Category Archives: Buried Cinema

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon independents that hover under the radar of the average film-goer, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience.

Buried Cinema — Ip Man 2

By Nathanael Griffis

Ip Man is the name of the somewhat legendary (I say somewhat because he’s a real historical figure and most of his exploits are true, hence they don’t carry any of the falsity or exaggeration of legend) trainer of Bruce Lee. He’s been the subject of numerous movies as of late, which is starting to bother me, but that’s another rant for another day.

Ip Man 2 PosterWe discussed the first Ip Man on the podcast. It was our first podcast after changing our name from The Incidental Dog Movie Podcast to Buried Cinema. I had a weird watching experience in that I had to watch it dubbed instead of subtitled, which does hurt the natural performances. Also, there were no subtitles or dubbing for the significant parts of the film that are in Japanese, so not knowing Japanese, I was somewhat confused. Still, it had good enough action and interesting enough characters that I was drawn to the sequel.

I believe I was apologetic of Ip Man because my viewing experience was so bizzare, but upon watching Ip Man 2, I saw a lot of the same flaws, and wonder if I shouldn’t have been more honest about the way I felt. I had a suspicion that the movie was good, but not great. That at its heart it was propagandist. No, that’s not the word because this film is merely patriotic towards China, not that different from, say, Act of Valor. It is a crowd-pleaser, a blockbuster, a safe film, an entertaining film. The bad guys are stereotypes, the good guys have motivations that change at the whim of the script.

Despite this there are a few saving graces. Donnie Yen as Ip Man shows off his acting chops. He carries an air of modesty with great power, which is a respected aspect of martial arts. He fights because it’s what he knows. He isn’t consumed by greed or power. Revenge is only undertaken as an act of justice and national pride. He is the consummate teacher, father, and husband, a person you want to model yourself after. His wife, played by Lynn Hung, is a little more absent in this film, which is too bad, because she was a welcome presence in the first film, which made it unique like Shinobu Nakayama in Fist of Legend.

The first film is an interesting look at a marital arts master whose way of life is destroyed by war. It becomes a stirring biopic about a father caring for his family and giving up his dream. It is more a character study. With strong female characters that are so often lacking in kung fu films, it was a pleasant surprise. There was a focus on hand-to-hand combat and minimal wire work, again like Fist of Legend. Still, something bothered me.

The supporting characters are weak. They tend to have over-exasperated faces that almost encourage an exaggerated dubbing. Kung fu naturally solves every political, social, and economic problem ever, unlike say Fearless or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where the martial arts epic sweep is kept, but the thematic focus is changed. There are not-so-stirring speeches made, and unfortunately in Ip Man 2 there is a lot more wire work and Sammo Hung. He’s not a bad martial artist, but he doesn’t impress.

 

Yeah, my money is on the guy who didn't eat six donuts for breakfast.

Yeah, my money is on the guy who didn’t eat six donuts for breakfast.

 

The sad thing is that Ip Man 2 is merely a sequel. It takes what producers think made the film beloved and repeat more of that. There are constant fight scenes; the first Ip Man had maybe four total, which gave each one more significance. There also just isn’t a sense of scope. It can’t decide if it wants to tell the story of Ip Man’s struggle to start a school in post-war Hong Kong, or the abuses of the foreign influence, which gets washed away at the end anyway when we learn a devious police chief was working alone.

It’s not a horrible movie. It’s a good martial arts flick, and I have to say I’m coming around to Donnie Yen. He won’t replace Jet Li, but he’s a nice transition to the next person at this moment.

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About the author:

Nate was once a silent film star whose song-and-dance skills helped him make an effective transition to talkies. Now he won’t shut up, and frequently breaks into song on our podcast. Nate is self-described as a personally professional person. He loves meditative films and is crossing his fingers for Nature Scene Screen Saver: The Movie. (One could argue that Terrence Malick already made this film, and called it The Tree of Life.) Nate’s favorite films include A History of Violence, A Beautiful Mind, Wall-E, The Graduate, and 127 Hours.

Buried Cinema — Ned Kelly

By Nathanael Griffis

Ned Kelly in home made armor. Home made armor: for the man who doesn't want to rob a museum.

Ned Kelly in home made armor. Home made armor: for the man who doesn’t want to rob a museum.

I remember back when I didn’t care that much about movies and I simply liked them, back in the time when I let other people tell me how to feel about them, back before I realized there was a whole world of weird and wonderful films to explore, back in my junior year of high school. I saw a quick news bit on the ten most anticipated upcoming films. I watched through a few and one caught my eye: Ned Kelly. It starred Orlando Bloom, hot off Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Heath Ledger, whom I’d been impressed with from The Four Feathers but everyone else knew from A Knight’s Tale  and 10 Things I Hate About You. It looked like a cool take on the Western in Australia, and the trailer had the stars staring deeply into smoky space, with plenty of gunshots cut around it, so yeah, I was in.

And then we never got it. It seemed to disappear, and my precious high-school psyche was burnt. Like a child promised a gift who is thrust a hastily purchased coffee mug after their parent comes home from a trip, I was confused. What were these films that I was supposed to be anticipating? Why wasn’t I getting the fourth most anticipated movie of the year? Suddenly my faith in television movie lists began to crumble. I became an unfortunate husk of an American with no media guidance, betrayed by the glowing rectangle that I called Teacher. I was forced to start forming my own opinions. I would have to either take an interest in movies myself and do research on what was coming out on my own, or, succumb to nature and get a life and never care about movies again.

