A thread for Oscaring

honorblade

For those who it’s not against their religion, here’s where we can discuss the Oscar business. Sorry for the crappy photoshop work, but it’s the idea that counts. Here are a few thoughts before this year’s awards.

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The Killer Elite

tn_thekillereliteTHE KILLER ELITE is Sam Peckinpah’s don’t-be-naive-these-covert-ops-are-happening-all-the-time thriller kinda like MUNICH. It starts with straight up perfection: a title card explaining that “This film is a work of fiction. There is no company called Communications Integrity NOR ComTeg and the thought that the C.I.A. might employ such an organization for any purpose is, of course, preposterous.”

James Caan and Robert Duvall star as Locken and Hansen, two hard-drinking, lady-loving partners who claim to have never heard of the C.I.A. even though we just saw them bomb a building. They’ve spent enough time together that they’re always singing made up songs and saying stupid jokes that seem like you had to be there. But they’re obviously having fun.

When they go to a safe house, Locken goes to take a shower and Hansen turns traitor, killing the defector they’re supposed to be protecting and then trying to cripple his partner. When he’s standing there naked with a gun pointed at him Locken doesn’t even get scared because he can only comprehend it as a joke. He really thought he knew that guy, now he’s shooting him in the shower? He never took him for a shower-shooter.
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Dying of the Light

tn_dyingofthelightDYING OF THE LIGHT is yet another troubled Paul Schrader production. The story is: it was a Schrader script that Nicolas Winding Refn almost directed with Harrison Ford and Channing Tatum as the leads, but Ford and Refn disagreed on the ending (guess who wanted a happy one?) so I guess Ford went and did COWBOYS & ALIENS and Refn did DRIVE. Then Refn became executive producer for Schrader directing it himself with the, uh, less-assured-of-a-theatrical-release team of Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin. Then after it was filmed the other producers shut out Schrader and did their own edit and scoring, so Schrader, Refn, Cage and Yelchin effectively disowned it by wearing t-shirts with the “non-disparagement” clause of their contracts that prevents them from complaining about the movie. Also cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth (2nd Unit DP of SHADOW MAN, ATTACK FORCE, FLIGHT OF FURY, AGAINST THE DARK and A GOOD MAN) wrote a righteous guest column in Variety about the producers recoloring the whole thing against his will and ruining what he and Schrader were trying to do.

We’ll get into that stuff later, but first let’s consider the Damaged Goods Cut on its own merits. It’s a flawed movie but more watchable and original than other recent basically-DTV Cage vehicles. Cage plays Evan Lake, a decorated CIA field operative who 22 years ago was tortured and had his ear mutilated by a young track-suit-wearing terrorist named Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim from the Johan Falk series). Lake refused to give up any information and was about to be executed when commandos stormed in and saved him. Now he’s kind of like their mascot. They have him give the tough guy speech to the fresh-faced new recruits, but he’s a depressed desk jockey who isn’t taken very seriously by the agency or allowed in the field. A big part of his day is trying to control or hide his shaky hand. (read the rest of this shit…)

Tampopo

tn_tampopoRemember when I wrote about the Japanese remake of UNFORGIVEN and THE LAST SAMURAI and I was talking about how great Ken Watanabe is and how I wanted to see him in more things? Well here’s a movie as far back as 1985 where he plays Gun, a stranger who drifts into town and helps out by… well, to be honest he helps a lady improve her noodle restaurant.

And actually he’s not the main guy, he’s the younger sidekick to a truck driver named Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki). He doesn’t have that much to do. But in the opening he’s reading a book about the author eating with an old man who “has studied noodles for 40 years.” The scene illustrates a long, OCD process of eating soup with steps including skimming the surface with the chopsticks “to show it affection,” moving the pork slices and dipping them into the right side for later, and then eventually picking them up and tapping them on the edge of the bowl to drain them, even apologizing to the pork. It’s ritualistic, fetishistic, doesn’t make alot of sense, but it introduces the movie’s worshipful attitude toward food. And toward whatever you choose to value during your days on earth.

