Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: BAOTIEN (a home video)

Director: N/A (I'll call him "Dad")
Year: 1997
Format: Home Video VHS

My VCR made a funky sound, then smoke came out and I couldn't fix the tracking...  So, I went to purchase a VCR at Goodwill.

When I plugged it in, I found a mysterious tape labeled BAOTIEN inside the purchased VCR.



It begins with a bit of an Asian soap opera of some kind.  

Then, it cuts in with an adorable baby that sings (yells) karaoke for about five mins, with the echo on.  After about two minutes of black darkness, the baby returns and screams into the echo chamber as her (presumably) mother sings a beautiful song to karaoke.

Of course, this was not intended for someone outside the family to view, so there was a moment of hesitation.  Is this invading their privacy?  Are these private moments off limits?  I can't say for sure whether they would be offended, but I was pretty entranced by the whole thing.  I kept watching, knowing that I would most likely never meet these people.  I would never know their futures, never have any sense of what they hoped to do.  As you watch another family's home video, so many questions that will never have any answers arise.  

I'll never know their names.  But, I certainly got a sense of their lives.



When you watch a lot of films, you begin to see that everything thats on screen is a choice.  Its amazing to see how Dad here chose to focus solely on Baby.  There is no adult life he's concerned with.  He simply sets his gaze on her and never turns away.  By the choice of music and the editing of shots, it's clear that he spent time wanting it to be something watchable.  And, I must say, it was fascinating for what it was. 




APR. 6 1997.

When it cuts, baby is watching Charlotte's Web in English.  The label on the bottom reads APR. 6 1997.  She wears a floral dress of some sort, and "Dad" follows her every move.  She pounds crackers by the handful as Templeton goes around the carnival singing "Smorgasbord"

A large selection of DVDs and VHS tapes line the sides of the television.  Wood paneling and orange carpeting.  "Dad" chomps on chips and zooms way in on baby.  the room is full of open boxes, as if they just moved in.

APR. 10 1997

Baby is now wearing red pajamas, and beautiful unknown asian music plays over top.  Dad zooms in on certain objects in the room, but never for long.  Baby is on the move, and she always gets full attention.  At times she pulls up the camera and yanks on it, pleading with Dad to give it to her.  

May 19 1997



Baby is a bit weepy today.  Lots of crying and running.  Watching her grow in this monthly increment is fascinating.  She interacts differently with her dad and the camera.  She is fascinated with her fingers, pushes them into things and stares at them.  The beautiful music plays throughout.  I'm beginning to think that Dad put it in after the fact, and very specifically chose each scene to fit that scene.  Here, it is very beautiful and melancholy and seems to perfectly fit a scene where baby spins in circles over and over, finally spinning herself into uncontrollable staggering and she falls into the TV, immediately beginning to reach out to Dad to hold her as she cries.  

He begins to change light meter and white balance on the camera s baby plays with the blinds, creating flares and white-outs.  

This date is specifically fascinating, because there is more experimentation on all of it.  Baby is constantly exploring and Dad seems content to be a silent observer, catching all of it.  But, he does so more as background now and less as a participant.  



June 18 1997

Baby has a playmate today, and its fascinating to watch her interact.  She is gentle and generous.  She offers her bottle to the little boy and picks it up when he drops it.  

July () 1997

The soundtrack for today is Independence Day on TV in the backgound.  Baby wears light blue sunglasses with Winnie the Pooh on them and she slowly leafs through empty post-it notes.

July 3 1997

The music that he picks for this is an Asian cover of "Song for Woody."  I found myself silently singing along, "One thousand miles from my home" and thinking about how mixed their emotions were.  Here they are with their beautiful little girl, but in a strange land.  When it cuts, it shows tons of traffic going out of town for the Fourth of July.

Finally, it cuts to a soap opera of some kind.  I didn't make it far into that...

To the unnamed family, I wish you the best.  If, somehow, you read this and would like your tape back, please contact us at allstarvideoblog@gmail.com and we'd be happy to get it to you. 

