Gah. I’m not really a fan of the holidays. It seems to be an excuse for people to be awful, for stress, and for loosing sleep. This week kind of sucked. Still, solace in art, right? Couple of good movies, a good book, makes it worth the time I guess.
Inglourious Basterds: “Well, if this is it old boy, I hope you don’t mind if I go out speaking the King’s” What’s history? Typical of the director, this movie is steeped in 70s exploitation and general movie fandom. A group of Jewish American soldiers, a British spy, a young French cinema owner, and a Nazi with a head for hunting are on a collision course. If you’re looking for a heart wrenching story of love and self discovery, set against the backdrop of world history…well, see The English Patient or something. If you want Nazis getting scalped, Hitler loosing his shit, The Bear Jew playing a creative game of baseball, and the worst Italian accent you’ve ever heard (gore-lamby), this is your lucky day.
Provocation: Awful people paw each other and are generally awful to each other, and a creepy kid watches. This movie feels like the director had a couple women who were willing to take their clothes off on camera, so he tried to cobble together a script that would give them reason. There’s little rhyme or reason for events, and the plotline is more of a vague squiggle. They’ve got this beautiful villa to film at, and they shoot it like a soap opera, not only taking no advantage of the scenery, but actually obscuring it with bad angles and editing. And as frequently happens in Euro films (French and Italian mostly), the ladies are very pretty and the guys look like ogres, making their awkward pawing even more disgusting.
|I don't know how mirrors work.|
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter Jackson and crew neither reinvent the wheel, nor break it, in this perfectly entertaining first part of what promises to be a sprawling adaptation of The Hobbit. It takes its time, sure. But, even in the long sections that, like the book, feature little in the way of action or excitement, they’ve peppered the script with flashbacks to more exciting times. The cast all does a fine job, with several returning characters making welcome appearances. I imagine that when it’s done, the resulting six film series will be quite the epic masterpiece. I’m hoping there will be a bit more of the expanded story, dashes of the Bible-like Silmarillion and the like (though, I gather Jackson and crew do not have the rights to that…sad). I’d love to see some kind of visualization of the Ages of Trees, or Ages of Lamps. Whatever the case, if you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you should enjoy this return to the setting, 60 years earlier.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: “Now, do you need me to elaborate? Or can we just crack on.” Holmes drags his about to be married best (and only) friend Watson into a dangerous conflict with the super villainous genius Moriarty. The caper will take them across Europe in an attempt to thwart a world spanning war. I love the actors’ portrayals of the characters and the bond of friendship they share. Not only that, but the portrayal of Watson’s wife defies modern film convention at every turn, as she not only doesn’t spend all her time nagging, she actually supports him (even when he sometimes screws things up). Though the story isn’t quite as interesting as the one in the first film, it’s still quite entertaining. It reminds me of old time adventure movies, where the heroes are actually having fun, not simply being put upon by overpowering circumstances. These guys do what they do, at least in part, because they love it.
Django Unchained: Tarantino is back, once again crafting a cinematic love letter to film. He’s done crime (a couple times), Blaxploitation, Kung Fu, 70s car chase, and to a degree, Western (Kill Bill Vol. 2 is like half Shaw Brothers, half 70s Western). Well, now he’s gone full Western, digging up classic 60s and 70s actors to play grizzled and terrible people, populating a Texas filled with baddies. Christophe Waltz is back, but this time as a good German, working for the Law, taking out the bad guys with a smile and a sunny outlook. He doesn’t think much of slavery, and when he seeks help from a slave, he finds a friend, a friend with a story right out of myth. Though occasional blood geyser filled gun battles pepper the film, and the N-bomb gets dropped more than an NWA concert, I was surprised how non-exploitation the film felt. Though it’s certainly heavily inspired by Spaghetti Westerns, there was a lot more of the classic, pre-cynicism American Western than I anticipated. Not that this movie shies away from things. In fact, probably the one thing that will get the movie in the most trouble is its treatment of slavery; about which it is anything but shy. But guess what, folks, slavery was very real, and it was real f&%$ed up. And it wasn’t all Denzel Washington in Glory, either. There were many faces. Not that the movie is a history lesson, but sometimes exaggeration (or what seems like it…but terrifyingly isn’t extreme enough) is illustrative. What has been filmed here is a somewhat episodic epic of the mythological American West. It’s not simply the revenge movie the trailer made it seem.
Fuzz: The 70s were weird. Be it Tom Skerritt or the fact that Burt Reynolds was cool, it was a strange time. Like some other movies of the time (Mash, Mother Jugs and Speed,…Black Samson, etc.) it’s all over the place with tone. Attempts to be funny are just awkward when put along side moments of horror. It’s one of those ‘slice of life’ type movies, where we enter a police precinct, then follow various cops dealing with various cases. Kids setting homeless men on fire, an assassin, a new paint job in the office, Raquel Welch, and other trouble. Something about the style of this movie makes it feel excruciatingly long, even though it’s only an hour and a half. I keep wanting to be a Raquel Welch fan (yes, in part because she’s so danged hot), but she’s in so many awful films. I think I’ve only found like three or four really good ones so far. This isn’t among them.
