As you may have noticed, I have been a miserable man of late. Not exactly myself, the fun, happy go lucky, acerbic and witty (not to mention devilishly handsome) guy that my friends and family know and love. (Or loathe, depending on who you speak to). I'm not going to get into the whole reasoning why, because it's no important, and because it'll make me cry at work.
So Dan, he of DanSpeak (which will be making it's way back as soon as he says something AWESOME) decided to take a little action in the cheering me up department. He felt that last Saturday would be best served hanging out at the Arclight and taking in a few flicks. Me, not exactly of sound mind, told him to go fuck himself, and then I threw the kitty litter at him. Being nimble, he cleverly dodged the projectile, rapped me on the head with his cane (Yeah, Dan sports a cane now. For style, he says) grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and forced me to go to the movies. Being that the Arclight brings more joy to me than Disneyworld, I agreed.
I still pissed on his chair for good measure, though.
Anyway, for those who don't know about the brilliance of the Arclight, allow me to inform. The Arclight is the movie theater that you WISH you had in your town. Luxurious seating, assaigned seating (so you don't need to show up an hour before the flick begins to beat everyone out for a good seat). They have delicious snacks at the concession stand (real butter on the popcorn, which gets messy). And they don't run twenty minutes of ads before the movie. In order to offset this, they charge a little more than normal theaters, but it's worth it, and on the weekdays the difference is minute. And for celebrity watching, it's not a bad place at all.
They run a lot of movies there, both independent and big studio fare. And on this particular Saturday, young Daniel and I partook(?) in two of the indies; The Proposition and District B13.
Last year, I used the phrase "It's got balls" to describe The Devil's Rejects. The Proposition exceeds that claim so much that it should begin with a shot of a scrotal sack, just so you know what you're up against.
Instead, the movie opens with a nice, quiet credit sequence that shows some pictures of Australian colonial history, while a nice folk tune plays on the soundtrack. Then the gunshots begin. And the blood. Oh my the blood.
Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are in a shack, exchanging gunfire with the colonial forces, led by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone). It's loud and hectic and brutal. After Mike is injured, the fight ends, and the Burns brothers are arrested. Stanley offers a proposition (title) to Charlie: If he hunts down and kills his other, more vicious brother Arthur (Danny Huston, who I normally HATE in any movie) then Charlie and Mike are free.
Naturally, Charlie takes the assignment and heads off into the harsh realm of the outback. Sweat and dirt are quite prevalent. So is blood. And violence at every turn. At one point, Charlie makes his way to an outpost where a bounty hunter by the name of Jellon Lamb (wonderfully played by John Hurt) is hiding out,waiting for Arthur to emerge from his hiding atop a mountain cave. their exchange is like the rest of the film, which I just used to describe the outback landscape.
Back in the "settlement", Stanley has to deal with politics from the motherland, personified in this case by David Wenham (he was Faromir in the Lord of the Rings films, and he was also in Van Helsing). Stanley's wife Martha, played by Emily Watson, is also involved, as one of her best friends was raped and murdered by Arthur and his gang. These bleak characters in the desolate setting add up to a pretty nihilistic moviegoing experience, but damn is it worth it.
The screenplay was written by Nick Cave, he of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I wish I was more familiar with the man's music, but if it's anything like his screenplay for this film, I might need to give it a good listen. It's spare and elegant, and never does it flinch. It's a rough life for these characters, and there is no real way out. The beauty of the landscape is captured perfectly and only enhances the overall mood of the flick.
Guy Pearce owns this flick, and he barely utters a word. He's not quite an antihero,
but he's not exactly the most moral of men, either. Still, sporting a beard from his Ravenous days (and an equally sickly look), he rides around the desert, and carries the grim reality around him like a chip on his shoulder. As Arthur, the even more immoral brother, Danny Huston makes me take back every bad word I've uttered about him from his previous films. He makes Arthur into a very Col. Kurtz character. While not exactly a great human being, he is wise and adapt to the new land that just holds so much hostility. And Ray WInstone plays Stanley very well, as a conflicted man who wants to try and "tame" the wild land he lives in, which is a futile effort, to say the least. And Emily Watson brings a nice added touch of sensitivity to the whole proceeding, but is rendered moot by the sheer ass kickery the movie has in store.
