Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Summer Movies 2013 #IX

Posted by Gerald on August 9, 2013

Summer Movie #81 – Robocop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987): I bought the trilogy on Blu-ray awhile back during one of those Amazon Gold-Box sales, but haven’t watched them. “Shifts in tax structure have made the economy ideal for corporate growth. But community services, in this case law enforcement, have suffered” says Edward O’Herlihy as the CEO of Omni-Consumer Products. If this isn’t one of the most alarmingly prescient movies ever, I’m not sure what would be. Some of it is incredibly dated, but the rest is a bit frightening. Unchecked capitalism, “infotainment”, growing violence in Mexico, also the absurdity of a Detroit that turns over its public services to a private corporation – it all seems too familiar. This movie is also rather ahead of the curve in terms of violence. It was actually originally given an “X” rating for graphic violence and even by current standards the scene where Murphy is literally shot to pieces is quite something. Other reactions: Peter Weller and Miguel Ferrer look like kids in this thing (I’m older now? Really?) So does Ray Wise. Nancy Allen was awesome. Evidently Stephanie Zimbalist was going to play that role, but was brought back for the final season of “Remington Steele” which echoes what happened earlier with Pierce Brosnan and James Bond – kinda. I’m not sure she had it in her. Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith should have played many more villains. “Give the man a hand.” Edward O’Herlihy – “Dick… You’re fired!” Finally, ED-209 may be the most hapless robot villain ever. The Daleks at least manage to kill someone occasionally. I’m really skeptical of the upcoming “reboot”.

Summer Movie #82 – Max Payne (John Moore, 2008): This is one of two movies that have been on my shelf for several years.  I got both of them by accident – I used to be a member of the Columbia House DVD Club and I forgot to send in my rejection.  The reason I still have the movie is that I e-mailed in a cancellation of my membership before mailing the DVD back.  So, I thought I’d watch it before chucking it into the bag for Edward McKay’s (which is a chain of used book, movies, etc…, shops – for those of you who aren’t local).  The movie is a sub-standard action film from the man who directed “Behind Enemy Lines” (yawn), the remake of “The Omen” (why?), and the most recent Die Hard movie (I think – I lost track after the one with Samuel L. Jackson).  It features some decent visuals, a story riddled with inconsistencies, and some sub-standard performances, especially from Mark Wahlberg.  I remember that IGN (a gaming site) panned the movie and then gave it an award for “Best Videogame Adaptation of the Year” (then went on to say that is a testament to just how bad videogame adaptations in movies are.)  It could have been worse, though.  It could have been directed by Uwe Boll.  I am somewhat interested in seeing what the game (generally noted as superior) is like.

Summer Movie #83 – Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov, 2008):  This is the other Columbia House accident I’ve had on the shelf.  It is certainly better than “Max Payne,” but that isn’t saying much.  The story is a bit idiotic – a shlub finds himself becoming a member of an ancient order of assassins who carry out killings at the instructions of a mystical loom (as interpreted by Morgan Freeman) to “maintain the balance of fate”.  The film never really asks questions like why, if people are fated to die, we need killers to accomplish those deaths – as opposed to, say, fate.  Instead, wow, look – he’s flipping a car over another one (in slow motion) so he can shoot a guy through the sun roofs of the two cars – cool.  This is just a vehicle to frame a lot of cool stunts – and the stunts are very cool in an over-the-top CGI way.  It is a bit dark (after all, our protagonist kills people he doesn’t know because a loom told him too) and very violent (though after watching “Oldboy” the other day, I’m almost chuckling when I use the terms “dark” and “violent” to describe this movie).  This was another of the vehicles that Angelina Jolie used to try to become an action star – and she isn’t bad here.  James McAvoy is the lead and he is pretty good.  All in all, it was fun – enough so that I don’t think I’m going to trade this one in.

