Saturday, January 30, 2010


I might have a new favorite movie. The Hunger is… something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in my life. I tend to say that a lot, about once a month, but that’s because there are a lot of truly great films that go unnoticed. And The Hunger is definitely one of them. Sure, it is perhaps not a movie that is completely buried in the annals of movie history. It does star Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve, and David Bowie, and it is the directorial debut of current Action-movie maestro Tony Scott.

The Hunger shares a common thread of story to the previous film I discussed, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction. The Hunger centers on a beautiful vampire, played by Deneuve. Her lover, who has lived for hundreds of years as well, is played by David Bowie. And they make a great couple in the film. The chemistry is really perfect, mainly due to the European exoticism of both actors.

The film is many things. It’s a true and true product of the 1980s with its super-cool hairdos, fashion and most of all, music. Although, I must mention that despite a stand-out rock track that opens the film in a very visceral and surreal manner, a large portion of the music is also classical and used to perfection, almost in a operatic-way. The movie plays out like an opera. Two vampires look for blood every week. Then one day, one of the vampires, played by Bowie, begins to age increasingly to the point of death, and seeks the aid of a doctor who specializes in aging, played by Susan Sarandon. What ensues is a thought-provoking series of events that shakes the core of cult moviemaking. Along with the amazing cinematography, and sexy eroticism of Sarandon and Denueve who engage in a lesbian sex scene at one point in the film, the film deals with the darkness of life, death and loneliness that people face, but through the eyes of a sexy, and stylish female vampire.

I was shocked when I saw this film; I really didn’t know what I was in for. Tony Scott, whose older brother is Ridley Scott, director of films of varying degrees such as Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, and Gladiator, has progressed since his debut in 1983 into a primarily commercial director. He helmed the later 80s classic Top Gun, and in recent years has directed several Denzel Washington pictures including Man on Fire, Deja Vu and The Taking of Pehlman 1 2 3 remake. However, The Hunger is a unique piece of cinema on his resume. The film has a heart and a soul and a brain. The movie is alive, and its heart beats strongly for 96 consecutive minutes.

The movie is very stylish, as noted before, and still maintains a level of sophistication and intelligence. Like Ferrara’s The Addiction, the vampires here are unlike any other vampires you’ve met in other films. They are not affected by crosses or daylight, and they do not live forever. In fact, most of the vampires in this film die off after a few centuries. The Hunger mixes many different genres; drama, romance, and psychological horror among them, as well as featuring a tasteful depiction of predatory female vampire sex. They sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Abel Ferrara is a unique filmmaker. He is best known as being a maestro of independent, hip, artsy, and edgy cinema. I first discovered his films when watching Bad Lieutenant. I sought out Bad Lieutenant film for several reasons. First, it stars Harvey Keitel, who always chooses edgy, challenging work. Second, it’s an infamous NC-17 rated film noted for its violence and grittiness. Third, I wanted to get into Ferrara’s films and figured the best way to start is at the top. And it’s an amazing film. Keitel has never been better. It is as if he was born to play these kind of troubled, and dark characters. You may remember he played the lead in Scorsese’s Mean Streets, a young Italian torn between his hoodlum buddies and his girlfriend who urges him to go straight, or from Taxi Driver where he played the seedy pimp of a young Jodie Foster or maybe you know him from Quentin Tarantino's debut film Reservoir Dogs, where he played veteran jewel thief, Mr. White.

I next sought out Ferrara’s King of New York. A movie which precedes Bad Lieutenant by only two years, it feels like the latter is a companion piece to it. King of New York stars Christopher Walken as a gangster who gets out of prison and wants to get back on top of the food chain with the help of an absolutely amazing cast including Laurence Fishburne, Steve Buscemi and two rival cops played by Wesley Snipes and David Caruso.

But the movie I really want to discuss is Ferrara’s 1995 bizarre, yet brilliant vampire movie, that’s right, vampire movie, The Addiction. I had little idea what this film was about heading into it, all I knew was, it was directed by Ferrara, it was written by Nick St. John who has written many of Ferrara’s films including King of New York, and it starred Lili Taylor, Chris Walken, Michael Imperioli, Edie Falco and Annabella Sciorra. That was enough for me to buy a bootleg version of the film, because as we speak, it has yet to have an official DVD release. The movie is about vampires, but don’t be misled, it is probably the most subtle vampire movie I’ve ever seen in my life. Of the 82 minutes that the movie lasts, I think I was only sure I was watching a movie about vampires about 60 minutes into it. Maybe it’s my fault, maybe I missed something that others did not, but considering this is an Abel Ferrara movie, known for making gritty films about seedy cops, gangsters and criminals, I wasn’t expecting this to be about the blood sucking undead.

But it is about so much more than that. The film takes place in modern day 1990s Manhattan. A female graduate student is bitten by an attractive older woman on the street one night. She suddenly develops a thirst for blood and then decides to infect her professor, her best friend, and others while still trying to figure out who she is and what she’s become. I think that’s what makes this movie so special. The lead character might be a vampire itching to kill, but she is also a person who questions morality. After all, it is her major in school. You see, while the movie centers around vampires, it also cleverly discusses the history of evil, with the Holocaust and Vietnam in particular, and the moral decisions that one makes in ones lifetime.