-J. Moret

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: YAMAKASI

Directed by Ariel Zeitoun & Julien Seri
2001
90 mins. Color
DVD

69197732_af.jpgParkour (or freerunning) seems to be everywhere nowadays. In movies like Brick Mansions, Casino Royale and The Bourne Legacy. There are references in shows like The New Girl and The Office. It’s become a full video game mechanic in games like Assassin’s Creed and Mirror’s Edge. However, not many people know that it was started in France by a group called Yamakasi which comes from the Lingala language and can mean “strong body”, “strong mind” or “strong person”. David Belle (of District B13/Brick Mansions fame) created parkour in the late eighties and further developed it with 8 of his friends. It never broke into popular culture until Luc Besson’s scribed Taxi 2 (which unfortunately was never released in America) in 1998. Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element) was so very impressed that he wrote a film for the Yamakasi simply titled Yamakasi!

Yamakasi: Les Samoura├»s des Temps Modernes (or The Modern-Day Samurai) is a simple movie about a group of parkour loving Frenchmen who climb buildings, talk about Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and piss off the cops all day. After scaling a rather tall building, a group of young boys become inspired by the Yamakasi. One of these young boys has a heart condition and after pretending to be a Yamakasi, collapses while trying to climb a tree. A. TREE. It’s not even a particularly large tree either. Couldn’t they have him attempt to jump over a trash can or I don’t know… jump OFF something. Anything more than the most basic kid activity of climbing a tree. Although, my heart might give out too if I tried to climb a tree. I’m not what you would call “in parkour shape”. Moving on, The Yamakasi feel responsible for the whole mess. Things get worse when they hear that the greedy doctors in charge of the donor list want 400,000 francs (close to $450,000) for a new heart. They decide to become Robin Hood types, stealing the money from the greedy doctors to flip the bill. Using their parkour skills, they break into each house with the cops hot on their trail.

This movie lays the most basic foundation of a plot in order to highlight the parkour and said parkour is astounding. From free-scaling buildings to an amazing chase sequence with dogs, this movie’s stunts are breathtaking. For whatever reason David Belle is not in this film despite being friends with Besson but the rest of his crew still manages to hold it all together. Each one has their own personality like Zicmu (or music) who likes to listen to loud music or Rocket who runs real fast and then there’s Baseball who, you guessed it, LIKES BASEBALL! Besson isn’t the most clever man, but oh well! He sure makes fun movies.The personalities of the group members might be cliched but that only adds to the fun and whimsy of the film. Each one of their traits is incorporated into their parkour moves in subtle ways making this movie feel more like a live action cartoon than an action film.



While the story lacks any depth, this film is lighthearted, charming and fun. The action sequences, especially at the time, are fantastic and the film keeps a brisk pace. It’s unfortunate that it was never released in the United States. I think it would have done decently at the time and could have introduced a lot more people to parkour a lot earlier. The Yamakasi went on to create a sequel of sorts without Besson called Les Fils Du Vent a.k.a. The Great Challenge. Besson went on to create District B13 for parkour creator David Belle to star in and that movie is really worth checking out, especially since that has actually been released in America. I found a Chinese all-region bootleg of Yamakasi cheap on eBay years ago. The cover is of course covered in Chinese with the exception of “Luc Besson” and hilariously “Hip-Hop”! If you can find a copy of this fun film, it is worth your time.



-Thomas Reinert


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RAMBLING REFLECTIONS ON BOYHOOD, FATHERHOOD AND THE HUMAN TORNADO.

I've been a father for about three weeks and a boy for thirty one years.  Seems strange to try to put this in comprehensible terms, but there is something deeply sad about becoming a parent.  People will tell you the great joy of watching the birth of your child.  The cliche of saying it was the best day of your life seems to me to be either false or spouted by a sort of sociopathic male distance.  Watching your partner labor and your children fight for survival is neither beautiful or magical.  Its a hot, smelly, messy affair that is absolutely traumatic.

Don't get me wrong, it is something deeply moving and I now have two little ones that I adore, but the romantic notions of beauty are folly.  Its more akin to that scene in THINGS when Don's asshole brother's wife gets ripped open than it is to a beautiful image of rainbows and waterfalls.



