Thursday, December 5, 2013
Brad's Week in Dork! (11/24/13-11/30/13)
Thanksgiving and Black Friday got in the way of some serious movie watching this week. Can't really complain about that though, can I? Life is good. Family is sweet. And Business is a boomin'. Started the week with Matt at The Angelika for Alexander Payne's Nebraska. It's certainly not going to make my Top Ten List this year, but Bruce Dern is a serious contender for the Oscar race. On Wednesday The Wife and I made it over to The Alamo for Hunger Games 2. Better than the first film, but the best part about the night was still the Drafthouse pre-show. SNL skit was actually pretty funny. And we came home from the movie craving real entertainment, so we had ourselves a double feature with the This Is The End & The Word's End blu rays. Before my Black Friday got on the way, I caught both Philomena & Oldboy on the big screen while my Brother-In-Law tagged along for the adventure. Probably couldn't pair two films as different as those. However, the best film I watched this week was Plunder of the Sun. Glenn Ford doing that mean bastard routine. I love it.
While at work on Saturday, I got word that Paul Walker had died. I'm happy to say that I have always been a Walker fan. The man appeared in a lot of crappy cinema (the first two Fast & Furious flicks, Into The Blue, Bobby Z), but he's also rather amazing in Running Scared. I've sung that films praises numerous times on this blog, and I'll take the opportunity again to send you running to your TV set. It is simply an amazing bit of gonzo cinema. A Grimm's Fairy Tale remake of Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog featuring possibly the greatest tribute to John Wayne this side of Garth Ennis's Preacher comic book series. Not to mention those terrifying Nosferatu Pedophiles!!!! If you haven't seen Running Scared than I demand you drop what you're doing right now and check it out. If you're looking for other great Walker flicks to tribute and you've already exhausted Fast Five, then I also suggest Joy Ride (see below) and the more recent Pawn Shop Chronicles in which Walker plays a buggin' out meth head. The man knew how to have fun on screen. I'm gonna miss ya.
Nebraska: I've been listening to a lot of conversation surrounding Alexander Payne's latest flick. From one podcast to the next - Slashfilm, Operation Kino, Battleship Pretension - one critic blasts it as a mean-spirited mockery of the midwest, and another calls it a searing character study. One thing is certain - Bruce Dern delivers a quiet, painful performance as the senile father determined to collect his million dollar sweepstakes. And as a city slicker kid who occasionally spent his summers in Taylor, North Dakota population 148, I felt a lot of kinship for Will Forte's interloper. Is it mockery? At times. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I was always told by my teachers that it was cruel to laugh at others, and Nebraska certainly gains a lot of its comedy from pointing the finger. So maybe I'm an asshole. I enjoyed Nebraska. Not the kind of film I'll watch over & over again, and I absolutely prefer Payne's The Descendants, Sideways, About Schmidt, & Election, but I'll root for Dern come Oscar time.
Plunder of the Sun: "How hard can you beg?" Now here is a beastly little diddy that does not get the praise it so rightfully deserves. Glenn Ford, very much in the spirit of Gilda's Johnny Farrall, is an insurance investigator ensnared in an archeological heist when Patricia Medina bats her eyes across the barroom. Ford is an amazing bastard in this movie, delightfully selfish, and cool as ice in the face of danger. I absolutely love how no jackbooted thug can take this man down, and how heartlessly mean he can be to a beautiful woman when she attempts to play villain. Imagine Indiana Jones mixed with In The Mouth of Madness's John Trent and a little of Prime Cut's Lee Marvin and you get Glenn Ford's beastly idol robber.. In 2013, having recently discovered or rediscovered flicks like The Big Heat, 310 To Yuma, Gilda, and Plunder of the Sun, Glenn Ford has climbed himself to the top of my favorite "classic" actors list. He lives proudly next to Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, and Lee Marvin. Now it's time to devour the rest of his back catalogue.
Medium Cool: "I understand that you have some problems." Robert Forester is a TV cameraman attempting to navigate the civil unrest of the late 1960s. The story itself is pretty much what you expect, but Haskel Wexler's in-the-trenches documentary direction perfectly mirrors the era's primetime media assault. Remember when journalism could make a difference? Sigh.
Catching Fire: I really just don't understand the appeal of these movies. I've seen dozens of dystopian sci-fi hellholes. Some I idolize - A Boy And His Dog, Logan's Run, Soylent Green, District 9. Some I hate - No Escape, In Time, Johnny Mnemonic. But The Hunger Games and this redo sequel are just soooooo booooooring. Doesn't help that I'm not the biggest fan of Jennifer Lawrence's steely-eyed acting (minus Silver Linings Playbook, which is awesome, and her constant red carpet shit-talking). Seriously, let's see some real deal emotion lady! You just butchered a dome full of kids and all you can muster is some scream dreaming? I dig the gender reversal of asskicker Katniss & Josh Hutcherson's damsel-in-distress, but why rehash the structure of the first film? How 'bout doing something of note with these old ass tributes? Geoffrey Wright is in your movie! Use him! Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in your movie! Use him! How can a film be nearly three hours long and have so little plot? But since this flick just made a butt load of cash at the box office, I must be missing something.
