KEEP BUSTIN'

Powaqqatsi

tn_powaqqatsilucasminusstarwarsGeorge Lucas and his big homey Francis Ford Coppola (CAPTAIN EO) are executive producers of Godfrey Reggio’s POWAQQATSI (Life in transformation), the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the Qatsi trilogy that began with KOYAANISQATSI (Life out of balance) in 1982 and ended with NAQOYQATSI (Life as war) in 2002. If you’ve seen either of those, or the ones by Reggio’s cinematographer Ron Fricke (I reviewed his SAMSARA in 2011) then you got a pretty good idea what this is like. Which is good, because my words might not cut it.

We could classify these as “experimental documentaries,” but they don’t have much of what anybody thinks of when they think of documentaries. No interviews, no narration, no onscreen text, no people talking at all. No storyline or argument made. No easily encapsulated subject or premise. Just themes.

They’re like cinematic paintings, or photo essays, or poems. They rhyme by having similar shots and images over and over again, all set to very repetitive (in a good way) scores by Philip Glass.

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Willow

tn_willowlucasminusstarwars

“Elora, you don’t want me. Tell her. I’m short. Even for a Nelwyn.”

Like John McClane’ll tell ya, sometimes some shit happens and you just have to step up. For Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis, RETURN OF THE JEDI, THE EWOK ADVENTURE) it’s when his kids find one of those abandoned river babies (we all know how that goes) and then it turns out to be the Chosen One prophesied to kill the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), so mean knights with packs of dog-like beasts are gonna keep attacking the village until they find her. Willow admits to the town that he has the baby they’re looking for, and he doesn’t argue when the wise wizard The High Aldwin (Billy Barty) appoints him to lead a party on a journey to give the baby back to the Daikini, the bigger people.

I say bigger because Willow’s village is all people under four feet tall. There are fighters among them, like Vohnkar (Phil Fondacaro, RETURN OF THE JEDI) or “Vohnkar Warrior” (Tony Cox, RETURN OF THE JEDI, CAPTAIN EO), but Willow isn’t one of them. A small man looked down upon even among the people of his size, he’s the underest of dogs. As a fledgling magician he screws up even his corny magic trick illusions, and now he finds himself going head to head with a real sorceress.

The first Daikini they find is Mad Martigan (Val Kilmer, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS), a warrior imprisoned in a small cage who seems at first like a Jack Sparrowish rogue. When an army is headed their way and most of Willow’s party turns tail he has little choice but to free the man and convince him to help, like an action comedy set up. (read the rest of this shit…)

Captain EO

tn_captaineolucasminusstarwarsI mentioned in my LABYRINTH review that I thought Michael Jackson would’ve been a cool Goblin King. Sorry about that. I take it back. Mr. Bowie was uniquely suited for the character and I’m glad he got to hang out with all those puppets and implant himself in the creepy childhood memories of millions around the world.

And besides, Michael got his chance to get a little muppety, because the next Lucasfilm release was this 17 minute 3D film starring Jackson as “the infamous Captain EO,” leader of “a rag-tag band” of aliens and robots and crap sent on a dangerous space mission to deliver a gift to the Supreme Leader (Angelica Huston). EO gives his crew a speech about how everybody thinks they’re a bunch of fucking losers and if they don’t pull this mission off they’re gonna be “drummed out of the corps.” Which really makes you wonder how they got into the corps in the first place. What kind of boot camp can these weirdos make it through?

They seem to be kind of the Bad News Bears of space troopers. They’re bickering, cartoon-voiced goofballs who screw everything up and get yelled at by the Captain (except when they throw an egg at the hologram of Commander Bog [Dick Shawn, The Year Without a Santa Claus]), which makes him laugh).

The crew consists of a robot named Major Domo (voice of Gary DePew, producer of ANGEL 4: UNDERCOVER), another one named Minor Domo that attaches into the Major’s back, a furry two-headed monster named Idey (Debbie Lee Carrington, RETURN OF THE JEDI, HOWARD THE DUCK) and Odey (Cindy Sorenson, THE DARK BACKWARD), a green elephant-man named Hooter (Tony Cox, RETURN OF THE JEDI, SPACEBALLS, BAD SANTA) and a small furry guy with butterfly wings named Fuzzball (effects by Rick Baker, makeup man for the cantina scene in STAR WARS as well as Jackson’s Thriller video). All are small in stature, most are inept and cowardly. But EO leads them through a space battle, a crash-landing and a dark tunnel to the Supreme Leader, who turns out to be a grey and black Giger-esque biomechanical witch hanging from a web of cables and corrugated tubes. She is not happy to see them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Moment of silence

I feel like I should hold off on posting my next Lucas Minus Star Wars review, because the world is mourning David Bowie and doesn’t want to read about Michael Jackson in space. So consider today a moment of silence. Sincerest condolences to Mr. Bowie’s family, friends and fans.

