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Cardinal X (Review)

Cardinal X

Cardinal X
2017
Written and directed by Angie Wong
Cardinal X
Back in the 1980s, much of the MDMA in the Bay Area came from a surprising source – a college student making it herself. The story is even largely true, with certain events and people amalgamated together and switched around for dramatic effect. But Angie Wang is real, she did make drugs while at Stanford, and survived to write and directed this autobiographical tale called Cardinal X

Angie Wang (Annie Q.) travels from New Jersey to not-Stanford to begin college, and her wild side lets her live a fun life. She immediately bonds with her roommate and they are soon partying it up at night and taking classes all day. There is trouble behind the scenes, her dad can’t afford the tuition, and Angie can’t escape flashbacks to tragic events in her life such as family discord and sexual assaults. Angie is smart, and quickly sees a need for a supplier in MDMA in the local party scene, and thanks to a new job as a lab assistant and a loophole in the law, she’s soon manufacturing a pile of pills to bring in extra money. We all know this is going to spiral out of control, so hang on for the ride!

Angie sees herself as broken, beyond the rape and assaults, her mother left her with her father when she was young, and her father was always working and emotionally distant. He is constantly worried about money. Angie internalizes the bad things that happened to her in life and her wild party behavior, thinking she’s too flawed to be with anyone normal. Nice guy Tommy (Scott Keiji Takeda) befriends her during the first few weeks of school, and she even spends part of a holiday with his normal, happy family. It’s just too much, she thinks she can’t have that life, that she’s too messed up to deserve it, and quickly leaves. That’s why Angie connects so well with her roommate, Jeanine (Francesca Eastwood), she appears to come from a nice, upper class family, but that hides her mom’s drinking and non-stop insults, causing her to escape via chemical means, as well as cutting and bulimia.
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - March 11, 2017 at 6:59 pm

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Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Review)

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

Batman Return of the Caped Crusaders
2016
Screenplay by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker
Directed by Rick Morales

Batman Return of the Caped Crusaders
I was super excited to hear about Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders when it was announced that Adam West and Burt Ward would be reprising their roles from the 1960s series, even more so with Julie Newmar also around as Catwoman. As you have probably guessed from the large amount of campy super hero flicks TarsTarkas.NET has covered over the years, the television series that inspired many of them is a big deal, so any thing that means more of the cool magic that it was is great. It turned out better than I imagined, it’s one of the best animated films DC has put out, and they have put out a few good ones! (and a few….not so good ones!)

The film is jam packed with the flavor of the original series – wild alliteration, pop-up word balloons during action scenes, random labels on object, Robin declaring “Holy ______” every few seconds, all sorts of random bat gadgets, Batman and Robin figuring out the most obscure Riddler clues in the universe, and the ever-present incompetent police force. There are cameos from almost the entire era, really the only thing missing was Batgirl.
Batman Return of the Caped Crusaders
Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s quiet evening at home is interrupted with the big four villains – Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin – hijack a television show just so they can leave a Riddler clue behind. From that, Batman and robin deduce that the criminals are out to steal a duplicating ray, while Catwoman schemes to turn Batman just slightly evil so they can be united in love. But her plan fails and after one thing leads to another suddenly everyone is fighting in outer space to stop the villain’s schemes of duplicating more Earths so each one can control a Gotham City.
Batman Return of the Caped Crusaders
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - February 15, 2017 at 7:33 am

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The Handmaiden (Review)

The Handmaiden

aka 아가씨 aka Agassi
The Handmaiden
2016
Written by Park Chan-wook & Chung Seo-kyung
Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Directed by Park Chan-wook

The Handmaiden
If you aren’t a fan of Park Chan-wook by now, I’m not sure what it will take to convince you to get out and see The Handmaiden. But if you are one of the millions of his fans around the globe, you know that Park Chan-wook is a force of awesomeness in the movie community, and The Handmaiden continues that tradition of awesome movies from an awesome guy. Basically, run, don’t walk, to the theaters and check out a wonderful psychological thriller. There is a trio of amazing performances by Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, and newcomer Kim Tae-ri. Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith is moved to 1930s occupied Korea, where it still manages to work in a culture of repression and male dominance.

Kim Min-hee is heiress Lady Hideko. Hideko is isolated and lorded over by her cruel uncle, Kouzuki, who covets her money and title. Her mother died in childbirth, and her aunt was found hanging in a tree when she was a child. Hideko never leaves the family estate and her only contact with outsiders is a weekly reading of erotic literature to exclusive guests. If you are familiar with the concept of that literature, some of it is ridiculous, basically the dime store erotic trash novels peppered with flowery poetry and filled with imagery that at times stretches believability that the writers have even interacted with people who have sex. Hideko’s Uncle Kouzuki has designs on becoming a Japanese nobleman despite being neither of those things and Hideko’s money and title his avenue to obtain them. Kouzuki rejects his Korean heritage in an admiration for the occupying Japanese, but his true passion is rare books, specifically the aforementioned erotic literature.

Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-hee, a gifted pickpocket and thief embedded as a handmaiden whose job it is to help convince Hideko to fall for the fake Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo — Assassination). Fujiwara has a knack for making forgeries and is just the thing Hideko’s creepy uncle needs, as he can’t bear to part with any of his rare books, but is perfectly fine with selling off faked replicas of them. This gives Fujiwara the access he needs to scope out Lady Hideko and enact his plan of seduction and asset seizure, enabled by Sook-hee as Hideko’s new handmaiden. And then it is seduction time.
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - November 1, 2016 at 8:06 am

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Youth of the Beast (Review)

Youth of the Beast

aka 野獣の青春 aka Yaju no Seishun aka Wild Youth
野獣の青春 Youth of the Beast
1963
Written by Ichiro Ikeda and Tadaki Yamazaki
Based on the novel by Haruhiko Oyabu
Directed by Seijun Suzuki

野獣の青春 Youth of the Beast
A random stranger coming to town to pit two rival groups against each other is a classic story done well in a variety of genres, and with Youth of the Beast we get the story set in the swinging 1960s yakuza beat, with director Seijun Suzuki determined to make the visuals by themselves a grand spectacle. Joe Shishido and his cheeks take their usual place as a Suzuki lead, as Shishido’s Joji Mizuno waltzes in to lead the sides to their collective dooms.

so what makes Youth of the Beast worth watching like similar tales Yojimbo, Red Harvest, Django, A Fistful of Dollars, or even The Warrior and the Sorceress? Aside from the story being well told again, there is the great Seijun Suzuki visuals. Suzuki starts showing off his boredom with the nonstop yakuza films by tossing in a bunch of visual flair. He must have had fun, because his films only seemed to escalate from here. Youth of the Beast opens with a bleak black and white scene of solemn police investigating a double suicide, a cop and a woman, the only point of color (and life) being a red flower. This sharply contrasts with the vibrant color and exciting city life full of laughing girls, violent fights at the drop of a hat, and a jazzy soundtrack that immediately follows, as Joji Mizuno beats through some Nomoto yakuza thugs to rob their money and blow it at their club.
野獣の青春 Youth of the Beast
The energetic club is full of life, sin, and sound, while the Nomoto yakuza bosses who control it observe though soundproof one way mirrors, giving the mirth a surreal quality. Mizuno’s ease of dispatching the thugs gains the interest of the boss, and after a bit of interrogation and some display of weapons skills, he’s on their team. Then just as quickly, Mizuno is ratting everything out to the boss of the rival Sanko gang. As he’s out for revenge against the groups that ruined his life, breaking them apart piece by piece becomes a fun game.
野獣の青春 Youth of the Beast
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 31, 2015 at 7:33 am

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Black Coal, Thin Ice (Review)

Black Coal, Thin Ice

aka 白日焰火 aka Bai Ri Yan Huo aka Daylight Fireworks
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
2014
Written and directed by Diao Yinan
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
In the bleak urban atmosphere of a rapidly industrializing China, body parts begin to appear at a coal processing plant mixed in with the incoming coal shipments. Those thought responsible are found, and after a bloody conclusion, things seemed solved. Years later a new crop of body parts appear, and things get darker from there. A disgraced cop who worked on the original case must put aside his own demons long enough to figure out the who-done-it before he becomes the next set of parts showing up in coal plants.

Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice paints a murder mystery backdropped by the new urban China, the landscape coated in layers of snow that mask the grit below. Glowing neon signs provide an aurora of human habitation among the snow, lighting many of the key locations. But the glow doesn’t show the warmth of humanity, it’s an unnatural presence that makes the night time illumination otherworldly. The inhabitants have their own secrets and shady lives, and who did what and why makes the mystery akin to peeling onions.
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
Officer Zhang Zili is an up and coming investigator with the police, though the first sign of trouble is his wife leaving him. The investigation around the body parts in the plant yields the name of the victim, the widow confused as to why her husband was targeted. Robbery suspects are located, but thanks to one of them being armed many of the characters of the first act get wiped out, Zhang only barely escaping death by killing them.

Years later, Zhang Zili lives in an alcohol-fueled state of minimal functionality. His reintroduction is him having his motorcycle stolen while he’s too drunk to give chase. He’s burned every bridge at work, where he is a walking joke kept on because of fading goodwill over surviving the shooting incident that capstoned the murder investigation.

