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Archive for May, 2008

#1441: Rio Bravo

Oh, John Wayne. How I love your movies.

I think it’s kind of unfair for me to review John Wayne movies; after all, I have a set stable of John Wayne movies that I remember watching growing up that remain favorites for me, like The Sands of Iwo Jima, The Sons of Katie Elder and The Quiet Man. That doesn’t mean I like every John Wayne movie, because The Green Berets holds a special place of loathing in my heart, where I could probably write a lengthy piece on why I dislike it when Hollywood actors do “political project” movies.

That being said…Rio Bravo is pretty darn good. Wayne is the town sheriff who manages to arrest a murderer. Said murderer’s brother is the local powerhouse rancher, who will stop at nothing to bust his brother out of jail, including surrounding the town and attempting to force John Wayne to give up the brother. Wayne has only the town misfits to help him; a drunk, a cripple, a strange woman and a young kid to keep the rancher’s men out of town.

I really liked Rio Bravo, but it wouldn’t be rocketing up my favorites list any time soon. I appreciate it and like it, but there’s other Wayne movies I hold nearer and dearer to my heart. John Wayne doesn’t really need to be discussed, because Wayne played…well, John Wayne in almost every film he was in. Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson do stand-up jobs as the drunk and the kid, respectively and turn in admirable performances. More than anything, Rio Bravo’s a nice little Western with some eccentricities that make it stand out a bit more. There’s only two close-ups in the entire film and the first four to five minutes have absolutely no dialogue whatsoever.   For me, Rio Bravo is a good movie, but it’s missing something to me that I can’t quite put my finger on.   That, and the fact that Angie Dickinson is supposed to be 50-ish John Wayne’s love interest ooks me out more than a little.

That being said, I can never figure out why this movie is Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movie of all time. I dig it, but if we’re going for classic John Wayne, I’d much prefer The Sands of Iwo Jima, although I think Rio Bravo is probably one of the best westerns Wayne ever did.

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What a long title.

Anyways, my mother, upon discovering that I was sitting down to watch Dr. Strangelove, promptly admonished me that I really needed to see Fail-Safe to get Dr. Strangelove one hundred percent, but I saw the remake with George Clooney and that’s what counts, so there.

I guess you could sum up Dr. Strangelove very appropriately with the phrase “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”.  (Thanks, John Lennon.)

A military commander gets all crazy-like and decides the Russians need to be eliminated during the heart of the Cold War and orders his bomber group to execute “Plan R” – a plan that will deploy thousands of megatons worth of nuclear bombs upon the unsuspecting Soviet Union.   As the insane Ripper comments, the President and Joint Chiefs will have no choice but “total commitment” since the planes are already at their fail-safe points.   What follows is a blackly humorous look at what exactly would happen if the bombs were on their way and there was no way – or sheer human idiocy prevented a way – to stop nuclear annihilation.

Peter Sellers is a major part of this movie.   Playing three characters (Dr. Strangelove, Captain Mandrake and President Muffley), Sellers did it before Eddie Murphy inexorably ruined it for the rest of us.   (Norbit should be considered a crime against humanity, Mr. Murphy, and you should be brought up in front of The Hague for it.  NO EXCUSE.   I say, sir, you are no Peter Sellers).

George C. Scott is outrageous as the uber-patriotic, Commie-hating General Turgidson but I think what most people remember is the iconic image of Slim Pickens riding the bomb down towards its intended target.

While the threat of nuclear holocaust looms over the world, the most powerful men in the world sit in the War Room and dream up plans.  Instead of doing anything proactive, they merely plot to be proactive and Dr. Strangelove is their guide, of sorts.   With every posed question, Dr. Strangelove has an exacting, rational plan devised to cover this sort of possibility, but the absurdist humor in the whole charade is that the formation of “Plan R” was to cover alternate possibilities of defending the United States against nuclear attack.   While the world comes closer and closer to complete destruction, the top men in the U.S. sit and plan, plan away.

Sellers is awesome in this movie.   Strangelove is creepy yet rational; President Muffley is a quiet voice of reason and Captain Mandrake is an uptight Englishman trying to do his best to recall the bomber units from their positions.    Scott’s no slouch either, as the bombastic General Turgidson is a war hawk in every sense of the word.

