Monday, September 9, 2013

My grindhouse weekend of being sick.

I’m fighting a massive sinus infection, my ears are itching and feel clogged, my head is grinding, and I have an itch in the back of my throat. I stayed home on Thursday and went to the doctor, got a prescription filled, and came home to spend most of the weekend laid up in bed where I could grind out a few feature films I’d been meaning to watch or some such nonsense. I don’t know. I don’t feel good.

I rewatched a couple of movies I’ve already previously discussed in earlier blogs and comments- by the way, I had no clue precisely how much myspace had changed until I went back to try and read some of my old posts on my page there. There’s nothing there anymore, all gone. Wish I had paid attention before and maybe copied a few to a disc before the whole thing went kaput… but so goes life.

On to the movies.


It isn’t exactly the best weekend of my life, but the first weekend is always a chance for me and the wife to get out for Date Night and catch a movie or a show or something with one another and spend some time together. And it was definitely a weekend full of hard choices if I were left to my own devices, but thankfully the wife only had one clear choice to make as she is a big fan of the Riddick series. Let me make this clear; it’s not necessarily because Vin Diesel is the lead (though she does have a thing for deep bass voices) but it’s more the character itself. She was sold on Pitch Black, she was engaged throughout the Chronicles film, and she was eager to catch the return of one of her favorite action badasses come to live on the big screen. I guess? I’m sure that’s not how she would phrase it, but this is my blog. Bleh! She never reads it.  And I was looking forward to it also,  before you start doubting this is some sort of sacrifice play on my part.

And I’ll be fair; I’ve been much harsher on other films that delivered far less in the cheese factor or predictable storylines. I’m downright sadistically cruel to a lot of films out there, and yet this film series seems to get  a pass from me. I loved Pitch Black- one of my favorite “Alien” rip-offs ever made, it established the character of Riddick, and pretty much set the pace for Vin Diesels’ career for a number of years. And I’ve heard all the negative criticism regarding the Chronicles film, and I agree with much of the negative points, but it’s still a terrific movie in my own mind and I put it in regular rotation for movies to watch. I mean, it’s basically an adaptation of Vin Diesel playing his D&D Dark Elf character up on the big screen. And if you doubt Diesel’s geek credentials, just check a youtube clip from a talk show where he’s pressed to talk about playing Dungeons and Dragons- the mans’ eyes absolutely light up and right there is what we got to see on the big screen. I loved it.

“Riddick”, however, brings the character back down to basics. Betrayed and left for dead on a hostile alien world, Riddick only peripherally addresses the previous entry in the series. It’s largely glossed over but does feature a nice cameo from Karl Urban. Once we’re left with Riddick and we’re alone, we get a lot of introspection from the character as he wonders if he lost his edge and whether he’d become “too civilized” and so on, so forth. He manages to survive for some unknown period of time, raises a pup to keep him company, and then finds out the planet is about to get far more hostile in a short period of time. So he finds an abandoned “Mercenary” station and sends out a beacon, which includes a facial recognition scan that immediately sets a number of bells clinging and clanging as the huge bounty on his head is bound to bring in a couple of different crews.

And from that point the film plays pretty much as you’d expect it. The two crews that show up are at odds, one of the crews being led by a man with a personal score to settle, the other led by an ineffectual braggart, and Katee Sackhoff playing a token bad-ass girl named “Dahl”. And Dahl fulfills far too many quotas to ever really be taken seriously- she’s a woman, she’s a bad ass, a crack shot, a professed lesbian, she has a filthy mouth, and we get to see Starbuck in the buck(Hah!).  It’s unapologetically a return to the thirteen year-old fantasies of bad assery all around. We have a former WWE wrestler, we have some good gore effects, and Diesel delivers one flippant line after another while doing the terrible deeds.  Really, we mostly get a paint by numbers here.

