Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Proposition (2005)

Year 4, Day 301 - 10/27/12 - Movie #1,288

WORLD TOUR Day 52 - Australia

BEFORE:  I thought I was going to have to skip this whole country/continent, and then this film found its way into the collection.  I suppose it was either this film or "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", which oddly enough, also stars Guy Pearce.  Linking from "The Quiet American", Michael Caine was also in the film "Children of Men" with Danny Huston (last seen in "The Kingdom").

THE PLOT: A lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him 9 days to kill his older brother, or else they'll execute his younger brother.

AFTER:  Man, I thought Cambodia and Vietnam were tough - Australia's a tough place, too.  This is a good reminder that Australia started as a prison colony, and turned into something like the American Old West mixed with the dystopian future of "Mad Max".  This film is set in the late 19th century, though, so it's more like the Old West.

A gang of four brothers is wanted for rape and murder, and the authorities capture two of the brothers, one of whom might be mentally disabled.  The local captain (sheriff) takes a big risk by letting the other one go to hunt down and kill his at-large brother, while holding the younger one in jail.

This is a tough one to rate, because the narrative really isn't that strong - it's a simple story with just a few turning points, and even those tend to get repeated, so it's hard to give proper credit for them.  We never really find out the lead character's true motivation or where his loyalties lie until the very end, and that's due to a plot contrivance that sidelines him for a while.

What remains is violence, and some excessive Peckinpah-style violence at that.  The movie almost makes a point about corporal punishment - when the townspeople demand it and see how brutal it can be, it changes some minds.  But the movie contradicts this point by glorifying violence throughout the rest of the film. 

So the cycles continue, and the overall prospects for the nearly-lawless Outback seem rather bleak as a result.  That leaves me wondering what the overall point was.

The Australian Outback is huge, presenting me with a technical problem - how to measure the mileage to a location that 's not specified in the film?  I'm going to use as a marker one of the main shooting locations, as listed on the IMDB.

Also starring Guy Pearce (last seen in "Death Defying Acts"), Ray Winstone (last seen in "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief"), Emily Watson (last seen in "Synechdoche, New York"), John Hurt (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1"), Noah Taylor (last seen in "Max").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  3,432 miles / 5,524 km  (Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Winton, Queensland, Australia)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   27,296 miles / 43,933 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 saddlebags

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Quiet American

Year 4, Day 300 - 10/26/12 - Movie #1,287

WORLD TOUR Day 51 - Vietnam

BEFORE: From Cambodia it's a short hop to Vietnam, and my last film set in Asia.  Linking from "The Killing Fields", Spalding Gray was also in the film "Twenty Bucks" with Brendan Fraser (last seen in "Bedazzled").

THE PLOT:  An older British reporter vies against a young American for the affections of a Vietnamese beauty.

AFTER:  Although (slightly) less depressing than last night's film, this really counts as another downer, sort of a think-piece about international politics and the turn to Communism that took place in Southeast Asia in the 1950's.  Once again we see events through the eyes of a reporter - only here it's a jaded one with little interest in filing stories, yet he must do so to be useful to prevent being recalled to London, which apparently is even more dreary than Saigon. 

This prompts him to head north and report on the developing turmoil in the region, accompanied by an American member of the OSS (precursor to the CIA), who also expresses an interest in the reporter's girlfriend, a former taxi dancer.  The love triangle that develops is a pretty blatant metaphor for the political situation in the background.  The Vietnamese girl represents her whole country, with the American upsetting a stable relationship with her European master, for selfish reasons of his own.  The American may be quiet, but he also may not be as dumb as he appears.

The very strong implication here is that America's actions/missteps in Vietnam in the 1950's had terrible repercussions, in trying to sow dissent in the country and back a new military faction, it created a power struggle that ultimately led to the Vietnam War.  In fact, the 1955 novel that this film is based on predicted the war so well that author Graham Greene was supposedly under surveillance by U.S. intelligence until he died in 1991.

Taken another way, it could also suggest that the petty jealousy of two men created a tinderbox situation that killed thousands, and that this also prevented the one man who could have stopped the war from doing so.  You make the call.

Also starring Michael Caine (last heard in "Cars 2"), Do Thi Hai Yen, Robert Stanton (last seen in "Mercury Rising"), Holmes Osborne (last seen in"Windtalkers").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  130 miles / 210 km  (Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   23,864 miles / 38,409 km

RATING:  4 out of 10 dance tickets

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Killing Fields

Year 4, Day 299 - 10/25/12 - Movie #1,286

WORLD TOUR Day 50 - Cambodia

BEFORE:  I know it seems like I'm bouncing between comedy and tragedy here, but the two are not so far off when you think about it.  The point of "The Hangover Part II" was that Thailand can be a very dangerous place, and isn't that probably the same point that this film makes about Cambodia?  Just putting that out there.

