Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' June Junkyard Pickin's

It's been a long fistfull of weeks for me personally, so the movie watching is down for June. Even though I got fewer movies in, I did actually manage to get a theatrical viewing! Even more amazing is that it is my second month in a row for theatrical screenings. Pretty rare for me these days. Here are some of the more interesting items salvaged from my cinematic scrapyard:

WALLANDER - FACELESS KILLERS (1994): This 3.5 hour adaptation of Hennig Mankell's 400 page novel of the same name may be a little too long for its own good, however it does set up the rest of the films in the series (all nine Wallander novels), which are a more subdued 90+ minute affairs. The always great Rolf Lassgård plays Wallander, in a performance that many consider not only the best Wallander, but one of Lassgård's best period. In a remote snow-covered farm house, an elderly couple have been brutally tortured, the husband murdered and the wife left for dead with a noose around her neck. Before she dies in the hospital, the wife says the men that attacked them were "foreigners". So starts an investigation that sparks controversy over Sweden's liberal immigration policy and sets nationalist supremists on the hunt for immigrants. Voicing similar questions of racism and hard-line immigration reform as we have heard over the past decade in the US, this film, thematically, feels very much like a US film and could easily be retooled to be set in America. Even the protagonist, Wallander, is an overweight alcoholic, who's wife has left him for a more successful man and who's daughter barely talks to him. How American is that? Uncanny. Then again this is actually a little bit of a downside when doing a 209 minute movie. After about the first dozen scenes with Wallander being his own worst enemy by getting stupidly drunk and being a jackass, I started actually feeling his ex-wife and daughter had damn good reason to want to keep their distance. Even so, it's worth the watch and honestly, I'll take this over the toothgrindingly histrionic BBC adaptations with Kenneth Branagh sobbing his little eyes out at the slightest provocation.

LARGO WINCH (2008): This MTV-modeled goof-fest proposes that a mega-buck business tycoon has stashed away an extra son, Largo Winch (Tomer Sisley) in Asia. Largo has learned how to be a badass fighter dude, though not too bright as he is easily duped by a pretty girl right after his father is murdered. It's like Luc Besson wanted to direct his own version of WALL STREET. Heir to a fortune, trying to be eliminated with extreme prejudice, Largo must battle whip-pans and smash-cuts (complete with whooshing sound effects) in order to save his family empire and prance about in tailor made suits. An action movie for pre-teen preppies, if ever there was. The most ludicrous scene happens early on where in flashback, Winch Sr. gives Winch Jr. the big "with great power"-slash-origins speech. With solemn gravitas Sr. talks about how the money, the power, the fame, all of that is unimportant. What is important is the pocket knife he holds in his hand. When he was a boy his abusive father used to terrorize him and his mother, and he saved his pennies until one day he could buy this knife and wave it in his father's face and make him stop and now this knife is yours my son and... Zzzzzzzzzzz... *snork* huh, what? Oh yeah, with cheap rhetoric comes cheaper melodrama. Based on the French TV series, the film was popular enough somewhere (presumably France) to spawn a sequel in 2011 in which Largo is accused of crimes against humanity and, uhhhh, stuff. Honestly, I think these movies are made to sell to airlines so they can show them on international flights to people who've had several screwdrivers at altitude and are strapped to a seat. The trailer almost makes it look mildly entertaining though...



PROMETHEUS (2012): It's pretty obvious that the script was retooled to be an ALIEN prequel and this is a double-edged sword for sure. On the one hand, it feels like someone is doing a mega-budgeted ALIEN rip-off that's just different enough to avoid a lawsuit and on the other hand, it's nice that it's not a totally plodding, paint-by-numbers prequel that sets up everything for the original film. I knew Scott wasn't going to be making a massive, action packed, sci-fi/horror thrill-ride and would go for more of a drama tinged with sci-fi/horror and action, and I am totally ok with that. What is dissapointing to me is the lack of substance for the majority of the dramatic screen time. In ALIEN, we had a host (no pun intended) of great actors filling out the cast, lending their skills to make these workers real people. Here we have barely two-dimensional periferal characters who are completely uninteresting. There's times where characters pop up and I was thinking "who the hell is that guy?" because he was just random crew guy #2 who all of a sudden has a close up. Even the more major characters are pretty irritating. Who cast Logan Marshall-Green as a frickin’ scientist? He acted like one of those hip-hop kids that hang-out at gas stations with tags on their clothes, gold chains and their pimped-out Honda Civics. “Yo baby, dat alien don’t mean nuttin’ to me, yo. It was just dat one time, yo. Ya know I luvs yo.” And any time he’d see something he’d do the Ric Flair “whooo!” and start giggling. What, was Emminem not available? You had Noomi trying to act at least slightly scientific next to a drunken fratboy that wants to chug likker and talk shit to “the help” instead of study their findings. I don’t get it.
The compounding injury is that the script has no twists. Well, none that you can't figure out lightyears before you are told (except for the myriad of questions that the filmmakers don't even know the answers to). You can figure out everything this movie has to offer without even trying. Hell, the big super-spoiler reveal at the end has been pretty much stated flat out elsewhere in the ALIEN universe. It almost feels like fan-fiction that was written 12 years ago when a certain acronym (WMD) was a hot-button basis for a Hollywood hit. And while I'm ranting... Why do CGI aliens have to be monochrome humanoids with big doe-eyes? Did Scott completely miss the point of why Geiger's alien was such a massive global icon? Let me spell it out - because it looked alien. I get that it's supposed to be the proto-human, but the Engineers just looked lame. On the plus side, it is visually brilliant (as should be expected from Scott), and I'm sure there's an exec at Fox was tearing his hair out because Ridley wouldn't let him title the film ALIEN: PROMETHEUS, so I appreciate Scott being able to maintain some dignity in this production that would have turned into a total Hollywood clown-act otherwise.