But then more body parts are found in coal processing plants. Dun dun DUNNN!!!
Black Coal Thin Ice 白日焰火
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - August 3, 2015 at 7:51 am

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Song of the Thin Man (Review)

Song of the Thin Man

Song of the Thin Man
1947
Screenplay by Steve Fisher and Nat Perrin
Story by Stanley Roberts
Additional dialogue by James O’Hanlon and Harry Crane
Directed by Edward Buzzell

Song of the Thin Man
Song of the Thin Man puts Nick and Nora in the secret world of jazz club singers in New York. It’s also a sort of pun, as this is the swan song of the series. Some of the charm is still there, William Powell and Myrna Loy can’t not be charming when together in a room. The film spends too much time on the jazz atmosphere to trust the actors to carry scenes. It can get a bit tedious when there is yet another jazz scene, yet another instance of Clinker using weird slang, and yet another instance of Nick and Nora trying to fit in and absorbing the language. The outside scenes where other things happen become breaths of fresh air, but there isn’t enough in this ecosystem to make it stand out.

We again get a new creative crew for this Thin Man entry. The direction is by Edward Buzzell, who had previously directed the Marx Brothers’ film At the Circus Stanley Roberts came up with the story, and Steve Fisher and Nat Perrin handle the script, with additional dialogue thanks to James O’Hanlon and Harry Crane (are they who came up with all the goofy slang?) Once again Nick and Nora become inserted in a more generic plot, something that could even be used as a plot for a comedy mystery tv show episode. Did Monk ever hang around with musicians? A large amount of writers is usually a bad sign for a film.
Song of the Thin Man
While this team realized they can’t ignore the Nick Jr. character, they don’t do one of the reoccurring gags of the series, the procession of former criminals Nick Charles knows because he busted them long ago. They’ve all been replaced by the jazz musicians, which don’t quite have the same stereotypical wackiness that nicknamed criminal types bring to the table. One weird thing is despite this entire entry being about jazz and musicians, almost every one is white. The lack of black jazz musicians in 1940s New York City is the most unbelievable thing about this entry, and I’m including the ridiculous jazz slang in the unbelievable things list.
Song of the Thin Man

Nick Charles (William Powell) – Nick can’t even have a good time gambling on a boat without being drawn into yet another murder mystery. As he needs to explore the weird world of jazz, Nick has Clinker Krause guide him and Nora around the town to the late night secret jazz parties that don’t even start until 2 am, as well as explaining all the jazz lingo.
Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) – Nora latches on as an integral part of the investigation, pushing Nick into investigating and accompanying him on the jazz excursions, as well as sneaking in to see Buddy Hollis.
Asta (Asta) – Asta helps Nick investigate and sneak around, but doesn’t have a huge role.
Nick Charles Jr. (Dean Stockwell) – It’s cool to see Al back before he was helping Sam leap through time…wait a minute! Dean Stockwell takes over as Nick Jr., and this was how I learned he was a child actor! Nick Jr. is picking up a lot of his dad’s traits, had the series gone on longer his character might have taken over. Nick Jr. has the special power to project visions of himself and his dad having sentimental times together whenever he’s threatened with spanking. It’s definitely that and not Nick Charles having regret that he’s about to spank his son, even though he spanked his wife just last film.
Clarence “Clinker” Krause (Keenan Wynn) – Jazz musician who becomes the guide for Nick and Nora to the jazz club afterparties nightlife, as well as explaining all the slang.
Phil Orval Brant (Bruce Cowling) – Accused of murder, Phil Brant owns a gambling boat that host charity functions and is in love with Janet Thayar. Her father disapproves because Phil isn’t old money, even though he must have some money to own a fancy gambling boat rich people hang out on. Gets eloped to Janet over her father’s objections, only to be immediately accused of murder.
Janet Thayar (Jayne Meadows) – Loves Phil and tries to get Nick to help him, only to get upset when Nick turns Phil in, not aware he’s doing it to protect Phil from the mob.
Mitchell Talbin (Leon Ames) – Famed music producer who has stolen away conductor Tommy Drake for his next tour, but doesn’t want to pay off Drake’s gambling debts or deal with all his other problems. Does do some things to try to help Drake to prevent the drama from landing in his own business, but Drake ends up too dead for it to matter.
Phyllis Talbin (Patricia Morison) – Mitchell’s longtime wife, their marriage isn’t as pleasant as it appears.
Buddy Hollis (Don Taylor) – A reed man (this means a guy who plays instruments that require a reed, specifically the clarinet) who starts to lose it because Fran Page likes Tommy Drake more than him. Is put away in a home, and has a powerful scene where we see the full scale effects of his illness.
Fran Ledue Page (Gloria Grahame) – Singer who is having a fling with Tommy Drake, though not happy with how he’s a jerk and stuff. She’s also not interested in Buddy Hollis, who is desperately in love with her.

Song of the Thin Man
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Posted by Tars Tarkas - January 5, 2015 at 9:04 am

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