Linking from "The Hangover Part II", somehow Ken Jeong was in "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon" with John Malkovich (last seen in "Secretariat").  Yeah, that's a head-scratcher.

THE PLOT:  A photographer is trapped in Cambodia during tyrant Pol Pot's bloody "Year Zero" cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million "undesirable" civilians.

AFTER:  I almost did a tirade yesterday about how Hollywood should stop making movies that people "want" to see (which leads to making the same "Hangover" movie again and again) and instead focus on movies that people "need" to see.  This is clearly one of those films that needs to be seen.  Unfortunately it won't do well on my scale, which measures how entertained I feel afterwards, and there wasn't much here I found entertaining.

Important?  Sure.  Powerful?  Definitely.  But entertaining?  Nope, nope.  Not in the way that a war movie like "Windtalkers" or "Platoon" can be.  I'll probably get a lot of heat for rating this one lower than a piece of Hollywood pablum like "The Hangover Part II" though.  This film made it into the countdown based on its reputation and significance.

Let me be clear - I'm against communist regimes, genocide, and war in general.  In case you were wondering.  But like a lot of folks, I turn to movies as a form of escapism and fantasy, and this is just way too real.  Maybe this would have been better as a documentary of some fashion, since it's not what I look for in a dramatic film. I could get into the finer points of story arcs and character development, which happen to be absent here - instead there's just the action, and mostly it's bombs going off and people getting shot in the streets. 

I agree the story should be told, but, man, what a way to bring the room down.

Also starring Sam Waterston (last seen in "Capricorn One"), Haing S. Ngor, Julian Sands (last seen in "A Room With a View"), Spalding Gray (last seen in "Kate & Leopold"), Craig T. Nelson (last seen in "Silkwood").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  333 miles / 536 km  (Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   23,734 miles / 38,199 km

RATING: 3 out of 10 passport photos

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Hangover Part II

 Year 4, Day 298 - 10/24/12 - Movie #1,285

WORLD TOUR Day 49 - Thailand

BEFORE: I realize I'm all over the place thematically, but that's because most everything's organized by geography, and creating the path leading around the world is still working solidly.  Linking actors from "Kung Fu Panda 2", Seth Rogen was also in Monsters vs. Aliens" with Ed Helms (last seen in "Cedar Rapids").

THE PLOT: Two years after the bachelor party in Las Vegas, Phil, Stu, Alan, and Doug jet to Thailand for Stu's wedding. Stu's plan for a subdued pre-wedding brunch, however, goes seriously awry.

AFTER:  Much like the first film in this series, things go wrong.  Which is an understatement, because nearly everything goes wrong.  And as in the first film, they have to travel around town and retrace their steps from the night before, only the difficulty is amped up by moving the locale from Las Vegas to Bangkok, Thailand.  In addition to the language barrier (though everyone here seems to speak at least broken English), they've got to deal with a much rougher city - Vegas is so family-friendly these days anyway. 

The only other difference is which character's wedding is getting disrupted, and which character the "wolfpack" is looking for, but aside from that, this is almost a re-tread of the first film.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  People paid to see the same storyline again, so they've only got themselves to blame when "The Hangover Part III" hits theaters, and they wake up in a tenement building in the Bronx after a drug-fueled night that weaved through Times Square, Spanish Harlem and the Meatpacking District (whose name has another meaning after dark - oh yeah, I went there).

If you can believe that the same far-fetched scenario happened AGAIN without calculating the odds against it, you may enjoy this one - I mostly did, but I'm giving it the exact same score as the first film, though I probably should deduct a point for repetition.  Watch through the entire end credits, which explain a lot, and show you probably more than you ever thought you'd see on film.

If you find that you have a set of friends that cause you to have several occasions where you wake up in a room with no knowledge of the obviously dangerous activies of the night before, I do implore you to find yourself some better (and safer) friends.  I freely admit that I have attended a few beer events where I'm not quite sure how I got home afterwards, but I'm pretty sure nothing akin to the events in this film happened to me.

There's a school of thought that says that you won't engage in any behavior when drunk or high that you wouldn't do when sober, and I tend to agree with that.  One's moral code doesn't necessarily go out the window when intoxicated, but of course the movie sets out to portray an extreme example in the name of comedy.  Still, what does it say about this trio of adventurers, that the alcohol + drugs bring out their inner demons, who seem to have agendas of their own?

NITPICK POINT: Let's get real for a second here.  These guys fly to Thailand and are tired and jet-lagged.  (OK, maybe they slept for the entire 15-hour plane trip, but still...)  Am I to believe they hit upon the magical combination of alcohol and drugs that would not only give them superhuman energy AND endurance, lower their inhibitions, and keep them relatively cognizant BUT also completely wipe their memories of the night's events?  And that the effects would be identical on three or four different people with different body-types? 

