Monday, April 13, 2009

Movie Rundown - March 30 to April 12

Okay. Sorry everyone that this was two weeks in the making. Last week I just felt there were too few movies. Now there's too many. Blame the illness I had this weekend, where I didn't want to work on Script Frenzy and instead decided to tear up my netflix movies so I could send them all back.

Maybe we'll see one next week, maybe I'll end up with my nose to the grindstone for Script Frenzy. I don't know. But for now, enjoy.

Fast & Furious (***)
Okay, Fast & Furious. The 4th film in this series. It's a fun film, exactly what it needs to be in the genre. But if you don't appreciate silly plots with incompetent FBI agents and honorable street racing near-mystics, this probably isn't for you. But then again, you probably knew that, didn't you? Because you looked at the first one, which is a genuinely solid film, and said "Oh my, cars and Vin Diesel? Not for me, thank you."

Well, you should go see that one. The first one. See what you think. Because this movie was good, but essentially more of the same. Better than all but the first, more serious than Tokyo Drift but still light fare. For those that are interested, yes it's worth your time. It's fun, kinda goofy but Vin Diesel is back in top form and the car stuff is pretty brilliant.

If you weren't curious about this series, though, maybe we should talk car movies for a second. Because I rewatched ...

Death Proof (*****) [rewatch]

... and let me tell you, this is the movie that convinced me to check out car movies. In fact, this is THE car movie, in my eyes. Better than anything else, full of intense action and brilliant cinematography. But I mean, this is Tarantino. Even his worst movie (Pulp Fiction, if you're curious) is pretty damn good, a classic in its own right.

So go see this movie. I don't care if you hate cars. If the idea of a car movie makes you yawn, see it anyway. This movie is awesome. It's a cinematic wonder, full of amazing shots of amazing scenes with amazing actors walking the careful line between schlock camp and genuinely moving performances.

Going in, know that this is part of the double feature with Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror. That movie isn't required for this, but they do have some character crossover. This is definitely the better movie, however, and should be on EVERYONE's Must See list.

Australia (****)

This movie is hard to rate, honestly, because I'm kind of conflicted about it. At first, I was confused that the western became some sort of a romance/war film, but then it all started to make sense. At least, to me it did.

The point of Australia is about the things that are bigger than us. About the tribal traditions that form the land and the power of the environment. About the social groups that people have to move through as best they can. About the belief systems of a time that control how people behave. And about how the dreams of individuals are so rapidly changed by something as impersonal as war.

I think the tonal shift works, but at first it's terribly jarring. Especially since the beautiful, color-drenched world Baz Luhrman paints in the first half gives way to the dark and muted palate of Australia after Japanese raids. It's a strange combination, but the film that it creates is a testament to the power of the movement of time, despite people's attempts to hold onto their dreams and ambitions. A well-recommended film.

Amélie (*****)

Talk about another well-recommended film. This movie is so good that I included a scene from it retroactively in my Top 20 Favorite Movie Scenes (go find it here!) The story of a French woman who decides to go out of her way to help people, this is a truly magical movie. There are films that feel colorful and films that are uplifting, but some times they come together in a way that transcends the sum. Amélie is a storybook version of France, a world of romance and wonder and beauty and love--both romantic and for humanity at large.

I can't believe it took me so long to watch this movie. Don't make the same mistake. Just go watch it. You'll see. It's wonderful.

Re-Animator (***)

One of the classics of cult horror films, I admit that I was remiss in watching this. It's truly an awesome film, with drop-dead hilarious moments that I would LOVE to see in a midnight movie some day. Also, it stars Jeffrey Combs, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite character actors ever. His portrayal of a mad scientist type without descending too far into ridiculousness is the template upon which all mad scientists should be built.

If you're into goofy horror, you've seen this. If you aren't, this probably isn't for you. But it's short, fun, and well-put-together.

Planet B-Boy (****)

This documentary is about break dancing, and the international competition for title of top team. I've never really cared one way or another about break dancing, but it was highly rated and I was in the mood for a documentary. And let me tell you, it was the right choice.

