Monthly Archives: August 2013

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.

Option C: Driving Miss Daisy

By Brian Slattery

 

Driving Miss Daisy in car

 

With Kevin’s choice of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, I was slightly unsure of what movie to pair with it. I chose another movie directed by Daniels in Precious. The other film I could have chosen is Bruce Beresford’s Driving Miss Daisy.

Starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, Driving Miss Daisy tells the story of a black man hired as the driver of an elderly white woman in 1950s Atlanta. The relationship between the two begins rocky at first, but they eventually form a friendship over their 20 years together.

The film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1989 as well as the awards for Best Actress (Jessica Tandy), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Makeup.

As a comedy/drama the film plays on your heart strings in several different ways. The rapport between Tandy and Freeman can make you laugh, and the way the two experience extreme racism during their trip to Alabama not only provides direct ties to Daniels’ film but also firmly cement the friendship between the two leads.

Driving Miss Daisy is a great film and would have been a great pairing with The Butler.

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About the author:

Brian was just a lovable street rat, one whose worth lies far within, who ventured into the Cave of Wonders in search of his fortune. Unfortunately, his monkey touched the wrong thing and the cave collapsed, forcing him to have to listen to Robin Williams tell jokes for the rest of his life. His favorite films include Office Space, The Godfather, and Pulp Fiction. Also, he designed Buried Cinema’s cool logo.

Option C — Funny Games

By Steven Moore

This week was both my choice and my pairing on Buried Cinema. This has only happened once before, and it happened to be last week, with Tom pairing The Wolverine with Cop Land. Of course, I couldn’t bear to let Tom have the glory, so this week I took the Choice, the Pairing, and Option C. Take that, Tom.

I chose a movie we had previously attempted to discuss on the podcast, Stoker. We’ve covered director Chan-wook Park’s work on the podcast before, and we wanted to review his first English-language effort. Unfortunately, it was in limited release, and Nate lives in West Virginia, where movies made by a man who uses his last name as his first name ain’t ‘Merican.

Although I’d decided on the pick and pairing, Ruby Sparks, before watching either of the movies, after watching Stoker I knew the obvious pairing would have been Funny Games. I have only seen the 2007 American version of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, but it is a shot-for-shot remake of his original German film from 1997. That’s right, it’s a movie  he loved so much he made it twice, just with different actors and in a different language.

 

You know what would make this creepier? English.

You know what would make this creepier? English.

 

Honestly, the only reason I didn’t change my pairing to this movie was that I would have had to watch it again. I’ve never watched a movie that left me so angry and frustrated, so lost in helplessness. Watching Funny Games was traumatic, in the full clinical, psychological sense of the word. Something will remind me of the movie — a sailboat on a small lake, a TV remote control — and I still get those emotions of frustration and helplessness rising up. I’ve had many nightmares about this movie.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Funny Games is that the trauma it induces, the anger and frustration and disgust, is all completely intentional. This was Michael Haneke’s sole purpose. This is why he made the movie. If you don’t come away from this movie traumatized, he hasn’t accomplished his goal. (Mission accomplished, Mikey.) After watching his Oscar-winning Amour, I am convinced that he is a director who hates his audience. He is disgusted by the idea of people sitting back in a chair and expecting to be entertained. He seems to be making movies that punish the audience for liking movies.

Based on all I’ve said, you may think I didn’t like Funny Games, and you’d be partially right — but it is also brilliant. Every shot has purpose, every frame is beautifully composed, and he can pull some of the most heart-wrenching or terrifying performances out of his actors that I’ve ever seen. A movie can’t have the kind of impact on its audience that this movie had on me without a great director behind the scenes. Because of this, he may be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time who I never want to watch another movie by.

 

Michael Heneke hates you...and loves you.

Michael Haneke hates you… and loves you.

 

At this point, you may be wondering why I haven’t discussed any of the plot or characters of the movie, and that’s mainly out of respect for the filmmaker. I feel that to experience this movie as the filmmaker wanted, you must go into it without any knowledge of what is going to happen. I don’t ever want to watch it again, but it is a movie worth watching, and I don’t want to take that experience away from anyone.

Of course, all of this is why I so desperately want to make the other guys on Buried Cinema watch the movie. More than any other movie, I want to discuss this one with them. I just have to build up the courage to watch it again.

