This was a great week of consumption. The Wife & I are still plugging away at LOST, and we're finally starting to hit the place that absolutely giddies my brain - The Barge! With last week's screening of 8 1/2 I plunged back into Roger Ebert's The Great Movies, and I continued that trend this week with Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath of God. It's a damn good movie; I'm committed to the rest of the Herzog/Kinski collaboration box set and I've only got three left, but so far, so damn brilliant. Klaus Kinski, the beautiful monster. Every expression is a painting for my wall, a grotesque ripped from the finest Renaissance creation. I also got serious about my Scorsese-A-Thon, cranking out three more of his classics - and yeah, all three are classics. The De Niro era somewhat comes to a close with After Hours which in turn leads to another grab at the new mainstream of the 1980s, The Color of Money. The Griffin Dunne nightmare adventure is often forgotten in the canon, but I (& Ebert) consider it to be a highlight within a flood of highlights.
This Pretty Much Sums Up The Night
I made it out to the theater for a pair of Ethan Hawke performances: Before Midnight & The Purge. Could there possibly be a better example of Night & Day as far as quality is concerned? Don't think so. Hawke is an interesting actor - you can't really love the guy, but I'm hard pressed to think of a time in which I utterly loathed a performance. His tour with Lionsgate is fun even when it's forgettable. The guy just likes to work. Respect.
LOST Season 3: The second season dipped its toe into the pool of genre crazy, and Season 3 wades on into the deep end. It's a little bit of a slow start as Jack, Kate, & Sawyer bang upon their cages, but once they worm their way out and into the barrack world of Dharma (or the Dharma that once was), LOST finds its story and finally stretches its science-fiction setting. Michael Emmerson is a great nemesis for Flight 815 and Elizabeth Mitchell's Dr. Juliette is a welcome addition to a cast of morally broken people. And let's not forget Nestor Carbonell's Richard! What's his deal? It's only going to get weirder and more ancient from here. Plus, just when the flashbacks start to get stale (seriously, at this point, who cares what Sun & Jin were doing in Korea or how much of a tool Charlie was before getting to Gilligan's Island?), the writers find an exciting new device to launch us into the next season. Finally, we have "Not Penny's Boat!" Outsiders are on their way and the battle between 815 & The Others barely has time to breath before an even larger threat crests the horizon.
Raging Bull: "I don't trust you when it comes to her. I don't trust nobody." This is a frustrating film for me. Obviously, the craft and performances are stunning. Robert De Niro's Jake LaMotta is a hateful brute and he's surrounded by corrupting influences. Family, friends, lovers. Everyone wants a piece and he's ready to take a bite. Martin Scorsese shoots boxing like the horrific ballet that it is, a black & white bloodsport unfit for this "civilized" world we pretend to inhabit. I could watch those bouts all day long. But De Niro's LaMotta? I hate him. Cathy Moriarty's Vickie is the worst kind of victim, a woman asking for the punishment that is her life. Joe Pesci's little brother appears good hearted, but he's little more than a punching bag for the bull. I hate these people. I recognize the craft of the film - the cinematography, the direction, the performances, the script - but the problems of these mooks are are boring to me. I imagine a world in which the cast & crew remade Robert Ryan's The Set-Up, and it's a beautiful nirvana filled with heinous blows of genre. Raging Bull is trying to get to the truth of a man, but Jake LaMotta is a jackass and I don't like living in his skin.
Aguirre - The Wrath of God: "These savages are hard to convert." And here is another character filled with hate & violence but one that is absolutely not boring. Klaus Kinski is Aguirre, the second in command of a doomed expedition through South America in search for the fabled city of gold, El Dorado. His men follow the conquering footsteps of Cortes, slashing their way through the jungle, capturing the natives, bashing the word of God into their brains, and falling victim to Mother Nature as well as their own black hearts. What are Aguirre's desires? I'm still not totally sure. Domination does not appear to be one even as he sets up a noblemen as the puppet emperor for their expedition. He appears to be solely concentrated on the destruction of others. He stands upon a raft of corpses, leader of the dead and the dying. Success? I think he may see it that way. This is certainly a film I'm going to have to go back to a few times. It's an assault on the senses, but unlike Raging Bull, I enjoy the idiocy of the brutality. Most must be contributed to Kinski's mad performance. Is the character off? Or is the actor the true madman of myth? How rare to have an actor that convincing.
Aquaman Vol 2 - The Others: I really, really, really enjoyed Geoff Johns' first entry into the New 52 Aquaman. It was a fun, frothy story in which the king of Atlantis struggled to find his way between the two worlds of his parents. Unfortunately, Volume 2 squanders all the high adventure of the first book for some shockingly dull Super Hero brawl. Some time ago a pirate called Black Manta killed Aquaman's human father and in retaliation Aquaman killed Black Manta's father. Here we get the very worst imitation of The Wrath of Khan and muddled in the middle are a team of 90s runoffs called The Others. The book introduces six new characters but only gives you fistfights as a means of character development. We get beats but not story. And The Others just get in the way of the characters we actually care about - Aquaman & Mera, a husband and wife super team struggling to make life on dry land. I know we have to have punch ups but it would be nice if the story didn't Schumacher it up with dead weight villains. I don't think I'll be going any further with this series.