Thankfully for you, or not if perhaps you’re annoyed because you were just hoping for a thumbs up or thumbs down review, I did not succumb to the temptation to make something of myself. Instead I am diligently wasting away my life. I just do it independently now, so it feels more… I don’t know, fancy. Either way my life of movie-watching continued uninterrupted until I was accosted by the Ned Kelly poster on Netflix. There stood my daunting disappointment, the girl on the bus you never talked to, who blew back her hair in the just-so-subtle inviting way that both intimidates and disarms you at the same moment. It took me some time to get around to watching it, because the reality is that I do have a job, friends, a house, a family, other hobbies, and a parrot; but reality is ultimately lame, and I prefer the fiction of the struggling blogger typing away praying for that one reader to comment, kindly of course, with some mention of the words “beautiful” and “prose” in the comments. Upon watching Ned Kelly, I realized why it never made its way over to my movie theaters. It sucked. It sucked so bad it couldn’t make it to Binghamton.

"Blueberries or Strawberries? I just wondered what you wanted on your pancakes in the morning."

“Blueberries or strawberries? I just wondered what you wanted on your pancakes in the morning.”

This is a thoroughly disappointing movie, much like the conversation with the pretty girl on the bus who probably is vegan to a fault — not that it’s wrong to be vegan, but it is wrong to guilt trip me into gnawing on a kale and tree bark sandwich. The movie has an impressive cast: Ledger, Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, and Naomi Watts. It squanders the talent though, with a confusing script, bewildering accents (there isn’t a hint of Australian anywhere to be found), fumbling humor, and bad acting 101 delivered to us courtesy of Orlando Bloom, who spends most of the movie as if he were on a bar stool shooting pickup lines at the audience.

There is a scene where Ned Kelly, played by Heath Ledger, if I wasn’t clear on that point, mistakenly collects a horse, which he will later be accused of stealing, and then a women magically appears on it, for little to no reason. Oh, except that it’s really important, because later in the movie she’s going to be his ten-second love interest that should make us care about him. The women in this film are unfortunately very poorly drawn. The mother is a helpless matriarch who is at a loss without her sons, but can’t seem to keep them out of trouble. Naomi Watts is wasted as a beautiful wife of a rancher who has an affair with Ned. Every other women just falls over backwards for the illustrious gang.

The history of the story is interesting, but I won’t go into it, because the film butchers the history by flopping it about in voice-overs. It tries to gloss over the stale humor with intriguing images, and the idea that Ned Kelly feels bad about the people he kills. Maybe he did, and certainly the system was against Irish immigrants at the time, but a movie should make sense. Geoffrey Rush barely has lines and fumbles about in a silly hat until at the end he asks Ned if he can have his sash, which Rush delivers as if it should be profound, but it comes off as an odd hobo adding another strain of fabric to his sash cupboard.

Mutton Chops sealing the deal once again.

Mutton Chops sealing the deal once again.

The whole thing is wrapped up in a tired bow of false realism with Ledger saying in voice-over, “Such is life.” I suppose it’s hinting at life being unfair for minorities, and that we should stand up for ourselves, but even if we do the powerful majority will stomp us down, shoot our camels and monkeys (did I mention the circus?), and then hang us. Overall I learned that Orlando Bloom is certainly not a good actor. His character needs a certain humorous charm that speaks of a mysterious danger. Instead Bloom comes off as psychotic. And, despite all the interesting history and cast, everyone needs a good script and a good director if you want a good movie.

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About the author:

Nate was once a silent film star whose song-and-dance skills helped him make an effective transition to talkies. Now he won’t shut up and frequently breaks into song on our podcast. Nate is self-described as a personally professional person. He loves meditative films and is crossing his fingers for Nature Scene Screen Saver: The Movie. (One could argue that Terrence Malick already made this film, and called it The Tree of Life.) Nate’s favorite films include A History of Violence, A Beautiful Mind, Wall-E, The Graduate, and 127 Hours.

Buried Cinema — King of Beggars

By Nathanael Griffis

Way too serious vibe for a comedy poster.

In Shakespeare, the fool always commands attention, because not only is he funny, but he is also the most honest. A fool has a way of cutting past all the fluff and red tape. Stephen Chow’s kung fu comedies have always impressed me in their ability to do just this. They are outright absurd and at times indiscernible plot-wise, but beneath all the genial goofery (I made that word up, isn’t it fun?) there’s a sneaky subversion. His buried 1992 film King of Beggars  is no exception.

King of Beggars is about the illiterate lazy hero So-Hat Yi, played by Stephen Chow of course, who desires to become a martial arts master in order to win the hand of a beautiful woman. While talented at martial arts, charming, and rich, one unfortunately has to be able to read and write to pass the martial arts test. Through a series of hilarious mishaps, weird fight scenes, and snappy dialogue, he is caught cheating on a test and made a beggar for life by decree of the emperor. Naturally this is not the end. You see, the emperor is in danger of being assassinated by a baby-eating super-powered bad guy Chui, played Norman Chu. (Norman, by the way, is not a cool name for an American, let alone a Chinese man).

Now if you know Stephen Chow movies, then you can probably guess what happens. The film progresses through increasingly difficult tasks for the hero, he is embarrassed and has his dignity stripped of him, and finally he masters some mystical kung fu art and defeats the bad guy. Yes, all that happens. It’s the subtext, though, which is often missed in his films, that has always surprised me. So-Hat Yi, for example, is a real historical figure, and Chow’s portrayal of him is charming and subversive of government control on the individual.