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About the Author:

Steve was just a hapless young kid who couldn’t get into Starfleet, but by sheer wit, determination, and a hell of a lot of luck, he was made full ensign of Starfleet’s flagship anyway, despite having never even attended the Academy. He told me I could write anything I wanted about him here, as long as I said that he was like Nate, but better. When he’s not brooding over the graves of dead Irish poets, he is our talented Webmaster. We also record our podcast in his barn, so we’d be doubly non-existent without his considerable talents… and barn. His favorite films include Chinatown, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and anything Brian hates.

You’re Going to Kill Him for Me: Defending Zero Dark Thirty

By Hawco

 

zero-dark-thirty-wallpapers-e

 

I wrote an article for the Rant Pad a few months ago, explaining that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was my favorite movie of 2012. I loved it, but the amount of problems with its script made it clear to me that it couldn’t have actually been the best movie of the year, the most well-crafted. And I wouldn’t claim it as the best film of the year when I hadn’t even seen most of the Oscar-nominated films for Best Picture.

Now that we are well into 2013, I would like to change my answer on both counts. Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is the best film I’ve seen in years.

My colleagues at Buried Cinema discussed Zero Dark Thirty on the podcast, and their views were barely charitable at best. None of them said that the movie belonged on their respective Top 10 lists. I would like to defend the film largely as if I were present to respond on the podcast, but a general defense is also appropriate, in light of the amount of hate thrown at the film under shaky pretenses.

Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden from the perspective of CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain).  Through tough times in Pakistan and bureaucratic barriers, Maya never gives up on the chase, even when her favorite lead seems to fall dead.  The film leaves Maya behind at the climax, as the evidence, followed through to her conclusion, leads Seal Team Six into bin Laden’s compound with a kill order.

On the podcast, there was a complaint about of a lack of emotional impact in everything leading up to the raid.  This is only true in the sense that this is not a drama about the effects of terrorism and war on individuals and families.  But the film’s tie to reality, its most powerful aspect, is what provides the emotion for the audience during the first 90 minutes.  Bigelow recreates terrorist attacks from the past decade, presenting them from an angle other than what the news media has.  And so the viewer feels a sense of dread and anticipation when the titles pop up on screen: Khobar, May 29, 2004; London, July 7, 2005; Islamabad, September 20, 2008, and so on.  Also, our identification with Chastain’s character affects us when her life is suddenly threatened or when she loses a friend to a terrorist bomb.

Buried Cinema also echoed the most common complaint leveled against Zero Dark Thirty, its morality.  This was presumably in reference to its depiction of torture used by CIA agents on terror suspects.  I can’t even begin to cover the amount of hate thrown at Zero Dark Thirty because of the torture scenes it contains, but I would like to point out that one of the main catalysts for the controversy was this December 2012 article in the left wing UK newspaper The Guardian, in which Glenn Greenwald bashes the film without ever having seen it.

Watch the film (again).  At no point does Bigelow suggest that torture is a positive thing, or that torturing suspects will solve all of the United State’s problems.  Yes, it is rough to watch, but it is supposed to be, and the torture Maya is involved in barely yields any clues.  The film’s realism dictates that it show you what happened; it doesn’t endorse a viewpoint on it.  The morality of that is beyond refute.

The whole film is intense, including the ending raid, which evokes the tone of a very tense action film.  The dark, grainy images of fully geared-up soldiers moving through the concrete compound, as unstoppable as a tide, are truly chilling.  At no point does Bigelow’s style draw attention to itself.  She wisely avoids the shaky-cam, found-footage style that has Hollywood inducing motion sickness left and right these days.  Instead, her camera stays out of the way and puts the audience in the drama.  The cinematography by Greig Fraser, likewise, goes for realism rather than comment.

It has harrowing realism, stunning production values, and amazing performances.  I have never seen a film like Zero Dark Thirty.  And neither have you.  Think of it what you will, but think.

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About the author:

Steve Hawco spent too many hours in the shadow-strewn offices and steamy alleys of 1941 San Francisco. After suffering one too many double-crosses in his search for a black figure of a bird, he decided to put his fedora away and enter the sunny world of Rant Pad criticism. His favorite films include Seven Samurai, Once Upon a Time in the West, Blade Runner, Aliens, and Sunshine. He’s an occasional guest commentator on our podcast, and he also has Kind of a Movie Blog.

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.