Filmographies: Sam Peckinpah Episode 4

On this episode of episode of Filmographies. Cameron and Eric near the end of the Sam Peckinpah film set. They start off with the infamous “Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” move onto the forgotten “The Killer Elite” and wrap it up with the under valued “Cross of Iron.” Some of these films being the last time Peckinpah worked with many of his repertory players. With five more films to go, how will Peckinpah rank among the best? Listen to find out.

Peck4

PLP – Pod Shots – Moon

imageIn this episode, I’m joined once again by one of the men behind Action Lab and LOI studios, the always gracious Shawn Pryor! This time around we are discussing the Duncan Jones film Moon! We discuss how we both came to the film and what we make of this powerful but under seen science fiction film. We discuss the performance of Sam Rockwell and the ability to play multiple versions of himself. It is a spoiler filled discussion so please do us a favor and check out the film before giving us a listen if at all possible. It’s always a wonderful time having Shawn on, and if you enjoyed him on this episode, please check out some of his projects and his podcast. Also you could check out our previous discussions in the archive where we have talked about Batman, Star Trek: First Contact, and Lucky Number Slevin! Check it out!

Music:
Clint Mansell – Moon Soundtrack – Welcome to Lunar Industries

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Kent’s Movie Diary: Dead birds for everybody!

LRresizeTHE LONE RANGER- “I can’t help but feel it’s a mistake to try to mash up Pirates of the Caribbean and Unforgiven.” -Nobody associated with The Lone Ranger film

Anyone else remember that Night Court episode where they had the Lone Ranger-ish guy that wouldn’t take off his mask because some Hollywood schmuck was trying to do a gritty reimagining of the character? I can’t help but feel that he was trying to prevent a misfire of a crap pile like Disney’s Lone Ranger. Apparently the Mouse House didn’t watch their own Muppet movie, because this is the Moopet Lone Ranger. A hard, cynical Western comedy for a hard, cynical time.

I wanted to like this movie. I really, really did. And the reason it hurts most is because the zygote of something good is here, but nine out of every ten decisions made in the making of the film are completely mind-boggling. And they’re mistakes that seem like they’d be so easy to pinpoint at the script stage.

I’ll start with the good. First off, Armie Hammer is actually not a bad choice as the Ranger. He has some of the same kind of wooden charm that the cowboy heroes from the thrilling days of yesteryear (see what I did there?) possessed in their simple morality plays. In theory he is a fitting replacement for Clayton Moore. The problem is that he’s given so little to work with. Instead of being a capable Texas Ranger who was ambushed and left for dead, he is a nitwit lawyer in over his head. In many cases he’s heroic by accident and rather than simply being a great lawman-cum-cowboy, he has some kind of supernatural “spirit-walker” powers. I have nothing against doing some kind of supernatural western genre concept, even if they seem to be tough to pull off. But there’s very little left that makes him the Lone Ranger in anything but name. So the fact that he’s still even partway likable is a testament to Hammer.

There’s also one hell of an amazeballs action sequence at the end in which the film seems to finally figure out what it is, complete with the William Tell Overture and jumping Silver from train car to train car. Right before it falls on its face again trying to take its own piss. But for about twenty minutes, it is the Lone Ranger movie that it should be. The type of fun action Western that it was sold as. It’s like the characters are completely different in this sequence as well. You feel as if you suddenly are transported into an alternate universe in which they got the movie right and then, sadly, back again.

The fact is, the people involved seem to be completely ignorant about the property. It’s not just the title character that is different. Tonto is unrecognizable. For all the complaints about Jay Silverheels’ speech patterns, I remember Tonto being a rather competent sidekick who saved the Lone Ranger’s life. He certainly didn’t resent him. Or drag his head through horse poop. Depp’s Tonto is (forgive me) Injun Jack Sparrow. He’s a white face, psychotic goofball mostly concerned with revenge and mugging for the camera. I know the look of the character was inspired by a piece of artwork, but it’s almost as over-the-top as his horrible Mad Hatter get up.

The script is determined to make jokes at the expense of iconic things that they think people either don’t remember or are too sophisticated to enjoy. But if that’s the case, why are they making a Lone Ranger movie in the first place? The use of “Hi-yo Silver, away!” is met with derision as though it’s something cheesy. As opposed to a guy with a dead bird on his head. (Seriously, that stupid bird is the worst.) Instead of celebrating the character and the adventure of the old west, it is an exercise in seeing unpleasant a film can be and how many corrupt, horrible white guys they can pack into a liberal arts professor’s vision of the time period. Add to that a constant barrage of non-sequitors, gross-out gags and a framing sequence that adds nothing to the film but padding on it’s already bloated runtime, and you’ve got one of the worst summer tentpoles this side of Michael Bay.