Also starring Bradley Cooper (last seen in "The A-Team"), Zach Galifianakis (last seen in "It's Kind of a Funny Story"), Justin Bartha (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Ken Jeong (last heard in "Despicable Me"), Paul Giamatti (last seen in "Win Win"), with cameos from Jeffrey Tambor (last seen in "Paul"), and Mike Tyson (again?)

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  1,191 miles / 1,917 km  (Chengdu, China to Bangkok, Thailand)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   23,401 miles / 37,663 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 marshmallows

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kung Fu Panda 2

 Year 4, Day 297 - 10/23/12 - Movie #1,284

WORLD TOUR Day 48 - China

BEFORE:  This would have been a good time to insert a film like "Seven Years in Tibet", but I don't happen to have a copy.  Instead I'll move on to China, and the 2nd of 3 animated films in the World Tour.  Ahh, a direct link from "A Passage to India" finally presented itself - Judy Davis was also in "Absolute Power" with Dennis Haysbert (last seen in "Heat").

THE PLOT:  Po and his friends fight to stop a peacock villain from conquering China with a deadly new weapon, but first the Dragon Warrior must come to terms with his past.

AFTER:  I'm thinking I must be pretty burned out on movies for the year, if a thrill-ride of an animated film like this didn't really thrill me, it just felt like a ride.  In my defense, the film is pretty fast-paced and frenetic, which works well for the fight scenes, but not so much in the other parts.  This is entertainment for the A.D.D. generation, which needs a fight or an explosion, or at least somebody dropping something, every 30 seconds or so. 

Still, I can't fault the animation, which is gorgeous, and the characters and voice actors, which are darn nice too.  The story - eh, I don't know.  It definitely advanced Po's character arc, but also set him up for ANOTHER sequel, so you have to wonder about the motivation, I think.  Do the filmmakers care about the character, or do they just see him as a money machine?

Po and his cohorts continue to dazzle with their martial arts techniques - here they even combine panda-style and, say, tiger-style, for even more complex stunts.  You really have to pay attention, or watch the sequences several times, to really pick up on everything they did with the different animals' bodies in the fight scenes.  I'm sure there's a lot of innovative stuff that I missed.

This film presents me with a problem where the mileage is concerned - I'm guessing there's no real Gongmen City in China - but Wikipedia tells me that Dreamworks staffers visited Chengdu, China, which is known as the "panda hometown", and worked many visual elements of Chengdu into the film.  Good enough for me.

Also starring the voices of Jack Black (last seen in "The Fan"), Dustin Hoffman (last seen in "Little Fockers"), Angelina Jolie (last seen in "Life or Something Like It"), Gary Oldman (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter"), Jackie Chan (last seen in "Shanghai Knights"), Seth Rogen (last heard in "Paul"), Lucy Liu ("Shanghai Noon"), David Cross, James Hong, Danny McBride (last seen in "Due Date"), Michelle Yeoh, Victor Garber (last seen in "The Town") and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  2,084 miles / 3,354 km  (Bangalore, India to Chengdu, China)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   22,210 miles / 35,746 km

RATING: 6 out of 10 peacock feathers

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Passage to India

 Year 4, Day 296 - 10/22/12 - Movie #1,283

WORLD TOUR Day 47 - India

BEFORE: Teams must now fly to India and ride an elephant to receive their next clue.  (Sorry, I was channeling "The Amazing Race" there for a second...)  I've gone on to Asia, since I don't have access to the latest film in the "Madagascar" series.   This is sort of the follow-up to "A Room With a View", which was also based on a novel written by E.M. Forster.  Linking from "Born Free", Geoffrey Keen was also in a film called "Cromwell" with Alec Guinness (last seen in "The Ladykillers").

THE PLOT:  Cultural mistrust and false accusations doom a friendship in British colonial India between an Indian doctor, an Englishwoman engaged to marry a city magistrate, and an English educator.

AFTER: Well, it was either watch this film or "Gandhi", and I'm still not ready for that one.  This film was 2 hours and 45 minutes long, which was long enough.  Geez, I have to go to work in the morning!

The unintended theme developing this week seems to be the influence European colonialism - we had the French controlling things in Morocco in "Casablanca", the European gorilla poaching trade in Rwanda, and the British game warden managing the animal population in Kenya.  Tonight's setting, India, is the classic example of British Imperialism, and this film explores some of the differences between the Brits and the natives.  I must have been out sick when this was covered in school, because it's all new to me.

I can't say if it's all right or wrong, but it sure seems like the Brits treated the Indians as second-class citizens.   There are obvious resemblances here to the trial that's central to the plot of "To Kill a Mockingbird" - and here a British prosecutor makes some rather racist remarks about Hindu men preferring white women, but the reverse not being true.

