(Feb 24-Mar 2) Movies of the Week

Feb 24th – Mar 2
By Bret Dorman

(Intro: This is a new segment I’m going to try out. This post will be updated daily throughout the week as I watch a movie a day.)

(Spoilers! may apply.)

This Week’s Agenda:

Sunday: Argo (OD). OSCARS!!!
Monday: Merantau (N)
Tuesday: The Hidden Fortress (H+)
Wednesday: Thief (N)
Thursday: Coming to America (N)
Friday: My Name is Nobody (N)
Saturday: The Human Centipede 2 (N)

(KEY – N = Netflix Instant Stream. H+ = Hulu Plus. OD = On Demand. DVD = DVD.)

Sunday February 24th
Argo (Oscar Pick!)

The REAL poster for the fake movie.

The REAL poster for the fake movie.

I saw Argo when it came out and really liked it. Along with everyone else I was smitten by how Hollywood and the power of movies saves the day and saves lives. Obviously compared to ‘other spy/war/CIA movie’ Zero Dark Thirty, Argo openly takes more liberties with its source material and is ultimately a more enjoyable film.

I understand why people think Affleck should have sat out in the lead role but I think he’s fine. The rest of the cast is great and I think John Goodman and Alan Arkin should get their own spin off movie. I understand the need to nominate Arkin, but Goodman deserves the nomination more I think. Maybe not the win (for this movie) but he’s never won an Oscar and Arkin has. I know it’s nice to win more than once but if its within ten years… give someone else a chance (that means you Daniel Day-Lewis!). Also it’s nice to see Clea Duvall in something good again.

Argo is tense. There’s something to learn in the way Affleck and writer Chris Terrio do all the cliche stuff like last minute stalls and stutters but squeak out of the airport. A lot of people say “Oh but you know how it’s going to end” but I didn’t. I had no idea there was a secret CIA operation that ended in 6 people getting successfully snuck out of a violent revolt. And I had no idea how the fake airport scene would go. I mean, whether it’s based on a true story or not, most of the time you know where a movie is headed after the first 30 minutes/1 hour. But I didn’t know HOW it was going to get there. As far as the highly exaggerated ending? I’m all for it. The tension those people must have felt despite not having gone through those last minute hiccups must have felt just as scary as if it did happen. The movie uses cinematic tension to recreate the real tension they felt. Plus it’s entertaining and not anti-climactic (which worked for ZD30 because of the tone that movie established throughout its near 3 hour runtime).

All in all this past year I really liked a lot of the movies that came out. Being a HUGE Tarantino fan I’m happy to see him get some more Oscar (kind of) Love, but would feel weird if Django Unchained was the one that finally got him a Best Pic/Best Director statue (should have gotten those AND Best Original Screenplay for Inglourious Basterds). Despite it not making my Top 10, I’m going to be rooting for Argo to win. I think it will too (a movie that glamorizes Hollywood? sound familiar? *cough The Artist cough*). It’s the kind of movie that makes me want to absorb an entire genre all at once, those 70’s spy flicks like 3 Days of the Condor or The Conversation.

Argo fuck yourself!

Monday February 25th
Merantau (The Spiritual Raid Prequel Pick!)

Merantau it is!

Merantau is like a pilgrimage, with fighting!

Sometimes, freaking fantastic martial arts movies come out of Asia. And sometimes, filmmakers make freaking fantastic movies. Both of those are true of The Raid: Redemption, which placed #4 on my Top 10 of 2012. And sometimes, really boring and misguided martial arts movies come out of Asia. And sometimes, filmmakers early work before their breakout films are lame or lackluster. Luckily, neither of those are true about Merantau.

The movie starts out pretty typically for what I presume is a pretty low budget and generic martial arts movie. Small town dude goes to the city and is greeted by violence and baddies. Then he kicks their butts and gets his butt kicked and kicks their butts back. The first hour is silly and slow, but luckily 40 of the last 50 minutes is all fighting.

I’m not going to say the story isn’t important, but here its generic for a reason. The filmmakers are trying to play by the rules as much as possible to show what it can do and hopefully get another, bigger chance to do it again. The star of the movie though is the choreography. Not only the lightning fast and brutally efficient beatdowns between the characters, but also between the actors and the camera. The camera shows all the action and swoops and swirls as more henchmen join the melee. That and the music perfectly underscores the rising tension in the fights and adds an extra “umph!” at the end.

