My Week in Movies: October 15, '11

Michael Mann, 2001
This candid biographical profile of character, freedom and the power to influence stylistically invokes its entitative subject's popular mantra, "Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee." With some of Mann's most beautiful and poignant combinations of gorgeous digital cinematography in urban America (here contrasted with a third act in Zaire) and evocative contemporary music, the free-flowing yet hard-hitting "Ali" embodies without bottling what makes the insurmountable champ the icon he is and what he represents for the people in worlds of prizefighting, civil rights, and hope in general. As opposed to simply being traditionally inspirational, the film investigates what it is to inspire. Had I seen this within three or four years of its release, when I was that much more in to guzzling its brand of punch, it'd surely have joined my most beloveds alongside the comparable likes of the anti-subtle Oliver Stone's triumphant biopics "Alexander" and "The Doors", each of which I've enjoyed countless times and the former of which remains particularly precious (no discredit to Jim Morrison, of course). And who more appropriate than Mario Van Peebles to portray Brother X? Screenshots after the jump.

Chung hing sam lam (Chungking Express)
Wong Kar-wai, 1994
And here I thought I didn't know what to write about "Melancholia". Not that it and "Chungking Express" are similar at all, just that this time I'm actually not conjuring much to articulate in reaction to the effortlessly lovely, romantically poetic work of mood - the first Wong I can attest to having a wholly positive experience with. And that is what it is - a work of mood, felt more than thought about... that touches on the little, covetable moments in life shared between interchanging couples. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #025 (coming soon). Screenshots after the jump.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Werner Herzog, 2010
Herzog's uniquely atmospheric and cuttingly comical illustration of psychosis set in a tropically pastel San Diego suburb triumphs over his similar yet dull "Bad Lieutenant" oddity, conjuring a character I believe we can all, in deceptively strange ways, sympathize with, relate to and even admire... outside, y'know, the matricide. With more than five under his belt and counting, Michael Shannon has the corner market on screen crazies, and I, for one, am relieved to see someone in the spotlight unwary of being so clearly typecast. Shannon brings a validity and sense to even the least valid or sensible characters; recognizing his involvement in a project is to be sold on that project. All hail Quaker Oats.

Trolljegeren (TrollHunter)
André Øvredal, 2010
Though failing in its central cloy at realism, "TrollHunter" is easily one of the better examples of a "found footage" film I've seen. It takes even its more preposterous bits seriously enough that rumors of it being parody appear false. If it is parody, it is so subtle it makes a case for all of its ilk to be considered as much of themselves. It may not generate wonder in the fashion of "The Fourth Kind" but with a focus on restrained tension-building and original creatures coupled with the innate pleasure of road-tripping o'er new terrain - in this case Norway's deep forests and snowy mountains - it proves that "found footage" doesn't necessarily require that illusion to be worthwhile. Slap some "troll stink" on the believers and go to town. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Further first-time viewings:

Maelström - Denis Villeneuve, 2000
Fascinatingly icky and delicate, the juxtapositions and correlations of "Maleström" - some quick and cheap, some slow and intricate, all effective in the end - are the stuff "WTF" is made of. "Une très jolie histoire" indeed.

All Good Things - Andrew Jarecki, 2010
Barring an impending rewatch of "The Tree of Life", "Drive" and "Melancholia" currently lead my best-movies-of-the-year list (the top ten of which also includes "The Ides of March", for the moment) so it was about time I got to the highly recommended "All Good Things", starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. It's... equal parts Goslingy and Dunsty, I suppose, while looking decent for much of the runtime. A little patience-trying, it does feel worth having watched, for its between-the-lines plot point execution in particular.

Fā yeuhng nìhn wàh (In the Mood for Love) - Wong Kar-wai, 2000
The camerawork, specifically the precise focus placement and pulling, is often strikingly beautiful but yet again Wong has left me ice cold. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #025 (coming soon).

Kill the Irishman - Jonathan Hensleigh, 2011
It's kind of funny that the director of "The Punisher" is working with the star of "Punisher: War Zone", right? I mean, right? Is it at least funny that Ray Stevenson is looking awful Noah Emmerichy? Well, anyway, this ought to appeal to the "Boondock Saints" crowd, for what that's worth.

Portal: No Escape - Dan Trachtenberg, 2011
This shouldn't even count, really. Neither should the next one down. I don't know... I've made some (far less technically adept) fan films, myself, and I still don't even really consider them "films". They're just for fun. Then, while presenting a neat concept toying with physics from a video game I haven't played, "No Escape" misses out on all the "fun". To my understanding, the game features 100% more snide humor as opposed to the here-utilized dead serious, Nolan-esque melodrama flowing heavy in cinematic currents ("Mortal Kombat: Rebirth", anyone?).

Dark Resurrection Vol. 0 - Angelo Licata, 2011
Yes, its special effects (and its everything, I suppose) are technically superior to those of most (if not all) "fan films", even those few that give it a real college try, but there is absolute toss all to justify the time and money spent. It's like giant deleted "Star Wars" prequel scene gone horribly awry, that is if you can imagine such a thing gone even more horribly awry.

