Talking Movies

July 13, 2013

Too Cool for Film School

There’s a certain attitude towards cinema which drives me to despair, which I’ve previously dubbed ‘too cool for film school’…

HIPSTER SKETCH

This peculiar mindset is one that would rather watch an obscure bad movie ironically than spend that same 2 hours watching a universally lauded good movie. So, instead of sitting down to watch Southern Comfort you’d instead waste your life suffering thru Streets of Fire. Instead of enjoying Scorsese at his best with Goodfellas you’d be tortured by Scorsese at his worst with New York, New York, supposedly so that you could spend your time laughing at its awfulness (except that it’s too awful to even sneer at, you just sigh; depressed and confused). Preferring to watch an obscure bad movie ironically than a universally lauded good movie I find inexplicable. It’s the same impulse that would en masse see a faculty meeting to decide a Victorian literature course begin with “We can all agree, no Dickens”, and a cheer.

Is it a hipster mindset? This is The End has a wonderful barb when Emma Watson accuses Jay Baruchel of being a hipster by asking him if he loathes films that are universally beloved. And that is certainly part of the thinking that prevailed when the Screen cinema in 2010 did a season of 1980s action movies, and left out Die Hard. Now Die Hard was an obvious choice, but that’s because it’s so obviously better than every other action film from that decade; especially Red Dawn, which was screened, presumably because it’s so bad it can be watched with impeccable irony. We seem to have reached belatedly in the cinema the position literature reached years ago where to be popular is in fact a mark against a work in critical esteem, unless it’s a critical intervention elevating low culture.

It’s a mindset of two halves. What is important is that, having eschewed what is popular, the people who are too cool for film school reveal their superiority of taste to the easily pleased and shallowly-informed rabble by unveiling an alternative which few people have either heard of and which may be offbeat or just plain awful. What’s truly terrifying is that it really doesn’t matter whether the film is either offbeat or just plain awful – the difference between good and bad, garbage and quality has been erased; it just needs to be something that few people have either heard of in order to get the kudos of really knowing your movies. It seems the advent of Netflix, and its padding of its catalogue with terrible old films they were able to scoop up, is only encouraging this viewing mindset.

Hollywood Babylon, Dublin’s Midnight Movie Film Club, is tonight once again hosting a Saturday night screening at 10:45pm at the Lighthouse cinema focusing on 1984. Their schedule is somewhat baffling. There’s good movies to be sure; Beverly Hills Cop, Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom (September 14th), The Terminator (October 19th); but there are also questionable choices; Dune (August 17th), Revenge of the Nerds (July 13th); and then there’s the plain ghastly picks – Purple Rain, Streets of Fire (October 19th). What exactly is the purpose of choosing Purple Rain or Streets of Fire? Or even Dune or Revenge of the Nerds? There are better films from 1984… For a fun Saturday night why not pick Ghostbusters or Gremlins? For something more offbeat why not pick Luc Besson’s freewheeling debut Subway? Is it impossible to have fun without being ironic?

I’m not saying that if we want to watch movies from 1984 that we have to watch The Killing Fields, The Natural, and 1984 and nod our heads respectfully before turning to Broadway Danny Rose for some relief. I’m just saying we should exhaust the good movies that we all know are out there first before we all start scrabbling around to find justifiably forgotten bad movies to watch ironically.

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January 30, 2013

Bullet to the Head

I am not a Walter Hill fan… I venerate The Driver, but was nonplussed by The Warriors, and a recent viewing of the execrable Streets of Fire left me too enraged to review this film reasonably so my sometime co-scriptwriter John Healy, a man who actually likes The Warriors, writes:

Walter Hill fans can rejoice at a return to form, while Stallone fans continue to enjoy the veteran action star’s Indian summer, in this entertaining variation on the buddy-cop formula.

bullet_to_the_head

 

Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) is a hitman whose latest employer considers him a loose end and tries to have him killed. Taylor Kwan (Sung Kang, Fast Five) plays a New York cop after the man who had his corrupt former partner executed. Thrown together, they tear around New Orleans, chasing down powerful criminals (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and the evergreen Christian Slater) who are protected by a team of elite mercenaries headed up by the apparently unstoppable Keegan (Jason Momoa, Game of Thrones). They agree on the target, but not on the tactics.