Iko Uwais provides that good guy innocent charm while nailing the fights. Yayan Ruhian is so good at the slimeball badguy who oozes a “Don’t fuck with me attitude” instead of intimidation through threats and direct violence. Their elevator fight scene is a must see for action fans. Also, someone in the film is outnumbered (2:1) and outgunned (2:0) and gets OBLITERATED in a way that harkens back to Veerhoven’s Robocop. The moment, music, visuals, blood, intensity, (broken) lighting, and everything make it nearly transcendental. Plus the scene pushes it a little further than humanly possible, but raises it into the realm of total badassery. I also liked Mads Koudal as he pulled glass shards out of his face yelling at henchmen; Sisca Jessica as she’s finally saved in a container (pulls off a moving performance given the material!); Alex Abbad as Johni, who is delightfully innefficient (also, there’s always a “Johnny”); and for a movie with a kid, its not annoying.

All in all, I was worried this movie would be aiming for a target higher than it could hit. But Gareth Evans and crew hit the bullseye, a feat made only more astounding by the fact that they Robin Hood that shit and do it again with their follow up…

Tuesday February 26th
The Hidden Fortress (The Japanese Samurai Star Wars Pick!)

"Ready or not, here I come!"

“Ready or not, here I come!”

I just recently got access to Hulu Plus, which has all (or most?) of the Criterion Collection. That means I get to brush up on my Japanese and European films. You know, the film-y type films. The ones they wrote essays on back in the day. The ones that would forever influence the rest of cinematic history because they were practically at the start of it, in addition to being highly effective.

The obvious George Lucas connection is in the wipes as the scenes transition from scene to scene as well as the spunky Princess character. The biggest influence can be felt in the two bumbling “main” characters Tahei and Matashichi as they bicker back and forth, leaving and reuniting, barely escaping dangerous situation after dangerous situation. Their greed gets them almost killed as they search for gold the entire movie, which is funny because one of their Star Wars droid counterparts is made of gold plating. The chemistry between the two is warming, even if they are at odds most the time. And while their situations are often dire, their physicality and aloofness combined with the light hearted score both eases the tension while at the same time raising them. After all, I’m fine with watching a badass like Rokurota Makabe die if he needs to, because he is a brave warrior doing so for a greater cause. But I don’t want to see likable, if misguided, characters die.

Toshirô Mifune has one of those faces and physicalities that lends itself so well to the Samurai genre as well as the black and white coloring. The same could be said of Misa Uehara, who is unflinching as a pretend mute. One of the scenes between her and the two main sidekicks involving horses and charades is hilarious despite the intent of the two. There’s also an extended spear fight between the two main Generals of the movie, which features some impressive choreography that highlights the rhythmic moves of the martial art while playing with the chess-like mental aspect as well.

There’s one scene about 45 minutes in as Makabe comes out to Tahei and they argue over gold and The Princess. Near the end of this scene, Matashichi returns, in the background and up on a mountain. Makabe moves to the foreground of the camera takes a minute to collect himself, then exits into the background. The fact the the camera doesn’t cut, but sways with the two during the arguement, stays put requiring a character to shout to us, then barely moves to the side but becomes an entirely different shot, a near close up, and again stays put as that character leaves is something I struggle to put into words over how much I love it. All I can do is point it out. This is why Kurosawa was a master of the visual story.

Wednesday February 27th
Thief (The Michael Mann-ly Men of the Eighties Pick!)

Drinking Game: Drink every time they say "thief"! Good luck!!!

Drinking Game: Drink every time they say “thief”! Good luck!!!

Let’s get something out of the way. I love Michael Mann movies. Love ’em. So do I like Thief more than I should? Perhaps. But I don’t watch it very often, especially when compared to Heat and Collateral. I’m not blind (although that thermite sure is bright!) and I am aware of the movie’s problems. Such as, the incredibly awkward pacing. The movie settles into scenes that seem to drag or over stay their welcome. Conversations sludge and sprint; one scene will last ten minutes explaining the inner workings of the bad guy business or characters’ minds, then race along at 10 scenes a minute feature a line of dialogue or two per scene. The big heist comes halfway through without any real warning then blam-o, a music video featuring beaches and kissing. Plus, there’s that awkward moment when James Caan’s character Frank kidnaps his very soon to be wife and forces her on a date, but only strongly convinces her to marry him (and this is the emotional through line of the movie?).

