Posts Tagged “Action”

THE ROBBERS
2009

February 25, 2010
Cinequest 20
China
Mandarin
92 Minutes
Action
Shu-Peng Yang

A crowd-pleaser that left me sort of cold. Two bumbling thieves walk the countryside until they arrive at a village which is full of idiots. They claim to be hunters desiring water, but it quickly becomes clear that they are after any valuables the villagers have. One of the robbers has an incredible likeness to Toshiro Mifune, but a bit more chubby, and this bumblier of the bumbling duo takes a liking to the daughter of the man they first rob. Before they can get away, some soldiers show up, abuse the villagers in minor ways, then begin to abuse the daughter in much more serious ways. As the rape is taking place (though this rape is mostly played for laughs), the robber with the crush stabs the soldier, which begins a full-on samurai fight with four soldiers vs. two robbers.

This is when the film takes off into supercool territory. The soundtrack is “300-esque”, full of speed metal riffs that have nothing to do with authenticity, but just sound bitchin. As the men are running around and stabbing each other and shooting arrows into each other, the blood spurts, the villagers recoil in horror, and the soundtrack thumps on.

But as soon as there is life in the film, it begins running out of gas. Instead of thanking the robbers for saving a young maiden from her soiled fate, the village elder gets the rest of the men in town to take the two men prisoner. This will happen several more times in the course of the film. The men will save the asses of the village, the dim-witted mayor and his even more dimwitted townspeople will tie up the two men, and they’ll find any number of ways to get out of their control. On one occasion, one fakes the need to pee–in another, a sympathetic (and sexy) butcher-badass leaves one of her knives within reach so they can cut their way out.

But it’s ponderous when the same plot happens over and over. The mayor fakes paralysis in order to sneak away on a donkey to tell the army what the robbers have done with their comrades.

The film is bookended with scenes of an ancient man and woman and their crazy kid who stop for water at a village full of scared people.

The music is cool, but the film is ridiculous. I suppose if you have a soft spot for slapstick, this one might do the trick. And apparently dick jokes translate into any language and dynastic era.

5.9 IMDB

THE ROBBERS

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2009

July 16, 2009
Redbox DVD
USA
English
91 Minutes — January 16, 2009
Action / Comedy / Crime
Steve Carr

Safety Never Takes A Holiday.

In my defense, sometimes marriage can be a collection of compromises. Sometimes my wife gets to pick the movie. Plus, we are big fans of KING OF QUEENS, which is probably the lightest TV show I’ve ever watched regularly. For a three-camera studio audience sitcom, it was hilarious to me. Mostly because the guy was overweight and loved the same kinds of foods that I do–that is, stuff a 10 year old would eat. And neither character was all good.

So with that goodwill felt towards Mr. Kevin James, I tried my first experience with the Redbox machine near my Lucky’s. I have recently read a New York Times article about how Paul Blart is the number one rental in Redboxes, which only hold about 50 different titles and how the CEO of Redbox was pretty sure that Paul Blart was not the number one rental at the much snobbier Netflix.

The plot, ha ha, is that James has hypoglycemia and that keeps him off the police force in New Jersey, but he takes his job at the West Orange Mall just as seriously as if her were a real cop. He rides a Segway, helps little old ladies, finds lost children, and keeps his uniform pressed and looking good. Everyone around him ridicules his weight and the dedication he brings to his job. He has a crush on the hair extension kiosk girl. He has a circle of friends who work in the mall. He has a daughter at home, the product of a green-card-acquiring Mexican immigrant who left them behind soon after her birth.

It’s Black Friday and a group of highly-trained, tattooed, X-Game participants takes over the mall so that they can steal the credit card codes on the biggest shopping day of the year. But with our hero’s knowledge of the mall layout and how to get a Segway to do what you want, the bad guys don’t stand a chance, do they?

The reason this film wasn’t as funny as it could be is because Blart himself has no discernible sense of humor. At all. Since he takes his job so seriously, he doesn’t think what he’s doing is funny. His shyness isn’t funny. His dating bad luck isn’t funny. James isn’t given a chance to be ridiculous. Knowingly, that is. It just isn’t very funny. Filled with unknown actors, this film made a fortune. I’m sure a sequel is in the works. Nice use of incredibly sappy old Survivor song.

