Thursday, August 28, 2014

Viva Las Vegas! - Dance it Out with Elvis

Movie: Viva Las Vegas
My Rating: 4 stars

Oh that Elvis!  Always up to shenanigans.  He’s the kind of guy who always has an exotic hobby to pursue, and tons of beautiful women to disrespect.  And, in this classic movie, Elvis’ hobby is car racing, and the lovely lady he’s neglecting is Ann-Margaret.  All of Elvis’ movies are set in some exciting location, but this story is all set in the supremely bizarre landscape of Las Vegas.  We all know how strange that place is.  It’s got the sportsmen, the relaxed vacationers, the defeated gamblers, and all the nouveau-riche, self-made millionaires.  It’s a unique ecosystem.
Ann-Margaret is a perky, little swimming instructor.  Elvis is intrigued, but he has no time for love, because he’s too busy gambling, trying to win enough money to fix his race-car.  Ann-Margaret also thinks Elvis is pretty cute, but she’s not so convinced that she wants to potentially marry such an irresponsible wastrel.  She’s just met the guy, and already she’s assessing his marriageability!  The sensibility is very 1960s.  And, although the film is nominally about Elvis’ tenuous future as a race-car driver, it’s really a story about the flirtation between these attractive youngsters.  Elvis is playing hard to get by publicly blowing off Ann-Margaret.  And, she’s keeping him on his toes by tricking him into awkward situations.  For example, she invites him to come sit in on one of her dance classes at UNLV, and then springs it on him that she’s promised her students that he will perform.
These lovers are really not good for each other.  They have chemistry, sure, but their relationship seems to be solely based on humiliating one another.  It’s one prolonged power struggle.  It seems like a miserable and ultimately doomed affair.  But, this movie is still good fun.  I’ve been watching a fair amount of Elvis movies lately, and this is one of my favorites.  It’s got a good balance of silly stories and classic songs.  I liked it way better than Jailhouse Rock (which I was very disappointed by).  I’ve also been getting into more Ann-Margaret films too.  She’s so adorable.  And, she’s so fun with her brassy, over-the-top singing style.  I was vaguely aware of her work before, but similar to my rediscovery of Marilyn Monroe, I’m enjoying her material way more than I thought I would, based on her reputation.

I’d definitely recommend watching this movie if you’re in the mood for a classic.  There’s a lot of wacky antics, romance, and music for you to enjoy.  And, there’s a good amount of unintended comedy as well.  That’s my favorite thing to stumble across.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Silver Linings Playbook - Jennifer Lawrence's Bodacious Buns

Movie: Silver Linings Playbook
My Rating: 3 stars

This is another one of those movies that I decided to watch because of all the media attention it received from awards season.  It’s not the kind of thing I usually go for—romantic comedies about troubled souls coming together to overcome their difficulties, and ultimately finding love.  Granted, this movie is a bit darker than your typical romantic comedy.  The story deals with several different types of mental illness.  But at its heart, this is still a love story.  And, I probably wouldn’t have watched this one if it hadn’t received so many Oscar nods (and if people hadn’t been going so bananas for Jennifer Lawrence).
This is essentially the story of a troubled man, Bradley Cooper, who is so caught up in the idea of getting back a past (and very broken) relationship, that he is completely blind to the lovely, new, (and also damaged) opportunities that are right in front of his eyes.  He’s bi-polar with some deep rage issues and a tendency toward violence.  The new opportunity in his life is the sassy (and very bodacious) Jennifer Lawrence.  She’s a young widow who is working out her grief by acting out sexually.  And, the two are thrown together in a scenario that feels so contrived that it almost seems like it was written in another decade.  
The two are set up on an initial date.  Their friends are all pretty eager for these directionless kids to get back into a stable relationship for various reasons.  But, Bradley and Jennifer get to really know each other during the course of training for a Latin dance competition.  It’s pretty silly stuff.  But, I guess the film does have a modern twist in that the main characters are so deeply flawed.  These aren’t the superficial faults of your typical rom-com leads.  They start off troubled, and they end troubled.  But, they at least come to terms with the elements of their personalities that they need to work on.

