Monday, October 12, 2009

"Anvil! The Story of Anvil" / "The Girlfriend Experience" / "Wages of Fear" / "Wait Until Dark" / "A Boy and His Dog"

*I didn't think there was anything worth watching in the theaters this past weekend, so I'm just going to write a few short reviews of some DVDs I watched recently. I'll definitely have a review for Where the Wild Things Are next week and I might check out Paranormal Activity as well.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil - Directed by Sacha Gervasi - Not Rated

Anvil is the Kurgan's kind of music.

Anvil was a heavy metal band from the early '80s that debuted with the likes of Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth, but never reached the aforementioned bands' level of fame. This documentary asks why. If you're into '80s metal music and you've heard Anvil, you'd wonder why as well. The thing is that even though Anvil never hit it big, the two founding members, lead guitarist/singer Lips and drummer Robb Reiner, are still at it, trying to keep the dream alive.

That's really the theme behind this documentary: keeping the dream alive. Lips and Robb may fight and quit here and there, but they are in it for the long run. Even though they sometimes play shows with less than a dozen people at them, or they can't get proper transportation for their tour, they still keep at it and tend to stay upbeat as well. You can't help but like Lips and Robb and while it can be easy to laugh at them at times, you still feel sympathy for these guys. I, myself, ended up rooting for them and hoping for the best.

I mentioned that you could easily laugh at Anvil and that brings up the comparison of Anvil to Spinal Tap. Most people have been referring to Anvil as the real life Spinal Tap. I can certainly see the connection, but the most interesting and strange coincidence is that Spinal Tap is directed by Rob Reiner, not to be confused with Robb Reiner. I'll leave the connections at that. I suggest you watch both films if you haven't already. But certainly watch Anvil because a true story is always more interesting.

The Girlfriend Experience - Directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Sasha Grey - Rated R

Soderbergh's mainstream effort was much better.

Steven Soderbergh has an interesting career. Lately he has been making about two movies a year; one mainstream, one art house. The Informant! was Soderbergh's mainstream effort this year and The Girlfriend Experience (recently on DVD) is his independent film. I guess the main question is which Soderbergh do you like? I find myself edging towards the mainstream stuff, but I'm willing to check out the stranger Soderbergh films.

The Girlfriend Experience is about...well, I'm not sure what this film is about. Let's start with the title. The Girlfriend Experience is a reference to the type of work the main character Chelsea/Christine does. She's an escort, not to be confused with a prostitute. Men pay her to go on dates, for the most part. They talk about their lives, go to movies, go shopping, etc. In other words, she is a paid girlfriend. The film follows her around on some of these dates, but it interestingly leaves the sex off screen, the point being that the sex is only a minor part of the job to Chelsea. She seems to be more worried about her future. I'll just leave it at that, but the point is that this movie is more about the business of sex than it is about sex itself.

Keeping with that theory, Chelsea's boyfriend, Chris, is a personal trainer who is also worried about his financial future and you could argue that his job has sexual connotations as well since a lot of people work out to be attractive rather than to stay healthy.

The financial aspect of the film is a prominent subplot to this film as it was written/filmed during the latest financial crisis and it seems to be the only thing people talk about in the film. It's all kind of strange and it's all told in a disjointed narrative structure that kind of worked for me, I guess, but didn't really seem all that necessary. I don't know about this one, really. I can see how some people could latch on to it and praise it endlessly, but it left me kind of indifferent. So I think mainstream Soderbergh is better this year. Stick with The Informant! unless you're just really in the mood for something different.

Wages of Fear - Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, starring Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, and Folco Lulli - Not Rated

Nitroglycerin loaded trucks that could blow up any minute? Count the Kurgan in.

This French film from 1953 might seem like a random film to be reviewing, but there is a reason behind it. A few weeks back Stephen King mentioned the 1977 William Friedkin film Sorcerer in his Entertainment Weekly column. He mentioned that he liked that film, which is a remake of Wages of Fear, better than the original. I had not seen either at the time, so I decided to watch them both, starting with the original (review of Sorcerer to come in a week or two).