3.9 Metacritic
5.4 IMDB

Paul Blart: Mall Cop @ Amazon

PAUL BLART: MALL COP

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2008

July 11, 2009
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
USA
English
131 Minutes — June 26, 2009
Action / Drama / Thriller / War
Kathryn Bigelow [Near Dark; Blue Steel; Homicide: Life On The Street; K-19: The Widowmaker]

An excruciatingly intense film about a bomb squad unit in Iraq. Bomb squad movies are always a little tense, from THE ENGLISH PATIENT to any movie-of-the-week where the characters aren’t sure if they should cut the blue wire with the white stripe or the red wire with the yellow stripe. THE HURT LOCKER will have none of that. These guys are professionals, with tools and technology at their disposal. Most times they disarm the bomb, save lives, and come back to base simply a little sweaty for the experience. Other times, the only thing left of them is charred hair inside their helmet, as one character mentions.

There is a ten to fifteen minute sniper scene in this film that can’t be overpraised. The men come to the aid of some English soldiers for hire, come under attack by a group of men in a far-away building in the middle of the desert, and must team up to fight back. The tension that Bigelow brings to this, from the generous use of time, from the silences, from the angles, from the shot into the scope so that we see a soldier’s huge eye, to a shaky hand trying to drink a juicebox, to the guy who may be a sheep herder or may be another sniper, to the question of whether any of them will make it out of their little crevice alive. It is stunning and worth the admission price alone. Film students will study this scene for years to come.

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THE HURT LOCKER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 75. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE HURT LOCKER Discussion
• Break
• 27:52 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 28:30 BEAU TRAVAIL Discussion
• Break
• 36:00 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:09:43 Listener Feedback
• 1:15:47 Credits

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9.3 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

THE HURT LOCKER

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2008

June 21, 2009
Cinemax
USA
English / Portuguese / Spanish
112 Minutes — June 13, 2008
Action / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Louise Leterrier

Sometimes you just want to turn on the dish and sit back and watch something. Back in the 70s, whenever I read comic books, I was a Marvel guy and not a DC guy. Those guys were snobby, what with their Superman and Batman. My two favorites were Spiderman and Hulk. I like the whole “big guy misunderstood and forced to turn green due to others’ stupidity” of The Incredible Hulk. I’m sure I’ve seen every episode of the Bill Bixby series.

But here’s the thing: CGI has not risen to a level whereby a normal-sized man (Ed Norton) can change into a guy 30 feet tall and still make it believable. Say what you will about Lou Ferrigno in green makeup and torn pants, but at least he was a human being and so was Bixby. Once Norton gets the green eyes, they at first try to hide Hulk, but then we see him and its a cartoon that runs around fast with swooping cameras and quick editing which tries to confuse us enough so that we’re not really sure what we’re seeing.

The plot isn’t bad. I didn’t see the Ang Lee version, so I don’t know if this is a continuation or not. Banner is living in Brazil, hiding from some kind of governmental authority led by William Hurt. He sends his blood into an unseen scientist who tries to get him to try different experiments in the hopes that it will cure him. He is discovered and when the special ops team Hurt assembles proves to be no match for a 30 FOOT MONSTER HUMAN, he calls in Tim Roth, for some reason. Roth volunteers to be experimented on and this leads to the number one plot device in comic book history: the evil twin. When Hulk and Bad Hulk fight, I just wanted it to be over. It was all just too loud and ridiculous.

Norton tries the best he can to bring some kind of intelligence to the proceedings but he’s no match for helicopter gunships and CGI where no human actors are required.

6.1 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

Incredible Hulk @ Amazon

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

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2009

June 3, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7 — 3D
USA
English
96 Minutes — May 29, 2009
Animation / Action / Adventure / Comedy / Family
Pete Doctor [Toy Story; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; WALL-E] & Bob Peterson [Finding Nemo; Ratatouille]

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UP is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 72. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 UP Discussion
• Break
• 20:31 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 21:23 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:49 Listener Feedback/Eli Stone discussion
• 1:00:34 Credits and Outtakes

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**** Ebert
**** Phillips
A Schwarzbaum
8.8 Metacritic
9.0 IMDB #15 All Time (ha!)

