21 July, 2014

No, No. The OTHER WWII Fury.

I know I'm late to the party on this, but I am excited for Fury.

In preparation for what I hope is a decent movie (consider the director's track record: End of Watch is supposed to be great and Sabotage, um, not), let's go over a pair of WWII tank movies that are worth seeing:

Kelly's Heroes has greatest straight up tank fight in cinema history. And that's mostly because it might be the only tank duel in cinema history (which just can't be true, can it?).

As a film, Kelly's Heroes is more on par with something like Catch 22 than The Dirty Dozen. Or Where Eagles Dare, for that matter. It's gleeful and irreverent, and it takes the second world war about as it does a clown with his pants down. Or maybe it just doesn't take WWII movies seriously? Either way, Kelly's Heroes is a butt-load of fun and a perfect encapsulation of what Hollywood thought of the 1960's counter-culture.

It's a movie that laughs at the kind of square-jawed heroes that populate 1940's and 50's war movies.Yet it's savvy enough to know that tanks are cool and that Nazis are bad and it's fun when these things are slammed together.

I won't spoil the ending, but the entire climax of the film is built around the idea that the Tiger tank is the baddest piece of machinery ever built and that a rag tag bunch of screwballs may not be up to the task. Then it gets weird.

Then there's Sahara (the Bogart one). While a tank (an M3 Lee) is central to the plot, it really isn't about tanks. It's about the men who ride in and on them. The tank itself is a piece of shit, but it's got a kind of can-do charm of a dog with three legs. It's also notable for including just about every single member of the Allied Forces in some capacity helping our heroic tank crew along the way (it also includes both Italian and German enemies, which is about as rare of a feature in a film as a tank fight).

Sahara survives as an interesting film for a few reasons. The first, and the most important being, it's a Humphrey Bogart movie. While not all Bogart movies are created equal (there's Casablanca and The African Queen and then there's Beat the Devil and Sirocco), a good Bogart film is a great reminder of just what a presence he was as an actor. (There's a reason he's Michael Caine's favorite actor.)

The second reason is that Sahara is a perfect example of "the kind of movie they don't make any more." It's a war film, but it's light and it's loose and there is no question as to what the good guys need to do. There's a clear line in the sand as to what good guys do and what bad guys do. While it is the kind of film that helped to build up the myth of World War II, watching it, even now, it's not hard to see why we see the war the way we do. Sahara paints a picture of a war that needs to be fought and is worth fighting for. And hey, that's not such a bad thing, is it?

So, before you see Fury, go see these movies. At least we know they're good movies. And if not. . . Well, screw you. You don't want Clint Eastood and Don Wrickles on a caper? You don't want Humphrey Bogart and Jeff Bridges' dad defending your freedom? Are you so joyless?


With no little retinence, I am excited about Fury.

Despite Sabotage. Despite Mr. The Beef and his almost certainly mentally ill antics. Despite having recently been burnt by another special effects driven WWII movie. Despite always getting burnt by having any sort of investment in anything, I am excited. And there's a lot to be excited for. The movie has a great lead, a director who has turned out at least one impressive film in his burgeoning career, and the technology exists to make the convincing and worthwhile tank that I that we deserve.

That is until somebody finally gets the guts to adapt The Haunted Tank into a movie.

James Kislingbury makes comics, hosts podcasts, and generally just does his thing. You can follow him on twitter, too.

06 July, 2014

It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

Lord I Believe I'm Freezin' to Die
A Kind of Review of Snowpiercer (2014)

After a long and unnecessary battle with theWeinstein Company, Snowpiercer has finally been allowed to come out in the States, uncut and uncompromised. In its current state, it is a movie that was certainly worth fighting for. It is also a movie that is well worth the wait.

Directed by Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother), Snowpiercer tells the tale of the last remnants of humanity. Broken into a rigid class system, those to the rear of the train are brutalized and exploited at the leisure of those in the front of the train, who get to enjoy the pleasures of the eponymous train's "sacred" perpetual motion engine. As you can imagine, things come to a head rather quickly.

From there the movie follows Curtis (Chris Evans) and his fellow revolutionaries (and hangers on) through the absurd, yet grimly down-to-earth cars of the Snowpiercer. From there we get a kaleidoscopic view of a species on the edge. We see it at its best, its worst, and at every odd stage in between. More importantly, we also get to see one of the best rides of the year so far.


If you hadn't noticed, Snowpiercer has one of the best ensemble casts this side of Days of Future Past (or the next Christopher Nolan movie).

If I start talking about the cast, I'll be here all day, so I'll try to be brief. So, real quick, remember when Chris Evans was a joke? Like, before Captain America, he was on his way out? I mean, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (always with the rise, how come nothing ever ascends? Or flight? Things used to take flight all the time) and, boy howdy, that's a terrible film. If things hadn't gone the way they had-- if things were just slightly differently, he would have disappeared, unwanted and unloved onto the heap of other handsome white action heroes like a Ryan Reynolds or a Taylor Kitsch. Instead he can probably stand slightly behind Matthew McConaughey and maybe adjacent to Channing Tatum making us feel slightly stupid for writing them off.

As with the rest of the film, everybody comports themselves wonderfully. From Octavia Spencer as a tortured mother turned soldier to Tilda Swinton trying her best to act through more prosthetics than she had in The Grand Budapest Hotel to John Hurt who is, as you may well know, John fucking Hurt..

The only weak link that I can think of is Jamie Bell's accent. And I don't mean his acting or the quality of the accent, I mean, the actual accent. Why is it there? How did he get it? Nobody else around seems to be Irish. Why is he Irish? What gives? Did John Hurt imprint on him? Maybe he got it from the same post-apocalyptic accent store that the military guy from Doomsday got his Scottish accent.

