Friday, April 27, 2007

Mummy Pimp: Pointless But Good

Why aren't Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weiss and Oded Fehr in EVERY movie? Patricia Velasquez and Arnold Vosloo can come along, too. And heck, why leave out John Hannah and Kevin J. O'Connor?

One thing you gotta give up for The Mummy Returns: the fight scenes are fan-bleeding-tastic. And I'm a sucker of how Sommers stages his stuff. That fight scene in the O'Connell house is set up BEAUTIFUL.

LIGHNTING FLASH LIGHTNING FLASH

"We'll take the box."

EVELYN TAKES A BAD-ASS PILL

"I don't think so."

LIGHTNING FLASH LIGHTNING FLASH, BAD GUYS POUR IN

"Then we'll kill you, and take the box anyway."

ENTER ODED FEHR

"I think not."


Come on! If you're not on board with that, go down to the community center and buy yourself some bingo cards. Get one of those stamper things so you can run four or five cards at the same time.

Because then there's a totally awesome fight scene, and then machine guns go off, and capes swirl, and cars go zoom zoom crash roar, and more machine guns, and mummies and guys getting ratchetted backwards into pools of fire, and explosions, and Rachel Weiss and come on.

Look, I know what you're going to say. You're going to say that The Mummy Returns is insipid. Stupid. Derivative. Way too complicated for its own good (WHY do they make a big deal about somebody opening the chest so the Mummy can suck them dry? Good grief). Stupid. Tedious. Full of fake-looking CGI effects. Featuring bad astronomy. Stupid.

I can't argue with any of that. And yet I am helpless before this film. I LOVE this film. I just love watching Fraser and Weiss and Fehr banter and throw punches and shoot things and scream a lot. They're all so very charming.

And they do a LOT. A lot happens in this film. And while that kind of LOOKS like a problem, I think it's not really the problem. I've spoken about the films of Tsui Hark and how they seem so incredibly stuffed full of stuff, and that's a good thing. There, it works. Here, Sommers does too much.

Part of the problem is the large amount of NEEDLESS stuff. The story itself isn't all that complicated, but there's all these subplots and goofy things taking up your screen time. Compare it with Peking Opera Blues. I've seen that film twenty times or more, but I still don't think I could relate the plot to you. I don't really know what it's about, but I do know that it's totally awesome.

On the other hand, it doesn't feature Oded Fehr with a hawk:



That bit always cracks me up. Half way through the film, and Fehr's already several times cooler than anyone you know, and he just sort of casually turns around and says, "Oh yeah, AND I have this trained hawk that comes whenever I call."

That's pimp. Oded Fehr is like the Ancient Guardian Pimp-Master Supreme. And he's got a few thousand bad-ass characters that can show up and just ride around Egypt for a few days. With, you know, swords and turbans and trained hawks (named Horus -- bet there's a lot of hawks named Horus over Egypt-land). That's just how the Pimp-Master Supreme rolls.

It's like Superman mentioning, just in passing, as he's rattling off all his super-powers, that he's also a cordon blue chef. Pimp.

I know, I know. You could cut an hour out of this movie and miss none of it. Especially if it was the hour featuring that kid.

(WHY do people put children in their movies? It's a mystery.)

Damn, but this is scattered. I haven't even gotten to the pygmy mummies swinging on vines.

Or THAT GUY.

Okay, I don't know if anyone else in the world has ever noticed this, but like I say, I LOVE this movie. So there's this guy who shows up right at the start. He's just some mook in a red turban, pointing a gun at the sub-bad guys (the Cockney adventurers (who I would TOTALLY go see a movie about, damn that's a good idea Corey)). THAT GUY shows up again and again throughout the movie, and every time he just keeps avoiding death. He chucks a knife at O'Connell that our hero catches and flings back, and THAT GUY leans aside and lets the knife take his buddy in the chest. He empties his Luger at O'Connell and then ducks the return fire AGAIN.

This goes on for the whole move. THAT GUY keeps avoiding certain death again and again, until at last he is unable to cheat it any longer. But I'm pretty sure he's the very last red-turban mook to go down. Go watch it, you'll see. He's got no lines, but he's one of my favourite characters in the whole picture.

And he's one of the things that redeems this hopeless, messy, stupid stupid stupid picture for me. I mean, there's no earthly reason for it. Why keep having this guy narrowly avoid death again and again? Nobody notices who watches the film once. Or even ten times.

