Friday, August 28, 2009

GETTING AWAY TO NARRATIVE BLISS AND A NICE SET OF PEAFOWL: A REVIEW FOR THE CAPTAIN




my dearest captain redbeard -

on the recommendation of your twitter feed, the wife and i caught a showing of A PERFECT GETAWAY tonight. i do not remember precisely what you said about the film, but there was some mention that you might have liked it. and liked it a great deal. since you've never led me astray (in films, music, or mexican eateries), i trusted you once again. and once again you proved true to your word. 

i liked A PERFECT GETAWAY. it was a bit more lighthearted and predictable than i expected. steve zahn did not serve a good thriller, but milla jovovich won me over ten fold and then some. not to mention the sweet georgia, kiele sanchez - who spoke sweeter than fine southern sweet tea and picked the fight when the fight needed confederate picking. in this film, the ladies completely outshined the menfolk, and they showed surprisingly little skin to do so. 

A PERFECT GETAWAY would have reminded me of you even if you had not recommended it. there was that night on your porch. pipes and rye ale and cider. you told me about your disdain for comedy in the zombie film genre. you said there's nothing funny about zombies. you said zombies show us something about our culture, about ourselves, about our lives pre- and post-  and wrapped up in our theologies: we were dead, yet we live; we will die; yet we will live. and the zombie film capacity to remark on this reanimation, you thought, superceded any need to make SHAUN OF THE DEAD jokes about the living dead.

i disagreed, but we smoked some good pipes. 

then here in A PERFECT GETAWAY, we have a dern near classic slasher flick that practically boils over with literary pomp and narrative circumstance. the subtext here overshadowed the text (which felt nearly absurd at times) and made every line of dialogue speak more like tennessee williams than sean s. cunningham. i had finally chocked slasher flicks up to comedic relief: the punch line at the end of the horror genre, packed in nicely and cymbal counted after all the possession cases, haunted houses, maniacal killers, rabid animals, japanese retellings, nightmarish clowns, cultish children, and man eating plants. slasher flicks are usually at the bottom of the horror genre food chain. jason and freddy and michael, although pretty in retail, are actually bottom-dwelling shrimp . . . . .  which are also pretty retail in the frozen dinner section.

but A PERFECT GETAWAY did something a bit different. the writers and directors used this film as a platform to discuss writing and directing. they allowed the process of the narrative to speak about the narrative process. and that was fucking brilliant, as well as wickedly refreshing and fun. 

just today i read "The King Of Birds": an essay by flannery o'connor from her nonfiction collection titled MYSTERY AND MANNERS. while reading the essay, this bit she had written about deformed bantams and strutting peacocks, i found myself enraptured by the idea that this here, in my hands, was flannery o'connor writing about writing. she was showing me how to put it together, how to line it up, how to fit the pieces so that the pieces matter. and she used this platform on peacocks to exercise her own writing, to concretely capture her zealous love for odd fowl. and i'm sure she never intended any of this, except the love of odd fowl part.

now, don't go thinking that i'm equating A PERFECT GETAWAY with flannery o'connor. nor should you think that i'm suggesting the film as fine as the peafowl essay. however, what i am trying to say is that A PERFECT GETAWAY offered some oddly literary sway that is uncommon in the slasher genre. you and i may be the only blokes on this block to agree. i feel that most people - 42% according to rotten tomatoes - will think that this film is bonk. they will think it is too predictable and too simplistic. 

fine. 

let them think as much.

personally, i thought A PERFECT GETAWAY spoke a great deal about the enduring (even jugular) quality of narrative. stories guide us. stories shape us. the stories we tell and the stories told of us work to define us. and the right story, or the wrong story, could reshape a notion in our existence we hoped to hold a bit safer. to scale a bit closer. 

truth be damned: we're talking narratives here.

i give A PERFECT GETAWAY 3 out of 5. for all the reasons explored above, but also for milla jovovich's surprisingly redefined character role. that lady has come a long way since RESIDENT EVIL. she's breaking her mold, and doing it fiercely. she might ought to consider collecting bantams as a good start to a new literary life.

let me hear your thoughts, good man. i miss your porch.

- hamster

Thursday, August 20, 2009

THE HURT LOCKER - Find it and see it.

Have I told you yet about the Downtown West theater in Knoxville? Well, then, let's do that. It's a little hole in the wall cinema set behind Target and just around the corner from the mall. It's nestled like a little pocket of art in a suburban wasteland. And, for the record, it is neither Downtown, nor West of anything in particular. It's where I saw SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and, now, THE HURT LOCKER. It's a place of wonder and awe.

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THE HURT LOCKER opens with a quote. "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." - Chris Hedges

This movie is a movie about the Iraq war, but it has nothing to do with politics. There is no scent of snarkiness toward Dubya, nor is there a pro-war agenda here. What THE HURT LOCKER does is to reduce the war to the bare conflict - soldiers against stuff that can kill them.