The dialogue itself has injected itself into pop culture quite nicely already — “Gentlemen, there is no fighting in the War Room!” — and Dr. Strangelove on a whole is a darkly funny look about the worst of what we can do to ourselves.

I feel a certain sort of tension with Stanley Kubrick.   I certainly don’t like all of his movies; some of them I find highly overrated, but then again, I think you don’t get much better than The Shining as far as direction and overall concept goes.   I’d add Dr. Strangelove in there to the mix with The Shining, as Kubrick does a masterful job with the scenes, especially those in the War Room.

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Soooo, a little while ago, I got sent this nifty little screener of an independent film called The Importance of Being Russell.

It’s a hard movie to nail down, but I guess it would best be described as ’50’s sci-fi fare with a healthy dose of redneck comedy with a splash of the comedic sensibilities of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Are you intrigued yet?

Russell is a redneck, down home kind of guy who’s stuck in a rut. His wife Sissy constantly pesters and harangues him; his friends are just sorta…there and he can’t get any of his well-intentioned inventions off the ground. The bane of Russell’s existence is a company called Cranium Concepts which seems to be half a step ahead of him at all times — as soon as Russell dreams up the next invention that could push him to the top, Cranium is already advertising it on TV. To make matters worse, Sissy is constantly buying items from Cranium Concepts, further frustrating poor Russell who only wants to see his inventions get up off the ground. (He later takes out his anger by shooting at a box of Cranium Concepts merchandise delivered to their trailer with a shotgun.) All he does all day is watch TV, be driven up the wall by his wife, and tinker with his inventions in his garage, wondering why he’s not more important than he actually is.

All of a sudden, Russell’s missing time. He can’t remember working on a project but it seems to be building itself. Oh yeah – there’s those strange messages coming from the television and the funny people at the Big City company and Cranium Concepts that keep creeping into his life…and what’s with those funny people with the syringes of glowing green stuff? What is the deal with Big City?

There’s minor problems with The Importance of Being Russell, mainly the fact that the movie’s pace is a little odd and the film takes a little while to get going. The speed of the film in the beginning leaves you wondering a bit at times where and when the movie’s taking off, but when you get to the meat of the film, things flow nicely.

The small problems are just that — small — when juxtaposed what’s really, really good about this film. For an independent feature, I was more than pleasantly surprised to note that the special effects are really quite good. I feel a little bad for the other people in this film because John Pickle, who plays Russell, practically yanks the rug out from under all the other actors. He’s really very good, and he’s not just rehashing the same old tired redneck, nor is he playing a solely one-dimensional character. He puts a lot of heart and nice little quirks and mannerisms to Russell, and practically steals the entire movie.

Also, you can tell the people who made this movie really love their subject matter and the entire movie can be read as an homage of sorts to the days of ’50’s science fiction and comic books (to some extent). They work in some nice throwaway jokes and humor into the film and what you end up with is a fairly original film that has unoriginal aspects, like rednecks, and aliens talking through television sets, but combined makes for a uniquely funny film.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Importance of Being Russell, and I think that if the makers of this film continue on this track, we’ll see bigger and better work from them in the future.

NOW:

Do you want to see The Importance of Being Russell? Don’t get all whiny and tell me that you don’t know how to get it, because I’m helping you out right now: You can find it HERE (scroll down to the title of the film and hit “Play Now”. You need Flash Player 9 installed, FYI, friends.)

If you’d like to check out their official website, you can do so here.

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Wow, so you guys were ready for some more Van Dammage, eh?

I’m using Netflix’s summary here, because they do a better job than I can:

When kickboxing champ Eric Sloane is crippled in the ring by the evil Tong Po, Eric’s younger brother, Kurt (Jean Claude Van Damme), seeks vengeance. But if he’s to vanquish Po, Kurt must first learn a martial art known as Muay Thai, so he seeks out the expertise of fight guru Xian Chow. Thanks to Chow’s unconventional training methods, Kurt becomes an expert kickboxer. But is “the muscles from Brussels” good enough to defeat Tong Po?

