Film Reviews by Genre: ESCAPIST
ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY
Kyung -gu Sol, Jun-ho Jeong, Shin-il Kang
AS FAR AS MY FEET CAN CARRY ME
Bernhard Bettmann, Michael Mendl, Hans-Peter Hallwachs
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL-NEW ORLEANS
Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk
This film turns its genre upside down and spits on it. It does for police crime stories what Cat Ballou (1965) did for westerns. From singing iguanas to philosophical drug kings to a hero with a bad back and a roaring coke habit; it has it all.
The tone, story, and intentions are all very different from Abel Ferrara’s original Bad Lieutenant movie (1992). All that is preserved is Cage’s interpretation of Harvey Keitel’s famous blowjob scene in his patrol car (now a stand up fuck in a parking lot).
At the center of this amazing maelstrom is Nick Cage in a role he was born to play. Not since Honeymoon in Las Vegas (1992) has he worn a suit that fits so well. In Vegas it was a flying Elvis suit. In Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans it is a light tan stoop-shouldered business suit that looks bought off the rack at Syms. He’s permanently bent over by a bad back and an equally oppressive cocaine habit. His snort and chase method of getting the bad guys is fascinating to watch.
His girlfriend, Frankie, is Eva Mendes. She has trouble wearing anything that is not sexy. But then, she’s a prostitute and her clothes are her uniform. Steve, (Val Kilmer) is Terence’s (Cage’s) better-looking cop partner who always manages to look cool while Terence looks more and more manic.
The plot makes no difference because writer William Finkelstein has written so many TV crime show episodes he can name the scene by its button line (that wrap-up line when movie and TV cops leave the room or get out of the car or walk away from the cemetery).
Werner Herzog is no stranger to obsessed characters. Fitzcarraldo is his masterpiece, and My Best Fiend is his doc that probes the dark soul of Klaus Kinski. Cage gets the Kinski prize in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans.
Kinski is dead but we’ve still got Cage to play splendidly insane characters. Too bad he also keeps doing dumb movies where he is tries to be sensitive.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call-New Orleans failed at the box office. It was mistakenly sold as a crime story and nobody screamed loud enough to viewers that it was a truly original and totally inventive genre-busting black comedy.
Hopefully it will become a cult on Netflix streaming. It would make a great evening with The Big Lebowski as a double feature.
I hope God keeps a credit list where there are special awards of merit for Cage, Herzog, and Finkelstein. Would be nice if Eva Mendes and Fairuza Balk (Heidi here, but amazing since her first appearance in Gas, Food, and Lodging) are included as honorable mentions. In fact, there’s not a single actor in this whole cast who isn’t pretty amazing.
Seema Biswas, Nirmal Pandey
BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN
Michael Caine, Karl Marlden, Ed Begley
Antonio Resines, Jose Coronado, Goya Toledo, Felix Alvarez, Dafne Fernandez
Can you believe a bank manager as the hero of an action crime film? Remember this was 2002 and bankers hadn’t yet become villains. His daughter has been burned to death in a suspicious forest fire in primo tourist area of the Spanish coast.
An unrelated bank robbery at his branch turns up a mysterious map of the same forest area when one of the safe deposit boxes is rifled. The only problem with this otherwise gripping, original, and character filled thriller is the confusion between two safe deposit boxes that both seem to contain clues. Kind of The Wrong Box though this has nothing to do with that comedy and is not even a comedy.
If you can get buy this plot confusion that took me two fast-backwards of the DVD to understand ( that is, to understand that I would never understand); the rest of the film is gripping. The banker wants to find the truth about the death of his daughter. An ex-cop on the take wants to blackmail those who can deliver enough money to send him and his alcoholic wife out of the country for a better life.
The two plots and the two guys are going to meet somewhere (see the clip) and nobody is going to be happy with the outcome. The film is fascinating: full of great characters played by great character actors. They always pulling you forward to the next scene. Americans don’t get to see many European action films. They don’t come to art theaters where the crowds wants picture postcard views of Europe, and they never come to multiplexes where the audience can’t even read the subtitles
So this is a rare opportunity to see a really good European action movie (if you can forgive the story sloppiness about the two safe deposit boxes). It is also a deliciously violent film, assuming you like guys getting shot in the back of the head. I do.
DISTRICT B 13
David Belle, Tony D'Amario, Larbi Naceri
Nicolas Winding Refn
Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman
The genius he brings to Bernie Rose, the character he plays in Drive, is the embodies the characters he plays in all his earlier films but with a world-weariness that has turned him lethal. There’s the same “wouldn’t you know it” sigh and resignation but now the disappointment is not losing all his money in Las Vegas and ending up a school crossing guard; but seeing his gang fuck up the big one and sadly setting it right by killing everybody.