As with other recently watched adaptations of novels, I've gone to the modern-day Cliff Notes, Wikipedia, to familiarize myself with the novel.  According to that, the ending of the novel was intentionally ambiguous with regard to Aziz's guilt or innocence.  So we're still left with the question about what exactly happened in the Marabar Caves, and what the deal is with Adela Quested. According to the IMDB, since E.M. Forster was homosexual, he was ambivalent towards women (not sure I follow the logic...) so therefore she can't be deluded, evil, malicious or stupid (again, not sure I follow the logic).

Alec Guinness appears here in dark-skin make-up (I thought that sort of thing was frowned upon) though he does lend some Hindu wisdom in a Kenobi-like fashion.  Basically, if things are meant to be, they're meant to be, and nothing we can do will change the outcome.  Seems more like an excuse to be lazy, if you ask me.

Also starring Judy Davis (last seen in "The Break-Up"), Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes").

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  2,965 miles / 4,772 km  (Nairobi, Kenya to Bangalore, India)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   20,126 miles / 32,392 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 tea parties

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Born Free

 Year 4, Day 295 - 10/21/12 - Movie #1,282

WORLD TOUR Day 46 - Kenya

BEFORE:  I might have been shown this film as a small boy, but I don't remember a thing about it, so I'm counting it as unseen, until now.  This is my final stop in Africa, this time I made it across a continent in just three days/movies.  Linking from "Gorillas in the Mist", Bryan Brown was also in a film called "Parker" with Ingrid Pitt, who was also in "Octopussy" with Geoffrey Keen.

THE PLOT:  Joy Adamson and her husband, Kenya game warden George Adamson, raise Elsa, a lion cub. When Elsa approaches maturity, Joy determines she must re-educate Elsa to living in the wild so that the lioness can return to a free life.

AFTER:  Well, this reinforces some of the things I said last night about animals, and animal activists.  I maintain that some animals are perfect for domestication, and others aren't - case in point, lions.  The Adamsons raise three lion cubs essentially as pets, then have to re-train one of them to live in the wild.  Seems to me they could have saved some time just by raising the lion to be, you know, a lion.

But of course they gain joy by having such a majestic lion live with them, and that's where I start to question their motives.  Who's to say which animals are majestic and which aren't?  The lions are perceived to be attractive - but isn't beauty arbitrary or subjective?  They train Elsa to kill her own food, starting with warthogs.  Well, who speaks up for the warthogs of the world?  Why does a lion deserve to survive and a warthog doesn't?  Are we paying respect to the natural food chain here, or are we giving favoritism to the "beautiful" animals? 

When the Adamsons cannot care for Elsa any more, they train her to live in the wild, since they can't bear the thought of sending her to live in a zoo.  Why?  Wasn't that good enough for her two siblings?   Instead of training her to be a killer, it seems the zoo would be a good fit for her, because the zookeepers would feed her every day, no re-training required.  Plus, what zoo wouldn't want a nearly-domesticated lion, to cut down on the dangers of dealing with a savage one?

Plus, if Elsa were in a zoo, the Adamsons could at least visit her regularly, as opposed to releasing her into the wild, and possibly never seeing her again.  So, I don't really follow the logic here, except that I've taken in stray cats, and after they learn to live indoors, I can't really see releasing them outside again, especially after I've become attached to them.  But those cats aren't lions, though they may think of themselves as such.

This is based on a true story, but obviously events were recreated for the film, and I'm pretty wary of this sort of thing where animals are concerned.  The old Disney nature documentaries from the 1950's are notorious for faking footage - to get the shot of a mountain goat stumbling and falling from a great height, they didn't film for days to get that footage - the goat was likely pushed by an off-screen helper.  The quite untrue urban legend about lemmings mindlessly jumping off cliffs came from the 1958 Disney film "White Wilderness", so I don't even want to think about how many innocent lemmings died from being needlessly hurled from a cliff to get that footage.

So, logically, they probably used domesticated lions to make this film, for the safety of the actors, and the whole point of the film is that domesticating lions is not really what's best for them.  I can't get past that irony.  And to get footage of lions fighting each other, they probably didn't find that occuring naturally, I bet they took tame lions and taught them to fight, which seems pretty low.  The film probably did a lot to advance the cause of conservationism, but does the end justify the means?

My major complaint against the film is the theme song - it's fine on its own (though WAY too likely to get stuck in one's head) but was completely overused for instrumentals throughout the whole film.  Every single piece of incidental music was based on that same tune, which was stale after about 10 minutes.

Also starring Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers.

DISTANCE TRAVELED TODAY:  504 miles / 812 km  (Mt. Karisimbi, Rwanda to Nairobi, Kenya)

DISTANCE TRAVELED SO FAR:   17,161 miles / 27,620 km

RATING: 4 out of 10 zebra carcasses