Friday, March 11, 2011

If hating Nazis is wrong, I don't want to be White

Listen lady and gentleman, I understand that shitty things happen to all of us and there's nothing wrong with bitching about it on the Internet -- shit, that's mostly what I do on this blog and Twitter, but for God's sake stop signing off with FML, because you are fucking blessed to be alive in this beautiful/ugly world and if you have at least one person that gives one iota of a shit about you, then consider yourself double blessed. You gotta treat that shit like gold, jack, 'cuz it is gold. Your life? That is gold. The Japanese are currently in a stunning realization of that, at this moment.

So last night I went to see a Rod Taylor double-feature at the New Beverly Cinema, part of Quentin Tarantino programming all of March's movie schedule because it's his birthday this month and ain't no party like a Quentin Tarantino party 'cause a Quentin Tarantino party don't stop (until the month of April). I knew of Rod Taylor when I first saw him in The Time Machine (the original, not that Guy Pearce bullshit), back when my 7th grade social studies teacher played it for my class for God knows what fuckin' reason. Then I remember QT geeking out about him during an interview on Riki Rachtman's radio show, back in '96; he was going on about what a badass awesome motherfucker Mr. Taylor was in both film and life. Quentin also championed going to the drive-in by yourself during this interview. So, I immediately started renting Rod Taylor movies to see if this motherfucker was right and once I was old enough to drive, I didn't even bother calling anyone to join me at the drive-in (there was no one to call, really).

Anyway, last night. While waiting outside, I listened to the older film geeks in front of me talk about favorite music composers and directors and actors; one of them had an anecdote told by director Richard Fleischer about working with Kirk Douglas. Turns out The Ragman's Son had a well-deserved reputation in his heyday for being a king-size prick and pretty much the stereotypical asshole superstar. So Fleischer was shooting The Vikings somewhere overseas and there's one shot where they set up both Douglas and a camera with a very rare lens or something on a couple of safety lines about 65 feet up a castle wall. I guess the guy in charge of Douglas and the camera rig asked Fleischer which of the two had higher priority, should an accident occur. Fleischer, not joking at all, told the guy to save the camera.

I also overheard the woman half of a couple that appeared to be in their late 40's remark at the long line, saying something like "Look at all the geeks. Quentin created this. These are all his children." Every couple of minutes or so, Michael Torgan would pass by with a cart carrying what I assume were film reels in boxes with the FBI warning stamped on them, either that or Torgan is also an FBI agent and in between working at the New Beverly and living his life, he's probably out doing extreme shit, hunting Bodhis with his fellow Johnny Utahs. Once inside, I saw Clu Gulager tell a guy with a backpack who looked like Russell Brand's earthier, buffer brother that he looked like he was going on a hiking trip and the guy was like "...uh, yeah". Poor guy just got Gulager'd and didn't know what to do.

Quentin wasn't there to intro (he had already shown up the previous night for the same movies) but that didn't bother me; his appearance should be treated like a cherry on top of the most delicious hot fudge sundae ever (the movies), not the other way around, and I know what I just wrote was probably the most fruitiest thing yet, but what can I do, it's in my nature. Both films are currently not available on DVD and that was really what convinced me to take the trip. The first film was Dark of the Sun, but the on-screen title was The Mercenaries, so I don't know which one is the actual title. It's weird because the latter title is more appropriate, but I prefer the more literate-sounding former.

Taylor plays a mercenary who arrives in the Congo with his brother-in-arms, played by that Martian-owning Jim Brown (they played a reel of Jim Brown trailers before the film) and it's kinda funny how when they arrive at the airport, everyone else is trying their absolutest darndest to get the fuck out, while Taylor and Brown are the only two trying to get in. It's hot in the fuckin' Congo, everyone is all disgustingly sweaty like a fuckin' migrant worker in July or Roman Polanski in the junior high school girls locker room, and I bet you that was all real, they didn't have to spray that shit on anyone. I doubt they actually filmed in the Congo, but they sure got the climate down.

So, it looks like the president of the C is worried about some stupid Belgian motherfuckers living deep in the jungle; I don't know why they're there, they should be drinking wine and eating pommes frites in a more friendly area, but they didn't, instead they set up shop trying to fuckin' civilize these savages (and what a coincidence that there are precious resources in this land to make some coin on) and now they're in a position to get fucked Jesus Quintana-style by the Simbas. The Simbas are bunch of these hardcore scary badass rebellion motherfuckers who are also big fans of The Lion King. The Simbas were also known for their extraordinary psychic abilities, since they were able to be fans of a movie that didn't even exist until 30 years later. That sounds all cute and shit, but they also rape nuns and young scared men, proving they are big believers in If It Feels Good, Do It.