The movie follows five teams from France, the US, Japan, and South Korea as they train and prepare for the yearly comptetition in Germany. In between is the history of the dance, from its origins in the 60s to its pop-fad moment in the 80s and 90s to its state today. And in doing so, it makes a convincing argument as a valid art form. I might not have cared about break dancing before, but I can say after watching this that I have a newfound appreciation for it.

Part of what I find so compelling about it is the dedication of the dancers themselves. In any art form, what drives it is people who are dedicated to it to the near-exclusion of all else. And that is certainly the case here, where people from all backgrounds and walks of life push themselves to the brink to express what they feel and who they are through their chosen medium. And that is what I find really compelling about any sort of artist, be it dance or filmmaking or painting or writing or music.

Dragonball: Evolution (**)
All right, let me lay this one out for you. I grew up a fan of Dragonball and Dragonball Z. I know they're terrible, but they were my first real exposure to anime and they have a nostalgic place in my heart despite the fact that I know they're trash. So the idea of a terrible American film based on a mediocre anime series was exactly the ticket.

No, this movie isn't good. I knew that when I went to see it. The effects are cheesy, the action is lacking, and it mostly misses the point of both series in favor of MacGuyvering them together into some sort of monstrosity. That said, it was kind of goofy and at moments had a lot of the charm that Dragonball had, so long as you didn't think too hard about where it came from.

But a terrible film is a terrible film, and even if I have a taste for train wrecks, that doesn't make it worth seeing. Unless you're a sucker for ironicly watching bad movies, don't go see this. Just stay the hell away from it.

Coffee and Cigarettes (***)
Okay, so this is a collection of short films by Jim Jarmusch. I've only seen one other film of his, the amazing but incredibly opaque Broken Flowers. So I went into this expecting something hard to properly analyze, because ideas such as plot and meaning hold little sway here.

All of the films are about people talking while drinking coffee and smoking. There are some recurring themes, but all it really is are actors in these strange rolls about the human condition when we're at our most relaxed and contemplative. Of note, there's an amazing on with Cate Blanchette playing herself and her fictional un-famous cousin, and a hilarious short starring Bill Murray, The RZA, and the GZA.

I wouldn't say rush out and see this, but if you like the idea of a true character piece, this is it. Just don't look for a lot of substance behind it. There's more in the absolutely gorgeous black and white cinematography than there is in the dialogue when it comes to 'meaning', but it's all pretty airy.

Gone in 60 Seconds (***)
Okay, if you've been reading this blog, you know that I have a thing for classic car movies. Well, this is one of those. None of that overrated Nic Cage bullshit. This is the real fucking deal. A guy wrote, directed, produced, and starred in his own movie, casting family and friends and buying his own cars to smash into each other. The stunts are real, the cars get real banged up, and this is one of the first notable indie action films.

Also, this film revolutionized the car chase, with an epic 34-minute showdown between the main car and two dozen police cars that takes place over five cities. It's the longest chase in film, and it's incredible. The movie itself is basically a vehicle to exhibit the cars, which are as powerful and varied as 70s cars can be. You just have to overlook the lacking performances by all involved.

Tokyo Zombie (****)
The story of two lazy workers at a fire extinguisher plant who spend their days learning jujitsu until the zombie apocalypse puts them on the road to adventure, this is the kind of movie that makes me question what this movie rundown is for. See, for me, I think it was awesome. Four stars. But it's a Japanese-language satiric dark comedy zombie/martial arts movie that goes from the Dumb and Dumber version of 28 days later to Gladiator-meets-Land of the Dead.

The term 'niche' doesn't even begin to apply.

So I'm left wondering, can I give a movie four stars when 90% of the people who read this won't even give it a second look as soon as they see the title? The movie's funny, clever, heartwarming, and goes to some interesting places. But nobody's going to even bother with it. So ... I suppose it doesn't matter what I say, does it? You won't watch a Japanese zombie movie. I know you won't. You're missing out, but ... that's your loss.

Four stars. Great movie. Up there with Shawn of the Dead as the best zombie comedy I've ever seen.