Friday, December 28, 2012

Top 10 Films of 2012 (version 1.0)

2012 was an interesting year for films, and by "interesting" I am kindly trying to say that there were not that many stand out, and unforgettable experiences. Not to say there were not some really fantastic films released this year, because in my humble little opinion there were some really incredible releases. Not to mention in its defense there are a small plenty of great looking films I have yet to see.

This year it seems some of the films I liked the most also came along with very mixed and argued opinions, and in one very serious case one film in particular will carry with it the memory of a tragedy. It felt for a while that every film I saw and loved was being picked apart and critisized by the masses. Alas, I stick by my choices, even if I do fall into a minority.

This years list was a challenge, it was actually hard coming up with a top 10 list at all. It took no time for me to decide what my top 5 films were, and my #1 selection was decided instantaneously after the first viewing. However beyond the fifth choice is where I really had to stop and think about what to pick, they just didn't really fall into any particular place. So my top 5 choice are in fact an accurate presentation of my absolute favorite films of 2012, and in the correct order. 6-10, well I will avoid calling them "Honorable mentions" because they deserve better, so maybe we can just call them "The rest of my favorites". Keep in mind that if you know me you should expect that if I am to see any of the many, many films I missed out on in the near future this list may get a refresh, a 2.0 if you will.

So here it is,

1) Django Unchained

2) Lawless


4) The Dark Knight Rises

5) Prometheus

6) The Avengers

7) The Flowers of War (Technically a 2011 film, but the North American release was August 2012)

8) Cloud Atlas

9) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

10) Lincoln

Monday, December 17, 2012

Missing, but not dead!

Why hello there loyal readers, who may still remain, I assure you this little blog of mine is still open, and has not burned down! Its been a while since I have posted anything, in fact its been FAR TOO LONG. There have been a few factors in my life that has caused this, a particular upcoming life change in the form of a child has been blessed my way, and as ecstatic as I am, this change also comes with a great deal of preparation. With that also came a very busy summer and fall, and though I have been lucky enough to still watch a great deal of wonderful(and not so) films, but the time and energy to attach my thoughts and compose any kind of written material was just not present, albeit the desire has not gone and this little internet blog will find its legs once more.

Come January, when the hectic Holiday season is behind me, and the even more hectic new baby season approaches I pledge to still find some time in my busy life to transfer my little 'ol thoughts into internet posts! Also I should mention that the website that I am a contributing writer for,, has also been away from us for a while, but it will also be returning to form.

I thank anyone who still subscribes, occasionally checks, or maybe hasn't completely forgot about this blog for any patience you may have had in the past 5 months. I also thank those of you who have now seen this and said to yourself "huh? Oh, right....that thing" for at least harboring some kind of repressed memories of me and my little blog.

So until I return, and assuming we all make it out of December 21st, when the sun crashes into the earth or whatever alive, thank you, and have a very merry whatever doesn't offend you! And a happy 2013!


PS: I may see you sooner when i bring my "Obligatory Top 5 Lists: 2012" 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Casa de mi Padre (Quick Review)

Maybe you need to go into Casa de mi Padre with some sort of Pre established appreciation of the spaghetti western genre to fully appreciate what it's trying to do, but I find it really difficult to imagine anyone not getting at lease a smile or two out of Will Ferrells goofy satire film. Sure there are those who will immediately pass because it's a Spanish language film, but it could not have possibly worked any other way. Big credit much go to Ferrell himself for being able to pull off a foreign language so well and still getting solid laughs.

It's a simple story of a ranchers son named Armondo (Ferrell) who must rise out of his quiet cowardly state and fight against a threatening Drug cartel who look to destroy his family and his home. Its actually a pretty well told story, which is of course a backdrop to some laugh out loud comedic pokes at such an already enjoyable genre. Casa de mi Padre doesn't poke fun of the Mexican Western genre, but Black Dynamite did with the Blacksploitation genre. However overall it feels much less off the wall, and much more grounded to its story.  The real "parody" comes more in the way of its production values, some gut bustingly funny (intentional) errors, and a few exploited genre cliches thrown in the mix. Perhaps one of the funniest running gags is Armondos constant struggle with trying to roll his own cigarettes. Despite a few exceptions the majority of the events in the film are actually presented is a pretty dramatic and almost believable(within the genre) manor, and if played differently could have maybe even been a legitimate Mexican Western. ...sort of.

