This time of year just isn’t fun for me. The holidays, sadly, lost all charm when I started working in corporate retail back in 2001. It’s just a brutal slog through frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, punctuated by occasional soulless expenditures. Is that cynical? Sure, I guess. But whatever, I’m tired. Still, my Dork Life gives me some joy, and this week had a lot of good in it. And it started early Sunday morning when I watched an unexpectedly good Robert Redford (Zzzzzz) movie.
All is Lost: With all of maybe five lines of dialog, this movie is about watching Old Man Redford in a Series of Unfortunate Events. Some bad choices and a lot of bad luck send our hero into a spiral of diminishing options as he battles nature and the refuse of Man. The movie looks really good and has some thrilling adventure bits. It also doesn’t tend to drag, as a film like this might easily do. Near the end, things get a bit tiresome, but it’s still not bad. I did find myself nitpicking a bit. Why wait until everything was going horribly to start making preparations for it? That tool you’ve got has a hook/lanyard on it for a reason, why don’t you have it secured? It’s raining and you’ve got no power; why aren’t you collecting water? Still, overall, the movie is quite effective, and if you can turn off that over-critical part of your brain (I usually can, and honestly it only started to come out a few times during the film), it’s very tense and frightening. Yet, there are scenes (that shot of him steering during the storm) that make me want to brave the elements for a bit. That said, if I ever sailed around the world or whatever, I’d still follow the Buddy System. Not gonna do that sort of thing alone.
War of the Gargantuas: Another fun Toho slice of kaiju madness, this is a really weird sequel to Frankenstein escapes. A lot of the usual notes are hit, but it’s a lot of fun, and there are some crazy fights. It’s interesting to see slightly smaller kaiju, so the structures they’re bashing are comparatively larger. They can actually hide behind trees and buildings, for example. The titular Gargantuas are powerfully ugly, hairy things, but human than many Japanese monsters. I guess this lends them a bit more personality …maybe?
Escape Plan: If this were 1991, and Escape Plan was the latest straight to video movie featuring Christopher Lambert and Lorenzo Lamas (no doubt Lance Henriksen playing the villain), then the world would make some sense. But this is 2013, and Escape Plan is so off the mark, it’s like a cautionary tale on how not to do a movie. The script starts bad and gets worse. The one-liners, the ones that make any sense, suck. The plot is like an episode of Silk Stalkings or Viper. And the two leads…well, they’re just not acting their age. If you know me, you know I love watching old dudes kick ass. But in an old dude way. These two are trying to play it like the young guys, and it just looks bad. And as with Bullet in the Head and The Last Stand, it commits the cardinal sin. It’s boring.
The Counselor: Sometimes you see a movie, and it’s just so danged odd that you know you’re watching something special. Maybe not something good, but something special. That was the case with The Counselor. It’s a darned peculiar film. One thing you’ve got to know is that it’s an extremely, intensely mean spirited movie with an exceptionally ugly view of people that does not let up. So if you think that might bother you, skip it. There’s also a tendency toward obscure speeches. Oh, and much of the plot or whatever is not explained, much less who most of the people are or what they’re doing. But every frickin’ moment of Javier Bardem is like pure distilled mountain genius being pored into your brain. I can see why people weren’t thrilled with the movie. It’s challenging, and not just because it’s hard to follow or figure out. It’s an ugly, rough, tough movie along the lines of late Peckinpah, where there are no good guys, just a bunch of unhappy people doing unkind things.
I watched some of the new SyFy series Defiance. I kind of want to like the show, but they’re making it hard. There are some very cool things, nice ideas, some nice visuals, etc. But I can’t help noticing how often it falls back into typical, cliché plot-lines, characters, etc. You’ve got the Romeo & Juliette couple, the mobster trying to go straight, the whore with the heart of gold, the rugged soldier whose only weakness is his kid, and that kid is an orphaned alien (or insert war-torn region’s ethnicity). There’s the vision-plagued character who may also be the ‘chosen one’ character, who is also the emotionally broken, deceptively cute, tiny woman who is actually a badass warrior (and is also the afore mentioned orphaned alien…they really heaped the clichés on that character). And the list goes on. It’s also another Sci-fi mixed with Western thing, which wasn’t even close to new when Firefly did it a decade ago. Oh yeah, and there’s an evil government from ‘back east’ that is trying to get its hands on the wealth and power of the independent city that is the center of the show. And there are savage alien tribes out in the badlands. I mean, it just throws the overused ideas at you left and right. Yet, for all its many faults, I’m finding myself watching episode after episode. I keep thinking back to how iffy the first season of Farscape was, and how good that got. Can this do the same?
|"Hi. You may remember us from a dozen other shows."|
Monsters University: It’s cute, and if you’re a fan of the first film, it’s fine. But it’s also not all that interesting. For a Pixar film, it’s kind of …meh. Which, sadly, seems to be their new norm. Sad. The kiddies should find plenty to enjoy, but the adults might be a bit bored, as there’s precious little meat.
On Saturday morning, my annual Charlton Heston film fest, HestFest began with Brad and I, and a basic breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee.
