Saturday, February 28, 2009

60) Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

60) Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009) Dir: Andrzrej Bartkowiak Date Released: February 2009 Date Seen: February 28th, 2009 Rating: 1/5

As a childhood fan of Capcom’s Street Fighter fighting game franchise, I knew not to expect much from Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Whether it’s comics or movies, there has been little evidence to support the notion that the energy, simplicity or na├»ve seriousness of the games could be translated into any medium other than video games. I didn’t attend Chun-Li out of irony because I know there are much better ways to waste my money. I went because I was expecting something fun, brainless, over-the-top and colorful—see: Wilson Yip’s Dragon Tiger Gate (2006) for an example of what I’m talking about. What I got was probably about as inept as that stupid tween vampire movie.

Here’s the problem with adapting fighting games into movies: there’s no real plot and despite how many names and gimmicks the fighters have, none of them have any real character to speak of. They’re flashy, one-note action figures and if they look cool and have a special move that catches your eye, mission accomplished.

Chun-Li however doesn’t want to recognize that it's supposed to be vapid but well-meaning trash. Screenwriter Justin Marks has done a laughable job of translating the gaudiness of the series' barebones plot of do-gooder fighters on the trail of an evil guy with a red cape by turning the unbelievable into the unintentionally campy.  M. Bison (Neal McDonough?!), the big bad guy of the series, thus gets turned into an evil international corporate goon that has separated his conscience into his daughter and hence now is free to literally use women as punching bags (I shit you not, this happens). 

If anything, Marks tries so hard to be serious that he doesn’t even realize how hard he’s straining to produce a solid turd. Unlike superior fighting games adaptations like Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat (1995) or Corey Yuen’s DOA: Dead or Alive (2006), Chun-Li has only a scant few satisfying cameos and absolutely no hyper-glitzy fight scenes, just creatively constipated and spastically edited Transporter-esque fight scenes. They’re not just silly, they’re boring.

That having been said, a good Street Fighter movie is possible, but it’s just not probable that it’ll ever be made. The day when a creative team that realizes that their goal is to focus on giving the fan what he (sorry, ladies) wants—competent fight scenes, minimal plot, boobies, super powers and lots and lots of cameos—is a long way off. Until then, we’ll always have Future Cops (1993).

59) The Class (2008)

59) The Class (2008) Dir: Laurent Cantet Date Released: December 2008 Date Seen: February 25th, 2009 Rating: 4.25/5

I have very few intelligent things to say about this film save that there was little in it that struck me as false, save for A) the scene where a teacher bitches to his peers about how hard it is to try to get through to the kids and ALL his colleagues are sensitively standing at attention  and B) the scene at the end where the student proclaims “But I haven’t learned anything;” the sentiment was fine but the way it was staged was too direct for its own good.

58) Peppermint Candy (1999)

58) Peppermint Candy (1999) Dir: Lee Chang-dong Not Yet Released* Date Seen: February 25th, 2009 Rating: 2/5

Even after having read about how Peppermint Candy can be read as a critique of the past few decades-worth of sociopolitical stagnation in South Korea, I find the film incredibly hard to take. The irony of its reverse chronological structure begs the viewer to consider the life of its protagonist, Yong-ho (the ever-awesome Sol Kyung-gu), as an inescapable series of traumatizing events that you need to either take or leave from the story’s end and the plot’s beginning. Considering that the first episode that elucidates why Yong-ho killed himself is a laundry list of financial woes and one emotional one (ie: it's a commentary on the IMF crisis), the ultimatum Peppermint Candy puts forward is very easy to reject.

There’s almost no way for Peppermint Candy structure could sustain itself over the film’s 130-minute runtime given how its based around  violent charcter-defining episodes. The monotony of being constantly reminded of how miserable Yong-ho’s life has been smothers any possibility of appreciating the shock and emotional weight of the film’s more excellent episodes, like the one where Yong-ho receives his initiation into the brutality of police interrogations. These scenes are effective but only unto themselves, as fragments that don’t really need further justification to be effectively painful. Stacking one on top of the other is the worst kind of overkill, the kind justified by a "more is better" kind of logic.

Even if one could stomach watching Yong-ho lose everything, the film’s main question of how much a person can change is posed in a jeeringly ironic fashion. With the omnipresent image of the train, Lee suggests that life and people can’t really change but are rather trapped by their own bullheadedness. Before Yong-ho (literally) gets his hands dirty beating up a labor activist for the cops, he teaches a local girl how to ride a bike. The scene serves as a condescending provocation that suggests that the violence he commits in his later life may have had a similarly rocky start but from then on becomes habit-forming. This is the beginning of the budding phallocentric alpha male and the end of the sensitive artiste. It’s also where I tune out.

*Note: I don't count the film's screening at FSLC's New Directors/New Films. 

57) Long Weekend (1978)

57) Long Weekend (1978) Dir: Colin Eggleston Date Released: March 1979 Date Seen: February 24th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

I get the appeal of a film where Mama Nature turns on us, the callous jamooks that have used up her resources and pissed on her rug. No matter what the justification, there’s a lot of resentment that can’t be swept under the rug about what we’ve done in our thoughtlessness. That having been said, Colin Eggleston’s Long Weekend would have been a lot more effective if it had taken a few more chances and either gone more over-the-top or really buckled down and tackled what makes Peter and Marcia (John Hargreaves and Briony Behets) such omnivorious dickheads.