Definitely worth a watch if your a fan of classic Mexican westerns, Will Ferrell, or just having a fun time watching a fun film, which I am of all three of these things!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


If anyone can find a way to craft a spectacular vampire story at a time when the very idea of another could turn the stomach of almost any movie goer, it’s certainly Park Chan-wook. He manages to give us not only a fresh take on the still over saturated genre, but arguably the best to date.  Thirst is an absolute masterpiece, and for many outspoken fans it is Parks best film to date (though I have to disagree and give that title to his earlier Mr Vengeance).

Park regular and veteran Korean superstar Song kang-ho stars in a story of a good hearted priest, who after volunteering to test a treatment to a rare and incurable disease gets transformed into a vampire.  The strange event begins when he succumbs to a horrific side effect to the treatment he is testing and quickly dies on the doctors table. Though being officially declared dead he miraculously comes back to life in front of all the doctors, and despite still being covered in a terrible skin condition which covered his body with awful lumps, the now completely bandaged priest eventually leaves the hospital and goes home. Upon his departure he is immediately bombarded by religious fanatics who believe him to be a miracle worker, as he is the sole survivor of 500 candidates who volunteered for the same thing. 

Trying to move forward with his life, The Priest is one day frantically approached by an older woman (played by Hae-suk Kim) who begs that he help her son who is dying of cancer. Giving into her pleas he agrees to see her son. Turns out this strange woman and her son (another Park regular Shin Ha-kyun) are actually old friends from his youth. With them is a seemingly shy girl (Ok-Bin Kim) named Tae-ju, who The Priest also remembers. She was abandoned by her parents as a child and has been half heartedly raised by the old lady, but treated as much like a pet as she ever was a daughter. Meeting Tae-ju would begin to spark a series of struggles for The Priest, as not only has he been desperately fighting to stay alive by feeding off of blood but without having to kill anyone, he now begins to feel a new since of lust towards Tae-ju, which is strictly against his ascetic ways. He tries to punish himself for having such impure thoughts, but the new vampiric side of him eventually will take control and he eventually decides to abandon his priesthood and try to be with his new love. Unfortunately tae-ju begins to feel a different sense, stuck in a loveless relationship with her adopted mothers own sickly son, she sees The Priest as possible ticket out of her miserable life, and may go too far in her attempt to gain her freedom.

The very idea that such a stale and now uninteresting topic like vampires on screen could be molded in such an incredible fashion is still, after 3 years, very exciting. Park took almost every tired convention and tossed them out the window, and replaced them with his own creative and quirky ideas.  Yes there are still some familiar tropes, he is still super strong, and cannot perish by normal means (he tests this theory by literally jumping out a window head first through a windshield of a car below. He was fine) and in this story sunlight will still burn a Vampire, so The Priest must obviously live by night and sleep by day.  This time even being a Vampire does not make you immortal. In fact he is actually quite vulnerable when not fully replenished with fresh blood. The cringe worthy skin condition returns, and he grows weaker and weaker until he can feed. Even being a vampire he can still die. So he is forced to use some very clever methods to keep himself fed. In this vampire tale, it’s still common practice to bite into the neck or wrist of the victim to feed; however doing this will not turn his prey into vampires themselves. That requires an actual blood transfusion from his body into someone else’s to successfully turn them. 

If you’re a fan of park’s work you will recognize a great deal of familiar faces returning to his film. Most noteworthy would be a brief but enjoyable appearance from Dal-su Oh (best known as the unfortunate recipient of unscheduled dental work in Oldboy) and for course the always great Shin-ha Kyun.  

Thirst is an absolute must watch for a number of different people. Park Chan-wook fans of any sort have probably seen this already several times, but if you haven’t, why not? Fans of Vampire tales would still be doing a grave injustice to themselves by not watching this, despite the many changes to tradition. Even though it’s a solid film from beginning to end, the third act acted a very significant event takes place is just incredible, and leads to what is still one of my favorite finales I have seen in any film, and leaves me completely breathless every time.

-Jeff Wildman

The Front Line

When Band of Brothers was released on HBO over a decade ago, it taught a very important lesson about what makes a war story a truly memorable one to tell. It’s not the large scale bombings, epic battle scenes or the excessive gore. No, what really makes for a lasting story about the horrors of war is showing us the human side. Telling stories about comradery, brotherhood, and the horrors of war through the eyes of average people whose position any one of us could have found ourselves in if we were born in a different generation. The Front Line does just this; it doesn’t tell a story about the Korean War itself, it tells a story about a group of men stuck within it.

