Friday, August 31, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #35: Rasputin: The Mad Monk

Crazy Eyes.

Christopher Lee uses his great height and magnificent, stentorian voice to great effect in Rasputin: The Mad Monk, but it's his crazy eyes you walk away remembering. Popped, slitted, yet always blazing in many close-ups, Lee's orbs cuts through thick makeup, a bad wig, and enormous beard. You always watch his face when he's on the screen, no matter what else is happening. (That if nothing else, is the signature of a true movie star.) This loose biopic of the dangerous and influential Russian priest is another lush-yet-mannered Hammer Films monster movie, except this time the evil creature was real. Also, it's a showpiece for Lee's acting ability. He's a bold, confident actor giving his all, with real verve, to interpreting this historical figure of great strengths and appetites.

What's really well-conveyed here is the sheer overwhelming force of personality a man like Rasputin would need to barrel his way from the hinterlands to the Czar's palace. A bully, a thug, delusional; Lee's Rasputin is all of these. Starting out as a priest who somehow can either heal the sick or, more likely, convince them of wellness through the same sheer force of will that seemingly explains his preternatural ability to put away four bottles of wine before wenching, Rasputin quickly draws the ire of the locals in what is the film's first assassination attempt. The monk neither fights fair nor takes a lady's "no" for an answer.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #34: Hindsight (2011)

HindsightThis week I take a look at a well-done, quite glossy action flick from Korea. I wonder if my affection for this film might not flag, but for now I'm a big fan. Originally reviewed for

Our Take: 

When a movie opens with a girl, a boy, and a gun, you know it'll be a sweet, swooning musical romance... or not. Hindsight is a visually tasty Korean crime thriller plotted with some action film clich├ęs, but built around a central relationship that's well-developed enough to feel authentic.

Midlife career change is never easy, though going from mob enforcer to culinary student seems a greater leap than those some people make (especially as the reverse seems more likely in today's economy). Aspiring chef Doo-heon is slowly romancing his cooking class partner Se-bin by day, not knowing she secretly keeps tabs on him for a crime cartel that wants him back. Se-bin has big debts, big scars, and excellent aim with a rifle. When the old boss dies and Doo-heon is dragged back in to sit on the throne, he instead sparks a gang war. Guess who gets hired to knock him off?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #33: Madame Bovary (2000)

We're gettin' both swooningly romantic and "all classy up in here" this week, with the 2000 BBC production of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, originally reviewed for dvdsnapshot.

Our Take:

Having never read the classic novel, nor seen the man film productions (including the legendary 1991 Claude Chabrol production with Isabelle Huppert), I can only evaluate the famous story through this version. The main takeaway: Emma Bovary has trouble managing her passions.

Tragedy strikes at the beginning of Madame Bovary, and seems to always hang over the few happy moments in the life of the multi-dimensional main character. The youthful, emotional Emma (a dynamic Frances O'Connor) finds herself out of the convent and back on the farm, marrying Charles, the first dashing man who comes along (Hugh Bonneville, sympathetic and quietly strong even as a cuckold). Bored by the day-to-day realities of marriage to an older, settled man-especially after finding she enjoys the conjugal side of life-romantic Emma finds herself entertaining flights fancy and delusions of grandeur. The young bride married in haste and repents in leisure, suffering beautifully all the while.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Garden Keeps Getting Better

August 9th's garden haul. I'm so glad we're actually getting something out of the effort. 

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"Today's garden haul"

Friday, August 10, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #32: The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

If you ever feel like you should be journaling, this story of a woman who committed four MILLION words to paper, many in code, should get you motivated. Not only a fascinating movie, but when paired with the documentary also on the disc, it becomes a very well-rounded presentation on a dynamic, difficult historical figure. Originally reviewed for dvdsnapshot.

Tell me, Miss Walker, do you like Byron?”

Our Take:

Oh, BBC, how we love your period pieces. With their meticulous attention to maintaining plot and historical details (sometimes to the sacrifice of pace), they're always delightfully rewarding, low-key delights. In this case, instead of a Dickens or Austen adaptation, we have a well-appointed biopic of a fascinating real woman and the important legacy of her coded diaries.

In a time before any acceptance or possibility of a public gay identity, Anne Lister worked hard to live true to herself. The highly regulated society of Regency England had no role for an independent, out lesbian, and would never discuss it in polite society. She also turned herself into an accomplished businesswoman at a time when most women couldn't even inherit property. Admittedly, the security of her wealth and station in life eased the path, but Lister made the most of it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Movie of the Week #31: Turkey Shoot (Escape 2000)

I first became aware of Turkey Shoot (called Escape 2000 in the US) when it was featured in Not Quite Hollywood, that brilliant documentary about Australian cinema that's an absolute must for any film fan. I was lucky enough to find it was eventually added to Netflix, and it became my last DVD rental before I suspended my subscription for the summer.

Cashing out with a genre flick? Why not?

Franco Zeffirelli never made her do this crap.
Opening with footage of riots, we find ourselves in your typically simple-minded movie-style "oppressive, totalitarian future" where "life is cheap." We find our jump-suited captive protagonists; Rita, Chris, and Paul, on the "Re Ed B-Mod" bus. They're being lugged to a re-education camp where, as "deviants," they'll be offered a chance for freedom if they can survive one day as prey for the idle rich ruling-class hunters. While Paul is a rebellious rable-rouser, Chris and Rita seem to have just been pretty girls caught up in an evil system. At "Blood Camp Thatcher," (another alternate title for the film) torture and slave-labor rule the day. Thankfully, so do co-ed group showers, so it can't be too bad.