Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

A pretty harrowing journey through the always-magical American justice system, here focusing on the West Memphis Three, three young men accused of the horrific murder of three children. Living in a heavily Christian community, the three are painted as Satanists involved in some kind of ritual sacrifice, and they're basically railroaded straight through the court and into prison. Though the movie never wavers from its belief that the Three are innocent, it also doesn't stack the deck in their favor. Even as a dilettante, I can see where the massive holes are in the prosecution's case, especially in what they think constitutes an expert. The really scary part here is the reaction of the god-fearing townspeople, who demand not justice, but vengeance for their kids. And I understand their feelings--how the hell is anyone supposed to be rational about the murder of their child?--but they're so caught up in their bizarre fears and fantasies of Satanists and Heaven that it's utterly terrifying. I think it's normal to want someone who may have killed your kid to be punished. But it takes a deeply religious person to say "I want to eat all of the skin off his face." This is the America I know... ****

This second installment in the series of documentaries about the West Memphis Three focuses more on the national impact the first Paradise Lost had and on Mark Byers, stepfather of one of the murdered boys, who is facing a storm of gossip that he may have been the real murderer. This film gets lost a little too much in Byers, who is uncomfortable the whole way through--angry, fervent, religious, adamant, and possibly enjoying being on camera a little too much. What's important here is seeing that the fight for justice has gone on through public awareness generated by the first film. ***1/2

It's no secret this one ends with the West Memphis Three out of prison after two decades. But they still haven't received justice. They were merely able to plead guilty in return for time served so they could get out of prison. Interesting how this deal was suddenly offered just as the Arkansas Supreme Court was finally going to open up a new evidentary trial. That doesn't look suspicious at all, especially after watching a whole series of documentaries about the flimsy evidence, implacable judge, railroading community, motivated prosecution, circumstantial case, witness-leading and jury-tampering that went into the original trial proceedings... Mark Byers is back, too, and after proving his innocence in the previous installment, he is now convinced of the innocence of the West Memphis Three and is fervently after another father of the boys, one who--it comes out when this guy tries to sue Natalie Maines for defamation--has no alibi for the murder window (by his own admission) and was apparently seen with all three of the victims just before the murders took place, by a witness who was not questioned in a neighborhood that was not canvassed for information, because in America justice is blind and lazy. I really hope justice finally wins out after what's been done to these guys. ****

Forgot I even watched this. All of the cliches of a sports movie combined with all of the cliches of a movie about a successful woman who has to choose between her career and her family (you know, like all of those men never have to in movies). Throw in some obvious caricaturing (including the Magical Negro) and shake for a bland, boring, forgettable time. *

Every bit as bad as I'd heard. What a waste. Good special effects, but ridiculous, badly directed, and quite poorly structured. Tomar Re is great; so are Abin Sur, Kilowog, and even Sinestro. But everything about the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps and the mythos of the rings comprise something along the lines of 15 minutes in a film that runs over two hours. Basically, the Green Lantern Corps makes a cameo. Wrong approach. Everyone is sorely miscast, and apparently they're being told to act more camp, or something. So what could have been a science fiction epic, or at least a fun action flick, comes down to two guys whining about their dads (one of whom is a fucking test pilot but who is also apparently a cowardly little scut until the plot deems it convenient for him not to be) and heavy-handed messages about fear and will. It's not even bad in that way you want to hate. It's just a waste. *1/2 Also, you can't make an impact at the end when Sinestro takes the yellow ring if you haven't actually built him into a character beforehand. You see this guy maybe five times in the whole movie.

Second movie in a row of Mark Strong being totally underused. Excellent cast, beautiful production design, nice cinematography, but totally superficial and boring as shit. I really wanted to like this movie, but ended up feeling like the real accomplishment was staying awake. All of the details are on the surface, and everything is distraction until we find out who the traitor is (spoiler alert: it's the only character with any personality, obviously). I see people were confused by it, but the real confusion is why so many people thought this was deep in some way. Would've worked better as an episodic miniseries. (Yes, I know there was already an episodic miniseries.) Great cast, talented director... where did this go wrong? ** Ponderous Gray: The Motion Picture.

Ouch, what a shitty movie. Lame faux-documentary about the Fouke Monster, something I read about as a kid. There's probably a decent horror flick to come out of that particular cryptid, but this ain't it. And the narrator's weird pseudo-Dick Cavett accent doesn't sound like a guy who grew up in "Loozy-Anna." *

APOLLO 18 (2011)
Blair Witch-style skiffy thriller about an unofficial 18th Apollo mission that ends in disaster. Not a home run, but an enjoyable try at making a science fiction thriller. I found it a lot more satisfying than certain other pictures I saw this week that had the money to do more... ***

HOLIDAY (1938)
God damn it, Katharine Hepburn is grating sometimes. Also, I feel like I've seen this movie a dozen times already. *

One of the earliest feature-length movies--definitely the earliest in Australia, and filmed only about 25 years after Ned Kelly was hanged. It doesn't all survive, but what's left is some great early filmmaking. It's still the "point and shoot" era of silent films. **1/2

FREAKED (1993)
Yeah, it's bad, but I thought it was bad in a funny and bizarre way. And I dug the makeup. **1/2 Randy Quaid is hilarious in this.

Bruce Lee is amazing. That is all. ***1/2 You know, this is only the third of Bruce's five kung fu pictures I've ever seen. I meant to see them all when I was 20. How the hell does time run out on me like this? I'm going to see Way of the Dragon and Game of Death this week... Oh, and this was the movie called The Chinese Connection in the US, not the one called Fists of Fury that's really The Big Boss.

