Labor Day 2009 Movie Marathon

Some thoughts on the ten movies that I watched during my Labor Day 2009 movie marathon.
The Fisher King - Terry Gilliam

Longtime readers of the site may recall that I would take advantage of the three-day Labor Day weekend to gorge on movies; it served as a clearinghouse of sorts for my movie-watching queue. But apparently, it’s been seven years since my last marathon (several major life changes in the past few years are no doubt responsible for the delay).

But with the rest of the family out of town for the weekend, I decided to make up for lost time. I got a couple of stacks of DVDs from the neighborhood Blockbuster, broke out the Excedrin and junk food, and went to town. Here are the results, in order of having been viewed.

The Warriors (B) — One of those cult films that I’ve been meaning to see for years. While dated in so many ways, it’s so retro that it occasionally feels timeless. The film’s visuals are quite gripping at times, successfully turning late night New York into an almost alien wasteland that looks like noone’s live there for at least a decade. On a related note, I predict the remake that’s due out in 2010 is going to suck and suck real hard.

Wolfhound (D-) — The current crop of Russian sci-fi/fantasy cinema has done very little for me to date and Wolfhound is no different. It’s been called a cross between Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian, which sounds pretty awesome, but unfortunately, Wolfhound can’t decide what it wants to be — epic high fantasy or hack n’ slash swords n’ sorcery — and so it ends up being neither. It takes itself too seriously to be any fun, and yet parts of it are so goofy that you can’t take it seriously. The hero’s pet bat and mile-long lightsaber are kind of cool, though.

Tokyo! (Gondry: B+, Carax: D, Bong: B-) — The premise of this collection of three short films is that they’re all set in Tokyo, but all made by non-Japanese directors. Michel Gondry’s short, which involves a young woman going through a Kafka-esque transformation upon moving to the city is the best, full of Gondry’s trademark visuals and clever effects. Bong Joon-ho’s short is a little abstract, but his story of a hikikomori slowing coming out of his shell becomes quite enthralling due to the gorgeous visuals. Leos Carax’ segment, which centers on a strange man living in Tokyo’s sewers who commits random violent acts throughout the city is a waste of time.

Special (B) — Even if you can’t remember his name, chances are you’ve seen Michael Rapaport before — he’s just one of those actors. And he gives a very strong performance here as a lonely, depressed man who becomes convinced that his experimental medication has given him superpowers. It meanders a bit at times, and fails to develop a few plot lines, but as a character study, it’s solid and quite moving at times. Not your typical superhero movie — and no, it’s not a deconstruction of the genre — and that’s a good thing.

The Road Warrior (A) — One of the greatest action and post-apocalyptic films of all time. And even though, like The Warriors, it feels really dated, the totality of its vision — which is helped, no doubt, by the barren Australian backdrop — is nothing less than believable. And so, while I love the movie for its awesome action sequences, I must confess that I also find this movie frightening because part of me is convinced that this is how the world could easily end up — with vicious gangs dressed up in bondage gear ruling the highways.

Ninja Empire (F-) — Godfrey Ho became famous for taking the footage from one of his films and re-editing it with footage from other films, re-dubbing it, and releasing it with a different title under a pseudonym. Using this “cut and paste” technique, he released dozens of films, including a number of crappy ninja films like Ninja Empire. I love ninja films and I love crappy ninja films, but this falls squarely in the “so bad it should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention” category. And no, it’s not even MST3K-worthy; I doubt even those brilliant minds could polish this turd.

Coraline (B+) — I love Neil Gaiman’s storylines and I like stop-motion animation, so this one was pretty much a no-brainer. And it doesn’t disappoint. This is a film I definitely look forward to showing my kids someday. But even better, there’s something in this film for me as a parent, in that it deals, subtly, with parents being too busy for the kids (e.g., a father who brushes of his kid so he can get back to work on his computer).

The Fisher King (A) — Brazil is still my favorite Terry Gilliam movie, but I can certainly see why The Fisher King is so beloved. It’s madcap and unhinged in places, but what do you expect when you’ve got Terry Gilliam directing Robin Williams? But there’s also so much heart in this film, be it Williams’ character “stalking” his fair lady or the damage and healing that Jeff Bridges’ character dishes out and receives. If and when I ever get my movie discussion group back up and running, this one will be added to the queue.

In Bruges (B) — I love hitmen films, but this is a hitmen film that’s unlike most. It’s hilariously amoral at times, surprisingly touching and thought-provoking at others — like a Guy Ritchie film with a conscience. The two leads — Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson — give tremendous performances, but Ralph Fiennes steals the show as their vicious yet “principled” boss. The scene where he excoriates a man for letting himself get shot with his own gun was probably my favorite scene of the weekend.

Italian for Beginners (B) — I’ll admit, it took me awhile to get into this film, due no doubt to the fact that it is a Dogme 95 film. But its charm eventually won out via a series of surprising revelations, and I found myself drawn to this unlikely bunch of Danish folks studying Italian and the myriad ways that grace and joy filter into their lonely lives. If nothing else, this movie made me want to go to Venice. Who’s with me?

And there you have it. 10 movies in one weekend — and I’m still relatively coherent. Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

(For what it’s worth, I had hoped to end with Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar but alas, it wouldn’t play correctly in either of my DVD players — and I dislike watching movies on computers.)

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