I’m beginning to notice some remarkably consistent motifs among Van Damme movies; or at least, among Kickboxer and Bloodsport. It seems to be a requirement that you have a few things mixed in. Bad ’80’s synth music for the soundtrack is absolutely necessary. The “kumite” song has nothing on Kickboxer‘s soundtrack, which I’m convinced Matt Stone and Trey Parker must’ve listened to on repeat to write the songs for Team America: World Police. Seriously, if you’re watching, put the subtitles on so you can get the full brunt of the lyrics. It’s chock full of stuff like, “Time to be the best, oooh yeahhhhh” and so on and so forth. Everytime I hear the soundtrack to a typical Van Damme movie, I imagine some guy with a mullet rockin’ out hardcore on key-tar.

Secondly, it’s like Van Damme has it written into his contract that he must face some sort of psychotic Asian bad guy who’s morally bankrupt. Chong Lee and Tong Po aren’t that far off of each other. In Kickboxer, it’s JCVD’s brother that gets mangled, but in Bloodsport, it’s his devoted and dumb friend. Huh.

Training montages are definitely a requirement as is the idea of the old, snarky Asian fight master. Then you’ve gotta have the girl who always knows what’s best for Van Damme and for everyone else and has an opinion on everything.

Really, Kickboxer and Bloodsport are practically interchangeable. I guess Kickboxer’s the lesser of the two in my opinion, simply because the “kumite” song overrides everything for me, but there you go.

What I don’t get is how the dialogue in Van Damme movies could get any worse. I mean, we’ve all established that there are tree stumps and telephone poles that have more charisma and acting talent than Jean-Claude Van Damme, but seriously, that scriptwriting isn’t giving Jean-Claude Van-Wooden anything to work with in the slightest. Part of you really can’t blame poor old Jean-Claude because he’s as earnest as can be to win you over, but ends up being endearing in an over the top, comical fashion.

Oh, the bug eyes, the random “Hooahhhs”, the unnecessary emotional scenes in your movies, how they make me love you, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

But the dialogue is so terrible, so godawful, that you want to hurt yourself to make it stop. Lines like, “I’m the best there is, little brother, stop worrying!” delivered by a beefy dude that has no place pretending to be an actor, let alone JCVD’s “older brother” make you want to eat broken glass. (Also, note to that actor: Your jeri-curl is not helping matters either. Ick, a thousand times over.)

But in the end…isn’t that why we love these movies? They’re so bad they’re good? It seems to be a running theme here on 1,416 and Counting but I can’t help but love these crazy, goofy-bad movies.

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Ah, yes, G.I. Joe.  If you’re in my age range, the animated series (one of many, I understand?) was a staple in your cartoon diet, along with X-Men, if you had ANY sense at all as an 8 year old kid.

I never watched that much G.I. Joe; I tended to gravitate much more towards the X-Men animated series..es…but I do have to say, once I heard they were making G.I. Joe into a movie, I was stoked.

I know I don’t do a lot of new, upcoming movies here.   I tend to be a boring old stick in the mud who prefers to watch crap movies from Netflix.    Hey, I still haven’t seen Iron Man and I’ve been talking that movie up for ages.   It’s just so much work to go to the theaters these days, and it involves real people sitting with you.   Ick, right?

I figured G.I. Joe can go one of two ways – the hideous, awful, crackalicious Street Fighter route, or the Iron Man/X-Men route, if we’re discussing comic book/video game adaptations.

Shockingly enough, I read quite a few “industry” blogs – Cinematical, Ain’t It Cool News, etc. — on a regular basis and I began to hear whispers of good things.   Geek favorite Ray Park was going to be in it.   Dennis freakin’ Quaid got cast much to my delight, because who can pull off cheesy dialogue in such an overly serious manner than Quaid?   Let’s not kid ourselves, Dennis Quaid was probably cleaning the bathtubs and gutters at his house when the producers called, because honestly, what has Dennis Quaid been doing with his career recently other than letting it rot?

Yeah, I thought so.

