My Week in Film (12/28 - 1/3)

Hey, it's a new year! Let's celebrate with some movies.

Star Trek (2009)
(Directed by J.J. Abrams)

Kind of the story-before-the-story and it's good for that. It's the reboot so it's gotta set up all these relationships and get us acquainted with the origins before they can actually start doing awesome shit. I guess I should get out of the way the qualifier that I know pretty much nothing about Star Trek outside of the obvious cultural markers (Spock, William Shatner, that dumb sign) so it was never going to mean anything to me. It's just a fast-as-fuck action movie, basically, replete with your badass brash hero who's all like "rules? fuck! your rules!" It's complete nonsense really, but it's fun nonsense and it's edited to keep the story going at breakneck speed (blowing its load, arguably, with the Vulcan planet thingie majigger). From there on, it's never quite as good and, at the end, I thought it all turned out to be rather inconsequential. Not that I mind that, really. It just needs to do a little more than deftly fulfill its narrative obligations (hey now!) to get me to classify it with the others in the "adulation" basket.


Paris (2008)
(Directed by Cedric Klapisch)

One of those ensemble dramas, you know. Stars a bunch of pretty French people so I guess that makes it okay. Romain Duris plays some guy who has some heart illness and is going to die pretty soon. what does he do? He just looks out of his balcony. Binoche joins in his apartment cuz she's his sister and soon they're learning how to love life again. Then you got some professor who gets obsessed with Melanie Laurent (well, yeah) and begins to send her text messages. An architect fears having a baby, a North African dude tries to make it to France, some market workers work out their relationship problems. But, roujin, what does it all mean? Well, nothing. The film doesn't really work as much of anything. I dug the Duris/Binoche storyline the best as I thought they were lots of fun together. The Melanie Laurent one was okay. Really whatever stuff. Doesn't help that it brings up some random stuff about immigration for whatever reason (I guess to show the allure of the city, blergh). And, really, the film doesn't know when to cut back and forth between the storylines too well. Some are dropped for far too long and I lost interest or begin to wonder when they were going back to cut back to them. Just whatever stuff, but it has some good actors so it's never a chore to watch or anything. Cut me some slack! I'll save the philosophical implications of voyeurism for some other time.


Sullivan's Travels (1941)
(Directed by Preston Sturges)

Not as funny as The Palm Beach Story or The Lady Eve. Instead, it's this weirdly ambitious film about Hollywood's attempts to make movies about the poor or, really, any kind of suffering. What right do they have? It follows Sullivan as he pretends to be a bum and find "trouble" so he can finally make his real dramatic picture (he's known as a comedic director). I kind of view it as the precursor to Music and Lyrics (Hugh Grant's excuse for making fluffy romantic comedies) in that it explicitly spells out why one would want to make comedies instead of serious dramatic pictures. Because it aims to do that, it kinda suffers from having extreme changes in tone. You have the slapstick race at the beginning coupled with the montage, and the stay with the farmer's wife coupled with Sullivan's imprisonment. It's a weird film. I did find certain parts really beautiful. When the inmates gather in the church to watch disney shorts and let out huge bouts of laughter, that shit moved me, brosellini. I was touched! Although the idea that the suffering poor might only want these dumb comedies (hi, Stephen Chow, you protean genius!) isn't that palatable either. I don't think that's what it's going for, really, just occurred to me moments ago while I was dancing up the walls covered in bees reading some pages from the book of verses. Hallelujah I'm a roujin!


Police Story (1985)
(Directed by Jackie Chan)

It's an excuse for a bunch of awesome stunts. I don't think that makes it very different from a Keaton movie or something like that. Keaton did all his own stunts, but the point there is that he does all this dangerous stuff and he never gets hurt. Jackie Chan definitely gets hurt, but that's part of what makes him fun. The whole point of these movies boils down to, basically, hey, watch Jackie Chan do some crazy ass shit, get beat the fuck up and live to tell about it. Jackie does that in style. The first set piece is a crackdown of some drug stuff in some random tenement. The bust goes awry and soon the whole thing turns into a mess and Jackie has to basically destroy the entire place (it's unbelievable) to catch the bad guys. It's hard to top that scene, but somehow later he does it. The plot's some random nonsense about Chan having to protect Brigitte Lin then getting framed and then getting angry all while trying to make his girlfriend, Maggie Cheung, happy (so young!). Anyway, Jackie treats his environment like a playground - he has this little routine with trying to answer four phones that's hilarious, he climbs walls, jumps off buildings, goes through both car windows in a single swoop. But, again, where Keaton keeps his cool, Jackie loses it. All his moves have a sense of desperation about them as he scrambles to twist his body into all kinds of crazy shapes in order to do his job done. You can see the bruises, the sweat, the blood on his face. He's just a man, a great man.


Encounters of the Spooky Kind 2 (1990)
(Directed by Ricky Lau)

Don't know why I really can't get into Sammo's horror/comedy outings. I mean, I like them and all, but I can't seem to work up much enthusiasm like I can with his other films. This one has much more of a plot than what I remember from the original. Sammo meets a ghost and tries to help her, he gets his soul taken away, etc. It's fun/funny stuff but it doesn't leave much of an impression on me. Maybe because it's tied to all these traditions and tropes that I guess were developed even more through the Mr. Vampire films (I need to see them) and stuff. I don't know. I did finally find out the name of that one guy that's in a bunch of these movies, Lam Ching-Ying. He plays the master of Sammo in this one and I dug finally being able to put a name to the face and add him to my roster of Asian that guy's (R.I.P). Anyway, this has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Really, it's fun but pretty much worthless if you just don't enjoy watching Sammo. The first film was much better, sadly, mainly because it features one of the most brutal endings of all time. So great. What does that mean? Look it up in yr dictionary, bitch!


