3.31.2011

My Month in Review: March '11

Die Geschichte vom weinenden Kamel (The Story of the Weeping Camel)
Davaagiin Byambasüren & Luigi Falorni, 2003
AKA "Tears of the Camel". A visual 101 of nomadic family units and Mongolian society, economics and agriculture in general as well as a gently affecting interspecies parent/child tale, So much is to be drawn from this fascinatingly realized film floating somewhere between dramatization and a documentary's actuality of the now (ambiguous ground on which I gather Byambasüren prefers to operate). The occasionally indefinite composite of pure authenticity and cinéma vérité does not once undermine the calmly set-back lens through which we view our story. I've always found a striking beauty in the aesthetics of Mongolian culture set against the barren Gobi, and "Weeping Camel" certainly captures as much. An instant favorite.

Uchu kara no messeji (Message from Space)
Kinji Fukasaku, 1978
In a month filled with lazily selected cinema such as Asian action from forum-based recommendation threads and early Space Age sci-fi from the complacency-inducing convenience of Netflix Instant, "Message from Space" reaches wacky extremes by combining the stalwart way of the samurai with the roguish adventure of "Star Wars". Featuring probably the most preposterous deep space science (or lack thereof) I've yet seen, the colorful blend of Japanese and American ideals is an exciting blast from beginning to end.

Ma Yongzhen
Chang Cheh & Hsueh Li Pao, 1972
AKA "The Boxer From Shantung". I now know the answer to that notoriously eternal conundrum: what if "The Three Musketeers" became a classic professional fighter/gangster tragedy produced by Shaw Brothers? Chang's efficient combustion of choreography and cinematography clearly plants seeds for recent action genre game-changers such as Wilson Yip and the Wachowskis. Also notable is the opposite - ascertainable skirmishes often commence to be immediately panned away from, the hidden being comparable to the depicted and in equivalence with our lead's initially perpetual smirk. Quieter moments are spellbindingly framed through an extreme foreground. This all gradually gives way to exponentially engrossing and eventually Shakespearean sequences that highlight oppositional nuance as our lead is weighted by dishonorable street-level imperialism, faces the probability of his chosen fate and asks his enemies to say "hello" to his little five-fingered friends. A seriously excellent film.

Tsogt Taij (Prince Tsogt)
T. Khurlee, 1945)
This sprawling Mongolian history lesson told from Mongolian vantage, covering the conflict between Mongol nationalists ("red hats") and invading Tibetan Buddhists ("yellow hats"), was produced as most (if not all) films from the distinctive Eastern country once were and as was the country itself at the time - under Soviet supervision. Is the result thereby socialist? Could it contrarily be anti-socialist through cryptic subtext? Considering the date of production, does it suggest anti-fascism? Or is it just a good, important, "Alexander Nevsky"-esque biography of a Khan? It may be a little dry and at 155 minutes a little trying, but through intriguingly USSR-influenced structure and appearance not a single scene is worth missing.

The Other Guys
Adam McKay, 2010
I struggle to recall the last time I laughed this hard with a movie. Will Ferrell, particularly when paired with writer/director Adam McKay, has been a source of annoyance ever since "Anchorman" but here he's a brilliant combination of my two favorite characters of his, Steve Butabi from "A Night at the Roxbury" and Marshal Willenholly from "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back". McKay has even stepped up his game in mending everything that went overboard about "Step Brothers" and dialing in to a truly uproarious zone from beginning to end. Without being out-and-out spoof, the proceedings seem conceived as a series of buddy cop cliché-benders, making what was already a surefire recipe for hilarity that much richer. Supporting cast member and hey-we-don't-see-him-enough-anymore guy Michael Keaton is of added note as he draws perhaps the best belly laughs of the outing.