I’m willing to forgive its flaws though for a couple of reasons. First, it was the 80’s! Not sure what that means but I’m sure it’s got to count for something? Second, This was Michael Mann’s first feature length film. He’s still finding his footing. His characters may be emotionally cold and/or disturbed (a weakness of his throughout his filmography) but damn do they know how to talk and act cool. The dialogue is chiseled to perfection and James Caan (Like Robert DeNiro and other Michael Mann Alumni) nails every syllable with perfect pronunciation. For a movie with James Belushi he plays a pretty toned down (but not “serious”) part which works to the film’s benefit. And Tuesday Weld (That’s a real name!) isn’t given much to work with but seems fine.

There’s a camera move as Frank comes back from threatening his “boss” that I love. He pulls into his car dealership and the camera tracks with him, pauses as he shifts directions to walk toward the camera, then follows him again. Damn I love these cool camera moves. It’s easy to see why Michael Mann switched to Digital for Collateral and has only used High Def cameras since. His movies tend to take place at night. Compare the gritty black of this movie with the crisp black of Miami Vice. This movie’s swinging dick machismo feel lends itself to that ultra-dark atmosphere as Mann knows how to get the most out of his glowing neon sign filled night time shoots.

Lastly, Robert Prosky as Leo goes head to head with James Caan and stands his own ground. Much of the movie you wonder if Mann actually picked this guy up off the streets or Prosky rehearsed it down to every slimey smirk. The big “I own you” monologue near the end is an absolutely fantastic piece of actor work. For a movie without a main villain for most the run time (tension aplenty and a few scrapes with ‘The Law’) Prosky gives us a formidable main badguy for Caan to take out in the end. Without his performance and delivery of Mann’s words, the movie would end in a rather dull fashion. But you combine this crime boss one-upery with The Wild Bunch-esque final shoot out and you got yourself an ending to cheer with as Caan blasts away his problems.

Thursday February 28th
Coming To America (The I’m Trying To Like Eddie Murphy Pick!)

Incognito.

Incognito.

Between this movie and Trading Places (which I watched last week) I have to say I am really unimpressed with the John Landis/Eddie Murphy team up. I like Animal House and Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London, but I just can not get behind these movies. That and I have to say that overall, I’m pretty lackluster on Eddie Murphy. Murphy, in his best movie, can’t compete with Adam Sandler at his best. Or Will Ferrell. Or Jim Carrey. Now I know they ALL have their duds, but putting those aside, I’m just left pretty bored. I get why other people find him funny. He’s got confidence and character, but seeing him as the barber and actor/singer in this movie was dreadful. The characters just seemed like loud attempts at comedic riffs. I started tuning out…

The big problem with this, and Trading places, might be in the writing though. Too much time is spent on the premise and making sure they cover their bases story wise. Silly comedies tend to work best when they are free to explore a situation instead of confining themselves to one. A lot of the best jokes are sketch style takes on African royalty or the restaurant business. John Landis, even in his good movies, seems to have awkward pacing. Some scenes just really go on for too long. In his good movies, the actors can fill the voids in between jokes with subtle character nuances. In his mediocre movies they just seem to be going through the motions.

I thought the highlight of the movie was Samuel L. Jackson holding up Louie Anderson for some money. That was delightful! I laughed out loud at Arsenio Hall yelling after seeing James Earl Jones (fantastic as always) at his apartment door and the typical rom-com “I wanted you to love me for who I am” speech on the NYC Subway with the onlookers somewhat invested. The call back to Trading Places with the rich dudes was admirable. Also the Jewish guy hanging out with all the black guys was pretty funny.

Overall, still not quite sold on the Eddie Murphy craze but other people liking him doesn’t drive me nuts, like with some others. This movie however, did feel like a chore to sit through (especially at 2 hours).

Friday March 1st
My Name Is Nobody (Because MY Brother Keeps Telling Me To Watch It Pick!)

Nobody is faster!

Nobody is faster!