Trek9resizeSTAR TREK: INSURRECTION- I finally saw the ninth film of the Star Trek franchise. First thought: Become a rapper called Trek9 and do songs only about this film. (OK, so only Kansas City people might get that gag.) Anyway… It shouldn’t surprise me to see an anti-technology fetishist Star Trek movie, but somehow it still does.

Yep, the crew of the Enterprise, whilst zipping around in their starship, seeks to stop some white Indians that live “in harmony with nature” and never age due to their planet’s unique atmosphere from being displaced by a bunch of grotesque beings.

It’s obvious from the outset that the vaguely European luddites are stand-ins for Native Americans being forced off their land. (Settlers from another land that live “unspoiled” lives being relocated by a more powerful group for the sake of progress. Not really historically accurate, but what else would you call it?) However, the themes of the film are so muddied that it completely falls apart while they’re trying to make whatever vague point that they think they’re making.

The settlers are, of course, pacifists. Though they have no trouble with the crew of the Enterprise locking and loading on their behalf. Later on we also find out that they do not tolerate change or any kind of opposing views amongst themselves, but this is completely brushed over because it’s inconvenient to actually ask about the morality of the people Picard and Co. put their chips in with. Not when there are imperialist villains to fight in the name of the Prime Directive. Or not. Whatever.

It’s just one big episode of Next Gen, which for me is not a selling point since I’m much more of a TOS fan. This explains why this was my first viewing of Insurrection (and the upcoming Nemesis.) On a technical level it’s not all bad. Jonathan Frakes does a good job of directing and misdirecting, as it were. It looks good, even if the renaissance fair opening credits are eye-rollingly boring as hell. The effects are more than comparable to the task. It’s even got some good character moments. It’s just not a good story. If it were nothing but a think piece, I would be more behind it. I’m one of the defenders of the first Trek movie because I love the ideas behind it. But the film is trying to serve two masters in trying too hard to duplicate First Contact by grafting in some rather generic action sequences. Together with the half-baked screenplay, it ends up less bad than simply bland.

V&DresizeVIOLET AND DAISY- Everything that’s right about Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the beginning. During the first few minutes the title teen girl characters, dressed as nuns, clean out an apartment full of armed men with handguns, culminating with a pretty faithful cover of “Angel of the Morning.” Everything that’s wrong with Violet and Daisy can be summed up with the mawkish, sentimental ending. A story of two unusual assassins, it definitely has its moments, but ultimately falls under its own pretension, like someone trying to set a Thomas Pynchon novel on a Jenga tower.

I decided to watch the film based on the cast, who are the bulk of what works about it. Saoirse Ronan is Daisy. Light and airy like the spongecake that seems to exist between her character’s ears, she seems to be drifting through much of the film on a pink cloud. Alexis Bledel is Violet, the more hardass of the two and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t mean to disregard her acting ability because I actually thought she was pretty great on Gilmore Girls, but if it had been a more one-note performance and not included some pretty wild temperamental shifts, she probably would have been better. As it is, I wonder if the chemistry between them would have worked better if they’d switched roles, especially having seen Hana. A pre-death James Gandolfini is a target that takes the girls by surprise. He’s not bad. But like the film itself, he descends into mawkishness eventually. I’m not sure how much of this is problems with the script and how much of it is issues with the directing.

The performances/directing is definitely stylized and reminds me almost of the performances in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, despite being very different films. Probably because it involves a couple of young characters spouting nonsense dialogue with severe conviction like it’s gospel. Plus both include really bizarre surreality at random as well. Now inject into that a sense of Quentin Tarantino-style cartoonish playfulness for some of the crime aspects, including a complete disregard for linear storytelling and the (albeit more subtle) use of graphics. The titlecard reveals, among other things, that the film is in technicolor and 3D, but it is very small, almost like they intend it to be an inside joke for the filmmaker. It also divides itself up into chapters, some very short, with a brief name for each.

It’s a fun film stuck with some horrible dead spots. Or is it a mediocre movie with small flashes of delirious coolness? Either way, it’s not a film I can recommend, but I did laugh a decent amount and I don’t regret seeing it. Even though it’d probably make a better play than a film. It feels like an effort of someone with potential but who needs to learn more about tone and structure and rein in the instinct to deepen the story by creating an aspartame ending full of false sweetness.

KoSresizeKINGS OF SUMMER- If I were 16 years old, The Kings of Summer might be one of my favorite movies. As it is, it made me laugh a lot, both at the a-holish behavior of Nick Offerman as a recently widowed father and the angst-shellaced pubescent antics of a trio of teens that decide to build a home in the woods to assert their independance and masculinity.