Wages of Fear, to put it shortly, is about four desperate men transporting nitroglycerin across a treacherous terrain. Of course they are getting paid very well for the job, hence the title. As you can imagine, a truck loaded with nitroglycerin on a lengthy trek through rocky roads creates quite a bit of suspense. This film handles that suspense superbly. I honestly found myself holding my breath at times. I don't want to go further into it, since suspense works better when you're unaware of what is coming next.

I will say this about the film, though. It is far too long. I didn't need the half hour or so beginning that took far too long to set up some rather simple issues. I suppose one could argue that the slow burn up to the actual action is part of the suspense, but I would argue that it is just plain boring and I nearly turned it off due to its pointlessness. So if you can get past that lengthy intro, you'll be treated to some great suspense. Is the remake better, though? I'll let you know what I think later this month.

One last thing: some people hate the ending of this film, but I found it hilarious and I honestly believe that Clouzot was going for a comedic look at life in general with that final moment. It's one of those scenes that comes after the characters have been through so much that my only possible response was to laugh.

Wait Until Dark - Directed by Terence Young, starring Audrey Hepburn, Richard Crenna, and Alan Arkin - Not Rated

A decent thriller, set apart by a creepy Alan Arkin.

Now I move on from the French suspense film to the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark. I came across this one because the guys on the Filmspotting podcast talked about it a few weeks ago and I had never seen it. Normally when I watch a movie like this or for this reason, I don't write about it, but I kind of liked this one.

Wait Until Dark is about Susy Hendrix (Hepburn), a blind woman who is terrorized by three men after a doll filled with heroin. The doll was smuggled into America and ended up in Susy's husband's hands. It's an interesting situation when you factor in the blindness.

What really stuck out and made me want to write about this movie, though, is Alan Arkin. I have never really seen him in anything when he was younger and he really surprised me in this. I think his performance is creepy and funny enough to warrant a watch on its own. But the film still has some good moments and it's just as good (and in my opinion, better) than most of the gore filled thrillers out today.

And if you get a chance to rent the DVD, watch the warning/trailer on the special features. The gimmick of turning the lights completely off in the theater near the end is amusing and the mention of refraining from "lighting up" cigarettes is a funny reminder that people were actually allowed to smoke during movies at one time.

A Boy and His Dog - Adapted and Directed by L.Q. Jones, starring Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, and Jason Robards - Rated R

How could a dark comedy set after the apocalypse featuring a telepathic dog not get a Kurgan?

I don't know how this one stayed under my radar for so long. A Boy and His Dog (1975) is about Vic (Johnson) and his dog, Blood. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Oh, and Vic and Blood are able to communicate telepathically...and Blood is definitely the smarter of the two. They spend their days scavenging for food for both of them and, whenever Blood is well fed, women for Vic. After a plot summary like that, I had to watch this. Also, if you're a fan of the video game "Fallout 3" you'll notice the connections between the two almost instantly.

The summary may make the movie sound a bit goofy, but it certainly has its darker moments as well. Getting women does not really mean that Vic is wanting to find a wholesome woman to date. It's more like rape, though the film doesn't show anything like that. He is about to rape the female lead, but is interrupted by marauders and eventually is treated to something more consensual. It's the thought that counts, though, and that's a creepy thought. But hey, it's the apocalypse, what do you expect. For the reason just mentioned (but especially for what happens at the end) this film is considered misogynistic. I can see where people are coming from, but I'm the type that finds the fun in the movie before I look for any kind of social statement. And if you're looking for a social statement, there's more to be said about the underground society in the film than there is about how Vic treats the ladies he finds.

Enough of that serious crap, though, this film is a comedy at heart. The banter between Vic and Blood is downright hilarious. Their conversations set the tone for the film. Yeah, this is the end of the world, but that doesn't mean it can't be funny. It's also funny to imagine how Don Johnson felt, talking, sometimes yelling, at a dog throughout the shoot. With Zombieland (a film with a similar message) doing well at the box office, I think its fair to say that A Boy and His Dog is a bit before its time.

A Boy and His Dog is dark, funny, disturbing, and quite entertaining. If you're looking for a good cult classic, you can't go wrong with this one. Just ignore the misogyny and focus on the laughs.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, Anvil has always been a good band and tried irregardless whether they were popular or not.