Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Power of Inspiration and the Power of Unpleasantness

The first night of the Back to Basics film festival was last night.

The lineup was Combat Shock, Harry Browne, Kick-Ass, Count Dracula's Great Love, and Devil's Three.

Combat Shock was a no-budget movie made in the mid-80s about a Vietnam vet living in extreme poverty in New York. The movie was pretty bad, but there was obviously a point and inspiration behind the movie, so it was OK to watch. That the director was there to talk about the film probably helped see through the shortcomings ("The fun stops here" was the greatest compliment he's heard about the movie, he says). He says the movie was made as a reaction to the 80s movies that were pretending to show the realities of Vietnam but just ended up portraying more movie heroes. I wonder if a lot of the Finns in the audience actually get the reality of the slums. I grew up in housing projects outside New York, not anywhere as bad as portrayed in this film, not by a longshot, but I've been around those kinds of neighborhoods both in Connecticut and Atlanta. Bleak and successful in getting its point across.

And for being filmed with zero money (this was eventually picked up by Troma for distribution, to give you an idea of how rough it is), I'll take how these gunshots looked more than either of the next two films...

Harry Brown is a 2009 British movie that is basically a spiritual successor to the Death Wish style of movies. You know, "crime run amok and one man decides he's not going to take it anymore." But it's an altogether more dignified film, with Michael Caine being very good as Brown. It's probably the best example of the genre I've ever seen, because it feels real. It's brutal and wicked and desperate. There's no cheering for Caine wasting the bad guys. None of the sense of redemption Gran Torino had, to make a fairly close comparison. My wife noted that the depiction of the junkies was spot on (she used to be an emergency room nurse... between that and the midwifery and her volunteer work with underage drunks, she's seen some horrific shit). A down, depressing movie (but an excellent one, make no mistake), whereas I think most examples of this genre want you to cheer the vigilante, with varying degrees of success.

Then there was Kick-Ass. A warning, all of the coolest action scenes and "shocking" lines by the girl are in the previews and trailers. Which means the actual movie viewing has to be carried by the story, which was decent enough. My problem was actually the comic book nature of the violence, which on the surface seems like a completely absurd criticism (and this is my same criticism of the Watchmen movie, actually). It really missed an opportunity to be powerful and throw the audience for a loop. Maybe watching it immediately after Harry Brown hurt it here.

I mean, OK, you're supposed to marvel at this little girl slicing and dicing and shooting and swearing. It's a farce, and an entertaining one. The director and Nicolas Cage both deserve hearty appreciation for the real intensity during Hit Girl and Big Daddy's origin story, and that's when I thought this movie could have been more. What if everything else about the movie is kept the same, but the violence wasn't cgi "ha ha look at that!" splatter? What if it was brutal, like Harry Brown? What if the big guns were more along the lines of the mini-gun in Predator or Robocop's ED-209 in the boardroom? It would have been uncomfortable to watch, really. Which I think would have made the point that the movie pretends to want to make., and perhaps genuinely tried (and failed) to make at several points in the movie - I think they undercut their own efforts a lot.

The movie appears to be subversive and perhaps shocking. How much better would it have been if it actually was?

Count Dracula's Great Love was a piece of shit. The bad print didn't help (the color was faded and everything was distinctly orange) but it's a 1972 never-was movie so I tried to forgive it. But there was absolutely nothing interesting about the movie itself. A few women with big tits and low-cut dresses does not a movie make. Crappity crap crap. Not scary, not funny, not exciting, not titillating. And it didn't make any sense... (you know the voice you're supposed to use there)

Devil's Three may or may not have been any good, or a fun bad movie, but it was 5am and that Dracula movie had just sucked the life out of us, so we skipped it.

Tonight: The Crazies (new version), [REC] 2, Life is Hot in Cracktown, Valhalla Rising, The Final Terror, Grotesque, and Joysticks. The films start at 9pm, we'll be home about noon, the next day, then I'll catch a few hours sleep, and then I have my game at 4pm. Good times! Hopefully a couple of good movies, too.

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