Shin ha-Kyun stars as Kang Eun-pyo, a South Korean communications officer who as the film opens is patiently waiting for a leave home from the war, which as this point is still going strong despite the fact that the two sides are in the midst of peace negotiations. His potential ticket home would be short lived when he expresses his opinions about the treatment of North Korean civilian prisoners in front of the wrong ears, and is punished by being sent back to the front line. However his assignment does come with a hidden agenda, his investigation skills are to be put to good use. First off the commanding officer of the company he will be sent to was recently killed in action, by a South Korean weapon. Not only that, but there is suspicion that there may be a spy in the company leaking information to and from the North.

The company he has been sent to was nicknamed by the American Military the “Alligator Company”, for reasons I will not say in this review, you will have to see for yourself. They have been fighting for control over the Aerok Hills, a specific strategic point which is very important to both sides. So important that it had at this point already been captured and lost to the North at least 30 times, and there was no sign of either side backing down. As Kang arrives to his post he immediately realizes he is not being placed with ordinary soldiers, these men have been through a devastating hardship and both their physical and mental states are growing less and less stable. To his surprise the company also happens to include Kim Soo-hyeok (played by Soo Go), a dear friend he had thought lost to the war a long time ago, a friend that when he last saw him was a cowardly soldier being dragged away by the North. Now he has shown a great deal of grown both in ranks, and mental strength. So he thinks.

From this point on there is very little that can be said about this films incredibly well told and always  developing plot that will not go on to spoil some very big and effective surprises, so I will leave it be and let the viewer enjoy for themselves.

The Front Line is only one of a few Korean military dramas I have managed to watch over the years, of course when anyone thinks of Korean War films, the absolutely brilliant Tae Guk Gi immediately comes to mind. As deservedly so, that is one of my absolute favorite Korean films, and war films in general. However I must admit that The Front Line does give Tae Guk Gi a fairly good run. It defiantly finds its strides in developing a great deal of the actual company men, and not just out two leads. Tae Guk Gi  focused on a few of the hero’s comrades, but not nearly to the same extent. Including the two lead characters, there are at least 6 or 7 characters in this film that are really well developed and almost immediately find a place in the story, which as I said before is really about a company as a whole. Lee Je-hoon especially shines as the man who was temporarily put in charge of the company when its commander was killed. He is perhaps the one who will eventually carry one of the most interesting stories as when we first meet him its reviled that he is addicted to morphine, but why?

The real stars however, are the two stars themselves (of course). Shin Ha-kyun is brilliant; he just steps in and owns his role. And for good reason I will go into shortly, he stands out as the best actor in the film. I have always been a big fan of Shin Ha-kyun since first seeing him in Save the Green Planet, and since then he has never failed to impress me in every role he has placed himself in, regardless of the quality of the film.  Soo Go  stands tall as well; he plays a much more complicated character and does so very well.  In fact the acting for the most part was quite good all around, usually. This film does at times suffer from a few very awkward moments of excessive drama. There are some scenes that should have been far more impactful, but the characters take their dramatic beats a few steps too far and the crying especially is just far too overdone. Not always though, there are a few very subtle moments, but like I hinted at earlier it is Shin Ha-kyun manages to keep a level cap on how dramatic his acting will be and for that reason his scenes are far more effective. Sometimes a few well placed tears can be much more effective then sudden screaming and crying.

The Front Line was directed by Hun Jang, which marks only his third directed film. Before this there was 2008’s Rough Cut (which was written by Kim Ki-duk) and 2010’s Secret Reunion, and excellent spy thriller starring (my favorite) Song Kang Ho. He was also an assistant director on Kim KI-duks wonderful The Bow. So he may not have a lot on his resume, but this is defiantly a case of quality over quantity.

Beyond the incredible story telling, and focus on character development, as a war film itself The Front Line doesn’t manage to do too much we haven’t seen before in terms of action. However it’s really nice to get to see The Korean war from the perspectives of the Koreans themselves, and to again compare to Band of Brothers, The Front Line does what I absolutely love any War film to do, it depicts the opposing soldier as people, not evil enemies, or the “bad guys”. It shows what all War stories need to, that the men and women fighting on the lines are no different on either side. They are people just the same, and they are doing no different than anyone else, fighting for their country. And the film itself makes it perfectly clear that both sides are not even sure why they are fighting, they are just doing their duties as soldiers.  By showing from this perspective it makes a very pivotal moment near the end of the film incredibly impactful. In fact when this moment occurred I as a viewer felt angry. I was literally upset at what was going on, not upset at the film itself of course, but I was genuinely upset at what was happening on screen. A feeling I can honestly say does not happen very often, and its feelings like this that can always allow a film to leave a lasting effect.