Like a guaze-wrapped summer daydream, it spins a golden tale of boys becoming men (in the traditional sense, not the way that most teen comedies do by having them lose their virginity) and failing along the way. Joe is the defacto leader of the group, ironic as his friend Mike is the larger and more centered of them. Then there’s Biaggio, a strange kid that seems like the ethnic offspring of Dwight Schrute, spouting nonsense and playing with a machete the size of his arm.

Sick of their parents’ interference, they retreat to the middle of nowhere so that no one can find them and proceed to live (almost) off the grid, building a suprisingly sturdy house out of found objects. They play, swim, explore and basically do what boys do in the woods. Of course this can’t last forever and a combination of hormones and hurt feelings threatens to destroy their Eden, but that’s always the way it goes. In the meantime, there’s some great one liners and deviations about Chinese food and board games.

The cast is largely excellent with some surprise actors taking part. Alison Brie, one of my official crushes and star of Community, is a secondary player and there are appearances by 24′s Mary Lynn Rajskub and Arrested Development’s Tony Hale. The music is also interesting as it liltingly flips from indie to chiptunes.

I highly recommend taking up Kings of Summer for a viewing, especially once the season finally hits and we get out of this winter hellhole. As it was, at least it reminded me of a time without snow. And that was something I really needed after the last couple of months.

Filmographies: Robocop Special!

On this special episode of filmographies. Cameron and Eric dive into the Robocop series of films.

Starting with 1987′s Robocop, all the way to the new Robocop remake. The sequels, the music, the costume. It’s all discussed. What did we like? What did we question? And what just didn’t work? Listen! Enjoy!

Times:

Robocop 2: 39:00

Robocop 3: 1:02:00

Robocop (2013): 1:17:15old-vs-new-robo

PLP – Episode 55 – Ultimate Super-Hero Warrior Part 3

imageIn this episode we conclude another Ultimate Warrior discussion with a look at 16 super-heroes and who we think would win in a knock down drag out fight. We get into subjects such as a “sexy off” between Superman and Thor as well as other inappropriate business. It’s a nice, short episode filled with our hosts doing what they do best, bullshit, join us won’t you?

Music:
Ultimate Warrior Theme
John Williams – Superman: The Movie Theme Song

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Oscar Night 2014

It’s that time of year folks, the Oscars are upon us… for some people, it’s a chance to root for their favorite movies, and their favorite celebrities.  For others it’s a chance to look at fashions, and beauty… and for many of us it’s just another thing to do on a Sunday night.

I personally love the Oscars, since I’m not a sports fan, this is MY Super Bowl (with gowns instead of commercials).  I can’t say that I have seen every Oscar ceremony in the last 30 years, but I am sure I’ve come close.  I have my Oscar memories just like you all do, and I even have my Oscar traditions just like you all do as well.

My friend Jared and I have already recorded and released our Oscar episode of Cine-rama, which you can check out here.  But it wouldn’t be right for me to let this Oscar season go by with giving you my personal rundown and opinions on each of the Best Picture Nominees.

Ready, set, GO!

1) American Hustle:  I can’t remember if I wrote about this movie or not, but I thought this movie was a real disappointment.  The style, the cast, and the trailer had me really excited to see this crime drama set in the 70s, but in the end it fell flat and left me bored.  The movie was way way way too long, and had a ludicrous plot that was almost impossible to keep up with.  The performances by Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams were the two that stood out the most (both actors are nominated for their respected roles), but it’s Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence who have Hollywood buzzing.  A special shout out must be given to Louis C.K. for his role as Bradley Cooper’s boss who can never finish his story about his brother on the ice.  For a movie that was suppose to be hilarious, it was only Louis C.K. that delivered the humor, just by his delivery alone.

Will it win?  It’s hard to say because this movie did win the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical, so that helps its chances of winning the Oscar for BP.  Of course, in my opinion this movie is a good fit for that award, so if it’s going to get any statue it might as well be the Golden Globe, but I don’t think (or hope) it will really win in comparison to the other films nominated.

Performances? The four main actors in this film; Bale, Cooper, Adams, and Lawrence are all nominated for an acting award in their respective categories.  All of them are fine actors, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence have both won in the past, and Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper are both deserving of one, but not for this movie.  Bradley Cooper should have won for Silver Linings Playbook… just saying.