The Visit

tn_visitM. Night Shyamalan has had one of the harshest popularity drop-offs of any name brand movie director. THE SIXTH SENSE got him a couple films worth of “could he be a new Spielberg?” goodwill before the love affair ended non-amicably. He rubbed many of us the wrong way by becoming increasingly self-aggrandizing as his movies got more and more misguided, arguably culminating in the ridiculous LADY IN THE WATER, where the villain is a pompous film critic and Shyamalan himself plays a writer whose work is destined to inspire the next Martin Luther King. Of course, most people limit their critique to making fun of the twist endings he used to do and xenophobically refusing to expend a regular amount of effort to learn his last name. (SHAW-MUH-LAWN, guys. Fewer syllables than Tarantino or Kurosawa. You can learn it.)

These days he doesn’t even get a fair shot. AFTER EARTH, for example, did not deserve the disdain it got. But I think we’re fair in assuming he’s not gonna turn out to be a great director for the ages.

THE VISIT is not a rebirth of the once promising writer-director, but it’s a positive step. It shows an awareness I didn’t know he had. Instead of floundering with ambitions far beyond his abilities he’s decided to slum it in the middling subgenre of the Jason Blum produced found footage/fake documentary horror movie (see also: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 1, 2, 3, 4 and GHOST DIMENSION, THE BAY, AREA 51, THE GALLOWS, UNFRIENDED 1 and 2). While the format is usually used as a workaround for filmmaking competence and professional actors, Shyamalan treats it as a creative challenge. It never seems like laziness, it seems like a puzzle. Can he use this “kid with handheld camera” bullshit and still get in some of his favorite things: great performances by young actors, some beautiful shots, some sadness and sentiment? (read the rest of this shit…)

Ricki and the Flash

tn_rickiBefore we get back into the Lucas-Minus-Star-Wars series I wanted to play a little catch up. Here’s one of my favorite movies of last year, and I bet most of you haven’t considered seeing it.

In RICKI AND THE FLASH Meryl Streep (BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY) plays the broke-ass leader of a California bar band who’s on an unlikely mission to Indianapolis to cheer up her daughter Julie (Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer), because her husband left her. One thing is, Ricki abandoned the family years ago to follow her rock and/or roll dream, and they never forgave her for it and rarely talk to her. But Julie’s gotten so bad that her dad Pete (Kevin Kline) gets desperate enough to break that emergency glass. It’s a fish-out-of-water story where the fish has no money and has to stay in your guest room and you don’t want her there but you try to be polite and also you have to pay for her cab.

Ricki is a rare and precious thing, a lead role for an actress – an older actress, even – that gets to be complex and flawed and also funny (not to mention sing and play guitar!). She’s a strong personality and also a mess and possibly racist and hates Obama and also it turns out she knows how to be a good mother and friend. I mean, now she does, but where the hell was she before? With this cause healing, or only increase resentment? Streep, not surprisingly, goes to town with the role and seems to be having a great time. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bone Tomahawk

tn_bonetomahawkBefore THE HATEFUL EIGHT, Kurt Russell first teamed with his crazy mustache on a different ensemble western with bursts of outrageously brutal violence. BONE TOMAHAWK is kinda like a John Wayne movie that happens to bump into CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST for a minute. But don’t get too excited about that high mash up concept. For the most part it’s a straight up western, for people who enjoy westerns. It’s just that it’s got a scene or two that might make a few of those guys spit out their coffee.

In the opening scene two murderous bandits, Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette), trespass on some kind of skull-decorated burial ground that Indiana Jones might be able to tell them about. They were just talking about what’s proper to do with the Bibles of the travelers they murdered on the road, but they do not show the same concern for this particular culture. Anyway, they get into some trouble, you could say.