The stand out is an actor that should be familiar to anyone who has watched a Korean film before because he is literally in every Korean film ever made. That man is, of course Song Kang-ho, star of The Host, Thirst, JSA, and, again, every other Korean film ever made.

While everyone else is running around, bleeding over things, Kang-ho sits confidentially in the background, either feverishly getting high or redefining how to look cool while smoking a cigarette. If you're a foreign film nerd you get the pleasure of seeing him paired with some of the most interesting Western actors around.

Even the bit roles of the film are well done. From the wordless henchman played by (name) to the cultishly cute school teacher played by Alison Pill to Ed Harris' who plays the man at the front of the train like a combination between the Great Oz and Lucifer. It is one more example of how much care and attention was given to the film.


What holds the film together is its ability to weave together several different kinds of genres and several different characters and idea and molds them into a single, wonderful product.

In the first half of the film, Curtis and his revolutionaries are pitted against a train car full of masked butchers. It's a scene with a lot of things going on in it. First and foremost, it takes Tilda Swinton's dentured and pig-nosed visage and manages to put it amidst a gang of hooded butchers and it seems like the natural, normal choice. It then manages to address the silliness of the train's traditions with utter carnage. And in all this, a spectacular action sequence is taking place. It is the film in microcosm and a wonderful sequence in a film overrun with wonderful sequences.

Another strength is that, like the train, it continually moves forward. We aren't ever bogged down in needless narration or we're left to think about what it all means. It plows forward. Through action, through dialogue, through characters. It moves. It moves at such a clip that the weaker moments of the movie are flattened by the momentum.

And there are moments in Snowpiercer where it threatens (you ready for this?) go off the rails. There's a distinct moment about half of the way through where it threatens to turn into a French film, where suddenly, Curtis and his cadre are going to be seduced by the decadence of the bourgeoisie*, that we're going to somehow end up with a Lois Bunuel film, but with more hatchet-based violence. Thankfully, it never tips over into full-blown satire. It's nice to see considering the the inexplicable shifts in tone of The Host.

The Host is a fine movie. It's a lot of fun and it's a kind of entry level foreign film that something like Wild Strawberries simply cannot be. It's more Jaws than it is The Seventh Seal, so maybe thinking about it critically is slightly missing the point, but, man, that film takes some weird turns. By the end of the film most of the principle cast dead (which includes an old man and a child). At the very end we're then left with a couple of characters who are, at best, catastrophically traumatized, but we're meant to believe it's a happy ending. On Christmas. In a kind of hobo lean-to/snack shack.  It's literally as baffling as I just stated.
Snowpiercer has none of these shortcomings. It's a movie that doesn't drag and it doesn't shoot off into any weird directions. It plows forward, working action, absurdist satire, petulent humor, high science fiction concepts, and a kind of gritty realism into a single working piece of machinery. It's violent. It's funny. It's smart. It's emotionally touching. Snowpiercer is the perfect example of a film that can have its cake and eat it too.


As I said above, this is a violent movie (which should come as little surprise if you're familiar with "extreme cinema"). As many ideas about society and class and destiny as there are on display, it's also about scrappy revolutionaries killing people with axes. It's about giving these people a reason to act and it's about us enjoying them move forward car by car. What I'm saying is that it's a smart movie that is also pretty awesome.

And it doesn't waste your time getting you there. It's odd that the Weinsteins wanted to cut the film, because I have no idea what they'd cut. A guy loses an arm to frost in the first twenty minutes of the movie.

From the very first moments of the film, you hate the upper class. You hate the system they've set up. You hate Wilford. You hate everything about this world and you just want people to be happy and you want certain other people to see the business end of a shank.

As with the humor and the drama in the film, Joon-ho doesn't ever lose control. The film's point of view never turns into mere satire and the violence never tips over into fantasy. Or into purience. It's as brutal and as intense as it needs to be to excite you, but to also make you feel a little bit sick. It's a fine act to balance and, once again Joon-ho nails it.

You believe this conflict just like you believe the characters, just like you believe that there's a magic bullet train shooting through the frozen future. It's visceral, it's believable, and it's a whole lot of fun, and that's kind of what movies should be, right?


Besides the odd moment where the film threatens to careen into the fantastic, the film has a few other flaws. They aren't major, but they're there, whipping by us as we watch the movie.

As in Days of Future Past, the most obvious shortcoming of the film are in its visual effects. While much of the special effects and computer effect go unnoticed, the exterior shots of the film look less like a frozen wasteland than they the Uncanny Valley after a blizzard.

What's more is that they aren't just iffy CGI shots, they're iffy in a weird way. They somehow look like computer generated miniatures. Meaning they somehow look both fake and small. The wonky visual effects are even more apparent when you consider how fully realized the rest of the film is. Unlike Days of Future Past, I at least understand why the CGI doesn't look great.

Then there's the woman in yellow. She's dubbed, right? Like, terribly? Right? Am I crazy?


Go see Snowpiercer. Show the braintrust in charge of the Weinstein Company-- and the rest of the goons running Hollywood-- that America wants more than dumb, ugly schlock. Show them that we like intelligent, well made science fiction films. Show them that we don't need any more fucking robots.

What is more is you should see Snowpiercer because it's an excellent film.

It's international in the way that David Lean movies are international. Or Akira Kurosawa movies are international. The creators of the film set out to make a particular kind of movie about a particular subject. It isn't a perfect movie and there are some truly harrowing parts in it, parts that in the hands of a lesser director would come off as crass. Instead, it's one more example of the fact that this film works. You should see it because good art, made well deserves to be seen.

But don't just take my word for it. It's coming to VOD on Friday.

*It is about much more than the corruption of the underclass or the compromising of a bloody revolution (we have Bioshock Infinite for that).