Up @ Amazon

UP

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1926

May 24, 2009
Netflix DVD
USA
Silent
107 Minutes — February 5, 1927
Comedy / Romance / War / Action
Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
#30 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The current version is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

A confederate train driver gets his train and his girl back when they are stolen by Union soldiers.

What’s amazing is not just that it’s 82 years old, not just that it isn’t boring, but that it’s downright exciting to watch. Keaton never changes expressions, which makes his evermore perilous situations even more entertaining.

The plot is simple. Fort Sumter has been fired upon and the the Civil War is upon us. We are in the South and men rush to the recruitment office to enlist. Keaton loves both his locomotive and his girlfriend. She insists that he sign up for the army, but the military leaders believe that he’s more valuable as a train engineer bringing supplies to and fro. Though no one tells him this. His girl refuses to see him until he’s in uniform. He continues engineering for a full year until at a dinner stop, a Northern spy steals his train and starts speeding north, burning bridges and tearing down communication towers. It is up to Keaton to get the train back.

He first runs, then steals a huge-wheeled bicycle, then gets on one of those up and down sidecars that rides on the tracks, and finally, the gives chase in another train engine. The chase is thrilling. He constantly has to feed the engine wood, he grabs a cannon and tries to fire it towards the other train, the escaping men leave obstacles on the tracks which he must push off, the two armies are marching in the background as Keaton obliviously chops wood, and Keaton is running on top of the train and over the woodpile and into the boxcar. The action is fabulous. We always know where everyone is. The camera follows from the side at high speed. And Keaton never changes expression. Like there’s nothing he can’t do. He isn’t a reluctant hero, he is going to get his train back no matter how far north he has to chase it.

There are creative sight gags involving the water tank and the cannon which shifts and aims squarely at Keaton himself. There is a damsel in distress. There are some pretty impressive battle scenes using hundreds of extras. And then there is the scene of a full-sized real locomotive attempting to cross a river on a burning bridge before it plummets to the valley below. The layout of the sequence is impressive even by modern standards. The camera follows from quite a distance as the Union army begins marching down the steep hill to ford the river while the huge train rumbles (silently, natch) over the smoldering bridge. Horses and cannons and men with muskets all marching from left to right. The train is incredibly imposing, comes from out of the woods and chugs towards the right of frame. Just when it looks like the bridge might hold, the heavy machine crashes through and lands in a smoking heap in the river below. There was obviously no chance for a new take. I don’t know how many cameras I would have had operating to ensure that the event was captured. But the interesting thing is that the big crash stunt was part of a much larger mosaic of things happening all over the frame. There are men moving, trees swaying, the river is rushing, etc. None of the actors are watching the train because they know what’s about to happen. The whole scene seems like the train fell through by mistake, which makes it much more realistic.

There is a terrible-quality clip of the scene you can watch here.

The film had a complete story, it was exciting and the jokes were shown in the service of the story, not as a set piece as you might find in other silent comedies. And what Keaton did physically and how he shot the action sequences are a fabulous antidote to modern comic book films where the audience is never sure where characters are onscreen and who is fighting whom. Keaton didn’t have the luxury of quick cutting. Most of our modern action directors could learn a thing or two from 1926′s THE GENERAL.

Clip of the cannon stunt

“It is an epic of silent comedy, one of the most expensive films of its time, including an accurate historical re-creation of a Civil War episode, hundreds of extras, dangerous stunt sequences, and an actual locomotive falling from a burning bridge into a gorge far below. Keaton defies logic with one ingenious silent comic sequence after another, and it is important to note that he never used a double and did all of his own stunts, even very dangerous ones, witha calm acrobatic grace.” — Roger Ebert The Great Movies

“One of Buster Keaton’s most celebrated comedies. It’s a classic and many people swear by it, although it isn’t funny in the freely inventive way of his Steamboat Bill, Jr. Its humor is too drawn out for laughter. And yet is has a beauty: it has the shape of comedy.” — Pauline Kael

“It is real and the train’s maneuvers credible and dangerous. It is well known that Keaton performed personally in scenes that involved considerable risk. It is not only a comedy but a genuinely heroic film. I would swap all of Modern Times for that glorious moment when Buster’s meditation fails to notice the growing motion of the engine’s drive shaft on which he is sitting.

