Wednesday, April 18, 2012

7x7

Why is the first thing that pops into my head an image of Wayne and Garth protesting their worthiness? Wait, I know. More evidence of the rule of the adolescent window. I'll have to address this topic with a bit more depth later...

I've long been under the impression that no one actually reads my cinema blog, All things perfect and poisonous, and never gave it much thought. I started this blog simply as a way of keeping a record of the movies I see and if I find myself inspired, I'll sit down and write about them. Imagine my surprise upon reading that I'd been tagged for a 7x7 Award at by good friend and author of my  favorite movie blog, Krell Laboratories. I am beyond flattered and so to express my gratitude, I'm finally going to respond to this meme.

The rules:
  • Tell everyone something that no one else knows about

  • Link
    to one of my posts that I personally think best fits the following
    categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular
    Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece,
    Most Underrated Piece, and Most Pride-worthy Piece

  • Pass this award on to seven other bloggers
It isn't difficult to come up with things that no one knows about, because I don't much like talking about myself. But the elephant in the room, and the reason I've been spending so much time tweaking my cinema blog as of late, is that I'm not working. I'm on extended FMLA leave after being quite ill for almost a year now. I'm currently taking a much needed break and am re-assessing my career. Actually, it has been a poor fit for quite sometime so it is time to figure out what other work opportunities there might be out there. Honestly, I'm quite enjoying sleeping in and spending too much of my day reading news and all of the cinema blogs that I haven't had time to look at for months. Too bad you can't make a living by sleeping and reading.

Most Beautiful Piece: I'm going with the one with the most pictures. Actually, I was feeling at a loss for words that day, so I just put my 2010 top 10 list using stills.

Most Helpful Piece:
I'll go with my write up about my experience of watching Joe Dante's The Movie Orgy, just because there isn't much written about it. So I'm going to claim it could be helpful.

Most Popular Piece: I don't get it, but the post with the most page views, by far, is probably the first one I made at this site on Borat. This was when I was just playing with the idea of trying to write a few sentences on each movie I see just to try to remember them all. I see a lot of movies and sometimes, I completely forget about them. I'm actually a bit horrified that people are finding that page, I just hope they aren't reading it.

Most Controversial Piece: I have no evidence of any controversy caused by anything I've written here. If I hadn't recently looked at the stats on this site, I still would believe that only 2 people ever read these and I'll immediately hear from one of them, if I've ruffled any feathers. But I am well aware of just how unpopular Gregg Araki is and I used to detest his cinema, but I've changed and I get his body of work now. Actually, I am crazy about his movies and just how wonderfully transgressive and sex-centric they are.

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece
: Actually, this could also be the Gregg Araki one as they both have the same number of page views. I was actually floored that both my piece on re-visiting Greenaway's The Pillow Book and my apology for loving so many of Araki's films each have around 350 page views. My only explanation is that neither auteur has a ton written about them on the interwebs. At least, when I've gone looking for essays on either the Pillow Book or any of the filmmakers that were part of the "new gay cinema" of the early 90s, I find very little. At least, that's the only explanation I've come up with.

Most Underrated Piece: I really like Friend's with Benefits and can even read this one without cringing. I can't say that about many of these movie essays.

Most Pride-worthy Piece: This one is easy. I'm not ashamed to admit that I love a great action flick, but I have struggled with trying to understand why it was that American action movies are downright boring and just don't have the thrill of the great movies that have hailed from Hong Kong. Well, one day I identified exactly what I was responding to in those fantastic eastern flicks that is lacking in modern, American cinema and managed to write it all down before forgetting.

And I am not going to tag anyone. Mostly, because I haven't been taking part in my friend's blogs as of late, but now that I have so much free time, I'll be reading and commenting a lot more. 





