Friday, October 29, 2010

"GI Joe" - I can't believe it wasn't complete garbage

The guy next to Punisher is gonna cut off his own arm!
I'm not saying it was good, but even mild compliments should have been impossible. My expectations were low. Then again, I love "Tango and Cash." Curse my need for variety.

"GI Joe:tRoC" is trashy, but well-made. It can be praised because it's a decent bad movie where it should've been a horrible, so-bad-it's-not-even-fun bad movie. Over the last 10 years or so, the big-budget re-imagined or resurrected franchise film is a virtually-guaranteed disaster: "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "Starsky & Hutch," "Shaft." The odds are 40:1 that these pix will even be "ok."

There's wisdom in saying that you shouldn't dismiss a movie you haven't seen. And it's true that you can't judge something without experiencing it - you literally don't know what you're talking about. I often see movie trailers and think to myself, "Robin Williams in yet another awful family comedy," or "can't this actress find a different plot?" or, "and so continues the death of the romantic comedy." Expectations - and your personal taste - can mean more than anything…

The words "GI Joe" guarantee exotic battle locations.  They're extreme!

I can't believe I'm writing this, but "GI Joe" actually did its job reasonably well. I'm not recommending the movie, really, but you won't feel let down if you're even willing to consider something called "GI Joe: the Rise of Cobra." It's still money that could've gone into creating jobs or feeding the hungry, but I never felt insulted. And I expected to feel as insulted as I was during "The Island" (I don't veto friends' picks often).

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Rescue Dawn" - I promised quality, not quantity, in this blog!

I've had an injury to deal with, and tons of work. But I'll have 1 a week for my 2-year anniversary, and I'll start my late push with a good movie. I won't say "Rescue Dawn" is mandatory - just that it's a rewarding character study set as a 'Nam POW film. Since that business is now out of the way, let's begin with the words I wanted to begin this review with (but didn't deserve to because I'm posting late):

As we join him, the last big moment in Dieter Dengler's life was spent sitting with his fellow pilots in the US . They watched a film on pilot procedures, laughing and making jokes while the footage covered "Downed in Enemy Lines" tactics. After their briefing, they flew off to attack enemy positions in Southeast Asia. Dieter's plane got crippled.

And so an awful experience plays out beautifully.

"Rescue Dawn" is very much like Vietnam films you've seen before. Yet the words "directed by Werner Herzog" mean you won't get a typical war story. The experienced and skilled artist's hand shows itself in some surreal moments, like Bale's brief aside while resting at a cave-pool. If you watch arthouse cinema, you know to either these scenes flow through you or to think about what they mean in the film. Herzog isn't heavy-handed about it, though, so you watch a fairly straight-forward and familiar picture.

But "RD" is much better than the average movie. In themes and in characters, it is strong - a pretty-looking picture expressing a lot about human virtue and weakness (both physical and mental), power, and the strength of the human spirit (not as corny as it sounds). As the credits rolled, I was shocked by how much Herzog stuck with POW/'nam film convention; I wasn't shocked by how well the effort turned out, nor the strength of its ideas.

Compassion, desperation, and determination are the dominant emotions here. Beauty flourishes and dies in front of you, many times; and so does ugliness. You get to see a lot of both in this picture.

Repeatedly, the values of a man like Dieter Dengler are contrasted - and deflated - by the practicalities of life. A proud American pilot, Dengler refuses to denounce his country; within minutes, we learn that he's soiled himself after being tied to the ground for a day... Your body just doesn't care about noble intentions. Sometimes, people stand together, helping the weakest in the group even though it slows everyone down.

The struggle within and among people remains a constant element, despite our hero's virtues. The POWs that the lead joins can dislike or begrudge each other. They can get pushed to the brink, but their little society enforces some professionalism. They common hope for freedom means that some survive their awful lot because of the companionship alone. And yet sometimes you're chained inches away from a man with severe, nightly, bowel troubles.

These issues are worse since captivity and cruelty tend to damage a person - Davies' typical nervous energy seems like full-blown crackhouse nut-jobery. Zahn often acts like he receives unearthly orders from a dog. When things are at their darkest, the protagonist talks to and interacts with visions of a dead friend. The surprise party (you'll understand) feels sad, yet pretty - and yet truly insane.

Though everything is top-rate, Christian Bale's stellar Dieter pulls you in. It's not just the actor's ability and charisma, it's in the character itself. Dieter Dengler is a model of virtue. He's also a perfect version of what kids dream of being - clever, athletic, upstanding, and heroic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What sleeps in "The Asphalt Jungle?" A concrete lion?

John Huston is one of those towering names in show-biz. Everyone knows he's a well-respected director, an influential figure with great skill. I had never seen his well-liked film noir. "The Asphalt Jungle," and I had been watching too much drama and foreign film. It seemed like a good choice for a rental. I generally liked it, but I really prefer Huston's other works.

In case you don't really know who this man is, here's a handful of the director's film contributions: The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The African Queen (1951), and The Man Who Would Be King (1975). Also, if you've ever seen "Chinatown," you definitely know Huston's face, because he's Noah Cross, Faye Dunaway's over-bearing father. I'm leaving out a lot, but it's an impressive CV, right?

"The Asphalt Jungle," simply put, is a heist flick. A group of men plan out a great robbery, hoping to avoid double-crosses and the police. This picture has its feet firmly planted in the film noir style, which I usually avoid mentioning because it's often shorthand for "the girl did it." Not to worry, the cliches here are largely left for some characters. Although this movie is very much like pictures you've seen before (it probably inspired a lot of them), there are many little differences that you will appreciate. I just can't say that you'll like the work as a whole.

In this picture, "noir" is seen mostly in the corruption that dwells in the characters; also, everyone gets solid dialogue that gives life to the parts - even while they're providing exposition. When folks get nostalgic for "the classics," I wonder if they just miss days when most actors got juicy lines; I've seen many modern movies where the leads have sloppy dialogue, much less the supporting or minor roles…

I try to vary the style of my reviews, so I'm not going to jump into praise and criticism. This time around, I want to lay out the beginnings of the plot.

It Began with a Thug in the Dark

The picture opens on a crook slinking through the shadows of an unnamed Midwestern city. The setting doesn't really matter, as the criminals and police act exactly like their counterparts in New York or L.A. Our first character does everything he can to avoid attention, and a police car passes him without stopping. This is all for the best, since the cops are actually looking for him.