February 2013 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
28Feb/130

Border Run (2013)

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Morning burialAndrew LIKE BannerThis is the second time this week my preconceived notion of what a film should be has been smashed.

I was surprised yesterday but not challenged.  Now I've watched a film that simultaneously embodies the stereotype of Hollywood only looking out for the left-wing while offering the simplest and most effective rebuke to that idea.  Here's a film that looks at people suffering and puts a character, fully-realized no matter how flimsy she may seem, right at the center and asks us to feel the same pain.  Sometimes it's better to stand back and regard, but here there is a deliberate attempt to engage the stereotype that's become reality with a fictionalized narrative that needs to disappear.

Instead we have a film about strong-willed people who are against all illegal immigrants in the country and asks that they simply confront the truth of suffering.  It's done by forcing us to experience the struggle in a physical way.  There are moments where the character conflicts and decisions that are made seem to make little sense.  The reality is I already don't understand that casual bigotry in my day to day life, at least the fictional version here tries to offer reasons and illuminate a problem that seems to have no clear answer.

27Feb/130

Chasing Mavericks (2012)

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Towering reality of natureAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerFor those of you with any interest in watching Chasing Mavericks, my advice is to skip everything but the last thirty minutes.  In that last act the film came so close to working that I almost broke out into tears at some of the naked emotion.  But then I remembered the aimless first act, the bad acting, and the constant allusions that this takes place in the '90s.  The spell, alas, was broken.

But I'm surprised it worked as well as it did.  Aimless moments aside, Chasing Mavericks did an excellent job of capturing that moment when you're young and you think you have it all figured out.  All Jay (Jonny Weston) needs to do is capture that one perfect wave and everything will be ok.  What is less convincing is how it will stop his mom will stop with the crippling alcoholism, his mentor becoming the perfect husband, his best friend will stop doing whatever he's doing that's eliciting huge wads of money from the local thug, who will stop doing his impersonation of the bad teenagers from The Karate Kid.

He's a teenager, so getting that one wave will fix it all...right?

24Feb/130

Wilder: Kiss Me, Stupid (1963)

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Dino (Dean Martin), the charming and lecherous Las Vegas singer, stops for gas on his way to Hollywood in Climax, Nevada. The oily gas station attendant is Barney Millsap, a would-be lyricist who writes pop songs with Orville Spooner (Ray Walton), the local piano teacher. By disabling Dino's car, Barney contrives a scheme to have Dino sing one of their songs on an upcoming TV special. To entertain Dino, Barney contacts the village tart, Polly (Kim Novak), employing her to pretend to be Orville's wife, Zelda, for a night. She doesn't like Dino, but does love being Orville's surrogate wife. Dino goes to a bar, where he meets the real Zelda, and they spend the night together while Polly spends it with Orville.

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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A few weeks ago I was reading John Gregory Dunne's The Studio, a book that covers a year behind the scenes at Twentieth Century Fox. It's 1967, and two executives discuss the worries they've got about their new ribald comedy. They admit, "We're just worried about the specter of Kiss Me, Stupid." That's three years after Kiss Me Stupid had been released, and Billy Wilder's movie had, miraculously, made movie studios wary of smut. If you've seen the movie at all, it's not that surprising.

It's a sexual farce at its most base, as a pair of couples swap partners for a night, and find their relationship strengthened. They also get rich and famous out of the deal, going to show what a crock that must be.

Dean Martin plays a sexed up version of himself, or at least a version of himself that he was selling to audiences in the early 60's. The black and white photography here is a liability as well, as it gives off a vibe of oil and filth rather than desolation and order that Wilder was aiming for. Kim Novak's the only one who really avails herself from most of the proceedings, doing a deeper voiced Marilyn Monroe with a cold and a unhealthy need for genuine affection. Ray Walston and Martin are such an unappealing pair of foils that it's hard to watch, and Walston's Spooner is a painful cartoon in many ways that's hard to watch.

It doesn't help that the sexual politics are those icky 60's version, where swinging is sacrosanct with moralistic purity and beautiful women are considered interchangeable. The women in this picture, Zelda and Polly, get the worst of it, with Polly asserting at one point that, "A woman without a man is like a trailer without a car!" Thank God feminism happened, as it puts this movie and any random Elvis outing on about the same ground.