“Slow-starting, then hilarious action comedy, often voted one of the best films ever made. It was an expensive production, with its spectacular train crash becoming the most costly single shot in silent films. At the time of its original release, it was a critical and popular failure. It took thirty years before it was recognized as a classic of comedy. Its sequence of sight gags, each topping the one before, is an incredible joy to behold.” — #128 Halliwell’s Top 1000

“Keaton’s best, and arguably the greatest screen comedy ever made. Against a meticulously evoked Civil War background, Buster risks life, limb and love as he pursues his beloved railway engine, hijacked by Northern spies up to no good for the Southern cause. The result is everything one could wish for: witty, dramatic, visually stunning, full of subtle, delightful human insights, and constantly hilarious.” — Time Out Film Guide 2004

“Keaton’s masterpiece and arguably the most formally perfect and funniest of silent comedies. Full of eloquent man-vs-machinery images and outrageous sight gags.” — Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2001

“One of Keaton’s best silent features, setting comedy against true Civil War story of stolen train, Union spies. Not as fanciful as other Keaton films, but beautifully done.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

#30 They Shoot Pictures Top 1000
8.3 IMDB #127 All Time
**** Halliwell’s
**** Videohound
**** Maltin

 

The General @ Amazon

THE GENERAL

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2008

May 23, 2009
HBO
USA
English
92 Minutes — June 6, 2008
Animation / Action / Comedy / Family
Mark Osborne & John Stevenson

Prepare For Awesomeness

Jack Black made this more enjoyable than it probably had the right to be. Creative use of Chinese-seeming art design. It may be culturally inauthentic, but I didn’t notice the difference.

7.3 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

Kung Fu Panda @ Amazon

KUNG FU PANDA

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2009

May 8, 2009
San Jose CA — Century 21
USA / Germany
English
127 Minutes — May 8, 2009
Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
JJ Abrams [Regarding Henry; Forever Young; Armageddon; Felicity]

The Future Begins.

8.3 Metacritic
8.5 IMDB #71 All Time

STAR TREK

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2008

April 28, 2009
Download
France
English / French / Albanian / Arabic
91 Minutes — January 30, 2009
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller
Pierre Morel
Liam Neeson [Excalibur; The Bounty; The Mission; The Dead Pool; The Good Mother; Next of Kin; Darkman; Husbands and Wives; Schindler’s List; Nell; Rob Roy; Michael Collins; Les Miserables; Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace; Gangs Of New York; Love Actually; Kinsey; Batman Begins]

His Daughter Was Taken. He Has 96 Hours To Get Her Back.

Neeson on phone: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

Bad Guy after long pause: Good luck.

Greatest trailer in history? Maybe. It got me to watch to see if this movie could possibly be as bad as it sounded. It was.

Take a look at the difference between the critical response and the user response scores below.

5.0 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB

Taken @ Amazon

TAKEN

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BATTLE ROYALE
2000

April 4, 2009
Netflix DVD
Japan
Japanese
121 Minutes
Action / Sci-Fi / Sport / Thriller
Kinji Fukasaku

Could You Kill Your Best Friend?

In the near future, a class of teenagers is chosen by lottery to be stranded on a remote island and given three days in which to kill one another until only one survives.

“Bracing, violent, blackly humorous satire on the bleaker aspects of modern society that manages to be more than merely an excuse for a killing spree” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

** Halliwell’s
8.0 IMDB

Battle Royale @ Amazon

BATTLE ROYALE

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THE TOUR
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Serbia / Bosnia and Herzegovina
Serbo-Croatian
108 Minutes
Action / Adventure / Comedy / War
Goran Markovic

Notes:
The Bosnian War. A formerly glorious acting troupe, in need of a change of scenery (and some pocket money) embarks on a tour of the divided country. The manager insists that they’ll be thought of as heroes from Belgrade coming to help the troupes with morale. They arrive in a huge Bosnian Hummer-type vehicle after dodging mortar fire. An indifferent general has, of course, changed the itinerary. They will play once in town and they again at the front lines. Mis-steps ensue. Some humorous. Some funny in a more “we’re all in this together, why are we shooting each other” way. It turns out that no one cares that these actors have appeared on a TV series. Music is terrible. Bad news is telegraphed by single low note on a piano.

