Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Woody Harrelson: fun, bad films.

Before he was Haymitch Abernathy, a renegade cop, or a bad-ass zombie killer, Woody was still making noteworthy films. You probably won't find these on anyone's list but mine, mind you, but they're fun. Sometimes it's hard to find quality (as in "quality," as in, cheesy, mostly bad, ridiculousness) with just the right balance of groan and entertainment, but these have it. You should check them out. Or not.

The Cowboy Way, 1994.

Don't get me wrong, this is a pretty terrible film, but there are several things I like about it. Woody stars as the more doltish and annoying of two cowboys with Kiefer Sutherland playing the other, heroic one. Pepper's (Woody) stetson is black, Sonny's (Kiefer) is white. Secondly, Pepper is talkative and annoying, and this pretty much drives the narrative. In one scene, Sonny gets angry and insults Pepper, who stops talking, I guess in protest. After what seems like a really long time, Sonny eventually apologizes; Pepper responds by picking up where he'd left off in his conversational rant just before the spat as if nothing had happened. (!) Southern accent is pretty rad, too.

The clip below should give you an idea of just how silly and outlandish the film is (Pepper and Sonny take down bad guy Dylan McDermott by lassoing him TO THE BACK OF A SUBWAY CAR.) But it's still fun. Sorry, the quality is pretty bad.

2. Natural Born Killers, 1994.

Yeah, I can't really say that I enjoy this film anymore, but I do think Woody's portrayal of Mickey Knox is worth talking about. I don't know that any other actor could have pulled off both the repelling and charming nature of the character so well; it's a strange thing to pinpoint smaller, aesthetic things in a film that for the most part really disturbs me, but I'd be lying if I said his initial emergence on scene (with the 50 pound bag of beef) didn't thrill me a little. The casting was pretty interesting, too (Juliette Lewis, Edie McClurg and Rodney Dangerfield as Mallory's parents, O-Lan Jones ("maybe they no-liking the . . . human being?") as Mabel the waitress, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Downey, Jr, and Tom Seizemore (no doubt in the real-life depths of similar hookers-and-blow vices to those of his character, Jack Scagnetti). It's an interesting spectacle. Which save for the clip below, I don't ever plan on watching again. (Mickey steps in around 2:06)

3. Indecent Proposal, 1993.

Adriene Lyne is one of those weird directors whose films are mostly about sex or the repercussions of sex; one of my professors made us watch many of his films, having us note how anti-woman the ideology seemed. I don't know about that, really, but I will say that this film has probably the best sex scene to come out of the nineties (between Woody and Demi Moore). So much has changed between then and now---watch one episode of Spartacus and you'll see that nearly *nothing* is left to the imagination anymore, but I don't know, theirs still seems kind of sweet.

During another scene when things are falling apart between David and Diana, he gets drunk and accosts her on the street with the new guy (Robert Redford); he's angry and almost in tears and he looks up at her from the street and says, "Did I ever tell you I love you?" (something they said to each other endearingly when they were together), and it gets me every time.

Sappy, I know, but I believed him.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spartacus Vengeance Finale

Friday is the season finale of Spartacus, Vengeance on Starz. I was feeling very lukewarm about the entire season until last week's episode, Monsters, set almost everything right again.

1. Gannicus and Oenomaus finally make peace. Unfortunately it comes out of of Oenomaus losing an eye and probably most of his hand, but their feud, though legitimate, concerned me all season.

2. Monsters (ha) Glaber and Illthyia are for the moment, back in business together. This needed to happen. I love those two as an awful, scheming, couple of hate and death. Good luck raising Spartacus, Jr., though.

3. The secondary stories of Mira and Naevia are done. Thank God.

4. Someone please get rid of Ashur. I can barely help throwing up every time he comes on screen. I hope Lucretia takes care of this creep, once and for all. YUCK.

5. Gannicus. As always, DAMN. His survival pretty much is the deciding factor in whether or not I keep watching the show . . . so far, so good. May the odds continue to be in his favor (!) There would be something oddly thrilling if in the end, he could hook up with the blond German girl, too; she's kind of annoying but seems lively.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Die Muse

There were several adventures in viewing this film; the first was an audio issue with the computer (which resulted in my watching it all the way through with no audio the first time, which is quite an educational experience if you ever want to try this with something subtitled), the second involved the disk and a pile of bills along with it winding up in the family butter plate, on top of the butter . . . but everything worked out in the end, I got to see it a second time with audio, and finally, I can write about it. 

Die Muse, 2011. Directed by Christian Genzel
starring: Thomas Limpinsel, Henriette Muller, Jean-Luc Julien.

"A young woman awakes in a cell in a basement. A man introduces himself to her: He is a writer and needs her as an inspiration for his new book. He forcibly tries to convince her to stay and help him. A cruel power game develops between the two of them." (IMDB).

