Tuesday, August 27, 2019

"Seraphim Falls" - War Is Purgatory.

*I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie, so...SPOILERS. Also, this means I don’t waste words summarizing the plot of the movie. Honestly, my articles are best read after recently watching the movie.

I’m still working through all of the westerns in my collection, and I chose this one because, similar to Appaloosa, I forgot I even had it. I remember being very excited for this movie when I saw the previews for it, and then it never really came out. It ended up only getting a limited release then it was released on DVD, which is how I saw it. I really don’t understand why this happened. The two leads, Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson, were bankable enough (then and now) to warrant a wide release. And while the film ends up in pretty unique territory, the majority of it is traditional western. I suppose someone at the studio was not impressed with the final product. And that’s a shame, because this is an entertaining and thought-provoking western that deserves a larger audience.

War is purgatory.

One of the main things I remembered about Seraphim Falls was that the first time I watched it I considered Pierce Brosnan to be the good guy, then the flashback reveals he’s more of a villain than Neeson (based on what we’re shown, we don’t know what kind of military officer Neeson was). I thought that was an interesting way to tell the story for multiple reasons.

First of all, it’s always more interesting to play with an audience’s expectations. We identify with Brosnan because the story begins with him and mostly follows him. He’s portrayed as someone just living on their own who is being hunted by Neeson for unclear reasons. Neeson, on the other hand, is shown to be ruthless to the point that he comes across as evil, though most of his actions are fair, if cold-blooded (he shot the young guy out of mercy, he killed Ed Lauter’s horse because Lauter backed out of their deal, and it was Neeson’s horse, and killing Wincott...well, that was a bit evil, but Wincott was the skeeziest of the crew, so it’s forgivable). 

A movie is much more interesting if you have to decide who you should root for, if anyone. Brosnan’s actions post-Civil War make him seem like a decent person, and it’s not like he intentionally killed Neeson’s family (though fault ultimately must fall to him since the war was basically over at that point). Neeson, in the flashback, seemed like a good family man, but since that tragic day he has become more villainous in his quest for vengeance. Neeson’s turn is nothing new. It’s revenge story 101: the pursuit of vengeance often turns the victim into the villain. 

Brosnan’s character is more interesting because aside from the flashback, he’s not very remorseful. He’s basically a survivalist. By living a solitary life as a trapper in the mountains, he’s obviously decided that society is not for him, but that doesn’t mean he wants to die. So he’ll survive all the horrible crap that happens to him in the early moments in the film, and he’ll kill anyone trying to kill him. He’s not against Neeson killing him, but he’s not going to let him do it, either. I found that refreshingly realistic. People do terrible things or are responsible for them, but that doesn’t mean they lose the will to live. But what exactly is keeping Brosnan going? 

We find out in the end that war is what kept these two men going, even into the afterlife. Without his search for vengeance, what is Neeson’s life? Without being pursued, what is Brosnan’s life? Their personal conflict borne of a national war defines them beyond their natural lives. 

It’s clear by the end that at the very least, the last fifteen minutes of this movie take place in the afterlife, specifically in purgatory. Both characters come across a Native American in charge of water named in the credits as Charon (the ferryman of the River Styx in mythology) and the devil (Anjelica Huston’s character’s name is fucking Louise C. Fair), who provides them with weapons to continue their war (both characters appear out of nowhere, by the way). When Brosnan and Neeson meet one last time they decide to lay down their arms and go their separate ways, and they disappear into the landscape. I don’t see how anyone can argue that any of that was meant to be actually happening in reality. 

What can be argued is when Brosnan and Neeson die. The most likely answer is that they die of dehydration while chasing each other in the desert. I like to think that they’ve been dead the entire movie, and the flashback is the only thing that actually happened in the “real” world. I don’t have any evidence of this exactly, aside from the whole movie seemingly populated by lost souls in desolate settings. I prefer this interpretation because of what it means to the movie thematically. (I acknowledge my theory is probably wrong since the film provides a time and place stamp at the beginning, not to mention there’s nothing too weird in the film until Charon and Louise C. Fair show up. This is still the way I prefer to interpret the movie, though.)

