mondo mini movie reviews!

This is what I’ve watched in the past week or so.

Black Dynamite
A hilarious homage to the blaxploitation flicks of the ’70s, this one should not be missed. A dose of Dolemite with a dash of The Mack and Superfly, martial artist Michael Jai White plays the title character who’s out to avenge his dead brother, who was working for the CIA when a mafia drug deal went sour. It begins with him kicking an old lady through a door, and ends with him kicking ass at the White House, as his battle leads him to The Man himself. It gets a little silly in the middle when we learn what the Sinister Plot is, just in time for a homage to Enter the Dragon, but the dialogue is so moronically clever that you’ll be laughing the entire time. “If your momma was alive to see this, she’d be spinning in her grave!”

4 out of 5 fat muthafuckas wrestlin’ over pork chops ‘n greens

The Cove
If you ask the average person in Japan if they eat dolphin, they’d say no. So then why are thousands slaughtered every year in a secretive cove in Taiji? This documentary plays like a heist film as the man who trained Flipper, now turned activist, exposes the brutal and bloody secret of the dolphin industry, where hundreds are harvested for amusement parks and the rest are butchered for meat, and because the Japanese fishing industry thinks they eat too many fish. Yeah, really. This doc certainly has an agenda, but all good ones do; it takes great pains to show that the average Japanese has no idea this is going on, and this is no different than the corruption in America’s cattle industry, which keeps us from testing every animal for Mad Cow disease. You’ll never go to Sea World again after you watch this one.

4.5 out of 5 senseless slaughters

A Serious Man
The Coens weave a darkly comic tale of Larry Gopnik, a physics teacher whose life takes on the story of Joband the puzzle of Schroedinger’s Cat as his life begins to fall apart. I found it interesting, but at times deliberately difficult, and a little pretentious. It calls back to Barton Fink, and is enjoyable as a dark comedy if you don’t want to wonder if Gopnik is destined to misery because he’s angered God, is being tested, or has just made a serious of bad choices that like Schroedinger’s Cat, he can’t tell the result of without affecting it. It’s a good discussion film, but not for everyone; if you hated Synecdoche, NY you’ll probably find parts of this a little pretentious. I myself liked it, but felt some of it superfluous. The opening story of the dybbuk makes sense in retrospect, as it can be likened to Schroedinger’s cat, and then the issue of a student who may or may not be trying to bribe Gopnik for a better grade, and so on. There’s also the story of his son preparing for his bar mitzvah, which is both entertaining and nostalgic; did I mention it’s all set in the Jewish neighborhood of Minneapolis suburbs in the late 60’s? Nice touch. Much like the story of the dybbuk, it places it in the past and gives it all the feel of a parable.

4 out of 5 Larry Storches
The Hurt Locker
Wow. This is a war film, and the best depiction of the Iraq War I’ve seen, but first of all it is a character study. A study of the kind of adrenaline junkie operator who can handle the job of Explosive Ordnance Disposal- defusing bombs and IEDs in a war zone. Kathryn Bigelow has made a documentary-style masterpiece that takes the opening sequence of A Touch of Evil, where we see a bomb put in a car’s trunk and follow it, knowing it must go off, and makes it into a gripping war thriller. The movie is over 2 hours long, but felt like 90 minutes. Like the heroes of a Michael Mann film, these are men who define themselves by what they do, and there is a paucity of dialogue. Sgt. James leads a small squad after their leader is killed; they’re short timers who just want to go home, but he actually seems to love this job. And he’s incredibly good at it. The story unfolds like a memoir, with little structure, jumping from a sniper battle in the desert to an Iraqi base rat kid who James takes under his wing, to his men wondering if he’s going to get them killed. He’s a mystery; but in the end, we see his heart, and what makes him tick. It’s a brilliant character study of the kind of man it takes to do this insane job, disguised as a satisfying thriller. It is one of my favorites of the year, and it’s a toss-up to me whether it or Up in the Air is the better picture. Both make great entertainment out of prescient issues we’d rather ignore.

5 out of 5 Best Director Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow, Dammit

The Ghost Writer
Fuck you, Polanski. Come let justice be served. Stop being Noah Cross. Have you made a great movie since then anyway? You’re not getting my money until you pay your debt.