People love stories about writers. Writers love stories about writers, especially when the subject hovers near sociopathy, probably because all writers are a little crazy to begin with. The writer in this film, Fischer (Limpinsel), is from the very first moment a dark and intriguing character, but as time passes and we get to know him, we find that his writing almost becomes secondary to what he must do to inspire it.

"You are an important part of my work."
After what seems like an obsessive amount of methodical planning, Fischer kidnaps Katja, a young woman he's convinced will be instrumental as a muse for his latest novel. Once in captivity inside a specially-crafted room just off the writing studio, she asks again and again to be let go, but Fischer refuses, explaining that his wish is for her to decide to stay voluntarily, to help him make his work extraordinary. He doesn't hurt her, exactly, he feeds her and gives her privacy to use the toilet, but as their time together progresses and details about him pop out, Katja realizes that beneath Fischer's calm exterior, something very unnerving lurks.

Despite the desperation of the characters, and the disturbing aspects of the narrative, Genzel's camera, whether static or in motion, is always in control. Without drawing attention away from the onscreen events, the images together with the music were very enjoyable. This sort of conflict (unfortunate situations that are beautifully filmed and scored) really makes the film, and reaches its high point during what ends up being one of the darkest collection of scenes within it, where Katja's position as a victim takes on a whole new meaning.

"This hurts me as much as it hurts you, Katja."
For each disturbing aspect that is introduced, careful attention is given to allude to it tastefully and subtly before it actually happens, which is crucial in weaving (or unweaving) a story whose events are mostly unpleasant and in ensuring that things are adequately shocking but not confusing or random. Certain mentions of drugs, early on. Fischer's disclosure of how critics summarized his previous books. The position of his chair related to Katja's holding cell, and so on. I don't pretend (even now, after two viewings) to understand everything about Fischer or all of his motivations, but I will say it was delightful getting little answers or bits of insight here and there, which is also to say I'm content in keeping him at a relative distance, all things considered (!) There was also the tiniest bit of identification that came with watching Fischer---I'm obviously not advocating kidnapping or uh, all that other stuff, but all writers have their obsessions, and I think a lot of the non-writing public would genuinely be shocked if we all honestly admitted what goes on inside our minds. To see it captured in a film (albeit darkly) was oddly understandable. And horrifying.

Look for many more good things in the future from Christian Genzel; I know I certainly will.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Miscellaneous Wins

1. The Boys From Brazil, 1976, by Ira Levin

Cloning Hitler makes for a wonderful story. My dad introduced me to the film when I was probably twelve; and while the novel does not include the segment of one of the clone boys messing around with a grotesque hand puppet while using a creepy falsetto to call his babysitter to the phone (NANCEEE!)
it's still a lot of fun.

"We were in a biblical frame of mind on the twenty-third of May 1943, at the Berghof. He had denied himself children because he knew that no son could flourish in the shadow of so godlike a father! But when he heard what was theoretically possible, that I could create one day not his son, not even a carbon-copy but another original, he was thrilled by the idea! The right Hitler for the right future! A Hitler tailor-made for the 1980s, 90s, 2000!" 

Bonus for the attack dobermans, right? ACTION! 

2. A Dangerous Method, 2011. Directed by David Cronenberg.
starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightly, Viggo Mortensen.

Um, yeah. Not pleasant.
"A look at how the intense relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud gives birth to psychoanalysis." (IMDB).

I think I went to this on a complete whim. Of course I was more than willing to catch my boy Viggo Mortensen in anything, really, but since it had been a few years since I'd seen anything of DC's I was a little nervous about both Keira Knightly (as an actress) and slimy, slippery things finding their way onto the screen as they seem to in so many of his other films. I needn't have worried, the only reference to anything disgusting was pretty minor (a slug, symbolizing a sexual organ, of course) but other than that, all good. I only bring this up because I still get squeamish thinking about The Fly, Videodrome, and Existenz. Yuck.

Of course there was the whole being-spanked-with-belt business and Sabina's (Knightly's) RIDICULOUS mouth actions and gesturing during her early scenes, and those things were a little unnerving, but it all was quite well done. Mortensen as Freud kind of bummed me out a little because Freud seemed like such a dick most of the time, and Vincent Cassel played a German creep named Otto this time (instead of playing a French creep as usual) but Michael Fassbender? How you doin'?

It was good, and interesting, but as the group of about 6 people who wouldn't shut up the entire time the row over from me might suggest, you really need to have an interest in psychoanalysis, Freud, or Jung (or a working knowledge of what these things are all about) in order to enjoy this.

3. John Carter, 2012. Directed by Andrew Stanton
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, and Willem DaFoe

"Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior." (IMDB).