Before Midnight: Richard Linklater gives us the third, but possibly not the last chapter in his romantic saga. I don't want to go into specifics, just know that Before Midnight contains a lot more of walking & talking to camera. If you've seen the first two then you know the deal. Honestly, I absolutely adore the first film but was somewhat dismayed by the direction taken by Before Sunset. Having now just spent six years in absolute bliss with my own significant other, I respond deeply to the heart & romance of Before Sunrise, but Sunset breaks down the "reality" of love, and it tasted cynical rather than truthful. And Before Midnight continues that trend. It's impossible to separate my own relationship and my own ideas of love from these films, but I find the conversation to be fascinating and absolutely worth the return trip. Also, where else (outside of genre) can you find three films that follow the same two actors in the same two characters? At the very least, the Before films are a magnificent exploration and I look forward to watching them as a whole.
Nosferatu - Phantom Der Nacht: "Give me some of that love." Werner Herzog & Klaus Kinski reteam to bring us this romantically haunting remake of the silent classic, this version containing much more of Bram Stoker's original source material minus the drab narration. Kinski is exceptional in his portrayal of the undead Count and his droopy stares into camera are hypnotizing. The man is a living sculpture! Also, Bruno Ganz might very well be the only version of Jonathan Harker I've ever found sympathetic, and Isabelle Adjani is the most pained Mina (or Lucy as this film swaps her) ever filmed. She is wide-eyed gorgeous, a tragic pet for Kinski's monstrous longings. And have you ever seen a vampiric seduction of a town so mournfully shot than the one Herzog depicts here? The town square rat feast! Terrifying in its banality.
The Vampire Lovers: "Put some blood back into her." When I think of the quintessential Hammer Horror I think of The Vampire Lovers. Sure, the adaptations of The Horror of Dracula or The Curse of Frankenstein might be a touch more iconic thanks to the performances of Christopher Lee, but what I really want from Hammer are the busty ladies tortured by the supernatural. No one quite does pulp cheesecake quite like Hammer, and Ingrid Pitt is their ultimate pinup girl. A cheap retelling of Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, that short story donates heaps of sexual subtext to exploit in the world of B Movies, but the success of The Vampire Lovers is Pitt & company's full-hearted acceptance of the material. There is no sheeping here. It's cheese - bloody & booby - no apologies. It's the perfect gift for 13 year old males or the stunted 30 year old.
Blade 2: "Lock up your daughters, boys and girls, The Dark Knight Returns!" This is a special film and I don't think enough people give it the credit it so rightfully deserves. Dropped into the middle of a crappy comic book franchise is a classic of genre filmmaking. I would go so far as to argue that Blade 2 is the finest hour in Guillermo Del Toro's career and one of the Top 5 comic book movies ever concocted. Not satisfied with the mewling dreary whelps of the Anne Rice generation, the director set out to return the monstrous to the vampire, and in the process Blade 2 became an epic Blaxploitation remake of The Dirty Dozen. This is the very finest of kitchen sink cinema. Coming off of the disastrous Mimic & the rejuvenating Devil's Backbone, Guillermo Del Toro saw this sequel as his great grab at big time Hollywood filmmaking, bending David Goyer's script to his will. Thankfully, it was a success. I adore Blade's descent down the villain food chain, exploding a traitor in his midst, punishing an army of security guard lapdogs, slicing racial hate into Ron Perlman's Nazi, buffooning the vampire count, and eventually going toe-to-toe with Luke Goss's genetic abomination. And each stop along the way of neverending set piece is peppered with winks and nods to comics, movies, and classical illustration. Del Toro has absorbed it all, but his pop references manage to be more fluid and natural than anything found in the very best of Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese. Of course, this is just Blade 2 - a violent action film sandwiched between two slices of moldy bread and therefore it will never get the rightful appreciation. And as much as I love Del Toro, I don't think he's ever come close to capturing the perfection of this film. Deluded blogger praise? Maybe. But you should watch this film again if you doubt me.
The King of Comedy: Ugh, this film is painful. Funny at times. But mostly painful. Robert De Niro gives his finest performance as Rupert Pupkin, the wannabe comic who kidnaps his way into primetime legend. Jerry Lewis is the hapless celebrity navigating the cost of fame, and failing his audience's impossible expectations. The King of Comedy feels like its coming from a great sadness buried deep within its creators, but its beauty is that it never feels like "Woe Is Me" cinema. This is truth via absurdity. De Niro's Pupkin is just another sadsack living in his parents basement who fills the void in his life with delusions of celebrity. If he could only get his act on TV than the high school dream girl would be his and the world would accept his comedy genius. The film marches to a dark tune and each chuckle that escapes lands with a sick thud. It's an uncomfortable watch, but one worth having every few years. It's certainly a great reminder of De Niro's skill, and in the current era of cash-in action/comedy roles The King of Comedy reminds us just how the man got to his iconic status.