Seraphim Falls is essentially an anti-war movie. The two main characters only find peace when they realize that they don’t have to fight, much like how humanity in general must realize that war does not have to be inevitable. Why I like the idea that these two characters (and every character, really) are dead the whole time is because it makes the effect of war that much deeper. These men lived by war, possibly died by war, and now continue their war into eternity, unless they change their ways. Them being dead the entire time makes it more interesting because it makes the struggle a much longer process. If they die in the desert, then they are only in purgatory for a few minutes. If they’re dead the whole time, who knows how long this has been going on? It makes their decision at the end to drop their weapons more meaningful if they finally change after all this time. Either way, the ending is effective, and it makes Seraphim Falls much more than just a western.

Why do I own this?

This is probably one of those that I would not have purchased if it came out today. Still, after all these years, it made for a fresh viewing, as I had forgotten most of it. Plus, I’m a sucker for westerns in general.

Random Thoughts

Some of the previews on the DVD make sense, but a couple are odd choices. I’m looking at you, Seinfeld -Season 8 and Half Nelson.

I watched this in August, but I still felt cold during those early scenes with Brosnan.

Brosnan taking that bullet out of his arm and cauterizing the wound is pretty hardcore.

Michael Wincott! He makes any movie better.

Ha ha! Forgot that he killed the first guy by dropping a knife into his forehead. 

Definitely forgot that he cut open the dead dude to warm up his hands…

The rare non-wormy Kevin J. O'Connor role.

That is an interesting use of a bear trap.

I know Jimmi Simpson and Nate Mooney's characters don't have official last names, so I'll just assume they're McPoyles.

How distracting is that, though? The McPoyles showing up in a movie before they were the McPoyles is crazy. It would be one thing if they were in different parts of the movie, but they're together and are even relatives (cousins) according to their names in the credits.

There's plenty going on Biblically early on, but things definitely get more overt later on, with them running into missionaries and talking about God not being out there.

This is certainly a film about extremes, starting in a snowy landscape and ending in a hot desert. 

Brosnan emerging from the horse carcass makes the movie for me. It's just so sudden. The first time I saw watched this, I had to scan back and watch it a few more times.

Brosnan's character must've seen Empire. The taun taun scene inspired him.

Talk about a slow burn (no pun intended) to get to the explanation for Neeson's vengeance.

But my God, what a bleak flashback. 

"You said the house was empty!"
"They're Rebs, Captain."
That's a hell of an excuse to burn a mother and her two children (one an infant) alive.

"For they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword." 
Does that quote refer to Neeson's family? You fought a war, so your family dies? It doesn't seem to be about Brosnan himself or he would have let Neeson kill him.

Wes Studi's character, in the credits, is called Charon. And he guards the only water source around. But Charon ferries the dead across the water. So now it seems these two are dead already.

Which is even more evident when Louise C. Fair shows up at the end. That name is about as subtle as De Niro's in Angel Heart: Louis Cyphre.

I suppose my takeaway from the ending is that these men are dead and in purgatory. They will stay there as long as they keep their vengeance and war alive. Once they lay down their weapons, their souls are freed. I like it, especially since that message can apply to the loving as well.


Thursday, August 22, 2019

"Kung Pow" - Come Back, Steve Oedekerk, We Need Your Dumb Comedy.

*I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie, so there is little summary and plenty of SPOILERS. (Although I find it impossible to believe that anyone could be upset by having Kung Pow spoiled for them.)

I’ve saved the dumbest for last. After revisiting Nothing to Lose, I decided to rewatch every Steve Oedekerk-directed movie I own, saving Kung Pow: Enter the Fist for last because it seemed to be most Oedekerk-y of the three. Oedekerk specialized in dumb comedy for a while, but has seemingly disappeared in the last few years. I can’t find any kind of recent update on him, and he has nothing in production listed on IMDb. I know this movie didn’t set the world on fire, and his animated film was a bit of a disappointment (and his short films featuring...thumbs didn’t seem to be meant for anyone’s amusement but his own), but I don’t understand why he’s not still working. Perhaps it was the changing popularity in comedy. Dumb comedy isn’t as welcome as it used to be. And let me be clear, I think dumb comedy is actually pretty damn smart. Anyone can make stupid noises and just copy other shit (I’m looking at you, Superhero Movie, Disaster Movie, etc.). It takes skill to be stupid and genuinely funny, and Oedekerk had that. Maybe it was all those not-even-really-parody Movies that put an end to Oedekerk’s style. Whatever it was, it’s been long enough. This guy deserves to be able to make a new dumb comedy every couple years, and Kung Pow is evidence that his stupidity knows no bounds.

