22 March, 2013

Liam Neeson: Wolf Puncher is an excellent film

Before I get back to my usual ridiculous self, I'd like to be dreary for a moment here and talk about The Grey.

As you will recall, The Grey is the movie where we were all led to believe that Liam Neeson gets in a donnybrook with wolves and, while it is that, it's also an incredible film that is about much more than the trailer advertises. As it turns out, it's a harrowing, horrific tale about the pain of living and the meaninglessness of our our existence. Also, yes, there is some wolf-based terror somewhere in the middle there.

What's more is that if I made movies, The Grey is the kind of movie I'd like to make.

Despite my love of slick, big films (my movie collection is mostly science fiction, war, and samurai movies of all types), I do love naturalism (Now, I don't say "realism," that's a whole other bag of marbles). There's something about filming a movie in a down to earth fashion that appeals directly to my artistic sensibilities. I remember Jay from Red Letter Media said that about a movie that he enjoyed and I know exactly what he meant.

That particular feeling is rare. It's also very specific. As great as Pulp Fiction might be or Inception or Kung Fu Hustle, I don't know, When Harry Met Sally, they aren't the kinds of movies I would have liked to have made. They certainly aren't movies I could have made. I think we can all agree on that.

The following are movies I would have liked to have made:
La Haine.
Battle of Algiers.

I can't say that The Grey is as good as any of these films, but it strikes a lot of chords that are just very particular to my taste. Therese films have the look of somebody just picking up a camera and filming whatever it is they see. There's nothing showy about it, it's just a well told story. I love that. That's what I would want to do in a movie. And it isn't just the handheld or the simple shooting style (in some cases, maybe not so much with La Haine), it's that the actual craft only exists to serve the film.

It's thrilling and, what's more, is it's emotionally effecting. It manages to bring up movies like Alive without distancing you from the moment. It doesn't come off as the movie telling you a joke, it comes off as a group of men lost in the woods talking to each other. It's natural and being lost in the woods is naturally terrifying. You don't need to do a whole lot else with that except not fumble the ball.

 In a way the movie is one of the strongest arguments I've ever seen for nihilism on film. Even Gaspar Noe has more hope hidden away in his films than this one.

Not only do you have a main character explicitly stating that he doesn't believe in God or the afterlife, but you have another character making the argument that there isn't anything else in this universe besides the life you have and that's one of the core arguments for nihilism as I understand it.

But to say that the movie is "atheistic" or nihilistic, to me, is taking the simplist interpretation of the film. While I don't think it's a hidden argument for embracing Christ as your savior, there is much more to be said about this film's theological outlook than "Your god will not save you." It's arguments like that that make teenagers on the internet so very boring and makes them the exact opposite of well done wolf movies.

Also, I appreciate the only use of the old chestnut "I'll believe in you if you just help me in this one thing" as something that actually works in this film. As cliched of a prayer as it is, it works, because this guy doesn't need a parking ticket to go away, this motherfucker is goddamn desperate.

There's another chestnut which is, "God works in mysterious ways." Cold comfort to a dying man in the wood.

But all good art allows for differing interpretations.I don't need to prove that, though, because, once again, the movie has done the work for me: It's named "The Grey."

I was going to go on about its implicit connection to  An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge* (to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, if you don't know what that is and you can read Engish, you're a twerp), as well as the theology of a movie where all of the characters have names of the Apostles (down to there being more than one John) and the general theology of your prayers not being answered, but all of that bores me. This movie is on Instant Watch as we speak.

All I want is for people to go see it. It's less than 90 minutes and it's the pinacle of what a genre movie should be.

If you just want to watch a movie where men struggle against the elements, then you'll find a very good movie in The Grey. If you want a little bit more, you'll probably find that too. So go watch it, already.

*I just had a recovered memory: There was an adaptation of this short story on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. My dad watched it and explained to me how amazing this was. It was a dick move, but I think I had to break it to him that it was one of the most famous short stories in American literature. I am a bad son.

13 March, 2013

Chasing the Dragon

Upon trying to chase the reaction to my entry on Young Adult, I decided to watch a movie on KCET's Classic Cool Theater called Go For Broke and crack wise like a shit bird until I got bored.

PBS' Classic Cool Theater is a program basically designed to prevent the senile from getting riled up by tricking them into thinking that it's still 1951. It comes complete with a newsreel and a vintage cartoon, which means that my dad isn't the only person in the world who misses those things. Go For Broke, the program's feature for the week, is a propaganda film in favor of Japanese-American soldiers in WWII, this whole movie feels like it's a cunt hair away from a character going "Me so solly!" which would be way out of line as that is a Chinese stereotype. It's a strange watch.

What follows are the reactions I had between the point where I started the movie and the point where I gave up because I wanted to play the Leviathan DLC in Mass Effect 3--

 There is a character with a ukelele. Apparently the 1940's had insufferable hipster, douchebags of all creeds and colors, too.