So-Hat Yi refuses to learn to read and write. He refuses to compete in various challenges. These aspects of him are played off for laughs, especially when he has to lift an enormous weight, but takes one look at it and just walks away saying it’s too heavy. The opening scene spoofs kung fu’s frequent connection to calligraphy as Stephen Chow turns a classic piece of calligraphy into a Pollock painting. Okay, maybe some context is needed, but trust me, the inability to connect calligraphy with martial arts is traditionally seen as sign of spiritual disconnection, and therefore a sign that you are evil. In contrast, the antagonist Chui uses his education to abuse the system and threaten the empire.

Stephen Chow’s characters are always the lowest of the low, from the homeless wannabe murderer of Kung Fu Hustle, to a hopeless trash collector moonlighting as a bar singer in Shaolin Soccer, to a construction worker who must root around in dumps to provide for his family in CJ7. What is even more disturbing is that Chow does not always give his characters dignity. His character in Shaolin Soccer is a sexist thief who embarrasses his family so much that they are subjected to horrifying acts of shame. In Kung Fu Hustle, his character is urinated upon, because he’s a weakling. High characters are dragged down to the bottom, and then risen up by mysticism and love.

An example of Sleep Kung Fu. Yep, he’s that lazy.

The lazy So is no different. After being caught cheating he must beg for food, and can’t because he can’t even write a sign. He then loses a battle against Chui and has every appendage broken leaving him essentially neutered. What is so fascinating about So is that he refuses every step of the way to accept traditional Chinese values. He doesn’t respect the emperor and in the end refuses the emperor’s favor, which threatens to portray an individual as more important than a governing or communal body. His character contributes nothing to society. Instead he prays on society, feeding off others hard work.

That last idea might seem, to a capitalist society, exactly what communism is, but that is not the case. Communism expects fair treatment of everyone, because everyone is providing for the community fairly. The government controls and dictates everything, because everyone in the community should be willing to do as asked. So-Hat Yi is the pariah that so many capitalists espouse as the problem with communism, and Stephen Chow makes this man his protagonist.

There is of course safety in parody, because you can write everything off as humor. Stephen Chow can always throw out the defense that he was simply making a joke pointing out how it’s wrong to be lazy. Still in the end, I enjoy So-Hat and I want him to succeed. I don’t want him to learn to read or write. I like the fact that he defies the emperor. He becomes a person you’re tempted to emulate, and I’m left wondering, more and more often, if these ideas are what Stephen Chow has been trying to sneak quietly into our psyches over his career.

This man will come to your house and breathe on you if you don’t watch his movie.

Oh yeah, the movie is really fun. It has some amazing lines. It’s always impressive when a joke that has to be read lands, but that’s just good writing. Stephen Chow has never failed to amuse me and make me laugh, and while this film has its weird moments (I mentioned the bad guy eats babies right? That was literal) it’s thoroughly satisfying as a kung fu comedy. I highly recommend it to fans of Stephen Chow and of kung fu films.

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About the author:

Nate was once a silent film star whose song-and-dance skills helped him make an effective transition to talkies. Now he won’t shut up and frequently breaks into song on our podcast. Nate is self-described as a personally professional person. He loves meditative films and is crossing his fingers for Nature Scene Screen Saver: The Movie. (One could argue that Terrence Malick already made this film, and called it The Tree of Life.) Nate’s favorite films include A History of Violence, A Beautiful Mind, Wall-E, The Graduate, and 127 Hours.

Buried Cinema: The Innkeepers

By Nathanael Griffis

This filim has a lot of great posters I highly suggest checking out the artwork, actually.

My favorite genre of horror is without a doubt the spooky haunted house story. I don’t like slashers or gore fests. I like Zombie movies, but don’t find them scary. Exorcist films have gone down hill since, well The Exorcist. So, when I want a good horror flick. I look for ghost stories like The Orphanage, The Shinning, The Others, or The Devils Backbone. I’d therefore been eyeing The Innkeepers  for sometime.

See here’s the thing. I like horror movies, but am admittedly a big baby. After watching Paranormal Activity I ran into an opossum on the way home and had a staring contest with it, because it looked devilish. I am a coward and get scared easily, so I am leery about watching them. The Innkeepers  though is evil, because it’s deceptive and makes you think everything will be okay. Then you poop your pants. For the record, I didn’t literally poop my pants. It’s the summer time, so I was wearing shorts.

The Innkeepers is directed by Ti West, who’s been stacking up some horror cred in recent years with several solid flicks and involvement in V/H/S. It stars Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, and Kelly McGillis. No real big names, but has something odd that most other horror films don’t, a sense of humor. Sara Paxton is known mostly for tween television shows like Darcy’s Wild Life (Yeah I don’t know what that is either, but it’s on IMDB and it sounds like something from ABC family, and no I can’t back that up. You do the research. I honestly don’t care enough to click the link and find out.) Pat Healy is a relative unknown, who I hope to see more, and Kelly McGillis of course, as I’m sure she hates being reminded of, was in Top Gun. She’s the girl who took our breathe away. Remember wind blowing, piano music, and thin strangely over populous amounts of white curtains.