Take Me Home Tonight
Michael Dowse, 2011
In the spirit of Richard Linklater's "Dazed & Confused" and George Lucas' "American Graffiti", "Take Me Home Tonight" is immersed in nostalgia for the iconic music and fashions of an era past, in this case the late 1980s (though a goulash of early '80s and even early '90s also shows face). Unlike last year's criminally referential "Easy A" it embodies the late '80s coming-of-age comedy, revering what may now be considered kitch without breaching overly-exploitative "Definitely, Maybe" territory. In this regard it falls in line perhaps the most with Nanette Burstein's "Going the Distance". Read the full review.

Paul
Greg Mottola, 2011
"Paul" builds its occasionally abrupt but nevertheless successful plot points around our vivid memories of [Spielberg's] five tones at Devils Tower, E.T.'s abandonment and the like. Interwoven are allusions to Spielberg-produced fare such as "Back to the Future" and "Men in Black" alongside proudly geeky references to "Blade", "Flash Gordon", Stars both "Trek" and "Wars" and several comic books, primarily those of Robert Kirkman ("Invincible", "Brit", etcetera). There's even a "Duel" plug in there if you keep your eyes peeled. "Paul", however, is more than a nerd-service parody of Hollywood's indelible extra-terrestrials; it is a commemoration of them that mounts humorous and endearing originality atop their achievements. Read the full review.



Morning Glory
Roger Michell, 2010
A sharp, cute and perfectly pleasant way to spend an evening assisted by a vibrant rainbow of mostly comical performances and some nice cinematography. A worthy companion piece of sorts to Michell's prior "Venus" what with its interesting (if ultimately smarmy and less explored) companionship between a weathered gentleman and a spry, young woman. Plus, the television station is called IBS. I mean, c'mon, that's funny.

Ren zhe wu di (Five Element Ninjas)
Chang Cheh, 1982
Sacrificially honorable, epically sideburned ninjas indulge in insanely choreographed, hilariously title card-laden weapon-offs against masked ninjas way too cool to have honor (but assuredly have epic sideburns beneath their masks). I dig. If one thing can be seen clearly through Chang's continued use of beguiling foreground framing, it's that ninjas make the best chicken wranglers.


Peau d'âne (Donkey Skin)
Jacques Demy, 1970
Royal gaudiness is taken to billowing extremes as superbly saucy performances carry this impishly humorous and openly perverse fairy tale.

MacGruber
Jorma Taccone, 2010
"MacGruber" reaches its best when cueing from its title character and taking itself super-duper seriously. Through emulating a proper action film it parodies blockbusters and television programming of the late 20th century - while being damn funny in its own right - about as subtly as a poop joke walking away from an explosion can manage. As the special agent with disinformed trailer park solutions to the nation's biggest problems and an epic taste in music, Will Forte commands self-adulatory confidence in his fulsome stupidity worthy of ranking alongside Jim Carrey's in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective". Through synonymous balls-to-the-wall comedy and bloody action, "MacGruber" is always in high gear, a reliably thorough piece of entertainment with considerable, shock-induced belly-laughs. It's no "Night at the Roxbury", but through uncompromising production values and sheer gusto for the absurd, it may just surpass "The Ladies' Man" as my second-favorite SNL-inspired feature. Recommended by Derninan as part of "The Corrierino Film Orgy & Robin". View my full reaction.


Further first-time viewings, continued in order of preference:

Due Date - Todd Phillips, 2010
Phillips is rather an accumulative director, no? I mean to say his newer films play on the successes of their priors. Where "Due Date" is by and large a new "Planes, Trains & Automobiles", it is also very much, for better and for worse, respectively, "Road Trip" meets "The Hangover" (and I don't mean that just plot-wise). It is also, for the most part, transparent, in that we can see beyond its every horizon; behind its every scene. For its core purpose of entertainment, this isn't all that problematic. I'm glad the long-deserving Robert Downey Jr. has been successful in recent years for his character acting and practically proud that Zach Galafianakis, the once small-time comedian whom I first "met" on "Comedy Central Presents" in 2001, is now a bonafide movie star. The two work swell together with a French bulldog along for their wild ride providing the same innocently balancing omniscience that any animal (or baby, really, as parts of "The Hangover" even prove) would. In the end, a simple, good time is to be had.

