Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Summer Movies 2013 Pt. VIII

Posted by Gerald on August 4, 2013

Summer Movie #71 – Iron Sky (Timo Vuorensola, 2012): When I first saw the trailer for this – a Finnish-German-Australian movie about Nazi emerging from a secret base on the dark side of the moon to attack the Earth, I thought “awesome!” It isn’t. The visual effects of the actual invasion are pretty cool, but these dress up ham-fisted political commentary and borderline racism. The jokes are flat, but not bad enough to be campy. The result is just lame. I read reviews to this effect and wanted them to be wrong. They weren’t. Except for a very few moments, this is, again, lame. Avoid.

Summer Movie #72 – The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974): Let me start by saying I love well-made conspiracy thriller.  I also quite like several of Pakula’s film, particularly “All the President’s Men” which was released two years after this movie.  Finally, I’m a big fan of bleak 70’s endings.  On the basis of all that, I should really like this movie more than I do, but I don’t.  It features fine performances, it is visually interesting, and Pakula employs the same interesting sound editing he used in other films.  It just doesn’t work as a thriller.  The big conspiracy is more murky than intriguing.  I never became invested in what happened to any of the main characters.  Also, there are a lot of slow and rather pointless shots that serve to stall the film’s momentum rather than building tension.  My biggest complaint, though, comes from an extended montage that was supposed to represent some sort of attempted psychological conditioning through visual symbols.  The audience is bombarded – for a couple of minutes – with a series of images that are sentimental, patriotic, religious, emotional, erotic, violent, and disturbing.  It goes on for too long and the images just become a mish-mash.  I would argue that this has been done much better in other films – Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” comes to mind.  This movie does try to do something, and for that deserves applause – it just doesn’t succeed.  If you are in a mood for some 70’s political paranoia, though, you could do worse.

Summer Movie #73 – Sid and Nancy (Alex Cox, 1986): I’ll start off by saying I don’t know enough to have opinions about the accuracy of this film and the portrayals of the various people in it.  What makes this film are the performances and the especially Gary Oldman’s Sid.  The movie has some really interesting visual moments.  Two stood out for me: one was an early shot where the two characters are walking through a near riot but seem completely divorced from it which seems to establish the idea of two people being lost in each other and a second shot of them kissing in a trash-filled alley (the poster) which also played on this idea of love and being lost in one another.  All of this contrasts with an endlessly degrading downward spiral into drugs and death.  The idea that drug addiction destroys these two lovers is the obvious core of the movie, but I wonder if there isn’t a wider statement about the destruction that comes from losing oneself in anything?  The couple is lost in drugs, but they are also lost in each other – and the one addiction seems to fuel the other.  We see two naïve and toxic people who seem worse together than either was separately.  Finally, the music was great.  This may be heresy, but having heard both I think Oldman’s performance of “My Way” for this movie is better than the original by Sid Vicious.

Summer Movie #74 – The Naked City (Jules Dassin, 1948): “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”  This famous line is the last of the movie, and completes a rather pointless and often irritating narration.  The last ten minutes, featuring a pretty good chase scene and shootout filmed on location in New York City (which was innovative for the time – a fact the movie makes you aware of by announcing it at the beginning) are quite good; seemingly good enough to win this thing two Academy awards (cinematography and editing).  It has to be the last ten minutes they voted for, because the rest is fairly conventional and uninspired.  The seventy minutes before the big chase comprise a standard police procedural that seems like a long and noir-ish episode of “Dragnet”.  The performances run from competent to almost comically bad.  If you are looking for noir or for police procedurals, there’s much better out there.

Summer Movie #75 – Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011): I liked this movie a lot more than I expected.  It is a very noir-ish action film that also feels very 1980s – and combines all of this successfully.  It is full of long, slow, quiet scenes and then suddenly explodes into car chases and graphic violence – and then goes back to being quiet and slow.  Think “Vanishing Point” meets “Miami Vice” as directed by John Carpenter (at his best).  It features really good performances by Albert Brooks (no neuroses, no charm, he’s bland and then he’s dangerous), Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and Ryan Gosling.  I’ve not seen any of Ryan Gosling’s other performances except “Gangster Squad” – which was not a good movie.  I didn’t get the big deal about him.  Now I do.  Through the first third of the movie I was thinking he was just wooden – then he starts having scenes where he shows a lot of bottled emotion that explodes into action.  It was reminiscent of the attempts at “serious” action films from the 80s – just done better than most.  The cinematography was beautiful – again, very reminiscent of stylish stuff from the 80s.  That feeling is strengthened by everything from the soundtrack (synthesizers and processed vocals) to the font used in the credits.  It’s a stylish action film for grown-ups.  See it.