Like I said The Innkeepers is genuinely funny. It’s not a horror spoof or a B-movie. It has some genuine moments of humor. The plot follows around the only two employees at a failing inn’s last weekend. Claire, Sara Paxton, is a young girl who dropped out of college and Luke, Pat Healy, is a budding paranormal researcher. They don’t care about their customers, or taking care of the dying hotel, and are more interested in just getting through the weekend. The first two thirds of the film builds character and has a few tired scare moments that fall flat. I don’t think they’re supposed to hit though. If they were, then the director should just pretend they weren’t. There’s an odd sense of comedy to the whole situation.

(Spolier Alert)

You know it's spooky when they brake out the flashlight.

It’s not until the turn when Claire starts to take the stories of a hung bride seriously, and Luke admits that he made the whole thing up that it takes a turn for the horrorific. Also they enter the basement, which is always scary. I mean never under any circumstances go into a basement after midnight. The film suddenly becomes something more, but the characters don’t make unreasonable decisions. They call the police when they should. One runs away instead of staying in a horrible scary hotel with dead people walking around. Like we all wish every character would do, but no they have to slowly continue down the hall where the spooky little children on tricycles just wandered.

The film pokes you and gets you interested in the characters through humor. It gives them flaws makes them feel down to earth. They’re easier to relate to then a bunch of sorority girls who have a seemingly bottomless budget, and yet decide to go the lake (there are places called beaches ladies). Then when the scary stuff starts to happen you care, and the director makes you continue caring because they don’t make dumb decisions. It builds for a nice combination, because investment in characters means I don’t want them to get hurt, so I become (and listen carefully) horrified when they’re threatened.

If you like ghost horror movies, and good scares plus a little brains with your horror (no not a Zombie reference) then the The Innkeepers is worth checking out. If you require machetes and chainsaws for entertainment, then try it out and come to realize what good horror actually is.

This is what you have to look forward to. You're welcome.

 

Buried Cinema — Everything Must Go

By Nathanael Griffis

One of my favorite short stories is Raymond Carver’s ”Why Don’t You Dance?” which opens up his amazing collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. It was the first example of his minimalist writing style that I truly enjoyed. I didn’t like “Cathedral.” (The four English majors who read this just freaked, closed their laptops, and stomped off to hand-write me angry letters.)

“Why Don’t You Dance?” opens with a man sitting on his lawn surrounded by the majority of his possessions, when a young man and woman approach him. Much like Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” the story is not what’s happening in the present or what’s discussed between the characters, but the dripping implication of something tragic that has happened in the past and will have to be dealt with in the future.

 

Ah, the bachelor lawn.

 

The film Everything Must Go takes the premise of a man on his lawn and builds the story around the implication of his being thrown out by his wife. It’s a nice Carver-esque film. It has the harsh honesty of a Carver story that can move from awkward to heartwarming in seconds. Will Ferrell as Nick Halsey is good, though not at his best. At times he boils over into his shtick and pulls out a joke, which feels out of character. When he’s portraying the broken, confused, and stubborn recovering alcoholic salesman, he’s brilliant. It’s in those few moments that he cracks a joke. I laugh for certain, but then I remember it’s Will Ferrell and it feels like he’s not acting. There are moments of natural in-character humor, like when he lays down a tough negotiation over a half-empty bottle of mouthwash and dental floss. The film would have been more effective if it hadn’t tried to force in humor that doesn’t fit.

Rebecca Hall is great, but I’m starting to notice she’s being typecast as the discarded woman, which is unfortunate. Christopher Wallace as the neighborhood boy who befriends Ferrell’s drunk lawn-sitter has wonderful chemistry with Ferrell. Laura Dern and Stephen Root are fine in their few scenes. Glen Howerton does little else then be Glen Howerton (a jackass).

 

Rebecca Hall is pretty... oh hey, Will Ferrell, when'd you show up?

 

My biggest problem with the film is Michael Peña’s character. Initially, Frank Garcia is an interesting and realistic police sponsor. The turn that bothers me is when — SPOILER ALERT — it’s revealed that Nick’s wife has been staying with Frank, and is going to leave Nick for him. It’s in the Carver spirit of tragedy, but in the context of the film, it feels forced, as if the director wanted to give Peña something else to do; but he mattered enough already as Nick’s truthful steady sponsor. Peña’s performance is fine; he even pulls off the awkward scene of telling his friend he’s sleeping with his wife. It’s just too much convenient and connected tragedy. Nick’s wife can cheat on him, plausibly, even with his friend, but it comes up too fast and too near the end. Instead of being a climatic turn it becomes a tacked-on moment that just feels out of place.

I’m pointing out flaws, because I’m a fan of the story, but in general I would recommend this film. It’s an interesting adaption, and captures the sense of a Carver short. It’s kind of hard to stomach. Not that the subject material is particularly adult, but the delivery of some of the situations is painful. It’s hard to watch a grown man ride a child’s bike to a gas station and beg for change to buy beer. It made me uncomfortable. I felt like walking away from the computer, waving my hand and saying, “I don’t have any change, sorry.” This is, to me, a good thing. It means the movie connected with me on a visceral level. It also manages to have a satisfyingly happy ending with character growth, a difficult thing to accomplish. This isn’t a film that will be remembered. It’s a quiet film that people will have to rally behind and pass around, because it deserves to be seen.

 

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

 

Buried Cinema — The Raid: Redemption

By Nathanael Griffis

Now just you spend your eight-story fall thinking about what you've done, Mr. Drug Dealer.