Summer Movie #84 – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Daniel Alfredson, 2009): I think this might be the weakest of the three movies because it is really just an extended last act of what happened in the second movie.  Noomi Rapace is still the core and her performance is great.  Unfortunately, she just doesn’t have that much to do here.  The movie nods at the very interesting idea of the pathologically independent Lisbeth being forced to rely on others and she plays that well, but there isn’t much of it in the movie.  Michael Nyqvist is also not given much to do with his time on-screen.  It occurred to me while watching this that the biggest thing missing from these two films is what was best about the first – having those two on-screen together, which we only get to see right at the end of this movie.   I’ve also got to say that in this movie (I can’t speak to the novel) the arrival of the cavalry in the form of a special police unit (or something, it is hard to tell) that hands out justice left and right alongside the sudden Big Break when Lisbeth’s hacker buddy gets the goods on the evil psychiatrist – it all just feels false.  What felt very real, though, was that in the end Mikael was, as always, willing to burn everyone in pursuit of his vision of the truth and Lisbeth did not just magically come out of the armor her whole life had caused her to build.  So the plot was thin, but the emotions and characters remained real.  Thus, this was still good, but “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was much better.

Summer Movie #85 – OSS 117 Cairo, Nest of Spies (Michel Hazanavicius, 2006): My friend Richard has been telling me about this movie for a couple of years now.  I think this is one of those films that you either love – like I did – or you spend the entire time wondering what anyone sees in it.  It is a French comedy that parodies the classic spy films.  Evidently (internet research) it is based on a series of French spy films based on a set of novels concerning the adventures of agent OSS 117 that were popular in the 1950s and 60s.  The movie itself is a parody, but also a tribute.  The cinematography could have been right out of early Bond movies – simple camera moves (no steadicam), big crane shots, everything right down to using rear projection for driving scenes.  The film parodies spy movie tropes, French politics, Western arrogance, and the list goes on.  The comedy runs from broad slapstick to almost surreal (photos of French President Rene Coty are a running joke, as is something about homoeroticism and paddleball).  The main character is played with gusto by Jean Dujardin (of “The Artist”).  He is like Maxwell Smart – if Smart was less stupid than ignorant and arrogant – and if he were rather lethal at hand-to-hand combat.  I loved this and am looking forward to checking out the sequel.

Summer Movie #86 – The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera (Larry Blamire, 2001): This is a spoof of 1950s scifi “B” movies on the level of what Roger Corman was doing at the time.  It revels in its cheap cheesiness (according to the interwebs it was shot over five days for a budget of $100,000 – in California).  Much of it was shot in Bronson Canyon and, since they processed the videotape into black-and-white, it looks really familiar.  Often these sorts of parodies seem too forced, this (usually) doesn’t.  You have some decent character actors (many of who you would recognize in a “wasn’t she that girl in that thing one time?” fashion) deliberately reaching for wooden performances.  The editing is perfectly shoddy (just a beat too long here and a beat too short there).  If you can enjoy a movie like “Robot Monster” without the MST3K guys, you’ll love this.  If “Robot Monster” and “Roger Corman” mean nothing to you – best to avoid this.  This guy has evidently directed most of these actors in several other parodies (including a sequel to this movie “Return of the Skeleton”) which I must find.

Summer Movie #87 – Beyond the Time Barrier (Edward G. Ulmer, 1960): The last movie I watched was a spoof of scifi “B” movies – this is a scifi “B” movie (released by American International Pictures, of course).  Stalwart test pilot is accidentally propelled into The Future – 2024 to be exact.  The world is a shambles, having been devastated by cosmic radiation starting in 1971, fallout from nuclear bomb tests having weakened the Earth “shield of protective particles.”  There are mutants, there is a repressive society that is holding out against the mutants, there is the last fertile girl in that society – who, due to radiation, cannot speak but can read minds – and who, of course, falls in love with our stalwart hero.  There are fellow time travelers who are most definitely Not To Be Trusted – including an evil femme fatale Russian pilot who is obviously bad due to being brunette and not wearing skirts (also she can speak).  Bad people help mutants destroy society, but are killed when they try to interfere with stalwart hero.  Blonde skirt-wearing mute girl is killed saving stalwart hero.  Stalwart hero returns to his time by simply flying his original profile in reverse – but arrives tragically aged.  We end as he warns the world about the terrible nightmare which must be avoided.  I love this stuff – even without intentional irony.

