Monday, February 11, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (2/3/13-2/9/13)

    On Sunday evening, thanks to Ben, I finally saw a movie that everyone under the sun has been telling me forever that I needed to watch, but in all honesty, I’ve never much been interested in.  Goodfellas.  I didn’t do up a list of New Years movie resolutions, but if I did, Goodfellas would have been on it.  Maybe now I should think about that list.  Shawshank Redemption, I would probably have put Birth of a Nation on it, which Brad and I watched a few weeks back (gah!), The Seventh Seal, and maybe An American In Paris.   And maybe this is the year I should put my heart into giving a few directors another try.  Fellini, Kurosawa, Woody Allen (shudder), and Altman (not that I would say I don’t like Altman, only that he never drew me in).

Goodfellas:  I’ve never seen the appeal of mob types or their lifestyle.  Yet this movie manages to show the lives of some pretty useless dumbasses in such a way that I still found them occasionally charming.  The cast does a good job, and the period-piece aspect was interesting.  Watching these guys live through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, rise up the ranks, fall on hard times, get into drugs, murder and all sorts of poor behavior.  These guys all seem like stupid children, easy to anger, violent and impulsive, so concerned with honor and image they can’t figure out how keep from f’ing up.  It’s like a collection of people you don’t want to stand next to, because they’re the dumb fools who get other people killed.  It’s a solid film with a good cast and some grim humor.  The violence exists mostly as a constant threat, only actually hitting the screen on a few dramatic occasions.  The soundtrack is pretty awesome.  Why is it hailed as one of the greatest movies of all time?  I don’t know.  It’s good.  It’s very good.  One of the greatest movies of all time?  I don’t see it.

The Sun Also Rises:  “I’m just…detached.”  Ava Gardner is fascinating.  I know she’s considered one of the great beauties (and in this film, she is quite comely), but I’ve never thought of her as ‘beautiful.’  But she is somehow more comfortable in her skin (seemingly) than most women, giving her an attractiveness that isn’t about her looks.  And unlike Lauren Bacall with Bogart, Gardner and Tyrone Power look more appropriate.  Don’t get me wrong, Bogart was the man, and I hope one day to have my ugly old mug next to a woman half as beautiful as Bacall.  Anyway, the life of Americans drifting around Europe in the aftermath of the Great War is the subject of this film, and Power is good as the broken, haunted and sad man, wounded in a way that makes him useless to a woman.  Bar crawling, trysting, moping, and drinking.  And one woman capturing and destroying the souls of several men.  As a dour and taciturn fellow myself, I do empathize Power’s journalist who just wants to be left alone, who has love in his heart, but an inability to get it out without un-survivable pain.  And like him, I want to go fishing in France with Eddie Albert.  But, how does anyone in this movie even manage to stand up, with all the booze they consume.  I’ll admit, I’m a lightweight.  However, I think most people would be staggering and slurring their speech at best.  Errol Flynn as the busted sot is weirdly charming, in spite of being kind of a douche.  He and Eddie Albert are highlights.  It’s an OK movie that does capture a certain mood.  It reminded me a bit of the Bill Murray version of The Razor’s Edge.  That whole, Lost Generation in Paris thing is rich with mood and kind of fascinating, though not really my cup of tea (much like the late 60s San Francisco business).

Heaven and Hell:  “You’re the Ghost with the Rotten Heart!”  Most Martial Arts movies are half way to fantasy anyway, so one would think a full-on fantasy film would be amazing.  Sadly, most of them are just dull and awkward.  This one is a bit more surreal than most, which makes it a bit more entertaining.  There’s a lot of smoke, a lot of crazy sets.  And yeah, they fight with a metal hula-hoop.  Then it switches to the real world, which is much more the surreal world, with more strange sets, a horribly dubbed singing number, and extra loads of goofy.  There are a lot of fights, but they feel kind of meaningless, and so lack a level of excitement.  At least when they travel to Hell things become a bit more interesting visually.  Frankly, Chinese Hell(s) seems very complicated, with far too many obscure rules and regulations.  Is there a ‘For Dummies’ guide?  Good and bad seem to go there.  But good guys get a visit from the Buddha of Mercy, who gives them the go-ahead to fight their way out of hell.  That’s weird, right?  Like the David Lynch film Inland Empire, this feels like it might work better as a video installation, playing in the background while you’re hosting a party or something (I suggest a tiki-type thing with lots of little umbrellas in drinks and crap).  What do they call movies like The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari?  German Expressionism?  This is Hong Kong Expressionism.  The actress who plays Red Dress is kind of fascinating.  She’s not really pretty, exactly.  Kind of ‘ugly-pretty,’ really.  But fascinating.  She has a unique look.  Overall, not one of the better Shaw Brothers movies I’ve seen, though it’s certainly better than Black Magic or Cave of the Silken Web, though.

