Archive for the ‘Movies (W)’ Category

 

 

 

WHY

 

Over the past two weeks I’ve been covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival for Daily Grindhouse. This festival is so well-curated that one doesn’t even need to be local to find use for it; their schedule is like a ready-made Netflix queue. One of the films that ran this week was the deceptively-named WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?, which has a great title for a horror movie but which quickly turns out to be something very different. I was lucky enough to see it last year and this is what I wrote about it for my year-end top-ten:

 

 

WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? is maybe, probably, most likely the most jubilant movie about movies ever made. Almost every prominent director seems to end up making a movie directly or indirectly about making movies — from Paul Thomas Anderson (BOOGIE NIGHTS) to John Carpenter (IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS), from Clint Eastwood (BRONCO BILLY) to Spike Lee (SHE HATE ME), from George Romero (KNIGHTRIDERS) to Martin Scorsese (THE AVIATOR) — and now here comes the one by Japan’s Sion Sono.

 

 

The story centers around a long-running feud between two factions of violent gangsters. Aside from war in the streets, the head of one mob is dedicated to making his daughter (the very young, hugely appealing Fumi Nikaido) a movie star. Towards that end, he recruits a group of would-be filmmakers calling themselves “the Fuck Bombers” to make it happen. One of them falls in love with the leading lady, which is problem enough, but the gang war is escalating, although ultimately, it provides the perfect setting for a very realistically bloody movie. WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? runs over two hours but every single minute is full of boistrous energy. It’s as wildly funny as any teen sex comedy and as gruesomely violent as any horror movie — usually at the same exact time. The point, it seems, is that film-going and filmmaking becomes an obsession and a delirium, like love itself. Makes perfect sense to me.

 

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– Jon Abrams.

 

 

SCORSESE

 

I’m always looking for ways to be more productive so I’ll be sharing some of my smaller reviews here as frequently as possible. It takes a long time to give a piece as much attention as I’d like, but sometimes my short sketches are still interesting enough to post. (In my opinion.) I’m naming this feature “Short Stack” because when I was brainstorming feature titles I started daydreaming of pancakes.

So today I’m posting a pair of quick studies I did for my weekly Blu-Ray column over at Daily Grindhouse. Both have to do with the subject of the great filmmaker Martin Scorsese and his infrequently-discussed flair for comedy.

As the preeminent cinematic artist of the current era of film — as he’s considered by cinemaniacs like myself — Scorsese seems to be thought of by normal people, most often, as a gangster-film director. The high cultural profile of MEAN  STREETS, GOODFELLAS, CASINO, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and THE DEPARTED bolsters that perception, and the widespread regard for RAGING BULL and TAXI DRIVER, a boxing picture and an urban vigilante picture, probably add to his image as a guy who makes movies about tough guys. Which he does, sometimes. When Scorsese does a genre picture, he tends to do the most artful and sophisticated possible version of them. His genre pictures are different, not easily forgotten, exemplary.

But there are several other facets to what Scorsese’s work is about. There’s Scorsese the documentarian (THE LAST WALTZ, SHINE A LIGHT), Scorsese the theologian (THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, KUNDUN), Scorsese the entertainer (CAPE FEAR, SHUTTER ISLAND), Scorsese the maker of woman’s pictures (ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE), Scorsese the producer of excellent taste (THE GRIFTERS, MAD DOG & GLORY), and plenty more still. But one of them absolutely is comedy.

Scorsese’s comedies don’t fit the popular notion of the genre, that’s for sure. The one Scorsese film that is intentionally described as such is AFTER HOURS, which is really more of a Kafka-esque nightmare. He never really goes after laughs for 100% of a film; his humor tends towards the darker registers and some of his films’ funniest moments come intertwined with scenes of graphic horror, or violence, or at least drama. That’s why nobody thinks of GOODFELLAS as a comedy, even though it’s way funnier than plenty of movies that are widely advertised as hilarious. Nobody expects movies with multiple murders to be riotously funny. When comedy comes that black sometimes it can be missed in all the darkness.

