Summer Movie(s) 31, 32, & 33 (Bluray collection edition) – Mad Max, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (George Miller, 1979, 1982, & 1985): I marathoned through the whole trilogy today. Since I just reviewed these last year, I’m going to keep this short. The bluray transfer of “Mad Max” is beautiful given that they had to be dealing with awful prints. I think this movie is more intelligible with the original Australian voices than the dubbed American ones used for the first release here. In “The Road Warrior” I’d never noticed that Max and the Feral Kid have identical streaks in their hair. Although in terms of production values the third movie dwarfs the others, I also think it is the weakest of them. The first two movies feature an odd rough camera style that is missing in the more polished third. The first two have a certain style that says they are products of the early Australian exploitation film industry. The third is smoother, but less interesting to watch.
Summer Movie(s) 34, 35, 36 (colon-related insomnia edition) – Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen (Steven Soderbergh, 2001, 2004, & 2007): No major insights came to me while re-visiting this series. Ocean’s Eleven is comfort viewing for me. I love it and watching it makes me feel better when I’m upset or depressed. I know this is heresy to many, but I consider it a better film in almost ever regard than the 1960 original (although I have much love for that movie as well). Ocean’s Twelve I disliked in the theater and hadn’t watched since that initial viewing. I bought the dvd simply because I am a somewhat obsessive completist when it comes to movie and TV series. I have to say that, while I still consider it the weakest of the offerings, I feel more forgiving of its flaws and more appreciative of its virtues from this second viewing. I still think it is overly complicated, rather self-indulgent, and suffers mightily from not being set in Las Vegas. However, it is fun in many ways and the performances are still good. Ocean’s Thirteen is a movie I enjoyed and which I almost always watch after a viewing of the first movie. Since I had only watched the second once, I hadn’t made several of the connections it makes with the third film. Also, I just really like Ellen Barkin.
Summer Movie(s) 37, 38, 39 (inspired by playing Jagged Alliance 2 edition) – Dark of the Sun (Jack Cardiff, 1968); The Wild Geese (Andrew V. McLaglen, 1978); The Dogs of War (John Irvin, 1980): Along with my copies of “Zulu” and “Zulu Dawn”, I like to call these my “White People’s Problems in Africa” collection. Dark of the Sun, and action-adventure story set during the Congo Crisis and starring Rod Taylor as a mercenary, is hands down the best of these films and the most grounded in some sense of reality. It was condemned at the time for its extreme violence, but by modern standards it is really not shocking at all. This film is a favorite of Martin Scorsese (who calls it a “guilty pleasure”) and Quentin Tarantino, who used portions of its score (an interesting jazz composition) for “Inglorious Basterds” (where he also had Rod Taylor in a cameo as Winston Churchill). The Wild Geese was a big-budget action adventure story starring Richard Burton and Richard Harris at the height of their alcoholism and Roger Moore taking a break from being James Bond. Most of the film is a fairly uninteresting military drama directed by the man who did “The Devil’s Brigade” and who recycled many of its tropes for this film. It gets more interesting towards the end, though – if you ignore the last few minutes. The Dogs of War is a very loose adaptation of a fairly good Frederick Forsyth novel. It stars Christopher Walken who, despite his considerable talent, was just an odd choice for the leader of a band of mercenaries. These last two films are connected in that both feature South African actor and playwright Winston Ntshona as two versions of the same character – a reforming politician who was deposed by an African autocrat and then imprisoned. I like these movies in spite of themselves, but the only one of the three I’d recommend to anyone else would be “Dark of the Sun”.
Summer Movie(s) 40, 41, 42, 43 (Dolph Lundgren film festival edition) – Red Scorpion (Joseph Zito, 1978); Men of War (Perry Lang, 1994); Bridge of Dragons (Isaac Florentine, 1999); The Expendables 2 (Simon West, 2012): My attempt to catch up on my July movies continues. Lundgren is an interesting guy. By most accounts he is a fairly smart man (and educated – he has a masters in chemical engineering). Each of these films actually has something character-driven about it even though each is a type of “B”-movie (including The Expendables, which is a celebration of 80s “B’-movies). The three where he played the lead all have stories centering on warriors who come to believe they aren’t doing the right thing and dealing (usually violently) with the results of that realization. Red Scorpion is a “B” (at best) movie produced by Jack Abramoff (yes, that guy) and generated controversy in that it was shot in Namibia while that country was under the control of the apartheid state in South Africa. Men of War features a script originally written by John Sayles. The director, Perry Lang, was in three of Sayles’s movies. It has an interesting cast including Catherine Bell and Trevor Goddard who would both go on to work together again in the TV series JAG. Bridge of Dragons is an odd, almost fantasy film with strong elements of allegory – and lots of fight scenes. I’m not sure it works, but it is interesting in any case. I reviewed The Expendables 2 last year, but I think I enjoyed it more on a second viewing. I often feel a sense of respect for actors who are willing to take on the role of the jerk in a particular ensemble, and Lundgren does that in this film, so kudos to him. If you really like action films for their own sake, these are worth checking out.