There are many things that make this movie stand out. For one, it is unlike any other vampire film ever made. The vampires here, though hurt by sunlight and crosses, do not perish at the sight of either one. The lead character also walks around in broad daylight, albeit with sunglasses on, but manages not to melt like other vampires do in other films. The cinematography is brilliant, of course, I don’t think Ferrara would have it any other way. Although he’s made several films in New York, I don’t know if he’s ever covered the unique landscape of the city the way he does so in The Addiction. Shot in black and white (get it? The history of evil is… black and white.), it is a gorgeous portrayal of the city that accompanies an equally original and fresh story. I wish everyone could see it and understand why it’s so good. It’s an underrated film because it’s very dark and disturbing, but also because it’s mostly unavailable. But if somehow you are able to get your hands on it, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Spike Lee's Clockers might be the best film of his varied career. Released in 1995, it is very much a movie of its time. The clothes, the music, the style is very true to the culture of the 1990s. It is also a very gritty, and realistic portrayal of drug dealers, poverty, and murder in the projects, and the police officers whose job it is to put an end to it all. Set in the heart of Brooklyn, it’s exactly the type of film that only edgy, risk-taking directors like Lee or Martin Scorsese can make. And indeed, the movie was set to be directed by Scorsese at first, but he left to make the De Niro-starring epic Casino instead. Marty nonetheless shared a producer credit on the film, while Lee stepped in to direct. Lee also co-wrote the script with Richard price, author of the book it was based on, who won a nomination at the 1986 Academy Awards for Best Screenplay for Scorsese’s The Color of Money.

What makes Clockers such a great film is primarily due to the amazing cast. Headlined by a slew of New York character actors including Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, Mekhi Pfifer, Keith David, and Michael Imperioli, it also stars Delroy Lindo, Isaiah Washington and Regina Taylor. The cinematography lends itself to the story and unique vision of Spike Lee, and the tension throughout the novel and script is felt every moment in the movie. Consider Clockers a succeeding film to Lee’s Do the Right Thing from 1989. It is a movie that deals with the relationship between young African American men living in poor neighborhoods, and the older, white cops who try to put an end to the murder and drug dealing that goes on in the area.

Clockers is simply an ultra-cool film. Anytime you get together this kind of cast, with Keitel, Turturro, Imperioli, Pfifer, Lindo, etc., you know it's going to be a wild ride, but still able to maintain a seriousness that is rare in films today. It's funny. It's been 15 years since this movie came out. You could technically call it a classic film, and yet the story and characters feel as fresh today as they did in the 90s. Give credit to the great job that Lee, and Price did with the story, and the powerful acting put forth by the cast. It's definitely not one of Lee's most famous or popular films, but I give it two big thumbs up.

Friday, January 8, 2010


These films are essential for any movie buff, aspiring filmmaker, and pretty much anybody interested in great cinema. Most of them are not very well known, and others are greatly underappreciated.

In Chronological Order:

Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943)
Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel, 1950)
Bellissima (Luchino Visconti, 1951)
Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960)
Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)
Mamma Roma (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1962)
Simon of the Desert (Luis Bunuel, 1965)
A Man and a Woman (Claude Lelouch, 1966)
Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, 1967)
Funeral Parade of Roses (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969)
Lenny (Bob Fosse, 1974)
The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975)
The Tennant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
Nosferatu The Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1979)
Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980)
Heavy Metal (Gerald Potterton, 1981)
Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983)
The Pope of Greenwich Village (Stuart Rosenberg, 1984)
Once Were Warriors (Lee Tamahori, 1994)
Bang (Ash Baron-Cohen, 1995)
Freeway (Matthew Bright, 1996)
Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, 2002)
Simone (Andrew Niccol, 2002)
The Return [Vozvrashcheniye] (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2003)
Mean Creek (Jacob Aaron Estes, 2004)
Reprise (Joachim Trier, 2006)
The Box (Richard Kelly, 2009)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is not exactly a little known film. In fact, I’m kind of disappointed in myself that I’ve chosen to review a film that has grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide, and is probably one of the most famous films ever made. But, here is a review of George Lucas’s prequel to the greatest saga in film history, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, released in 1999.

I saw the movie for only the second time last night. But it’s been almost 11 years since I first saw the film. In fact, I was one of the first people to see it during the opening weekend back in May of ’99. I remember being an adolescent and falling in love with the Star Wars movies, mainly due to the enthusiasm that my teacher at the time, Mr. Kampel, had thrown my class’s way all throughout the year of 1998 and 1999, leading up to the release of the movie. The Phantom Menace is a unique film for me, in that I waited for and anticipated it like no other movie before in my life. Although, I am not completely disappointed by the first Star Wars prequel film. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. Even though the two times I have seen this film are 11 years apart, I remember my younger self pretty much feeling the same way I do now. It was a good movie. It was exciting, fast paced, fun, rich in story and character, and clever in creating a new plot for a new trilogy of Star Wars films.

And therein lies the problem that so many faced in 1999, and continue today, and probably will for all time to come. Most people could not get past the fact that this was a prequel trilogy, something that precedes the original trilogy, something which is going to be new and different. I know people want to see Luke Skywalker and Han Solo and Princess Leia again, and hey, so I do I! But they don’t exist in this universe. Not yet. Instead we have Qui-Gon Jinn, a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker, who in the succeeding decades would evolve into the sinister Darth Vader, as well as Queen Amidala, Luke and Leia’s mother.

The fact is, Lucas did a fine job in crafting together an interesting new story to precede the original trilogy. The Phantom Menace features some great action sequences, including the incredible podrace scene, and a climactic light-saber battle between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn and the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, which even rivals some of the classic light-saber duels in the original films.

While Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is not as amazing, and visceral and fantastic as any of the original three Star Wars films, it is nonetheless a worthy film in the Star Wars franchise. George Lucas did a good job with this movie, and I really wish people would show it some more love, and a little less slack.