Bill Murray once said in an interview with NBC that he likes to play things straight, which is why when he says something funny, it’s a nice surprise. That’s a massive paraphrase, and also an accurate analogy to many of Scorsese’s films. If a film director isn’t branded or perceived as a comedy director, that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t do comedy. Martin Scorsese, as his filmography shows, can do pretty much anything.

All of which leads up to the following two films. One is a biopic of a real-life felon, the other is a story about an aspiring comedian so delusional he ends up kidnapping his comedy idol. Neither of them sound too funny on paper, but as they unspool they’re downright wicked.

I’ve written about THE WOLF OF WALL STREET before, but I love it so much I wrote about it again. It’s a highly different film than THE KING OF COMEDY, from 1983, but they have hilarity in common — though it’s surprising to notice that one is far funnier and less immediately disturbing than the other.

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)

The most widely misunderstood movie of 2013, and arguably the best (I’d argue it), but surely the most important. Does that sound crazy? Yes, I know 12 YEARS A SLAVE was officially named Best Picture. That’s understandable and only a monster would stand in opposition — a finely-made film about institutional racism in America will unfortunately be relevant to this country every year. But at this particular moment in time, there’s no more relevant topic than financial malfeasance. How do you think institutional racism is maintained nowadays? We’re far too enlightened to allow actual slavery. Today’s bad guys need more subtle ways to profit off the backs of those less fortunate.

LEO DOLLARS

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET hints around this issue, zoning in on a single-but-hardly-isolated instance, that of Jordan Belfort, who committed routine stock market fraud, specifically targeting lower-income wage slaves (because rich people were too smart). For his crimes, preying upon trusting clients and causing most of them economic ruin, he served 22 months. Seems a bit light, doesn’t it? The movie treats the prison sentence as almost an afterthought — it lasts only a minute or two, in a running time of 180 minutes. This is why some viewers (and critics!) thought the movie let its protagonist off easy. They’re forgetting how this movie begins: With a stentorian faux-commercial for Stratton Oakmont, the bullshit name Belfort gave his boiler room to make it sound more authentic.

 

 

Then Leonardo DiCaprio enters the film in the role of Belfort, narrating the whole coke-and-hookers criminal odyssey. We see him getting blown by a pretty blonde as he speeds down a highway in a red Ferrari — which he corrects mid-anecdote, making the car white. The rest of the movie seems to ditch this third-wall-breaking neo-Zack-Morris ability to bend the reality of what we’re watching, but I tend to think the device is there all along, as if absorbed by the momentum of the narrative.

FERRARI

In other words, the whole movie is a put-on. It’s being told to us by a bullshit artist — no, not an artist — a bullshit Renaissance-man. We can’t trust him. We shouldn’t trust him. Of course, any audience member who fully trusts what they’re seeing and hearing might get the wrong idea. I guess it’s better to be one of the upset people than to be one of the little shits who will inevitably treat this movie as career inspiration. That doesn’t mean the movie isn’t a necessary gesture.

THIS GUY

The same way 12 YEARS A SLAVE reminds us of our nation’s despicable history and how it still affects us all today, so too does THE WOLF OF WALL STREET remind us of the bastards who raid our economy and our pockets for their own benefit — let alone the corporate interests that own pretty much everything in sight. That’s a valuable service for a movie to perform. Yeah, it’s a black comedy. It’s funny as hell. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. You want to get mad, please: get mad! Just don’t address your anger to DiCaprio, writer Terence Winter, or director Martin Scorsese. Address it to Jordan Belfort, and the many more like him who you can see, right now, out on the sidewalk, in slick suits and ties, racing to their day jobs defrauding the government and its citizens. They’re all over the place, man.

____________________

The King of Comedy (1983)

THE KING OF COMEDY (1983)

As the recent case of “the very serious people vs. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” proves, sometimes people have trouble telling when Martin Scorsese is kidding. He’s a serious artist, sure, and more film-literate than pretty much anybody on the planet, but there’s a dark sense of humor running through so much of his work. He’s so rarely commended for that humor that sometimes he has to spell it out for people, like here, when he put the word COMEDY in the title.