If this is dumb comedy, what does it say about me that I still like it?

The main reason I’ve revisited Oedekerk’s movies is because I find comedy interesting in that your sense of humor probably changes the most over time. So I guess I use these movies within my collection to gauge how much my sense of humor has, or hasn’t, changed. The best way to check it is to watch something I consider to be very dumb, and see if it still makes me laugh. Which brings me to Kung Pow

I first watched this movie when it was released in theaters back in 2002. I liked it so much that I watched it twice. That’s right: I saw Kung Pow: Enter the Fist in the theater...twice. This particular type of dumb comedy (silly voices, intentionally bad dubbing, absurdity, fart jokes, 4th wall-breaking) was right up my alley. Watching it again, it still is. 

Parts of the movie don’t work for me (most of the CG is terrible and pointless, especially the cow), but they didn’t work for me the first time I watched it, either. I literally laughed out loud at some of this movie when I watched it the other day. I can’t stress enough how rare it is for me to be watching a movie, alone, that I’ve seen before, and laugh out loud multiple times. 

I’m glad Kung Pow still makes me laugh. It means I haven’t become a joyless asshole. Perhaps this will be my comedy barometer for the rest of my life.

We need Steve Oedekerk, now more than ever.

I like Kung Pow in particular because Oedekerk was clearly allowed to make as dumb of a movie as he wanted, and he went for it. I miss that devotion to stupidity. 

Stupid comedies still exist, but they are definitely more rare than they were 15-25 years ago. I’m sure it has more to do with profitability than taste, but I don’t see why someone like Oedekerk isn’t still working regularly. 

Also, Jim Carrey could use the work. It’s not that he’s suffering or anything, but his return to Dumb and Dumber was a misfire. If he truly wanted to recreate the comedic magic of his early career, then he needs to team back up with Oedekerk. They had a project they were both connected to listed on IMDb called Ricky Stanicky that actually sounded kind of interesting (a group of friends made up a person named Ricky Stanicky that they blamed everything on and have to hire Carrey to be him for real), but it’s been in development hell for years and is likely dead. 

And that’s too bad, because I would love to see what kind of stupid shit Carrey and Oedekerk could get up to these days. Until then, I’ll just have to keep going back to movies in my collection like Kung Pow and When Nature Calls. I’m all for R-rated and sophisticated comedies, but the high schooler in me (that apparently won’t die) still yearns for silly voices and farts. I hope that never changes.

Why do I own this?

I think I laid it out pretty clearly above, but I loved it years ago, which is why I originally bought it. And now I’m glad to have it to check up on my sense of humor from time to time.

Random Thoughts

This reminded me a lot of Bad Lip Reading. In fact, if Oedekerk had this idea today, it would probably just end up being a YouTube channel. I would subscribe to it.

There is an Oedekerk YouTube page, but I can’t tell if it’s run by him or a fan. And the most recent video was teasing something...thumb-related coming soon. No thanks.

I can't think of another DVD title screen that starts off by explaining the premise of the movie.

This is back in the good old days of DVD title screens that talk to you and shit. It was very annoying if you fell asleep watching the movie and the title screen started playing on a loop.

I still think Betty's voice is kind of funny.

This type of comedy is still right up my alley. I love when a movie uses an obvious dummy for action scenes (like the baby rolling down the hill at the beginning).

"He was raised by various rodents."

"I'm not a doctor, but it was like one clean chunk."

This is even dumber than I remember…

...but the horrible dubbing and repeating scenes are still pretty funny. 

"Your story makes my heart heavy and my prostate weak. My bladder is full to bursting."

"I must apologize for Wimp Lo. He is an idiot. We have purposely trained him wrong, as a joke."

"Prepare the long rubber glove."

The cow fight was too stupid.

There are plenty of Matrix gags that haven't aged well.

