My Week #44: Lockout; Mongolian Ping Pong; The Raid; In Time

James Mather & Stephen St. Leger, 2012
Luc Besson strikes again! "Lockout" is a pure "B"-movie delight, right at home with '80s and '90s action classics such as "Die Hard", "Air Force One" and, yeah, "Escape from New York". Guy Plissken-- I mean, Pearce, isn't quite Kurt Russell, but he gets the job done nicely in the role of a character fluent in the language of snark. His name? Snow. Some other character names are Hawk and Mace. Awesome, right? Sure, regard for basic science is out the airlock with sequences of cryogenically frozen prisoners awakening (from stasis that negates the rehabilitative potential of incarceration) and becoming fully alert and mobile within seconds before going nuts with traditional firearms inside pressure-controlled space vessels, though if you're caught up on that you're missing the fun. From where I'm sitting what we have here is a sexy-looking and quotable ("Here's an apple") modern action standout that hits the notes it needs to succeed with gusto. Some punches may be pulled for the sake of a PG-13 rating, and are more noticeable than the same in Besson's "Colombiana" (which prospered from the "pulls" by accentuating the lead's dauntingly stealthy presence), but this does not compromise the full experience.

Lü cao di (Mongolian Ping Pong)
Hao Ning, 2005
In what feels like a slightly more accessible mix between Brosens' "State of Dogs" and Byambasüren's "The Cave of the Yellow Dog" (with maybe a little of "The Stars Caravan" tossed in for good measure), "Mongolian Ping Pong" observes nomadic Mongolian life with a unique hook, and enjoys gorgeous cinematography with plenty of culturally intriguing highlights to boot. I cannot say it is as strong or memorable as either of those works, the masterful former in particular, but of what I consider the second tier Mongolian films I have seen it is likely the best, and at the very least provides some cinematic fleshing out for what is such a fascinating region of earth and humanity. Of note, regarding the title: Obviously "Lü cao di" (Chinese) does not literally translate to "Mongolian Ping Pong". Through Google Translate, the closest translation I can find is "Green Grass". Almost coincidental, as "Mongolian Ping Pong" vaguely reminded me of the more recent Montana-based "Sweetgrass", which against all odds I actually did not much care for.

Further first-time viewings:

Serbuan maut (The Raid) - Gareth Evans, 2011
What a disappointment. Well, alright, it's actually pretty okay. It does, however, take too long and inconsequential a while to get going, peak in the middle then drag in its final act, offering a little of the style I crave in these sorts of films and relying more on monotonous shaky-cam nonsense. I figured such a martial arts-heavy film would relish opportunities to really show off the physical craft of its performers rather than rely more on blurs and graceless handheld cinematography. Being story-lite is fine, but even "Act of Valor" (my new go-to bad movie reference) has more story to justify its action than "The Raid". Again, overall it's pretty okay. That peak in the middle is inspired and even bordering on superficially exhilarating at times. More is required, however, to create a full-fledged film rather than something on the level of an arm's-length YouTube phenomenon with highlights better off seen in a compilation reel than in a full feature that screeches to a halt any time someone's not getting punched, kicked, stabbed, sliced, shot or DDTed. The stretches of quality are practically groundless, littered with poor attempts at a bigger picture and sandwiched between tedious and tiring opening and closing acts.

Love Streams - John Cassavetes, 1984
There are directors who use actors as tools, there are "actor's directors", and then there is John Cassavetes, who seems solely concerned with actors and barely anything more. Widely unremarkable camerawork and a story merely concerned with rote family drama does not a compelling cinematic experience make. Gena Rowlands always seems to play a version of the same character, but she's damn good at it. Through Cassavetes' obsessive focus on her the film sees potential redemption, but ultimately fails to generate a satisfying experience.

In Time - Andrew Niccol, 2011
Starting as a harmless sci-fi excursion that, although never bothered to justify its lofty concept or that concept's basic mechanics, is perfectly sufficient on technical levels, "In Time" relishes cheaply imagined gadgetry and simple action, eventually becoming an insufferable, implausible bore that tries to get a pass by adding "Ktchsss" sound effects when car doors open. The boiled-down allegory for contemporary economic woes - particularly regarding the world's needy - could be intriguing yet instead it comes off as just silly. I'd like to say this whole premise could have served better as backstory to a more interesting Robin Hood type tale, but... well, if accomplished similarly such a tale would not really be all that interesting at all, would it?

Total: 5

Rewatches (4): Wrath of the Titans (Liebesman, 2012); Bender's Big Score (Carey-Hill, 2007); Bender's Game (Carey-Hill, 2008); Into the Wild Green Yonder (Avanzino, 2009)

Episodic Television (2): South Park (HUMANCENTiPAD; Ass Burgers; Bass to Mouth; Butterballs); Dark Shadows (Episode 210)
- I feel like "South Park", of which I've somehow seen every episode of through season 14, has grown too tedious for its own good. I just don't enjoy it anymore.

Episodic Television Rewatches (2): Parks & Recreation (The Telethon - Go Big or Go Home); Futurama (Crimes of the Hot - The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings)

Literature (1): Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America (Leslie Knope, 2011)

"My Week in Movies" is a Saturdaily column in which I share preferentially ranked capsule reviews for the films I view in, well, a week, along with thoughts on other forms of media I'm taking in (or masochistically subjecting myself to).