HA

Like THE WOLF OF WALL STREETTHE KING OF COMEDY is the blackest kind of black comedy. From a script by former film critic Paul Zimmerman, Scorsese tells the story of Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), an aspiring stand-up comic who practices religiously in his mother’s basement for the day he will get to perform on the late-night talk show hosted by his hero, Jerry Langford (the simultaneously legendary and often controversial comic Jerry Lewis). When Langford spurns Pupkin, Rupert’s hopes aren’t dashed, but his approach changes. Instead of going through the normal channels, auditioning and all that, he kidnaps Langford, demanding his spot on the show.

JERRY

This is the satiric inverse of TAXI DRIVER, the earlier Scorsese/De Niro masterwork concerning themes of isolation and obsession. Like NETWORK, it predicted future trends by many years: The craven desire for fame, where in place of talent there is only ferociously aggressive drive, has a lot to do with many of the most prominent entertainers of the last decade or so. It’s comical enough, but it’s also pretty awful. You have to be a little twisted to find THE KING OF COMEDY funny, which is why many irony-deficient pundits apparently didn’t get it at the time. So basically, between THE KING OF COMEDY and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Scorsese has been dealing with being misunderstood by oversensitive bores for thirty years.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

 

As soon as it hit theaters, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET was met with a surprising and vehement pushback. It’s surprising because a new Martin Scorsese film is generally met with critical reverence, but prominent outlets such as the New Yorker, the Village Voice, New York Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Time, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post all took a dump on this one. And if that sounds like a lot, you ought to see the amount of online thinkpieces scolding the movie’s supposed endorsement of greed, misogyny, and misanthropy. While I love to see people talking passionately about a Martin Scorsese movie in 2013 (and now 2014), I think the people who have been decrying THE WOLF OF WALL STREET for supposedly glorifying its subject need to sit down, take a breath, relax, and then take a second look at it. Does this film, at a breezy three hours, make the story of fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort entertaining? Yeah, at three hours it had probably better. Does it condone his amoral behavior, his criminal actions, his borderline sociopathic worldview? Not for a second.

 

LEO DOLLARS

 

The real Jordan Belfort is in this movie, for the record. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a version of him throughout the film, but in the very last scene, there’s a cameo by the actual guy. He appears briefly at the top of the movie’s final scene, as the one introducing DiCaprio-as-Belfort at a speaking engagement, and I’d like to tell you something about my viewing experience here: I hated that guy on sight. His smirking face, his gratingly irritating voice; it makes my hand curl into a fist just thinking about it. I didn’t even know that role was performed by Jordan Belfort until the end credits rolled. His appearance almost took me out of the movie, and not because I knew who he was. My thoughts went something like, “Jesus Christ, that’s the most obnoxious extra ever.”

 

PIXAR'S WALLEYE

 

So Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t playing Jordan Belfort, not exactly. DiCaprio’s performance is charming and entertaining, and it needs to be, or the movie couldn’t hold its audience for a fraction of its running time. A movie can satisfy the needs of its audience while also delivering a message. DiCaprio’s performance is a vessel which delivers the moral mission of the movie. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET doesn’t glorify Jordan Belfort; it uses him. He’s displayed as a parable. People are angry to think Jordan Belfort got paid for the rights to his life story. I get that. But consider the case of Henry Hill, the man who provided the source material for GOODFELLAS. Sure, he was played by the handsome and charming Ray Liotta, and yes, he probably got paid. Does anybody watch GOODFELLAS wishing they were Henry Hill? In real life, after he came out of hiding, he had debilitating substance abuse problems and basically became a member of Howard Stern’s Wack Pack, and not even one who’s beloved, like Beetlejuice or Eric The Actor.