 And apparently their commanding officer is an Aryan superman. Not sure if this is supposed to be ironic. Right now he's arguing with a doughy guy about how he doesn't trust the Japanese-American recruits. Want to bet if he changes his stance on them by the end or not? Alright-- Double or nothing, do you think one of them has to jump on a grenade for him before he sees the light?

Van Johnson is a dead ringer for a guy who would rape Captain America just for sport.

He doesn't trust the Japanese. I haven't heard the word "nip" get thrown out yet. Considering how often McHale's Navy seemed to use the word, I think it might mean I'm not paying attention.

Huh. Apparently a big chunk of the cast were actually in the 442nd. Daniel Inouye is strangely absent. Must have been busy.


Anyways, off the top of my head there is Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back, as well as the guys who raised the flag on top of Mount Suribachi in The Sands of Iwo Jima. Nowadays I think that's sort of standard operating procedure (just about every action movie nowadays, it seems, comes with the approval and resources of some aspect of the DoD), but I can't think of the last where soldiers were included in a film and they weren't serving a purpose that other than an elevated stuntman.

Blacked out there a bit. Apparently the US Army has decided to flank the Italian Army by way of invading southern California.

Alright. Action. Rad. Some Germans are gonna get shot and that's almost never a bad thing in a WWII movie.

I can't tell if the German is firing a semi-automatic weapon or not. I'll put this on my giant, useless list of firearm errors that you'll find my suicide note sitting on top of.
This movie seems about as harmless as every other WWII movie before 'Nam. It needs, like, Jack Palance or maybe the guy who got killed in the Twilight Zone movie from Combat in it to round out the cast, though.

Alright, the grenades went off a little bit too soon, but that was still a well put together piece of action. It actually looked like people might have been fighting in a war and not on a set somewhere in the foothills of Sunland.

Two of the soldiers are going to check a room in the bunker they just took. . . And a pot belly pig comes running out. I think that just about represents the tone and stakes of the picture overall.

. . . I just now realized that this is a movie made in 1951 wherein a bunch of Asians killing a bunch of other white people. Chew on that one, Quentin.

I can't help but think about Broken Blossoms. Now there's a movie that doesn't quite get why people keep calling it racist. It's like if a Ricky Gervais character went back in time and decided to that making movies was his calling.

Then again at least Go for Broke has the common decency to try and hunt down people of Japanese descent to be in this movie-- and people who were veterans of the regiment in question, no less. Even Memoirs of a Geisha with all of its budget and prestige didn't manage that.

Speaking of Griffith, as much as there has been said about him over the years, I'll add this: I think he is most guilty of one of the white man's great follies, which is that he doesn't understand why the racist things he is going are racist.

Other items in this category include: "What do you mean I can't say that? Rappers say it all the time!" or "I've got plenty of black friends" and "Why are they so angry all the time?"

For further information on this subject consult your local dad!

Now I'm actually wondering what the appeal of this movie is, because it carries none of the shame of DW Griffith's more odious works have. It clearly wasn't built with the intention of detached, ironic jerks like myself watching it (even if I was watching it on Classic Cool Theater which makes me think that even they are saying "Hey, isn't this a bit neat?"). It's trying to say something, which is that at a certain point and time a bunch of Americans with every reason in the world to give up rose to the occasion. That's why I was watching it in the first place. There's a reason nobody equivocates about the 442nd's legacy and it's not because they don't want to seem racist.

I guess it's this combination of seeing a movie with sincere intentions, progressive intentions, too, and still have it be mired in tropes of the time. There are little bursts of things in this movie that you usually follow up with the thought of "Boy, that's a bit racist, isn't it?" yet it's about how great these men were and how important they were to the United States.

It doesn't hurt the movies seems to be no better or worse made than a good chunk of the WWII movies I've seen from the era, either. It's just that this one happens to be about the Japanese can be Americans too and that must have been something of a bolt from the blue in 1951.

(It should also be noted that Classic Cool Theater also just had an episode featuring a movie called Blood on the Sun, which definitely puts Go for Broke into relief. . . it also makes me assume that any movie featuring not white people on this particular program might not be safe. That might have been presumptuous.)

(The introduction to this scene is embarrassingly bad, but good, goddamn this is a rad judo fight.)

The legacy of the 442nd is one to be proud of, but maybe this movie is better at pointing in the right direction than being something to be proud of in and of itself.

Alright. I'm bored. I'm going to go watch a better movie about WWII, one where the only time I think about race is because someone gave a dog an unfortunate name.

(Go For Broke is also copy right free, so you can watch it all right here freely and legally.)

11 March, 2013

My Folks' Reaction to Disctrict 9


"This is almost as bad as the last movie on." (The last movie being Adios Sabata, which, yeah, is pretty darn bad.)

"Is this supposed to be funny?"


"Is this a documentary?"

"How long did they have before they're supposed to be evicted?" (My dad trying to parse out the politics of the eviction of illegal aliens before he finds out that the "illegal aliens" are actually space aliens.)

My Friend Joe--

"So dope." (Upon me asking him "how dope was this movie?"

He's right, you know? It is the dopest.