7.9 IMDB

THE TOUR

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COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE
2001

December 29, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan / USA
English
116 Minutes — September 1, 2001
Animation / Action / Comedy / Crime / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Shinichiro Watanabe

R-rated animation story about a terrorist explosion that releases a virus that kills people within a nearby radius. The virus contains microscopic machines that somehow kill people. There is one guy who is immune and he’s the one doing the exploding. But I may have the plot all wrong because I’m not entirely sure what was going on. But as a piece of animation, the creativity is high-level. There is a ragtag team of bounty hunters. The women are buxom, the guys are slender, there is a dog along for the ride. The city is futuristic and we are sometime in the future.

This is in no way as cool as any of the Howl’s Moving Castle or any of the other Miyazaki stuff. Those are aimed at children and are almost superhumanly creative. This one is sort of based in reality. There are scientists developing things, bad guys at drug companies, army and secret police arguing over jurisdiction. There was hand-to-hand combat and realistic gunshot wounds.

But it never amounted to anything. We know who blew up the truck, do we really care why?

6.1 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

Cowboy Bebop – The Movie @ Amazon

COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE

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1999

November 27, 2008
Showtime
USA / Australia
English
105 Minutes — July 28, 1999
Action / Horror / Thriller
Renny Harlin [Die Hard 2; Cliffhanger]

Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner.

Sharks with enhanced intelligence threaten the staff of an underwater research facility.

“Basically a B movie on steroids, this delivers all the expected, and more than familiar, thrills and spills, but lacks surprises” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

5.4 Metacritic
5.5 IMDB

Deep Blue Sea @ Amazon

DEEP BLUE SEA

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2008

September 23, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA / Italy
English / German / Italian
160 Minutes — September 26, 2008
Action / Crime / Drama / Thriller / War
Spike Lee [Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads; She’s Gotta Have It; School Daze; Do The Right Thing; Mo’ Better Blues; Jungle Fever; Malcolm X; Crooklyn; Girl 6; Get On The Bus; 4 Little Girls; He Got Game; Inside Man; When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts]

World War II Has Its Heroes And Its Miracles

This mess of a film was good for the first ten of its excruciatingly long 160-minute running time. Then it went downhill fast. And rather than redeem itself with the second half of its modern-day bookend, it just grew more preposterous, more preachy, more loud, and worst of all, more disjointed. It’s like ten films in one, none of which is related to any of the other nine. Comedy? History lesson? Romance? Film about honor? Is it about a long-held grudge? American Imperialism? 1940s lunch counter politics? I have no idea. But none of these different ideas are close to being clearly depicted on the screen. To say this film is disappointing is far too weak an analysis of its failures.

I need to preface a couple of things. You’ll see by the list of films of Lee’s that I’ve seen that I am a loyal and rabid fan of his. Malcolm X was an almost completely successful sweeping epic that captured 40 years of American history. Do The Right Thing expertly captured New York City race relations in 1989. His documentaries, 4 Little Girls and When The Levees Broke are proof that he can master the non-fiction realm as well. I didn’t mind School Daze or She’s Gotta Have It. Inside Man showed that he could do big budget as well as small. Crooklyn didn’t work for me so much. But Jungle Fever and it’s portrayal of both taboo love and Sam Jackson and Halle Berry as crackheads was pretty spectacular.

So I come from a position of wanting Lee to succeed, even when he plays outside his comfort zone in this case by trying to construct a film in three languages, with modern and 1940s elements, and bombastic war movie special effects. You want to give him props for trying. But then it gets worse and worse.

A gray-haired black man is watching a John Wayne WWII film on his television and says to no one in particular, “We fought for this country, too.” That’s how the film starts and it is typical Spike Lee. It’s almost like you have to go into this film never having read, heard, or seen any depictions of the African American experience in the 20th century. Of course black men fought in World War II (and every other war afterward), but would a man watching a late-night movie alone actually talk back to the screen? When he listens to old Benny Goodman records, does he say “We made music too”. Yes, I understand that portrayals of the brave black fighting men of the war are few and far between, but he starts the film by treating the audience as idiots.