The Warrior and the Sorceress: “I travel alone.” A Fistful of Tereks? In a horrible world of sand and thirst, the greatest warrior is a scrawny, middle aged guy in a cape. A Marine and his rockstar first officer are pitted against a fat guy and his stuffed dragon, with a topless princess and a well in the balance. Into this stupid setting ambles the lifeless David Carradine to play over-actor against over-actor in an attempt to win the day. One of the worst film versions of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars being the two best and rightly most well known), I still kind of love it. And not just because Maria Socas refuses to wear a top (admittedly, that is a big reason…well, two). Watching Carradine fight reminds me of Steven Segal; the way he’s so clearly not good at it and the staging is so forced. If you’re in the mood for some Deathstalker or Barbarian Queen type fantasy garbage, this is a good choice. Seriously, though. Stuff like this makes me wish I made movies. I’d like to think my scripts would be better, but this is totally the kind of low budget stuff I’d like to make.
Barbarian Queen: “I’ll be no man’s slave, and no man’s whore.” Some women loose their menfolk and their village, but not their hairspray, in this not quite as good as Deathstalker bit of low budget fantasy cheese. Some truly awful dubbing lends the film that certain something special. And why does every one of these movies have an orgy room? For that matter, why does every orgy room have the worst flute music you’ve ever heard? What about flute music says, ‘orgy?’ The villain, who may or may not be John Gotti in hiding, is kind of silly. It feels like they were trying to go for a Rip Torn from Beastmaster kind of thing. But it doesn’t work. There’s a lot of nudity, a little blood, a lot of bad acting, and not much story.
Martial Club: “Our lion dance is really good.” Another Shaw Brothers kung fu classic, this one features the great Gordon Liu and some wild Lion dancing. Lion dancing, like break dancing, BMX riding, or to a lesser degree, ice skating, is the height of cool and physical prowess, with strict rules, its own lingo, heaping piles of glory, deep rivalries, and an essential hero’s journey into ultimate wisdom. Rival lion dancing clubs (one honorable, one dishonorable) want to win some kind of contest. This movie sure taught me that I don’t want to work at an herbal medicine shop. At least, not one staffed by an abusive kung fu expert lady (cute or not). This is one of the rare semi-comic kung fu movies I’ve seen that is actually fairly entertaining, largely because of the two leads’ almost silent movie level of expressive acting and physicality. Plus, the movie features some epic sideburns. And the final ally fight is awesome. Tiger Style!!!
Lust, Caution: “The diamond itself is of no interest to me. I just want to see it on your finger.” After the New Age pap of Life of Pi (not to mention the super-dullsville Brokeback Mountain), I kind of needed a reminder of why I liked Ang Lee, so I decided to finally check out the movie I missed a couple years ago, Lust, Caution. I generally avoid NC-17 movies, because the rating typically indicates excruciatingly boring films, but I like Tony Leung, and once upon a time, Ang Lee. I find it interesting how certain events, certain times leave their mark on a culture’s personality. Japan is still haunted by the Bomb. To a lesser degree, we still feel the sting of Pearl Harbor. England remembers the Blitz. And China is haunted by the specter of the Japanese occupation. The movie is a slow burn. A handful of idealistic student actors decide that inspiring art is not enough, so they hatch a plan to kill some traitors who are working with the Japanese. They seem like very likable folk, if it wasn’t for the whole murder plot thing. Things get complicated when the beautiful young woman among their ranks seduces a collaborator. As one expects from Lee, the movie is beautiful and the performances strong. It’s one of those very intimate dramas set against massive movements in world history. The characters are interesting, and one can’t help but wish them well, but dread hangs over it all. Dang, though. I would love to have a woman sing for me the way Tang Wei does for Tony Leung. I suppose the depiction of sex is a touch stronger than typical, but I don’t see any reason for this movie to have a stronger rating than R.
Black Book: The Dutch resistance gets its due in this surprisingly good Paul Verhoeven movie. Who would have thought the guy behind Showgirls and Starship Troopers could make this beautifully crafted and interesting tale of a young woman who must infiltrate those danged Nazis to save herself and her country. The cast does a fine job and the story is pretty good. It is loosely based on various real people and events, though mixed and matched and altered for the sake of drama.
Atom Age Vampire: “No let’s both stay home… together… with our records.” Life is tough for a sexy dancer when her military boyfriend gets fed up with her career choice. Time to drive like an idiot and get in a weird car accident! I guess facial scars drive women mad. I don’t know, they don’t look that bad to me. But evil science must run its course. I guess, by movie standards, trying to do almost anything constitutes playing god. But a Will Farrell as George Bush looking scientist is all about sloppy science and unsafe human experimentation. A kind of surprisingly good special effect for the time, location, and budget restores her to her former beauty. Of course, that can’t last. Eventually, a leprous Tony Curtis look-alike goes on a murder rampage. You know, that old story.
I started the week with the first disk of Boardwalk Empire. I love the music they find for this show. Everyone is trying to get back into the swing of things after the life shake-ups of the first season. It’s not going well. The KKK is up to mischief, Chicago wants to cut out Atlantic City, and all the womenfolk are less than thrilled with their men. I like that the Commodore is becoming more of a power player in this season, and that Chalky seems to have more to do than get angry all the time.
I also started season 4 of The Clone Wars. Even when it’s not at its best, it’s still the best Star Wars out there. It captures that certain something that made me love Star Wars as a kid, and generally avoids the shoddy writing and poor pacing of the more recent films. And, as they expand the universe, we’re treated to some pretty cool, grand visuals. This is the kind of thing I want to start seeing in science fiction films again. I wonder if, when this show reaches the idiotic turn of events that is Revenge of the Sith, they might continue the story with the rise of the Rebellion. That might be a more satisfying show, because at least it wouldn’t be saddled with such a lame eventuality.
Oh, man. I finished reading Y: The Last Man. Such a good series, such a painful finale. I think this could make for a really excellent trilogy of films (maybe one really long one?). In the right hands, with the right cast. But great stuff, whatever the case.
-Matthew J. Constantine