Cat Chaser:  “We made a pact.  Us against them.  Shirts against skins, man!”  A lot of Elmore Leonard stories have been translated to film.  Some are good.  Some are not so good.  A few just are.  This one is.  Some good location shooting but kind of blah, otherwise.  Look, what I’m about to say is almost certainly horribly sexist and/or insensitive.  But the fact that this movie features a lot of nudity makes it kind of like Christmas.  The fact that that nudity is Kelly McGillis makes it kind of like getting a sweater for Christmas…a sweater with a reindeer, bells, and pompoms on it.  I wasn’t into her in Top Gun, and nothing has changed.  It’s like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  We’re supposed to believe that Michael Douglas is gonna give up everything and destroy his wife for…Glenn Close!?  Kind of the same here.  Peter Weller seems more than happy to throw his life away for an emotionless, chain-smoking mannequin with old lady hair.  And it’s all directed by Abel Ferrara.  If Brian De Palma is a poor man’s Alfred Hitchcock, Abel Ferrara is a dead broke guy’s De Palma.  It’s not that Weller is better than this movie.  He’s just more interesting than it deserves.   They made a lot of these attempted Noir films in the late 80s and through the 90s.  I don’t know if it was intentional, or what.  But it seemed like there was a factory churning out movies about world-weary guys caught up trouble outside their control, while some dame twists the knife.  There’s always a broken buddy (usually a drunk), a wealthy, jealous guy, and loads of bad lighting.  Whatever it was that made Noir that special kind of magic was missing in these movies.  The whole subgenre feels like a straight to video cure for sleepless nights.  It’s where actors who never quite made it to the big time, like Weller, Tom Beranger, Eric Roberts, and the like all did time.

Shaolin & Wu Tang:  “Never teach the Wu Tang…To the Ching.  Uhhhhh.”  When the styles of Shaolin and the forces of Wu Tang come together in two friends, one painfully stupid and short sighted lord wants to put his clumsy fingers in their martial pie.  He wants those fighting styles, and he’s willing to kill, poison, offend, fight, steal and verbally harangue (while pointing imperiously) his way to victory.  Sadly, the quality of the DVD was appalling.  Not just that the dubbing was bad, but the recording of the dubbing was bad, or the sound mixing, or whatever technical thing makes it hard to hear individual voices.  The video quality was bad, too, with the hard to read subtitles cut off by the bottom of the screen all too often.  And of course, it’s pan & scan, so half the picture is cut off, sometimes including stuff that would probably be helpful (like yet more of the subtitles).  Getting past the technical issues, the movie is pretty badass, with some rockin’ fights and typically crazy narrative paths.  The sequence in the women’s prison, introducing the ‘Mad Girl’ is so perfectly nuts.  It reminds me of some of the crazier Kung Fu films I’ve seen, like Legend of the Liquid Sword.  I need a girl to nipple twist me back to mental health.  Gordon Liu and Adam Cheng are fun as the two fighting buddies, and their martial arts rivalry produces some great mad bastard fighting.  And when the dudes team up with the ladies, the battles are taken to the next level of total insanity.  Beauty.  Of course, there are twists, turns, betrayals, revenge, redemption, and fists a’flying.  You may be asking yourself if there are extremely weird and overcomplicated training methods explored through montage.  If you are asking this, you haven’t seen enough of these films and need to get on it.

Snake Dancer (aka Glenda):  “There was only one dirty minded person in that audience tonight, Ken, and that was you.”  All a girl wants to do is dance and play with snakes.  Why does everyone want to stop her?  Apparently in uptight South Africa, people don’t like their Sunday School teachers dancing naked with snakes on stage.  She’s supposed to be this great dancer, but she’s doing the same thing a million hippie girls did every day.  I guess the summer of love didn’t hit South Africa?  Glenda Kemp (playing a fictionalized version of herself) is very cute in that fresh-faced 70s chick kind of way, but it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.  But then, isn’t that always the way with oppressively moralistic and hypocritical societies.  Her goofus brother is kind of charming in a Paul McCartney (Wings era) kind of way.  I said it before, many moons ago, that in spite of what my brain (or something) wants and expects, a woman dancing with a snake is actually not particularly erotic.  Snakes just hang there, like nothin’s nothin.  So it becomes more ‘look at this woman with a big thing hanging off her shoulders.  Snore.  Though Kemp gives it the old college try, and it more successful than most (are her snakes on pep-pills or just really hungry, because they’re far more active than normal)  The vaguely racist first snake dance is rough.  At least the dancers weren’t in blackface.  Of course, knowing some of the horrible stuff that was going on in South Africa at the time puts a weird spin on things.  As a kid who grew up in the 80s, the only thing I ever heard about the country was the constant ethnic violence and oppression by the Apartheid government.  It existed like a weird evil state in my mind’s eye, so in a sense, this feels like a movie made within Nazi Germany during WWII, that never mentions any of the ‘troubles’ going on.  Perhaps that’s not fair, but that’s what the movie brought up in me.  You have a large population of people being excluded from government, the legal system, society in general, and people are getting upset over some bare breasts.  Reminds me of the States today, where our young men and women are getting chewed up and spit out by constant war, maimed for life, psychologically broken, committing suicide on an unprecedented scale, and people are more concerned with what to dudes are doing in their bedrooms.  Anyway, the stripping routines are more awkward than sexy.  I like naked women and people sticking it to the Man.  So that’s pretty cool, I guess.  I can’t even say the movie is bad.  Just kind of odd.  And I find it odd that people going to see scantily clad women dance would be offended by a naked woman dancing.  But people are weird like that.  They’ll watch Janet Jackson gyrating, half naked on stage for five minutes, but one flash of a weird looking pasty and the country goes into a fit of mock-moralistic rage.  These same shocked and appalled people will then go home and watch two nearly naked beefcake men roll around together while plastic surgery disaster women walk around in their underwear, frequently debased in the most horrendous of ways, and they’re all smiles and sunshine.  It’s just good clean fun.  I’ve been subjected to professional wrestling, which is one of the most disgusting displays of human indignity I’ve seen but is well loved by Bible-belters and rednecks nation wide.  Homophobic wrestling fans are possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever encountered.  The irony they embody is worthy of the greatest satirists.