THE PREY (2011): Damnit! It takes the French to make a good American-style action thriller? What the hell is the world coming to? Or maybe this is an apology for LARGO WINCH. After several bloody melee's a convicted armed robber Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) breaks out of prison to hunt down the serial killer who stole his cash, killed his wife and has kidnapped his adopted, mute daughter. The cops believe he is the one who killed a string of teenage girls around the countryside, but the cop on the case (Alice Taglioni) has a hunch that maybe it's Franck's former cell-mate trying to set him up. It's really refreshing to see a serial killer portrayed as they really are in real life. Nice, clean-cut unassuming types instead of the annoying American stereotypes of the incredibly obvious loud-mouth social misfit with beard or mustache (cause men with facial hair are scaaaaaary). Hollywood wants to reassure Mr. and Mrs. Flyover that the beer drinking delinquents that they suspect of being up to no good are, in fact, up to no good. Granted this movie won't change your religion, but if you are looking for a solid summertime action-thriller, this one moves like a hot knife through warm butter and satisfies that popcorn craving. I'm actually amazed this hasn't been remade in the US yet. It almost seems to be made for that. Well, except there would have to be a lot more one-liners. and explosions. and a comic relief sidekick... preferably black. and he'd die... and... yeah, you get the idea.



KING OF THE STREETS (1986): Absolute and total insanity from low-rent director Ed Hunt - a Canadian, no less! This movie is so freakin' deranged, I don't even know where to begin. It's got an educational break-dancing party, motivational graffiti, a generous and friendly homeless guy! More? Ok, it's bloody, violent, sleazy as hell, loaded with nudity and a positive Jesus message! Seriously, I haven’t seen anything that schizophrenic in a long time. If you haven't read Will's review, do it now, then see the movie!

VARG VEUM - SLEEPING BEAUTY (2008): Seedy and morose sequel to 2007's seedy and morose Norwegian detective yarn VARG VEUM - BITTER FLOWERS really starts hitting it's stride… and I'm hooked. Varg Veum (Trond Espen Seim) is an ex-police officer turned private investigator in the stunningly picturesque town of Bergen. Of course underneath Bergen's fastidious facade lies all manner of skeletons and Veum is just the guy to dig them up. When some parents want Veum to find their missing son, he warns them that he has a knack for unearthing the guilty secrets of his clients. Of course they protest that they are squeaky clean and Veum suddenly finds himself involved in drugs, murder, teenage prostitution, insider trading, adultery and the mob. The family is pissed off about his discoveries, the cops are pissed off that he's sticking his nose in their crime scenes and the mob is pissed off at him for muddling about in their affairs and because someone tipped them off that he has their drug money. Based on Gunnar Staalesen's series of 18 (or is it now 20?) novels, no less than 12 were adapted into feature films, some hitting cinemas, others going direct to DVD. The acting is all above average as is the cinematography, which like most Scandinavian DTV features offers far more quality than their US counterparts.

VARES - PRIVATE EYE (2004): I guess the Finns really enjoyed PULP FICTION and THE USUAL SUSPECTS, because a full decade later they are still plundering that booty. Jussi Vares (Juha Veijonen) is a private investigator who spends most of his time drinking with his old, not too bright army buddy. After a badass (Jorma Tommila of RARE EXPORTS), who stole a pile of mob money, breaks out of jail with the help of his new wife (Laura Malmivaara) who happens to be another of Vares' army friends, the mob are on their asses along with a masterbating crooked cop (is that a BAD LIEUTENANT reference or are you just happy to see me?). Add in a vampy mistress, two odd-ball hitmen who talk about pop culture, a mulleted getaway driver named "pizza boy" and you have a wacky, uber-stylized crime flick with lots of zany characters and a lot of empty, fast-paced dialogue. The hit men actually reference PULP FICTION once or twice in the midst of their obnoxious pop-culture, self-referential discussions. Damn, I really wanted to like this movie. Oddly, the titular character is actually only in the movie for maybe 10-15 minutes. Fortunately there are seven sequels which gives the series plenty of opportunity to improve.

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. Well, "Largo Winch: The Movie" is based on a series of popular graphic novels (or comic albums, as they are known over here). The TV series from 2001 has almost nothing to do with the original stories and was not very good (it DID star David Carradine as Nerio Winch, though). Best, Torsten

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