5-Word At EIFF 2012 – Pusher and Lovely Molly

As well as these two movies below, I also managed to get a last-minute ticket to a screening of a new print of William Friedkin’s 1971 masterpiece The French Connection this evening, with the man himself in attendance. As an example of the crime thrillers of the time – muscular, focussed, relentless – it is still second to none. One of the all-time great man movies, and it would make a solid double-bill with Killer Joe.

This is also day 171 of 5-Word 365, for those keeping track at home.

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5-Word 365 #075 – Che

My original intention had been to split these two over two days and discuss them separately, but since I was off work today anyway I figured I should go for a oner. Wish I’d had some rum though. Purely for ambience of course.

Che (Parts One and Two)

The Bolivian Army hates foreigners.

The story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, told across four hours, twelve years, four countries and two wars.

Strictly in terms of what is shown on screen, this film may be one of the smallest “epics” I have ever seen. As befits a guerilla campaign, the fighting is never more than what you’d consider a skirmish, and most of the larger events of the time are merely reported over the radio. I would still class it as an epic though, on sheer ambition alone. Here is a film that purports to tell the real story of a man mostly known to this generation as a face on a t-shirt. Does it succeed? Yes, it does. Is it a masterpiece of cinema? Ask me again in five years.

Aside from the framing device of an interview he had with Lisa Howard in New York in 1964, Part One opens with a dinner party in Mexico City in July 1955, where Guevara and Fidel Castro first met, and where Che agreed to be a part of the Cuban Revolution. This half of the film (by the way, from here on out I’ll be referring to these two parts as one complete film, in two halves – as it was intended by the filmmakers) plays out in this non-linear fashion, jumping between the developing revolution in Cuba and Che’s visit to New York where he was interviewed extensively as well as addressing the UN. Soderbergh differentiates these two time periods stylistically: Cuba is shot in glorious colour with a mix of static long shots and close handheld work, while New York is black and white, seemingly using period-appropriate film stock to create the impression that you could be watching actual documentary footage of Guevara’s real trip to the Big Apple. With most other directors I would have assumed they created that look in post-production, but Soderbergh? He is particular enough to maybe have done it for real, on vintage 16mm cameras and everything.

"Will this look be okay for the t-shirt?"

Part Two on the other hand is fully chronological. Starting in 1967, it shows Che’s departure from Cuba to lead his doomed attempt to bring the revolution to Bolivia, right up to his capture and death at the hands of the army. Sorry, spoilers. This part is visually straight down the middle as well. Other than a gradual shift in the colour palette as the film progresses (things start off well lit and full of colour but get darker and more muted as the days go on) there are no obvious directorial flourishes. Saying that though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an execution filmed from the executee’s POV before.

"Did I tell you I'm going to be on a t-shirt, compadre?"

The time jumps and all that stuff in Part One serve to amplify an optimism in the characters and events being shown. Everything is brighter, and I don’t mean just in the “well-lit” sense. Of course the fact that it ends in victory helps the mood somewhat, even with the frequent hardships that we see. The final battle sequence through the streets of Santa Clara is wonderful, with the same occasional flashes of dark humour that have been dropped in throughout the film just carefully enough to humanise the revolutionaries without diluting the violence inherent in their struggle. In contrast, Part Two is the opposite in almost every way. This is two hours plus of Che being metaphorically kicked in the ass, over and over again. That’s not to say it isn’t a captivating film, because it is. All 257 minutes of it. Confession time: I had planned to watch both parts in one sitting but I had to go out this afternoon, so there was about a five hour break in the middle. It may not have been quite so captivating if I hadn’t stayed late in bed.

"Yeah, I know. A t-shirt. This is a shitty first date, Che."

Falling as it does between the whimsical lark that was Ocean’s Thirteen, and the small-scale experimentation of The Girlfriend Experience, Che is a prime example of Steven Soderbergh’s versatility as a filmmaker even if it hadn’t been such an achievement in it’s own right. Benicio Del Toro just inhabits this role completely, both as a fresh-faced young medic in Mexico, and as a grizzled veteran and leader of men. The entire cast deserve plaudits in fact, in particular the non-native Spanish speakers like Franka Potente and Matt Damon (in his single scene as a German priest).

So, that’s Che Guevara and Butch and Sundance that the Bolivians have knocked off. Not a good record. 