2) Captain Phillips: I liked this movie a whole lot more than I thought I would, it was intense and Tom Hanks was amazing.  As an Academy Award winner though, I’m not entirely sure… it got a lot of Oscar Buzz early on, but now that we are approaching this years ceremony, you don’t hear as much about it.  The film’s story has been tainted a bit by recent reports of the actual events that the movie has been based on, but hopefully that would not deter people from liking it or voting for it.  Tom Hanks gave one of the best performances of his career in this film (he actually gave TWO of this best performances of his career in 2013 alone; the other being Saving Mr. Banks) and sadly did not garner a nomination.

Will it win?  I think I covered this pretty well already, but this year it was hard to predict a winner, so this movie could take us by surprise and upset the rest of nominees.

Performances? Tom Hanks was great as I said above; however, Barkhad Abdi also did an amazing job in this film.  He played the main terrorist in the film, and showed a lot of great depth and emotion.  Will he win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor though?  Probably not, I think that honor may go to either Jared Leto or Michael Fassbender.  (Sorry Jonah Hill, not this year…)

3) Dallas Buyers Club:  This movie was fantastic, it had it all… powerful performances, great story, and lots of Oscar buzz.  Again, just like Captain Phillips, I think this movie was the favorite to win the top prize but as the awards season went on, this movie’s chances seemed to diminish.  If I were asked to pick the winner (why I’m not asked, I don’t know) I would have picked Dallas Buyers Club as the best.  It was such a powerful, moving picture and I think that everyone in it put their heart and soul into the performance.  Matthew McConauhey and Jared Leto especially, I mean not only did they completely transform themselves to play these parts, but they also became the characters they were playing (although, McConauhey didn’t have to stretch that far).  I was really impressed by this film in the end, and it’s too bad that it probably won’t win for Best Picture.

Will it win?  Like I said, I think that the Oscar buzz wore off too quickly for this film, and it’s pretty much all but forgotten.

Performances? I hope McConauhey wins, and I hope Jared Leto wins… At the very least, I believe that Jared Leto is a shoe in for Best Supporting Actor, and I think many critics agree.

4) Gravity: This movie was amazing, it took the old standby story of a castaway lost at sea and shot it into space.  This film was beautiful, and compelling, and I loved it.  If it wasn’t for Dallas Buyers Club, this would be my pick for Best Picture, because the amount of work that Alfonso Cuaron and his team must have put into this movie is astounding.  And Sandra Bullock and George Clooney really had to work hard to hold this movie together, (Sandra Bullock especially) because there was no one else in the film to help move the story along.

Will it win?  I think Gravity has a really good chance of winning Best Picture, I believe it is one of the top 3 contenders at this point.  I feel that at the very least, we may see Alfonso Cuaron take home the Oscar for Best Director, but you never know.

Performances? Sandra Bullock was nominated for Best Actress in a Lead Role… Jared and I talked bout this at length on our Oscar podcast, and we both feel that she is the right choice for the win.

5) Her: I liked Her.  Who?  Her, yes Her… (okay enough of that).  I have been a fan of Spike Jonze since Being John Malkovich, and I couldn’t have been more excited by this film, and just as excited by the results.  Joaquin Phoenix (who is also one of my favorite actors, sorry Jared) delivered a great performance as a sad sack loner who falls in love with his operating system.  Spike Jonze picked a great time to put out this film as technology that interacts with us is starting to be a part of our lives.  The emotions, and the complexity of the relationship between Theodore and Samantha are so real, and so accurate to human interactions, it makes it harder to believe that Samantha ISN’T actually real.

Will it win? Yes, I will say this movie is worthy of the nomination, but I do not believe it has a chance of winning.  Not because it’s a bad movie, but because there’s so many other movies nominated that are so much better.  I think that Spike Jonze has definitely set himself on a path to an Oscar win, but this is not his year.

Performances? Many people know, and many people have expressed outrage over the fact that I DO NOT like Scarlet Johansson.  In my humble opinion, she is a very boring actress with very little range.  However, there are certain roles in her career that stand out as being better than others.  For example, I thought she was great in Don Jon, but not so great in The Prestige.  She was great in Matchpoint, but not so good in Scoop… however, I will give her credit because this was one of her stand out roles.  Also, Amy Adams was cute and adorable in this movie, her role was small in comparison to American Hustle but I liked her performance a lot.

Lastly, look out for director Spike Jonze in another nominee for Best Picture; The Wolf of Wall Street.  Spike has been popping up more and more these days in acting roles as well as his capacity as director.

6) Nebraska:  I’ll be honest, this movie is probably going to be my number 1 for the year of 2013.  I loved this movie so much, in so many ways.  Alexander Payne knows how to make a moving film, and one that hits you right where you live.  It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s sad, and it’s just a really great movie.  I love the use of black and white, which helps to enhance the flat, bleakness of the midwest.