(Yes, yes I have watched it more than ten times)

There's no PURPOSE to it, and THAT'S what lurks around at the heart of this film that touches me. Somebody (let us assume Mr. Sommers) just put that running gag in the picture because it amused them. And whatever other qualities this film may possess, it at least feels like a film made by people who really WANTED to make it.

It's two o'clock in the morning and I'm only half-way through, and I know this isn't making a lot of sense, but hell. Neither does The Mummy Returns and you sat through that didn't you?

Well, I did.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

GIANT NAZI ROBOT

Holy crap.

JaqPike just sent me this (via TechEBlog):







If you need encouragement to watch this: GIANT NAZI ROBOT ATTACKS PEARL HARBOUR, FIGHTS SQUADRON OF MUSTANGS, THEN COOL SHIT REALLY STARTS HAPPENING. I really can't say much more about it, except, once again, the coolest movies nowadays ain't coming out of movie studios.

Oh, there's problems in this clip. The "story" needs work, the performances are goofy, yada yada yada. But come on. A GIANT NAZI ROBOT ATTACKS PEARL HARBOUR. What more do you need?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

After The Apocalypse

Stephanie and I were listening to David Bowie's album "Heroes" quite some time ago. We often spend Sunday mornings playing each other albums that we love. Upon listening to the title track in all its original epic glory, Steph commented that she'd never heard a remake that seemed to understand how incredibly tragic this song is.

We can be heroes. Just for one day.

On a discussion board I frequent there's been a long-running thread about imagining post-apocalyptic management. The folks are generating ideas about how they would set about creating and maintaining their own community in the face of total social collapse -- what sorts of rules should we live by, what resources will we need, what skills will be most valuable. All that fun stuff.

And it occured to me that the post-apocalyptic story is really just another frontier story. These stories are cowboy stories, gold rush stories and gangster stories. Even Robert E. Howard's Conan stories echo with the same idea.

The idea is a compelling one: that what holds us back, what restricts us from achieving our deserved glory, is the society and the social rules that we are forced to live by. If we could just (goes the myth) unshackle ourselves from the chains that anchor us to this workaday life, we could rise above all this petty day-to-day fearfulness and timidity we labour under, we could show our TRUE, unfettered natures, savage and strong, we could be warriors in truth.

We could be heroes. Forever and ever.

Nowadays, when heading out to the frontier is not the possibility it once was, when criminal gangs can no longer be viewed as romantic rebels, the promise of the apocalypse breathes seductively to those who carry that sense that they have been denied their true stature.

"If only we could start over, we could build a society that valued strength, and courage, and independence!"

You'd think the myth would start to lose its power after a century or so. James Fennimore Cooper's little tale about Mohicans can be seen as a tale of this type, that's for sure -- our hero is plunged into a world where the rules of his society no longer apply, and, freed of those annoying strictures, he is able to transform the world around him, and to make the universe adhere to those higher moral principles that we're all so fond of.

A hundred years later, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard are writing pretty much the same kinds of stories, set in pre-history, on Mars, in Africa -- anywhere one could plausibly lose the rules of society. And these stories continue to perpetuate themselves endlessly. If only we could be free, goes the dream, we could be as great as we deserve to be.

I could be king

Now of course all kinds of adventure stories rely on some sort of device to separate the story's world from our familiar dwelling; the defining characteristic we're looking for here is that hand-rubbing glee I remarked on earlier in discussing Howard's happy anticipation of civilisation's (inevitable) collapse. That notion that once all these awkward rules (that are really just in place to be nice to the weak -- a group that WE'RE not a part of, of course) are out of the way, we can get to building that society we always knew we could build.

Even more, the notion that if human beings would just stop interfering with their namby-pamby caring and sympathy, the universe really would work out so that everyone got what they deserved. At which point WE (being, you know, part of the strong group, the noble group, the certain-to-come-out-on-top group), can finally be ourselves.

Maybe we're lying; maybe we better not say.
But we could be us just for one day


All of which brings me back to David Bowie and HIS take on the apocalypse. "Heroes" is an anguished cry of a man who HAS lost all the rules and strictures that form society. But this loss isn't cause for individualistic ecstasy; it leads to terror and desolation, to which Bowie's only response can be the repeated, insistent, and ultimately hollow assertion that we can be heroes, that we can escape these confines.