This movie is ok.  I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it.  I don’t think I’d go out of my way to watch it if I had it to do all over again.  But, I guess Jennifer Lawrence is good in the movie.  Or, she’s looking good, anyway—all tarted up as the nymphomaniac housewife she’s playing, and wearing all those revealing, little dance outfits.  And, she always brings a certain amount of cheekiness to her roles.  So, I guess the movie is worth watching for her alone.  But, I’m not really recommending this one to you guys.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai - Bitter Revenge, Remade

Movie: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
My Rating: 4 stars

What a great movie!  Or, movies, rather.  As soon as I learned that Takashi Miike was remaking this classic samurai film from 1962, I knew I had to watch them both.  Of course, it took me a few years to actually execute that plan (as it always does).  My list of movies and books to watch and read just seems to keep growing completely out of control.  But, I finally pulled the trigger on these films.  And, the first thing that I have to say about them is that they’re completely deceptive.  Both the original and the remake seem like they’re going to be like all those other, sleepy, old-timey, samurai flicks made in the 60s (like Twilight Samurai), that plod on and give you a feeling for living in a rural, Edo period village.  But, this story has a completely surprising, vicious underbelly.
Because, this is a story about revenge.  And, this is revenge over a very traditionally Japanese concept—a warrior’s honor.  And, we all know just how bloody and cruel that can be.  The story takes place during a very transitional time in Japan.  The country is now enjoying peace after a long period of warring states.  However, that means that there are many samurai who are out of a job.  Without any real way to make a living or provide for their families many former warriors have taken to presenting themselves at large estates, asking to be allowed to commit ritual suicide in their courtyards.  (But, really, they’re hoping to be sent away with a few coins in their pockets).  And, this film tells the story of the tragedy that surrounds one such poor, young samurai when the master of the estate decides to actually grant his request.  We all know this can’t end well.
I wasn’t quite as impressed by Miike’s remake as I was expecting to be, but I think that probably has something to do with my watching both films so close to one another.  This is a story that benefits from some element of surprise.  It gives the viewers pieces of information little by little, gradually revealing the whole, terrible truth.  So, I think my second viewing was ruined by knowing exactly what was coming—not by any fault of the director.  Of course, Miike does change a few very notable things in the story.  I’m not sure whether he did this to add a little variety, or to tailor the story to his own, warped sensibility.  (That guy can be pretty nuts!)  He alters some of the expository scenes, changing how characters learn key bits of information.  And, he changes the final body count.  But, most notably, Miike changes the ending.  Without spoiling anything for you, I can tell you that in the original, the transgressors learn from their mistakes, and express remorse for the injustice they’d wrought.  However, in this new film, they appear to learn nothing, turning this story into a real tragedy, rather than just a cautionary tale.  That’s the part that impacted me the most.

You should definitely see one of these films.  I don’t think it’s necessary to see them both—especially not back to back, like I did.  But, I’m not quite sure which one to point you toward.  The original does have its charms.  But, the new one is definitely more beautiful.  (I’m a sucker for snow falling into a Japanese courtyard).  And, vintage footage can have a tendency to put people off.  People imagine that they’ll be bored by such an old movie.  I’m here to assure you that that won’t be the case, but if you feel that watching the new film will make you more likely to watch it, then go with that one.  And, let me know what you think!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I'm So Excited! - A Sexy, Airborne, Spanish Romp