I admit it: I’m an action junkie. I like nothing better than to sit back and watch some fool dare challenge Jet Li, and then watch his bones break. America has been sorely lacking in the action department since the 90’s ended and audiences started demanding plots. Thank goodness for films like The Raid: Redemption. What is this ridiculous demand for plots anyways? Plots are great for thrillers, but for an action movie, I want to see a man with a gun shoot other people with guns. I say guns because, let’s face it America, we don’t stand a chance against Asia, so we should just admit defeat and accept that we’ve got hand guns and tough guy faces. Sorry Chuck Norris fans, he lost to Bruce Lee. There’s video evidence.

The Raid is just further evidence that Asia is much more concerned with action choreography than we are. And sure, while we all stick our noses up and parade around Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and their ilk, I can’t help but look at action classics like Die Hard, Face/Off, The Rock, and Speed, and sigh. What happened? When did we stop caring about pulp action films, or when did we forget what they were? Well director Gareth Evans has a reminder.

Here's story for you: a bad drug dealer needs to be stopped. What more do you want?

The Raid doesn’t waste time building up five different story lines of building character. It opens on a young rookie cop getting ready for a raid (hence the title). There are a few shots of his pregnant wife, so good, we have pathos and motivation to stay alive. That’s it. We don’t need the wife’s character to be built up, or a weird subplot where she’s somehow tough too and maybe she kills one bad guy or something. No, just a few clips of her and him kissing, and good, got it, they love each other. I’m joking here, but in all honesty I was impressed with the smart decision Evans made as director. He doesn’t waste time with the superfluous. He paces the film perfectly.

I’ve heard a lot of jokes about how this film has no plot, but it’s plot was surprisingly deeper than it needed to be. It’s about corruption, family loyalty, and personal identity. If you’d prefer to see bad drug dealers and such get pummeled, this has that, yep it definitely has that. The action is obviously what you come to a movie like this for, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’ve watched a lot of action films, and this is the most exciting thing I’ve seen since Tony Jaa. Iko Uwais will definitely be a name a watch out for. Uwais introduces American audiences to Pencak Silat, a traditional Indonesian martial art.

Ouch, from now on I'm wearing knee pads on both sides of my leg.

The style defies exact classification, or maybe they were just moving too fast for me to understand what was going on. Normally, kung fu movies slow down the movements a little (see Fearless and Ip Man) so you can better catch the beauty of the movements themselves. There’s something about the raw brutality and speed with which this movie executes its action scenes. They physically hurt to watch. I was in shock, because you can’t fake the hits they take. Uwais and his fellow actors all take many, many hits. There’s a scene where he jumps out a window falls at least two stories, bounces off the wall and lands on a fire escape. It does not look pleasant, and I can’t see how you do it without just physically throwing yourself out a window.

The fighting is wonderfully frentic and claustrophobic at the same time. The fighting moves from hallway to stairway to broken-down apartment seamlessly. It was really a feat of editing and cinematography to put this film together; there is so much going on at any minute and yet it all flows. It’s brutal beyond belief. I would never get in a room with Uwais and a sharp object. The man seems friendly enough, but why take the chance. There’s also plenty of gun play if you’re into that. It’s fascinating how much is on display here. This is a hard R-rating for violence, definitely. I can’t go into detail, because my head’s still spinning trying to reason out if you really can impale a person that many different ways. What impressed me most was the one-on-one fights, though.

He better hope his face didn't scuff Rama's boot. Wouldn't want to make him angry.

Good martial arts films always break down to climatic fights between masters. In this case Uwais’ rookie cop Rama must take on Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) along with some help from his (spoiler alert) criminal brother Andi (Doni Alamsyah). These final fight scenes are harder to do than large fights I think, because they can lack tension as they go on. It’s hard for a fight to not seem stale, for the moves not to seem like the same we’ve seen, literally, a hundred times already. Somehow though Uwais keeps finding new ways to hit another person. Who knew we had some many appendages that could bend in such bizarre ways to cause damage to another person. The final fight is at least five minutes long, yet the tension is maintained and I’m completely enraptured as blows are traded. It’s strange, it’s almost beautiful to watch men snapping limbs and spewing blood.

This film is nothing short of action bliss. It easily becomes one of the greatest actions films I’ve ever seen. It’s a great step for Indonesian film and makes me curious to look through the rest of their films. A new series perhaps? Listen just watch this film. You’ll understand after your mind is blown.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Buried Cinema — Rango

By Nathanael Griffis

Bats, dynamite, and Johnny Depp: this movie has it all.

Okay, admittedly, last year’s Oscar-winning animated film Rango is not buried, but I need a reason to write about it, so let’s pretend. It is the kind of film that can easily become buried though, so consider this a preemptive unburying, an attempt to keep the sands of our film apathy away from this little gem of a film.

I was really surprised by this film. After last year was so dry of any truly good animation, I avoided Rango, because everything else I’d seen was so weak. In retrospect it wasn’t so bad: we got a new Winnie the Pooh, and Chico & Rita was a great look at jazz and love. What is really so bothersome is the stumbling of Pixar with Cars 2 and another DreamWorks sequel in Kung Fu Panda 2. We’ve been spoiled and it hurts when reality hits and you realize the gods of animation are fallible.