I usually do a quick plot summary at this point. But let's just leave it at this. THE HURT LOCKER is about the guys who disarm the bombs in Iraq. Pretty much the toughest guys on the planet.

The lead guy is Staff Sergeant William James (played with understated abandon by Jeremy Renner, who has a Best Actor nomination locked up). James is a mystery to his men. He takes risks that are unnecessary, putting himself in harm's way over and over and exposing his men to dangers that could be avoided.

There's an interesting dichotomy in this film - you constantly find yourself wanting to critizice James for his recklessness, but on the other hand, there's the opening scene. SPOILER HERE: The opening scene of THE HURT LOCKER is shocking and fascinating. In what proves to be a short cameo, Guy Pearce (who is a personal fave of mine) is in charge of the crew disarming an IED on a city street. When something goes wrong with the robot that is deliveing the charge to the IED, Pearce puts on the full bomb suit to apply the explosive. After Pearce puts the charges in place, the bomber activates the IED and, despite taking every appropriate precaution, Pearce bites it. They use the robot, they secure the perimeter, they use the full body bomb suit, and he still dies! Why allow yourself to judge a soldier for not following procedure, when the procedure is as likely to get somebody killed as not?

These are the kinds of questions that THE HURT LOCKER asks.

The main issue here, though, is explicity stated in the opening quote. The fact is, James loves his job. He adores potentially getting blowed up - so much so that he keeps a box under his bed with things that could have killed him - a trigger, a piece of shrapnel, etc. James is addicted to the danger. His men don't get it, and we don't either, at first. One of the really brilliant things about this movie (and there are many) is the way that it unfolds. We get very few hints of his personal like until almost the very end of the movie, and the scene is a killer. After finishing his time in Iraq, James goes home to his wife and two year old son. The scene is in a grocery store, where James' wife asks him to pick out some cereal and meet them at the check out. He stands in front of the huge row of cereal boxes and is absolutely lost. He grabs the first thing he can and makes a beeline for the door. Then, home again, he tells his wife that because they really need the money, he's going to volunteer to deploy back to Iraq. Next thing we know, he's back disarming bombs - with a huge smile on his face.

Man, I could seriously keep writing this, but it's already too long. I need to write about the friendships and levels of trust between the soldiers. There's an amazing scene involving a Capri Sun that could get 500 words by itself. There's another character - a young boy who sells DVDs on the street - that's integral to the plot and to James' character. Maybe I'll do another post when the DVD come out...

Anyway, go see this - you'll wish you had when it gets nominated for Best Picture. THE HURT LOCKER gets 5 body bombs out of 5. Go see it. Seriously.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

ONE OF THE ONLY THINGS I LIKE KIRSTEN DUNST IN


It's true: when Kirsten Dunst turned 18, I stopped thinking she was all that great. I didn't care for her as Mary Jane, as cute as she might have been, because in my book, she quit acting and starting getting by on looks. Prior to this, however, she turned out two great gems: Interview with a Vampire and the film under review today, Drop Dead Gorgeous. I might add that this is the only film I've ever liked Deniese Richards in as well: not my favorite actress. Call me a hater of the cute film stars. You might be close to true, except that a very young Amy Adams is also in it, and I find her downright adorable.

What makes all this even better is 1) watching this on VHS that I 2) purchased at Goodwill 3) for 1 $. With investments like this, I should be retired by May of 2010.
***

There's something of true beauty in being able to pull off a dark comedy well. In Bruges, with Colin Farrell and Ralph Feines comes as close to being pitch black a comedy as I've seen in a long while, but somewhere along the line, making light of slaughtering midgets crosses some invisible line in comedy that I can't really go with. DDG, however, hits the notes right in terms of being both comedic and devilishly dark.

In a dark comedy, as exemplified by most of the Coen brother corpus, there's a few key elements:

1) Death-made-hysterical. This doesn't just mean 'death' in the abstract, like making jokes about funerals, but actually making funerals or actual death sequences into moments of comedy.

2) Trauma-made-hysterical. This doesn't mean, again, making jokes about amputation, but making actual trauma funny. Like getting a beer can fused to your flesh, or putting an anorexic girl in a wig.

1) and 2) are designed to get you to the point of feeling really bad about yourself, because you're laughing at things that no decent human being should laugh at. You're finding humor in stuff that if someone at prayer group told you about, you'd have better sense (hopefully) than to crack a joke. Unless you have no desire to see said person giving said prayer request again. Then, suggest that they watch Fargo and watch their eyes turn to stone.

But #3 is the kicker: mockery of resolution. The plot cannot fully resolve itself, or if it has resolution, the resolution has to be of the most shallow kind possible, like in Burn After Reading where the bureaucrats close up the folder and congratulate themselves on the incinerated bodies.

In all three cases, DDG succeeds tremendously. It makes me feel guilty and warm all over in one single viewing. 4 vibrating tractors out of 5.