Friday, July 25, 2008

Week of June 30th:

The Toy Box (1971): A whacked-out mindbender of a sexploitation flick. This bizarre beaut involves a bunch of hedonists at a house where they put on sex shows for the notorious Uncle as part of a give-and-take game. The shows provide the softcore skin expected of the genre, but they also provide much of the entertaining derangement that makes director Ronald Victor Garcia's loopy opus stand apart from its ostensible bretheren. Whether the scenario involves a pastoral interlude gone horribly wrong (via fright mask and pitchfork), a butcher getting up close and personal with his human charnal or Uschi Digard being molested by a sentient bedsheet, the imaginative sex in this is far removed from your average '70s pasty-assed grind-n-moan. There's also some surprisingly competent acting (at times marred by the worst dub job ever -- in particular, the opening twenty minutes smell like Doris Wishman), a sci-fi/horror twist that anticipates Peter Jackson's Bad Taste and some quotably abysmal bedroom chatter. ("I feel like there's a tree trunk between my legs!") Halfway between hallucinatory and hilarious, terrific and terrible, The Toy Box is ultimately the kind of film that makes such distinctions meaningless. Grade: B-

Wanted (2008): I grow ever more weary of video-game aesthetics being applied to action films. The nadir of this was the loathsome-on-purpose Crank; while this film, apparently based off some terrible graphic novel, doesn't quite plumb that film's depths, its marriage of hyperactive flash and fire to art-film solemnity isn't effective in the slightest. I don't necessarily mind a lack of aspiration towards anything other than making fratboys yell, "DUDE! AWESOME!" but the success of such a venture is contingent on its Cool Moments coming off as cool and not desperate. There are two Cool Moments I liked here: the literal over-the-top culmination of the drive-by assassination and Angelina Jolie, at the story's climax, demonstrating just how well she can curve a bullet. The latter, with its perfect cut and slow-motion body falling out of focus in the background, is as close as director Timur Bekmambetov gets to gutter poetry; the rest of the time, he's too busy trying to demonstrate how many times he's seen The Matrix to be bothered with making his images mean something. Jolie continues to have the worst taste in scripts this side of Jeanne Tripplehorn. Grade: D+

West Side Story (1961): I don't have much to say about this one other than holy crap is it ever great. The music is terrific and gets complemented by some unusual, muscular choreography that makes grace look difficult and brutality look easy. Leads are a bit soft, but the rest of the ensemble reels in the slack nicely. Ridiculously entertaining, what with the singing and the fighting and the hostility and the love and the dancing, always dancing. Good job of adapting the eternally flexible Romeo and Juliet, too. Grade: A-


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