His scene with Shannon (Byran Cranston) is one of the coldest murders ever on screen. Bernie slashes the artery in his arm and says sympathetically, “that’s it, no pain,” as if he was Shannon’s nice guy father come to administer a little spanking to a child who knows he has it coming.
Brooks is not the star of Drive. That honor belongs to Ryan Gosling, who drives the movie extremely well. And the cool-y observed existential LA of nights and freeways is the amazing creation of Nicolas Winding Refn, the director. Every generation creates their LA existential movie. Refn: a Dane from New York and Copenhagen has defined it for the now we live in.
But the movie belongs to Albert Brooks as much as another movie with a great heavy many years ago belonged to another comedian. That film was about a pool shark at the end of his days much like Drive features a petty mobster at the end of his days. Brooks looks at the racer up on a grease rack and says his name could have been on the side. Jack Gleason looked at a pool cue in The Hustler and thought he could come back for one more win. Both movies show us what happens when laugher turns to anger and younger men snatch the dreams. See them both.
EVIL DEAD 2
Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Sid Abrams, Josh Becker
Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, Natasha Richardson
Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta
Ben Mendelsohn, Jeremy Sims
Yeong-ae Lee, Min-sik Choi
Ricardo Darin, Gaston Pauls, Leticia Bredice
How can one movie be a hit and the remake a dud? What goes wrong is always a mystery but it follows the old rule: you never know how it will turn out.
Nine Queens is an Argentinean classic. A clever grifter recruits an understudy to help him with the big one: he’s got his hands on forgeries of a priceless stamp collection (the nine queens are the faces on the stamps). He’s going to sell them to a visiting billionaire for big bucks. Most of the action takes place in the hotel where the billionaire is staying, and where the con man’s sister is, conveniently, the concierge. The deal gets rough when the billionaire throws in an added condition: he wants to sleep with the grifter’s sister. She hates her brother, and grinds him into the ground on the deal for her ass.
Great idea, very original. The writer/director was an assistant director most of his short career (he died at 47 of a heart attack while casting a commercial in Brazil). Nine Queens is his lasting memorial. You can’t find much wrong with it, and the casting of versatile Argentine actor Ricardo Darin (see clip: Son of the Bride on MovieWithMe), and fetching Leticia Bredice (be sure not to miss her playboy photos) is inspired.
So why did it bomb when remade in America as the film, Criminal? What are the clues? Remember the phrases “writer/director,” “versatile,” and “playboy.” The American director, Gregory Jacobs, is also an accomplished first assistant director.
Criminal is his one of Jacobs' (shared) writing credits, and his solo directing gig. I suspect he got this break because of pals on a lot of big Hollywood pictures he’d worked with as First A.D. Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney are the producers of Criminal. Their clout probably landed John C. Reilly and Maggie Gyllenhaal.THAT was the big mistake.
Movies are conceits. If you don’t believe what’s up on the screen is real you’ll take your popcorn and go home. Maggie Gyllenhaal is very talented, but upper class. I’ll NEVER believe she’s going to fuck a guy for her brother’s con game. Leticia Bredice will sell hers body to anybody for the right price, including Playboy.
There’s an old saying in movies, “you can’t play working class, you either are or are not.” Maggie is a gifted actress, but she’s no Stella Kowalski (A Streetcar Named Desire). She's better in the Blanche Dubois role.
John C. Reilly is no Ricardo Darin either. He’s also a wonderful character actor who specializes in sleazy bumblers. (see clip: The Good Girl on MovieWithMe.com). If he’s playing a bumbler and you know he will lose, so what’s the surprise?
Look at clips of the same scene from both movies. Leticia/Maggie are walking up to the billionaire’s hotel room door resolved to carry out their end of the bargain. See whom you believe.
ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR
The “Science of Eight Limbs” is the essence of South East Asian kickboxing. To appreciate the beauty of Ong-Bak you must first understand what you are watching. The story of a stolen statue is only an excuse to display Muay Thai, the Thailand version of boxing.
Western boxing uses two points of contact: fists. Karate style boxing uses four: hands, feet. Nak Muays, the name for the boxers who fight with Muay Thai, use eight: hands, feet, elbows, and knees.
Head of a statue, the most precious possession of a small village is stolen by an unscrupulous businessman. Booting, or Ting (Panom Yeerum), a village boy and their champion fighter, is sent to Bangkok to retrieve it. Once he gets there he is forced to fight and fight the bad guys until he gets the statue back.
The innocent from the country against the city mob is not remarkable. But the stunts are stupendous.. There are many sequences, both fighting and chasing, that are daring, original, and breathtaking. The clip is of an extended chase through the city with the bad guys nipping at Ting’s heels.
Many chase elements are filmed in slow motion and choreographed like dances. What makes this even more complex to shoot is the flips, kicks, and amazing aerobatics. This can not be done in slo mo, so the camera needed to be over cranked for some parts of the sequence, and set at normal speed, 24 frames, for others. Watch how intricately everything is planned.
