Friday, February 10, 2023

Notes on Film: Oops All Movies!

 by Anthony King

No pot-stirring this week.

Last week’s column brought some heat. Some people felt like I was targeting them specifically. Apparently I had struck a nerve with a few “that guy” guys. I am inspired by what I see on the World Wide Web, and I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. While we’re all unique in our own special way, each of us probably fits into a “that guy” box anyways. We have three options, then, as we look into the mirror: 1. We can grow, change, and/or shed our masks, revealing our true, authentic selves. 2. We can lean harder into the facade who we pretend to be and isolate ourselves further. 3. We can do nothing. I choose to grow and be vulnerable, thus the words you read from me every week. But sometimes we need a break, so with that in mind I thought I’d let things cool down a bit and just write about what I’ve been watching lately.
I continued my journey on the Road to Hell with Ogami and Daigoro with the third entry in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Baby Cart to Hades (1972). Two is often cited as the favorite in the series for many people. While I really enjoyed Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), I think Hades is going to be hard to beat for me. Ogami faces off against an entire army of killers, and one by one he slays each and every one, leaving a literal field of corpses at his feet followed by a breathtaking overhead shot that reveals the carnage left behind. It never fails to stun me that Tomisaburo Wakayama, in his wide-bodied frame, can move his body and swing his weapons around like Mikhail Baryshnikov on stage with the New York City Ballet. Just like when I watch Sammo Hung, it's inspiring for a fellow thicc boi to see the physicality of these husky gentlemen.

I'm currently reading Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October, and since I hadn't seen the movie for 30 years I thought I'd give it a spin. Reading Clancy's novel and watching the movie, I forgot how much I love the Jack Ryan stories. I'm not some sort of war or military fanatic, but there is nothing like a great military story. While Clancy's novel is great, it's the craftsmanship of director John McTiernan and cinematographer Jan de Bont that elevate Red October (1990) to the status of near masterpiece. A couple moments in the film left me speechless at the genius of the filmmaking. The first is the transition from speaking Russian to English aboard the Red October. The camera pushes in slowly on the political representative reading from the Bible; the camera stops and there's a beat in the dialogue; the camera then starts pulling out slowly and we're all of a sudden listening to the same man speaking English. It's truly brilliant. The second is a seemingly innocuous, almost transitional shot where after commands are called on the sub the camera cuts through officers working on the computers aboard the boat. But upon further examination it's a Wellesian-esque thing that we saw a couple times in Citizen Kane (1941) where the camera pushes through or pulls back from a table or sign. In Red October the camera goes right through the workstations of the officers where the sets obviously had to break apart to allow the camera through. I watched that moment a dozen times and each time found myself reenacting the Antonio Banderas Assassins gif.
Staying on top of my movie goals, I watched my twelfth new release of the year. Infiesto (2023), from Spanish writer/director Patxi Amezcua was one I had reservations about because of its COVID-centric plot. But I'm usually 80/20 in favor of the Netflix original foreign films, so I pulled the trigger. Starring Isak Ferriz and Iria del Rio, Infiesto is a remarkable throwback to the Se7en or Zodiac style of David Fincher. Just as a nationwide lockdown has been put into effect at the beginning of the pandemic in Spain, two detectives begin investigating a kidnapping case after a victim is found wandering the streets. As the investigation deepens, a simple kidnapping reveals itself to be part of a bigger, darker plot. Amezcua finds a way to mix COVID – the unknowable aspects of the disease, and the anger and panic involved – with a thrilling detective story that doesn't seem exploitive of the pandemic yet doesn't deliver it with a heavy hand. At 96 minutes this movie blows right by you and keeps you involved for every single minute. Prepare to be stunned in the third act. Like Sick (2022), we now have two COVID movies that completely blindside us in the third act. This currently sits in the number three spot for the year behind Sick and Narvik (2022) for me.
The last two movies I'll talk about briefly. While still floating on my McTiernan high from Red October, I finally watched Predator (1987) for the first time. I'd basically seen the entire film between clips and gifs and knew everything about it, but I'd still yet to sit down and watch it from top to bottom. It was exactly what I thought it would be and the cast is a literal chef's kiss. One tweet I saw recently from @genadoesthings had me in stitches: “I've watched Predator many times, and the most horrifying part is still Mac (Bill Duke) relaxing himself by dry shaving.” We're always talking about impressive directorial movie runs. I still say Friedkin has the best with The French Connection (1971), The Exorcist (1973), and Sorcerer (1977). Carpenter's seven-movie run from Escape from New York (1981) to They Live (1988) is incredible. Hitchcock with Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963) is hard to argue with. But I think McTiernan at least deserves a mention in the conversation with Predator, Die Hard (1988), and The Hunt for Red October.
And finally my year of Woo continued with Broken Arrow (1996). Like Predator I feel like Broken Arrow was made specifically for the trailer. Bad guy Travolta is my favorite Travolta and I think he carries the most nuclear mix of charisma and danger as the big bad. I remember seeing this on VHS in 1997 and I didn't love it. And while some of the performances are subpar this movie still fucking rules. What's not to love? Cool jets, nuclear bombs, desert explosions (I still don't know how they did the crater scene), Howie Long, Delroy Lindo, and a train! A perfect movie it is not but it's a syringe full of fun and excitement that I'll be happy to inject into my veins every couple years going forward. So as it stands, I've watched 10 Woos in 2023, three of them short films, with Hard Boiled (1992) at the top of the rankings and Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979) at the bottom, but there isn't a bad one in the bunch.

Maybe next week I'll go back to pissing people off. Until then, watch a McTiernan!

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