The man works in a post office (which is confusing because during the war scenes there’s a guy named “Stamps”) and he goes through his assigned window tasks with little happiness or human interaction. A customer with an accent asks to mail something, the worker pulls out a German pistol, shoots the man point blank in front of horrified witnesses and then calmly closes his window and awaits arrest.

Enter John Turturro as a cop and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cub reporter. They will have a conversation scene shot as only Lee can, with fast-moving circling camera angles. A search of the man’s apartment turns up the head of a statue and we know it’s important because the cynical academic expert is rendered speechless when the head is unwrapped in front of him. We are hammered on the head over and over while watching this film. We get it: it’s a priceless artifact that was in a shopping bag in this guy’s closet. We will never see Turturro again and Levitt won’t return for more than two hours. A newspaper story ends up in Rome on the desk of John Leguizamo, who here plays some sort of Nazi-art collector who has a girlfriend who can’t get enough loving from him and before he can read the story he is jumped on by his hottie who causes the newspaper to fly out the window onto the table of a man enjoying a coffee at a street cafe. If that isn’t ridiculous enough, just wait 45 seconds because that’s how long it takes this man to stand up, read the article, and then–I’m not joking here–be so shocked by it that he pours his cup of coffee out in extra-slow-motion followed by the cup and then the saucer smashing on the cobblestone. Please re-read that scene. Man attacked by girlfriend throws paper out of window it lands on the one guy in all of Italy who knows the story of the statue, he stands up, spills his coffee, breaks the cup, and runs out of frame. What in the world is going on here?

We then flashback to the “Buffalo Soldiers” platoon as they bumble their way across a field. To say that they aren’t a tip-top fighting corps is an understatement. We see the same statue in a bag attached to an overweight, and seemingly borderline-retarded soldier named “Train”. But he’s the least of their problems. There are sobbing soldiers, loud soldiers, absent-minded soldiers–this is the gang that can’t shoot straight. They are being sent to cross a river in a suicide mission drawn up by their racist superior. (There are only a handful of white Americans in the film and just about all of them are virulent racists).

Fans of the late, great WIRE on HBO will want to know that not only is Omar Back! but Omar Scared! and then Omar Dead!

This scene has all of the problems of the film in one place. 1) the music is appallingly loud. Not just a bit loud, but loud enough to not be able to hear what the characters are saying; It swells up for no reason as if the composer had no idea what scene he was writing for. This happens more than I’d like in all Spike Lee films, but in this case it took me right out of what was happening. It’s loud, then soft, with no corresponding reason depicted on the screen. 2) The man in charge of them is played by Detective Shane on The Shield, so we know he’ll be an incredible racist who will endanger his men, not believe they could succeed, and then court-marshal them on a trumped up charge. 3) Limbs are blown off and mortars explode in bloody slow-motion as if Lee is saying “look what I can do with a big budget and military advisers.” 4) But most artificially, is the fact that a loudspeaker truck is moved into position and we cut to a radio studio where an attractive, blonde German woman begins her propaganda war. Instead of Tokyo Rose, we get Axis Sally. I have no doubt that this was part of Germany’s strategy to have troops second-guess themselves. But it’s not that she’s speaking, it’s what she’s saying. She begins to give the soldiers (and viewers) a lesson in the African-American assimilation experience. She brings up lunch counters and job opportunities. She says that America will never treat black people equally, she encourages them to put down their weapons and change teams over to Germany. As if no one knew of the Final Solution or Hitler’s views on non-white people. She then switches to speaking more sexually–if you put down your weapons, German women will worship you because deep down they all want to sleep with a strong, black man. Not to mention, we have fried chicken and biscuits just like momma used to make. The words she says are absolutely ridiculous.

Some of the men succeed in crossing the river, radio back to base where the superior assumes that they’re mistaken or are lying, and orders an artillery strike on their very position, killing several of his own men. The ones that make it do so by sheer luck.

At an abandoned farm house they come into contact with an Italian boy who is injured and who may have special mystical powers. The big soldier says that the boy is the first white person he’s ever touched. The Italian boy calls him “Chocolate Giant” in Italian. They end up communicating with taps on each other’s shoulders. The Chocolate Giant, Train, is played in what appears to be an homage to Lenny from Of Mice And Men. The boy won’t let anyone else carry him, Train doesn’t let any harm come to him, and whoever stays close by the child somehow stays out of harm’s way.