Summer Movie #76 – Haywire (Steven Soderbergh, 2011): This is a decent spy action-thriller with the evil private spy company that betrays an agent as part of a wider plot.  It has good action pieces and is nicely paced without being overdone.  It has a great set of co-stars, all of who turn in performances of a quality one would expect from them: Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Bill Paxton, and a pre-“Magic Mike” Channing Tatum.  The only problem with the film is that these are all co-stars.  The protagonist is played by Gina Carano – former world-class mixed martial artist and “American Gladiator.”  She is predictably great at her action sequences and stunts – and since that is a lot of the movie, that’s a good thing.  Unfortunately she is not as good at the whole delivering dialogue and acting thing.  She’s not terrible, she just isn’t very good.  She treats her lines like opponents to be beaten into submission.  As action stars go, she is better than Cynthia Rothrock but is not as good as Linda Hamilton (in either Terminator film).  Still, she was competent, and might improve.  This is definitely worth watching – if you are in the mood for this kind of movie and, frankly, can’t find a better one.

Summer Movie #77 – The Girl Who Played with Fire (Daniel Alfredson, 2009): I watched “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” several months ago (Swedish version, not English) and really liked it.  I liked this one too, but not as much.  The two best things about the first film are here as well: Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth (all steely glares and little tiny cracks of humanity) and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael (one of the reasons I’ve not watched the English version is my inability to see Daniel Craig – who I really like – as Mikael; Mikael is not a muscular action guy).  The story is good, but not as good as the first film.  One of the things I liked about “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was that we saw a lot of grey in between the black and the white of the movie.  There isn’t a lot of grey here.  Also, to me much of the power of both movies comes from a sense of reality.  In this film that gets shaken a couple of times.  We have a bad guy who can’t feel pain – like an over-the-top Bond villain.  Just give him a hat with a metal rim and he’s good to go.  Then there is the climax – Lisbeth, having been shot a few times, digs herself out of her grave (using a cigarette case) and goes on to wreak some vengeance.  Put this in a Quentin Tarantino film, and I’m down with it, but it felt wrong here.  It is a testament to Noomi Rapace’s performance that I was able to put that aside and get back into the (excellent) final confrontation.  Finally, while I enjoy the opportunity to watch attractive naked women rolling around together as much as the next guy, there is a lesbian sex scene which seemed rather gratuitous (and a prime example of the “male gaze”).  I know I’ve spent most of this talking about weaknesses, but that is really because the first movie was so good.  This one is also quite good, especially if you liked the first.  This is well worth checking out – but see them in order.

Summer Movie #78 – Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960): This is one of the seminal works of French New Wave, and I’ve never seen it before.  While watching it I had a similar reaction to watching both “Psycho” and “Stagecoach” for the first time: what must it have been like to see this when it first came out?  What I mean is that these movies have had such a huge influence on what came after them, so seeing them for the first time – at least if you knew what you were seeing – must have been startling.  Here we see hand-held camera work, jump-cuts, and dubbed sound around odd framing and interesting long shots – the things that would be used so often by “underground” film in the 1960s and 1970s and then would creep into the mainstream.  The way in which the narrative story of the film is really in the background of conversations and character moments is also striking.  This was fascinating to watch, but there was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have understood any of that and would have just seen this as seemingly amateurish and pointlessly confusing.  There is a story about Rock Hudson walking out of the premiere of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and demanding that someone explain “what the hell that movie was about” – same thing.  Now I get it.  Jean-Paul Belmondo is really fun to watch.  His first line (as translated) is “Well, I’m an asshole.”  He then spends 90 minutes demonstrating the truth of this.  Jean Seberg is fascinatingly vague as she spends most of the film wavering between possibilities, then only at the end makes a decision – one of conventional morality but personal betrayal.  This is another of those classic films that (like “Casablanca” or “Citizen Kane”) I think is every bit as good as it has been cracked up to be.

Summer Film #79 – Following (Christopher Nolan, 1998): This was Nolan’s first feature and won several awards.  It is a short neo-noir about a would-be writer who begins following people to observe them and who is drawn into a complicated plot.  It shows a lot of the elements of Nolan’s later work, such as an unreliable narrator (the film is told as an extended flashback) and urban settings.  It is unremittingly bleak and twisted.  The movie goes from one violation of privacy and trust to the next.  It also features a nicely complex fractured narrative.  You can see the techniques he was going to use to such good effect in his next film “Memento” (which is just brilliant).  I came across this movie on Netflix because I saw it displayed a four-star rating from me – which was odd given that I’d never seen it.  I’m not sure if I accidentally clicked something or what.  Still, that is exactly the rating I did give it – which fits nicely into the theme of fractured narrative.

Summer Movie #80 – Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003): Wow.  It is almost impossible to describe this movie – you just have to see it.  However, if you choose to, be aware that it is violent, gory, and intensely surreal.  It is described as being about the depth of vengeance, and it is.  It is also about love, identity, reality, and despair.  It is funny.  It is horrible (remember the icky feeling of that moment in “Chinatown” when John Huston picks up the little girl (his daughter and granddaughter) and says, “I’m your grandpaw”? – like that; oh, and a guy cuts out his own tongue at one point – so like that, too)   It is hard to watch.  It is brilliant.  It is not for weak constitutions.  It also has a bleak and uncertain ending.  If Spike Lee can replicate this – as opposed to some bloody action film – I’ll regain a lot of the respect I’ve lost for him in recent years.  I don’t think this can be an American film, though.  I need to watch something happy now…

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