Summer Movie #88 – Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013): This movie is described in some places as a “Science fiction thriller” and it is, but it isn’t.  If you read a plot synopsis of it – which I did before watching it – it will talk about people reassembling their lives after being abducted and may mention parasites and orchids.  All of that is accurate, and doesn’t tell you what the movie is about.  This film examines a lot of things, but doesn’t offer any explanations.  It has a narrative plot – that is difficult to follow – but that plot isn’t what the movie is about.  Like “Oldboy” this movie is less about the hows and whys of a story than it is trying to look at what happens to people in extreme circumstances.  It is looking at memory, and identity, and will, and all that sort of thing.  It is surreal and beautiful and visually and aurally fascinating.  If you watch this, don’t try to follow a plot or constantly ask yourself what is happening – just let it unfold and see where you are at the end.  It is quite worth the journey.

Summer Movie #89 – Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973): Watching Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) in his self-destructive spiral in this movie, I kept thinking about a line from – of all things – “Excalibur.”  When Arthur observes that Merlin must have loved Uther Pendragon despite his failings, Merlin replies “Well, it’s easy to love folly… in a child.”  One of the brilliant things about this movie is that even while seeing what a lying weasel punk Johnny is – you can also see why Charlie (Harvey Keitel) loves him.  (Charlie – hmmm… “On the Waterfront”?  “You was my brother Charlie, you shoulda looked out for me just a little bit.”?  Or am I reaching too far?)  Writing a review of a movie like this is difficult – it has been called one of the most innovative American films of all time, with good cause.  People with better perspectives than mine (and probably some with worse) have written doctoral dissertations about it.  I don’t have much (really anything) to add.  All of Scorsese’s favorites are here – Italians, New York, Mafiosi, the quest for redemption, the dangers of male-bonding, etc…   It has his typically brilliant camera-work, his use of pop-music and other cultural items to set the place, again… all the stuff for which he is so rightly known. It’s just brilliant film-making.  Then we add in great performances by young fresh actors with names like Keitel and DeNiro – backed up by great character actors (including two Carradines – David as a drunk and Robert as a young punk who kills him to get in good with the local boss).  Just don’t wait until you are almost fifty to see this movie.

Summer Movie #90 – Trumbo (Peter Askin, 2007): This movie is based on a stage play written by Christopher Trumbo and based on his father’s letters.  Dalton Trumbo, for those who might not know, was an (multiple) Academy Award-winning screenwriter and novelist.  His novel “Johnny Got His Gun” is one of the most powerful anti-war novels ever written.  In his film work he contributed stories and screenplays ranging from “Roman Holiday” to “Spartacus”.  In 1950 he was blacklisted for refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was sentenced to federal prison for contempt of Congress.  This movie centers on that period using his letters (read by an all-star cast) along with interviews and documentary footage (including home movies).  The historical stuff quickly gives way to the experience of living through this and the joy of Trumbo’s words.  The best parts of the movie are the letters – a half-angry and half-humorous response to a price quote; an extended and squirm-inducing homily on the joys and pitfalls of masturbation written to his 12-year-old son; a denunciation of an unnamed “liberal producer” who would condemn the blacklist, but still abide by it; a raging letter to a principal for failing to protect his daughter from the fallout of PTA and other adults who condemned the Trumbos and then passed that on to their children.  This is the man who wrote the “I’m Spartacus” scene turning his pen to so many other things.  It is a beautiful depiction of facing everything that goes wrong with our country and sad because it seems to be happening again.


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