The small group bumbles their way to an Italian village where they’re told they’re surrounded by the German army by the one person in the village fluent in English (she claims to have been a nanny) who also happens to be the one model-quality female for miles. Both leaders have their eyes on her, one is tacky and forward, the other is polite and respectful. Guess which one she sleeps with first.

Most will die, there will be honor and betrayal. The movie is all over the place. It’s the kind of film where one soldier says to the other “It’s a SNAFU–situation normal all fucked up.” So he says the acronym and then explains the acronym thereby setting aside the point of an acronym. Lee wants to give us a lesson at every turn, not a story. The woman will take off her shirt at the clothesline, pause as she sees the polite soldier is watching, taunt him with a “haven’t you seen a naked woman before?”, and then change her mind and bang the more aggressive soldier. But that’s not all. The guy comes out of the house pulling up his pants, the woman comes out wearing his helmet, smoking a cigarette, and holding his rifle. Then the two men have a fight over her honor. Yikes.

But wait, there’s more. An entire church full of people is led to a courtyard and told they have one minute to turn over an Italian freedom fighter, even though he’s not there. The priest begs the men to kill him and let the others go. He begins to lead his congregation in prayer. When it looks like the Germans are about to open fire, they hold a pistol up to the priests head. But before they kill him, he has time for a quick prayer about forgiveness which ends exactly when the slow motion bullet goes through his brain. Every character has time for a death-bed declaration or another story about racism or the futility of war.

Everything is obvious. The good guys, the bad guys, the good women, the bad women. Who’s a good soldier, who’s a racist, who’s a caring German, who’s a turncoat Italian.

There is at least one striking and perfect scene in the 160-minute running time. There is a flashback to a time before the soldiers are shipped out from America which takes place in the south. The men want ice cream and stop at a lunch counter where German prisoners are being fed lunch on their way to prison. The cracker owner threatens them with a gun and tells them to go around back if they want any food. The soldiers point out that the Germans are served inside and they’re the enemy. The racist says to his son “That’s how they need to be treated” or something. The soldiers drive away pissed. This incident is one of many that I’ve read about up through the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 60s where soldiers who are literally on their way to die for their country can’t even get a meal in the south. This is one instance of historical instruction that I’m glad Lee handled. Even though the owner is just this side of a characature, the scene rings true. As does a wordless scene when the jeep pulls a U-turn, heads back into the town, and the soldiers come charging in–rifles aimed–and demand their ice cream. The man can’t serve them quickly enough. We cut back to Italy and the four surviving men and the child are staring at the camera for a long, long time with a look of disgust on their faces as if they’re collectively remembering the ice cream incident at exactly the same time.

The shot is framed as if it were a snapshot of the common black soldier experience in WWII Europe. That experience, rather than just being shown to us by Lee, is then unfortunately hammered down on us when a character has to explain how torn up he is about fighting for a country in which he can’t even vote, while experiencing Europe where he feels more welcome than he does in his own country. The scene ends with the men moving out of frame one at a time. It’s pretty striking.

We know we’ll see the man who spilled the coffee, we know we have to be book-ended back to NYC in the 1980s to see what happens to our hero. But what we don’t expect, and what has no real purpose that I can tell, is a meeting on a Bahama beach. “Where Am I?” the character asks, seeming to forget that he just got off a plane whose ticket probably had the destination on it. “Someone wants to meet you.”

I want to commend Lee for trying such a sweeping story, with flashbacks, history, and three languages. But it fails on just about every level. A complete disappointment.

For a much better take on soldiers fighting and dying for a country that doesn’t think of them as equals, please see DAYS OF GLORY.

