two and a half) characters. The short opens with two of them, Mark Drake and Mika Hockman, in a perplexing scene. For a while, it seems like director Doherty and writer Neil Fox are just doing an extended preview for a compelling character drama.

It turns out, however, the fractures are all part of the same timeline and there’s a reasonable explanation for everything.

Doherty delays the organizing just long enough it isn’t a gimmick and instead becomes the most effective way to construct Natural’s experience.

Both Drake and Hockman, who have varying degrees of responsibility, are both excellent.

Bill Ryder-Jones’s music is phenomenal.

Fox’s script is finely constructed drama, able to incorporate a slapstick sketch. It’s a beautifully put together little film.

Though the final shot’s a little too hipster.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Justin Doherty; written by Neil Fox; director of photography, Alex Lawrence; edited by Doherty and Steven Worsley; music by Bill Ryder-Jones; produced by Steve Clarke.

Starring James Clarke (Ryan), Mark Drake (Sam) and Mika Hockman (Mya).


Maternal Death by Coincidence (2010, Peter Sterk and Fedor van Rossem)

Maternal Death by Coincidence is one of a series of mock documentaries about two Dutch morons in Africa. It’s unclear, from the episode itself, it’s part of a series.

But finding out about its format, its part in a series, does slightly change my opinion of it. Coincidence succeeds because the public service announcement bit at the very end comes as a surprise. If it’s just a feature of the episodes, it becomes too familiar and it changes the humor.

On my viewing though—if I can remember back twenty minutes before I read about the rest—it worked fine. It presents itself as being absurdity anti-Africa, only to reveal itself it’s anti-African men and pro-African women. And it sticks to its guns on that issue, which is something.

The acting’s mediocre and the runtime’s way too long. Otherwise, Coincidence is informative and amusing.

Great soundtrack too.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Peter Sterk and Fedor van Rossem; “Two Ambassadors” created by Sterk and van Rossem; directors of photography, Mark Witte and Rolf Dekens; edited by van Rossem, Ralf Verbeek and Geert van Schoot; released by MTNL.

Starring Peter Sterk (Peter), Fedor van Rossem (Fedor), Marion Kanu (Marion), Katy Kanu (Heks), Isa Fornah (Isa), Sembe Allosa (Sembe), Michiel Doekes (Dokter) and Wouter Peters (Wouter).


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