 

MARTY PITCHES IN

 

When contemplating the moral message of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, we are helped greatly by considering the track record of the man who made it. This isn’t the guy’s controversial debut film. Haven’t we been through this cultural conversation before, multiple times, only to finally come to a reasonable consensus? Martin Scorsese is rightly and highly ranked among the most well-regarded of living film directors. Scorsese is a movie-mad Catholic, one of the most thoughtful artists ever to probe the matter of man’s violent nature. He uses film both as the medium of communication and as the metaphorical fuel stoking the fire. This is the man who made THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, about the thoughts of Jesus while hanging upon the cross. Therefore, I do believe Scorsese is someone who is concerned with spirituality and ethics. This is the man who made KUNDUN, a movie which treats the Dalai Lama with reverence. I do not believe Martin Scorsese endorses dwarf-tossing.

 

KAMIKAZE!

 

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET makes people uneasy because it is so thoroughly entertaining. That’s good. That’s a testament to the movie’s effectiveness. After four decades of making and perfecting excellent movies, Scorsese knows how to work an audience like few others. This film spends the majority of its running time showing how Belfort left Wall Street (making the title a bit inaccurate, ironically) because he wanted to start a criminal enterprise even more profitable than the everyday swindling. It shows how selfish and shallow he was, how he hurt people without a second thought during his monomaniacal pursuit of women, drugs, and especially money. It shows how he won over his trophy wife and lost her (Australian actress Margot Robbie, a stunner who does a pitch-perfect New York accent and should have been in the running for all the awards). This guy hits a beautiful woman, one of the worst things a man can do in a movie. The movie doesn’t condemn him, seems impartial in point of fact. Shouldn’t it condemn him? Shouldn’t someone condemn him?

 

AMERICAN DOUCHEBAG

 

Consider how much time is spent showing Belfort’s punishment. It isn’t much. Belfort’s downfall takes up comparatively little screentime, his time in prison confined to one short scene, and even that takes place on an open-air tennis court. This movie shows us everything this bastard did, in gory detail, and then it doesn’t give us the sight of the punishment he deserves. That’s why so many people are troubled by this movie. Jordan Belfort got away with it. He did all those things, and he basically got away with it.

 

la_ca_1222_wolf_of_wall_street

 

And he’s just one guy.

 

Implicit in the film is that Jordan Belfort is not the only one who was doing what he was doing, that there are plenty who are still doing it. If that bothers us, it should. One reason we love movies is because they are tidier than real life. The good guys win and the bad guys get it in the end. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET gives us all that pleasure and then denies us the pleasure of seeing Jordan Belfort get his come-uppance. It works us up and then it gives us blue balls. That’s what we, as America, deserve. We let these guys get away with it, every day. Our national economy has been raided time and again by predators easily as bad as Jordan Belfort, and they are rewarded, not imprisoned. That’s not politics. That’s a measurable truth. But it’s an unpopular truth, and so it needs to be snuck into people’s minds inside of a yummy dessert. So very far from being an immoral film, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is in fact the most daringly moral film of the year.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

This piece originally appeared in slightly different form on Daily Grindhouse.

Watermelon Man (1970)

Been writing way too many obituaries lately.  Let’s celebrate some birthdays instead.  Today is Melvin Van Peebles’ birthday, so in honor of that occasion here’s the “extended cut” of a piece on WATERMELON MAN which I wrote for Rupert Pupkin Speaks.  I love this movie and you might too, depending on whether your sense of cynicism and affinity for anarchy are anywhere near my own.

“He stole something. We don’t know what yet.”

Watermelon Man

When Eddie Murphy was on Saturday Night Live, he did a terrific, spiteful, insightful sketch about going undercover as a white man, only to find that when you’re white, you’re in, you don’t even need to know the secret handshake, everything’s free and life’s a party.  WATERMELON MAN is that premise, in reverse, flipped, and dipped in hallucinogenics.  Godfrey Cambridge, a wonderful, nearly-forgotten black comedian who was at one time as famous as Bill Cosby, here plays Jeff Gerber, a white bigot, who one morning wakes up and finds he’s gone black. It’s his greatest, most Kafka-esque nightmare.

“What’s the matter, fella? Ain’t you never seen an Aztec before?”