Monday, April 16, 2012

The Raid: Redemption


2012 is shaping up to be a very strong year for action cinema. The first movie I saw this year was Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol which features the trilling sequence with Tom Cruise dangling off the side of a mile high building. Then there was Stephen Soderberg's Haywire with MMA fighter, Gina Carino, where we get to watch her kick everyone ass. Viral Factor is the first of Dante Lam's HK action flicks to show in the multiplexes. And while it is a mess of a movie, it does contain some very tightly choreographed and nicely shot sequences. But the most exciting action cinema to appear so far this year is an Indonedian film from Welsh director, Gareth Evens, The Raid: Redemption.

As a fan of Asian cinema, especially Asian action cinema, The Raid: Redemption is as an opportunity to see a film from a part of Asia that I know very little about. Indonesia doesn't appear to have a long, film history. Since the 1960s, there have been only a couple of films made each year and was subject to much censorship that limited the industry to action movies and pornography. With regime changes over the last decade, many more films are being made and Indonesian cinema is just beginning to show up in film festivals. And like my first exposure to the cinema of Thailand, it is a martial arts movie that is the first movie from Indonesia that has found its way to the screens here is the US.

The plot of The Raid is pretty typical of the genre. The Raid opens with the hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), showing off his physique by doing pull-ups before kissing his pregnant wife goodby before he joins the rest of a team of highly specialized police officers to raid the 15-floor apartment building, where evil crime boss, Tama (Ray Sahetany), rules from the top floor. The movie is structured like a video game, with the police entering the building and moving up each floor to get closer to their target. However, after clearing a couple of floors an alarm is sounded and it is announced that there are unwanted intruders in the building and that there's good money in dispatching the police. Quickly, the team is reduced to a small group of officers with mad martial arts skills who are just trying to survive having entered this building crawling with machete wielding killers.

But the plot is not the reason to see The Raid, it is the martial arts. The star is the Indonesian martial art, Pencak Silat and the hand to hand combat scenes are the most riveting parts. From what is showcased, Silat is a particularly brutal martial art with a focus on strikes to the head, neck and spine, every blow appears deadly. The star, Iko Uwais was discovered by the Welsh writer, director while making a documentary on the martial art, but he isn't the most memorable here. Yayan Ruhian, who plays Tama's #1 henchman, Mad Dog, is incredible to watch.

While the fight sequences are well choreographed set pieces that beautifully demonstrate the skills of the stars, the filmmaking lacks the innovation and vision that sets the great action films apart. But the shots are solid and the action is shot with a steady hand at enough of a distance to follow the geography of the scene. What it lacks is the carefully constructed choreography that allows for the breathtaking long tracking shots, as seen in the opening of JCVD, or the innovative use of sets and location as in Tony Jaa's The Protector. Additionally, The Raid is a rather humorless film that really could have utilized a bit of comic relief. But still, despite these shortcomings, The Raid is a truly exciting piece of action cinema. I hope to see Yayan Ruhian in more movies, or at least, more fight sequences choreographed by him. And as demonstrated in this second film from director, Gareth Evans, he does seem to have a talent for finding martial artists and the skill to film solid action sequences. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. 



Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Movie Orgy: possibly the funniest orgy around

Last weekend, I had the rare opportunity to attend a screening of Joe Dante's The Movie Orgy. Various iterations of this mash-up of movies, television, commercials and educational films, initially over 7 hours long, Joe Dante spliced together as it toured college campuses in the 70s. The film was transferred to digital to present at the New Beverly Cinema in 2008 and now, again at the small, independent cinema, The Grand Illusion, where I volunteer. I knew that this cinematic rarity was an event that I could not miss, but I had reservations. Joe Dante has described it as a movie designed to be walked out on and after looking at the clips that have made their way to the web, I appreciated the absurdity of cutting between several diverse narratives together, but had assumed the resulting film would lose something to an audience unfamiliar with the source material, or be an exercise in surrealism. The Movie Orgy was neither. Instead, it was a highly engaging 4 1/2 cinema collage that not only was riotously funny for the duration, but also, a rather striking piece of social commentary for a nation at war under corrupt leadership. Apparently, some things never change.