Temple Grandin
Excellent biopic of an autistic woman who revolutionized the beef industry by making slaughterhouses more humane. I read her story in the Star-Ledger years ago, and Claire Danes portrays her amazingly in what will surely be an Emmy-nominated performance. This is playing on HBO, and you should see it. It tries to give us the view of the world through her eyes, and while some of the direction is a bit indulgent and lazy- a montage set to guitar as she figures out how to get on a cattle lot that won’t let women in for example- the story itself is compelling and touching. It’s a TV movie for sure, but Danes performance, and David Strathairn as the teacher who understands her genius, make it worth your time.

3.5 out of 5 moo moo everywhere a moo moos

Dirty Ho
No, not porn! One of the better humorous kung fu flicks of the ’70s. Pita-San and I watched this and One-Armed Boxer vs. the Master of the Flying Guillotine, which has some cool fights and great kraut-rock music by Neu!; Dirty Ho is a kung fu comedy from ’79 starring Chiu hiu “Gordon” Liu, best known as Johnny Mo/Pai Mei from the Kill Bill movies. I’d recognize that bald noggin anywhere! He plays a prince with many brothers who’re trying to kill each other off for Dad’s inheritance, and he tricks a scheming thief named … Dirty Ho… to help him. Let’s face it, the name is what makes you watch this movie the first time, but it has great training sequences and fights, and plenty of laughs and slapstick. Plus a great scene where Gordon “fights” using his servant. An underappreciated classic, if you love kung fu flicks, you must find this one.

4 out of 5 dirty ho’s

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Kathryn Bigelow: Kick-Ass Directoro

I bitch about the cinematic affectations of the early ’90s a lot, so when I get a chance to extol the virtues of a movie from that period, I take it. Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow: Kick-Ass Directoro, is up there with the original Lethal Weapon for best cop buddy action movie. Before Keanu Reeves lost the ability to express emotion, before Gary Busey began talking to pigeons, and before Patrick Swayze wore drag, they came together in this near-paragon of action movies, where a young FBI agent has to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers who never make mistakes, and wear masks of Carter, Reagan, Nixon and LBJ. And they’re surfers.
So we get North Shore meets Heat, in a way. Johnny Utah- his real name, not a moniker for being some “young, dumb and full of cum” rookie from the Midwest joining the big leagues in L.A.- was a Rose Bowl quarterback who busted his knee, and joined the Feds. John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox from “Scrubs”) is his boss who pegs him with the “young dumb” tag and it fits, because it’s Keanu Reeves. It’s a part he was born to play, and he gets to be a smart-ass throughout. He gets partnered with Pappas, the grizzled old agent who no one believes, because he has a crazy theory that the Ex-Presidents are surfers, and he’s Gary Busey. Would you believe Gary Busey? I wouldn’t.
But Keanu Reeves is just dumb enough to believe him, and we believe it, because he’s Keanu Reeves. He learns to surf, with the help of Lori Petty (Tank Girl) and a few montages. Lori Petty plays Tyler, an athletic surfer who shows him the ropes. In the end, she plays the damsel in distress, but she brings a lot of life and a dash of reality to this story of monolithic men. She introduces Utah to her ex, Bodhi (Swayze), a Zen surfer warrior who seeks the perfect wave, and the greatest thrill. Johnny gets his respect after whooping him in a game of beach football, and it slowly becomes clear that Utah’s new mentor just may be the ringleader of the ex-Presidents. Hmm…. could be!
The plot diverts attention to a bunch of white power douchebags and it’s believable enough. Swayze playsthe part of Bodhi with such energy and charisma that like Utah, we don’t want him to be a crook. We want to skydive with him, even when he might know we’re a cop. There is a sense of honor among them, which is what brought the comparison to Michael Mann’s Heat. The men respect each other, and after they know they are born enemies, they can’t shoot each other in the back. It’s like The Fox & the Hound in that respect, except you won’t cry. The scene was famously eulogized in Hot Fuzz, when Johnny Utah fires into the air in anger because he can’t shoot his friend. And as ridiculous as it looks, it works, in context.
The movie ends perfectly, with justice served but in a way that satisfies the story and its larger than life characters. Point Break works is an action thriller that plays to the formula of its genre, but transcends it, bringing the Zen mindset of the surfer to it. The FBI agent has to get his man, but he doesn’t have to let him die in a prison cell. It may not be as stylish as Mann’s thriller, but Bigelow paints her own canvas on the California shore with broad strokes, keeping us as exhilarated as if we were riding that perfect wave.

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© 2010 Thomas Pluck.