God of Cookery (1996)
(Directed by Stephen Chow + Lee Lik-Chi)

A lot of this really hilarious, but it has this really annoying subplot that bothered me (the whole "she's ugly, ah! I have to run away" thing is very annoying). Even more so when it leads to an incredibly overblown emotional lynchpin that causes Chow to get all serious and shit (it's way melodramatic although I liked how it's played by defusing it of the melodrama by jumping ahead in the narrative). Still, I probably don't need scenes of Chow crying and singing. But I'm willing to forgive this plot strand because 1) it sets up the whole "sorrowful rice" thing which I found very moving, and 2) introduce us to the 18 Brassmen of Shaolin Monastery who are hilarious. But the best thing about the movie is the final competition is the movie, which I can't believe the makers of Yakitate! Japan didn't commit to memory and play over and over while coming up with their own reactions. It's so hilarious and it escalates and escalates into the incredibly hilarious judge's V.O. and her fears and anxieties about delivering a verdict, but not before a literal deux ex machina occurs to set things right. That whole sequence pretty much blew my mind because I kept thinking back to Yakitate! and the reactions there and how much I wanted to see that show again (and I fucking will, god damn it!) and how roujin wished he could cook even just a little bit so he could share a little bit of himself and of his work to others (not really - see also: any and all of roujin's reviews contain this bit of exaggeration and weirdly desperate/disparate claims about his own humanity and his striving to connect with others, when it's really just a sham; he hates others). Basically, I kind of loved it, but am afraid of overration - a concept that Brazilian street urchins don't seem to understand.


Ruggles of Red Cap (1935)
(Directed by Leo McCarey)

Really funny. At first, I was taken back a little bit by Charles Laughton. I think it's the way he talks in this movie but then I started realizing that pretty much every single gesture that he makes is hilarious. It's all in the eyes, really, but he's pretty much a comedic genius all throughout this movie. But it helps that he also really good performers to bounce off. Charles Ruggles is so funny as this wild Washington man who'd rather drink beer and wear his cowboy hat or whatever than visit an art gallery. Anyway, the movie is more or less about how Americans want to adopt the fussy nonsense of Europeans and imitate all that dumb crap and visit art galleries and shit like that, but how when you get down to it, in America, you're free to do whatever you want. Like, say, open your own restaurant and speak your mind and things like that. Europe is dumb! This movie is funny!


Project A (1983)*
(Directed by Jackie Chan)

I watched this again with some friends. It was 3 AM, I think, so I was pretty sleepy, but even with that, this film is as charming and winsome and all that shit as can get. This time we were all kinds of amazed at all the stunt work and kinda gasped a little when Jackie did that clock tower fall, and Sammo made us all laugh just by showing up, and Yuen Biao wore some fancy hat when sneaking into that pirate compound. Basically, about as much fun as you can have with any movie really.


Angel (1937)
(Directed by Ernst Lubitsch)

huh, very weird stuff from Lubitsch. We come to expect a comedy of sorts. I mean, Edward Everett Horton has a supporting role, and Herbert Marshall, that suave motherfucker from Trouble in Paradise is back, but what we instead get is... Dietrich flies off to Paris for a day and meets a suave man. They form some strange connection but she runs off without ever telling him her name or anything. He calls her Angel. Herbert Marshall plays Dietrich's husband, who although loves her is absent a lot because of his important political job. Then things get complicated and confusing and strange. The touch is there, but none of the romantic or comedic pleasures are or, at the least, they're suppressed in favor of a striving toward a more realistic depiction of this situation. Personally, I bought it. And I bought how it tries to complicate the emotions of the viewers, I guess. It's a really sad situation and whatever choices there are available to the characters don't seem all that great. Very strange stuff. I think I died a little inside. Just open the door, roujin. Just open the door. Leave all these troubles behind.


The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
(Directed by Vincente Minnelli)

ah, two hours of beautifully cold and calculating emotional manipulation of the greatest kind. Kirk Douglas plays a Hollywood producer. The movie's about the various people he screwed over and how he screwed them. You have the director, the actress and the writer played by some dude, Lana Turner and Dick Powell, in that order. The whole story is told in flashbacks as we're told how that person and Douglas met and how their relationship soured. The best, by far, and the most brutal is the one with Lana Turner. Douglas finds Turner drinking herself into oblivion and helps her get clean and casts her in the lead of his movie. He figures out that a way to manipulate her into working. He says he "knows how to handle her." Douglas sees people as a means to an end and he'll do anything. That's all fine and dandy but it's the film's final image that really seals the deal for me - condemn them all to damnation. They're willing to hear after all.

Editor's Note: Gloria Grahame is awesome.


Breaking News (2004)
(Directed by Johnnie To)

Lots of fun. The beginning is damn impressive. It's a 7-minute gunfight done in a single take that pits the cops that are watching the robbers vs. the robbers vs. the random street cops who stumble into the scene and mess it all up. It's, again, lots of fun. The whole thing gets out of control and the HK police force have a nightmare on their hand since the whole thing was caught by a news camera. So, the rest of the film is about tracking down those robbers and fixing the image of the HK police. But, although it gets way too heavy-handed and hilariously dumb with the "I'm a director" stuff at the end, this aspect of the story is done pretty well with the robbers using the internet in order to go against the image that police is trying to paint. Inside all that nonsense, there are narrow as hell corridors, the men that are inside them, their formations, etc. It's really tense and awesome shit. My favorite part of the movie is probably when the robbers stop everything in order to have lunch and broadcast it on the internet to show that they are in control. But, really, it's To so I know that even if the story isn't all that great, I can still have fun in other ways. With To, I know I'm in good hands.


Jhon's Movie of the Week is... Ruggles of Red Cap

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