Sunday, August 30, 2009
Chronological displacement probably wouldn't have helped Basterds - conversations detailing upcoming action sequences won't seem any less redundant if you've already seen the sequences - but it might have made the film less of a slow clomp towards obvious, unmemorable pay-offs. I'd need to see Death Proof again to tell which recent Tarantino effort enjoyed less. In both cases, he relies on charismatic performers to make do with his waning knack for dialogue (can't say I heard a new Royale With Cheese in either), but Proof's languid masturbation may have more verve than this thin epic (only 16 scenes!) when it's not preceded by jolt-o-ramas from less indulgent directors.
If it wasn't for Kill Bill's swordplay, it'd be tempting to suggest Tarantino never had the knack for grand kineticism he's shown for smaller scale violence (from Bill's split-screen to this film's slo-mo, Tarantino makes a shitty DePalma, too). While I understand the cultural catharsis this historically inaccurate revenge fantasy provides for the chosen, I expect to get more from the violent paybacks in Robert Rodriguez's upcoming historically inaccurate revenge fantasy Machete. Had Rodriguez run this, you know that shot of Samm Levine screaming with a machine gun would have made the final cut. Fuck a literary-themed card game! This is supposed to be a historically inaccurate revenge fantasy!
Damningly symbolic of these neglected opportunities is a Mike Myers cameo less rewarding than his turn as Steve Rubell in the historically inaccurate revenge fantasy 54. In an ILX thread comparing QT to the Coens, I claimed I couldn't imagine the former ever wallowing in the miserabilism you expect from aging auteurs. I'm glad I can't see him using a genre piece to ask what it all means, but self-amusement alone won't keep his crackerjack edge from dulling. Maybe it's more noteworthy when a mix of Roger Corman and Eric Rohmer doesn't suck.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
With an A+ ad campaign rocketing the film into the sci-fi nerd canon, it's tempting to dump on District 9 a lot more than I normally would a modestly budgeted foreign directorial debut with no stars and great special effects. Then again, much of what's wrong with the film can be chalked up to its makers' awareness of the American marketplace. Based on Alive In Joburg, a short mock-documentary about aliens arriving in '80s South Africa, where they're forced to live with the black population, District 9 keeps the location and time while removing all references to the nation's racist policies. There isn't even an aside suggesting the aliens helped make the transition from apartheid easier - after all, how many in the theater would even know what apartheid is?
The rushed sum-up of the first 20 years of alien interaction offers plenty of other "refrigerator moments" (Hitchcock's term for specious details you don't realize until think about the movie at home). How can aliens and humans understand each other while never ever speaking the same language? How could humans know so little about the creatures' goals, history, etc after so long a time? Are we really to believe the population of 1,000,000+ aliens are a bunch of clueless, scavenging bottom-feeders except for a solitary scientist with a cute kid and a spaceship in his basement? And if you spray an alien with gasoline, do they start turning human?
Had the movie maintained its faux-documentary origins, many of the issues could be written off as the ignorance of the documentarians (how would they know how just how few of the aliens were behind an uprising?). But the film gradually abandons the POV shots and security cameras, shifting into standard action movie omniscience. It's possible they could have worked tender family moments, tearful phone calls and a Defiant Ones climax successfully into a faux-doc, but why risk the device distancing audiences by asking them to think and accept ambiguity? Better to use the talking heads and "found footage" as 21st century pepper for a rewrite of Alien Nation.
Monday, August 17, 2009
The first movie in memory where unconvincing performances are actually in service of a plot twist that might not have redeemed having to watch such awful acting even if the switcheroo wasn't completely absurd. And just when the audience can least believe what he's selling, David "Chronicler Of Riddick" Twohy throws in a wipefest complete with three-way split-screen. Since the rest of the film goes without such editing trickery, he must not have known how else to establish three people running after each other. It couldn't have been for dramatic effect.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
After his overwrought "Vengeance Trilogy" (Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance), Park Chan-Wook directed I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK, a 2006 romantic comedy set in an insane asylum that has yet to be released in the US. I have no idea if it's any good, but I'm guessing it would have helped prepare the audience for Thirst, which giggles where his previous films wept, even as it wallows in bloodletting, sexual dysfunction and Catholic guilt.
A monk (Song Kang-Ho of The Host and Memories Of Murder, who has shown crazy range for a leading actor) martyrs himself for science only to be accidentally resurrected by a transfusion of vampire blood (its origin is never explained). While refusing to kill - he slurps on the IV tube of a comatose patient for sustenance - his moral code is shaken enough to let him get freaky with the downtrodded wife of a sickly perv he went to school with. The sex is good, but he can't get over his guilt and she's manipulative - issues only complicated by his condition.
The film is wearingly episodic - how could a synthesis of Scorsese at his most sniggering and DePalma at his most perverse not be? - but I love that Chan-Wook embraces the silliness of the supernatural while giving the melodrama its due. In an age of self-serious genre epics, his nasty kicks suggests awareness and vitality, his set-ups playfully masterful. It's hard to complain Chan-Wook included too many of them when you want to see what he'll do next.