Will it win? Sadly, a movie like this is the underdog… it is in a category filled with giants.  With 10 possible nominations, there’s always going to be 1 or 2 that just don’t stand a chance.  A few years ago The Reader was an example of one of those small, understated films that was honored with a nomination, but just didn’t have a chance to win.  Nebraska may be one hell of a movie, but even compared to Alexander Payne’s The Descendants it has a slim chance of winning.  But I recommend this movie to anyone…

Performances? Before this movie my knowledge of Bruce Dern was very limited, with the exception of the fact that he is Laura Dern’s father, I really did not know him.  I looked through his IMDb page trying to find something that stood out for me, but for the most part he lies in obscurity, yet he is apparently well respected by his fellow actors.

Bruce Dern isn’t the stand alone actor in the film, June Squibb who played Woody’s wife; Kate is also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  She was really amazing in this movie, playing a strong woman who has had to put up with a lot of crap over the years.  She also served as the film’s comic relief, which is amusing considering her sons were both played by comedic actors.  Will Forte plays Woody and Kate’s son who accompanies Woody on his journey.  At first I questioned whether this Saturday Night Live veteran would be good in such a dramatic role, and boy was I surprised.  He may not have been nominated for an Oscar, but I do hope to see him in more dramatic roles in the future.  And finally, Bob Odenkirk… an actor I look up to, and I enjoy him in anything he’s in.

7) Philomena: Another film from 2013 that flew under most people’s radars is Philomena.  Based on a true story, and written by actor Steve Coogan, this film follows the eponymous characters journey to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption when she was young.  Played brilliantly by Judi Dench, and her journalist companion played by Steve Coogan, this film deserves to get a lot more praise and publicity than what it received.  It was a real eye opener to learn about the things that happened within the Catholic Church at that time, but what was brilliant about Philomena the movie, and Philomena the character is that she teaches us to forgive, but not forget.

Will it win?  I would say that just like Nebraska, it’s highly unlikely for this movie to win.  It’s another underdog that will have a very hard time competing with the giants.

Performances?  Judi Dench deserves every nomination she gets, I would certainly not be disappointed if she does win, especially for this film.  The odds are favorite is Steve Coogan for best adapted screenplay, which I think is very much deserved.

8) 12 Years a Slave: I think with most movie lovers and film critics, 12 Years a Slave was probably the last movie on the list they wanted to watch.  Movies about slavery are nothing new, and this certainly won’t be the last such movie either.  However, with this film I learned so much more than I did any other film with the same topic.  Whether I never learned about freed slaves getting sold into slavery, or it is something I had forgotten; the story of Solomon Northup is one I will definitely remember for as long as I live.  This movie surprised me, I won’t say I enjoyed the film because how can you enjoy a film about slavery, but I empathized with the film… I felt part of it.  I weeped for Solomon in the end, not because I was sad, but because this film had a happy ending… it had a hopeful ending, which was what I loved so much about the movie.

Will it win?  I would say that this movie has the best chance of winning out of all the nominees.  If it does win, I don’t think anyone would be surprised… and frankly it deserves to win.  On the other hand, it may not win… we’ll see.  (it did win the BAFTA award, which is the British equivalent of the Oscars).

Performances? Chiwetel Ejiofor is a phenomenal actor in anything that he is in… he played this part to perfection.  Lupita Nyong’o I believe will win for best supporting actress, her performance was gut wrenching, and although she’s in a category filled with amazing talent, I believe that she will win this award.

On another note, Steve McQueen is a favorite for Best Director… a lot of people are saying Alfonso Cuaron is going to get Best Director, but if this film gets Best Picture, then Steve McQueen will definitely win Best Director.  And, he will also be the first African American director to win the award… I’ll be rooting for him.

9) The Wolf of Wall Street: Save the best for last right?  Wrong… I have so much respect for Martin Scorcese, but this was easily one of his weakest film.  The 3 hour runtime made it very difficult to get through, and it didn’t help the already disjointed plot of the film.  I just did not like this movie at all…

Will it win?  Probably not… I think a lot of people would be pretty upset if this one beat out some of the other movies nominated.

Performances?  Leonardo DiCaprio is great in this movie, but he’s not doing anything he hasn’t done before.  Jonah Hill was nominated for his role in this film, a nomination that left me confused because his part was not all that great.  But, he did play it to the best of his ability… and like I said above, Jonah Hill may win an Oscar some day, but I really don’t think this is the year.

I guess that about wraps it up… don’t throw it in my face if I’m wrong, because chances are… I probably will be.  Enjoy the Super Bowl of Hollywood folks!  And if you wanna hear more about what Jared and I have to say about the Oscars, check out episode 74.2 of Cine-rama.