3.7 Metacritic
5.0 IMDB
*** Ebert
** Phillips
**^ Berardinelli
C- Gleiberman
C- Murray

Miracle at St. Anna @ Amazon

MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA

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2008

August 13, 2008
Reno NV — Century Riverside
USA / Germany
English
107 Minutes — August 13, 2008
Action / Comedy
Ben Stiller [Empire Of The Sun; Fresh Horses; Next Of Kin; The Ben Stiller Show; Reality Bites; If Lucy Fell; Flirting With Disaster; The Cable Guy; There’s Something About Mary; Your Friends & Neighbors; Permanent Midnight; Keeping The Faith; Meet The Parents; Zoolander; The Royal Tenenbaums; Along Came Polly; Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny]

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TROPIC THUNDER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 58. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 TROPIC THUNDER DISCUSSION
• Break
• 14:21 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 14:46 The Last Five®
• Break
• 24:20 Listener Last Five® (Michelle in Sydney)
• Break
• 30:48 From the Queue: TOKYO STORY
• Break
• 36:11 Tassoula’s interview with ALAN BALL
• 55:33 Credits and Outtakes

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Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black.

Not as good as the non-stop hype would suggest. The trailers at the beginning are by far the funniest moments. Nothing satirized here hasn’t been the target of a better film or skit before. Downey better than the rest.

7.1 Metacritic
7.7 40 Critic Consensus
8.2 IMDB

TROPIC THUNDER

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DRUNKEN MASTER
1978

July 25, 2008
Netflix DVD
Hong Kong
English-Dubbed
111 Minutes — October 5, 1978
Comedy / Action
Woo-ping Yuen [The Matrix; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Matrix Reloaded; Kill Bill, Vol. I]

Jackie Chan [Enter The Dragon; The Cannonball Run; Cannonball Run II; Police Story; Police Story 2; Supercop; Rumble In The Bronx; Jackie Chan's First Strike; Rush Hour; Shanghai Noon]

7.6 IMDB

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2008

July 19, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English / Cantonese
152 Minutes — July 18, 2008
Action / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Thriller
Christopher Nolan [Following; Memento; Batman Begins; The Prestige]

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The Dark Knight is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 55. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 THE DARK KNIGHT Discussion
• Break
• 25:22 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 25:48 The Last Five®
• Break
• 51:28 Listener Last Fives (Len in PA and Kate in VA)/Show Notes
• 1:05:46 Credits and Outtake

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Christian Bale [Empire Of The Sun; Henry V; Little Women; American Psycho; Captain Corelli’s Mandolin; Laurel Canyon; Batman Begins; The New World; The Prestige; I’m Not There]

Heath Ledger [10 Things I Hate About You; The Patriot; Monster’s Ball; Brokeback Mountain; Candy; I’m Not There]

Aaron Eckhart [In The Company Of Men; Your Friends & Neighbors; Any Given Sunday; Erin Brockovich; Nurse Betty; Thank You For Smoking]

Why So Serious?

8.2 Metacritic
9.2 IMDB #1

THE DARK KNIGHT

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2005

June 7, 2008
April 6, 2005
DVD (Thank You, Lilly)
USA
English
147 Minutes
Action / Crime / Thriller
D: Frank Miller [300]
D: Robert Rodriguez [El Mariachi; Desperado; From Dusk Till Dawn; Grindhouse]

In corrupt Basin City, three men — an honest cop, a tough ex-convict and a man on the run — try to protect the women they love and suffer for it.

Sweet extras on the DVD. All greenscreen edition. Really a cool flick.

7.4 Metacritic
8.4 IMDB

SIN CITY

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2008

June 7, 2008
Milpitas CA — Century Great Mall
USA
English
113 Minutes
Action / Comedy
D: Dennis Dugan [The Howling; Hill Street Blues; Can't Buy Me Love; Parenthood; NYPD Blue; L.A. Law; Big Daddy]
W: Adam Sandler & Robert Smigel & Judd Apatow

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YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast 53. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Notes:
• 00:32 SEX AND THE CITY Discussion
• Break
• 08:47 To Sum It Up (SATC)
• Break
• 09:02 YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN Discussion
• Break
• 19:22 To Sum It Up (ZOHAN)
• Break
• 19:55 The Last Five®
• Break
• 44:00 Listener Last Five (12-year-old Charlie)
• Break
• 50:26 From the Queue
• Break
• 56:46 Show Notes
• 57:41 Credits and Outtake

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Lather. Rinse. Save The World.

5.3 Metacritic
5.7 IMDB

YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN

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Written by Michael W. Cummins