Friday, February 25, 2011

Taking it Easy (shutting down brain in 3... 2...)

            This was a rough month.  With ‘The King’s Speech’ eating all of the Guild Ceremonies alive, it seems like I’m destined to lose a lot of money and my freedom  come Oscar time (never bet with a pimp). It also doesn’t help that ‘A Star is Born’ is getting remade again, millions of dollars are being wasted on movies based on board games and the Criterion Collection is moving its streaming library from Netflix to Hulu+. To say I was a little peeved was an understatement, so this month I have been watching mostly popcorn flicks to keep me happy.  Anyway, these are what I saw this week:

Three Awesome Films

‘Tombstone’ (1993)
            The Western is basically a genre in a coma; ever sense the mid 70s only a handful of Westerns were made and even less than that actually succeeded in the box office. What is even more depressing is that the majority of these Westerns were made in the Revisionist style; as if to remind America that it sucks to live in a pox infested wasteland without indoor plumbing. Then suddenly in 1993 the classic Hollywood Western made it’s last stand with a film about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday called ‘Tombstone’.
            The story of ‘Tombstone’ is a tale told many times before, too many times. Stories of Wyatt Earp’s exploits have been the basis of so many classics like ‘My Darling Clementine’ and ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ that it makes the classicist style of ‘Tombstone’ feel less nostalgic and more cliché.  It also doesn’t help that everything about it so ridiculous. If the scene where the main character is crying in the rain with blood on his hands is the subtlest scene in the movie, then it’s time to rewrite the fucking script.  But thankfully ‘Tombstone’ makes its case for why it should exist in that it was entertaining as hell.
            Is it even possible for a movie that has Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Sam Eliot and Terry O’Quinn (John Locke from Lost) to be boring? The entire cast seems less concerned about appearing human rather they just ham it up like comic book characters, it’s a marvelous sight behold.  The shootouts are numerous and downright awesome in their own ridiculous right, but they’re only the friggin second act to what can only be described as Bitchslap Fu. The only thing missing is someone getting beaten to death with their own skull and that’s saying a lot. Bottom line, ‘Tombstone’ is a popcorn flick that was made without a hint pretension, just some shameless love for a dying genre.

‘Duck Soup’ (1933)

            The Marx Brothers, and I mean this with highest respect for this legendary acting troupe, are fucking crazy. Every single film these guys have worked on is an anarchy filled vaudeville epics that has them rapidly throwing jokes and sight gags to the point where every law of physic and logic is broken. But surprisingly beneath the chaos the brothers have a formula, Groucho is the one-liner spewing narcissist with the ambiguously fake moustache, Harpo is the sex-crazed mime, Chico is the con-man/offensive Italian stereotype and Zeppo is Ringo.
            So what makes ‘Duck Soup’ so great, well to really appreciate is to remember that it was made when Mussolini was in power and Hitler was rising to it.  The film itself is about the leader of a country, played by Groucho, whose motto is “If you think this country's bad off now, just wait till I get through with it!” Need I say more? Yes. The Marx Brothers goal here is to rip fascism a new @$#hole and it’s fun to watch.
            The only problem I had with this movie is that there are these very lame musical numbers that are painful to listen to, they don’t even to advantage of Harpo and Chico’s instrumental talents (that’s a story for another time). But these are few and far between to actually ruin ‘Duck Soup’. The jokes can be a little dated since every cartoon and sketch show borrows quite from the Marx Bros. but at 70 minutes it hardly wastes anytime.  If you were, were not, or still are a fan of shows like ‘Looney Tunes’ or ‘Monty Python’ then ‘Duck Soup’ will be a great experience, even. Just know that there is no logic in the Marx Universe, my first laptop tried to find the logic within ‘Duck Soup’ and came up with poor results.

‘The Public Enemy’ (1931)