That Master Tang voice Oedekerk does sounds so much like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog that I checked to see if Robert Smigel did the voice. Oedekerk describes it as sounding like Edward James Olmos. I guess I hear it a bit.

"I'll kill him. I'll kill him dead. Hmm, like with...with a rock or something."

Even at 81 minutes, this feels pretty damn long.

Hooters and Taco Bell are both thanked at the end of the credits. I'm not surprised. 


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"Once Upon a Time...Inherent Vice."

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the film, so...SPOILERS. (This also applies to Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood.)

I’m still sticking with my current monthly plan of Van Damme, Oedekerk, and western, but getting a chance to see Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood inspired me a bit. That’s why I went ahead and wrote a review of that, but it also made me want to revisit Inherent Vice. Basically, I wanted to rewatch Once Upon, but that wasn’t a possibility for me, so I went with the film it most reminded me of with Inherent Vice

Once Upon a Time...Inherent Vice

There are some obvious connections between these two films (the setting, the Manson references, the comedic tone, etc.), but the main connection I found was both films’ theme dealing with the end of an era. It’s as if Inherent Vice’s world is what Tarantino wanted to prevent by changing history at the end of his fairy tale. That’s probably why Once is a much lighter, funnier film than Inherent Vice

In Inherent Vice, the overall point (as far as I’m concerned, anyway) was the death of the carefree ‘60s and the birth of the paranoid ‘70s. This is evidenced by the general tone, especially the music, of the film, but it’s pretty obvious with the plot, when you can follow it, that is. You see the co-opting of the hippie movement (Bigfoot playing a hippie in a commercial, Owen Wilson being planted within the community by a government agency), and the general fear of hippies and drug users because of Charles Manson (when the cop pulls over Doc with Dr. Blatnoyd, Japonica, and Denis he lists all the things they’re on the lookout for and Denis even namedrops Manson). You get the sense that within Doc’s own life things were simpler when he was with Shasta, but now things have changed and it seems like everything is controlled by sinister forces. So even when they seem to end up together at the end, Doc is still looking in the mirror behind him, as if someone might be following him. Things will never be the same. 

This is what Tarantino laments in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. He’s more specifically concerned with Hollywood (hence, the title) than the general culture, but it’s still about how the Manson murders helped put an end to a carefree era. You get the sense of foreboding with Once Upon anytime you see the Manson women (hitchhiking, dumpster diving, etc.), and it comes to the forefront when Cliff ends up at the ranch, in an amazingly tense, creepy sequence. Overall, things are kept fairly light because Tarantino’s film is a fairy tale, not only for the main characters of Rick and Cliff, but for all of Hollywood, as well. Tarantino’s film posits that stopping Manson’s followers could let that world stay the same. You could argue that stopping Manson’s followers would not have stopped the change in our culture, but it is a fairy tale, so in that world maybe it could have. 

This is why I think Inherent Vice and Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood make a great double feature. And it doesn’t matter what order you watch them in. If you go with Vice first, you see a more historically accurate change in the culture, and if you follow that with Once Upon, you get to what things were like before and how it could have been avoided. I think it works better with Hollywood first, though. In that order, you get to see this world and its alternate history, and Inherent Vice becomes this darker sequel about what would have happened if things went differently at the end of Hollywood. Either way, both films create a world I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon in.

It’s weird feeling nostalgic for an era I never experienced.

Feeling nostalgic for the world of either film is strange since I wasn’t alive during this time. It’s nothing new to want to live in a fictional world that I don’t personally identify with (like, say, wanting to live in the world of Star Wars even if I would have probably just been a moisture farmer or nerf herder…), but to feel a bit of nostalgia for a real time period I didn’t experience is a strange feeling because it’s a world I almost experienced. 

I was born in 1984, so most of my childhood memories are late ‘80s/early ‘90s. To me, those were carefree times, but I’m sure they weren’t to adults who had grown up in the ‘50s and 60’s. So I think this feeling that the world changed because of one or more events is something that happens to every generation. For me, it’s 9/11. But that also happened during my senior year of high school, a common time for people to start thinking more about the world instead of their own silly lives. 