The Big Country: Gregory Peck shows up in the middle of a clan war and is mistaken for an East Coast dandy. Two families have been in conflict for as long as they can remember, and they don’t have any patience for a man who isn’t concerned with honor and appearances. His romantic rival, Charlton Heston, thinks he’s a coward because he won’t brawl. His fiancé is drowning in daddy issues. And creepy rapist wannabe Chuck Connors thinks…well he doesn’t think all that much. But Peck doesn’t care. He just takes his time, does his thing, and rises above. Peck plays one of those classic movie heroes whose lessons have been largely forgotten in our knee-jerk, anti-intellectual public arena, that morality doesn’t come from old books or from the opinions of others. Morality is what you do when nobody, god or man, is looking. The film also features one of the great cinematic fistfights. Unfortunately, it’s about 40 minutes too long. The final confrontation between families, ostensibly over Jean Simmons (but she’s just an excuse), drags and drags, and doesn’t really pay off. For me, the movie is kind of over when Heston realizes what kind of a man Peck really is. That’s the point of the movie, I think, and once it’s been made, there isn’t all that much more to say.
For Khartoum, I broke out some horseradish chips. …What can I say, I didn’t think to get anything for this movie. Oops.
Khartoum: There are things I really like about this movie. But they are few and far between. The location shooting is quite nice. Heston is fine. The ending stand-off is cool. Otherwise, it’s kind of a dull exercise in hitting the expected notes. It feels like a desperate grab at the success, four years earlier, of Lawrence of Arabia. But I never found the film especially engaging, and (apologies to the rabid fans) Laurence Olivier sucks…bad. Every scene he’s in grinds the film to a halt. I watched the movie years ago when I picked up the DVD, and I remembered not being thrilled with it. Sadly, my second viewing reinforces that opinion. It’s not terrible, but it’s too long and not very exciting.
Peanut Better sandwiches were served for a light lunch. Peanut butter was a food Heston took with him whenever he traveled overseas, because, apparently, you can’t get it in many places, and it was something he had to have. I also broke out the rum (pirates, man) and some sea-salt & cracked pepper chips…you know, ‘cause of the ocean and stuff.
The Buccaneer: Yul Brynner as a pirate captain living in the bayou near New Orleans? Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson? How could it possibly fail to be amazing? Just watch and find out. Brynner is an actor I generally love, even when he’s in bad films (The Ultimate Warrior!). But he’s so boring in this movie, he seems to be sleepwalking through. The middle part of the film, involving a boring love story and some back stabbing officials, as well as some pirate politics, is just dull. The best parts of the film are when Heston shows up, but that’s just the first few minutes and then near the climax. The film was originally conceived as a musical, and more than many movies of the era, it really looks like a musical. The colors, the costumes, the sets. The soundstage work is so unreal it felt like an artistic choice to lend the film a fantasy vibe, but that doesn’t make much sense with the film’s content. Other than Heston’s Jackson, the movie’s only other major selling point is that it’s about the War of 1812, and how many movies can make that claim?
The Last Hard Men: Well, they’re men, and they’re hard. Some brutal prisoners, led by James Coburn, escape a chain gang only to run into fresh-out-of-retirement lawman Charlton Heston. What follows are a series of nasty confrontations and dastardly deeds, leading to a confusing and ugly finale. The movie fully embraces the ugly meanness of the 70s, where even the heroes are scumbags, and the scumbags are worse than animals. And unfortunately, Chris Mitchum.
For The Agony and the Ecstasy, I served noodles with a meat sauce provided by Jill and Nero d’Avola wine. Italy, man.
The Agony and the Ecstasy: The lavish spectacle of the film competes with the lavish spectacle of the reality, in this adaptation of the classic novel about a genius artist and a bellicose pope. Like many movies from this era, there’s a certain cleanness that I find slightly jarring. Even its messes are clean. The people are a bit too iconic, and some of their shades of grey were taboo, as the Hayes Codes were only just losing their grip on Hollywood. But the issue at hand, the struggle of the artist with his benefactor, that created one of the most iconic pieces of art in history, is compelling, whatever the shortcomings of political and personal detail. Italy during this era was a fascinating and multifaceted thing, a puzzle box of twisting history with connections and disconnects to birth countless stories. I guess I can’t expect one movie to have them all. Heston and Harrison play well off each other, and there are moments of emotional power, for sure. My viewing of the film was not ideal, so sometime coming up, I’m going to have to give it another, more focused watch and see what I think then.
With the beginning of Soylent Green, I broke out the seaweed snacks, which made for a good tie-in. Those things are good, and so few people are willing to try them. Still, more for the rest of us.
Soylent Green: The world is winding down, burdened by the weight of too much Humanity in this ugly vision of a horrible, slow-death future. Everything is bleak, social justice is dead, the world is burning up, and nobody’s got anything to eat. The wealthiest few still manage to live in luxury, while the huddled masses suffer through drab, meaningless existence, and only those willing to sell their souls and bodies to the rich get any taste of fleeting happiness. With the murder of a pampered rich man, a cop enters the world of the powerful and begins to unravel a mystery that is too much for most people to bear. Everyone is a whore in this film, selling themselves for scraps from the table of powerful people; who are themselves driving the whole world into ruin, and willing to do anything, make people believe anything, to keep their positions of power, no matter what the cost. Who’d have thought? The film still resonates today.
For next year, I need to remember to start the day with more chips. Early on, every time I opened a bag of chips, it was gone in an instant. But, by the time most people started showing up, and bringing more, the chip eating rate balanced out and all was well. Next time, start with more. I can do that. Otherwise, I think HestFest 2013 went very well, and I feel pretty good about it.