-Jeff Wildman

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Mercenary (Il mercenario)

The Western is one of my most unfamiliar genres of film, I have seen a few, mostly modern, but none the less have enjoyed what little I have invested into this vast spectrum of movie watching. A personal interest in the Spaghetti Western more specifically has been present since I discovered the incredible music of Ennio Morricone, and traced the specific tracks that Quentin Tarantino incorporated into his Kill Bill, and most recently Inglourious Basterds films. Unfortunately over the past few years I haven’t really tried my hand at too many. In fact I can shamefully admit that the only Spaghetti Western I had ever watched was The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The Mercenary (Il mercenario) marks the second entry I have made into this amazing genre, and I have to say, I LOVED it!

Tony Mustante plays Paco Roman, a peasant who after being poorly treated by his rich boss publicly humiliates him, and finds himself about to be executed, only to be saved at the last minute by a few of him friends. (Admittedly this was probably the one moment I found a bit too ridiculous and a bit cringe worthy.) Now an outlaw he decides to begin a revolution against the Mexican army, but needs steal money to fund an army of his own.

Meanwhile, Franco Nero plays Sergei Kowalski, a Polish mercenary who offers his loyalty and skills with a gun only to anyone who has enough cash in their pocket. He is originally hired by two of the three Garcia brothers to help them carry their silver safely across the border. Their meeting is noticed by the menacing Curly (played so very awesome by Jack Palance) who eventually tracks the two brothers down to find out why they were hiring the Polish, and kills them. When Kowalski gets to a mine to meet the third Garcia brother, he finds his new boss and his men dead, and instead runs into Paco and his revolutionary army instead. After a brief hustle they are all ambushed by a Colonel Alfonso Garcia (Eduardo Fajardo). Paco instantaneously puts his differences aside and hires Kowalski to help defend against the invading army. His investment pays off and the rebels are victorious. The next day Kowalski leaves the group, only to be ambushed by Curly. Paco's group arrives to his rescue, and though they don’t kill Curly, he still swears revenge as they strip him of his entire wardrobe and send him off to the dessert. Paco rehires Kowlalski to teach him how to properly lead his revolution. However the two men seen to have an entirely different opinion on what it means to be loyal, an indifference that could lead to a very rough relationship.

There is certainly nothing groundbreaking about the films storytelling, but it’s everything else that makes this a truly amazing film. As I stated, I am a big fan of Ennio Morricone. His music, especially the famous L’Arena which acts as a theme for Kowalski, is nothing short of amazing. That theme alone plays such a huge role in setting the tone of the film. There is a particular scene later in the film that highlights that song in such a beautiful way, the theme is played in very effective ways throughout, but is brought out in full force, a real highlight.

There is a lot in this film that is unfamiliar to me; this is of course the first Sergio Corbucci I have seen, a director who I have heard compared to Sergio Leone, understandably. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the cast, primarily our three leads. Of course Jack Palance I know of, and thought he was fantastic in his small but important role. Tony Musante was really fun to watch, his Paco was a good combination of difference characteristics, including some well place comic relief. The man of the hour (and 50 minutes) though, Franco Nero! How have I not heard of him before? His presence in the film is so strong! He was a whole lot of badass! Looking through his catalog it would seem I have seen him before, but never to the same degree as his role in this film. The Kowalski character is an instant favorite, and has some very noteworthy characteristics, from his huge handlebar mustache, to the recurring joke of always lighting his match on some unsuspecting sap.

From what I have been able to find The Mercenary goes by a few different names, Il mercenario of course, A Professional Gunman, and an alternative (and pretty poor) US title Revenge of a Gunfighter. Either way the biggest crime of all is tha absolute lack of a decent DVD or Bluray release in North America. In fact in my efforts to track down a decent DVD I was only able to find a German and Japanese release. This is a real shame that this film has had such minimal exposure, as I said my only means of discovering this film was from tracing back the Ennio Morricone track on the Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds soundtracks.(Thanks Quentin)

The Mercenary has taught me two valuable things, I love Spaghetti Westerns, and, I need to watch more Spaghetti Westerns!