As the protagonist pointed out in my book Niketown, food is something you eat and then later you shit it out. But TAMPOPO argues for getting the most out of these basic things. Executing them at the highest possible level, showing them respect, enjoying them. If we could appreciate anything as much as this old man does his bowl of soup we would be living a great life. (read the rest of this shit…)

Posse

tn_posse“You talkin bout a black KKK raid on a white town? That’s crazy!”

Recently I wrote about the Mario Van Peebles movie PANTHER, and talked a little bit about that time in the ’90s after Spike Lee hit it big and other black directors were starting to get a shot. At the same time hip hop had bled into pop music, and therefore rappers were starting to appear in movies. In the few preceding years the most respected rappers had been political or pseudo-political. Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions struck revolutionary poses, and even the so-called gangsta rappers like N.W.A. and Ice-T considered themselves rebels against the establishment (mainly the police, then the politicians above them). There had been a high commodity put on “dropping science” or “reality” and/or “positivity,” consciousness was encouraged, people had temporarily traded their gold chains for Africa medallions, were interested in reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and knowing the names of the Black Panther founders and shit like that. For a time it was at least as important to act smart and enlightened as it was to be tough. And that’s why Van Peebles was able to make PANTHER and before that, in 1993, POSSE.

About six months before POSSE was released, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic came out, and it was so undeniably good that, you know, that was the end of that. But before Van Peebles knew that visions of blunts would be bouncing on hydraulics in our heads he made a western for the Knowledge Reigns Supreme era.

There’s a couple reasons why this fits into the trend. One of them is that about a quarter of the cowboys in the old west were black. TV and movies make it seem like it was a hundred white guys for every Cowboy Curtis or Lord Bowler, and Van Peebles wanted to correct that. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wild at Heart

tn_wildatheartSailor Ripley is the character who was born for Nicolas Cage to play. He’s the ultimate bad boy who you wouldn’t bring home to your parents, an old timey hoodlum ex-con, self-conscious about his rebellious image, and obsessed with Elvis, who he calls “E” for short. He talks like him, combs his hair kind of like him, sings his love songs only at important romantic milestones. He and his young girlfriend Lula (Laura Dern) love to dance together, and at one point they pull their Thunderbird convertible to the side of the highway, play heavy metal and dance, which to him mostly means jumping around doing karate kicks and punches. They don’t have to discuss that they’re going to do this, so you gotta assume it’s one of their regular activities.

Sailor wears a snakeskin jacket, which he proudly says on more than one occasion “represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” He’s a self-professed “robber and a manslaughterer” and hasn’t “had any parental guidance.” He started smoking when he was “about four,” and cigarette brand loyalty seem to be one tradition he and Lula inherit from their parents. He knows many unsavory characters from his time as an underworld driver, including Lula’s mother Marietta Fortune (Dern’s real life mother Diane Ladd), who is so serious about keeping Sailor away from her daughter that she takes a hit out on him. She’s also so wicked that she frequently goes on cackling jags and is several times depicted as the WIZARD OF OZ witch, flying on a broom or watching them in a crystal ball. (read the rest of this shit…)

Frankenstein’s Army

tn_frankensteinsarmyLooking to get a fake Stalin-era propaganda anthem stuck in your head forever? The FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY menu, opening and end credits are here to help! This low budget, high on practical effects English language Dutch-American-Czech production tells a simple story about a group of Soviet soldiers who encounter a Nazi scientist’s enclave of steampunk zombie cyborg monsters. And that’s about it.

Tbfh (to be frankly honest) I don’t really get this fascination with adding Nazis to zombies or aliens or mad scientists or whatever. I’m not against it, I just can’t really relate to the people that get so excited for IRON SKY or DEAD SNOW or whatever. I think maybe genre + swastika is shorthand for ’40s pulp aesthetic. And it seems like it’s usually these low budget grassroots people dealing with period detail and style that they can’t really pull off convincingly. This one does better than many I think, even if it has HELLBOY’s Karl Roden in it to remind you how not-fresh the Nazi/Russian/mad science triangle is.
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The Return of Florentine and Adkins

Ha ha, that’s how you make a teaser. I think that tells us everything we need to know, other than the release date. Also, it looks like somebody’s been watching the RAID movies.

