Thursday, July 26, 2007

Eating Crow :: 28 Weeks Later

(This isn't a review... not really, anyway. It's more of an admission, I guess.)

Okay. I can admit when I am wrong. In an earlier post (my review of Fido, actually) I called 28 Weeks Later a "more-than-likely ill-conceived sequel." Most of the time, you can get away with a prediction like that. Seriously, how many horror sequels are ever not ill-conceived? But, to my genuine surprise, when I caught up with this blood-splattered sequel while trying to hide inside the cheapie theater from this latest Saskatchewan heatwave... I found that I didn't hate it. In fact, I found myself enjoying it. I'm not saying it's brilliant or that it's on par with the first flick but I am saying that anyone who enjoyed the first one should more than likely enjoy this one.

While Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later felt a bit like an end-of-the-world meditation, at least until the final act when the flick just gets plain apocalyptic, 28 Weeks Later, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is more generic and more carnage oriented zombie flick, not unlike the difference between Alien into Aliens (blasphemous, I know... relax, it's only a simile), a shift that almost always spells mediocrity. What saves the film from mediocrity and b-grade status, though, is the level of commitment the actors bring to the table. I'm of course thinking of Robert Carlyle, who so completely embraces his role that it is scary... but then again, anyone who's ever seen Ravenous or Trainspotting knows that this man is a mad genius, even when given a role such as this. But I'm also thinking of Imogen Poots, who plays Carlyle's teenage daughter. I'm normally ambivalent towards child or teen actors, who more often than not are a necessary evil, but I'm pretty sure this girl is going to have a solid career if what she does here is any indication of the skill and potential she has.

Anyway, I suppose this turned more into a review than I had planned. Oh well. It's a decent flick, one I hadn't had any hopes for initially. Thanks goodness for cheap theaters and hot days, I guess.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Review :: Black Snake Moan

(Yeah, yeah, it's a little late. The movie's already out on DVD, I know. Well, sorry, I missed it initially but I've finally caught up with it... and I'm sure glad that I did.)

It's rare to find a film that so obviously embraces a moral truth, let alone a moral truth that is rather traditional, even if that traditional truth comes wrapped in rather untraditional trappings. People need people, especially broken people, and sometimes with a little love - and some solid chains - two broken halves can be bound together to make one whole. Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan is a film of suffering and solace. It emerges out of that desperate, shaking need to give up control and collapse into another's arms, to recoil away from the isolation of your own life and find solace and peace in a life lived as two.

Samuel L. Jackson, in perhaps his best role since Pulp Fiction, plays Lazarus, an aging religious Mississippi farmer and blue musician whose wife has recently left him for his brother. Christina Ricci, who has never been better, plays Rae, an abused and broken women who, though desperately in love with Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), must compulsively have sex with whoever is closest and most convenient. When Ronnie leaves to join the army, Rae spirals out of control and eventually and inevitably is taken advantage of, beaten and left for dead on the road beside Lazarus' farm. When Lazarus brings her in to tend her wounds he quickly realizes that her physical hurts are the least of her many problems and decides on the spot to cure her of her "itch" by any means necessary which, as it so happens, means chaining her to the radiator in order to prevent her from running off to couple with the first warm body she finds. It's a daring set up, especially given the movie's uncompromising hard edge, which includes a heap of profanity and a strong dose of nudity, all of which exist against a sweltering Mississippi backdrop, where a black man chaining a white women to a radiator is a rather risky proposition indeed. The movie's hardly a racial parable, though. Instead, it's a parable and a metaphor for love and morality that is surprisingly tender and affectionate in spite of, or perhaps because of, these extreme elements.

The central image of Black Snake Moan is the chain that ties Rae to the radiator. The obvious and most conventional implications of the image are of sexual bondage and degradation. But while Brewer slyly plays on these implications he never quite legitimizes them. Instead, the chain becomes a metaphor for freedom, which, though it sounds ironic, is a wildly traditional and religious concept. Rae's "freedom" has pushed her to the very limits of death and desperation; her "imprisonment" by Lazarus is cleansing and redemptive, a type of sexual detox. The so-called freedoms and liberations of modern society are transparently destructive, as Rae herself gradually realizes. This growing self-awareness leads to an amazing scene where Rae, unable to trust herself, clings desperately to the radiator, not wanting to succumb to her compulsion but helpless to avoid it. The chain becomes her redemption and, without giving away too much, it returns in the final act in an affectionate and loving style that makes perfect sense. By submitting to what appears to be imprisonment or bondage, Rae frees herself from her slavery to her own broken impulses and addictions. The chain is an image of grace and becomes one of the movie's true symbols of love.

Black Snake Moan is about broken people. But, far from being a depressing excursion into human misery, it is a surprisingly hopeful film. These broken people find redemption and fulfillment in giving themselves to other people, people who are just as broken as them. Lazarus, descending into rage after his wife leaves with his brother, finds meaning and tenderness once again by becoming the father of Rae; Rae, previously living her life only in pain and humiliation, is redeemed both by Lazarus' efforts to save her and by her love for Ronnie, an equally broken soul who must also lean on Rae or suffocate under the weight of his own anxiety. The idea of two people completing each other is rarely this well articulated on screen. Underneath all of chains, the profanity and the nymphomania, Black Snake Moan is a sharp, unrelenting and almost homiletic look at the reasons and the solutions for human pain.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Happy Canada Day

My country has its share of problems, I admit. And more often than not, I and my country disagree on many things. That doesn't mean, though, that I don't fly a flag and occasionally (okay... quite often) whisper a prayer for the land of my fathers. Nor does it mean I don't celebrate at the appropriate times.

