On Gimmicks and Story

I wish there was a specific movie coming out that could I could point to for this article. Alas, there isn’t. But there will be. Especially as summertime rolls around. Maybe this article is a bit premature, but maybe it will also persuade you to not see a movie committing one of these infractions.

Confused? Let me explain.

Audiences don’t want realism. They don’t want 3D either. Many, many movies have come out recently that are in 3D or have a gritty/realistic edge to them. Why is that? It’s because someone or some powerful organization in Hollywood thinks 3D or grittiness is recipe for making a successful (financially) movie.

Why would producers or studio heads think this? Why would they insist that every movie nowadays needs to have one or both of these elements?

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Quick! Before it Expires: Six for the Price of One

I have a trio of movies for you dear readers to watch.

One good, one bad, and one ugly.

The Good
The Dirty Dozen

Of all the super specific sub-gernes in film, one of my favorites is “soldiers on a mission.” In that super specific genre, The Dirty Dozen is one of the best.

Lee Marvin stars as a reluctant Major tasked with training a group of convicted soldiers to a suicide mission into a Nazi stronghold. The movie hits all the great beats, from the “recruitment” of the soldiers, to their training sequences, to the the actual execution of the mission.

Joining Marvin are a slew of grizzled character actors. Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, and Telly Savalas. While the action hasn’t quite aged that well, it’s definitely a fun movie to watch.

The Dirty Dozen expires on February 1st, 2012.

The Bad
Mortal Kombat

During the 8-bit heyday of games, an often used device was the palette swap. Basically there would be one character model with two different color schemes. The most famous example of that is Mario and Luigi from the first Super Mario Bros. game. They had the same character model. One’s clothes were red and blue; the other was green and white.

Mortal Kombat is often considered the best video game adaptation movie. In my opinion the movie largely succeeds because it is a palette swap of Enter the Dragon.

A man gets sucked into an old and dangerous fighting tournament along with a few friends. The tournament is run by a deliciously evil villain who has ties to the hero’s past.

While Mortal Kombat’s plot isn’t terribly original, all the actors show up and give it their all. Particularly Linden Ashby who plays the narcissistic Johnny Cage. Veteran B-movie actor Christopher Lambert gives good performance as the thunder god Raiden. The fight sequences are also largely effective and memorable. They have good choreography and style.

Mortal Kombat expires on January 30th, 2012.

The Ugly
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is not a good movie. It barely, and I do mean barely, qualifies as a “so bad it’s good” movie.

So why am I recommending that you watch it before it expires from Netflix? There are a few action sequences in the movie that are bat shit insane and worth your time. Particularly in the movie when the heroes test their exo-suits in Paris.

Also, this is one of the few movies where Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a bad guy. So there’s that.

Finally, the film maker’s idea of an evil underwater lair is too ridiculous not to see.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra expires on February 1st, 2012.

-Harrison

The Crying Game
The Crying Game is an amazing film. It’s hard to summarize without giving away the good bits. It’s about a member of the Irish Republican army who moves to England to combat his grief about a death he inadvertently caused. Neil Jordan is overlooked as a filmmaker. The performances in this film err on the side of the overly dramatic but it works in this film. Stephen Rea and a young Forest Whitaker give awesome performances in this film. And the ending… Well if you don’t know it and you don’t figure it out, well watch out.

The Crying Game Expires in 5 days

Tetro

Tetro is a film by written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; his first since 1974’s the Conversation, which we all know is my favorite Coppola film. It’s not his most successful film but I would argue it’s his most personal and most interesting film he made in a long time. It’s about Italian immigrants in Argentina and more specifically, about a weird Italian Nicholsonesque family in Argentina. If you don’t know what that means you should watch this film.

Tetro Expires in 5 Days.

The Golden Child
I love this movie. I know, I’m supposed to be the snob of this board and I’m picking this weird Eddie Murphy action film. But this one along with, Big Trouble in Little China seem to be a bit different from the action films of this period. They are ahead of their time in terms of genre: both films combine comedy, action, sci-fi/horror and to some degree a western influence. Both films also feature “heroes” that aren’t exactly skillful in their pursuit of the villain. Kurt Russell is more inept while Eddie Murphy is more sardonic. It’s visual effects are dated, but it’s an enjoyable film if you keep your expectations low.

The Golden Child Expires in 5 days.

As always check QueueNoodle for more expiring title.

-Josh E.

Spy vs. Spy

I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last week (phenomenal, by the way) and it got me thinking about the dichotomy of the two spy movies we most often see on the silver screen.

On one hand there’s the realistic portrayal of spies. It’s dour looking bureaucrats acting suspicious, stealing manila files, using double speak, and rarely (if ever) using guns.

The other type of spy movie is high thrills action, exotic locales, and secret agents bedding beautiful women.

Both types have a track record of producing great movies. Both can exist at the same time. (As evidence by Mission: Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy being in theaters at the same time. And they both got great reviews to boot.)

But which one is the more proto-typical spy movie? Which one is what we, the audience, think of when a movie is described as being a spy movie? When John Q. Public says “I want to watch a spy movie,” what is he thinking of?

