Friday, January 15, 2010

Shop smart, shop...K-mart?

"This ticket says Child on it."

Usually I'll get the Senior ticket, but I was like those guys scamming up the Tangiers' blackjack table in Casino, getting away with it for years and possibly getting away with it for even longer if it wasn't for getting greedy in the end. Thankfully, there is no Cheater's Justice at the cinema so all I had to do was pay the difference at Guest Services. I gave the manager my Child's ticket and I swear to you, nonexistent ladies & gentlemen, he gave me a look that said "So what?". But alas, he could not tell the twenty-something blonde girl who pinched me to look the other way, he had to lead by example. After that, Blondie happily accepted my now-revised-by-$3.50 ticket and I was finally off to Theater 18 to watch The Book of Eli.

This flick was directed by the Hughes Brothers, a couple of bastards who made a critically-acclaimed feature film a year shy of legal drinking age. The world was their oyster, motherfuckers were comparing their debut Menace II Society to some Scorsese throwing-down-the-gauntlet shit. I remember seeing that flick with my cousins in Inglewood and it remains today one of my all-time favorite moviegoing experiences for reasons I will leave up to you to figure out.

They followed it up with the just-as-awesome Dead Presidents but because that movie didn't do as well with critics or the box office, they got all butt-hurt and didn't do shit for a while until 2001 when they made yet another awesome flick, From Hell, but because THAT one also wasn't welcomed with open arms, they felt the ass-pain again and now here they are with their 4th feature film, all the way in 2010. (Yeah, I know they made a documentary called American Pimp, but I'm talking about real movies. You bet your fuckin' ass I said that shit.)

Denzel Washington plays the titular owner of the titular book, walking his way West through all the post-apocalyptic rubble. Because they came out relatively close to each other, you'll probably hear a lot of comparisons to The Road, but aside from a few scenes and the setting, they're pretty different. As it is, I'd put it down like this: The Road book > The Book of Eli > The Road movie. That's just my opinion, sorry.

Anyway, Denzel walks through with some belongings, some weapons, a fuckin' iPod, and a big fat leather-bound book. He walks into a small town run by Gary Oldman (looking a little like Tom Waits), intending to get some water and recharge the old batteries (both literally and figuratively), but it just happens to be that Oldman has been sending his men out to scavenge the wastelands for a certain book. How much you wanna bet it happens to be the book Denzel is carrying? And would you like to double your action by guessing the content of the book? Well, I'm not gonna take your goddamn bet because even one of the Gumbys from Monty Python could guess where this is going.

Along for the ride is Mila Kunis, playing one of the few post-apocalyptic survivors to have found stylish form-fitting jeans to wear; Jennifer Beals plays her mother and is still lookin' good; Punisher: War Zone shows up bald, playing Oldman's right-hand man (who plays into one of my fave movie cliches of being a villain who kills his own men!); and playing a store owner/fix-it man is none other than muthafuckin' Tom Waits (looking a little like Gary Oldman).

There are no laggers in this cast, they all give good performances without falling into their usual bag of tricks; Washington doesn't Denzel his shit up at all, he's totally committed as this character and Gary Oldman manages to be really creepy & scary without going too over-the-top. I mean, I *like* over-the-top Gary Oldman, but it's nice to see that he doesn't always have to pull that card to get the job done. A couple more older respected actors show up, but I'm gonna keep quiet on that, not because it's some Zombieland cameo shit, but because I just think it's more fun that way.

There are some cool action scenes in this movie, with the added bonus of Denzel doling out some choice ownage to particularly unlucky recipients. Pretty much everything Denzel does to a motherfucker both looks and (especially) sounds painful and you can definitely feel it. The action is a mixture of Yojimbo-style swordplay and Way of the Gun-style shootouts, served up with a dash of Waterworld-style absurdity. As you can see, this isn't the most original movie in the world; there's even one scene early on that feels straight-up jacked from Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior. But I think the Hughes Bros know that, I mean, there's a poster for A Boy and His Dog in the background in one scene, which I think tells you how aware they are of the kind of movie they're making.

Eli's got a very interesting look; Bleak is the name of the game, so all the colors are washed-out and the sky above is practically gray-scale. It's also nice to see that the Hughes' manage to make a cool-looking movie both in style and execution while still keeping the overall mise-en-scene old-fucking-school; they don't fuckin' Tony Scott the motherfucker in an attempt to make shit exciting. It's not shot in Confuse-O-Vision. There are no choppy chopped-up editeditedits. No Nu-Metal or Top 20 hits are worked in for no reason other than to sell soundtrack albums (there are a couple 70's hits, though, but it works). It's a goddamn Christmas miracle in January to see guys like these, guys with mucho style to burn and yet displaying both the confidence and discipline to use that style in a manner that doesn't overwhelm the goddamn movie you're watching.

Put this in the Good But Not Great category. It's a well-done and watchable example of the genre, but it never completely rocked my world. It certainly won't replace Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior (aka The Jew Hater's Gonna Get Dat Gas!) as my go-to post-apocalyptic action movie any time soon, but I felt I just about got my two hours worth (if not exactly my -- OUCH -- $10 worth). My only serious problem with Eli is the climax -- or more specifically, the lack of one.

You see, Eli is one of those movies with what I call a Stealth Climax, which is different than an anticlimax. One builds up to something that never happens and the other actually delivers, just not in the way you thought it would. In other words, I didn't know I was watching the climax while I was watching it. I thought I was watching the pre-climax action scene, the next-to-last action beat. But then, the movie goes on for another 15-20 minutes and somewhere along the way I realized nope, that's it, no more action. What follows makes up for it (the final revelation involving Eli reminded me of another old cult favorite), but still, that was some walking-down-the-stairs-expecting-one-more-step-and-getting-the-ground-instead shit for me.

The Book of Eli is the least of the Hughes Brothers' criminally short oeuvre, it did not continue the Awesome tradition but it was still kinda cool, and I hope this one does well enough so that they don't get fuckin' butt-hurt again and decide to sit out another fuckin' decade. I'll give John Patrick Shanley and Terrence Malick a 10+ year pass, but all the Hughes' will get is my props for sneakily putting in some Morricone in this movie.

One last thing, all I could think about while watching this, or post-apocalyptic movies in general (or any period piece that takes place before running water), is how fucking bad these people must smell. I mean, even fine-ass Mila Kunis can't be *that* clean in this kind of environment. I'd still hit it, though. Two times. Are you kidding me, like I have a choice in the matter to begin with. I'd be lucky to get Mila's uglier incontinent twin.