And then today, I clicked on a glorious link at Cinematical and it showed me this…

That is Christopher Eccleston.   That guy excels at playing nasty, mean men and not just because he’s English, either.   (Bad guy in Hollywood is English, nine times out of ten, right?)   You may remember him from Heroes (whatevs) or my personal favorite, Gone In Sixty Seconds – that is, the remake.   Don’t snigger at me from your computer because I consider you informed that yes, I am addicted to disgusting Nic Cage action films and one of the reasons I own that movie is because of Eccleston.   Dude. Is. Awesome.

(Oh yeah, and he played Doctor Who or something, I don’t know.)

If you want to see the rest of the photos of the cast, click here for the redirect to Cinematical.

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Oh, goodness. It’s actually titled Shaolin Temple Against Lama, but Netflix lists it as the title above.

Once upon a time, I dated a guy who for Valentine’s Day gave me the best present of all: a pre-planned marathon of kung-fu movies and Chinese food for Valentine’s Day. (It should tell you a lot right there what my idea of a good Valentine’s Day is, huh?) One of the movies we watched was a movie I’ve been trying to track down – Shaolin Versus Lama – but to no avail. It was awesome and amazingly good-bad, so in desperation and sifting through 8,000 “Shaolin” titles on Netflix, I randomly selected this one hoping it would live up to the brilliance of the movie I had originally watched.

No, this one was better. Better, I say!

Does the plot matter? Absolutely not. Like all kung-fu movies from the late ’60’s or so to the late ’70’s, it’s got three very important features: lots of fights, supremely bad dubbing and horrible camera work. This one, however, is way over the top.

I don’t claim to be a connoisseur of bad kung fu movies, so I can’t really relate this on a scale to you how awesomely cracktastic this movie really is, but let’s just say…it’s hilarious. Roaringly, outstandingly hilarious.

First of all, no one in this movie gets through three minutes of it without some super huge fight breaking out — which, while entertaining, is pretty exhausting. The dubbing is the pinnacle of bad in the best possible way. It really is every kung fu dubbing cliche you’ve ever heard. The costumes and actors, though, have to be seen to be believed. Let’s all stop for a moment and thank the heavens that God made screencapping software:


This is our main character and no, his name is not important. What is important is that he looks like the love child of David Bowie and the Yellow Power Ranger.

Do you SEE WHAT I MEAN? If you’re wearing more makeup than Boy George, you have a problem, my friend.

This is the main bad guy, who I think made his outfit from a Simplicity Sewing book of patterns.

(more…)

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Ah, a good old fashioned Russian whodunit gangster drama. I mean..whaaaat?

Plato is an upwardly mobile kinda guy in the “new Russia” – that is, a Russia with capitalism introduced, a Russia that is trying desperately to shed the deeply ingrained Soviet ways. Plato’s a smart dude, so he’s ahead of the curve, and when Gorbachev rises to power, he sees his opportunity. Banding together with some friends, he begins to piece together one of the most enormous Russian capitalist enterprises of his day, while trampling on the little people who helped him get there. And then one depressingly dank day, Plato’s car is hit with anti-tank missiles (yes, anti-tank missiles) and the man worth $5 billion is claimed to have been assassinated.

Tycoon’s nothing essentially new. The story’s told from an FSB officer investigating the case to figure out who killed Plato starting the day of his murder. He begins to interview friends and loved ones of the man in question and starts to piece together a measure of the man that Plato was through his interviews. The viewer’s treated to flashbacks of Plato’s ascension to power over the years and the eventual crash-and-burn that follows.

I’d kind of liken Tycoon to an odd Russian mix of a whodunit meets elements of Citizen Kane. Supposedly based on a true story, Tycoon’s main character shares a lot of similarities to Charles Foster Kane, but the story’s essentially the basic “whodunit” of the murder of Plato.

It’s a smartly done film, but definitely not for everyone. It wore on me after a little while; I had to pause it, take a break and come back to it in order to finish it. It’s interesting to watch as a film from another country, mainly because it doesn’t delve into anything involving social, political or economic issues as far as the times go and strictly deals with Plato’s story. It’s strength is there, and while it’s far from being unique or original, the setting and the time in which it’s placed lends it something to let it stand apart from many other films that have tried as hard but failed.

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