This was fun, and worth every moment of eyestrain from the 3D glasses. It probably is deserving of its own, separate write-up, but time is money, this is it. Every scene is entertaining, all the effects are extremely well done, and the look and sound were always engaging (original music by LOST Alum, Michael Giacchino) but what sold me were the bookend scenes involving Edgar Rice Burroughs, writer of the story, as a character. Tricky, tricky. You should see this one in the theater for sure.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Temple of Doom, in defense of Willie Scott

You'll have to forgive me a moment for being a little reactionary with this, but it's something I've needed to get off my chest since about 2002. This completely pompous jerk I had to suffer through 3 different classes with (in school, I've seen that he's since become a faculty member, God help the rest of you) made the outrageous claim that Temple of Doom was not a good film, and this was mostly because Spielberg was so ridiculously infatuated with Kate Capshaw that he refused to direct the film properly and allowed her to overact and badly deliver everything she did.

I don't agree.

Something simple, like soup?
This film is incredible. You could talk about the genius of the opening segment, which among other things pays homage to some pretty serious filmmaking and historical links of the era it was representing i.e., Gold Diggers of 1933, while also doing some hat-tipping to Star Wars (Lao Che's establishment is Club Obi Wan) and Gunga Din, another influence. The brilliance of John Williams' score. The interesting menu choices enjoyed (or not) in the dining room of Pankot Palace.

And then there's this scene, my favorite scene. Part of what I like about it is that it shows Indiana Jones losing his shit a little, that fist, shaking out of the opening as he yells at Willie, "DO IT, NOW!" just might be one of my favorite gestures of all time. Not to mention the whole, "We. Are going. To DIE!" bit that comes just after. Willie Scott is annoying, and Capshaw plays her just that way, but she gets the job done and without her there would be no comedy in this scene at all. Throughout the entire film she acts and reacts as any pampered brat legitimately would (plus survives that damned dinner, the bug room, the lava pit, and stomps on Mola Ram's hands at the end, causing him to fall further down the bridge where Indy can finish him off). I like her a lot.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No love for the honest man: Coriolanus

Coriolanus, 2011. Directed by Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave

"A banished hero of Rome allies with a sworn enemy to take his revenge on the city." (IMDB).

This is a film for lovers of
-Ralph Fiennes

Lucky, lucky you are if you love all three, because it was quite an amazing production. The violence was gritty and disturbing. The performances (in verse) were beautifully inspiring. Hell, even the location titles (A PLACE CALLING ITSELF ROME, ANTIUM, CORIOLES, etc.) got me a little giddy. It just really came together well, and was actually quite well-suited for a modern adaptation. Colin Covert (Star Tribune) said in his review that Coriolanus (Fiennes) was a hard guy to understand, and used the word "bipolar," and maybe that's fair. But if you're able to see this man for who he truly is----a general who is extremely good at his job but has no desire to kiss ass or self-promote himself and who loves his mother above all else, his actions will make perfect sense. I saw him as a rare, honest, man who refused to play games; clearly, this does not make things easy for him and causes one hell of a lot of upset. Also impossible to ignore in this story is the mother aspect, which is played magnificently between Fiennes and Redgrave---it's pretty powerful. (MOTHER IS THE WORD FOR GOD ON THE HEARTS AND LIPS OF ALL LITTLE CHILDREN) Et, tu, Martius? Yeah, I'm a broken record.

The only real criticism I have is something minor, and more of a silly annoyance for me, personally----there are some hand-held camera segments, very wobbly, very close and jumpy, that are effective in illustrating the chaos and out-of-control feelings being experienced by the characters, but if you're prone to motion sickness or discomfort, just be warned; it gets intense and lasts for quite a while. Mercifully, when these shots end, they are immediately countered by long, wide, empty landscape shots, but the bad parts almost bothered me enough to want to either leave or close my eyes (having felt as though someone just beat the hell out of me while simultaneously slipping me some fast-acting rufies.)

Eye candy: I happen to think Ralph Fiennes is extremely hot, and always have. He's better with hair, and unfortunately he's bald in nearly all of this, but there are some cool, modern segments where his baldness and later, re-shaving of his head along with that ridiculous barber's chair become a sort of initiation to the guys on the other side who eventually wind up following him (at their own general's implied expense). Yeah, and speaking of the other guy? I'd only seen Gerard Butler in that stupid flick he did with J-Aniston, which is a shame, because he's quite decent, and damn, an extremely hot Aufidius. Bonus for accents and tatts.

See? All you have to do to get more people interested in Shakespeare is to get some hot looking actors to sign on. But aesthetics aside, it's very much worth seeing.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Have you seen this? It never made it to Minneapolis on its first run but I see now that it's at the Lagoon. There's not much that I like better than Ralph Fiennes . . . except maybe his little brother Joseph, of course.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Awake Premiere Tonight!

Yes, YES, YES!
If you're a fan of Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy/that long-haired, evil redcoat from The Patriot) you should tune into his new show Awake tonight at nine o'clock (central time). He plays a detective who crosses back and forth between two separate realities . . . . I LOVE IT ALREADY.

Not to mention that the son is played by Dylan Minnette, former son-of-Jack Shephard-in-the-flash-sideways, or "Freckles, Junior," as he's known by some of the biggest Lost geeks in the world. FUN!
I have high hopes for this. If you watch, tell me what you think!