Thanks to a brief happy hour on Friday and a couple of sporting events, including the Super Bowl on Sunday (GO PACK GO!), I didn’t really manage to knock out many movies. With a slight buzz on Friday, I opted for some lighter fare. Here’s how the movie weekend unfolded.
Conan the Barbarian, 3 out of 5 stars on Netflix
Believe it or not, I had never seen this in entirety. I thought it was sort of bad, but in a laughable and fun way. Had I seen this when I was a kid, I can imagine that I’d hold it in higher esteem thanks to nostalgia. It was a pleasant surprise to see James Earl Jones (even in a goofy/bad wig, and morphing via bad f/x into a snake), and an even more pleasanter surprise to see Max Von Sydow. It amazes me how Von Sydow went from being an icon of arthouse cinema to being a second tier actor in a bunch of fantasy/sci-fi movies. I suppose it was the accent that led Holllywood casting people to assume that he’d give a fantasy/sci-fi world a more fantastical dimension. The f/x were goofy, but I don’t hold that against the film- it was a product of the era.
The Tillman Story, 5 stars out of 5
I don’t get political here at TDYLF very often, and I don’t want to start now. I’ll simply say that I was very moved by this movie, and angered by a lot of concepts featured in this movie. If you’re unfamiliar, Pat Tillman was an NFL player who cut his NFL career short to enter the Army following 9/11. In April 2004, he was gunned down in duty. Initially, his death was spun as some sort of heroic event. As details came out, it became apparent that he had died as a result of friendly fire, and that there had been a cover-up. The documentary details his family’s experience throughout this ordeal.
With a lot of documentaries, especially political, I find myself agreeing with them 30 minutes in and feeling like there’s no need to watch any more. That doesn’t make them bad documentaries. I just feel that they’ve sufficiently proven their point (whether I agree with it personally or not). And then the final hour to hour and a half feels gratuitous and boring to me. That was not at all the case here, as I found myself glued to the family’s plight as it unfolded. I’m proud to call the Tillmans my fellow countrymen. Your results may vary.
Buried, 4 out of 5 stars
I’d heard conflicting reports on Buried. I’d heard from a handful of people that it was downright bad. But Rotten Tomatoes has it at 86%. And my trusty film sidekick Marty had seen it and enjoyed it a lot. Between the RT score and the Marty Seal of Approval™, there was more than enough ammo to check it out.
Ryan Reynolds plays a truck driver in Iraq whose convoy was assaulted by “terrorists” (as we’re told early in the film). He blacked out, and awoke in a coffin buried in the desert. He had a Zippo lighter and a cell phone with him. What’s so amazing about the film is that it doesn’t ever leave the confines of the coffin. The entire film consists of Reynolds either muttering to himself, or calling numerous agencies hoping that anyone can help him out of his own personal hell. As a result of the camera never leaving the coffin, it rather brilliantly fills the viewer with claustrophobia. I’m not a claustrophobic individual. But after the credits started to roll, I wanted to sprint outside my door and run around free on my block.
It’s not an easy concept to work with, but director Rodrigo Cortés finds a way. He’s now on my watch list; I’ll be anxious to see what Mr. Cortés comes up with for his next effort. Similarly, Reynolds deserves a big pat on the back. This film never would have worked unless he was convincing enough to lure the viewer in.
Serpico, 5 out of 5 stars
I finally watched Serpico. Let’s get one order of business out of the way right away- Pacino/Serpico’s beard is completely freakin’ awesome. As a bearded guy myself, I can appreciate a good beard. And that thing is full of badassery. The neat aspect of Pacino/Frank Serpico’s facial hair in the film is that it unfolds as a visual timeline for his maturity level and wisdom in the film. In the beginning, new to the force, Pacino/Serpico is clean shaven and cherub-faced. And then as he begins to break his chops a little, he’s got a mustache. Then it’s a goatee. And finally… BEARD! He has become a wise police detective.
What I find so fascinating is the way law enforcement was seen from a sociological standpoint. This was, after all, released in 1973- prime Nixonian real estate. After the counterculture movement of the 1960’s, there was a clarion call to restore order via the so-called “moral majority”. Anti-heroes from the late 60’s and early 70’s like Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, and Don Corleone finally gave way to the order-restorers of law enforcement. Chief among these people were “Dirty Harry” Callahan; The French Connection‘s Popeye Doyle; and Frank Serpico, among others. Admittedly those first two were corrupt,whereas Serpico (both the character and real-life guy the movie is based on) fought to end police corruption. All the same, all three were strong protagonists who imperiled themselves in the name of what they felt was right in the face of the counterculture, whatever that counterculture was. I digress.
The film is impressive all the way around, and seeing young Pacino warms my heart. His work in that era- throughout the 1970’s- is part of why Hollywood is what it is today.
Bad Lieutenant, 3.5 out of 5 stars
Speaking of corrupt New York city cops, my movie weekend ended with Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel. Do you ever pay attention to the names of generic soda brands? Instead of Dr. Pepper, you get Dr. Thunder. Instead of Mountain Dew, you get Mountain Lightning, and so on and so forth. That’s precisely how this movie felt- like a generic, but acceptable, substitute for a Martin Scorsese film (Bad Lieutenant was directed by Abel Ferrara). Gritty New York streets? Check. Very flawed protagonist who completely blurs the lines of morality, riddled with corruption? Check. Catholic guilt? Check. These are all fun little things to find in a Scorsese film. Of course, as I mentioned, it’s the generic version and not the real thing- Ferrara and not Scorsese. So while it’s perfectly fine, it’s missing all of the normal flourishes that put Scorsese’s work on a higher plane of existence.
That is no knock on Bad Lieutenant. Few films and filmmakers can match Scorsese’s level. It certainly earned big points with me for the pacing. You see… it’s based in a fictional New York, right around 1991 or 1992. And the film is paced perfectly in fictional 1991 by the New York Mets’ presence in the National League Championship Series. Naturally, while there, they face the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is significant because in reality, the Dodgers at the time had just signed away the Mets’ prodigious young slugger, Darryl Strawberry. I was somewhat amazed at how close the screenplay was to reality. In fairness, the Mets stunk that year- they never even sniffed the playoffs. But the announcers who interlace the movie constantly refer to players who were very much key players on those Dodger and Met squads. So forgive my digression towards baseball nerdiness. It happens.
The baseball angle was a really cool way to augment a character arc and delineate act 1, act 2, and act 3. Keitel’s character gradually loses his marbles and becomes more and more corrupt. His character decomposition times perfectly with (ironically) the Dodgers’ role in the fictional 1991 playoffs. The film begins with the Dodgers up 3 games to 0 in the best of 7 series. Keitel shows cracks, but is lucid. And with each game that the Dodgers lose, Keitel decomposes just a little bit more until he winds up talking to a life-sized half plastic Jesus, who has materialized in front of him in a church.
In the end, it was a solid effort. If you like crime drama and can deal with some garish, repulsive behavior, then I’d say “Give it a shot”. Oh… and also, fair warning- if you see it, you’re going to see Keitel’s wang. Fortunately, the closed captioning covered it up rather perfectly for me, so I was spared. But it’s in there.