This is the movie Melvin Van Peebles made right before his paean to righteous indignation, SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG, and as funny as this movie is, there’s a palpable (and justifiable) anger to it. Just as there was, I think, when Eddie Murphy put on whiteface, and later on, when Dave Chappelle played with the notion on his classic show of the 2000s.  It’s so profoundly messed up that the difference between a man being seen and treated like a prince or a criminal is just a couple shades of darkness away, but that’s America, baby. It rang true in the 1970s and it rang true in the 1980s and in the 2000s and it would probably still work the same today.

It’s amazing to realize that this was released by a major studio — Columbia — and to find out that it was a hit, since the filmmaking style has such a jittery, avant-garde feel to it.  The sets feel like they’re out of some 1970s sitcom version of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS — plastic, fakey, cartoonish.  It’s as if Ralph Bakshi tried to animate a Richard Pryor routine.  The music, composed by Van Peebles himself, jars against the choppiness of the scenes. There are jump cuts and flashes and fast-forwards and all kinds of crazy visual stuff.  The style is almost abrasive at times, purposefully so, and it’s matched and even overpowered by Cambridge’s hysterical (in every sense of the term) performance.

Even now, over forty years later, there’s an electricity to WATERMELON MAN that is simultaneously elating and disturbing. This is confrontational comedy, of the boldest and most heroic sort. There’s no laugh track to reassure you that you’re laughing at the right things. You might feel very wrong to laugh at a lot of what’s here, in fact.  But it’s the oldest comedy truth in the book: you have to laugh to keep from crying.

@jonnyabomb

DAILY GRINDHOUSE BANNER

Daily Grindhouse would be pretty much my favorite website even if I weren’t writing for them, but since I am, here’s a collection of all my work so far.  It’s some of my very best stuff. Enjoy!

