Sunday, May 6, 2007

Cinema blah blah

I've watched several movies lately, but I haven't been posting about them. So here's a roundup of (probably brief) thoughts about stuff I've seen recently. In case you missed it, I also have a review of Spider-Man 3 right below this post.

The King (2006, directed by James Marsh):

I just watched this yesterday, and it's an interesting one; I'm still not exactly sure what to make of it. Gael Garcia Bernal plays a recently-discharged member of the Navy (named Elvis, which I think is what inspired the film's title) who seeks out his father, a preacher in Corpus Christi, Texas. The father is played by William Hurt, and he wants nothing to do with Elvis, who is the product of his sinful pre-Christian life. Elvis ends up taking up with Hurt's teenage daughter Malerie, meeting (and eventually screwing) her behind Hurt's back. It's weird; I don't know what he's trying to do. Is he trying to hurt his father (through the daughter) for leaving him, or does he truly love Malerie? Things get even more complicated when Hurt's son Paul (played by Paul Dano, the "mute" kid from Little Miss Sunshine) confronts Elvis, telling him to stay away from his sister, and [whoa, watch out! SPOILER!] Elvis reacts by stabbing and killing him, then disposing of the body in secret. In his grief over the loss of his son, Hurt embraces Elvis, welcoming him into his home, teaching him archery (something he used to share with Paul) and introducing him to his church's congragation. Later, more tragic stuff happens, and the movie ends. Strange. [end spoiler, I guess].

It's an odd film, since so much of the reasons behind the characters' actions goes unspoken. I usually like ambiguity, but I'm having trouble parsing the characters' motivations here. I already mentioned Elvis's actions, but Hurt is also something of a mystery. I think we're meant to think of him as something of a hypocrite (the giant cross with a scrolling LED letterboard sign across it in front of the church adds to this, at least in my opinion), since leaving your son behind isn't exactly a demonstration of Christian charity. He also yells at his son (Paul) for singing a non-Biblical song in church. But later, when he reveals Elvis to the church, several people get up and walk out in disgust. As someone who grew up in church, I find it hard to believe that people would react like this, but I think it's meant to give him some depth, as we can see that the revelation of (possible) infidelity would hurt his reputation, and that's what he was afraid of. There's also a subplot about Paul's fight to get "intelligent design" taught in his high school's science courses; I'm not sure what the point of this was, except to establish that he might be upset at the failure of this struggle and his dad's disappointment in him, lending credence to the idea that he might have run away when he disappeared.

So anyway, it's an interesting movie. At the very least, it's thought-provoking, which is more than can be said for most films. I'm not sure if I would give it a recommendation (unless, like me, you really like Gael Garcia Bernal), but I think I'm glad I watched it.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965, directed by Russ Meyer):

Wow, this is a crazy movie. That old perv Russ Meyer gives us a goofy story of hot chicks who drive fast cars and beat people up. It's fun, in a campy 60's way. You gotta love the opening scene, in which (after a voiceover monologue about the violent tendencies of modern women) the three main characters perform as go-go dancers while some men stare, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, rubbing their chins in consternation at the incredible sight, and shouting "Go! Go! Faster! Faster!" Then we see the girls racing each other in their hot rods, wrestling (in the water, no less), and killing a guy and kidnapping his young girlfriend. Then they go and try to steal the money of a rich, old, crippled guy who lives in the wilderness. It's all goofy fun, especially the ditzy blond girl who starts dancing at the drop of a hat (she also utters the line that gave the title to a Daniel Clowes comic). Then you've got the Italian girl who is stereotypically angry all the time, and Tura Satana as the leader of the gang who has an affinity for low-cut shirts. It's pretty crazy; I recommend it if you like weird 60's stuff.

For Your Consideration (2006, directed by Christopher Guest):

I'm glad I waited for DVD on this one; I would have been pretty disappointed if I had put forth the money and time to see it in the theater. It's definitely the weakest of Christopher Guest's ensemble comedies (A Mighty Wind is probably the best one, but Best in Show is also pretty good). Sure, there are some funny scenes, but it seems to be going for broad comedy, and Hollywood celebrities who are full of themselves are a pretty easy target. Most of the regular team aquit themselves pretty well (Fred Willard is probably the funniest), but I don't know if there are any truly memorable lines or scenes. I was certainly freaked out by Catherine O'Hara's facelift in the latter part of the movie; she looked like the villain in a slasher movie. Yikes. So, it's not really a bad movie, but I probably wouldn't recommend it if you aren't already a fan of the Guest oeuvre.

Hell in the Pacific (1968, directed by John Boorman):

Now this one is awesome. With a cast consisting entirely of Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune, you can't go wrong. They play soldiers from opposite sides who are stranded together on the same island during World War II, and they fight with each other, take turns taking each other captive, and eventually learn to work together. They have great chemistry, and it's incredible just to watch two of the greatest badass actors of all time play off each other. It's awesome, highly recommended, and one of the best movies I've seen lately.

Smokin' Aces (2007, directed by Joe Carnahan):

If you want a weird experience, watch this movie with an elderly relative. That's what I ended up doing, as my wife's grandmother was visiting, and my father-in-law wanted to watch this. I think she was scarred for life. It's an enjoyable, if far from perfect, action ensemble piece, with a bunch of hitmen and FBI agents all trying to either kill or save Jeremy Piven, a magician/mob informant. It's all fairly incoherent, and there's too much time spent trying to weave a Usual Suspects-style backstory, but there are some fun scenes and performances. The best guys are these three brothers who are described as neo-Nazis but dress like cast members of The Road Warrior. They have a great scene [whoops! SPOILER!] where they drive up and blow away Ben Affleck's crew who are planning their version of the assassination. Then they get out of their car, and two of them start wrestling around while the third one goes over and starts having a conversation with Affleck, moving Affleck's mouth like a puppet and having Affleck forgive them for killing them [end spoiler]. There's also an incredibly bizarre scene with a hyperactive kid who practices kung fu moves on a wounded guy, and a short girl assassin with a gun that looks like it is about six feet long. And other stuff, like latex mask disguises, shootouts in elevators, and chainsaws. Crazy, and fun, for the most part. Makes a good rental, if you feel like watching this sort of thing.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995, directed by Mike Figgis):

Actually, I don't have too much to say about this one, except "Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for this?!" Wow, I thought he was not very good at all. Sure, maybe it's because all his characters seem arbitrarily wacky like this one, but I would have hoped that the one he won a major award for was better than roles in stuff like Gone in 60 Seconds or Lord of War. A good contrast would be Joe Pesci, who won an Oscar for his role in Goodfellas but then followed it up with a series of roles playing cartoonishly maniacal gangsters. While you can roll your eyes about some of the later stuff, the Goodfellas performance is still excellent. But I had trouble watching Leaving Las Vegas; I probably only finished it out of morbid curiosity. I think Cage can be a decent actor (Raising Arizona is one of my very favorite movies, and, more recently, I thought he was really good in Adaptation), but here he was just annoying. Ugh.

Okay, I think that's enough for now. More comics reviews later today, I hope.