Sunday, March 9, 2014
Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/2/14-3/8/14)
Busy, busy, busy. A Dork’s life is never (OK, often) dull. Up first thing on Sunday for my recommended dose of Neeson, and then I was off, for another week of running around, trying to read, catching too few movies, and generally doing what I do. F’in snow storm on Monday threw a bit of a monkey wrench into the works. Seriously. I moved to Virginia in part to get away from snow and winter storms. And everyone kept telling me they’re so rare here. Well, three out of 7 years we’ve had severe winter weather and I’ve had to shovel. Not cool. Anyway, on with the usual Dorkness.
Non-Stop: Not quite as good as Taken or Taken 2, this “Liam Neeson gets angry and kills a bunch of people” movie is more on the level of Unknown. It’s fun and perfectly watchable, but it won’t be going on any best of lists. Like an Agatha Christie story, the movie sets up everyone to look as guilty as possible, so you never quite know who the villain is…except that I knew who the villain was from the first moment said person showed their face on screen. If you’re in the mood for Neeson yelling and looking angry, while occasionally snapping a neck, watch Taken. But if you just watched Taken, this is a fine follow-up.
Fiancee of Dracula: Grave yards, weird nuns, a circus dwarf on a motorcycle, a baby eating ogress who looks like a porn star? Oh, yes. Jean Rollin. This film deals with many of the themes Rollin used from his earliest days. His vampires are sad, slightly baffled extra-dimensional beings, disconnected from those around them and often thought mad. They wander and stumble across each other, and across other weird characters as they try to figure themselves and their world out. Rollin never really grew as an artist, but within his very strange, very specific little world, he was a master. Dream logic, vague pretension, an almost Romantic sexuality, and a playful touch of the absurd. Though not traditionally good, I find Rollin’s films compulsively watchable, and for more than just the pretty women taking their clothes off. The atmosphere he creates sometimes feels like what Hammer Studios was reaching for in their most Gothic of films (though Hammer had a tendency to expect their films to have some modicum of plot and logic).
Pilot X: Murder in the Sky: This feels like a truncated serial, with much the same plot progression common to the ‘masked criminal’ series. Planes have been getting shot down, so in an attempt to find out who is doing it, the likely suspects are brought to a secluded house to be observed. Of course, they start getting picked off, the most obviously guilty first, and so on. The acting is mostly stilted and the editing makes most of the flying scenes almost impossible to follow. Several times, I couldn’t tell who was involved in a dog fight, who was winning, or who’d just been shot. And honestly, the reveal was pretty darned obvious. The details, not so much, but I had the killer pegged from early on. It’s an OK bit of fluff, but there are many better.
Tim’s Vermeer: I’m glad this isn’t simply the ‘mad eccentric’ movie the trailer made it out to be. Tim Jenison is a very smart guy, and yes, perhaps a bit mad. And he’s interested in a lot of things. He’s made enough money that he’s able to investigate and explore these interests to sometimes surreal extremes. And this is the case with his fascination with the artist Vermeer and how his paintings were made. Following in the footsteps of a few researchers, Tim conceived of a wild project to try to recreate one of the paintings in what he believes may be the unconventional way it was originally done. What follows is part archeology, part art history, part This Old House, and more than a part obsession. Tim isn’t the distant savant, or creepy loner that usually anchors a subject like this. He seems like a mostly normal, if clearly genius level, human being. A guy you might get coffee with, or discuss the latest film. And as crazy as what he’s doing is, he reacts to much of it in a perfectly reasonable way, even admitting at one point that if it wasn’t part of an ongoing film production, he’d have quit working on it. But I’m glad it was part of that film. There are a lot of things discussed over the course of the movie, about philosophy and history, etc. But I think the most interesting and important realization, or assertion is that art and science were not, and should not be separate things. I think the separation of art and science has led to some serious cultural dissonance. A satisfying documentary, which made me want to go out and paint…not a Vermeer, but something.
Thanks to TCM showing so many great movies you just can’t find on DVD, I got a chance to see a Ruth Chatterton movie I’d been wanting to see for some time. They’re really the only channel I watch, and the one thing I’ll miss when I don’t have cable again in a year.
Dodsworth: Walter Huston is so much fun as the newly retired industrialist, off to learn how to live his life and love his wife. Sadly, his wife, played by Ruth Chatterton, isn’t so much interested in love as she is in holding on to her quickly receding youth. She is attracted to flattery like a moth of flame, and that can’t end well. Considering that this film came out after the Hayes Codes were in full effect, I was a bit surprised by some of the content. I suppose, even with the crackdown, not everyone was on board or had their puritanical hooks into everything yet. I’m gaining a new appreciation for Walter Huston recently. And I’ve become quite a fan of Ruth Chatterton, who is playing someone very different than I’m used to here, but doing a fine job of it. You really hate and pity her as it goes on.
About Time: Absolutely, this is a sappy romantic fantasy, with a very odd time travel twist that allows it to make its point. Fine. But dang it, it’s super sweet and adorable, and I love the cast. It’s funny, it’s charming, and if I had a heart in my chest, I would imagine this warming it. Now, the movie is guilty of one cinematic sin, for sure. It uses the old ‘frumpy hair/outfit’ in order to try to make us imagine that Rachel McAdams isn’t a painfully beautiful woman. However, I thought McAdams is a good enough actor that she made me forget how hot she is for a while, and focus on how awkwardly cute her character is. I could certainly understand people accusing this of being saccharine or schmaltzy. They wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. But I enjoyed the heck out of the whole thing.