That's why Taylor and Brown are there to do their thing, get these non-Van Dammes to safety. The president's like Oh and while you're at it, there also happens to be about 50 million dollars in diamonds stashed in a vault somewhere in town, you might want to bring them with you if you want to get paid for your service. At least Taylor wants to get paid, being the soldier-of-fortune that he is, but Brown is more of an idealist who wants to offer help to his birth country (he speaks perfect English because he went to the States and attended university there and because it's Jim Brown playing him).

I remember watching Siskel & Ebert and it was either the Jawless One or the Dead One who quoted some filmmaker, something to the effect of All you need to make an entertaining movie is have a train in it, or some shit remotely like that. I agree with that because every train movie I recall never failed to be entertaining, like Runaway Train, The Great Train Robbery (the Sean Connery bullshit, not the original), Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, and Unstoppable. Diminishing returns, but still, Good Times came from all of 'em. Well, add Dark of the Sun to the list, in fact, put this shit to the top of the list number-one-with-a-bullet because not only could this be my favorite movie involving train action (in a non-porn), this might be one of my favorite films period.

The late Jack Cardiff directed this, and in addition to being a director, he's better known as one of the world's all-time greatest cinematographers, a fact I was reminded of as TV's Marc Heuck told an older gentleman in the row behind me that Jack Cardiff is better known as one of the world's all-time greatest cinematographers. I think Tarantino has said before that he prefers Cardiff as a director, and I'd have to see his other flicks before I can agree or disagree. Fuck that, I agree, simply based on Dark of the Sun. Hey, I love The Red Shoes and thinks it looks mah-va-lous, but The Red Shoes didn't make me want to jump and go FUCK YEAH every ten minutes, like this piece of work. The film has a great pace, there is no fat to this bitch, the basics of the story are laid out with a brilliant economic simplicity. The mission is set and the men for the mission are chosen in what felt like 5, 10 minutes tops. They don't waste any time, and the dialogue isn't even that expository, or if it is, it sure as fuck felt natural. There's also a cool montage of setting up the train with guns and men and all the dialogue is silenced while the music and sound effects do their thing.

I liked Taylor's character because he's a badass, but he's also got a sense of humor and isn't all morose about his work, like most Men Of Ownage nowadays. But then again, that's probably because we're kinda watching a character who hasn't yet crossed that line, that line into darkness (ah, now I understand) that turns G.I. Joe into The No Mercy Man. There's this cowardly Frenchie dude who's only been on three missions, so he punks out early on and Taylor gives him shit about it, but for all we know Taylor's character had his own personal Frenchie moment back when he was green. Not all warriors come out of the womb as a certified Bad Ass, most have to work their way up to it, and I like to think the Taylor character is like that. Problem is, even if he's used to kicking ass and taking names, he's probably going to reach his breaking point during this mission, and if that sounds like a spoiler to you, then fuck ya'll, you shoulda been there last night.

I'm really just talking outta my ass more than usual, because I didn't sleep much from watching earthquake/tsunami coverage and I'm all tired and depressed now, but I'm thinking that the shit that happens during the mission in Dark of the Sun is so hardcore and not as easy as it originally sounded that the people involved end up revealing who they really are, deep inside, when the chips are down. It's a scary thought, because I'm watching some of the characters, and thinking, could I be THAT fucking guy? I mean, I'd like to think I value human life, and I hate to imagine that seeing 50 million in diamonds right in front of me will change my outlook, but you never know. You never know until it happens, if it happens.

On the other hand, I'd like to think that I'd pull some selfless shit for other people, but again for all I know, I could be one of those guys who starts cowering in the corner and crying like a little bitch during a firefight, rather than Manning The Fuck Up and getting my hands a little dirty with some punk-ass's blood. Here's something even worse -- how about being put in a position where you are watching horrifying shit being done to people around you and you can't do anything about it because it would mean giving yourself away; you have to fight against every fiber in your being that is telling you to do the right thing, otherwise the mission will result in instant failure and you'd be dead too.

The first half of the movie is a great rousing action-adventure, and if it continued that way, I'd have still been very happy about it, but then something happens that fucked my shit up something awful. Not many movies can accomplish making me feel a genuine sense of Oh My God These People Are So Fucked. I mean, usually I'm more amused, like Ha Ha, They're Fucked Now. But this movie, holy shit, the filmmakers are not fucking around, in fact, I think it's their way to slap the audience in the face to snap out of our Wheee This Is Fun! attitude and scream in our faces about how The Shit Just Got Real. I'm telling you, dear reader, this shit gets too fuckin' real -- and the movie is all the more awesome for it.