Episode 74.2 – in which Jared and Christian talk Oscars.

 

Here’s a new Cinematic Misfits bonus episode for you, Jared and I cranked this out this afternoon in order to get it up before the Oscars.  So, here what we have to say about this years nominees and who will wear what on the red carpet.   This is episode 74.2, a bonus episode, in which Jared and Christian talk Oscars.

You are listening to an archive episode of The Cinematic Misfits Podcast, originally titled The Cine-rama Podcast.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Wind Rises

The Japanese North by Northwest

Author’s note: This review is for the original Japanese language version of film. There is a dubbed version also being shown in the U.S., but I have not seen it. Check your local listings to see what is being shown in your area if you’re lucky enough to have it screening near you.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises is a little tough on us history majors, especially those of us who’ve studied World War II. Tough because the focus is on the creator of Japan’s Zero fighter plane, Jiro Horikoshi.

The film is a true story only in slightly more of a sense than was, say, Disney’s Pocahontas. Minus the anthropomorphic tree and plus fantastical sequences where he interacts with an Italian plane designer in their dreams. And that’s the tricky part. Jiro’s creations were used by the Japanese military to kill a lot of people. It would kind of be like doing an animated film where Wernher Von Braun is the hero. Regardless of the person or their intentions, they were working for some horrifying regimes.

In response to this, there are some things placed into the movie about Jiro speculating that Japan “will blow up.” At one point he is sought after by the Japanese “thought police” as one of his bosses refers to them, perhaps as a way to distance him from the people that would use his machines, though this is a plot thread left dangling and unresolved. But it can still be difficult to wrap your mind around the central character arc of the film, especially as a Westerner. We want to see Jiro succeed because Miyazaki makes him very sympathetic and human. But we also don’t want him to succeed at all because of what his success means. Jiro’s obsession and passion is creating “beautiful airplanes.” He wanted to be an aeronautical engineer since he was a boy and he worked hard for it. But we know his creations will be used in Japan’s attempt to conquer China and kill many Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Zero itself went on to become the plane most often used in kamikaze runs when the war was reaching its end.

As for the film itself, moral implications of its story aside, it is classic Miyazaki in tone and beauty. Like many of his films, it is mostly quiet, contemplative and often gentle, taking its time to unfold before the viewer. It is a story about feeling the need to create, regardless of what it takes. Jiro dreams of flying, but with his eyesight it is impossible. So he does the next best thing; he creates aircraft. (Seemingly under the direction of a Japanese version of Bob’s boss from The Incredibles.)

The film mixes elements about the driving nature of creation with a romance featuring no less than three “meet-cutes.” While the way the relationship comes together is ridiculously coincidental in the way that can only happen in cinema, the actual interactions between them are charming and tender, helping you care what happens to them. Despite its typically Miyazaki design and a color palate that is often quite bright, this is far more of an adult feature than most of his work. If Ponyo was for small children, this film is for the parents. There is definitely humor built into the storytelling, but the film is often moody and introspective.

It isn’t, as a friend of mine mused, Grave of the Fireflies-level depressing, though. Far from it. And it isn’t completely static, either. Early on there’s a stunning rendition of an earthquake that is such a new way of representing such an event, I was actually puzzled as to what was going on until a character explained. It is far more interesting than just a shaking camera with things falling over.

What’s great about the film is that it exactly what an American animation company would never do. Instead of an animated film, this is the kind of film we’d see made as a mid-level, live-action biopic starring someone trying to win an Oscar. For some reason, people are blind to the opportunities of the art form and put it in a box. But for Miyazaki, it is a way to capture a bygone era of Japan’s recent past. It is a way to show Tokyo being destroyed without resorting to spectacle. It is a way to show fanciful dream sequences that would be considered out of place and tone deaf in a live-action film. It is a way to resurrect dead technologies. There are so many logical reasons to film this story this way, but it isn’t an inherently family film or a straight comedy, so I have the sinking feeling some American audiences will come out of it confused based solely on their media conditioning. (Though for the record, there’s nothing in it that I’d be worried about kids seeing unless you’re fervently anti-smoking, because damn, the guy’s like a chimney.) If I’m wrong, I’ll be ecstatic about it.

Miyazaki has said this will be his last film, but then he’s said that before. Perhaps it would be wiser for him to say that he’s done until he finds another story that he feels a driving need to tell. If there’s any one thing that a person should probably be taking from The Wind Rises, it is probably that standing in the way of a creative passion is pointless.