25TH HOUR (2002) 48 HRS. (1982) 52 PICK-UP (1986) 88  THE ACT OF KILLING (2013) ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) Alex Cross (2012) ALIEN (1979) ALIEN ZONE (1978) ALPHABET CITY (1984) american sniper  AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) ANACONDA (1997) ANTS (1977) The Apple (1980) ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) ARTISTS & MODELS (1955) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) BADLANDS (1973) BAIT (2012) A Band Called Death (2013) BASKET CASE (1982)  BATMAN (1989) BATTLE ROYALE (2000) The Baytown Outlaws (2013). Beetlejuice (1988) BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013) BEST WORST MOVIE (2009)The Big Lebowski (1998) Big Trouble In Little China (1986) BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) BLACK DEATH (2011) THE BLOB (1988) BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) The Brides Of Dracula (1960) brothers-2009 BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) untitled CARRIE (1976) CB4 THE MOVIE (1993) CEMETERY MAN (1994) Charley Varrick (1973) CHEAP THRILLS (2013) CHOPPING MALL (1986) class-of-1984-poster The Colony (2013) COMPLIANCE (2012) CON AIR (1997) Conquest (1983) THE CONTRACTOR (2013) Creature (2011) CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) CRIME WAVE (1954) THE CROW (1994) DARKMAN (1990) DEAD & BURIED (1981) DEADLY FRIEND (1986) deranged-1974-movie-review-jpeg-35312 THE DESCENT (2005) THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976) dillinger-1973 DIRTY HARRY (1971) Django (1966) Django Unchained (2012).  DOG SOLDIERSDOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) DRACULA (1931) Dredd (2012) DRIVE (2011) Drive Angry (2011) End of Watch (2012) EQUINOX (1970) Escape From New York (1981) Evil Dead (2013) THE EXORCIST (1973) Eyes Without A Face (1960) FACE-OFF (1997) Fast Five A tumblr_n2u9s565B11rscnczo1_500 Fist Of Legend (1994) FRANKENSTEIN (1931) GANJA & HESS (1973) the-gauntlet-1977 Get Carter (1971) ghostbusters GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (1989) ghosthouse 1988 GI Joe Retaliation (2013) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) GOD TOLD ME TO (1976) GONE GIRL (2014) THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) The Great Silence (1968) Gremlins 2 - The New Batch (1990) The Grey (2012) Halloween (1978) Hannie Caulder (1971) Hardbodies (1984) Hardware (1990).. Henry (1990) High Crime (1973)  THE HILLS RUN RED (1966) . IMG_8699 THE HIT (1984)Hit Man (1972) hobo with a shotgun HOMEFRONT (2013) The Horror Of Dracula (1958) the host - no words HOUSE (HAUSU) (1977) The Iceman (2013) The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009) IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) THE INNOCENTS (1961) THE INSIDER (1999) The Invisible Man (1933) Iron-Man-3-2013 I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) Island-of-Lost-Souls-19331 Jackie Brown (1997) jaws jennifers body  JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) The Keep (1983) KILLER JOE (2011) The Killers (1966) Killing Them Softly (2012) The-King-of-Comedy-1983 LADY IN CEMENT (1968) LADY TERMINATOR (1989) THE LAST CIRCUS (2010) BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON (1985) Lawless (2012) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) the-leopard-man-movie-poster-1943-1020199765 Leprechaun (1993) A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997) LINK (1986) Liz & Dick (TV, 2012) Lockout (2012) The Lords of Salem (2013) Lost Highway THE MAGIC BLADE (1976) MAN OF STEEL (2013) THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997) The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) Maniac Cop (1988) THE MANITOU (1978) MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976) men-in-war-1957 MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977) MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (2009) My_Darling_Clementine_1946 NakedSpur-1953-MGM-one navajo-joe-1966 NEAR DARK (1987) NEON MANIACS (1986) night of the comet NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) Night of the Living Dead (1968) NOSFERATU (1922) NOTORIOUS (2009) OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983) ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) OUT OF THE PAST (1947) PACIFIC RIM (2013) pet-sematary-1989 Phenomena (1985) POOTIE TANG (2001) POSSESSION (1981) PREDATOR (1987) Premium Rush (2012) PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) Pursued (1947) q-the-winged-serpent-movie-poster-1983-1020195479 quick-change-poster BERANDAL (2014) RAVENOUS (1999) RAW FORCE (1982) Raw Meat (1972) RE-ANIMATOR (1985) Rear Window (1954) RED RIVER (1948) RED ROCK WEST (1992) Relentless (1989) RIDDICK (2013) tumblr_njo3upN5tn1sy67obo1_540 the road  ROBOCOP (1987) ROBOCOP (2014) SCANNERS  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) SCROOGED (1988) Shaft (1971) Sheba, Baby (1975) SHOCK WAVES (1977) shogun_assassin SORCERER (1977) source-code Spring Breakers (2013) SQUIRM (1976) STARSHIP-TROOPERS-1997 story of ricky  STREET TRASH (1987) Streets-Of-Fire-1984 THE STUNT MAN (1980) SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) Super (2011) SUSPIRIA (1977) switchblade_sisters_poster_02 (1) TAXI DRIVER (1976) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) THE THING (1982) THIS IS THE END (2013) thriller TORQUE (2004) touch of evil The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) TREMORS (1990) TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) THE UNKNOWN (1927) Under The Dome VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988) VERTIGO-1958-649x1024 Vigilante (1983) vigilante force THE VISITOR (1979) WHICH WAY IS UP (1977) WHITE HUNTER  WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL THE WICKER MAN (1973) winters-bone WITCHBOARD (1986) worlds-greatest-dad-2009 ZODIAC (2007) ZOMBI 2 (1979) ZOMBIELAND (2009)

Make Daily Grindhouse your daily destination for genre movie news, reviews, and interviews — there’s a ton of truly great content over there, beyond just the parts with my name on ’em.

And follow me on Twitter for updates!: @jonnyabomb

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Sometimes movies like X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE make me sad, because they give me time to reflect on how all the money going into these huge-budget movies could have been spent on important and worthwhile things like medical research, or wildlife conservation, or food for the needy, or reimbursing me for the allotment of my meager salary I used to purchase a ticket.