That’s not a bad thing. This is as much a popcorn muncher as you can get, it’s a fun ride, and it’s a character a lot of people have come to really enjoy. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel here, and I had a really fun time watching the same wheel go round and round. Sometimes, that’s really all you need to see. The film promised us Riddick, alien monsters, and a return to the R-Rating that brings the grue. Nothing more could have been asked for and I definitely had a blast.

3.5 out of 5.

The House Where Hell Froze Over (AKA: Keep my Grave Open)

I’m always finding something new and interesting to put my attention on. This seventies exploitation gem is about a woman living out on her own (mostly) in the middle of nowhere. She’s really the star and focus of the story and she’s forced to carry the majority, with only a few minor supporting bits thrown in here and there. She lives with a man who may be her husband or her brother, it’s never really made clear which- she refers to them as both, and they may very well be. The thing is that we do not see him throughout most of the movie, but we do know he’s a murderer from the get-go. Nice little gory death scene, favored weapon a civil-war era saber. Compelling performance from the lead, none too shocking in this day and age, but a film that held me interested throughout its runtime.

3 out of 5.

God Bless America

So the opening moments of the film begin with a man, our lead character, fantasizing about the brutal murder of an infant in the apartment next door. It’s a bloody scene, played for a bit of twisted humor, but this is our lead character and he’s fantasizing about a brutal action that no one could really comprehend. His opening monologue introduces the situation, the constant crying, the babbling chit-chat from his neighbors overheard through paper-thin walls, but a shotgun blast and a splash of blood does seem a little extreme for even the most jaded viewer.

So who is this character? His name is Frank. He is bombarded by reality television, loud neighbors, a failed marriage, a spoiled daughter, a thankless and largely obnoxious place to work. He is a miserable loner who gets diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and just snaps. One reality show too many, an argument with his ex-wife, and the spoiled rot of his own daughter push him over the edge and Frank goes out and kills the star of a reality show with a single shot to the head. There are plenty of witnesses, including one jaded young girl who finds herself driven to join Frank on his eventual crusade. And the pair hit the road to kill various people they cannot stand; Religious protesters calling for the damnation of all they find offensive, a talking head, reality stars, people who use their cell phones during a movie, and we go from one place to the next and the next. And there’s a bit of a sick sense of satisfaction, a sick murder fantasy played out, and both characters are fully fleshed out in the process of their horrible crimes.

Bobcat Goldthwaite helms the film and delivers another bizarre entry into a filmography that includes a few whoppers. Certainly not the sort to play it safe, this film could have been played completely for laughs but there’s much more going on here than a simple violent fantasy being played out on screen. The pacing can move a little slowly at times while Goldthwaite continues to build on Frank’s tension, but the comedy hits the right notes in gallows humor and never really lets up once the pace gets moving. These two people are troubled, lonely, and frustrated and they are not really heroes in this film. They may be killing annoying people that are largely disliked, but what right do these two have to make these judgments? This isn’t a question that gets ignored; they’re both challenged by one another, they both fit the bill to a “tee” with regards to impending victims, and they are consistently complicit in promoting the very attitudes and actions they claim to despise.

As this is my “entertainment” blog, I try to not discuss my politics. I’m not shy about discussing them, much to many friends  chagrin. But I don’t use my blog to soap box or discuss my beliefs- It’s not the purpose, and it’s not something that tends to come up. But there is a degree of controversy to discuss regarding this film, which one a few festival awards and found itself the target of discussion from the Right and the Left. Most would say I fall a little right of center, probably true. I consider myself a libertarian. But with that said, the bit of criticism regarding the films politics revolve around a “conservative” talking head portrayed as a bullying, arrogant, and totally obnoxious blow-hard. The lead characters are criticized for being ultraviolent “liberals” stomping down their political adversaries. In other words, ultrasensitive political hacks got their panties in a bunch over a movie that was as non-political as it gets- because it didn’t matter what politics were at play here, the film didn’t glorify one over another in any way. It just showed how loud, obnoxious, and unnervingly impolite people can be. In fact, Frank even discusses how his politics are mostly the same as the Talking Head, but that he thinks the guy is just flat out mean and impolite. So there’s that.

4 out of 5

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