Friday, September 02, 2011

Penny Thoughts ’11: Aug. 26-Sept. 1

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) ***
Director: Jason Eisner
Writers: John Davies, Jason Eisner, Rob Cotterill
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman, Jeremy Akerman

The title really says it all for “Hobo with a Shotgun”. Rutger Hauer plays a homeless man who finds himself in a city that has lost its will against a criminal family led by “The Drake”. He won’t take it anymore, so he does something about it and buys a shotgun. This is the ultimate in violence exploitation. The acting, production values, and dialogue are deliberately bad, and in some ways it is all, oh so good.

This is one of those types of movies where my star rating is just totally random to some degree, because I can’t really recommend this movie in general. However, if you’re a fan of exploitation cinema, there’re is some sublime over the top violent fun to bad had here. Your average filmgoer will hate this movie and wonder just exactly what anyone sees in it. It made me laugh.

Hauer deserves a lot of credit, since no one else here—including the production itself—really seems to operate on the same level as this underrated character actor. He commits himself fully to this production, even if it might seem beneath him. But, that’s really the point isn’t it. I like how the Hobo is a little off his rocker. He’s not some noble idealization of a Hobo. He’s really quite nuts; but, unlike anyone else here, he seems to have tapped into some semblance of the way things are supposed to be. I love the speech he gives to the babies in the hospital. Great stuff, if it’s the stuff you’re into.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) ***
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Nunnally Johnson, Lukas Heller, E.M. Nathanson (novel)
Starring: Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Robert Ryan, George Kennedy, Trini Lopez, Ralph Meeker, Clint Walker, Robert Weber 

Having caught a few of the great Robert Aldrich’s movies over the past couple of years, I figured it was about time to catch up on perhaps his best known film, the war actioner “The Dirty Dozen”. The premise is fairly well known. Gather together a bunch of criminals and cutthroats to pull off a special mission and see whether they kill each other or actually complete the mission. In this case Lee Marvin is the not-so-widely appreciated major elected to train 12 military convicts—several convicted to the death penalty—for a special ops suicide mission behind enemy lines just before D-Day. His biggest challenge is getting the to work together, if he can convince them not to kill him first.

“The Dirty Dozen” is made with much the same spirit of most WWII movies of the time. It has a huge cast, a long running time, and it doesn’t bog the audience down with the “realities” of war. In fact very little of this movie even shows the war as it were. Most of it is spent focusing on the training for the mission. As can only be expected, the criminals do band together after some time fighting the situation.

I miss the amount of humor that used to exist in WWII movies. Once Hollywood finally got the green light to tackle the Vietnam War, war flicks turned dark and brooding. Even movies depicting earlier wars committed themselves to focusing on the horror of war. Sure, the old way was guilty of glorifying war, but it was also a hell of a lot more fun. I like the way these soldiers joke with each other. And to some degree this chipper spirit had to reflect something that was actually going on in the minds of men at the time.

Poetry (2011) ****
Director/Wrier: Chang-dong Lee
Starring: Jeong-hei Yun, Nae-sang Ahn, Hira Kim, Yong-taek Kim

They say the Korean film industry is producing some of the best movies around. They are right, and it’s not all creature features and ghost stories. “Poetry” seems like a simple movie about a woman in her sixties living with her grandson. She is a nurse and maid to a stroke victim. She seems a little lonely in her life. She learns of a poetry class and decides to take it.

The set up is something from a slice of life story that doesn’t really promise much remarkable. The movie does start with a shot of a dead body in a river, however. This image will continue to impact the grandmother’s life in ways neither she nor the audience could imagine. Slowly as the movie unfolds, you realize that this seemingly simple story is not so simple and much more profound than its initial passages suggest.

Chang-dong Lee’s direction is more straightforward than some Korean films I’ve seen. This story wouldn’t work with slick and flashy filmmaking, however. It’s important that its issues grow organically from the material and work their way under your skin before you even know they are there. For much of the movie I thought, this is good, but not great. By the final moments, my mind staggered at the enormity of what I had seen sprout from this woman’s small life.

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005) *½
Director: Mike Bigelow
Writers: Rob Schneider, David Garret, Jason Ward
Starring: Rob Schneider, Eddie Griffin, Jeroen Krabbé, Hanna Verboom

“Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” infamously led star Rob Schneider to take out a full page add in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter to debunk the credentials of Los Angeles Times critic Patrick Goldstein for referring to him as a “third-rate comic” in his scathing review against this film. This in turn prompted Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert to confirm to Schneider personally in his review of the film, “Mr. Schneider, your movies sucks.”

Unfortunately for Schneider, both critics are correct. This movie is bad. I don’t think I hated it as much as either of them, however. I found myself laughing at some of the most offensive material here. If anything, I don’t think the movie goes far enough. In many ways, I feel like Schneider played it safe with this sequel to the equally bad “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo”. If this is the type of comedy you’re going to do, you really can’t hold back at all.

Schneider also sent a big bouquet of flowers to Ebert when he was in the hospital battling throat cancer. It was a sincere gesture and proves that Schneider is classier than his movies. That makes me root for the guy, so maybe this movie is even worse than I felt it was. But, a guy can dream.

Western of the Week

The Left Handed Gun (1958) **½
Director: Arthur Penn
Writers: Leslie Stevens, Gore Vidal (play)
Starring: Paul Newman, John Dehner, James Congdon, James Best, Lita Milan, Hurd Hatfield, Colin Keith-Johnston, John Dierkes

I think the story of Billy the Kid might be an even more frequently filmed western story than that of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Famed “Bonnie and Clyde” director Arthur Penn has his shot at it years before that groundbreaking classic. Working from a play by Gore Vidal, Penn’s Billy the Kid story touches upon all the typical stopping points, the friendship formed with cattleman John Tunstall, the subsequent friendship with Pat Garrett before he became a lawman to hunt Billy down, the Lincoln County War, the breaking of the amnesty by Billy to avenge the death of Tunstall, and the question as to whether Billy was right handed or left handed. If the title hadn’t clued you in, Vidal took the stance that the man also known as William Bonney was left handed.

While there are some compelling points brought to Billy’s story in this version, I think the fact that this was adapted from a play shows. The movie is far too contemplative about Billy and his actions. Too much time is spent showing Billy thinking about what needs to be done or what has been done. There is plenty of action, but the movie drags as if the dialogue and the action are never really connected.

Penn had only begun to explore his personal notions of criminal storytelling at this point in his career and the raw action that he created to change the face of cinema cannot really be found here. Although, there is one scene where Billy kills a deputy from a rooftop that gives the slightest taste of what Penn would create with “Bonnie and Clyde”. It is the only slow motion shot in the movie and the slow motion only last for a few frames, just long enough to highlight the brutality of the killing. The kid walking over and laughing at the deputy who has just literally been blown out of his boots also suggests the comedic elements the Penn would eventually mix in with his harsh violence.

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