The second half is even better, because now you know that the game is rough and the stakes are other people's lives, to misquote that rat-soup-eatin' muthafucka from Dolemite. There are some moments here that I don't think modern action-adventure moviemakers have the balls to pull off now, everything is getting fuckin' homogenized just so Focus Study Member #14 feels better. There's a movie called Tears of the Sun that is similar in many respects (even the title!), except it's not as good and it's a lot more downbeat and something of a dirge, which just shows to go you how hard it is to both show you horrible shit while still maintaining an entertaining feel to the proceedings; Dark of the Sun pulls that shit off flawlessly and somehow makes it feel, I don't know, effortless. Fuckin' Jack Cardiff, yo.

Every likable character's death hurts in this movie, and every time a bad guy gets owned it feels fantastic. The writers did a great job making you feel one way or the other about the people in the movie, (there isn't a single character that fails to make an impression) and the actors then carry it the rest of the way by just being awesome about it. There's this former Nazi asshole who's along for the ride because he's in charge of the soldiers they're using for the mission, and Taylor notices that this piece-of-shit still proudly wears a Swastika medal and tells him to take that shit off. Later on, the Nazi does some cold-blooded shit, something that has a horrible chilling logic to it, and Taylor then tells him to put that shit back on because he sure as fuck earned it.

I loved the dialogue scenes between Taylor and Brown's characters; nowadays, we'd all be calling this kind of relationship a bromance, and it doesn't help that there's a least one line Brown says regarding Taylor that could really be taken the wrong way (unless that's what the writers intended, the cheeky bastards) but back then in the 60's, that was just male camaraderie. Nowadays there's no such thing as Male Bonding, we have to call that shit borderline gay, and that's too bad. I guess you just can't have a couple bros who feel very strongly about each other -- probably even moreso after having gone through previous violent missions together -- without assuming they want to bang each other. Nowadays you just can't be really close with your bro; I sure as fuck don't want to get it on with any of my close guy friends -- but that's probably because they're not attractive enough for me. Anyway, it doesn't always have to be subtext, that's what I'm saying.  

Listen man, I don't want to make this shit sound too serious, because when it comes down to it, this movie is just full of Win -- Win in the form of motherfuckers getting shot, blown up, and repeatedly karate chopped to the neck. There's a chainsaw battle, people jumping from roofs onto jeeps, machine gunning motherfuckers even after they've been killed, and one spectacular jeep versus raft scene that had me wondering if it was going to end the way I thought it would end. I figured it wouldn't; the chase was good enough, but the catching up part will probably suffer in comparison to the build-up, I thought to myself. My man, I'm telling you it ended EXACTLY how I hoped it would, and apparently everyone else in the audience felt the same way because the whole fuckin' room burst into applause.

I'm going to share the same sentiment as other people who saw this film at the New Bev by calling it my favorite men-on-a-mission movie. Rod Taylor is a badass, Jim Brown is cool, and hot half-raza Yvette Mimieux (Taylor's co-star from The Time Machine) is nice to look at and helps keep the gay away. I don't get it. I don't get how you can't make a movie like this anymore, a movie with great action, drama, and humor without any kind of pandering. They exist, on occasion the summer movie gods give you a Die Hard or an Inception. But we're also sorely lacking in movies with some fuckin' BALLS (he said in a Will Arnett voice). In a weird way, I'm so glad Tarantino introduced this movie to me and so many others at the New Beverly, but I'm also kind of bummed that there aren't more like them. What the fuck, yo?

They showed a reel of Rod Taylor trailers, then a guy in a Snoopy shirt and striped shorts sat near me (I don't even know if that shit was ironic or a genuine love for the Peanuts dog and all things vertical), then the next film, Hell River (it had the much better title of Partizan in the print that was screened) began. Now, this movie commits only one terrible crime in my eyes, and it's the unfortunate crime of following Dark of the Sun. I think a lot of people held that against it, based on the walkouts during the film. This was a film made in Yugoslavia, and as a result, the film has very much a dreary Southeastern European look and feel. It's very serious, and I only remember one moment of levity in the whole thing, but it's still a good flick.

Rod Taylor was pushing 50 at this point, starting to look more like his Winston Churchill in Inglourious Basterds, but he still came off as his usual badass self. He plays Marko, and rather than being all depressed about living in Yugoslavia, he's busy heading a rebellion against the Nazis (it takes place during 1941) and most of the movie consists of them doing the guerrilla thing, surprising these fuckin' Krauts and doing everything except shouting "Wolverines!" at the end of it. Early on, there's a scene between Marko and his brother and while watching the older, pudgier guy talking with this much younger dude, I realized that the movie is trying to make us believe Marko is much, much younger than he appears. Like, he's supposed to be only a few years older than this other guy who appears to be in his 20's. I don't know. I accepted it because hey, it was 1941 in Yugoslavia and the Germans are fucking everybody up. That shit would probably age the fuck out of you.