Despite the unrealistic nature. Despite the fantasy elements. I’d say that a spy movie is a movie with high action, lots of guns, handsome leading man (or beautiful leading lady), exotic locations, and a strong element of sexiness.

This is partially because there are some 50-odd years of James Bond movies in the cinematic lexicon. When Dr. No was released in 1963 it was a revelation. Cinematic scholars tend to refer to Jaws as the first summer blockbuster, but the James Bond movies that came out before 1977 definitely laid the ground work for the typical summer tentpole action movie.

Dr. No (and the Bond series in general) is the patient zero of spy movies. You can trace back any sort of style or action from modern spy movies like Mission: Impossible or The Bourne Identity to its Bond roots.

So why are movies like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy thrown to the wayside? Usually movies like this are critically acclaimed. However, the audiences might not be as warm to them. Part of the reason people go to movies is for escapism entertainment. Spies, in my opinion, are the closest thing we have in our world to superheroes. Even though James Bond’s gadgets are laughable. Even though Ethan Hunt’s stunts are ludicrous. These spies are still the closest we have to a superman.

The James Bond series has built up this branding and marketing of spies for 50 years. When a movie like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy comes out, that ruins the illusion that we all have bought into. It ruins the escapist fun. No matter how great the movie is, there’s still a tinge of regret that you didn’t see any fun shootouts or larger than life villains.

I still think both the low-key and guns a blazing spy movies have a place at the cinematic round table. It’s just interesting to me that movies like Mission: Impossible are more openly received than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. (You also may have noticed I have far more examples in this article of high action spy movies than examples of low-key spy movies.)

What do you think? When someone says they just watched a spy movie, where does your mind head? Is your idea of a spy movie something like Three Days of the Condor or are you more of a Bourne Ultimatum person? Chime in below.

-Harrison

What Just Happened: Why Movies End the Way They do and Why You Shouldn’t be so Pissed Off.

Before I go any further and at risk of being redundant, I should tell you that this whole post is about Film endings. Film endings are, by nature, SPOILER RIDDEN. If you haven’t seen the films that I quote, you may want to watch them before continuing on.

I was watching the 1989 thriller, Leviathan. It has a great cast (Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Meg Foster, Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern) and for the first hour it’s a well shot, intriguing, claustrophobic thriller set at the bottom of the ocean. I’m really intrigued by the film for it’s great camera work, it’s well developed characters and it’s creepy gooey Thing (1981) like visual effects. It’s also an example of Peter Weller whose over-the-top acting style is really entertaining and perfect for a film about undersea miners who are going a bit stir crazy after a long deployment at the bottom of the ocean. Continue reading

Second Chance Cinema: Hudson Hawk (1991)

Hudson Hawk is a fairly frustrating movie. It doesn’t surprise me at all that it’s commonly listed as one of the worst movies ever made.

However, I tend to think that if you give a person (or persons) a fair warning about what type of movie Hudson Hawk is, then it can counteract most of the negative impressions logged against it. And with a proper warning the consumption of the movie becomes a much more enjoyable affair.

To explain: Hudson Hawk is a silly, silly, silly movie. It’s absurd, over the top, wacky, and downright strange. It’s supposed to be like that. This is not a movie that tried to be serious but catastrophically failed. This is a movie that is at it’s core is a farce.

This is what I’m talking about. The trailer completely misrepresents the film’s tone.

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So You Watched a Bad Movie

One reason MovieDebaters was created was in response to the sharp decline of quality in online movie discussions. One aspect that particularly bothers me is the culture of negativity surrounding movie discussions and the hyperbolic prose used to talk about movies.

In other words, no not every movie is the worst thing ever. And no, I’m pretty sure watching Transformers didn’t ruin your life.

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Quick! Before it Expires: Big Fan

It’s time for another edition of Quick Before it Expires. In an effort to be more consistent with the QBIE posts we plan on posting at least two a month, about a week before the 15th and the first of every month, when Netflix likes to take movies away from the instant queue. I’m going to be doing a lot of watching in the next week or so. Here are some of the films I (Josh E.) will be watching in the next week:

Brief Encounter
The Red Shoes
The Train
This Sporting Life

But enough of what I’m going to watch. I wanted to draw your attention that is expiring in two days, I repeat TWO DAYS (1/12/12). Sorry for the short notice, but it’s called Big Fan,  stars Patton Oswalt, and is written and directed by Robert Siegel. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Siegel also wrote the screenplay for the 2009 critical darling The Wrestler. It’s a quirky little film that excellently blends comedy and the “pathology” of a fan’s obsession.

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Debate: Best Movie We Saw in Theaters 2011

Happy New Year Folks, Harrison and I here at MovieDebaters hope that your New Year will bring health, happiness and hearty movie watching. Like many, Harrison and I are making resolutions this year.

1: We will strive to provide content that is both insightful and informative.
2: We will try to update the blog more frequently than 4 times a month.
3: We will go to the movies more often this year to make our posts a bit more timely.

Related to resolution three we decided to take a look back at the best films that Harrison and I saw in theaters last year. We get a little bit bogged down and we didn’t get to talk about Win Win as much as we (mostly Josh) wanted to… But definitely check out both films before commenting and fair warning… Spoilers lie below.

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