Saturday, March 28, 2009
You like gunfights? I like gunfights. You like foot chases? I like foot chases. You like double agents? Me too. How about bombs with those red countdown timers that go, "beep, beep, beep?" Oh, yeah. Kim chi? Can't stand the stuff, personally, but waddayagonnadoo.
SHIRI, a South Korean espionage thriller, has all of the above. It begins with a scary and brutal training montage showing just how the North's agents become so fearsome. Then it rolls into a foot chase, we get an assassination, and the heat is on. The bad guys are OLDBOY'S Min-Sik Choi and _Lost_'s Yunjin Kim, the good guys are Suk-Kyu Han and JSA's Kang-Ho Song. Je-gyu Kang's direction is professional, delivering solid execution of a well-worn story, and the whole thing makes for a great way to while away a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
I'm not going to bother with a plot introduction here, because you'll see this film's every beat coming from the opening credits. What makes this film a good time at the movies are the performances and the action sequences. Good actors play the bad guys, giving them personality and flair, even if the script doesn't provide much dimension. Good actors play the good guys, giving us people we can latch onto even though we know their fates as if we had written them ourselves. This matters because, as NAKED WEAPON shows, bad acting can sink this kind of venture in a heartbeat. The chases, gunfights, and various showdowns rise above their source material as well, providing adventure, a few surprises, and an awareness of physical space that leaves us thrilled while keeping us informed both of the geography of the engagements but their impact on the relationships established in the film.
SHIRI. It's exciting. It's engaging. Lots of stuff goes boom. It'll even tug your heartstrings. Like I said, it's a great way to while away a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Friday, March 27, 2009
If Werner Herzog had been born millenia ago, he'd have been a desert mystic, a prophet telling those with an ear to listen that all is vanity. He's of our time, of course, and his is a different medium than the Wisdom Scroll. AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, a dark and beautiful meditation on the futility of ambition, sinks deeply into our psyche and lingers there, compelling us to ponder Ecclesiastic insights even as we dwell in memories of the stark and beautiful jungle of Herzog's film.
"All the rivers run into the sea," says _Ecclesiastes_, "yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again." AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, takes place upon the eternal, unnamed river. It is 1560, and Pisarro's expedition to find the legendary golden city of El Dorado teeters on failure. Exhausted and running out of options, Pisarro directs a small party to scout down the river which has already claimed one raft full of men. The party's orders? Find El Dorado, or civilization, or both. It never occurs to him that, by definition, El Dorado is civilization. He puts a trusted man in charge. He appoints, as second in command, Don Lope de Aguirre. He sends a priest, a noble, soldiers, and slaves. If they don't return in a week, Pisarro will call off the expedition and leave without them.
The men set off, afire with ambition. But the jungle, the river, is implacable. The sun bakes the men in their steel helmets. Poison-tipped darts shoot from unseen assailants on the riverbanks. The men find a village, its denizens cannibals. The fire of ambition consumes Aguirre all the more, goading him toward treason, murder, and insanity. And the sun beats down, and the birds whistle and caw, and the rodents and the monkeys claim all that vanity holds dear.
Herzog views the tale with the dispassion of the river. He extends no quarter, not even with the indigenous interpreter who laments, "I used to be a prince. Men used to be forbidden to look upon me. Now I am in chains." The royal enslaver is now slave, and all is vanity. Klaus Kinski, as Aguirre, is all the madness of human endeavour in one man. The church is the servant of the powerful and the river gives no quarter. This is life, Herzog seems to say. This is vanity.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
If you're a fan of the _Twilight_ books, you're gonna love this movie. If you haven't read 'em, you're going to be like me, asking the women in the room, "Why did she do that? What's going on with that guy?" "Why do they care about this?"
See, it isn't that TWILIGHT left me on the outside because I'm not a member of its target demographic. TWILIGHT left me on the outside because it assumed I've read the book. Since I haven't, I couldn't understand why the heroine seemed so bummed out: she had a father who loved her, lived in a cool house, and made friends easily. Further, I couldn't understand what she saw in the mousse-haired vampire with whom she's paired in biology class. Werewolf Guy seemed cool, and he could rebuild an engine. Jock Guy seemed nice enough, and he wasn't a threat to drink her blood by the pale moonlight. I mean, really, why would any woman want to be with a man who spends more time on his hair than she does?
There are many more questions that TWILIGHT fails to answer. For example: why are its vampires dressed so fashionably? I've only been around for 40 years, and I've already lost interest in fashion: give me khakis and an oxford on the East Coast, jeans and a T on the West, and I'm good to go. After a century, you'd think that TWILIGHT's undead would have roughly the same fashion sense as the far more entertaining vampires of NETHERBEAST INCORPORATED. At the very least, they could get jobs, a la NETHERBEAST. I mean, really, I know that vampires are damned, but an eternity of high school biology seems like cruel and unusual punishment even for the eternally forsaken.
But, hey, if thinly veiled parables about the excruciation of celibacy are your bag, or if you happen to own stock in a grooming products company, you might enjoy TWILIGHT. Two out of three of the adults in my room did.
Monday, March 23, 2009
I'm the only member of my family who didn't like MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA. My ambulatory kids danced along with the lion at the climax. My wife and sister in law nodded along happily. I sat there, bored at a commercial venture with as much heart as a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
Here's the setup: a bunch of anthropomorphic animals rehash the hit song from the first movie, then get on a barely functioning airplane for their trip to New York City. The plane goes down in an African game preserve, where the Mustafah ripoff is being challenged by the Scar ripoff. It's up to our favorite beasts to save the day, find self-realization, and sing and dance.
But nothing funny happens. The film celebrates a subculture (New York and New Yorkers) that doesn't capture my imagination (Maybe if my crash pad wasn't so close to the J Train). The whole thing feels like a rote recycling of successful elements from the first film, with no chances taken and every element audience-tested.
I don't hate this movie. It's not interesting enough to engender hate. I just plan to be out of the room the next time my kids spin this one up.