Fans of Hill’s work will recognise all the old familiar pieces: the unconventional pairing of cop and criminal (48 Hours), the cop in an unfamiliar city (Red Heat), the exploding cabin in the bayou (Southern Comfort), the standoff with unconventional weapons (Streets of Fire), and the man with an unconventional moral code (pretty much everything he’s ever made). Yes, he’s repeating himself, but Hill is at his best working on variations of his favourite themes, and this is no exception. The references don’t stop there either – anyone who’s seen Once Upon a Time in the West can’t help but see something familiar in the relationship between Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s crippled, money-obsessed kingpin and Momoa’s muscle who cares more about honour. The familiarity is forgiven, however, as the plot ticks along nicely from each well-choreographed action set piece to the next. I’ve never seen New Orleans look better on film. Lloyd Ahern, Hill’s cinematographer of choice for the past 20 years, delivers a crisp, slick look – this is a modern action movie, not a relic of the 1980s. Stallone is comfortable in a role that wouldn’t fit a younger man, and the supporting cast are uniformly good; particularly Momoa, who shows some variation from the near-mute brutes he has made his name playing.

We move then to the negatives. Perhaps the film suffers from one villain too many; as good as Slater is, I’m not sure his character was necessary. Sarah Shahi’s role as Bobo’s daughter is transparently there for three things: romance with Kwan leading to tension between him and Bobo, a late kidnapping to up the stakes, and eye candy for the audience. Each element is executed well, but I resented being introduced to a character whose entire role was so predictable. The violence is a little excessive; not quite to the degree that Tarantino indulges himself, but certainly enough to be distracting at times. To say the dialogue can be expository is to downplay the fact that Kwan’s phone is literally used as an expository device. And, while we’re on dialogue, Bobo’s racist banter with Kwan never comes off quite as well as the same trick did in 48 Hours. I’m not sure if it’s used more, or the delivery just isn’t as good, but it feels a little off at times.

On the whole this is a perfectly good dumb action movie, a notch above most of the dreck dumped in the post-Oscar slots, which can be recommended as a solid 90 minutes’ entertainment. Three stars, with bonus half stars for fans of action movies, Stallone and Hill.

3/5

January 20, 2012

Top 5 Bear Grylls Extractions

I’ve become hooked on Discovery UK’s midnight re-runs of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor so this is probably only the first in a series of lists celebrating his adventures.

(5) Jumping into a river in West Texas
One of the most visually arresting exits in the series has to be the moment Bear disappears from sight and is revealed to have jumped down a very sudden precipice into the Rio Grande. It’s the suddenness of the transition from scrambling over boulders to just running and leaping into space that makes this. And as rivers go it’s one guaranteed to alert people to your predicament merely by being in it.

(4) Hopping a truck in Alabama
The end of Southern Comfort comes to mind as Bear, covered in reddish mud as protection against a raging bushfire, comes back to winter forest that isn’t on fire, and suddenly hears a sound. It’s a honking logging truck as it slows down for making a turn around a bend, and Bear runs like hell and slides down a hillside to cut it off, and hits the road just in time to board it.

(3) Jumping onto a rope in Louisiana
Bear stands on the roof of a flooded house in Louisiana and the chopper comes in and dangles the rope-ladder as near him as it can. Which isn’t all that near. Bear takes a leap of faith and roars off the roof and out over the flooded water teeming with snakes, alligators and disease but manages to grab the oscillating rope-ladder with both hands and stay firmly on as the chopper pulls away.

(2) Chopper rescue off a temple in Guatemala
Never start a fire on an ancient monument unless it’s a survival situation is the rider Bear issues to viewers before setting one on a Mayan temple in Guatemala. He then dashes up the temple to get higher so that he can reach the rope-ladder dropped down for him and swings off after the chopper, barely missing the trees when the rainforest reasserts itself. And, oh joy, leaves the fire burning strongly…

(1) Hopping a train in Montana
Walking along train-tracks to get back to civilisation is a good idea, following them through a long tunnel to avoid having to schlepp over the hillside is not such a good idea. The sinking feeling that the tracks are suddenly vibrating leads Bear and his crew to run for all their worth to dramatically dive out of the narrow tunnel just before the train rampages out of it, and then they bloody hop it!

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