Purvis escapes and makes it into the town of Bright Hope, where he is not welcome, and quickly ends up shot and arrested by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell). But during the night some kind of savages attack the jail, tearing one man apart and abducting Purvis, a deputy (Evan Jonigkeit, Toad from X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST), and a local doctor (Lili Simmons, who I guess is on Banshee, but I honestly thought she was Katherine Heigl). She was at the jail to attend to Purvis’s bullet, and yes, for the record she drops the slug into a metal canister. Anyway she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, she gets abducted. Most of the movie is about the rescue party traveling to cannibal territory to try to get them all back. (read the rest of this shit…)

Kelly’s Heroes

tn_kellysheroesFor four years now it’s been my tradition to kick off a new year with Clint Eastwood. This year I’m starting it with Clint and a rowdy gang of G.I. goofballs including roughneck Telly Savalas, new agey Donald Sutherland, bitter wiseass Don Rickles and young, harmonica-playing, exactly-the-same-looking Harry Dean Stanton (credited as Dean Stanton). It kinda feels like one of those fun ensemble war pictures like THE DIRTY DOZEN or THE GREAT ESCAPE, except the idea behind it is much more cynical.

Clint plays Kelly, a once great soldier, demoted and disillusioned after an incorrect order caused him to blow up some of his own men. When he finds out about a stash of gold bars in a German bank he finally has a mission he can believe in again: get together a crew to penetrate the enemy lines early and get the loot. Everyone thinks/knows it’s crazy, but the lure of the bling is enough. In fact, they have trouble with more and more people joining the group and expecting a share.

At times it can be kind of a broad comedy, and with that old timey type of military humor where they complain about their job but they just talk about hating to have to lug heavy things around, or get bossed around, they don’t talk about the psychological trauma of having to kill people, or almost being killed, or seeing their friends killed. But in a way this is a very subversive movie, because here’s The Great War, the one we can all get behind, the one that made them The Greatest Generation, and our titleistical heroes never even mention ideals or what they’re fighting for. What they end up getting behind is a big payday. (read the rest of this shit…)

So long 2015, you hustlin sonofabitch

tn_mcqueentoastWell, it’s been a year again. 365 days of 2015ness have passed, that much I know for sure. I did not manage to become a successful or highly paid individual yet. I lost some family. The world lost Darren Shahlavi, Roddy Piper and Wes Craven. A bunch of less celebrated people got shot and blown up all around the world. I’m against it. Stop doing that.

I’m gonna focus on the positive though. My life is mostly good, and I make it through the bad days in part because of you guys and what we do here. I think I had a year of writing that I can be proud of. Let’s go over some highlights.

As is my tradition now, I started the year with Clint, revisiting THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Later in the month I saw his AMERICAN SNIPER, which I still think is more complex than it got credit for. And if you think that makes me a war apologist, fuck you. I didn’t see you seeking out actual Iraqi films about the war like AHLAAM to write about too. That was me that did that.

Speaking of Bradley Cooper movies, I finally reviewed THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, so I can include a link whenever I mention Cooper for any reason. In that sense I really made alot of progress this year.
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The Hateful Eight

tn_hatefuleight(SPOILERS. This is a don’t-read-before-seeing-the-movie review.)

Quentin Tarantino tries out a couple new tricks in his new one, THE HATEFUL EIGHT: he shot in extra-wide 65mm Cinemascope, and helped hook up a bunch of theaters with 70mm projectors (and projectionists, I assume) to show an early, longer version of the movie complete with an overture, intermission and program. He got Ennio Morricone to compose and orchestrate some new music for it (Tarantino’s only previous original scoring was some bits by RZA and Robert Rodriguez for the KILL BILLs). But it also feels pretty familiar: his second extreme-racism western in a row, with chapter titles like KILL BILL, full of conversation suspense scenes like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, mostly one location like RESERVOIR DOGS, some non-linear jumps like most of his movies, and a cast with plenty of his regulars (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Parks, Zoe Bell, Waltong Goggins [I almost forgot he was in DJANGO UNCHAINED). Just as INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS got away with some out-of-the-blue, seemingly incongruous narration by Jackson, HATEFUL EIGHT follows up its intermission with some omniscient narration that you suddenly realize is Tarantino himself. I can see why some people would hate that, but I loved it. I mean, who are we fooling, we all know it’s this guy talking to us through this movie anyway. And it helps kick off the second half with an energy the first was lacking.

Here’s something brand new for a Tarantino movie: I didn’t immediately love it. I’m honestly still trying to figure out how I feel about it. I’m not sure I get it. I remember that with both INGLOURIOUS and DJANGO I had misgivings on the first viewings that later seemed completely irrelevant. With the former it was thinking that Brad Pitt seemed like Brad Pitt playing a funny character, he didn’t inhabit the character the way previous Tarantino leads had. With the latter it was that Tarantino had never done a movie that followed one character chronologically, and it seemed kinda too simple for him. Both of those seem like dumb complaints to me now, and I loved both movies without reservations on subsequent viewings. Even so, their first times I liked better than this first time. (read the rest of this shit…)