A movie about forced Native American relocation that's surprisingly sympathetic to Native Americans, considering it's a) made by DW Griffith and b) from 1909 and c) fucking called The Red Man's View. Good-looking movie, too; lots of great scenery. ***

Nice documentary focusing on legendary stuntwoman Jeannie Epper and (at the time) up-and-comer Zoe Bell. It's an interesting look at a part of the industry that you don't see very often, and what women stunt artists in particular are up against. And Zoe is absolutely darling. She's a force to be reckoned with, and also incredibly cute. ***1/2

BLINKY (TM) (2011)
Great short film about a robot toy who gets the revenge we always wish objects that little douche twat kids in movies (played here by Max Records, who was also the little douche twat kid in the awful Where the Wild Things Are) aren't grateful for would get. This is why you gotta program in Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, man. Fantastic special effects, some of the best I've ever seen. ****

Easily the most bizarre kung fu flick I've ever seen. In it, Bruce Lee (played terribly by Bruce Leong, who looks like the dumpy lounge singer version of Bruce Lee) goes to purgatory, runs afoul of the King of the Underworld, starts a rivalry with Zatoichi, and then opens a gym where his students include the One-Armed Swordsman, Kwai-Chang Caine, and Popeye. (And yes, we do get to see him eats his spinach.) But the other forces of hell want to stop him, led by (here we go) Clint Eastwood, James Bond (the fat lounge singer version of James Bond), the Godfather (finally, time for all of that kung fu Coppola had to cut out of his movie), Emmanuelle (seriously), Dracula, and a bunch of naked chicks. Also at the end a guy who is apparently supposed to be Toshiro Mifune tries to fight Bruce Lee with an army of mummies. Not as fun as it sounds, but definitely as weird. You watch it the whole time kind of enjoying its demented audacity. When the Godfather takes off his shirt and reveals his physique to fight Bruce Leong, you're disappointed that they didn't switch roles, because the actor playing the Godfather is much more like Bruce than the other guy. *** for the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

DW Griffith film about three women who are all hurt by the same man and who all turn on each other. Typically histrionic (this is a Griffith film), but I like the way the women all come together when they find an abandoned infant. Of course, even that has to be heavy-handed... **1/2

We're still in the "point and shoot" era, so it's stagey, but I really like James Cruze's performance as Jekyll and Hyde. ***

Griffith again, this one about gangsters and often called the first gangster movie. The plot (and the attention paid to it) is negligible--mostly it's a flick about people walking from one building to another. But the film looks fantastic. I love some of the shots Griffith creates here, where a lot of negative space is used and things are somewhat off-center to create an effect. On a technical level, it's very compelling. ***

It's like someone made a conscious decision to preserve only Griffith films from this time period... Here he's helped a lot by his actors, who are less histrionic than others. Mary Pickford plays a girl whose mother dies and whose father oppresses her; Lionel Barrymore is the family's priest who discovers a letter and some money left by the late mother. Under her instructions, he buys the girl a fashionable hat from New York and doesn't tell her why, which leads to a destructive amount of gossip and scandal. ***1/2

A patriotic re-creation of the 1877 Romanian War of Independence. Epic for the time period: 120 minutes long and what really feels like hundreds of extras. But it's just long battle scene after long battle scene after long battle scene, and it starts to thunder past in a blur... **

Basically Panic Room minus an hour and a half of shittiness. Here we have Lillian and Dorothy Gish as sisters (a stretch, I know) who are waiting for their brother to open up their late father's safe, and who are then robbed by their "slattern maid" and her criminal boyfriend. The scenes with the two girls locked in a room while a hand holds a gun on them through a hole in the wall to keep them from calling for help are genuinely suspenseful. ***1/2 (By Griffith, natch.)

The first of the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Short that I've managed to see. And I think it's trite, twee and shallow. Technically proficient, but self-consciously whimsical and even though it's trying to make a point about how special reading can be, it's really just more about hanging out with books. **

PISS (2011)
A woman tries to convince her feminist boyfriend to pee on her in bed. Kind of silly, but I do like how it sees pissing as a fetish and not a degradation. It doesn't really make a point, but it illustrates a point that a woman who gets off on being used is neither a slut or lacking in self-respect, and that sometimes men find it hard to indulge in that kind of sex play because they worry about crossing a line. ***

Most of this was covered more smartly and to better effect in The American Nightmare. While I do agree that horror films are representational of our national mood and national fears, I think they let too many movies off the hook with that argument. Sure, Hostel is obviously about our rampant xenophobia (and about our delusion that we're going to be safe everywhere we go because we're American), but what about the graphic, medically explicit level of violence? I would've liked to hear what John Carpenter had to say about that, too. This could have gone farther for me. This was more of a survey. **1/2


Matt said...

Damn. That's a lot of movies in a week... I might have to check out Apollo 18. I love shit like that.

Tallulah Morehead said...

Under what rock did you find The Legend of Boggy Creek? Man, I thought all prints of that rightfully-forgotten old lemon had been burned, or used for landfill before you were born. Please remember that, though that movie made money, it was only because they only spent $2.37 to make it. It was considered beneath garbage even back then.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

WOW...that sounds like the kind of movies they show at the community center in the GULAG. YIKES!

Roger Owen Green said...

I haven't seen the movies, but the West Memphis 3 story is utterly infuriating.

DrGoat said...

Enter the Dragon is my favorite Bruce Lee movie.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I do reccomend the miniseries version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Alec Guiness. It's great.