Let me back up:

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (which I am now going to refer to only as WOLVERINE, in order to keep my word count down), is the supposed origin story of the previously-mysterious, eternally-popular mutton-chopped mutant from the Marvel comic books and the three previous X-MEN feature films.  It’s meant as a prequel to that trio of movies, explaining how Wolverine got to the point in which we initially meet him at the beginning of 2000’s X-MEN.  As usual, Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, in a performance that has very little to do with the source material, but with an Eastwood-esque charisma that, for a while at least, had effectively anchored this increasingly unwieldy film series.

I had some hopes going into this movie because its initial screenplay credit goes to David Benioff, the novelist who wrote the books The 25th Hour andCity of Thieves, and the short story collection When The Nines Roll Over (all highly recommended).  On the other side of seeing this thing, I can’t believe that a single word of Benioff’s draft was used.  Or maybe he did write it after all, but only after being hit in the brain with one of those ‘amnesia bullets’ that wipes Wolverine’s mind clean in the penultimate scene.  (Sorry, I ruined the ending.)  Wolverine is lucky to have the amnesia though.  If this was my origin, I wouldn’t want to remember it either.

Look, I’m not by nature a negative guy; I know from first-hand experience how much effort goes into making any movie, no matter how it turns out, and I have no interest in denigrating the hard work of anyone involved.  However, in the interest of honesty, and in the hopes that something can be learned from the experience, here are some quick [amnesia] bullet points to explain why X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is – an understatement here – no classic:

Will Ferrell proved that this doesn't work.

Will Ferrell proved that this doesn’t work.

*  Shockingly clichéd dialogue.  If the humor was intentional, they would have called it AIRPLANE.

“You look like a man fixin’ to do a bad thing.”

“Colonel, this is turning into a disaster.”

“All of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.”

(Actually, I know exactly where they took that last line from – an earlier Marvel movie called BLADE!)

Blade

*  Incoherent action geography and by-the-numbers plotting.

But toothy yelling? We got that on lock.

But toothy yelling? We got that on lock.

*  A charismatic performance from Ryan Reynolds, who dominates every early scene and, naturally, is punished for it by being removed from the movie for an hour, only to return at the end with his mouth sewn shut.

Ryan Reynolds

*  Dominick Monaghan and Kevin Durand, both so good on Lost, also unnecessarily wasted.

"I've got a bright idea: Get me the fuck out of this movie ASAP!"

“I’ve got a bright idea: Get me the fuck out of this movie ASAP!”

*  An atrocious debut performance from Will.I.Am, who also has an atrocious number-one hit right now.  He’s a double-threat!

"Look on my silly cowboy hat, ye mighty, and despair!"

“Look on my silly cowboy hat, ye mighty, and despair!”

*  A complete lack of continuity with the X-MEN movies goes without saying, but I was still hoping that they’d at least TRY to explain how the great actor Liev Schreiber would one day become a pro-wrestler.

Sabretooths

*  Unintentional laughter abounds in this movie.  I listed the times when I laughed out loud:

1.  Opening credits freeze-frame on Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth, bounding like a bunny rabbit though a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN homage/ D-Day flashback.  Really, any time he jumps around the movie is almost worth the cost.  Hysterical.  Not meant to be.  But hysterical.

Sabertooth

2.  Naked CGI Wolverine jumping into a waterfall.  (Hard to explain and we don’t have the time. None of us here are immortal.)

Nuditay

3.  Aunt May and Uncle Ben, from the SPIDER-MAN movies, cameo as the kindly old couple who take Wolverine into their home.

(Not actually them.)

(But maybe.)

(If not, it’s Ma & Pa Kent for sure.)

Old Folks

4.  Adamantium bullets, Wolverine’s only weakness.  He’s a werewolf now.

Wolferineman

5.  The Blob gets his name from mis-hearing Wolverine when he addresses him as “Bub.”

(So how come Wolverine calls Gambit “Blob”?)

Blob

6.  Ryan Reynolds’ sad eyes when he reappears as Deadpool with his mouth sewn shut.

Sad Eyes

7.  Patrick Stewart cameos as a weird old guy who invites a group of kids into his helicopter.  Creepy!  (Imagine if I hadn’t seen the other movies yet and I didn’t know why this was happening, seeing as how the movie doesn’t really explain it.)