Long Weekend can however and should be watched for what it delivers successfuly, namely a horror film with an overbearing political monster dreamt up by lefty hippies. Its superficial intelligence is in a way its biggest asset, even if it does ultimately limit how much impact the film can have. Peter and Marcia’s callousness towards their natural surroundings is successfully parlayed in drive-in movie terms: they litter, kill lots of animals and are in general loutish nits with no regard for life. This culminates in a silly revelation about Marcia and Peter’s personal history but that’s ultimately negligible. What matters is that we have a few stupid and pat but believable excuses to watch them get attacked by ants, eagles and harpoons fired by no one in particular.

As the couple descends into madness, it becomes clear that the real reason to watch Long Weekend is to watch these kids get theirs. Despite its lack of serious gore, the film is (gasp) sadistic in this way and in ways that today’s ill-named “torture porn” filmmakers adore. Simple set-up: punish the normies, who are actually more disgusting than the aggressor. The difference here is that the aggressor is the “beautiful victim” archetype whose beauty comes from her abundance and mystery, at least according to Eggleston’s infrequent Nova-esque faux-doc segues. Take that level of abstracton away and you have a paint-by-numbers slasher pic.

Long Weekend is probably as satisfying as it is because it’s neither here nor there, a weird little pic that will more than likely remain in limbo. And yet, while it may not be subtle, cheesy or original enough to be of interest to the taste-makers that create the canon of cult cinema, it is very satisfying for the level of faux-class it brings to the exploitation genre it dabbles in.

56) Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

56) Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) Dir: Monte Hellman Date Released: October 1972 Date Seen: February 23rd, 2009 Rating: 4.5/5

Richard Linklater is right to say that Two-Lane Blacktop “is about the alienation of everyone else” but only to a point. It isn’t about “the designer alienation of the drug culture and the war protesters” but it could be. The male control phantasy that the film revolves around may be more alluringly steely-gazed and quietly transfixing than most films about soldiers, hippies or heads but at its core, it’s no different.

The connection between The Driver (James Taylor), The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) and their car essentially revolves around the elasticity of their relationship with The Girl (Laurie Bird). Once that dissolves, without warning or any unnecessary display of histrionics, that one essential bond between that prototypical manly, romantic menage a trois between two men and a machine tightens back up to its breaking point.

This is no more complex than the best portrayals of ‘Nam vets afflicted with PTSD or straights forced to watch their user friends burn out. It’s just that the subtle disintegration of the system that The Driver has based around, er, driving, is the one thing that keeps him sane and is therefore that much cooler and no less truthful than any other proto-‘70s outsider zeitgeist mishigoss.

55) The International (2009)

55) The International (2009) Dir: Tom Tykwer Date Released: February 2009 Date Seen: February 22nd, 2009 Rating: 2.25/5

While wunderkind modernist director Tom Tykwer’s films tend to tease the audience with their complexity, none has had a punchline that slapped the audience in its face quite as resoundingly as The International’s does. Tykwer toys with the idea of how complex the film’s paper-thin plot can be by periodically privileging the viewer with more information than the characters, sometimes sharing it with them later and sometimes not. After all, in following Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), an impotent Interpol agent that just wants his world to be simple again—“there’s nothing complex about cold-blooded murder,” he balks to his superior---even the most simple plot has to at least look complex. If only it ended up that way.

Like the various countries Salinger passes through in his search for answers, Tykwer’s abstract aesthetic breaks down everything into pristine images that can, for the most part, be neatly compartmentalized into segments rather than a comprehensive whole image. This should be the first of many warning signs for the viewer that the "simple" ending they want is not coming. Frank Griebe’s gorgeous cinematography makes Tykwer’s usual comic-book-type cubist montage sequences look slick as hell and the shoot-out in the Guggenheim succeeds in engrossing the viewer where the rest of the film’s (intentionally?) flimsy plot does not. But it all gets thrown back in the viewer’s face in a uber-cynical finale that deprives them of all the joy that such a reactionary, paranoid little romp could supply. For the first time for Tykwer's Run Lola Run acolytes, being tricked feels like being cheated but man, what a pretty-looking cheat.

Good morning

Well, afternoon, technically.

My point is: hi.

I will post here my film journal, which I have heretofore kept for no one's amusement but my own. I've decided to put it on the web because:

A) There's nothing wrong with self-promotion

B) Nothing stifles the growth of good ideas more than locking them away and keeping them from receiving the feedback that will turn them into great ones

So. I'm not putting out everything I've written this year thus far because that would take too long but I'll entertain the notion eventually. The reviews are out of 5 stars and I give quarter stars (not-quite-OCD; bygones). I write about films I've seen before (RV!=Repeat Viewing!) and short films (ISF=Itsa Short Film) as well as keeping a tally of the films I've seen this year that I hadn't before. These will go towards a conventional "Top 10" of films released in theaters somewhere across the US in 2009 and it will also go towards a list I call "The Best of Me," which I am still working out.

Last year I wrote more in general about each film I saw but this year, I've given myself a little more slack. There will be some short posts and some long ones. You'll see.

But for the moment, don't hesitate to say "Hey, how's trix," disagree or agree in the comments. 

Allez cuisine, eh?