Sunday, June 7, 2009

I guess you can say it's "100% pure adrenaline"

Off the top of my head, here are the films made in the past few years that were about the Iraq War: Home of the Brave, Stop Loss, Redacted, Grace is Gone, In the Valley of Elah, and The Lucky Ones. These films starred Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Rachel McAdams, Jessica Biel, Tim Robbins, Ryan Phillippe, 50 Cent, and Christina Ricci. They were produced and directed by notable filmmakers like Brian De Palma, Kimberly Peirce, and Paul Haggis. One of them even had music by muthafuckin' Clint Eastwood. These are big names or at least relatively well-known names, and yet all of these movies bombed horribly. They didn't just bomb either, they BOM-BED. Perhaps the message here is that the public is not ready to watch movies about a war that is still going on. I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing, I'm just saying.

Anyway, there are producers out there who beg to differ and are still throwing their hat into the Iraq War Movie ring. The latest gamble is called The Hurt Locker, and like the other flicks, this one will probably wind up not just bombing, but BOM-BING -- and that's too bad because this is a damn fine piece of badass work.

I guess that is to be expected when the director of the flick is a lady by the name of Kathryn Bigelow, the same lady responsible for movies like Near Dark, Strange Days, and a quiet, subtle, low-key chamber piece drama called Point Break.

Okay, so I'm tripping up on my sarcasm there, but that doesn't change the fact that I dug that movie. I mean, come on, if you can't have a good time watching Patrick Swayze get all Zen guru about surfing or Keanu Reeves saying in complete dead seriousness "I AM AN F! B! I! AGENT!", then you're physically incapable of having one. Shit, man, I still try to find reasons to tell a motherfucker "Utah, get me two!" Gary Busey-style. I'm that fuckin' lame, and Kathryn Bigelow is that fuckin' awesome.

And so is The Hurt Locker, for that matter. The film focuses on a U.S. Army bomb squad from "Bravo Company" as they go around defusing explosives all around Baghdad. The entire movie is about having to get up every morning to purposely go face-to-face with bombs left on the sides of roads, or in abandoned cars, or in one fucked-up case, inside a dead body. It's bad enough when dealing with rickety equipment, hidden tripwires and surprise timers, it's even worse when you have apparently every Iraqi citizen watching you from a distance. And that's the real bitch of it all -- these guys have to look around and wonder if these guys are just looky-loos or deadly "Hajis". They don't know if that dude filming them with a video camera from a third story window is shooting this for posterity or because he's one of the bad guys and he wants to record the inevitable explosion to post up on some insurgent's website. Any Iraqi with a cell phone is a potential detonator, any approaching cab driver is a potential suicide-bomber.

The soldiers from Bravo Company have 38 days left in their rotation before they can go home again, and after losing one of their own in a blast, they're a bit shaken but still hopeful that they will make it home. That is until the replacement, a staff sergeant named James, shows up with a whole different game plan. Yup, it's Lethal Weapon time, and they're Murtaugh and he's Riggs. He constantly puts himself in harm's way which is bad enough, but it gets to a point that he could be putting everyone else in danger.

Bigelow's style is usually pretty slick and arty, but this time she eschews most of that and instead goes for the gritty handheld look. It's shakycam, but well-done shakycam that never lets the audience lose focus of what's going on in spite of the constant zooms and movement. It definitely feels real, like this must be exactly what these guys have to go through over there. It's an incredibly tense movie, I haven't felt this wound up and nervous about what would happen next since Sorcerer, another badass movie about things that go KABOOM, and those who know how I feel about *that* movie would understand that this isn't faint praise.

At heart, this is an action/suspense flick that happens to take place in the Iraq War. It doesn't make any grand statements about who's right or who's wrong, it doesn't take a stance one way or the other about the war. The main theme of this movie is how some motherfuckers thrive on danger so much, that it becomes their main drive in life, their only reason for being. To some, war is a drug, the movie tells us. I know this because there's a quote at the beginning that ends with the line "war is a drug". And then I guess Bigelow figured that the audience would be full of dumbasses, because the words "war is a drug" are then highlighted in case someone wasn't sure what the most important part of that quote was.