This Is The End: "Call me your Prince of Persia..." This is not sophisticated satire, it's a ferociously obscene assault on celebrity culture as seen from within. I've always been a sucker for Seth Rogen's pothead comedy (Pineapple Express & Your Highness), but I don't think it's ever been funnier than it is in the moment when he & Jay Baruchel return from an L.A. Revelation to find all their Hollywood friends Left Behind at James Franco's house party. One by one, they are either swallowed up by the Earth, impaled on sharp instruments, possessed by Satan, or welcomed into the Donner Party. Their only option for salvation is to learn & live The Golden Rule. It does not go well.
The World's End: "Back to the dark ages." Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg tackle the apocalypse from a much different, far classier, smarter, and typically British perspective. I've watched the film three times now, and with each viewing I love it more and more. I am very comfortable in calling The World's End one of the year's very best films, and even if I rank it at the bottom of the Cornetto Trilogy, it's still one of the finest emotionally wrenching comedies. It also helps that it so easily Out-Star Trek's this year's abysmal Into Darkness atrocity with Simon Pegg expertly Kirking The Computer. The World's End also offers the strongest performances yet from both Simon Pegg & Nick Frost. Pegg's drunkard turned savior, Gary King never quite learns his lesson, but he comes close enough. The apocalypse is not the awful part, it's how the apocalypse warrants his stagnancy. The Loser Reigns! Just what all isolated fanboys dream! But my favorite delight is watching Frost's sober suit transform into the Pink Hulk of robotic destruction. We've all seen the slobby brute, but I don't think we've ever been blessed with a prim & proper Frost. Hard to take at first, but it's all worth it for when the shots hit the table.
The Killers: Using Ernest Hemingway's short story for the opening scene, the rest of the film traces the actions of Burt Lancaster's punched-out boxer that lead to his inevitable assassination. This is solid noir. The flashback structure prevents it from fully capturing my passion, but it's also what gives the overall story its sense of dread. There's no happy ending here. Burt Lancaster dies in the first ten minutes and there's no resurrection. The film has all the genre hallmarks, and Ava Gardner's Femme Fatale is exceptionally venomous with her dialogue. "You touch me and you won't live till morning." Don't mess with this lady folks. She'll drive you to suicide.
Philomena: Who doesn't love Judi Dench? Who doesn't love Steve Coogan? Only the soulless. Dench plays a woman determined to find the son she was forced to abandon when she was barely a child herself. Coogan is the failed journalist plunging the trenches of the human interest story to regain some hold on his career. Philomena manages to be a searing look at the hypocrisy of religion while still managing to not make a mockery of faith. Everybody wins. It's the cliche "You'll laugh, you'll cry" kind of dramedy. Well done, Mr Frears.
Oldboy: A serviceable remake. There are a few changes to the Korean original, but a lot of the horror of that film is surprisingly maintained in this Spike Lee joint. Josh Brolin is pretty damn great as the American businessman kidnapped off the streets and mysteriously imprisoned for ten years. Suddenly released, Brolin beats, bashes, and hammers his way through a variety of thugs until he finds the man responsible for his torture. Along the way he meets Elisabeth Olsen's attractive social worker and does things he shouldn't. Besides being totally unnecessary, I have a few other complaints in regards to Newboy - Sharlto Copley is far too James Bond Villainy as the billionaire beast, the film rushes too quickly towards its climax, and never properly establishes the "love" between Brolin & Olsen. And could we please stop with the CG bloodwork!?!? I hate it sooo much. Still, it could have gone down a lot worse.
We Steal Secrets - The Story of Wikileaks: "I like crushing bastards." I'd love to tell you I was a socially conscious person. But I'm a pop culture freak. I can drone on and on about the merits of Roger Corman, but can barely string a sentence when it comes to the politics of the day. I'm trying to be a better American. I probably should venture out further into the real world than the handful of documentaries I watch a year. I knew very little about Wikileaks before watching We Steal Secrets. Similar to The Act of Killing, I found it to be a rather disturbing viewing experience. What is the truth of the Red, White, & Blue? What can we as Americans accept as collateral damage? Wikileaks is incredible. Too bad Julian Assange is such a hypocritical asshole himself.
Joyride: I love Joy Ride. Co-written by JJ Abrams and directed by John Dahl, the film is the closest this century has come to crafting the classic noir screenplay. It's Detour populated with sexy young things. While on a cross country roadtrip, two brothers punk a trucker using sex as temptation, and unleash a nightmarish Duel on the freeways. Paul Walker & Steve Zahn are so much fun to hang out with that you forgive their idiotic prank and cheer them on to victory. Too bad the film doesn't have the grit to adhere to its noir heart, and falters with a too-neat climax. And Leelee Sobieski should totally Femme Fatale these bozos, but is simply relegated to the damsel-in-distress.