Arthur 2: On the Rocks - Bud Yorkin, 1988
Deals with wealth and poverty more than its predecessor, whose focus leans somewhat more toward growing up post-aging, and wraps up about the same for better or for worse. Some questionable turns are navigated in act three and the (consistent) laughs are slightly fewer and far between, so as is the common cry, yes, "Arthur 2: On the Rocks" is no "Arthur", but for what it's worth I was well-entertained for two hours without complaint.

The Chaperone - Stephen Herek, 2010
What can I say? I just really like Triple H. I'll honestly watch him in anything. In fact, he's the only reason I still every great once in a while switch on "Monday Night Raw". Likewise, he's the only reason I watched this and subsequently the main reason I got enjoyment out of doing so. Apart from that, though, this is solid family entertainment with a nice, driving father/daughter story and a deftly balanced plethora of amusing subplots.

Jack the Giant Killer - Nathan Juran, 1962
To make what could be a detailed diatribe brief, Nathan Juran's and Augie Lohman's "Jack the Giant Killer" is almost scene-for-scene, monster-for-monster and Kerwin-for-Kerwin a blatant rip-off of the great "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad". Harryhausen this may not be, but even a rip-off of something like "Seventh Voyage" is a good time. The finale in particular is excitingly epic and I'm sure many scenes preceding it would have easily terrified me as a boy.

The Thing with Two Heads - Lee Frost, 1972
A zanily hilarious lark.

The Big Show: A Giant's World - Kevin Dunn, 2011
I know this is silly before I get into it, but in 2006 I met who I've long considered one of the most selflessly dedicated professional wrestlers on the WWE roster, The Big Show (Paul Wight)... and made a fool of myself. I used to take care of the massive man's like-sized dogs at a Tampa vet clinic and had met his wife and daughter but didn't expect to meet him until one day his voice boomed from behind me, "I'm here to pick up Princess and Diva." I didn't know what to say, so I made a brick-headed crack about his latest match which I had just happened to catch (My regular viewership ceased in 2001). Without making eye contact he coarsely replied to the effect of, "It's just TV, kid." Now, this is fair. He just wanted to pick up his pets, not make some public appearance, and little starstruck me just had to call him out. Still, I still couldn't help but think "Wow, The Big Show was just a jerk to me." In this hour-long documentary that glimpses life as a giant without becoming an A&E wannabe and shows no fear keeping the written/choreographed nature of pro wrestling in plain view, Show states, "I meet wonderful people all over the world. Yeah, I meet a few jerks here and there. I'm sure sometimes I'm a jerk, too. I'm human!" Hearing that was therapeutic.

Wrong Side of Town - David DeFalco, 2010
If a new-millennium Jack Horner, Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild took up professional wrestling instead of narrative pornography then adapted a 1990s arcade beat-'em-up, it might turn out like "Wrong Side of Town" (think "Angels Live in My Town" with 50% more muscle, 75% more camera set-ups and 100% less sex). So yeah, for the cheap and easy late night, don't-feel-like-watching-anything-too-serious fare this one is, I found it engaging and well worth the while.

Jack Goes Boating - Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2010
A bittersweet (stress on the "sweet") yarn of nervous yet determined love in an alarming and mercilessly capitalist world.

RoboGeisha - Noboru Iguchi, 2009
So, so nutty. Has to be seen to be believed. I was ready to write off as vile these berserk new Japanese actioners after Yoshihiro Nishimura's "Tokyo Gore Police" but this provided a silly-good time. I just wish the characters weren't compelled to dictate the action with lines like "I'm going to get cut, I'm going to get cut!", "My face is melting, my face is melting!!" and, of course, "Shuriken are coming out of their asses!!!"