But, on to Richard Linklater's beautiful film.  BOYHOOD is something deeply special.  I'm sure there are more than a few haters who will read this, but I am currently the least jaded I've ever been in my life.  I've spent the majority of the last few weeks dreamily staring down at these two marvelous creatures, contemplating my own existence, their future and thinking about THE HUMAN TORNADO.  But, I'll get to that.  First, BOYHOOD.  So, you probably know about it already, but it's a film that Linklater started shooting in 2001 and shot slowly over the course of the next twelve years, chronicling moments in a boys life.  Patiently put together, it slowly unfolds to show the creation of a boy and who he will choose to be.  Perhaps it doesn't all come together and has a number of flaws, but I'm in no place to pick it apart.  I connected to it as a father and a boy.



I work at a movie theater and people love to give their take on films.  We're currently playing Boyhood, and a three hour art / collage / biography film is bound to have its fair share of walkouts and unhappy people.  But, there was particular interaction about Boyhood that I found startlingly poignant and frustrating.  An older couple came out of the movie around twenty minutes before the end.  They came charging up to the counter and simply blurted out, "Does anything happen?"  I asked some follow up questions like, "Um, what?" and "Do you need anything?"  They proceeded to berate the film, and then the man said one of the more shocking things I've heard.  In asking about the titular boy (Mason), he asked, "Does he get anything figured out?  Does he have any epiphanies, or does he just continue to be a loser?"  Now, if you've seen the film you probably understand how offensive and off-point this is.  Not only is the film anti-epiphany, but the fact that they see this boy, who they just watched grow up, as a loser is also telling of the problems that Mason experiences during the film.  That capitalist, goal-oriented, money-driven view of life is what makes sensitive boys dissociate from society.  When being thoughtful and unambitious is seen as being a loser, you create the creeps that run Wall Street, politics and big business.

And so, the sadness of becoming a parent.  Watching Mason go through all those difficult moments and pain, trying to find his place, figure himself out and become who he wants to be is close to a tragedy.  When I think back to nights of nightmares, bullies, my first year of college, and feeling lost in high school, it's hard to picture those new little guys going through all of that.  Even moreso, I lament the fact that they will have to deal with the likes of the old man who considered Mason a loser.  Having little to no room in our culture to "find yourself" they will need to fight to become individuals, to not fall into traditional forms of success and to not base their lives on money.



That brings me to Rudy Ray Moore's effusive 1976 disasterpiece, The Human Tornado.  It is the second in the Dolemite series, and a real mystery.  A mystery because I want to know how he got it made.  It is a Blacksploitation stand-up comedy sexploitation kung-fu comedy that seems to "work."  And, its about running from the man.  Dolemite gets into hot water when some racist white cops break into his big time sweet party house and Dolemite is in bed with the Sheriff's wife.  Pretty fantastic fighting, over the top violence, bizarre sexual comedy and Dolemite jumping and then rolling down a hill naked ensue.  To be fair, I did watch this movie in a sleepy haze in twenty minute segments inbetween feeding infants, so I don't even exactly remember how it ends.  But, the point is this: If someone can make The Human Tornado and then it eventually finds its way into my movie collection and is available for these little munchkins someday, then everything is going to be just fine.

-J. Moret

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mid Week Box Art - FALLING DOWN

Monday Box Art
Falling Down
Dir: Joel Schumacher
Rated R, 113 Minutes
1993



Falling Down is one of those unforgettable films from my childhood. My Dad wasn't really into many movies, but he loved this fucking movie. Here is my hypothesis as to why:

1. He was a middle aged, middle class, white guy that mostly told people what to do for a living.
2. He was a Vietnam Veteran that seemed to be OK with getting violent from time to time.
3. He was sort of a racist.
4. He identified with a privelged white man trolling through the ghetto, pointing out to people what was wrong with their way of life / culture but would never do it himself unless he took one more step towards insanity.

Basically, this cover describes who would really like this movie. Middle Aged white dudes that like guns and business.

This movie is about D - FENS. A defense worker that has been laid off. One day in traffic going to the job he no longer has, he abandons his car and stroll through the ghetto, violently telling people why they suck.

Robert Duvall is a cop on his final work day before retirement. Their stories meet in the end.

I understand what the point of the movie was originally supposed to be. A man on the edge insanity due to things beyond his control. . . but it turns out to be more of a White Collar Taxi Driver where the audience can identify with the madness.

If you haven't see it, you should. It's hilarious. It was Directed by that butthole that ruined Batman.

I'm sure the fact that the cover image is Michael Douglas with a flat top probably sold a million tapes alone.

- MJ