Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cyborgs, Snakes, Fuzz... Etc...

First. Right off the bat. Congrats go to the Pegg/Frost/Wright team for a great opening weekend for "Hot Fuzz". Off hand, it might seem that it didn't do all that well. It opened at number six on this weeks Box Office chart, but a closer look clarifies things greatly. This week, "Hot Fuzz" was opened in limited release on only 825 screens, making $5.8 million dollars. The number one film this weekend was "Disturbia" in it's second week of release on 3015 screens, making $13 million. The highest ranking new film on the chart was "Fracture", making $11 million on 2443 screens. Adjusting for per screen attendance, "Hot Fuzz" did phenomenally well. I hope a wide release is in it's future. If you saw it this weekend, good for you. I hope it was a good experience.

Now, on to some films I saw recently. One was a pleasant surprise, the other, a gargantuan disappointment.

I went to the local $1 theatre last night and caught up with "Black Snake Moan". Now THIS was pretty much what I was expecting to see at "Grindhouse". This was a vintage exploitation film, all dressed up for today's audiences. It was so incredibly well done that it could have easily been released in the mid 1970's by New World Pictures or AIP. I could definitely see it being paired up with "Big Bad Mama" or "The Lady In Red". If this film would have replaced the narcissistic love fest called "Planet Terror", I probably would have left the theatre raving to all and any who would listen about what a marvellous movie going experience "Grindhouse" was. Alas, this was not meant to be. "Black Snake Moan" can and does more than stand on it's own, however.

Forget the "Pulp Fiction" poster art, this film is a total earthy blast of fresh air. Everyone in it is game and shows i every aspect of the film. Christina Ricci is pretty damn amazing in a very brave role. I might not be writing this sentence, were we in 1976 or so, but being that we're in the time of absurd prudishness, the girl's got guts. To play a role in which she's required to play a nymphomaniacal hussy that is nearly or completely topless and writhing for a majority of the film is a revelation. She's unafraid of her character and she embraces it wholly, just as any actress should. Samuel L. Jackson? Well, we all know I'm not a big fan. I cringe and roll my eyes every time he says, "Mother Fucker". I think him saying that repeatedly in film is as bad as a Stepin Fechett routine in one of those old Minstrel Shows comedies from the 1940's. Having said that, I thought he was wonderful. Hands down, the best performance I've ever seen him give. It took me a moment to get used to his role (the beard was a bit unconvincing), but I'll be damned if I didn't walk away believing he was that old, proud Blues man; trying to help a girl in need of redemption. The only performance the fell flat was Justin Timberlake's. He was all right, but way out of his league here.

Extremely mild spoilers...

At a full 2 hours, the movie never let the viewer down. Every scene had a purpose and the script was mighty lean. The scope format worked to the picture's advantage. The widescreen compositions were filled out to the extremeties of the frame. I can't imagine this movie not suffering in pan and scan format. The only bitch from me might be the epilogue. I don't really understand why it was added. We all know no one lives happily ever after completely and all we really have is each other. There was no need for it. The film would've been fine fading out with a shot of Samuel L. Jackson and S. Epatha Merkerson's hands entwined. Did I love it? You betcha.

Unfortunately, I didn't love the new PARK Chan Wook film, "I'm A Cyborg, But that's OK". PARK Chan Wook films are always something of an event for me. Buzz will start from across the world and I'll salivate until the DVD becomes available for purchase. The Revenge Trilogy was superb, as was JSA. Let's not dwell on some poor pathetic loner's apparent obsession with "Oldboy" and before we start throwing stones, let's also remember that "Oldboy" was a manga first and the film was an adaptation of said manga. I digress.

Tonight, I watched Chan Wook's latest film. I was so excited I couldn't wait to pop it into the DVD player. The opening credits sequence is the most incredible on I've seen in years, if not ever. Every credit was ingrained into the design of the sets and props. Strangely, it reminded me of the opening credits of the 1983 3D opus, "Comin' At Ya!" where the credits are dispatched in a similar fashion. I was riding on such a high, that it was devastating that, within 20 minutes, I was absolutely crestfallen and (most horribly) bored out of my skull.

I knew this new film was going to be a departure. Chan Wook stated many times that this new film was going to be much lighter than the previous three. I can totally dig that and I relished what he might do with such airy subject matter. What I didn't expect, however, was a fantastical "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" inspired by David Cronenberg. Sadly, this story of a woman who is admitted to an insane asylum because she believes she is a Cyborg has no real focus. There are many characters who have major quirks that are supposed to be hysterical (but aren't), there are interludes into the mind's of the patients that are supposed to be whimsical (ditto), but worst of all, there are no real connections between the viewer (this viewer, at least) and the onscreen characters. It's like the director's saying that mental illness makes people magical and the viewer is challenged to find what's actual and what's a flight of fancy in the film. That would be fine if not for some candy colored David Lynch style ambitiousness that goes against the grain of the entire endeavor. The entire film seems like an overambitious Art Film for the Tarantino generation.

On the bright side, "I'm a Cyborg, but that's OK" may be PARK Chan Wook's most accomplished visual film. It's absolutely gorgeous with grand Technicolor pallets and striking POV shots. I'm still partial to his previous film "Sympathy For Lady Vengeance" as his most accomplished film overall, but there's no denying the power of the visuals in this particular film. It makes me wish 3-strip Technicolor was still being made, since PARK Chan Wook seems to be the only director since 1970's era Dario Argento that understands cinematic color to this degree.

So we have this grand misfire of a film. It looks great, there are a few scattered moments of sheer brilliance and the sound design is top notch. Unfortunately, the filmmakers forgot that a simple, straightforward story almost always works best. There's a good story in there somewhere, but it's hard to find (impossible for the impatient film goer). Oh, did I mention the film doesn't have an ending? Oh, I mean it ends, but I don't recall any sort of satisfying resolution. Wow, maybe I'll revisit the film in a month or two with fresh eyes. I'll let you know if anything changes. Somehow, I doubt it.

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