But Bowie turns the whole notion of escape inside out at the operatic climax of "Heroes":

I can remember
Standing by the wall
The guns shot over our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall.


Ah, yes, the wall. Of course, Bowie recorded this album in Berlin, so we know what "The Wall" must mean, right? On the other side of that wall is our escape. Here, guns shoot at us as we kiss, but surely all we have to do is cross that wall and we're free, right?

No.

And the shame was on the other side.
Maybe we're lying; maybe we better not say.
But we could be us just for one day


If we can't be us right now, on this side of the wall, what makes us think we'll be us when we've crossed over? Here, standing as guns shoot over us, is where we must make our stand. Not waiting for the apocalypse to come along and give us our grand chance to shine. If we're not shining this very second, it is only because we are afraid to do so. Putting off our moment of self-creation until we've crossed to the greener fields over the wall will only expose us to the shame of running away.

"Heroes" may be tragic and horrible, but it is also strangely uplifting and hopeful. We CAN be heroes, and whether it's for one day or forever makes no difference -- once I've learned how to be myself, they're the same thing. The apocalypse is now, inside myself. I have no one to blame if I miss it.

Berlin Wall photo by Joost Commandeur

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Myth: Insufficient Baggage

Jackie Chan's recent move The Myth is probably the best thing he's done in nearly a decade, but given the decade in question, that's not saying much.

It's been seven years since he made Shanghai Noon, the last film that was arguably as good as this, and thirteen years since Drunken Master II -- his last truly great film.

The Myth is NOT a great film. It does at least have three or four great "bits" -- and "bits" are really the key atomic element of a Jackie Chan film. I can't remember the plots of most of them, but you can remember the bits. The bit in Armour of God with the flaming log and the four black women, or the bit in Miracles in the flour mill or whatever that was, or the bit in Project A Part II in May's house. In The Myth there's a bit on a sticky conveyer belt that's worth the price of admission alone (assuming that price is a $3 DVD rental) and shows more invention and physical brilliance than pretty much anything I've seen since the last time I watched a Jackie Chan film.

But it's a dissatisfying movie, and I think I'm getting a glimmer as to what's wrong with Jackie Chan: he's getting old.

That's not to say he can't do the moves: The Myth puts that notion to rest. Even if he isn't as fast or as insane as he once was (and he's still pretty insane), his real gift always was his ability to dream up crazy shit, not just to perform it. But he's what you'd call a "mature" fella now, and that implies something for the types of characters he can play.

He needs to play characters with baggage.

In his youth, he was fresh-faced and cheerful, and you never really worried about where this guy had been BEFORE the story took off. His characters are mostly blank slates, just average joes with no great pains or accomplishments we needed to worry about before the opening credits finished. Which was fine, when Jackie looked 20. You can easily accept a 20-year-old who's never really done anything in his life.

But Jackie doesn't look 20 anymore. He looks 50. And a 50-year-old who's never done anything is a whole other story. The whole thing feels fake, put-on, and you feel the creakiness of the story mechanics too acutely. It's not that you can't tell a good story about a 50-year-old, but that story has to START somewhere. There has to be some history to this person, so that we feel like they have things at stake.

It is good to see Jackie stretching his chops here, both acting-wise and action-wise -- there's a couple of large-scale action sequences that are handled well. But ultimately it all comes down to story, and a story about a man who is presented as a child just won't carry enough weight to make us care.

Jackie will always get a free pass with me. He's got nothing to prove -- he's already a genius. He's already one of the most important film-makers in history. I'll watch whatever he's got again and again, and if there's at least something worthwhile in it I won't complain.

But it's hard to see him not living up to the potential I know he possesses.

...

In other news, if you needed evidence that Bollywood is better, lookee here: at some awards show, when the nominee gets her award, she doesn't get ushered off-stage; she bursts into song!

(it's possible I'm not in full possession of the facts in this case but look at her face! Tell that's not a happy singing Indian woman right there. Tell me you aren't happier just for having seen her. Go on. Tell me. No, wait. Don't tell me. Leave me to my happy, poorly-verified worldview)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Easier Commenting

Okay, so we used have the "You must have a Blogger account" setting on for posting, because we were afraid of comment spam. But we've decided to unlock the gates and push them open and dare what comes.

You no longer need a Blogger account to post comments here. Go nuts.