Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sean's DVR-O-RAMA Day 4

Wrapping it up on President's Day we were a bit let down with the first offering, Fearless Fighters. Not that it isn't an awesome kung-fu movie from 1971 -- one of the first exports of it's kind into the US. It's just that, unbeknownst to me, I'd seen the motherfucker before, so we're kinda breaking a rule but lookee what we got here: An evil bastard named Topa kills Lightning Whip and steals the gold he was transporting. He frames Lei Pong who at once gets arrested and has his entire family killed except for his son. Shin and Mulan (of Disney fame?), kin of Lightning Whip, go to avenge their father's death by hunting down Lei Pong while Lady Tei finds his surviving son and takes him to his father in jail. Of course they all figure out Topa is really the bastard behind all this and team up to kick some as at his hideout -- the Dragon Spur Inn. Simple story, right?

It's an extremely low budget affair, but it's all the more charming because of it. My favorite technique that is used repeatedly throughout is the heroes catching arrows or dart in their hands or mouths and then throwing them right back to where they came and killing the original senders. An easy and fun gimmick that gets a laugh every time they do it. After this week or so of movies I'm now under the belief that Robert Altman and kung-fu movies are the only genres where the zoom is used to it's full potential. I guess I should add Sergio Leone to that...

The movie hits high gear when Topa puts out a call for all competent bounty hunters to kill Lei Pong for him. This introduces us to the likes of the Soul Pickers and the One Man Army. Topa quickly falls for the extravagant hair, outfits and unique killing styles of the two man team that is the Soul Pickers. You don't see many assassins with matching shoulder length hair and head bands -- one of them has a pretty awesome pair of cymbals that cause explosions when pointed at you just right. But they got nothing on One Man Army. An arrogant prick who can make his one sword (and set of arms for a moment) turn into two with some fancy camera work.

This kind of multiple exposure camera trickery is quite popular in the early kung-fu movie of the 60s and 70s. Lo-fi experimentation like this is one of the reasons these movies hold a dear place in my heart. I'm sure a lot of these tricks and edits were on the spot, in-camera, and done with few takes. It's especially awesome in the wuxia genre when they can accomplish those two or three shots in the movie where they can actually get a character to fly over a lake, up a cliff, or in that scene at the Dragon Spur Inn, through a table head first.

It has a truly badass ending involving archaic artificial limb weaponry, but it falls slightly below the Five Deadly Venoms and the Flying Guillotine/One Armed Boxer movies for me and my 70s Chinese kung-fu films. But since Fearless Fighters was made some years earlier it's definitely got some kudos.

Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three holds the most awesome discovery of this DVR adventure. It's an amazing break-neck speed madcap farce of capitalism at its finest. James Cagney is a force of nature as Mac MacNamara, West Berlin's top Coca-Cola executive. He's cracking the iron curtain, aiming for that sweet heading European operations that'll take him out of Berlin to London when he hears the bad news from his boss -- Coke wants nothing to do with the commies. Instead, please watch over my daughter Scarlett while she's in town.

This of course sounds like a simple sitcom plot but rather it's simply the excuse to hang a satire skewering capitalism, communism, fascism -- take the scene at the Grand Hotel Potemkin (formerly known as the Grand Hotel Bismark) where the band is playing Yes We Have No Bananas (sung in German) as McNamara tries to strike a deal with the East German trade Commission while Scarlett's communist husband is being tortured by a warped playing of Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. The scene at the Potemkin quickly turns into a dizzying display of anarchy involving table top flame dancing that causes the portrait of Khrushchev to fall and reveal Stalin's portrait still framed behind it.

This movie reminded me a lot of what I liked about the Emir Kusturica movies I've seen, a guy who's still trying to carry on this tradition of controlled anarchy and the exhilaration it can bring. One, Two, Three is a helluva movie. I honestly wish it was the first Billy Wilder movie I'd seen -- it's a great introduction to him and Cagney. What a performance he delivers and one of the greatest things about it is that he and the performers around him are playing with the Cagney persona the entire time. Yes, One Two, Three is pretty fucking meta.

This was actually the last movie I've seen since I began this but I'm going to touch on a few other peripherals. I did watch the last half hour of Discreet Charm again. Of course, I like the movie -- it's an achievement. My original feelings stick with me. It's a a wholly original and in its way a groundbreaking film. But at the same time I do feel it is a repetitive to the point of redundant story. It looses my interest as it goes on, even though I continually enjoy the spectacle. [spoiler I suppose] Part of my problem lies in Bunuel allowing the viewer to both enjoy watching these people get gunned down and walk off into the sunset. How about one or the other?

The movie I watched on the DVR when this idea came to mind? Wonderland. Definitely the most whythefuckdidIdvrthis? movie. It has that same thing that got me to watch other bad movies I suppose. The main actor (Val Kilmer) interests me, as does the supporting cast. I love true crime fiction and a true crime story involving John Holmes, hey yeah sure.

Hey yeah what else is on? You know, if you're gonna do the Rashomon route you have to pull some damn special kind of magic out of your hat. Making one of your storytellers a Dylan McDermott with a hideously fake goatee is the most obvious mistake -- if only you could have made him the hideously under used Tim Blake Nelson we could have been on to something here. Instead we have a below average telling of a nevertheless still interesting tale of drugs, sex, violence told with all the finesse of a Lifetime movie.

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