If you’ve read anything about Rango, you’ve read the increasingly annoying mantra that it’s not for kids. Well, not really — it’s certainly violent, there’s a fair amount of swearing, and the humor is unabashedly adult. Still, it’s full of cartoonish slapstick comedy, so it’s a strange balance. It’s this strange balance that is so refreshing. This is a mature, smart cartoon Western. It still operates within the boundaries of a cartoon, so we’re expected to believe that a chameleon is perfectly capable of surviving being bounced across several car windshields. Yet it’s smart. The humor is directly adult. There is some child-aimed slapstick with burps and explosions, but for the most part you have to be older to catch the jokes.

If you're counting that's one bullet.

I’ve heard some critics pointing this out as a flaw, but I found it refreshing. Often in films the adult humor is hidden away, tucked inside innuendo so that parents watching a Disney film can still chuckle every half-hour. In some ways this is just catering to a smaller sect of the audience that watches cartoons. It’s smart marketing to engage parents, but it doesn’t directly benefit the story. Rango runs without and benefits from an uncensored script. They don’t have to follow the Disney rules: they can swear, make Fear & Loathing references, characters can die, and it’s all great. It’s genuinely funny and a startlingly original film.

The film is doing some amazing things with mythos and how a story plays out. It’s not meta exactly, but it continually reminds you that the Western is a created story with expectations, and plays with those. It goes as far as to have a pseudo-Clint Eastwood appear and offer advice to our young hero, who is himself unsure of who he is. It takes this concept of the hero that every young boy dreams of and delivers an extremely relatable protagonist, who is pretending to be just that as he’s thrust into a Western unexpectedly. The whole progression is predictable, but presented in a refreshing way. Not to mention that at times they blatantly tell what is going to happen next.  It’s an astonishing script from John Logan that reminds why he’s so good and makes me wonder why he’s not talked about more. Hans Zimmer delivers another awesome score that borrows and plays off of Morricone,  Apocalypse Now, and others when it needs to, but still has an unique style all its own.

Clint Eastwood shows up as well, so why haven't you seen this film yet?

The entire film feels like a thank-you to all of us film lovers who’ve been tirelessly watching Westerns and caring about the script more than the CGI explosions. Let me put it to you this way: This movie is good enough for me to forgive Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski for the Pirates of the Caribbean Sequels. Definitely take the time to check this one out. Don’t watch it with your young kids, but middle school-aged kids should like it. Something I didn’t even mention is that it’s absolutely gorgeous. This is the first animated film from Industrial Light and Magic, although I’m sure they had a hand in Dinosaur, and it’s a good sign.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Buried Cinema — Gallipoli

By Nathanael Griffis

Warning: Here be spoilers!

Ahhh, war movies and the loss of innocence, a theme that never gets old. And if it does, don’t say that out loud, because it makes people mad. Gallipoli is no different. The plot is simple. Imagine if Chariots of Fire was a movie about Australians, not Brits, and took place during WWI. I know that’s a joke (maybe you didn’t, so just so we’re clear, that was a joke, feel free to laugh), but it’s a pretty accurate description. They also seemed to have pulled the Chariots of Fire soundtrack along with them, which is an… what’s the word… annoyance. Electric mandolin is great over inspiring race scenes, but treks across the outback and grisly war scenes should not sound like a Brian Eno-produced Devo album. If you don’t get that reference, that’s fine, let’s operate on the assumption that it’s an awkward mixture.

Wait I was talking about a movie, wasn’t I? Gallipoli is about two Australian sprinters who join up to fight for their country during Australia’s Gallipoli campaign in Turkey. Far be it from me to talk history, so I won’t. Australia was in Turkey fighting the Turks, who were friends with Germany. Like most war films, the basic thrust of this film is that war destroys the innocence of the young men who go to war, crippling them in more ways than just physically. It’s a tried and true theme that is rarely exhausted, one you’ve come to expect from war films. But here’s the difference: Gallipoli is directed by Peter Weir.

If that doesn’t make you go, “oh, I get it,” then let me educate you: Peter Weir is a  spectacular filmmaker with an amazing filmography that includes Master and Commander, The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society, Witness, and The Mosquito Coast. He’s versatile enough to do something experimental like The Truman Show, or a sweet romantic comedy like The Green Card, and started out with horror in the early 70’s with films like Homesdale and The Cars That Eat People. What he’s really great at, though, is films like Gallipoli, the stirring epic that makes me think Weir has a little David Lean in him.

The way he shoots an epic is amazing. He has an excellent sense of pacing, and for a film shot in 1981, it is of outstanding quality. The film looks HD-quality to be honest. It’s not grainy or shaky, but the shots look better than most films now. It stars a young Mel Gibson, and Mark Lee, an actor who seemingly left TV for this single film and then abruptly returned to the obscurity of Australian television. Most of the film revolves around their relationship, with Lee’s Archie wanting to run off to the glory of war and Gibson’s Frank who doesn’t think the war should be of concern to Australia, but relents for the sake of his friends and volunteers.

Tell me this isn't from Chariots of Fire.

The first half of the film follows Archie and Frank as they race (trek, really) across the outback, debate the merits of war, and join up. Peter Weir deftly allows their characters to slowly develop and uses it as a chance to envelope us in a classic debate over fighting in a war. Their characters are also wonderfully layered: they’re naïve and innocent to an extent, but somehow we see them grow. The first half seems to pale to the powerful images of the second half, but it’s this character building that builds a foundation for the actual trench warfare.