Surprisingly, The Movie Orgy had a structured narrative provided by the recurrence of several films that provided a backbone for the film as a whole. Scenes from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), College Confidential (1960), Beginning of the End (1957), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and Speed Crazy (1959) provided a loose narrative as Joe Dante cuts between the science fiction, monster movies and teen flicks. This narrative is frequently interrupted by commercials, primarily form Bayer Aspirin and Colgate (with GARDOL!). The Bayer ads were downright jaw-dropping as in one, an elderly couple is being removed from their home as it is demolished in the background with landlord in the foreground... "Bayer, strong medicine for sensitive people."

Additionally, there were longer segments of related clips. There are newsreels of an atomic drill and a beauty pageant that cuts to Army recruiting propaganda films along with a plea from Anne Margaret to the American people to demonstrate their patriotism and buy US Savings Bonds. Actually, there were plenty of US Savings Bond commercials throughout as well as references to the Vietnam war, appearances from Nixon, and even a brief glimpse of John Wayne. The Movie Orgy can definitely be viewed as a bit of a cinematic time capsule of an era, but not one without satirical commentary.

The war wasn't the only topic that Dante's editing choices provided a sense of cynicism. Probably the most outrageous clips were those that were critical of America's religiosity. There was a hilarious and downright anti-semetic clip from Queen Esther (1948). Included is an Andy's Gang segment where Jesus Loves Me is sung with a crowd of screaming children. The clips from Andy's gang, hosted by Andy Devine, are quite disturbing. They feature musical instruments being played by a black cat and hamster, that I'm pretty certain were taxidermy. And the rendition of Jesus Loves Me goes on too long. It is quite unsettling piece of horror in television aimed at children.

My personal favorite piece of Christian television was a commercial from the Judeo-Christian Brotherhood for a denial and self-sacrifyce package that included a whip, pincer, and stocks & bondage. You could the the package for $19.95 elsewhere, but only here is is available for $39.95, because it is better to give than to receive. I cannot help but to wonder how that particular advertisement could have possibly been real. Where in the world did Joe Dante find this stuff?

And then there were the movie Jokes. A favorite that was visited again and again was to show the opening titles of a movie (i.e. The Return of Rusty (1946), followed by one brief clip (A boy excitedly greeting a dog, "Rusty, you've come home!"), immediately followed by "The End". This was a gag that never got old. The Queen Esther clip was presented this way, and sometimes, this formula was altered. For instance, we see the opening of the film noir, The Naked City (1948), which cuts to a clip from a silent nudie film of two women bathing in a pool, which again cuts to The End. The Movie Orgy is full of silly moments.

The bulk of the movie's humor comes from two films, College Confidential and Speed Crazy. College Confidential has bombshell Mamie Van Doren accusing a sociology professor (Steve Allen) of corrupting the students with his pervy, sex surveys in order to excuse her own late night rendezvous with boys. Repeatedly returning to scenes of college students partying add plenty of pulp to interweave between some educational films about going to the high school prom. And then there was Speed Crazy, with an insane protagonist that is constantly reacting with violence because "everybody's always crowding" him. This is a line that re-appears numerous times throughout, making Nick Barrow the apparent star of the Movie Orgy or at least the most memorable character of the night.

The climax comes with a frenzy of intercut clips of all of the monsters attacking. We seen national monuments being destroyed by flying saucers, mushroom clouds, giant grasshoppers overwhelming armies, a huge tarantula emerging from an explosion, giants, the world's most enormous gila monster, King Kong, a giant mutant bird creature, and the death of the 50 foot woman. And with all of these world ending attacks going on, the heroes also emerge to give aid. Sky King, Robin Hood, Superman, the Texas Rangers, Rin Tin Tin, the Lone Ranger, even Mighty Mouse appear to save the day. Although, only Superman gives important lessons in responsibility and morality along with the much needed saving the world skills. When Superman catches a thief in the act, he learns the important lesson that he should have learned to save, so he wouldn't need to steal.

