8.09.2009

WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 3

Weekend Wrental Wreviews, returns! Let's see what DVDs I've watched this past week for the third edition of WWW:

1) Sudden Death:
Mindless and silly, this is the sort of nonsensical action movie that they just don't make anymore. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a firefighter who, after a traumatic loss in the field, gets a job as the fire marshall at a hockey arena. In a confluence of coincidence perpetuated by the films of the ‘90s, the vice president is at a big playoff game and the target of a conspiratorial bomb threat on the same day that Van Damme visits his ex-wife and gets permission to take his kids. A hostage situation orchestrated by Powers Boothe ensues, and suddenly we're in a second-rate Die Hard situation in which only the kickboxing fire marshal can diffuse the bombs and defeat the bad guys. Highlights include fighting a knife-wielding penguin mascot and impersonating a goalie in the big game without anyone noticing. Leave logic at the door, and enjoy it for what it is. You watch a Van Damme flick for the fighting, not for the plot or the acting.

2) JCVD:
Forget what I just wrote about Van Damme movies. In this brilliant existential journey, Van Damme plays “himself”, a struggling aging action star battling for custody of his child as well as continuation of his career. The bills are mounting up and Steven Seagal is getting all the good roles. The film opens with a breathtaking action sequence with a title card reminiscent of the ‘70s, but the facade quickly crumbles as we delve into his ‘real” life. When caught in a hostage situation for which he is blamed, the distinction between the man and the characters he's played becomes clear. The high point of the film is a monologue near the end in which Van Damme addresses the audience directly, baring his soul in both a confession and a plea. The film is ripe with dark humor and bitter irony, and left me with new respect for the man behind the Muscles.

3) CB4:
Parental Advisory: Chris Rock, raunchy at times, is hilarious in this rap mockumentary in the spirit of This is Spinal Tap. If his “MC Gusto” seems a bit too much like a facsimile of the leader of a gangsta rap trio, we soon learn exactly why via a series of flashbacks as he tells his tale. It ends up being a smart commentary on celebrity and image, and the contrast between what is real and what is manufactured for public consumption. The opening credits tell us that this is also the film that introduced Charlie Murphy, and though he has prior acting credits on his resume I can only assume this was his first major credited role. I hadn't even heard of him before Chappelle's Show. His craft isn't as refined in CB4, but even in the one note he plays I caught a glimmer of the stuff he'd bring to the table later on in a comedy ensemble.

4) The Secret:
David Duchovny stars in this disturbing yet fascinating tale of a man whose wife and daughter are involved in a devastating accident. Only one survives, inhabited by the spirit of the other, and an unsettling psychological journey begins. The film dances at times on lines that should not be crossed without crossing them, and ultimately plays out as a dark version of Freaky Friday. If you could walk in another person's shoes you might understand them, but it could create an uncomfortable situation for protagonist and viewer alike.

5) The Restless:
Korean cinema continues to impress me with this breaktaking tale of a warrior who finds himself in the zone between life and the afterlife, ensconced in a battle between higher beings, one made more personal by the fact that he knew most of them when they were still alive. The colors are vivid and the computer effects are breathtaking, with some great action and fight sequences involving chains and flower petals. There's a love story at the core as our hero is reunited with the woman he lost, who has no memory of her time as a mortal being. Fans of films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, and even the original Mortal Kombat should definitely check this one out.

6) Conan the Barbarian:
Yes, after catching bits and pieces of the swords and sorcery epic that put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map, I finally sat down and watched it in its entirety, apparently with added footage restored according to the pre-title card. I like to think that Predator or The Terminator were my first Arnold movies but, knowing my parents and their rental tastes, I suspect I saw Twins or Kindergarten Cop before I got to those. As for Conan, it showcases a more pure form of Arnold, a larger than life hero before his career turned to comic roles playing against type. So much of the movie is handled through its sweeping soundtrack. I wonder if this was done out of partial necessity due to the fact that the lead's second language was English, but it works. The narration of Mako also added a great deal to the epic quality for me, especially given my recent exposure to his final voice work in Avatar. Conan is true to the spirit of its roots in novels and comics, and showcases the rise of a boy whose parents were murdered into a fierce warrior. His sword is swift and his women are plentiful. James Earl Jones reminded me a bit of Teal'c in his role as a serpent high priest, at least up until he beheaded Conan's mother. Then I knew he was the bad guy. Overall, the film is a must-see for Arnold and fantasy fans alike.

7) Bowfinger:
I have fuzzy memories of this collaboration between Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy not doing well in theaters, and generally receiving terrible reviews. Upon finally seeing it, I can only surmise that it either had a lot of competition at the box office when it was released, or that a lot of jokes went over people's heads. Films like Get Shorty, which have a lot of inside jokes about filmmaking, are not always accessible to the general public. Bowfinger is surprisingly smart at times, even brilliant. Martin is so well known as a goofball that I think his high intellect sometimes gets occluded. In Bowfinger, he plays a struggling filmmaker who comes up with a crazy plan to turn a bad script written by his accountant into a movie with one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, without that star knowing he's in the film.(“Did you know that Tom Cruise didn't know he was in that vampire movie until three months later?”) Murphy plays a caricature of himself, a big star with a lot of issues such as paranoia about aliens or the compulsion to expose himself to cheerleaders. Terrence Stamp plays his spiritual advisor at “Mindhead”, a blatant and awesome dig at Scientology. Martin follows Murphy around with his other actors and a camera crew, and it's great to see Murphy freak out as random people run up to him saying their lines about an alien invasion. Apparently, a lot of the actual film was unscripted, and these comic talents were allowed to ad lib and come up with great material. Murphy even plays a double role as his character's lookalike brother, a probably reference to Charlie Murphy. The cast also boasts Robert Downey, Jr., Heather Graham, and Jamie Kennedy, and overall was a pleasant surprise.


More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!

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4 Comments:

Blogger b13 said...

If you liked CB4 and have not seen "Fear of a Black Hat"... you must add it yo your queue ASAP!

8/10/2009 12:16 AM  
Blogger Lorna said...

Bowfinger has been one of my favourites since I saw it onscreen with pitifully few others; Hero and CrouchingT, HD are also favourites. I'm going to try the Korean movie, if I can find it, on this holiday.

8/10/2009 10:12 AM  
Blogger Rey said...

I can't believe you hadn't seen Conan before.

8/10/2009 2:52 PM  
Anonymous MCF said...

Rey, I'm not even positive about catching "bits and pieces" of it--I could just as easily be remembering watching Beastmaster on channel 11 on a Sunday afternoon. Some stuff was familiar though, like pushing that big wheel, so who knows. I'll have to add the other two movies to my Queue as well. I did see Red Sonja a few months ago--not as good, and for some reason Arnold is playing a generic barbarian instead of Conan.

I'm glad SOMEONE saw Bowfinger in the theater, Lorna. If I didn't have such an extensive list of movies I hadn't seen ONCE, I'd probably give it a 2nd viewing since there are so many sight gags and clever one-liners thrown in there that might have been missed on first viewing. The amount of storytelling in that first slow pan of his apartment alone is impressive.

Joe: haven't seen it; will have to add it as well.

8/10/2009 4:23 PM  

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