The events are presented with such a Rorschach test neutrality that you'll come away from it with whatever you brought to it. It can play as a different flick to different people. There's the occasional moment where someone does something, uh, questionable, but I really don't think the movie is trying to push an agenda on you when that kinda shit happens. Yet some will accuse the film of trying to make the soldiers look bad, while others will accuse the movie of making the "hajis" look like monsters. But all the movie is showing us is that these are human beings capable of making very human mistakes and very fucked up decisions, and that's just the way shit goes. Look man, if I was in the shit and some fuckin' insurgent took out a few of my fellow soldiers and we ended up finding him and wounding him badly, maybe I wouldn't be so quick to take him to a hospital either. Maybe "right" or "wrong" wouldn't figure into it. I'll probably regret that shit later in life, but hey, it's the heat of the moment, you know? The sympathy/empathy train goes both ways too -- the person I felt the most for in this flick was an Iraqi dude from the last ten minutes or so of the movie. This coming from a guy who loves to use "derka derka" and "bulla bulla" whenever possible. Speaking of which, derka derka derk bulla bulla bulbulla!

The Hurt Locker doesn't come out until late June/early July, and even then I'm guessing it will only play the art houses. People will stay away because they don't want to watch a movie about some shit that hasn't ended yet. Others will stay away because they think they're going to get a fuckin' lecture about the war. Too bad, because they're missing out. This is one of those nail-biters you always hear guys like Gene Shalit and Jeffrey Lyons talk about. This is one of those movies that some unknown radio douche will say had him or her "on the edge of my seat". I think if I quote others, I can get away with using those statements. There are no big stars in this flick, but there are cameos by Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes, the last of which I'm guessing was a favor to his Strange Days director. Evangeline Lilly is also in this movie long enough for you to go "Hey, is that Kate from Lost?".

I watched a screener copy of this pretty late at night, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it because I was dead tired. But by the end of the movie, I was as wired as one of those fucking bombs Bravo Company had to defuse in the movie. Even a simple two-shot of a couple of soldiers having a conversation had me all nervous, expecting something to explode or someone to shoot at them. There's never a moment where shit just feels safe. I had a full can of Sprite that I never touched because of this fucking movie. Part of it was because I was so into the movie, I forgot about being thirsty. The other part was because I was afraid that shit would blow up on me if I touched it. So thank you, Kathryn Bigelow. Thank you for making me all tensed up even though I haven't had caffeine for weeks. While I'm at it, I'd like to thank you for this:

Friday, June 5, 2009

All over the place

An old man ties what seems like hundreds of thousands of balloons to his house, causing that shit to float up into the sky. He steers his flying house towards South America, looking for a place called Paradise Falls. A fat Asian kid accidentally comes along for the ride. Wackiness ensues.

That's it for the plot synopsis. I was looking over my blog entry and noticed I didn't give one, so there it is.

So I went to check out Up at my local theater, and kicked in the extra bucks to watch it in 3-D. This is a very easy decision to make when you're using the ticket kiosk outside and paying for a child's ticket. I don't even think there was an actual kid-aged kid in the audience, so going to the 10:00pm showing on a Thursday night worked out for me. A group of preteens sat in the row in front of me just as the film started, but this also worked out for me because these kids were totally into it. You couldn't ask for a better group of people to watch this kind of movie with -- except for your own friends and family, I suppose.

Before the film, there's a short film by the Pixar guys called Partly Cloudy, a very cute piece about how and where the storks get the bundles of joy they deliver to expectant parents. Then the movie starts, and while it opened with the Disney and Pixar logo, a more appropriate way to begin would have been for a sign to fill the screen, reading: WE ARE GOING TO FUCK UP YOUR SHIT SOMETHING AWFUL. YOU ARE NOW OURS AND THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, BITCHES. Then the second card comes up and reads: WELL, THERE IS ONE THING YOU CAN DO. JUST WALK AWAY. GO HOME, FAGGOT. TELL YOUR FRIENDS THAT YOU HAD TO WALK OUT OF A PIXAR MOVIE. Then after a minute, the third card comes up and reads: THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT. Then the movie begins. It would work out much better that way, but then the use of "fuck", "shit", "faggot" and "bitches" would probably kill their chances at getting a family-friendly rating. I'm just saying.

Holy shit, does this movie sucker-punch you emotionally as soon as fucking possible. Maybe it's because I didn't know squat about this flick other than what the poster showed me: an old man, a fat boy and a dog hanging onto a garden hose attached to a flying house with balloons. I did not know that the first 15 minutes or so was going to tell a motherfucking soul-crushing, heart-breaking story about how a man met the love of his life and how that shit plays out.

This is some shit that little kids will not get or give a fuck about. They might even call this section "the boring part". Adults, on the other hand, may refer to this part as "holy shit, this is fucking real life and is way too fucking painful to watch". Of those adults, people who are weak and lame and not real men and will never become real men, the real pansy fuckin' pieces of sensitive gelatinous shit (aka People Like Me) will remember this section of Up as "the part where I almost fucking lost it and started blubbering like a fucking baby in the movie theater".