(Four damns given out of five)

Cine-rama Episode 74.2 – in which Jared and Christian talk Oscars.

Here’s a new Cine-rama bonus episode for you, Jared and I cranked this out this afternoon in order to get it up before the Oscars.  So, here what we have to say about this years nominees and who will wear what on the red carpet.   This is episode 74.2, a bonus episode, in which Jared and Christian talk Oscars.

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Kent’s Movie Diary: Machetes, Swords, Hammers and… Ghosts.

MachetePoster

That’s right folks! It’s time for another Movie Diary, filled with what I’ve had my eyeballs glued to over the last week or two.

MACHETE/MACHETE KILLS– How does one even begin to review Robert Rodriguez’s Machete films? In a way, they’re made to be critic proof, much like the Grindhouse double-feature they spun off of (especially Rodriguez’s Planet Terror half.) I’m not even sure what to call them. The first is essentially doing little more than grafting Mexican culture onto 70s-style blaxploitation films, especially the kind that promoted the “revolution.” It almost feels like the La Raza charter was simply put into a word processing program. Because really, who doesn’t want to end their film with a good, old-fashioned race war? And then the type of over-the-top, insane action sequences you see in Bollywood film clips on youtube were randomly inserted. It’s not a parody of blaxploitation. Not in the strict sense that Black Dynamite was. But there’s far too many winks at the audience to really qualify as straight homage, either. And as Drew McWeeny over at hitfix.com pointed out last week in his review of Pompeii, because they aren’t taking themselves seriously, they don’t really count as camp.

Really what they end up being are entertaining messes. Especially the second which, while still trying to make political points with the subtlety of a baseball bat to the coconut, is far more focused on simply being as insane as possible for 90 minutes. It holds up surprisingly well considering the first film suffers in comparison to the Grindhouse trailer that preceded it.

Danny Trejo is, of course, pretty much fantastic in his star turn. His acting is terrible and spot-on at the same time. And the inability of beautiful women to keep their hands off him despite his chainsaw sculpture face is a great recurring gag. Michele Rodriguez, meanwhile, does some of the best work of her career in the films, parading around in skimpy clothes and an eyepatch, yet somehow exuding more character than all of her appearances in the Fast and Furious films combined.

Machete KillsPosterIn a lot of the secondary roles, it almost seems like these films are serving as actor rehab. Lindsay Lohan shows up in a small part in the first film and when she’s replaced by an obvious double, it’s damned funny. Charlie Sheen as the president is just plain surreal. And while I know we all hate Mel Gibson now, he tears into his role as the bad guy in Machete Kills with gusto. He seems to have just decided to own the crazy thing. Given how bad Hangover II was, he should probably be thanking Zach Galifianakis for getting him booted from that production. This suits him better. (I was going to make a comment doing some compare/contrast with Roman Polanski, but I don’t need that kind of heat right now.)

I’m not sure why it is that these films didn’t completely connect with me. Sure, I enjoyed them a lot despite the flaws. Many of which I am sure were built in. But they are cinematic Taco Bell. In one end and nigh immediately out the other. But, like Iron Sky, I’m simply glad that they exist even if they didn’t manage to be home runs. I’m sure I’ll watch them again when I need to satiate my desire for goofy bloodshed.

ZatoichiPilgramagePosterZATOICHI’S PILGRAMMAGE/ZATOICHI’S CANE SWORD– I am now more than halfway through the Zatoichi films produced through the 60s. I think I’m getting to the end of the Daiei films, but I’m not sure, I’ll have to check the book that came with it. In any case, these are two excellent entries in the series.

In Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage, our eponymous hero seeks to repent for some of the blood that he’s spilled (last measured as enough to fill a killer whale tank at Sea World) by visiting 88 temples across Japan. Of course this plan immediately goes off the rails because he’s attacked and has to defend himself. He ends up with the assassin’s sister, who takes him in. In the process, he ends up in a classic High Noon situation in which a village won’t defend itself against a gang of criminal hoods making life miserable for them. Ichi is the only one that will take them on, albeit reluctantly. The farmers haven’t seen Seven Samurai, I guess.

The swordplay is good in this one, but not spectacular. The real reason to watch it is simply because it’s a great character piece for Ichi. He doesn’t want to be a hero, but at the same time his sense of honor will not allow him to back out without defending the person he sees himself as having wronged. Regardless of how much he may try to talk himself out of it.

ZatoichiCaneSwordZatoichi’s Cane Sword, the fifteenth film, is one of the best in the series thus far. It’s got a lot of wit and manages to balance the drama with humor. Something the series can struggle with at times as different films can veer wildly from dour to fluffy. Ichi remains fairly consistent in character through them, which is why even the most mediocre of the films tends to still work on at least a level of basic entertainment. But the best are the ones that manage to be well-rounded.