The second half  is more memorable. We see Archie and Frank brimming with excitement at the prospect of war. There’s this build-up of heroic deeds that are peppered with small troubling images. At one point the boys finish off a race and are joking as they come upon an arm sticking out of a trench. Soldiers are shaking the dead rotted hand in jest as they walk by, but there’s something off-putting about the whole scene. A picturesque moment with the soldiers diving underwater initially seems complimented by shrapenel that floats down around them. The soldiers reach out in wonder as streaming metal shards rain down, until in the chaos a man’s hand is torn open and blood fills the screen. The soldiers, though, react to this like it’s something worth praising, but the viewer is left unsure.

The glory of war is utterly destroyed in the final scenes as men leave their trench and are gunned down.  It’s hard to watch as all the characters you’ve grown to love run to their deaths. Wave after wave of Australians are cut down by Turkish machine guns. The bodies stack up and yet they keep sending the men over. It’s a tragic waste of life that Peter Weir seems incapable of making sense of, because there’s no sense to be made of it. War is not glorious, and it doesn’t make heroes, it kills them. As the final frame, showing Archie rushing across a dry no man’s land only to have his chest burst open from machine gun fire, tells us. The film lingers on a grizzly frozen frame of his outstretched chest, which parallels the runners’ final stretch to the finish line, with blood spewing forth and a look of wrenching pain across his face.

Sure, it might all end in tragedy, but at least they got to see the pyramids.

By the end you’re left questioning the purpose of war for glory’s sake. It truly leaves you haunted, because the bad guys win. Which is an issue in war: the other side may win, and what then? The Gallipoli campaign was an utter failure for the allies and yet the sacrifice of those brave soldiers who died is still celebrated in Australia and New Zealand to this day. It’s been compared to the Alamo, for its galvanizing effect upon the countries despite the defeat. Certainly it’s worth remembering the lives that were lost, but I’m left wondering if the cost had to be paid with so much blood.

So despite the poorly aged music, Gallipoli is an excellent war film. It takes classic themes and reworks them so that they’re more affecting to the viewer than is normal in film. It fills you with a strong sense of loss and tragedy in war. It’s not Peter Weir’s best film, but it is one fans his films, or war films, or movies in general should check out.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Buried Cinema — The Wind That Shakes the Barley

By Nathanael Griffis

Can't imagine it'll end well for whomever the film cuts to next.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a film I’d heard mentioned from time to time. It would pop up in discussions about Cillian Murphy: “Oh yeah, and he was great in The Wind That Shakes the Barley.” I found it a while back at my local video store, and traded in Die Another Day for it, a steal if there ever was one. What I discovered was a director by the name of Ken Loach and an amazing film that is a must see. It will change the way you look at history and truly challenge any sensibilities you have about armies, government, brothers, friends, and national identity.

Ken Loach, through my research after watching some documentaries and reading up on his past work, is described as a social realist. Although he doesn’t claim the title himself, it’s an accurate description of sorts. A simpler way of putting it is, he loves the common man and wants to tell their story. He makes films about the struggles of railroad workers, bus drivers, janitors, and the unemployed. These aren’t tales of their rising up and becoming a stock broker like The Pursuit of Happiness; no, Loach is more interested in their lives and the way the system around them tries to tear them down. Filled with tragedy, his films never lose hope, because there is a hope that comes with being alive and loving those around you that he conveys so wonderfully in his films.

Since seeing The Wind That Shakes the Barley I’ve been trying to put my hand on everything he’s ever made. His look at September 11 left me haunted. It’s a harsh, honest, hard-to-swallow look our connection with Chile, who experienced an equally troubling event on September 11 that has been long forgotten. Still, it’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley that stays on my mind. It’s the story of two brothers in 1920’s Ireland. Damien (Cillian Murphy) is a doctor who leaves behind his promising future to join his brother Teddy (Padraic Delaney), who leads a group of guerrilla fighters. It’s the story of the inception of the IRA, which has completely different connotations from the description I just gave you. This is what is so fascinating about the film. A British filmmaker made the most complex, honest look at the IRA I have ever seen.

Oooh, who's the mysterious redhead, a love interest perhaps?

For those of you that need a brief history lesson, Ireland was effectively a colony of England till the the 1930’s. The IRA would contend that it still is, and that they have not fully gained their freedom, but are merely under the reign of puppet government. So in 1920, the Irish united against the Black and Tans, the British occupying forces, and forced the army out, only to be offered a peace treaty that some found insulting and not completely what they were fighting for. The treaty offered Ireland autonomy with their own parliament, but they still had to swear fealty to the British crown. Disagreement over the acceptance of this treaty led to civil war in Ireland and gave us what has become known as a terrorist organization in the IRA.

What The Wind That Shakes the Barley does is take us through this whole historical process. It shows us the brutality of the Black and Tans, the struggle of teaching farmers to fight, the tough decisions of war, the loss of friends, the establishment of a new government, and finally the heartbreaking choices that pit two brothers against each other. Without giving away too much, Teddy and Damien end up on opposite sides of the Irish civil war. What is so haunting is that Ken Loach’s film sees them both as sympathetic. At the heart of the film is the sense that the life of a human being is inherently relatable. Their actions may be foreign and you may disagree, but the pain and consequences of their choices are something we all feel. One brother wants peace and the other freedom. There are scenes that amount to political debates, but they are shot with such a wonderful sense of natural debate that they flow realistically. Subsequently, you are placed in the midst of the debate and dared to take a side. What I found amazing was that I couldn’t decide. Ken Loach manages to place me so deeply inside this debate that I’m as torn as the brothers themselves.