All American Orgy - Andrew Drazek, 2009
AKA "Cummings Farm". A great set-up any paint-by-numbers slasher would envy (three couples retreat to a ranch on a lake to drink, take drugs and bang) goes to waste in yet another film obsessing too much with the wrenches that get tossed into its gears as opposed to letting those gears turn out an interesting exploration of, in this case, an idea that temporary mutual polygamy involving acquaintances might refresh respective monogamy. Still, that set-up... those (fairly) unique and (more or less) realistic character dynamics! For about thirty to forty-five minutes there I was impressed.

Xanadu - Robert Greenwald, 1980
Features a couple memorably delightful if silly and undercooked musical interludes. Then there's the drippy picture's dragging remainder.

The Food of the Gods - Bert I. Gordon, 1976
A fun monster entry in American International's vast catalogue of entertainment-first offerings with neat enough effects (which might have been neater with some forced perspective) and a premise inspired by the naturally more in-depth H.G. Wells book.

Birdemic: Shock & Terror - James Nguyen, 2008
Everything you've heard and... well, I'm not sure "better" is the term I'm searching for so "more" will have to do. Wow.

3 dev adam (3 Mighty Men) - T. Fikret Uçak, 1973
AKA "3 Giant Men". No subtitles, but it didn't matter. Spider-Man is a ruthless gangster with Captain America and a luchador on his tail. 'Nuff said, Turkish believer!

See No Evil - Gregory Dark, 2006
Atmospheric enough for a brief evening excursion, this brutal flick is a fair offering to the slasher world. I would say it suffers from Kane's not-so-scariness, but as much as I love the likes of Jason Voorhees and Harry Warden, only one of their ilk, Michael Myers, has ever actually frightened me so Kane more or less falls in line with the horde.

The Time Traveler's Wife - Robert Schwentke, 2009
It's tough to tell a time travel story ignoring the space-time continuum. "The Time Traveler's Wife" tries and fails. There's a great movie in here - a few plot tweaks, a little narrative re-ordering and bam, there's a movie I'd really, truly, absolutely love to see - but this isn't it. Though nicely presented, what lingers on screen is comically nonsensical, obnoxiously confusing and occasionally pedophelic.

Rango - Gore Verbinski, 2011
Straight out of the gate "Rango" is unafraid to be strange, though it does soon cower back to motions of wide appeal. Director Gore Verbinski knows well how to weird out movie-goers by playing with expectation and molding environments on whim, but his practices here are weighted in favor of general audiences. Where we have a modest handful of surreal sequences in line with and often identical to Davy Jones' locker in Verbinski's "Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End", the picture is moreover an underwhelming investment in what should be relegated to sub-plot status. You see, once our lead lizard assumes his title role, he's launched into a ruckus over a drought imposed by any number of unsavory suspects. This thread exists as a path to the overarching internal journey's fulfillment, but just like Rango becoming caught up in his performance as a wild west sheriff, the film gets caught in what is ultimately inconsequence. Read the full review.

Monarch of the Moon - Richard Lowry, 2004
An accurate send-up of American WWII-times serials a la "King of the Rocket Men". Digital film rendered black and white is bothersome when attempting mimicry of silent-era pictures, but I got past it for the sake of some giggles.

The Killing Machine - Dolph Lundgren, 2010
AKA "Icarus". A terrible, horrible, no good yet very awesome-by-default shoot-'em-up starring Dolph Lundgren, directed by Dolph Lundgren and essentially about how cool Dolph Lundgren is.

Sex Galaxy - Mike Davis, 2008
Follows "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" and "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" in re-dubbing aging "B"-movies. Takes things a step further by juxtaposing different films to create an especially irreverent story. While humorous, "Sex Galaxy" also follows its mentioned predecessors in its failure to escape inherent immaturity.

Dubei dao (The One-Armed Swordsman) - Chang Cheh, 1967
Not super bad, just super boring.

Ben & Arthur - Sam Mraovich, 2003
Only relatively favored in the lesser portion of this list for its unintentional hilarity. Otherwise, it's not even on par with a first-time, budget-free student film. Imposed by Derninan as part of "Korrierinorgy Kombat: Tournament Edition", Round One. View my reaction in the style of a homophobe dictating a telegram.