5-Word 365 #047 – Beauty and the Beasts*

I saw two movies today (I also baked some baguettes, but I’ll come back to that later) and I couldn’t decide which one to review, so today is going to be a little different. Today is going to be a double feature. And a more eclectic double feature you would be hard pushed to find.

This would make you want to watch the movie too, wouldn't it?

Sleeping Beauty

“Pretentious” doesn’t even come close.

So this was on Lovefilm’s home page this morning and, from the poster at least, I thought it might be a good way to pass a couple of hours. Was I ever wrong. This film is Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s debut as writer/director, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the fairy tale. A young college student named Lucy, played by Sucker Punch’s Emily Browning, is working an assortment of low-paid jobs in between attending classes and visiting her friend who never leaves his crummy bedsit and puts vodka on his cornflakes. One day she answers an ad in the paper and finds herself in a new job; one that pays exceptionally well but requires her to stand around in lingerie pouring the wine at a dinner party for rich old people. Soon enough she graduates from serving wench to sleeping partner. Her employer also offers a service whereby the rich can buy six hours in bed with a naked Lucy. Oh yes, that’s right: for the duration of these six hour sessions, Lucy has been willingly drugged into unconsciousness. Hence the title, I suppose.

Right before this, there was some old man cock on display. You don't want to watch the movie anymore, do you? I understand completely.

I haven’t read any of Julia Leigh’s novels, and on the strength of this that’s not going to change anytime soon. The story is ploddingly slow and obtuse; the camerawork is distractingly austere – every scene seems to be one or maybe two single takes except for one sequence done in Peep Show style, with both characters facing each other but shot as if they are talking directly to camera – and for a supposed “erotic drama” it is very short on eroticism. There’s plenty of nudity, yes, but as any Page 3 fan will tell you, one does not automatically lead to the other.

Vodka in the cornflakes. I should've tried that. Might have made this watchable.

There is not one likeable character or relatable situation in this whole film. If you are that desperate to see Emily Browning in the buff, just stick to Google. Avoid this amateurish nonsense.

Best Poster (that isn't Emily Browning naked) Ever.

The Expendables

“Awesome” doesn’t even come close.

How in the name of all that is holy did it take me so long to get to this film? Why did nobody tell me this was going to be that much fun?

When I first heard about the idea of The Expendables I was thrilled, but the more I thought about it I started to get hesitant. I was really worried that I was going to be let down; that all it would do would be to tarnish the memory of these guys’ previous movies. I was afraid it would ruin Commando and Rocky IV. Was I ever wrong. (Twice in one day? That hasn’t happened since the nineties.) As it turns out, this all-star gathering is like a biker Ocean’s Eleven, right down to the acrobatic Chinese man.

For those who have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, or whose entire cinematic life is taken up with dreck like Sleeping Beauty, The Expendablesare a group of mercenaries made up of a multi-generational Who’s Who of action movies, led by Stallone as Barney Ross with The Stath as his right-hand man, Lee Christmas (I know!). Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture (girly name, manly man) and Ivan Drago himself, Mr Dolph Lundgren, make up the rest of the team. Their mission, should they chose to accept it, is to go to the island of Vilena to kill the corrupt General Garza. Of course the only way to be sure if they have succeeded is to kill practically the entire army of the island of Vilena.

Stallone, I salute you.

The acting can generously be described as a bit ropey, a lot of the visual effects are noticeably heavy on the digital enhancement, and some of the fights look like they’ve been shot by an epileptic gymnast. By all rational measure this should be the unfortunate embarrassment I was afraid of. The fact that it is not is down primarily to El Statherino and Mickey Rourke, combined with the tangible fun all these guys are having getting to play together with big guns and knives the size of your arm. I may have just found the perfect Friday night, pizza-and-a-six-pack flick.

Not even Stallone with his shirt off can ruin this film.

Oh, I nearly forgot. The reason I was baking baguettes today is also the reason why the “movie a day” challenge is about to get its first proper test: I’m going away for the weekend. I’m spending all day tomorrow on an assortment of busses and boats in order to get back to the Old Country for my baby niece’s christening this Sunday. My laptop is coming with me, as well as a carefully chosen set of DVDs, so I will do my damnedest to keep this train running on schedule. By the way, the baguettes are for my packed lunch.

*I just thought of that this very second. Fucking genius, me.