            A long distance friend of mine told me on Facebook that he saw a really good film called ‘The Public Enemy’ for his Crime Films Class and wondered if I ever saw it. My first response was “Wait, there’s such thing as a class where you just watch crime films? I want in!” Then I said something very embarrassing, “I’ve never seen ‘The Public Enemy’” Now I’m proud to say that I saw ‘The Public Enemy‘
            The plot of ‘The Public Enemy’ on the surface is classic as steak & eggs. Tom Powers (played James Cagney) is a good-fur-nuthin’ thug out to make a quick buck in the beginning of prohibition. He starts his life of crime at very young age and shoots his way to the top. Then it ends with him back at the bottom, riddled with bullets, because “Crime never pays!”  The plot is fairly predictable since it has been the template for many gangster films after 1935 but ‘The Public Enemy’ is far from boring.
         For one the acting ‘The Public Enemy’ is amazing. Donald Cooke is wonderful as Tom Powers’ brother Mike Powers, the weight he carries is felt as he tries be the voice of reason to Tom while suffering from shell-shock of WW1. Jean Harlow somehow manages to define and deconstruct every femme fatale. But the standout of ‘The Public Enemy’ is James Cagney. With a stare that can break bricks and enough energy to light up New York City, James Cagney is one of few actors who can mold himself into a character as bombastic and wild as Tom Powers and be convincing. Hell the only thing that he is not convincing at performing is dying, because you can’t kill James Cagney.

"Don't turn off the lights"

            Another thing to take note of about ‘The Public Enemy’ is that it was made before the Hays Code (imagine enforced censorship by McCarthy-like figures and the Catholic Church). While most of the “obscene” moments happen off-screen ‘The Public Enemy’ is anything but implicit.  There is blood, sex, and even a dead horse is thrown in just to make sure PETA was also offended. Oddly enough, when the Hays Code trimmed the film for a re-release in the 40’s there was one scene where they muted the “sex noises” coming from another room, but they kept the part where Tom Powers slams half a grapefruit into his girlfriend’s face, which was IN THE SAME SCENE!  Apparently sex is wrong but misogyny is good clean fun.
            While the messages of ‘The Public Enemy’ are admittedly dated and politically incorrect to say it is not daring is like saying Seinfeld is not funny.  The pacing and tone is as intense as the ensemble cast.  The pace is so fast and the violence and sexuality was so frank (for its time) that it is no surprise that it became the standard of the crime genre.

Small mentions:

‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ (2010)

            So… basically ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ is a documentary by the street artist Banksy that’s about a guy named Guetta who decides to become a street artist after failing to make a documentary about Banksy. It makes even less sense in context. Anyway, while I can see why people think that ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ is fake, it is great to see a doc that is informative and entertaining instead of being a boring-ass piece of propaganda about whatever is pissing off the left or right.

‘Firefly’ (2002 TV Series)

            ‘Firefly’ is a sci-fi western show about the interplanetary (mis)adventures of a smuggling crew and their four passengers. The cast is fairly traditional, the lead is a salt of the earth badass, there is a hooker with a heart of gold, a dumb hired muscle and etc. but these characters are much deeper than the clichés they have. The star of the show is the setting as every planet heavily influenced by cowboys, cyberpunk and Asian style. Even the laser guns look like something made by Smith & Wesson.  My only complaint is that ‘Firefly’ is too short and lacks a conclusion, it never got second season.

‘Hardboiled’ (1992)

            Did you know that America almost lost its reign over the action genre to Hong Kong? Well with filmmakers like John Woo it is really no surprise. To understand why he is a compare and contrast between John Woo guns and real guns:

John Woo pistol > a real AK-47
J.W AK-47 > a shotgun
J.W shotgun > a grenade
J.W grenade > @#$%ing napalm
J.W napalm > the Fat Man.

I think I’ve said enough.

Crap of the Month

‘Couples Retreat’ (2010)

            With cast like Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell and Jon Favreau ‘Couple Retreat’ could have been a half decent comedy; instead it’s a slow and plot-less waste of time. It manages to do the impossible by being boring and vulgar at the same time. It literally seemed like nobody was even trying which is even more offensive when you realize that these scheming bastards were paid to film in various hotels in Bora Bora for three to six months.  ‘Couples Retreat’ is not a movie, it’s a %#$@ing con job.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! I'm glad you took my advice about The Public Enemy. It's probably my favorite pre-1960's movie.

    Good movies, my friend although I think there are certainly worse movies out there than Couple's Retreat. I appreciated the Guitar Hero scene hahaha.

    So I've got my ballot ready for the oscars in about 40 minutes. I'm freakin excited! Still annoyed about the whole Hailee Steinfeld fiasco but that's the way it goes, I guess. I'll send you a FB message afterwards.

    BTW, speaking of Guitar Hero, I'm achievement hunting in Warriors of Rock (I got it to test for a video game tournament for work.) and one of the achievement's is to get max stars on all chapters of the Quest mode. Unfortunately, this is the last day I have the game and I'm busy with some other stuff so I stuck the mic up to a fan and it's getting me 100% on every song :P. All I have to do is activate star power every once in a while. Well, enjoy the oscars my friend!