Unstoppable - Tony Scott, 2010
Believe me, I love that Scott opts for practicals over CG even in the face of 60-70 MPH diesel freight trains, but if you've seen the great, Jay Pharoah-led "Saturday Night Live" diminishment, you've basically seen the whole, already pretty darn diminished thing and you've seen it more coherent and exciting. All that's been left out of SNL's accurately few-note send-up is a script-load of train jargon and "assholes" and a lame corporate subplot. As quickly as Denzel's take-it-as-read infallibility and annoyingly overdramatic line repetition gets old, Scott runs out of camera set-ups and spends the film's entirety repeating shots over and over and over on the same line of track with an abundance of extraneous snap-zooms. Only when the frame comes to rest are its images in any way striking, though they hardly warrant must-see status. If one good thing can be said, it's that the runaway train's subtle development as an almost cognizant monster is... well, it is.

Me & Orson Welles - Richard Linklater, 2008
What gives, Linklater? You make far better movies than this. I mean, everyone has their "lessers" (and I haven't seen "Bad News Bears") but this is a choppy bore. Sure, some of the lengthier mobile takes' blocking is notable and sparse hints of your glorious early efforts do lurk, but it all amounts to instantly forgotten nil.

Im Staub der Sterne (In the Dust of the Stars) - Gottfried Kolditz, 1978
Could use light-years more groovy space-dancing, though in spite of its overriding plainness I do admire its attempts to mimic the onboard soundscapes of "2001: A Space Odyssey".

Battle: Los Angeles - Jonathan Liebesman, 2011
A quick Google search tells me "militarysploitation" doesn't exist anywhere this side of the Internet. Oh, forget aliens. The only reason aliens exist in "Battle: Los Angeles" is to excuse a practically nonstop barrage of semi-automatic artillery fire amidst constant barks of "Ooh-rah" and other Marine Corps jargon. So if militarysploitation is not yet a defined sub-sub-genre (and just so we're clear, I don't mean propaganda), may I coin the term? Read the full review.

Dni zatmeniya (Days of Eclipse) - Aleksandr Sokurov, 1988
After five Sokurovs I feel confident saying I don't particularly care for the guy's work. I actually mostly liked "The Sun" and "The Second Circle" in the end, "Russian Ark" has its obvious merits and "Mother & Son" and this one occasionally look nice, but what a chore they all can be. Specifically regarding "Days of Eclipse", an obituary for Soviet patriotism at the end of the USSR (from what I gather, anyway), well, just like most of the others mentioned it leaves one with little to say. I feel, just like I feel about "Russian Ark", that one must be Russian to properly appreciate it. I'm still interested in "Taurus" and "Moloch" but... well, we'll see.

Invasion of the Star Creatures - Bruna VeSota, 1962
Attempts to conquer Abbott & Costello/Martin & Lewis/Three Stooges/Benny Hill/Marx Brothers ground but with an injured funny bone it's down for the count at every punchline.

The Fast & the Furious - Rob Cohen, 2001
I knew there was a reason I had been avoiding this obnoxiously detestable, instantly dated carsploitation flick for nigh a decade. The surprisingly exciting trailers for the upcoming "Fast Five" finally made me take a peek and, yeah, that lasted about 20 minutes. So I may not have given the full feature a fighting chance, but what I saw still isn't worse than the two titles below.

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie - Rod Amateau, 1987
Not quite as disgusting as it sets out to be, but every bit as awful as it could have been and worse. Imposed by Oaktown as part of "Korrierinorgy Kombat: Tournament Edition", Round Two. View my reaction in the style of Short Round and Rachel Ferrier (from "Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom" and "War of the Worlds", respectively) discussing how they relate to the movie without using the letters M, A, R or K.