My generation is unique, however, in that we will be the last people to remember a time of landline phones, no internet (at least no internet in its current ubiquitous form[fun fact: Pynchon included a subplot about the beginnings of the internet in the book, so even that was covered to a degree]), no DVR, etc. I still remember a time when driving around was a thing, and people had to track each other down to hang out and make plans. We had to look things up the hard way, and the world could be more interesting and mysterious due to our lack of information. Now, with information both real and fake being presented at a nonstop rate, it’s easy to look back to my childhood, or an era like the ‘60s, and think, “Man, I wish things were like that again.” This is all ignoring the common issues with nostalgia, by the way, like the fact that no time period is ever as great or simple as you remember it, and odds are it was a terrible time period for entire groups of people different than yourself. But at face value, that’s where my nostalgia for an era I never experienced comes from.

That written, it’s not so crazy to feel like there was a time in my life that was similar to Inherent Vice and Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. With Vice, the main thing that comes across to me is the generally hanging out feeling I get as Doc seems to randomly wander through the story. I feel like high school was like that a bit: just living in the moment, not worrying too much about the future. As for Hollywood, I feel like the movies I grew up watching aren’t really made anymore, so Hollywood has changed for me. Once again, I think this happens to every generation, and it has a lot more to do with getting older than it does with cults and terrorists. But who wouldn’t want to live in a fairy tale where these terrible things never happened?

Why do I own this?

It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

Random Thoughts

“Someone might be watching.” The foreboding beginning is brought full circle in the final moments of the film as Doc keeps checking his mirror as if he’s checking for a tail. The era of paranoia had begun.

Brolin in that commercial at the beginning is the most subtly threatening hippie of all time.

“So while suspect, that’s you, was having alleged midday nap so necessary to the hippie lifestyle…”

Doc watching Bigfoot eat that chocolate-covered banana…

Now that I’ve seen Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, I get the joke Doc makes to the FBI guys about “missing” an episode.

“What’s a Puck Beaverton?” Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Game of Thrones: “What the fuck’s a Lommy?”

“[F]rom a bass player turned record company executive, which trend watchers took as further evidence of the end of Hollywood, if not the world as they know it.” I think of this and Once Upon as films very much about the end of Hollywood and the world as people knew it back then.

“‘Gee,’ he thought, ‘I don’t know.’”

I kind of disliked/didn’t pay much attention to Sortilege’s narration the first couple times I watched this. Watching it now, I feel like her narration, while nonsensical at times (the astrology stuff, but maybe that’s just me), actually sums up a lot of the film’s themes.

“Are you sayin’ that the U.S. is somebody’s mom?”

The Last Supper image with the pizza is one of my favorites. It beautifully visualizes Owen Wilson as Christ-like (mainly in that he has returned from the “dead”), and I remember reading about it in the book and PTA captured it perfectly.

I never give this film enough credit for being a love story. That scene with Doc and Shasta looking for dope after calling the number from the Ouija Board is a great moment that effectively captures what it’s like to be in a great relationship during a carefree time. It is the perfect subplot (in a film that seems to be nothing but subplots) for the theme of innocence lost as paranoia sets in. In the film, that theme applies to the changing culture in America at the time, but it can also apply to Doc and Shasta’s relationship in the end. They seem to be slightly back together, but the innocent, carefree love of before is gone. Doc is driving forward, as is their relationship, but who knows where it’s headed now? And when did he start worrying about where things were headed? Perhaps that’s the real loss of the hippie culture of the ‘60s. People stopped living in the moment are started living in fear of the future. But what do I know? I was born in 1984.

“You know it?”
“Shakes a tambourine.”
I have to remember to start using that instead of “rings a bell.”

This is the first time I noticed that Japonica’s dad was with the Voorhees-Krueger law office. Of all the unexpected elements of this film, a reference to Jason and Freddy is pretty high on the list.

“God help us all. Dentists on trampolines.”

“Did I hit you?”

I guess I just have a soft spot for movies that are about an end of an era without being too obvious about it.

“So you guys been working for the Golden Fang long?”

In the end, Shasta references it being like the Ouija day, and it being “Just us.” But Doc looks suspicious of this now. 

“Under the paving-stones, the beach!” I forgot this text was at the end of the credits. I think it fits in with my general thoughts about the theme of the film, in that the corruption, drugs, and paranoia in general became the paving stones while enjoying a simpler life was the beach.