The main Nazi bad guy is played by the same fuckin' Nazi from Dark of the Sun, also looking a little older than the last time, but at least he's probably playing his age. That was pretty amusing, it almost works as a prequel to Dark of the Sun, with the German actor playing the same character -- only somewhere between the events of both films, his character got some work done on his face and lost a few pounds. Adam West also plays a Nazi, and such is the film's strength in accomplishing an overwhelming sense of downbeat bleakness to the proceedings that I didn't find it funny or even amusing. I mean, come on -- it's Adam West playing a fuckin' Nazi! And yet, not a giggle or smile from me.

Ultimately, you're watching a film about fighting a force much greater than you, knowing you're probably not going to make it, but goddamn it, it's better to die on your feet than live on your knees or something like that. It's not a pretty life for a Partizan, marching marching marching through cold frozen landscapes with little food and only the clothes on your back. The bad guys have machine guns and tanks while you're most likely only rolling with a bolt-action rifle. The odds are overwhelming. Fuck it, I'd like to think I'd pick that life over shaking in my boots and trying to act all civil with these Nazi monsters when they come goose-stepping into my hood.

There's one scene where this woman mayor of a small town is translating a conversation between Asshole Nazi From Dark Of The Sun and some other townsperson, I don't know, he looked like a priest or something. She speaks in an even tone and I don't think she ever looks this asshole in the eyes -- she does not want to do anything remotely antagonistic. Doesn't matter, the next scene she's hanging from a tree. Sucks to be you, woman mayor.

The best the Nazis can come up with is just executing innocent villagers because they know the Partizans are human beings with hearts and souls (Nazi ain't got no humanity!) and it would probably fuck up their morale enough to just give up the Wolverine bullshit, but it's really no choice at all for the Partizans. It sucks, but by fighting back there still is a chance, a tiny sliver of a chance, but a chance. There's more than one battle scene where Taylor can't help but get so fuckin' exasperated after killing a bunch of Nazis, barely surviving, then only to find a whole new mess of Nazis coming the other way. It's like one of those old school video games where the bad guys won't stop until you die, because that shit was all about a high score, not getting to the end.

My favorite scene is when Marko has been separated from his fellow Partizans and he's hiding out in what used to be a village but it's been destroyed and on fire and shit. The only living creature aside from him is a dog (happy to see him, natch). He goes upstairs in one house and looks at the framed photos on the wall, pictures of a family. He picks up a hat from the table. He plays a record that is still on the turntable. You can just watch that shit get to him, that the people who lived here -- mother, father, children, grandparents -- were just living life, doing their thing, maybe even happy or content. Now they're all either dead or well on their way. 

Some scenes look kinda cheap, and some scenes look fuckin' epic, like some Lean/Cimino style shit with wide shots of what looks like hundreds of motherfuckers walking down the tundra. The battle scenes are impressive in their size but aren't necessarily the most engaging. I don't know, it's just me, I guess; watching tanks get blown up doesn't really do as much for me as watching a motherfucker get shot in the face -- that shit never goes out of style.

I have to say though, there's one battle moment that I don't think was intentional, and I think what we saw on-screen was a split-second away from turning Hell River into a genuine snuff film; one soldier falls off his tank, falls right in front of the wheels and for a couple seconds manages to only get pushed by it and it's only by the grace of God (that motherfucker must've been answering prayers that day) that the actor/stuntman manages to throw himself aside and is narrowly missed by the tank as it rolls right past him, as opposed to right over him.

It's a good film overall, shaky in some moments (Adam West leads the lamest dumbest schmuckiest attempt at an ambush in film history for a non-comedy) but I dug it, and I really liked the ending. It definitely would've played better on its own, but maybe I'm alone in that opinion because I felt like not that many people were
into it. Again, that could be from having a tough act to follow, but I'm not sure, they could've just thought it was really shitty. I overheard one (I'm guessing) New Bev employee talk about how one of the patrons stepped out into the lobby/concession area and asked her if it was even worth bothering going back in. She told him yes, it's worth it because you will never see this movie again. She has a point, sometimes you have to give a movie a chance, because in some cases all that exists is a fuckin' film print and one day you're gonna think about giving that movie another try, and guess what? You're assed out.

Anyway, going back to that FML shit. I guess I'm just too sensitive and being No Fun For Anyone, but personally I feel that FML fuckin' trivializes the whole game of Life, whether you're being serious or funny. Some people hate when you take God's name in vain, and I don't like when people damn their existence like that for some bullshit reason, there's plenty of evil shit out there ready and willing to show you some real FML. I just hate that saying, that's all, and if it was anything else but FML, I'd probably be OK with it. I'm being extra-douchier than usual, but whatever, that's my thing and believe it or not, I'm pretty fuckin' sincere in all my ramblings. Yeah, even when I referred to Karl Malden as "smoking hot" in my last one, because if I had the chance, I'd hit that and try to get some American Express travelers checks out of the deal. Oh wait, he's dead, so that's never going to happen. FML