Total: 10

Rewatches (4): The Lion King (Allers & Minkoff, 1994), Resident Evil: Afterlife (W.S. Anderson, 2010), Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011) The Polar Bear King (Solum, 1991)
- Seeing "The Lion King" for the first time in so many years was an unexpectedly emotional experience during the more powerful and dialogue-free moments. The nostalgia mixed with the unadulterated Shakespearean melodrama and phenomenal soundtrack make for many a tissue-reach. It surprised me to realize how breakneck the pacing is, too. It's hardly noticeable as it's generally light as a feather, but just think about the character progression - each scene is so dense it gets its job done and then some for its wide "all audiences" demographic, yet it doesn't suffer for this like other Disney ventures such as the meat of the recent "The Princess & the Frog" do. For example, influential stooges Timon and Pumbaa only get a couple scenes before they're thrust in to battle and the credits roll, while the whole time we hardly keep tabs on the primadonna Scar, who only really reappears after his dastardly ascension once climactically confronted. Watching this with my not-quite-2-year-old daughter made it an extra special treat, as during some of the more spectacular moments she'd declare, wide-eyed, "Woah!!"
- In which I write about "Resident Evil: Afterlife" for the umpteenth time: For a while there I had sworn to never watch "Afterlife" in 2D. I broke that vow after finding a 2D-only Blu-Ray copy on sale for $9.99 on top of rationalizing that I'll probably not be capable of in-home 3D until... well, who the heck knows when. It was... an unusual experience. Almost like watching a panned and scanned version of an originally widescreen feature. The landscapes and artillery highlights suffer the most, losing their definitively W.S.-styled punch. My relatively less enthusiastic reaction to this 2D version only further proves to me that I wasn't crazy all the times I rambled on and on about how W.S.'s  astounding execution of on-set 3D technology is integral to the "Afterlife" experience. In fact, my reaction this time was much more along the lines of what I had been expecting to feel when I sat down in the early afternoon of last year's September the 10th - it's innocent fun with coolly dressed talented babes running and gunning in admirably captured slow motion, well worthy of being in the same franchise as its predecessors, in this case mainly "Apocalypse". The 2D forces one to focus that much needlessly more on the practically bare bones plotting and the, well, two-dimensionality of it all. Though not as robustly, most action set pieces to continue to stand out - primarily the centerpiece escape sequence involving the explosive rooftop skirmish and the soaking Axeman attack - and do showcase expert utilization of both CG and practical effects, respectively, the former only when necessary when it comes to enhancing the intended third dimension. Due to my previously galvanized and re-galvanized adoration of the film as a technical feat unrivaled by contemporary - or even classic - aesthetic-charged actioners, "Afterlife" in 2D still easily provides a comfy pitstop for yours truly, a die-hard fan of the "Resident Evil" movies and Milla Jovovich, but it's neutered. Incidentally, the Blu-Ray's audio peaks frequently during louder sequences. What's up with that, Sony?
- The questionably extended cut of the much-derided, boldly colorful "Green Lantern" opens with a new sequence set in 1993 when Hal Jordan is but a boy (previously glimpsed solely through sufficiently informative yet still distracting flashbacks). This introduction of characters who will only be reintroduced later clutters with a hackneyed paternal theme that goes nowhere, produced with methods so comically cookie-cutter it's difficult to predict many people not loving it. Then, I actually quite enjoy the rest of the thematically intriguing, rhythmically edited, iconically scored effects display (which, to further prove to myself the validity of my "Resident Evil: Afterlife" 3D vs. 2D observations, loses little when "flattened", and that's keeping in mind that it's the sole post-conversion I've had a positive reaction to), so what do I know. The strongest aspect is still the bond established between Ryan Reynolds' Hal and his dying predecessor, Temuera Morrison's Abin Sur - the entire film hangs on the unspoken words in their eyes, and the actors nail it. And you really prefer "X-Men: First Class", consensus? Man, you sure are silly, consensus.
- "The Polar Bear King" (AKA Kvitebjørn Kong Valemon; AKA Der eisbär konig) is almost like Parajanov's "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (AKA "The Horses of Fire")... only set in Norway and made for children.

- Wow! WTYWtD has been featured on /film's 300th Edition of Page 2! The list "The 5 Worst Movie Theater Disruptions" is highlighted four items down on the first page, just below the "Star Wars" characters alphabet and above the "Dr. Who" police box made from balloons. This is my version of Nicolas Cage's final moral from "The Weather Man", isn't it? "That's where I live. Behind Fabian Gonzalez' 'Star Wars' alphabet; okay. But in front of the 'Dr. Who' police box made from balloons. Hello, America."
- In other news, I've been following the newly commenced production of "Resident Evil: Retribution" through Milla Jovovich's Twitter account (as I did last year for "The Three Musketeers"), and although I haven't received any responses on the matter from Milla herself, one of her BFFs tweeted back at me regarding an unrelated topic. That kinda counts, right?

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