#40 - Sentinel of Liberty
1941 - 2007
HELLO! Welcome back to THE ELECTRIC THEATRE!
Sorry, after seeing 300 I can’t quite believe I’m doing something as unmanly as typing right now. Thought I’d compensate by shouting but it just isn’t the same. Oh well. Let’s just get to the reviews, eh?
NOW IN THEATRES
When I first saw some footage for this flick at Comic-Con last summer, I was blown away. You may have experienced something similar when you first laid eyes on the trailer or something like that. Sure enough, 300 is a remarkable visual achievement. The trouble is that unless you have some sort of short-term memory affliction, you can only really be blown away once. I was certainly entertained by 300 but it wasn’t the awe-inspiring event I perhaps unfairly was hoping it would be. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, Zack Snyder faithfully recreates the book’s visual style down to individual panels. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking, of course. Miller helped Robert Rodriguez do the same thing with Sin City. But 300 is inherently a more dynamic story with more color and movement than Miller’s neo-noir stories, so seeing these images come to life has a bit more kick. The performances, the makeup, the action, everything is painted in broad, operatic strokes and they really have to be to avoid being overwhelmed by the look of the film. And besides, subtlety isn’t exactly a touchstone of Miller’s work in the first place. However, Miller’s thoroughly researched book did feel like the author’s attempt to stretch out and do something more with the medium than superhero and crime stories. Snyder’s movie latches on to it simply as a bad-ass comic book. While this may be one of the grandest comic book movies, it doesn’t cut any deeper than that. It has more in common with gladiator movies like Hercules than with historical epics like Spartacus. And while most of the cinematic interpretations of Miller’s art work well, the computer-generated blood fountains don’t, lending some key battle sequences an unfortunate video-game feel. Even so, this is a fun, testosterone-fueled movie with some remarkable images. Approach it as an action movie and you’ll have a good time. If you want something more than that, stick with HBO’s Rome. (* * *)
The A-Picture - The Host
Everyone, I’d like you to meet The Host, my favorite movie of 2007 so far, a giant-monster movie from South Korea. A U.S. military base dumps some old formaldehyde into the Han River and a few years later, something big and mutated this way comes. It makes its presence known in a big way, attacking parkgoers in a terrific early sequence and taking a few back to its lair for later digestion. One schoolgirl survives the attack and contacts her family. No one in charge believes she’s still alive so the Park family breaks out of quarantine and searches for her on their own. Like all the best monster movies, The Host is funny, scary, exciting and, like the original Gojira/Godzilla, has something relevant on its mind besides just showing creatures on the loose. The formaldehyde dumping is inspired by an actual event, much like the birth of Godzilla was inspired by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Director Joon-ho Bong stages his key sequences with wit and style and has the confidence in his effects team to stage most of them in broad daylight. The monster itself looks mostly terrific and it moves and acts like an organic mutation, not like a guy in a suit or a CGI creation. At two hours, The Host overstays its welcome just a bit but when it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s a blast. (* * * ½)
NOW ON DVD
Director Arie Posin and screenwriter Zac Stanford have created a broad, intermittently successful satire on upper-middle-class planned-community parenting and the aimless disaffected kids that result. Dean (Jamie Bell) is the teenager whose pill-pushing friend commits suicide. He’s pressured into getting his stash by three kids with no idea of the gravity of the situation they’re getting themselves into. Meanwhile, the self-absorbed adults (including Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Rita Wilson, William Fichtner and many more) are so wrapped up in their own lives they can’t see what’s happening right under their noses. The Chumscrubber has its moments but virtually all of the points Posin and Stanford are trying to make are hit in the first 15-20 minutes. There’s one heartfelt and effective scene between Close and Bell but you have dig through layer upon layer of quirk to find it. Posin and Stanford seem to be aiming for a Donnie Darko vibe and if you liked that movie more than I did, you may well enjoy The Chumscrubber. For me, it was like listening to the same tune over and over. (* *)
Craig Wasson stars in this 60s-set drama as a Yugoslavian immigrant who spends the decade struggling with his conflicted feelings about a high school girlfriend (Jodi Thelen) and trying to earn the love and respect of his father. Directed by Arthur Penn, this is an odd movie with a bumpy first half-hour that almost made me shut it off. But if you stick with it, it grows on you, eventually developing a feel akin to John Irving’s novels (in fact, screenwriter Steve Tesich’s next work would be adapting Irving’s The World According To Garp). By the end of the movie, I was wondering if the hokey first half-hour wasn’t intentional, making you think the story would head in one direction before heading off elsewhere. Even if that is the case, the movie feels unbalanced and awkward but overall, it’s a nice, relatively undiscovered piece of work. (* * *)
The fact that the title of Steve Anderson’s documentary has to be censored proves that there’s a lot to be said about this little four-letter word. Anderson explores the meaning and power of the word “fuck” (sorry but I’m not running Disney.com here), interviewing linguists, conservatives like Alan Keyes and Pat Boone, comedians like Bill Maher, porn stars Ron Jeremy and Tera Patrick, filmmaker Kevin Smith, and many more. Along the way he spotlights f-bomb-pioneers (fuckoneers?) Lenny Bruce and George Carlin and examines the power of the FCC. Punctuated by animations from Bill Plympton, Anderson’s documentary is funny and compelling, with valid points raised from both conservatives and liberals. Anderson goes a bit off-topic from time to time and there’s a huge element of preaching to the choir since people who are genuinely offended by the word aren’t going to watch a movie that uses it over 800 times. As a defense of First Amendment rights, this is interesting but ultimately fairly pointless. But if you’re interested in the power of words, F*ck is pretty fucking good. (* * *)
Although I saw the original Transporter, I remember virtually nothing about it except the premise (Jason Statham is a skilled driver-for-hire who’ll move anything no questions asked) and a vague memory of it being over the top. The sequel offers more of the same with action sequences that make the most outlandish James Bond movies seem grounded in reality. Statham’s now a chauffeur in Miami, toting a rich politician’s kid around town. The bad guys kidnap the boy, all part of a ludicrously roundabout assassination scheme. If you think about this movie too much, it falls apart completely and if you’re thinking about it at all, you’re thinking about it too much. I have actually seen bags of hammers that are smarter than this movie. Most of the action is fun in its own cartoonish way. Unfortunately, the climactic sequence involves a CGI plane crash that looks like it never got past the pre-visualization stage and the movie ends with a whimper instead of a bang. Transporter 2 is basically awful but much of it is awful-in-a-good-way. (* *)