Nick Chinlund (CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK) is also in the cast. The fight choreographer/coordinator is Jeremy Marinas, who was a stunt double for two of the ninja turtles. He was also in Jon M. Chu’s LXD: THE LEGION OF EXTRAORDINARY DANCERS series, so he must be a dancer.  Co-writer Chad Law wrote the pretty decent William Kaufman/Cuba Gooding Jr. DTV movies THE HIT LIST and ONE IN THE CHAMBER.

hat tip to Papa Vinyard at the Ain’t It Cool News

The Hobbit Presents The Battle of the Five Armies: a 3D Imax Obligation

tn_hobbit3I saw BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES about 5 weeks after it came out and finished this review a couple weeks later, so you can see I had higher movie-going-and-discussing priorities than the thrilling conclusion to the prequel to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. But honestly I did go to it of my own accord. After somewhat enjoying part 2 as a dumb spectacle with some good sequences I was kind of in the mood for that again and wanted to be sure to catch it before it left 3D.

(technical notes: I avoided high frame rate so it wouldn’t look like somebody’s home wedding video. I ended up with digital 3D “Imax,” which is on the giant screen but noticeably lower resolution than standard digital projection. So it’s got pluses and minuses)

If you’re like me you have almost no memory of what happened in the other two installments or what the names of any of the characters are, but you do remember the setup for part 3: Smowg, the greedy capitalistic dragon of Desolation Mountain, was awoken from his treasure-slumber and raging toward the man-village, puking deadly flame breath every which way, getting ready to roast some fuckin humans and Godzilla some buildings. Just step on some guys and bite off their heads and all that kind of dragon shit. This is the big screen dragon attack we’ve been waiting for ever since Guillermo Del Toro signed onto THE HOBBIT six years ago, and especially since the cliffhanger ending of part 2 one year ago.

I mean I am shitting myself you guys because THIS IS GONNA BE FUCKIN CRAZY!  The Baggin’ and Toe-taggin’ of the Dragon. The Shakedown in Laketown. The motherfuckin climax of the greatest most epicest trilogy of all time, “THE END OF AN ERA” according to the ads and posters.

That’s the pre-credits sequence. The archery guy from FURIOUS 6 and his kid kill the dragon pretty easily at the very beginning of the movie. The end. (read the rest of this shit…)

Jupiter Ascending

tn_jupiterascendingFirst of all, I’d like to thank the Wachowskis for their unprecedented run of crazy, idiosyncratic big budget studio genre movies, and wish them luck in whatever their new vocation is.

I love the Wachowskis without reservation. BOUND is alot of fun and THE MATRIX is a brilliant sci-fi action classic and then everything they’ve made since then has been messier and crazier. But for them to make sane movies would be a waste of their talent. They can keep pushing the envelopes of special effects technology and storytelling technique as long as they also keep challenging the limits of what a studio can sink hundreds of millions of dollars into. And while I understand some of the disappointment in the MATRIX sequels, I also think that most of it comes from people wanting them to just do the same exact shit again. To me those movies are brimming with excitement about which unexpected turn they can make while also continuing to top themselves in action spectacle.

And then they got to make SPEED RACER. And they must’ve suspected that wasn’t gonna light the world on fire. They are heroes.

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy their new sci-fi-fantasy joint JUPITER ASCENDING like I did the MATRIXes or SPEED RACER, and didn’t intellectually admire it as much as CLOUD ATLAS. It has way less ambition than that one and a little more boredom. I can respect that it’s something that nobody else would ever make, or want to make, or want to have made. It’s ballsy in how shamelessly corny it is. But it’s a shame that their worst one by far will be their last. (I’m assuming. After this many big budget flops in a row you gotta figure they’ll be washing dishes at Warner Brothers until they’ve worked off their debt.) (read the rest of this shit…)