Grown Ups - Dennis Dugan, 2010
I think I watched this to see if it'd be any worse than Dugan and Sandler's more recent "Just Go With It". Worst. Idea. Ever. Well, maybe not worse than giving in to mild curiosity and watching "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" last month. This sallow turd may be the definition of buzzkill in spite of a lack of buzz to be killed. A soundtrack of REO Speedwagon, Bob Seger and Bad Company can't elevate dreck this dull from its drift-inducing muck, though I suppose it is moderately surprising that many high-profile artists are featured as Sandler seems to prefer highlighting one big band per film (Styx in "Mr. Deeds", The Police in "Just Go With It" and Bruce Springsteen in, uh, something else better off forgotten).


Total first-time viewings: 42

Note:
- I also viewed 14 more animated shorts to complete my "Glimpse in to Animated Soviet Propaganda" series. Though deserving as any film is, last month I excluded such titles in the full list since they would have added 22 on top of an already unusually high 54 other first-time viewings and besides, I'd already ranked/described each in their own respective posts. For consistency or posterity or something, this month I am doing the same. View my reactions to these films and my conclusion to the series as a whole.

Rewatches (14 total):
The Story of the Weeping Camel (Byambasüren, 2003), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968), Ultraviolet (Wimmer, 2006), Hall Pass (Farrelly & Farrelly, 2011), 2010: The Year We Make Contact (Hyams, 1984), Silent Hill (Gans, 2006), Zombieland (Fleischer, 2009), Dragonfly (Shadyac, 2002), Underworld: Evolution (Wiseman, 2006), Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Tatopoulos, 2009), Ransom (Howard, 1996), Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (Harvey, 2004), Coyote Ugly (McNally, 2000), Dog Soldiers (Marshall, 2002)

- I had forgotten the dryness of the dialogue-driven exposition in the segment of "2001: A Space Odyssey" between "The Dawn of Man" and "Jupiter Mission" (referred to on Wikipedia as "TMA-1", an abbreviation of the lunar monolith's human-given title, Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One). After so many rewatches all the talking just seems too insignificant to last as long as it does. The intellectual and cinematographic beauty of all else, however, still brings a tear to my eye. From dawn to dawn, conception to evolution, error to perfection.
- Initially I gave it a poor review but "Ultraviolet" quickly became a secret pleasure before I finally, happily accepted that I more or less love it. Its incompetence glares in certain areas and its Cameron Bright-ness annoys in others but with the exception of only one scene it is visually and attitudinally like nothing else I've seen. I won't get in to describing it here for I'll go on entirely too long, but check out these 33 screenshots from the opening 25 minutes. The symmetry, the crazy designs, the odd focus filter... just... wow. All in all it's aesthetically more "Æon Flux" than Karyn Kusama's 2005 adaptation of Peter Chung's television masterpiece.
- Being on the heels of a "2001" rewatch, my second viewing of "2010: The Year We Make Contact" revealed the follow-up's inadequacies more blatantly. I still hold that on its own, separated from (though still reliant on) its incomparable predecessor, "2010" is solid and engaging - even in several aesthetic ways clearly inspired by "2001". Its somewhat stricter basis in Arthur C. Clarke's writing is particularly considerable here, as the development process was completely different and without Kubrick's painstakingly thorough mind. Portions of it feel lazy and even over-dramatically silly when inevitably held up against the first film. While this hardly ruins experiences to be had with either work, it does inflict inherent damage to the latter. Also, I'm still suspicious that James Cameron ripped off significant portions of "2010" for "The Abyss" (not that that would be a bad thing).
- "Zombieland", to what really shouldn't be my surprise, works way better as a late night television creature feature than a film proper. A backhanded compliment, yeah, but it was unexpectedly nice to be able to enjoy the flick after loathing it so much on a first go-'round.
- Oh, the movies I tolerate while sharing living quarters. Well, my love of the "Underworld" sequels is fairly documented and "Dragonfly" is a guilty pleasure (though I don't actually believe in that term), but "Coyote Ugly" and "Dog Soldiers" are hardly watchable. The latter is poor even compared to Neil Marshall's subsequent efforts, yet I've now seen it twice. I can speak somewhat more highly of "Ginger Snaps Back" and "Ransom". Er... uh... yeah, somewhat.

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