Directed by John Hillcoat, the film plays out almost like the last twenty minutes or so of Unforgiven. Justice does not necessarily need to prevail out in these badlands, because it doesn't really belong there in the first place. Every aspect of this film, from the camera work to the performances to the score, works together to paint a grim picture of a land without hope. Even the garden in the middle of the desert that Martha sets up has a reek of last desperation, of hope in a hopeless land. The outback in the Proposition is not a place for hope. It's a place for blood. And damn is it a visually arresting place.
It's the best movie I've seen this year. Do yourself a favor and see it before it seeks you out and kicks you in the groin. If you have young children, take them so they can see what being a man is all about. And if they cry because of the violence, make them watch it again until they stop. Life's cruel sometimes, and this movie reminds us of that constantly.
So, after a nice lunch at the cafe (yes, the Arclight has a cafe with booze and assorted sandwiches, including the Arclight club which has turkey, roast beef AND bacon, and was much needed after watching a flick like The Proposition) it was time to take on the second flick of the day:
District B13 is a movie about two guys kicking a bunch of other guys. And doing it in inventive and clever ways that are kind of missing since Jackie Chan and Jet Li came to America. (As much as I want Tony Jaa to cross over, part of me thinks it would be a bad idea, and you wouldn't have him break 30 GUYS ARMS in a row).
It's co-written by Luc Besson, who I'm starting to admire more and more as a writer and less as a director. (given that he finally directed a movie after 6 years, but it's only in France right now, I'm allowed to mock the man). The movies he writes for others, like The Transporter and Unleashed, are just good fun. And there's usually a lot of ass kicking in them. And sometimes, that's all you need.
District B13 takes place in the near future, where Paris has become so out of control, that they've taken to walling off sections of cities. District B13 is the most notorious, as it's overrun by a crime lord named Taha. He runs things with the help of his 2 fast 2 furious crew, driving around in sporty cars and selling heroin to the kiddies. Not taking any of Taha's guff is Leito. Leito begins the moving having stolen some heroin (and by some, I mean a lot). Taha's not too happy, so he sends thugs to kill Leito. Leito escapes via the most ridiculous way imaginable, by climbing and jumping his way through rooftops and alleys. Eventually, Leito is betrayed by the cops and arrested, and Taha is free to run B13, now with Leito's sister Lola at his side. (She's being constantly fed heroin to keep her in check).
Six months later, there's another crime lord who runs afoul of a bust courtesy of Damien, a loose cannon cop who also dispatches ass with amazing precision. (the casino fight is a highlight, given that he could have easily escaped, but instead decided that everyone needed a good smackdown). Impressed by his skill, Damien's superiors have a mission for him (A proposition, not unlike the previous film I saw): Taha has stolen a nuclear weapon that has 24 hours until it detonates. Damien needs to break into B13 with Leito showing him the way, and they have to kick people's asses and save the day.
The movie recalls some great John Carpenter flicks of yore, notably Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13, and it crosses that with the sheer ridiculous factor that populated the Transporter series. Leito (played by David Belle) is a master of something called "parkour", which is a type of stunt work that involves climbing on fire escapes and parts of buildings and jumping off rooftops on to other rooftops. It's pretty damn impressive, and adding to that is the fact that these guys are actually performing these stunts without the use of computers or wires. And damn is it impressive when it's used in the film.
The problem with the film is that it could have used a few more scenes of this stuff. All the fight scenes and action sequences have a nice kinetic energy to them that makes it exhilarating, and that's what's missing from the rest of the movie. There are a few nice character touches, and some odd quirky moments (and a nice little twist towards the ending) but in the end, they don't really matter when all you need is to see someone get their ass kicked. Seriously, there are a few moments when people talk things out, which is good in real life, but not in a movie where dudes can jump over cars. These problems can be settled with fists (and feet) of fury. And while the fight scenes are badass as hell, there needs to be more.
Still, it should be seen for the action sequences it DOES have (the fight against the massive beast guy is pretty damn cool) and for a pretty banging soundtrack. And the opening credits are done with panache you have to smile at. If anything, you can also play a couple fun games, such as "Does the guy playing Damien look like Jason Statham from afar?" and "Is the chick playing Lola hot, or is it just because she's the only female in the entire movie?". (For the record, my answer to both questions was a resounding YES, even though the second question is a multiple choice question that doesn't really require a yes/no answer). It's a fun time at the movies, but it could have been so much more fun.
Oh well, there's always the next Tony Jaa flick.