The story itself is admittedly something that has been done many times within the series. Gangsters and corrupt government officials conspire to oppress the people, they kill the wrong folks to gain power, they tick Zatoichi off and lots of people die. But the power is, as always, in the execution. (Execution often being a key word with these films.) And this one is really well made. It also goes a little bit into the history of his ever-present sword cane, part of what feeds into his iconic persona. Samurai movies often manage to fetishize blades and this one does a great job of showing it done right. It definitely comes across as more rewarding than finding out about Jack’s tattoo on Lost. This wouldn’t be the first Zatoichi film I showed people to get them into the films, but it would be on the short list for people that want to pick a handful of them rather than watch the entire series.

ConjuringPosterTHE CONJURING– Who knew James Wan had it in him? After slumming around in the Saw series, he’s put out what I would say is one of the best straight-up horror flicks in a really long time.

This isn’t just because the film is well-made, however. Though it is. The cinematography, despite being partially dependent on my usually hated documentary style, is great. Shots are given room to breath and while there are definitely jumpcuts, they’re not overused. Part of this is because the film wisely uses a slow-build to the more outrageous and showy stuff towards the end. It starts with creaks and whispers interrupting periods of silence. The sense of dread is palpable.

But one of the real reasons this film is a standout is the job that Patrick WIlson and Vera Farmiga do in portraying real life, married paranormal investigators, The Warrens. It’s hard to believe that using a couple of ghost hunters actually grounds a film, but their personalities are actually believable. They aren’t portrayed as kooks. They are religious and well versed in Catholicism. They are not looking for proof in life after death. They already believe in it because of their religious backgrounds. They don’t blindly accept that everything is caused by the supernatural. They look for proof. They start every case with a healthy dose of skepticism. And they provide heroes to root for against the evil presence haunting a family in 70s Rhode Island that serves as the focus of the film.

It’s supposedly based on a true story, but we all know how far that usually goes when it comes to movies. But because of its structure, it doesn’t immediately drop a bunch of CGI slime on you. And because of that, it feels more believable. (I found the first half scarier than the second, actually.) It’s too bad more films don’t follow this mantra. I mean, Ghostbusters didn’t drop the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in during the first fifteen minutes. The Conjuring takes its time.

I’m sure there will be people that consider themselves above this type of film. Many of them are snide folks that don’t allow themselves to be scared by films or let a story pull them in. I feel sorry for those folks.

I also think the film is a travesty of an R-rating. While I certainly wouldn’t want to show it to a child, the film has very little on-screen violence, minimal gore and almost no real swearing to speak of. It’s only rated R because the people viewing it felt it was too darn effective, which is ridiculous. I would say it is appropriate for any teen that is mature enough to handle it. There are 14-year-olds that will be able to handle the film better than some middle-aged people. It’s just one more example of the fact that the MPAA’s system is flawed with its rigidity and resultant decisions.

all-hail-the-kingTHOR: THE DARK WORLD/ALL HAIL THE KINGIt’s pretty easy for folks to see what I thought about the sequel to Thor and its post-Avengers leap into deeper mythology.

(To summarize, it’s an extremely fun and confident film, especially for a first time filmmaker, that does a great job expanding on the characters.)

I think I actually enjoyed the film more the second time around. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a great energy and I love some of the weird ideas presented. I do wish they’d managed to work the blue/black designs in for the dark elves, but we can’t get everything we want.

The real thing to point out though is that the video release includes the latest and most ambitious of Marvel Films’ “One-Shot” series and it’s the best one yet. All Hail the King is a sequel to Iron Man 3 and picks up during the incarceration of Trevor Slattery. (I’m kind of assuming the people reading this review have seen IM3 considering about a quarter of the planet was represented in its box-office figures. So you are warned.)

The faux Mandarin is actually enjoying more success behind bars than he ever did during his career and he’s taking full advantage. The fifteen minute short is pretty much hilarious and Ben Kingsley is in fine form. Not only that, but it actually addresses some of the butthurt that myself and other fans of The Mandarin felt when the film universe essentially pooped the bed in his use. While I found Iron Man 3 to be extremely entertaining, I’ll admit that the twist, while funny, meant switching from a very effective villain to little more than a retread of the first two films.

King manages to fix some of that damage. For some it may be too little, too late, but for me it was a welcome semi-apology. While most Marvel cinephiles will most likely already be buying the film to continue their collections, the inclusion of the short really does increase the value of the release. I applaud Marvel for putting so much effort into it and hope for the best in the future.