The best part is that the last two-thirds of the opening 15 minutes is done without dialogue, and yet this montage does more to fuck you up emotionally than most two-hour films do in their entirety. That's one of many testaments to how fantastic the Pixar guys are, not just in animation, but in filmmaking period. There are people that will always dismiss animation as only being for kids, or they'll divide it into black & white and say it's either stupid pop-culture references and fart jokes for kids or it's a bunch of perverted bloody tentacles going into schoolgirls for adults. Fuck those guys. Pixar specializes in family films, as in, the whole fuckin' family is entertained and no one's intelligence has been insulted, and as far as I'm concerned, they are the only game in town. Dreamworks has come up with some entertaining shit, but fuckin' Shrek and Monsters Vs. Aliens can't fucking compare AT ALL.

These motherfuckers at Pixar are getting better and better, I mean, look at what they've come up with in the past five years: They made The Incredibles which kicked ass, then they topped that awesome movie with Ratatouille and then they topped that great shit with Wall-E, then they managed to top that motherfucking masterpiece with Up. Somewhere along the way they also made Cars, but I haven't seen that shit. I guess being so fucking good is a huge liability to others, like this fucking award winner who was quoted in a USA Today article:

"Since Pixar came around, I was a totally there-is-none-better person," says Kevin Kapanowski, 37, of Detroit and dad to Kaylee, 6. "But after the last three pictures, I'm not that way anymore. It seems like Pixar is reaching and getting a bit boring. WALL·E was fine and all, but eh. Now Up is up, and it's not really doing anything for me. Rats, lonely robots and old men? Really?"

Yes, really. I can't believe we can act so fuckin' spoiled by it all. Who gives a fuck about "reaching", as long as that shit isn't boring -- which it isn't. It can be a lot worse, you know. A lot fucking worse. Like Alvin & the Chipmunks-eating-their-own-feces worse. Who cares about the subject matter, as long as these flicks entertain you and involve you emotionally, which Up definitely does. The fact that these guys have managed to make great movies about nasty-ass rats messing with food and grouchy old men messing with balloons just goes to show you how talented they are in the first place.

Enough of that, let me stray from the negative for a change. Let me go on about Up instead. There's lots of emotion running through this flick, and it's all good. Laughs, tears, moments of awe and moments of aww. The whole movie is filled with movie magic. Now when I say "movie magic", I don't mean like some special effects type of shit. I'm talking about those moments where for some reason, something just touches a part of your movie geek soul and makes you go "Wow, I REALLY fuckin' dug that". The kind of movie magic that will guarantee the movie you just watched will be remembered fondly until the day you die.

A lot of movies we watch while growing up contain those moments of movie magic, and as we get older, it gets a lot harder to feel them in new movies. Now could that be because movies are shittier now? Or maybe because we get more jaded in our old age? I prefer the latter, because I don't want to lose hope in movies. It just means the movies nowadays have to try harder. But it also makes those increasingly rare moments so much more special when they happen. Now I'm not telling you that you're going to feel the same way with Up. That would be foolish to assume. I'm just here to tell you how *I* felt. And I think by now it's pretty fuckin' clear you KNOW how the fuck I felt about this movie.

Kinda digressing off the topic, I'd just like to say that I feel it's a great time to be a movie geek. You just have to look on the bright side and not let all the crap cloud your mind and make you think otherwise. Lots of talented motherfuckers are out there doing their thing. Today, you can buy a ticket to an old-school horror film by Sam Raimi, you can watch a badass Star Trek flick from J.J. Abrams, or you can watch a cool con artist flick with Rian Johnson's Brothers Bloom. Next week, you have muthafuckin' Francis Ford Coppola dropping a new joint. Next month, Michael The Fucking Mann has his Johnny Depp gangster movie coming out. The month after that, my boy Quentin Tarantino busts out with his horribly misspelled WW2 flick. By year's end, Peter Jackson and James Fucking Cameron return to the fold. Then there's guys who we know are working or going to be working on something. We have the Coen brothers, we have Steven Soderbergh, and we have Jim Jarmusch. We have Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and even Paul W.S. Anderson (if shitty movies are your thing). Woody Allen makes a fuckin' movie every year. Takeshi Miike makes five movies every fuckin' year. All of that good shit, plus we're watching Pixar in their fucking prime.

It's just too bad I'm too fuckin' broke to see all that shit. The rest of you, on the other hand, have no excuse. So get going.