Summer Movie #44 – Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014): Marvel does it again. This time, though, there are no superhroes (we do have some supervillains, though). Instead they dug out one of the more obscure (to non-comic book folk – i.e., most of humanity) pieces of the Marvel universe. The film has enough character development so it doesn’t feel mindless, but is still light enough to just be fun. The cast is good overall, but Chris Pratt really makes it work. When he is being a goofball, you buy him as a goofball, when he is being a hero, you buy him as a hero – and you can see how these are both sides of the same person. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory so I’ll keep this short. Do Not Miss This Movie.
Summer Movie #45 – Get On Up (Tate Taylor, 2014): I think “VH-1 Behind the Music” has created a movie genre. The musician/band begins in some level of deprivation (or flat out poverty). They meet important people and have significant events that shape them as an artist. Success comes hard, but proves a new test of their character – one they often fail. In the end, the music triumphs. Think of “Walk the Line” or “Ray”. Being part of a genre doesn’t mean a movie is bad – it just means it is going to take a certain shape one can anticipate going in. The friend I saw this with summed it up by saying (paraphrasing) “This was the movie I wanted to see, and I saw it”. This is a well-executed music biopic. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as James Brown. The film uses narrative jumps in time to good effect to bring events of Brown’s life into focus based on earlier ones. The music is predictable but good. If you like music biopics (I do), this is a good one.
Summer Movie(s) #46 & #47 – Red Dawn (John Milius, 1984) & Red Dawn (Dan Bradley, 2012): I’m not someone who assumes remakes are always inferior to their predecessors, because that is nonsense. However, in this case, the remake of “Red Dawn” isn’t just different, it is inferior. The inferiority can be summed up by comparing two scenes. At the end of the original Red Dawn, the Eckert brothers (played by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen) launch a suicidal attack on the Russian and Cuban garrison in town to allow the only two surviving members of their group to escape the area alive. This is the culmination of the film showing the desperation of resistance fighters facing a superior foe. It is also the last act of a story about the human cost of war. The last scene of this is the older brother holding the corpse of his younger brother and talking to him as he himself is dying, all of this in a silent snow-covered playground they had played in as children. The remake ends with an attack to seize some magic piece of technology that is going to allow the Americans to turn the tide of the war. The older brother is killed, but the younger brother goes on to lead the growing band of resistance fighters in a triumphant raid on a prison camp freeing hundred of people. The older movie is a piece of Reagan-era propaganda, but is also a well-crafted study of how war destroys the good and the bad alike. The remake is less overtly political, but is also a superficial action piece with no real human depth at all. Please let me spare you this one – I’ve watched it so you don’t have to.
Summer Movie #48 – Colossus: The Forbin Project (Joseph Sargent, 1970): Before there was Skynet and its Terminators, there was Colossus. This is another treatment of the “Frankenstein” theme (and a self-conscious one in that the film references that novel) of human hubris creating a superior monster – in this case a supercomputer that uses its control of defense systems to take over the world. In this case, doing so with an eye towards establishing a benevolent, but absolute, rule where humanity would be controlled for its own sake. The film ends with a statement of defiance, but against a world firmly under the thumb of Colossus. This is all executed with the spare (hell, bleak) style of early 70s films that I love so much – very reminiscent in some ways of Robert Wise’s adaptation of “The Andromeda Strain” which would come out the following year. I put this movie in my Netflix queue back when I first got the service and it has been on “very long wait” status ever since. I’ve got a long history with this, in that I read the novel it was based on back in the 1970s and it was a favorite of mine. It falls into that genre of “science fiction thrillers” that was once dominated by Martin Caidin and Michael Crichton. I didn’t see this very faithful movie adaptation until finding a VHS copy for rent in a shop in Iowa City in the early 1990s. This was my first chance to revisit it. Certainly the films depiction of technology shows its age (teletype machines, massive transistor driven computers, etc…) but the underlying themes actually hold up. One key element in both the movie and the novel is that the American defense system (“Colossus”) and its Soviet counterpart (“Guardian”) have to establish a mutual communication protocol and data links to create the situation of the rest of the story. This is, in a way, a forecast of the internet from a 1970 movie adaptation of a 1966 novel. Great movie. Here is the bad news – Wil Smith is doing a remake whose script is being revised by the guy who wrote “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Men in Black”. How many more science fiction classics can that man profane?
Summer Movie(s) #49 & #50 – Kill Bill vols. 1 & 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003 & 2004): Nothing new to say. I love these movies. This time I was mostly watching just for the music.