The Movie Orgy concludes with a huge collection of familiar endings, from Roy Roger singing Happy Trails, the Mickey Mouse club singing their familiar good-by to Porky Pig telling us that "that's all folks" along with too many others to remember. This is the downside to watching a 4 1/2 hour movie clip marathon is that as the movie ends in the early hours of the morning, the details of the event are a blur and one is left with mostly a positive memory of the enjoyment of the event, but few concrete details.


And now, here is some good tips on how to survive an atomic attack.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Hunger Games


I doubt that I'll attempt to review the new film, the Hunger Games, but I did see it and had a great time. Unlike the rest of America, I did not read the books and really came in with very little knowledge of the cultural phenomenon. But knowing what I know now, specifically that it is a series as popular with young adult readers as a certain vampire, romance series with apparently 100% less misogyny and romanticism of abusive relationships, I was pleasantly surprised by the film.

First of all, there aren't nearly enough movies made with strong, female characters, so I'm thrilled that a movie with a female protagonist, the Hunger Games, made 155 million during its opening weekend. This, along with Bridesmaids, challenges the notion that men won't see movies with a female protagonist, unless drug there kicking and screaming by a girlfriend. And Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a fantastic female lead. She's strong, independent, confident, brave, and her obvious capability garners respect. And she is a badass with a bow and arrow. As a female fan of action cinema, I sometimes forget just how rare action heroines are, especially ones that are believable and not just lithe sex objects, posed with a weapon. And probably in large part due to Katniss's stoic and smart portrayal by Jennifer Lawrence, I really enjoyed the Hunger Games.

And as expected, there's backlash. It seems that anytime women are in the spotlight, all we can focus on is their perceived, physical shortcomings. Just so you know, Jennifer Lawrence is too fat to play Katniss. Yeah, I know, it's like they didn't even see the movie. Katniss was providing for her family by hunting small game animals, explaining why she might not look like she is starving to death. But the truly astonishing fan reaction to the movies is the reaction of fans to some of the characters being played by non-Caucasian actors, but then there is some precedent for people being taken aback by the portrayal of anyone, even incidental characters by actors that are not white. Sociological images did a nice piece using movie trailers to demonstrate just how much Hollywood marginalizes racial minorities. But just because we aren't used to seeing people of different races portrayed in Hollywood movies, doesn't excuse the anger expressed in the racist tweets made by fans.

Myself, I was impressed by the decision to cast African American actors in some of the roles in the Hunger Games. I saw it as some evidence of progress that a few characters would be played by people of different races, although, apparently the characters in the Hunger Games race were specified in the book. Still, it is a nice change to see some of America's diversity portrayed on the silver screen. The last time I noticed casting of incidental characters and extras as black was in Steve McQueen's Shame. While I did not like the film, it was fascinating that so many of the incidental characters, like passengers on the subway or a certain percentage of Brandon's hook-ups were African American. Can't help but to wonder why more filmmakers aren't attempting to reflect the diversity we each see around us on a daily basis in the films they they make?

My only complaint about the film was the way the hand-to-hand combat sequences were filmed. Much of the movie, even once the tributes are put on the island to battle each other, the chases and much of the action is shot via steady cam at enough of a distance to observe the action while being able to identify the characters and easily follow the action. However, anytime characters fight in close proximity, suddenly the camera shakes and cuts are too quick to follow the action at all. During the final fight, it was completely unclear to me who or what Katniss shot an arrow through that brought an and to the standoff between Katniss, Peeta, and Cato. And I was not alone in this confusion. Leaving the theater, I heard others (probably those that had read the book) explaining this scene to baffled friends. Fortunately, not understanding the details of how Katniss triumphs during each confrontation isn't essential to enjoying the film, just aggravating and a bit dizzying.

But overall, I found the Hunger Games to be a very engaging movie. The cultural climate seems perfect for a film about an totalitarian regime that keeps the impoverished districts in line by demanding that one boy and one girl are given over to fight to the death in a spectacle, broadcast for all to watch; a kind of dystopic reality show. Watching the Hunger Games does elicit connections with the current waves of unrest that have led to the formation of the occupy movement and probably, to some extent the tea party before that. Makes one long for a strong, independent girl to shake things up and change the direction of history.