Cillian Murphy telling Padraic Delaney just who has the best cleft in their chin.

Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney give astounding performances. Ken Loach is a hands-off director in the Robert Altman sense. He gives his actors room to react realistically. The camera is frequently hidden, he’ll allow improvision, he won’t provide exact dialogue, and will sometimes surprise his actors on film to get honest reactions out of them. There’s a famous story about Ken Loach getting a young actor all ready for a scene where he was to go into a bathroom and stab a man. They practiced and went over his motivation for hours stabbing dummies. When it came time to film the scene the young man rushed forward toward his victim and five men with baseball bats jumped out from around a corner and stopped him. The look on the actor’s face is genuine surprise and fear that probably could not have been achieved any other way. Admittedly, it’s somewhat dangerous, because they just jumped a young man hopped up on emotion who was carrying a knife, but for a director aiming to present reality you have to shoot your films differently. Paul Laverty, who has for a long time collaborated with Ken Loach, provides a wonderful script again. The script is minimal only in the sense that no scene is wasted. Every word spoken matters and builds toward the picture of Ireland’s tumultuous history.

Ken Loach himself is truly a buried director. He’s never turned to Hollywood or made anything mainstream. He’s always been a unique and independent filmmaker. And I hope he stays that way, because without him stories that must be told would never be. The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a film that will challenge you in ways I cannot describe, and should leave you scouring the shelves of every local video store for films by Ken Loach.

Got a little something on your face there...nevermind I'll leave you be.

Korean Cinema — The Man from Nowhere

By Nathanael Griffis

We all know the story: secret agent loses wife and child, becomes a lonely drifter, grows close to someone, and is dragged back into the action when that person is threatened. It’s a classic tale that normally involves stupid criminals surprised that the neighbor is apparently Jason Bourne. Advice for all criminals out there: if the steel-eyed neighbor takes out five of your guys, fifty more of your guys won’t help. Make a deal and then you can go back to your human trafficking, gambling, cocaine, or exotic animal munching in peace. Normally this storyline is nothing more than an excuse to have an action star beat up on unfortunate stuntmen, a la The Protector (never take Tony Jaa’s elephant). The Man from Nowhere, is a unique entry into this category.

It’ll probably hurt when he lands.

Never ignoring the tropes of the action-revenge genre, The Man from Nowhere starts simply enough. A quiet pawnbroker builds a friendship with a young girl. The young girl’s mother steals some heroin from drug dealers. Drug dealers kill mother, kidnap young girl, and try to make quiet pawnbroker the fall guy, but what they weren’t counting on was that he was a former secret agent. It’s the kind of ridiculous plot that only works in the movies. The pawnbroker is really Cha Tae-sik, played by Bin Won, who if you’ve been following my blogging you’d note was the semi-retarded son from Mother, who’s grown callused in his lonely drifting through the streets of Seoul, as one does. What this movie does so well is build up the relationship between Tae-sik and the little girl So-mi (played by child actor Sae-Ron Kim) he is trying to save.

Tae-sik is clearly a father figure, but only a figure. He never fully steps into the role until So-mi is taken from him. He constantly pushes her away, treating her poorly and ignoring her. He feeds her and provides a cot for her to sleep on when her mother has kicked her out of the apartment, but he never gives her the love a father should. So-mi sees her own life as worthless and accepts the abuse. She’s been so degraded that she’s adopted the nickname of “Garbage” because her mother wanted to throw her out at birth. A little dark, I know. It’s a dark film. Did I mention these drug dealers are also organ harvesters on the side? Oh, and not just adults, but children, whom they kidnap, let mature, and then harvest. It’s frightening stuff.

Thankfully blood can just be hosed right off the marble.

The realism of such an impossible story is what is truly haunting. The occurrences and situations are all but impossible, but the characters are fully composed and rich. The film has a wonderful picture of the psychology of the criminal, the working poor, and the abused child. There is a scene in an alley where So-mi confronts Tae-sik about his callused nature, and I challenge anyone not to cry. Adding to the realism is a surprising band of police that aren’t idiots. Normally in films like this the police either have to consciously back off and let the vengeful killer accomplish what they cannot, or they’re incompetent and constantly screaming lines like “who is this guy?” and “where did he come from?” That’s not the case. Tae-sik is pursuing the drug dealers/organ harvesters, and literally a step behind him are the police. It builds tension and provides for a satisfying and realistic ending, because in the real world if you slaughter some twenty people, drug dealers or not, the police don’t look too kindly on it.

What is truly a revelation here is Bin Won. The actor builds on his past performance in Mother and delivers a nuanced action performance. The entertainment value of film is never forsaken, and Bin Won brings an excellent edge to the action scenes. His cold brutality towards those who’ve threatened So-mi is never one dimensional. There’s guilt brimming with each villain he dispenses, but he seems to take a strange pleasure in it all. The final scene, just as a sidenote, is the best knife fight I have ever scene, bar none. It’s rare to find an action film with this much depth, because they typically end up transcending the genre and aren’t thought of as action films: Indiana Jones, The Matrix, and Inception come to mind. This film really is a must see. I know I say that about a lot of films, but I have no caveat for this one. Just watch it, it’s on Netflix, or here at Hulu if you don’t want to pay and don’t mind the ten commercials.

Even his fingernails are mad!