While you watch think that what you see is not just a Thai movie, it is the cinematic representation of a physical art form so ancient that the name for it comes from Sanskrit: the Indo-Aryan language of Hinduism and Buddhism that goes back 3500 years.
THE MISSING GUN
Truc “Charlie” Nquyen
Johnny Nguyen, Thanh Van Ngo, Veronica Ngo, Dustin Nguyen
Some movies don’t work, but have enough good stuff in them to fry a couch potato for an hour and a half. We’re in Vietnam, 1920’s, during the era of French Colonial rule. Anti-French rebellions are starting to shake the county and the French employ an undercover Vietnamese agent to assassinate the head of the resistance.
No one tells him two important things about the assignment: first, he’s going to see all the terrible consequences of French rule on his own people. Second, he’s going to fall in love with the beautiful daughter of the resistance leader while he’s plotting to assassinate him.
A knockout of a daughter, a tortured journey, continually challenging moral assumptions about the French: this is challenging to any braveheart. But forget romance and politics. There is only one plot stew that can cook in an Asian adventure movie: action.
Get another beer from the fridge, heat some frozen spring rolls in the microwave, and don’t miss the action scenes. The art of The Rebel is in the stunts, and these are tops in imagination and execution. You won’t learn much meaningful history about French rule in Indochina, but you will learn it’s been a fucked up country for a long time. Maybe the current era of tourist beaches and time share condos in Ho Chi Min City is actually the best.
THE ROAD (+ GLEN AND RANDA)
Viggo Mortsensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron
Why does every post-apocalypse movie always feature abandoned cars strewn along the highways like a used car lot hit by a tornedo? Are we supposed to believe that the end of mankind climaxed with a demolition derby? Any news report of people freezing to death in the mountains are roasting to death in the desert usually has them quietly pulling off the road and waiting calmly for the end.
Hollywood movies believe that the dying will careen at top speed, slamming into other unfortunates in a race to destroy themselves. Or maybe it is just cheap set design to buy wrecked cars and cover them with rust paint and dust.
See I Am Legend for the big budget version of the road wreck of civilization. See The Road for the economy model. But don’t see The Road because you want a good movie experience. It is a dog. Bad story, bad acting, and boring.
So why review it here? Because it is a good contrast that was one of the best post apocalypse movies. Glen and Randa, a 1971 gem by Jim McBride. The Road is about a father and son traveling through a grim landscape pocked with lots of broken cars. The message of this mess is: the future without people will be kind of boring.
Glen and Randa trip through a land stripped of all but a hardy few who have survived by returned to primitivism. There’s The Magician (Gary Goodrow) who pushes and old wheelbarrow filled with glowing embers. He’s a magician because he's got fire. Anybody who wants some has to barter with him. The lovers, Glen (Steven Curry) and Randa (Shelly Plimpton), are sort of Adamish and Evee hippy types who (as I remember) fuck in a tree and wander into abandoned Interstate rest stop restaurants for shelter.
When the movie was made the hippie movement was in full flower. Make Love Not War was written on every tie-dye t-shirt. Looking at the film now, it’s more of an ecological statement about our excesses. It has something to say whereas The Road makes only guttural sounds.
One scene I’ll never forget from Glen and Randa has them walking along the shoulder of a former Interstate highway. Randa needs a piece of string or wire for something (pardon my memory). Glen says there must be piece somewhere here, and starts searching the ground. Randa asks how he knows he will find it. Glen answers, “Because there’s everything everywhere.”
What he’s saying is that our wasteful society has thrown away so much, especially along American highways, that you can find whatever you need. And it’s true! Need a piece of wire to jimmy a lock? A length of rope to tie the trunk? A plastic bag to hold wet swimsuits? A cup to pour water in the radiator?
All you’ve got to do is hunt along the highway shoulder for a couple of minutes and you’ll see it's true: everything is everywhere.
Post apocalypse America will be a place much like modern day American. It will be drowning it the shit we’ve thrown away for a century, and foraging primitives will depend on this bounty to survive. Nobody will care about stripping car hulks. The man who finds a beer can opener will be king.
It’s easy to see a copy of The Road but don’t. It’s tough to find a copy of Glen and Randa but worth the wait.
Sadly, you won’t find Glen and Randa in Netflix, but Amazon says they have a few copies.
Glen and Randa, (USA1971, 93 min. dir: Jim McBride, cast: Steven Curry (Glen), Shelly Plimpton (Randa), Garry Goodrow (Magician).
Luiz Carlos Lacerda
Marcello Antony, Paula Burlamaqui
Hyuk Jang, Min-a Shin
Jean Reno, Ryoko Hirosue
WHITE COLLAR WORKER KINTARO
Katsunori Takahashi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Takashi Miike, Yoko Saito, Kanako Enomoto
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