Patrick Stewart

Again, apologies for the spoilers, but not really.  If you’re an emotionally mature adult and you haven’t yet seen this movie, I’m actually helping you.  I’m saving you time and money.  This is a bad movie, not that it brings me any joy to say so.

I recognize that this movie wasn’t made for me.  Clearly.  It was made to swallow up the allowances of thirteen-year-old boys and to sell overseas to foreign audiences that will hopefully get better dialogue on their subtitles.  A movie like WOLVERINE only has to be just good enough to meet those standards, and not any better than that – that’s just how business works.  It also should be acknowledged that the movie isn’t made for girls either (let alone women) – the only female character in the entire movie exists solely to get killed (twice!) so that the title character has his excuse to wreak bloody vengeance all over the place (but not too bloody, since it has to come in under a PG-13 rating so all the kids can get in.)  The movie’s not sophisticated.

Still, it could’ve been.  I’m a comic book guy.  At least, I was, for my formative years.  I appreciate the artistry and energy of superhero comics, and for some time I was wrapped up in the compulsive appeal of them also.  I read all the X-Men comics throughout the 1990s, although that wasn’t necessarily a golden era for comic books.  That decade was dominated by flashy yet hollow characters such as Gambit and Deadpool, who coincidentally have been crammed into this WOLVERINE movie.  Comic book fans know what I mean when I say that X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is like a shoddily-drawn issue of a spinoff X-Men comic – it has some of the characters you like in it, and it’s got explosions, so you’re gonna get your fix.  But you will not remember it as fondly as you do the better issues.

It would be a copout, though, to suggest that this is the best we can expect.  Look at SPIDER-MAN 2.  Look at THE DARK KNIGHT.  Look at the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.  There is a precedent for huge-budget movies of this sort that still manage to engage a large audience emotionally and tell a coherent story cinematically.  It takes a monumental amount of hard work and good luck, but it can be done.

In fact, one just opened.

Star Trek (2009)

Given the choice, absolutely go see the new STAR TREK movie.  You don’t need to be a fan of the series from before.  I’m not, never was.  Although I guess I am now!  JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK is that good.  I have a minor conflict of interest here, in that I know, have met, and very much like some people behind the scenes, but that will only hinder me so far as to stop me from writing a full-length rave review.  I admit that I want to see this movie storm the box office so that nice people get paid and the rest of us frequent a quality movie, but if I didn’t truly think it was good enough to recommend, I wouldn’t.  It’s a really fun time at the movies, and a much better way to forget your troubles than an amnesia bullet.

@jonnyabomb

 

 

Waltz With Bashir is an astonishing piece of work – it’s a dreamy reconstruction of one man’s recollection of his experiences in the Israeli military during the Lebanon War in the early 1980s.  The director, Ari Folman, wrote for the original Israeli incarnation of the TV show “In Treatment” and that background in pop psychology shows – this is a searching and introspective story.  It’s not entirely fictional, but it’s certainly not a documentary either.  The harsh world in wartime and the realm of dreams swirl together and co-mingle.

Necessarily then, Waltz With Bashir is an animated movie.  The choice is crucial to the movie’s effect:  It’s colorful and mesmerizing and upsetting.  It is NOT rotoscoped.  All of the animation is meticulously choreographed and depicted, under the art direction of David Polonsky with contributions from, among others, two artists whose work I adore, the brothers Tomer Hanuka and Asaf Hanuka.  (If you’ve picked up a newspaper or a magazine in the past decade, you know their work.)  On a visual basis alone, Waltz With Bashir is a necessity.  Combined with the emotionally conflicted and self-exploratory storytelling method which Folman employs, Waltz With Bashir is a film unlike any other.  It’s not an exaggeration to pronounce that I have very rarely seen a medium so well matched to its message.

I can’t exactly say that I loved this movie – it left me feeling more than a little anguished and sad.  But it is very clearly a work of cinematic art that has made some valuable observations about the real world, and as such, I sincerely recommend that it be seen by as many people as possible as soon as possible.  See it with your deepest friend.

@jonnyabomb