Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Summer Movies 2013 Pt. III

Posted by Gerald on June 12, 2013

Summer Movie #21 – District 13: Ultimatum (Patrick Alessandrin, 2009): This is a sequel to the 2004 film, District 13. The films are set in Paris in the near future where all of the poor and “undesirable” elements in the city are walled into a ghetto (District 13, or Banlieue 13 – hence the title B13 is sometimes used) .Both films were written and produced by French action filmmaker Luc Besson. Both films feature a buddy pair made up of Damien, a dedicated but rogue cop, and Leito, a sort of Robin Hood gangster, played by parkour artists David Belle and Cyril Rafaelli. Both films have a plot centered on rogue elements in the government who have evil designs on the people of the district (in this one abetted by a company called “Harriburton”) while also featuring gangsters, corrupt cops, etc… Both feature cool stunt-work, particularly by the two stars, and car chases. Both are mindless fun, but you do need to read the sub-titles if you want to watch them.

Summer Movie #22 – Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011): A sweet fable using some beautiful CGI. The account of George Melies given here is a bit romanticized and more than a bit simplified, but still largely correct in spirit and mostly correct in detail. Ben Kingsley gives a great performance as the legendary filmmaker. A nicely uplifting film. Tomorrow I’ll get back to the soul-crushing darkness or empty violence I normally prefer.

Summer Movie #23 – Eight Men Out (John Sayles, 1988): Here is another film my friend Dana has been mentioning to me forever – and I’m glad he did. This film recounts the 1919 “Black Socks Scandal” and features great performances by David Straithern, John Cusack, and D. B. Sweeney, among many others. I’m not versed enough in the actual scandal to have an opinion on the accuracy of any of this, but the depiction of human emotion here – how greed, resentment, and fear can undermine idealism – is powerful and real. Kevin Tighe has a nice turn in the movie as one of the gamblers involved in the plot, which I found notable because the first role I really noticed him in as a film actor ( of course, I knew him first from Adam-12) was in a favorite of mine that was also written and directed by John Sayles, Matewan.

Summer Movie #24 – City of Life and Death (Chuan Lu, 2009): Wow. If the mark of a great film is to find truths that make us feel things we might not want to feel (and I think it is) this is a great movie. The experience of it is a lot like Schindler’s List, a film that pretty obviously influenced this one quite heavily. The movie deals with the Rape of Nanking in 1937, when Japanese troops engaged in a six-week orgy of mass killings and raped thousands of Chinese women (exact figures do not exist – the official Chinese numbers are 300,000 killed and 20-30,000 raped but these are very controversial). The movie, much like Schindler’s List, deals with these events on a human level from the perspectives of Japanese soldiers and Chinese soldiers and civilians. It shows demonic acts being committed by human men. It also has very graphic depictions of rape and of the functioning of the “comfort stations” of the Imperial military. None of this is gratuitous. I have way more to say about this movie than I can fit into a status update, but this film should be seen, for all the reasons Schindler’s List should be seen. It is a masterful and harrowing account of a horrible moment.

Summer Movie #25 – Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963): I preordered the 50th Anniversary blu-ray release of this several months ago, and had completely forgotten until the UPS guy knocked on my door this afternoon. This is not a great movie, but it is a movie I feel a sense of connection with. Somehow this symbolizes the big 1950s and 1960s Hollywood epics for me in a way that much better movies, such as Ben-Hur, just don’t. Maybe it is because this is such a great example of everything that was right and wrong with those movies – it is huge, lavish, spectacular, ambitious, lumbering, bloated, and pretentious; all at the same time. Also, I love Rex Harrison’s turn as Julius Caesar. It isn’t the one I’d consider the most accurate, that would go to Ciaran Hinds in HBO’s Rome, but it is fun to watch. This, rather than Dr. Doolittle or My Fair Lady (one of my mom’s favorites), is the film from my childhood that I remember him for. Also, I think that a few of Richard Burton’s scenes as Mark Antony are among the best in his remarkable career.

Summer Movie #26 – I Huckabees (David O Russell, 2004): Here is another film I’ve been hearing about for years and am only now getting around to watching. This movie walks a line between quirky originality on the one hand and being too cute for its own good on the other. It occasionally wanders onto both sides of that divide. It is funny and features some great performances, especially by Lily Tomlin and Naomi Watts. It is also a bit tiresome in spots and the story seems a little unfocused to me. Still, the good certainly outweighs the bad and it is worth checking out.

Summer Movie #27 – End of Watch (David Ayer, 2012): This is a “cop film” with a decent narrative and some very good performances. The action sequences are good and fairly economical. On the down side, the film adheres closely to genre conventions, right down to the good times at the wedding and the bag-pipe wailing police funeral. Also, the movie strives for a pseudo-documentary feel by incorporating hand-held camera work with a “found-footage” conceit that doesn’t really work, and isn’t really necessary. Still, the movie’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses and it is worth a look if you like this sort of movie.

Summer Movie #28 – Crips and Bloods: Made in America (Stacy Peralta, 2008): This documentary is less a history of these gangs than an examination of where the L.A. gangs fit into American history and society. The movie is at its strongest when it links the rise of the gangs to the destruction of the 1960s and 1970s era social justice movements and the beginnings of de-industrialization. We easily forget that the destruction of the American working middle-class began with the African-American community. Overall, the film doesn’t really say much that hasn’t been said before, but what it says is valid and important. Unfortunately, its attempt to deal with the rise of the Gang Intervention movement at the end is edited in a way that seems like the happy ending part of a VH-1 Behind the Music episode – montage of images of dedicated people and smiling children with tinkling piano music in the background. Yes, this is a stylistic point, but style goes a long way toward determining rhetorical power. Still, this was a weak ending to a good documentary – well worth checking out.

Summer Movie #29 – Gangster Squad (Ruben Fleischer, 2013): The trailers worried me and the reviews confirmed those worries, so I didn’t see this in the theater. Still, I love this genre, so I put it in the Netflix queue. Everything I was worried about has just been confirmed. The film is worse than bad, it is dull. You’ve seen all of these characters before and there isn’t a surprise in any of them. Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, and everyone, except the unfathomably over-rated Ryan Gosling, were completely wasted here. Everything ends exactly the way you know it is going to end, and so the “uplifting” ending is drained of any real emotion. The film also manages to lionize two icons of racial tension, L.A.P.D. Chiefs William Parker and Daryl Gates. These are two hours I could have spend playing Bioshock Infinite, or picking my nose, and I’ll never get them back. If you want a movie about L.A. in the Cohen era, watch L.A. Confidential. If you want a stylish gangster action film, watch The Untouchables. Pass this one by.

Summer Movie #30 – These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America (Paul Mariano & Kurt Norton, 2011): This is a decent documentary about the National Film Registry, film preservation, and the movies. There is nothing particularly new or revelatory here, but the interviews are good and the film clips are fun to watch. The film’s rhetorical purpose seems to be to convince the viewer that films are important but I’m not sure it would convince anyone who wasn’t already part of the choir. Still, if you do like movies it is worth a look. One interesting thing it did for me was make me aware of Dorothy Arzner and “Dance, Girl, Dance”, which I’ve just put at the head of my Netflix disc queue.

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