In the spirit of true Canadiana, I dug up this little treasure made by the National Film Board of Canada. Enjoy...

Interesting Social Experiment #47 - The Car-Wave

So, yesterday I was coming home from watching Live Free or Die Hard. To get home, I have to drive for about 20 minutes on country highway, which isn't too bad. However, it was very hot in my car (I don't have air conditioning at the moment) so I had the windows open which, as everyone should know, creates a considerable amount of drag and wind resistance and which, as everyone should also know, means your car uses more gas. I'm cheap and gas isn't, so I decided to drive slowly, at about 90 kph instead of my usual 110ish. I was polite, though: as soon as someone came up behind me I kindly slid over to the shoulder to let them roar on past.

What made me smirk, though, is how impolite everyone on the road is these days. It used to be that if you pulled over for someone driving faster than you, that person would give you the car-wave. You know, the car-wave: that little raise-your-hand-and-maybe-shake-it-so-that-the- person-behind-you-sees-it-through-the-rear-windshield gesture. It's a sign of appreciation: you moved over so that I could drive by; thank you. hardly anyone does this anymore, though. I counted. Of the sixteen drivers that passed me, only one gave me the car-wave. One in sixteen! Come on, we can do better than that. Are we so narcissistic that we think we are entitled to have slower drivers pull over for us? Can't we return a polite gesture with a polite gesture of our own? So next time a slower driver lets you pass him, return the favour. Give him the car-wave. It's polite and friendly and gives you a sense that maybe, just maybe, most people aren't the jerks you thought they were.

Review :: Live Free or Die Hard

(Normally I'm not very profane - at least, not in my written work - but this review does include a little bit of harsh language. Just a heads up.)

"Yippee-kay-yay, motherfucker." Outside the oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino, is there an any more iconic use of profanity than this? It is sardonic, flippant and oh, so entertaining. It is what Die Hard is all about. Die Hard (1988) was a gritty, violent, profane affair and it introduced us to John McClane (Bruce Willis), a lone cop stuck in a skyscraper filled with dozens of eastern European-type terrorists all bent on wreaking havoc and making off with a few bucks. McClane was the ultimate male dream - tough, brutal, sardonic and sexy, capable of heartlessly dispatching criminals and wisecracking while he did it. He was pure machismo. Yet, inside all these unbridled caveman antics was an emotional story that made sense: McClane was more than an blank page onto which male fantasies could be projected, he was a cop and a husband trying to do the right thing.

Now, almost twenty years later, we get a new version of John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard, and let me tell you new does not in any way imply improved. In Live Free or Die Hard, Bruce Willis returns to once again fight terrorists, this time of the domestic variety who are out to both make a point and to... well, you know, grab some cash. In today's post-9/11 culture, terrorism can be a tricky subject to explore; to do so intelligently requires a degree or subtlety, sensitivity and honesty that, quite frank, does not exist in this movie whatsoever. In fact, this movie, which even references 9/11 several times, seems unable to actually look us in the eyes when it comes to terrorism; every time it comes close it flinches and tries to cover up its embarrassment with more gunfire. Instead of saying anything substantial about terrorism, the movie mindlessly plows forward, absorbing sticky implications or controversies in a mind-numbing display of visual prowess. This solution to terrorism? Battle it with a soothing display of overblown firepower which, more often than not, levels entire sections of the city. Ironically, Live Free or Die Hard seems to be living in a world where 9/11 never happened and in which it is free to use terrorism as a plot convention, never once recognizing for what it is, perhaps the world's most serious problem. Die Hard, existing much before 9/11, could do this without any worry and without the onus of being intellectually sincere about terrorism; now in this hour, though, to ignore the implications of terrorism while making a movie about terrorists is intellectual suicide - it's ridiculously ignorant.

But the most discouraging part of this movie is it's language. I mean, come on... this is Die Hard and "fuck" is not said even once. It's ridiculous. John McClane, that lone rogue figure that once won our hearts, has had his mouth washed with soup; all the machismo has been drained away, leaving us with eunuch of an action movie. Even when it comes to the franchise's trademark line, "yippee-kay-yay, motherfucker," the line that's teasingly featured in all the promotional material, the obscenity is covered up and muted by a gunshot. It's disheartening to say the least. Not even because I think profanity improves a movie, but because it is microcosmically indicative of all the movie's problems. This is Die Hard for kids; this is a Die Hard cartoon. This is Die Hard without heart, without intelligence, without self-awareness. This is a studio-friendly Die Hard.

Even if the movie had been about a lone American standing up for the American way, than I might have been able to respect it as a piece of wartime propaganda. However, Live Free or Die Hard does not have the self-awareness to accomplish even this. It ignorantly treats the problem of terrorism like any other type of crime and it flippantly pretends to solve the problem with an aggressive display of apocalyptic firepower. It simply does not know what it is doing. This film's misguided attempt to be PC and palatable to mothers is a direct insult to the spirit of John McClane and an insult to intelligent film-goers everywhere.