On Thursday night, we were again at our usual haunt, The Alamo Drafthouse, to see a double shot of muscle and steel. I’d seen 300 on the big screen when it first came out, but not in a really nice theater. And it made a difference. This time around, the first time the Persians slam against the Spartan shields, I felt the impact as much as I heard it.
300: One of the most wonderfully ridiculous, over the top, macho, beefy films ever made, this rousing tale of buff dudes battling mutant hoards has about as much to do with the historic events as The Ten Commandments, but it’s got a heck of a lot more awesome. Lots of great lines, lots of wild scenes, lots of driving music, and so, so much wacky slow/fast motion. The battles are intense and fun, the dialog almost Shakespearian in its theatricality. And the badassery on display not only from the Spartan soldiers, but from Queen Gorgo …Awesome. I hope that when I’m called to defend my lands against ravaging hoards of horror, I have a woman half as hardcore as Gorgo watching my back. In a movie so crammed full of baby-oiled up muscle men, chest pounding, and testosterone pumping speeches, it’s great to have a woman who stands toe to toe on heroics. And something I can’t help but mention when I talk about this movie, I love that it portrays a couple who are deeply and passionately in love with each other, enjoy each other’s company, and still has a vigorous sex life.
300: Rise of an Empire: Everything that worked in the first film did not work in this one. I was horrified to find myself longing for 300’s subtlety…Yeah, a movie that’s about as subtle as a Nic Cage freak-out, and this film makes it look like the world's greatest spy giving a lesson on subtlety at the University of Subtle, Secretly Located In Oxford (accredited!). We’re subjected to the sad, sensitive, irritatingly concerned, blue eyes of a perpetually young warrior poet from Athens, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), who explains in great detail how everything that he and his army does is ‘what living/fighting/being free is all about.’ And then we have the most feared and powerful naval commander in the Persian Empire, Artemisia (Eva Green), who manages to blow every opportunity for victory and display every possible level of incompetence, seemingly having gained all her position and power by using secret vagina magic. Then we get to find out how she has the most cliché back story they could come up with (yes, that’s right, the toughest sorceress/general/warrior/naval commander and right-hand of the Persian Emperor is just an injured little girl looking to get back at the people who wronged her…For the love of crap! F&%$ you, writer(s) of this film!). Show don’t tell. That’s the golden rule of cinema, and the one this movie breaks most often. I kept trying to like it. For the first fifteen or twenty minutes, I think I managed to not hate it. But at some point, I couldn’t pretend anymore, and the taint it was putting upon the first film was too much. Zack Snyder has his faults, and his last two movies (Sucker Punch and Man of Steel) have disappointed me greatly. But I missed him on this project, for sure. And really? Really? Penetrated by his cock-sword? Really? 300 only had one female character, but she was f'in hardcore and stood as much for heroism as any of the beefy Spartans. This movie has two. Gorgo has inexplicably become a sword wielding warrior woman (not her brand of badass), and Artemisia who seems to embody Victorian Man's fears and hatreds of women. Ugh.
Old Boy (2013): I know so many people who go so gaga over the original Korean film, but watching it a couple years back, I was left cold/bored by it. I don’t tend to respond well to Korean film in general; something about the pacing, I don’t know. Whatever the case, combined with the fact that Spike Lee was behind this remake, it was not something I gave two craps about. Not even sure why I ended up putting it on my NetFlix queue. But I did, and now I’ve seen it, and it’s…OK. I felt a bit more engaged in this version than the original. However, it still left me cold; though not as bored. Everyone is fine. The story is pretty messed up. Sharlto Copley tries his darnedest to channel Vincent Price in his wildly silly villain role. But Lee’s usual camera tomfoolery is off-putting, and while Elizabeth Olsen does a good job, I can’t help but feel her character stepped out of a crappy 80s action/cop movie (if only she lived in a converted warehouse and did welding/sculpting as a hobby). I wouldn’t avoid watching this, but I wouldn’t go out of my way, either.
Saturday afternoon, the director and the star of the short film I’m working on came to my place for a penultimate meeting, with some test shots of costume and set, and a final checklist of props and such. I felt a heck of a lot better after seeing how the set wall looked on camera. That was making me a bit nervous. Otherwise, it all seems good. I’m so danged excited to see this as a final product.
Love: You can probably guess this from the trailer, but Love owes a good deal to Kubrick’s 2001 and many other science fiction movies besides. But that shouldn’t lessen your enjoyment of this slightly non-linier story about an astronaut stranded in space. Pieces of the story are rooted in the American Civil War, and there are lots of flashbacks and cut-away shots of people living and talking about life. It’s all very artsy, but didn’t feel particularly pretentious. The film looks great, with some gorgeous Civil War battle shots and lots of excellent space stuff. Yes, there’s gravity on the space station. So what? This isn’t a high budget film, thus, no zero-G filming. Don’t be a dick. The sets are nice, and the lead actor doesn’t botch it. I don’t know that he’s the most charismatic or interesting to watch, but he’s got the weight of the whole film on his shoulders and he doesn’t mess it up. So, bravo. Fans of more serious science fiction should give it a go. Not one for the ages, but good.
It was interesting to watch Love when I did. A few things I’ve seen recently play with some of the ideas of this short film we’re working on. Like Gravity, All is Lost, The Wall, and some others I’ve seen recently, Love deals with isolation and the stress of being out of contact.
And that’s about it. I had a busy week, but not as much on the Dork side as I like. I’m hoping with the weather finally looking like it might not totally suck, I’ll be able to get my bike out and start breathing outdoor air again. Time will tell.