Movie: I’m So Excited!
My Rating: 4 stars

Finally! A Pedro Almodóvar movie that won’t send you into a week-long depression spiral or give you an existential crisis.  I really enjoy Almodóvar’s films, but man, can they be bleak!  Of course, this story has its own elements of darkness too.  You really can’t avoid that kind of material when you’re dealing with this director.  But as a welcome surprise, this dark comedy really emphasizes the humor.  Absurdist humor, yes, but I really did think this movie was pretty funny.
This story is structured as a melodrama.  The whole thing unfolds in a highly contrived setting—a flying airplane that is forbidden from landing because of an air traffic control strike.  Tensions run high as time passes and the jet uses up fuel.  Especially since the flight attendants are a bunch of ditzy, overemotional, gay men!  It actually seems like they’re enjoying the excitement almost as much as they’re terrified by it.  They’ll finally get to use some of that emergency training they had always thought was useless.  And of course, fear can sometimes breed extraordinary passion, and they’re definitely on-board for taking advantage of that!  Then there are the passengers to take into account.  And they’re the wildcards—especially those crazy characters in first class.
Naturally, some very important and notorious members of Spanish social and political culture just so happen to be aboard.  It’s all very convenient, in keeping with the traditions of the genre.  But, melodrama can make some very pointed observations when used satirically, and that’s exactly what I think Almodóvar is doing with this film.  I’ve heard that he’s specifically skewering similar strikes that were taking place in the Spanish airline industry at the time.  But it seems like he’s also more broadly poking fun at just how ridiculous and self-absorbed people can be.  It’s all very silly and raunchy, but it points to some real truths (the way that most art should).

This is a good movie, and I enjoyed watching it very much.  I think you’ll probably like it too if you’re into black comedy, and enjoy a fair amount of sexy shenanigans.  (Things get pretty wild after the flight attendants spike the in-flight punch to “loosen up” everybody a little bit (wink wink)).  But, you should go ahead and check this one out.  Everyone can use a breezy, sexually irresponsible, story about jealousy and peril to brighten their day up a little bit.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Purple Rain - Enough Velvet to Choke a Horse

Movie: Purple Rain
My Rating: 3 stars

This movie is completely nuts.  I don’t think I’ve seen a film that’s so obviously a product of its era in a very long time.  Everything about this movie is so 80s—the feathered hair, the garish makeup, all the casual battery of women.  It’s really something.  Although, I guess Prince has always been a creature that transcends time and space.  He’d fit in just about anywhere.  That guy is such a foreign creature—very much like David Bowie in the way he’s genderless, genreless, and completely dismissive of rules and conventional wisdom.  But, Prince is still pretty confident in his sex appeal.  Pretty impressive for a wee gentleman of 5 foot 2.
This movie is supposed to be a semi-autobiographical story about Prince’s rise as a young musician.  And, to me, “semi-autobiographical” means that timelines are compressed, and all the key details are exaggerated.  This is Prince’s creative vehicle, so he has the freedom to make himself look as smooth and sexy as he wants.  And, it’s pretty clear that he took full advantage of this right.  Prince presents himself as the fresh, new face in the Minneapolis music scene, and he’s really making a name for himself.  But, he has to contend with the crooked club owners, who are looking to make a fast buck, and lure their female employees into bed.  Prince is definitely trying to cast himself as the sympathetic good guy.  But, he’s just as guilty of treating the women in this story very poorly.  He’s always trying to humiliate them, and discount their talents and contributions.  It’s a bit incongruous.
I always find it hilarious when old movies are trying to be sexy.  It always just highlights how much fashion and society’s sensibilities change—or how ephemeral style is in general.  Although, it’s not always the case that we’ve been moving steadily toward more libertinism and debauchery as time marches on.  These things ebb and flow.  The 80s are known as an era of hedonism and self-indulgence, and all the ruffles, lace, lingerie-as-outerwear, and plunging necklines reflect that.  And, that’s just Prince!!  He’s rocking a seriously exhilarating collection of little, velvet, pirate pants, and elfin, high-heeled boots.  It’s adorable.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the reaction the petit monsieur was hoping for.  Perhaps it’s that insecurity that inspired him to act like such an asshole to all the women in this film.  He’s really quite a jerk.  I certainly wouldn’t have put up with all the antics Apollonia does.  But, what do I know?  That could have been a character choice.  However, this movie is supposed to be about Prince’s life, so….

You should see this movie.  It’s a classic.  And, it’s pretty darn entertaining too.  It’s hilarious, for one thing—unintentionally, of course, but that’s the best kind.  And, it’s also great if you’re into Prince’s music, because it features tons of songs.  But, really you need to see this movie for your own cultural literacy.  I came to it way too late in life, and I don’t want you to make the same mistake.