The Big Easy:  “Aw man, now they killin’ retards.”  Accents are a dangerous thing.  Frankly, my take on it is simple.  If you can’t do it and do it well, then don’t.  I’d rather the guy from Boston, or the guy from Russia sound like he’s from…well, wherever the actor is from than sport a dreadful accent.  This movie is so self-consciously set in New Orleans it bathes in voodoo, breaths gumbo, eats Creole, and shits Mardi Gras beads.  I could have used about 30 less references to it being the ‘Big Easy.’  I like Dennis Quade.  I really do.  But I don’t know.  His weird down-home charm, especially with such a bad Cajun accent is kinda grating.  I think he had Wilfred Brimley’s dialect coach from Hard Target.  And I’ve never thought much of Ellen Birkin, so that doesn’t help.  It has a super 80s vibe, with lots of blue jeans, a fridge stocked with Bud, and a painfully unique apartment for our lead.  At least it didn’t have a freight elevator.  80s cop movies have a comic-book feel, where the world obeys rules that only make sense in the context of 80s cop movies.  Good natured police corruption goes up against the bad kind.  Organized crime doesn’t much like a corrupt cop who still tries to bust the really bad guys.  Evidence tampering, witness intimidation, and what-all.  It’s all in good fun.  I guess if you’re in the mood for this specific brand of thing (akin to Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Stakeout, or what have you), you could do worse.  Ned Beatty is one of those character actors who pretty much just plays variations on a theme or type, but he always does it well, sells it.  And his performance here is another good variation on the Beatty.

Speed Racer:  “He was trying to change this rotten business and they killed him for it.”  It took a lot of flack, and still gets lambasted by many.  But F the haters; Speed Racer is a sweet candy explosion of stylistic panache that manages to fit in some heart & soul between the Technicolor flash.  The cartoon sensibilities, zany characters, and occasionally subversive hints balance well with the genuine relationships between a father and his sons, between siblings, and between competitors and champions.  The Racer family isn’t perfect, but they’re a charming idealized 1950s kind of thing, with love to spare.  With madly over the top villains, the story needs to crank up the operatic intensity, and it does so with aplomb.  Grand theatrics and heart-string plucking.  And man, every time I watch this movie, I like Matthew Fox as Racer X even more.  I’d have loved to see a Racer X spin-off, but obviously, this movie did not set the world on fire.  John Goodman is swell as the worried but love filled father.  Christina Ricci turns in one of her best performances in a long time as the bubbly Trixie.  And even Susan Sarandon, who I normally do not like, is very sweet as Speed’s loving mother.  But in order to properly enjoy this film, you have to check your cynicism at the door; you have to go into it with a child’s heart.  Accept that it’s not a realistic action/drama.  Accept that racing is a metaphor for the search for enlightenment.  Like in classic Kung Fu films, it’s not simply a physical contest but the outward reflection of the interior journey.  It’s a 60s cartoon turned live action.  The filmmakers embraced that, and in order to enjoy it, you need to, too.  My hope is that this will become a Donnie Darko, Buckaroo Banzai, or Rocketeer, which may have failed in their initial run but went on to become beloved cult classics.

    I tried to read the second volume of Batwoman, one of the best New 52 titles from DC.  But the jarring change in artwork pretty much killed my interest on page one.  Maybe I’ll try it again sometime later.  But for now, I’ll move on to something else.  I had better luck reading The Film Club, an interesting memoir about a guy trying to connect with his troubled teen son through a shared love of film.

    And with The Thing From Another World, I started what I’m hoping to be a new series for the blog.  I’m going to focus on science fiction films from various eras.  I can’t promise they’ll always be based around a theme, but I think I will try.  For example, this first round will be in the loosest way, about identity.  The Thing From Another World is missing much of the concept of the original story, Who Goes There?, and so not as much about the question of identity.  But I’m counting it anyway.  ‘Cause that’s what I do.


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