Star Trek - "The Cage": Can you believe I had actually never seen this pilot episode before? It's true! Previously, my only connection to "The Cage" were the snippets seen within "The Menagerie." Jeffery Hunter is a great Captain of the Enterprise. Don't worry, I'm not ready to abandon Shatner, but I have to admit cool where cool exists. Pike is certainly a more introspective Starfleet officer than Kirk. He's been around the rings of Saturn a few too many times and fantasies of Orion Slave Girls plague his mind. He's ready to toss in the towel. Then comes a distress signal and the lovely captive Vina. The Telosians are not the type of villains you punch, they're the type you strangle. Using their big brains to keep Pike & Vina imprisoned, they desire to breed a perfect race of man but you get the idea that perfection is a mask for simple sandbox play time. What would the world be like if Hunter remained on the bridge? Hmmmm, it's an interesting thought. I certainly think there was a great show here, and maybe not that different from the Star Trek we eventually got. My whole reasoning for sitting down for the first episode was The Mission Log podcast, a detailed breakdown of every Star Trek episode. It's prodeced by Gene Roddenberry's son and it's fun Trekkie stuff.
The Purge: I really love the concept behind this flick - one day a year, the US Government legalizes all forms of crime. Murder, Rape, Riot. It's all cool as long as you don't use a weapon classified above a level 4 (whatever the hell that means, no bazookas I guess). That's a very twisted Twilight Zone kinda thought and I had hopes that this B Movie would do something special with it. Unfortunately, The Purge never quite rises above the typical stalk & slash and nearly every character falls into those Horror movie tropes we were warned about in the Scream franchise, "I'll be right back!!!!!" The best moments happen early one before The Purge goes into full effect. Ethan Hawke's daughter looking down into her neighbor's backyard and seeing him sharpening his machete. That's damn creepy. The Haves locking up their doors while the Have-Nots scurry for a hiding place. There could have been a great film here. Instead we get a forgettable dolt.
Action Comics - Superman vs The Men of Tomorrow: Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is nearly upon us, and as the week came to a close I found myself hunting for the perfect Superman comic. We all know that's Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman, but I'm holding off on that till next week's book club. So, instead, I though I'd give Morrison's New 52 relaunch a try. It's not as dull or painful as some would have you believe, but it's also nothing more than routine super heroics. Frankly, I'm tired of being introduced to this character. Secret Origin, Superman For All Seasons, Red Son, Birthright. Why do all the classic stories center on his beginnings? Morrison attempts a half-ass origin here with Lex working for the government, Clark Kent bumbling about The Daily Star, Brainiac bottling cities, and Superman rocking jeans rather than spandex. The action scenes are solid enough and the dialog all works in that Morrison nostalgia kinda way. But there is nothing special. I hear it gets better before it all comes crashing down so I'll stick around for the next volume.
Woyzeck: "All things of this world are evil." Of the three Herzog/Kinski collaborations I watched this week, Woyzeck was the one that I found the most punishingly effective. The story of a meek soldier slowly deteriorating over the course of several days as his wife openly lusts for another man, his doctor makes mockery of his exasperated state, and his commanding officer belittles his uncontrollable rushing. Klaus Kinski has played brute & monster before, but with Woyzeck the actor reaches new depths of victimization. Aguirre may have been The Wrath of God, but Woyzeck is the puppet of the Earth, hearing the planet's demand to stab the life from his bride. Death is on the wind, prick up your ears. The film's 80 minute runtime is busting with dread; almost from frame one you're waiting for catastrophe to strike. No wonder the original play was transformed into Opera, Woyzeck is beauty through tragedy. Not for the Saturday Night crowd, but the cineaste looking to wallow in despair will find plenty of misery to envelope them.
After Hours: Griffin Dunne is just one more mindless cubical worker, a cog in the machine of capitalism punching his keyboard with as little mental effort as possible. One night he leaves his office building, finds a diner to read his book, and strikes up a conversation with Rosanna Arquette. Their brief flirtation sparks a Kafkan quest through the dirty heart of New York City. Dunne bumps against the stupid and the absurd: Linda Fiorentino's dominating artist, John Heard's grieving barman, Catherine O'Hara's vigilante ice cream trucker, and the dynamic duo of Cheech & Chong. It's a gut-bustingly funny saga, but like The King of Comedy, it's often more sad than not. The circular torment bestowed upon Griffin Dunne is uproarious and I often found myself shaking my head at the horrors forced upon him. In a lot a ways, After Hours would be the perfect companion to John Landis' Into The Night, another neglected classic centering on the nighttime exploits of an anonymous data head.