My favorite Western is Once Upon A Time in The West. It’s one of the best movies. Period. But my brother insisted I watch this movie, calling it possibly his favorite. I think he just told me that to get me to watch it. Either way, I’m glad I did.

Nobody has obvious Leone traits seeing as it was based off of one of his ideas (IMDB has it he even directed a few scenes). Even though the movie is oddly stitched together and awkwardly paced (you may find yourself wondering “Is this scene important? Does it contain vital plot points? Or is it just characters showing off?”) the movie is an exercise in character coolness and the legend of heroes. Typically, it features a famous badass gunslinger and a mysterious gunslinger who doesn’t make his intent known right away. There are lots of badguys and some greed and people acting silly. In fact, this movie plays like a spoof of a Leone flick, but in a way that treats the original source material with respect and even elevates itself to the awesomeness of that source material sometimes.

I love movies that have great character intros and take time to let those characters breathe and have fun. Yes this movie is a bit silly but why not? The characters still are excellent sharpshooters and the intrigue of who is going to get shot when, and more importantly why, is enough to keep the viewer interested. Terrence Hill churns in a delightful performance as he uses his charm to talk his way out of most situations, are intimidates through fast hands, but without ever killing (although he does sometimes). And Peter Fonda fits perfectly as the aging gunslinger who still has the skills.

All in all this movie is entirely watchable. Not among the greats, but the fun factor for those who enjoy the slowest of Westerns is enough to bring repeat viewings without feeling like you’re watching a lame rip off.

Saturday March 2nd
The Human Centipede II: The Full Sequence (Gearing up for The Human Centipede III pick!)

first had 3. second had 12. next... 100?

first had 3. second had 12. next… 100?

The Human Centipede I had some good ideas, but all in all was a pretty slow movie that really exists for the gross out factor. I’m not sure what to think of the second…

On the one hand, I kept looking at how much time was left. Nothing happens except the main dude, Martin, hitting people on the heads with a crowbar (after shooting some) and kidnapping them. That’s it. You get a small glimpse into his miserable life but not much. So what? The first hour drags on and on. But then you get to the final 30 minutes. And as Martin creates his centipede the differences of the first and second are on full display. The tagline of the first was “100% Medically Accurate” and even if its not, it approached it as such, taking time out to explain and show the medical aspects. The second one touted itself as “100% Medically INaccurate” and that is true. This movie goes crazy nuts. Violent crazy nuts. Martin is not doctor, just a fan of the first film (making the movie too narcissistic in my opinion). His version is much grosser. Instead of using anesthetic and surgeon tools he uses blunt force trauma to sedate and tool shed items to operate.

Director Tom Six said he got the idea when the press started asking if he thought anyone would ever try to duplicate what they saw on film from the first. Well here you go. This movie does function as some sick twisted fan fantasy, trying to out do the first. But that’s all it is, a fantasy. Little commentary or story happens. But if you want to have that badge of honor saying you sta through the flick (badge among horror fans, not regular people I suppose) then you’ve probably already seen it. I don’t get how people can find this too disgusting. I mean, the movie openly sets out to shock and disgust, I don’t know why people don’t just accept it and sort of put up an invisible curtain between them and the movie. Yes, slicing into knees and cutting tendons is gross but, the make up effects are expertly done so… good job?

(Spoilers!) This directly spoils the end… but the fact it WAS all a fantasy in the characters eyes is super dumb. It does explains how there are no cops involved and how he could get the actress from the first. Minor nitpicks aside (why would his own fantasy involve him getting denied the other two actors only to later get them?) it takes away from the social commentary impact. The movie is just dirty thoughts that try to up the ante while getting some sick sexual thrills from its main character. But Laurence R. Harvey does a top notch job of delivering a slobby performance that is mostly silent, save for some moans and grunts and yells. Also, the movie does look and feel super dark and gritty.

At least the second changed the approach while upping the violence. Interested to see where the third goes. Six stated when making the second it would make the first look like My Little Ponies. He succeeded. Now he’s saying the third will make the second look like a Disney film. We’ll see…

AND THE WINNER OF THE WEEK IS… (Drumroll)…

MERANTAU!

I was gonna give it to Argo because it did win the Oscar, but I’ve got three words for you… Elevator Fight Scene.

Can’t wait to see more Raid movies as well as what the cast/crew has next. Silat FTW!








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