Wilder tries to liven up Spooner's one note jealousy by showing that it can be transferred. Spooner isn't so much concerned with the love of his wife, it turns out, but possessing her. He's a tiny little man who wants control and order and that's why the ending doesn't work for me: he doesn't learn from it.

That's the worst part of all, I think, is that no one really learns anything from the mess. Everyone gets what they want, and no one is smarter in the first frame than they were in the last.

That being said, uh, the score isn't bad. Ryan, I leave it to you: am I being cruel? Or is this, as Cameron Crowe asserts, actually an underestimated gem?

23Feb/130

Snitch (2013)

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There's the cheddah'Andrew INDIFFERENCE BannerIf nothing else, Snitch should be commended for taking some risks with its story and presentation.  I went in to the film knowing nothing except Dwayne Johnson is on some mission to save his son and Michael K. Williams is starring in a supporting role.  That seems like a sure-fire recipe for action success right off the bat, but that's not the direction that Snitch takes.  Instead of high-danger and tension the risk comes more from people putting their professional and social currency on the line and engaging in some unadvised risky behavior.

One early scene with John Matthews (Johnson) shows it all.  He cuts an imposing figure but that's because of all the work he has to put into his construction business.  When he goes out looking for some kind of connection into the drug world to save his son he gets beaten down badly by a gaggle of nondescript gangsters.  This isn't the same Johnson that's punched a dinosaur or blew up half a jungle, he's vulnerable, out of his league, and when given the opportunity to play against type does it very well.

22Feb/130

Oliver Stone: The Hand (1981)

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Prolific comic book artist and writer Jon Lansdale has the perfect life.  He draws while his wife and child whittle away their time at their summer residence.  But as his wife grows dissatisfied Jon's rage grows and he loses his gifted hand in an auto accident.  His family hopes that he'll take this as a sign to retire but Jon, and a surprisingly vengeful hand, have other plans...

It's called what againKyle Commentary BannerThe Hand is a bizarre movie, and no matter what you're thinking, it's bizarre in a different way than that. The plot concerns a kind of dickish comic illustrator/writer whose severed hand literally comes back to haunt him following an auto accident. That's more than enough about the plot.

I would like to say that The Hand has one thing going for it, and that it's Michael Caine's frantic, over-the-top and yet strangely committed performance—which is rivaled only by his incredible, over-the-top and yet strangely committed Founding Fathers haircut—but that would be denying Oliver Stone the credit he deserves for wringing some legitimately interesting psychological tension out of a story in which a ghost hand crawls around strangling people. The hand also seems to have developed incredible physical strength, even in the absence of any connected muscles or tendons, but never mind that.

Here's what separates this movie from the Roger Corman-esque pulp that it by all rights should have been (and I'm not entirely certain it's a distinction that helps the film): at the root of The Hand is a story about an angry, unhappy man who is slowly losing his grip on reality as he loses control over the events in his life. Stone uses a number of visual techniques to represent this slipping, tenuous grasp on reality (and the character's increasing rage) in a way that's often genuinely effective. Sudden freeze-frames with flashes of white light, sequences that shift randomly to black and white, and Michael Caine's crazy, gleefully murderous face all have the effect of disrupting our own sense of the movie's reality in a way that mirrors that of the main character. It's unsettling and unpleasant, if not entirely unexpected, which makes his descent all the more horrifying.

Then we're treated to very literally filmed shots in which a rotting right hand crawls out an open window after strangling someone, and this is hilarious, if not entirely unexpected, which makes the movie all the more bizarre. I pose this question to you: what is going on here? It was an early movie for Stone, so perhaps he got a script that demanded a killer hand and decided to make the best of it, but there is a truly dark, scary, uncompromisingly bleak story of a man becoming a monster here somewhere that never comes to fruition because the script and all that it demands is insanely stupid. Take, for instance, the last scene, which I can't really effectively explain. I don't think any of the movie can be effectively explained — this HAD to have originally been intended as a Roger Corman film.

**Sidenote, I propose that we track how many of Oliver Stone's films would have been made markedly better by adding an exclamation point to the end a la Seizure! — This one gets my vote.