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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chris Cookson's Top Five of '08

5. Tokyo Gore Police/The Machine Girl (tie or double-feature extravaganza)

In 2007 Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino released a film named Grindhouse, which was supposed to be a send-off to schlocky horror films from the '70s. The movie was a critics darling but did rather poorly in the box office. In an attempt to make back on their huge losses the movie was split apart into stand-alone releases of Planet Terror and Death Proof in worldwide markets and on DVD. When the films were separated they faired a lot worse with the critics, Planet Terror while fun was only a slightly above average zombie thriller that could barely hold up to most George Romero movies while Death Proof was more a vehicle for Tarantino's signature dialogue than cut-throat thrills. Remove the guest trailers for Edgar Wright and Eli Roth and all of the presentation and all the elements that made the theatrical release so fun are just about gone.

Taking a page from Grindhouse the Japanese applied many of its schlocky sensibilities to their well-established gore movie genre. The first of these movies, The Machine Girl wound up as a direct-to-DVD movie on the shelves at Walmart. The plot was relatively simple and shallow, a high school girl loses her brother and an arm to a Yakuza gang and in a quest for revenge she kills just about everything in sight with her new 8 barrel machine gun arm. While this may not seem worthy of an afternoon just watch the trailer and try to tell me otherwise. This is one of the few movies of the year that absolutely delivered on all my expectations from the trailer, like seriously the entire film is exactly like the trailer had it been stretched out to 90 minutes and kept the entire kill-ratio throughout. Get a bunch of sarcastic friends together around the TV and you'll have one of the funniest movies of the year, I mean the word "revenge" is thrown around so often it would be pretty easy to make a drinking game off of the entire film. Bonus points if you can get the English dub of this film, the overacting makes it feel even more like it was pulled directly out of the '70s.

Tokyo Gore Police is not quite as much of a clear cut B-movie as The Machine Girl. It was directed by the guy who was in charge of the gore and make-up for The Machine Girl and The Meatball Machine and it never fails to deliver bucket loads of crimson bliss. This one is more of a Robocop-esque parody of contemporary society where the police are incredibly brutal (the tagline for this film is "To Protect and Sever") and ultra-violent fake advertisements and skits are interspersed throughout the run time. The plot follows a mad scientist who places key shaped tumors inside the brains of his victims causing them to grow "tentacle" like limbs from any severed body part. You can imagine the hilarity that was to ensue, including a castration scene that leads to a hilariously placed shotgun growth, a chair made out of a human being and a bad guy who can fly by way of blood fountains after getting his legs cut off. Pair this with The Machine Girl or watch them both separately, you'd get something that is comparable to everything Grindhouse promised to be and a fantastic time along the way.

...and for the record when I saw Tokyo Gore Police in theaters, the room was packed full of couples in their 50s cheering "GORE! GORE! GORE!" at the beginning of the screening.

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In case my #5 pick caused me to lose any of my artistic credibility I'll go with a much less controversial choice for #4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not without its issues, you'd probably want to kill yourself by the end of its inexcusably long 3 hour runtime (and that's not just because the film is moderately depressing) and at times the hyper advanced CG effects to age Brad Pitt make him look like he stepped out of the poor make-up antics of White Chicks but this modern day fairy tale takes several huge risks and sooner or later tells a pretty profound story at the same time. The film plays out as a weird mix between Forest Gump and Edward Scissorhands with a little bit of that Oscar-bait pretentious aftertaste thrown in here and there. Where this movie really succeeded for me was in its portrayal of the weight of time and the performances by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett which really does a fantastic job at selling you on its fairly bizarre premise. I can totally see this film being regarded as a classic of sorts in 50 years

3. Iron Man

Taking a page from Spider-man 2 and ignoring its mess of a sequel, Iron Man balances out serious themes with comic book violence and humor. With that being said Iron Man is far from your standard superhero movie, you never even get to see Tony Stark as Iron Man for the first hour of the movie and by the end the villain of the plot isn't even killed. Most of the time is just spent establishing the rules of the universe and the characters around him. Also between this and Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. is slowly creeping his way back onto the A-list in a way that will totally be ignored by the Academy. While The Dark Knight received much of the box office and pop-culture attention this year (I counted 63 Jokers at the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village), Iron Man deserves a special spot in showing that the superhero formula does not necessarily need to be reinvented and its still possible to make an intriguing movie based off of a superhero that's more from the bottom of the barrel.

2. The Dark Knight

This is an obvious choice for me, I've been anticipating this ever since I first heard of its "The Dark Knight" title over two and a half years ago and I have been following the viral marketing campaign and the mass e-mail scheme to reveal the first image of Heath Ledger as The Joker. While this film received extra attention due to Heath Ledgers death, it was easily deserved. His performance is often compared to Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs and had his death not come so early he would have easily been thrown onto the A-list after The Dark Knight's huge success. Not to undermine Ledger, Aaron Eckhart's performance as Harvey Dent took a page from his earlier film, Thank You For Smoking and applied the performance to that of a Shakespearean tragedy. Count in its haunting soundtrack, flawless direction and an incredibly realistic script and you have something that transcends a superhero movie and is more in line with a crime epic.


Is it Pixar's best movie? its easily their most astute film. I'll always have a bias towards Toy Story as that was the first one I saw and I loved the colors and vastness of Finding Nemo (also from WALL-E director Andrew Stanton) while the script of Ratatouille was fantastic. What made WALL-E so extraordinary was just how experimental the film was. Much like how Toy Story was a risk as the first 3D animated feature film, WALL-E took a huge risk in its entire lack of dialogue for the greater part of the movie and any words that were there were few and far between. Where WALL-E really excels in my mind is how it tackles a serious subject such as consumerism and environmentalism but it never feels mean-spirited or preachy. The humans in the Axiom are all good people and even the Buy-N-Large corporation is not entirely evil, they just portray the "programming" of life as the downfall of civilization. On top of that, the film is a fully functional love story at its core and by limiting the amount of motions that each of the robotic characters is able to perform, they were able to pull off much more thoughtful motions as a result, I mean, WALL-E and Eve don't even have elbows...but you'll never notice it.

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