R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: Rob's Week at the Movies

So for some reason, this past week I kind of went crazy at the movies. I know most professional movie writers and critics see about this same number of films every week, but five movies in seven days is a big stretch for a working stiff like myself. I even found time to watch some films on DVD I hadn’t seen before, so this week was basically all movies all the time when I wasn’t at my regular job. Still, it was a ton of fun for the most part, but didn’t leave me a lot of time to sit down and put together a column, so basically you guys are just getting a recap of my week at the movies.

Batman Starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger. Directed by Tim Burton

One of the local Cinemarks in my area was recently converted into an art house theater, so its playing more foreign films and independent movies. A short time ago they started doing what they call “Déjà vu Tuesdays”, where they show an older movie, and on Monday of this week I found out they were playing Tim Burton’s Batman. Feeling like the only one of my friends who managed to miss Batman on its original run in the summer of 89 amongst the likes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, I decided to rectify the situation.

I can honestly say now, that if you haven’t seen Batman in the theater, you haven’t really seen Batman. While this was already a film I enjoyed, seeing the picture on the big screen was a completely new experience. This weird world that Tim Burton created completely enveloped me, as his Gotham City feels like a real place, not just the set decoration that it would go on to become in later entries of this series.

I really love this entire world, where modern conveniences juxtaposed with gangsters who wear pinstripes and fire Tommy-guns. This art-deco universe is stunning in a theater, and creates an atmosphere that few Superhero movies have ever been able come close to. From the very first moment in the film, Burton makes you believe in this universe, and because of that you are able to buy all the ridiculousness that follows.

Unfortunately, seeing this movie on the big screen also does bring out some of its weaknesses. First and foremost is the movie’s love story, which is really just thrown together for the sake of the plot. Basinger and Keaton don’t have a lot of chemistry and its painfully obvious in their BIG declaration of love scene. The romantic portion of this film has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but I suppose that’s pretty much par for the course.

Still, the movie manages to be awesome in its iconography. Keaton and Nicholson face off in a titanic struggle, and Nicholson is ludicrously fun this entire picture. I can’t tell you how much I love the scenes in which the Joker talks to the corpse of the gangster he’s just fried to death, or the infomercial for Smilex. Its those scenes that keep me watching this movie, even if Keaton gets underplayed as Batman. Getting to finally see this movie in the theater was a terrific experience, but honestly it doesn’t compare to the movie I saw the next night.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach. Directed by Sergio Leone

On Monday night I watched the new Criterion Collection edition of Jean Pierre Mellville’s Army of Shadows. In a conversation with a buddy of mine afterwards I told him “I don’t remember the last time I watched a movie that good”. On Wednesday night at Lexington landmark, the Kentucky Theater, that conversation was already moot. The Kentucky Theater is this charming old-school theater that’s like watching a movie in a gigantic church. Every summer they do a lineup of classic films. Leone’s masterpiece was one of the last of the summer.

Good God, what a movie. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly was absolutely stunning in the theater. That first wide-angle vista that immediately turns into a tight close-up on one of the ugliest men you’ve ever seen is an immediate jolt to the system, and then Leone slows it down. I love this opening scene, as Leone focuses on these three men in the very beginning. One looks as if he’s about to cry, as he’s about to get vengeance for a deep wrong that’s been done to him, until instead of firing on each other, the three men rush into a saloon to their deaths, and Eli Wallach’s Tuco busts out of a window.

What struck me about seeing the film in a theater was just how overpoweringly entertaining Wallach is in this movie. Wallach’s badgering of Eastwood as his Blondie turns Tuco in for reward had me in absolute stitches, and every scene he’s in after that he completely steals from the other two leads. This is despite the fact that Eastwood has perhaps never been cooler, and Lee Van Cleef has never been more evil. I’m not sure any two actors have ever done more with so little, as Eastwood probably has a total of eight minutes of dialogue in a three hour movie, and Van Cleef all told is barely on screen, but both make indelible impressions with those roles.

Sitting in a theater, letting this movie take over your entire field of vision is what watching movies on the big screen is all about, and no one did big like Leone. To think that in the middle of the 1960’s he was able to orchestrate this masterpiece blows the mind. The enormity of the movie’s Civil War battle sequence is incredible, as is the final explosion of the bridge. Then the movie’s final duel envelopes you in its perfect blend of music, cinematography and cool.

That duel, as well as the showdown where Blondie asks Tuco “Well you gonna die alone?” are two of my favorite scenes ever committed to celluloid. Each are just so carefully constructed to the point of perfection that its absolutely dazzling. Chills go down my spine in each scene, and both take you to the breaking point with their dramatic effect.

The sound system in The Kentucky Theater really is like listening to a movie in a church, and hearing Ennio Morricone’s score in there was almost what I’d call a religious experience. The score is one of my top 5 favorites of all time favorites, and to hear it in that environment was something I’ll probably never get to feel again. Again, the movie’s final sequence is just so epic and perfect that the movie has to be seen in a theater to truly appreciate it and thankfully now I finally have.

Halloween Starring Tyler Mane and Malcolm McDowell. Directed by Rob Zombie.

Those that read this column regularly know that I love this series. Last October I went on a Halloween marathon and had a grand old time, even though I know most of these flicks aren’t very good. I can honestly say after seeing Rob Zombie’s Halloween that it is without a doubt my least favorite of the entire series. This movie is wrong on so many levels that it pains me.

At the core of this movie, its biggest problem is that Michael Myers, for maybe the first time in the entire series, is the main character of the movie. This film isn’t about Laurie Strode or Dr. Loomis, its about Michael Myers, which is a deep shame. Zombie spends so much time on the Why of Michael Myers that it seems like an afterthought when we actually get into what should be Halloween’s plot, almost an hour into the picture. Zombie spends what is essentially the first 15 minutes of the original film, expanding it into an hour so we can explore Michael Myers origin. He then fits the entire plot of the original film into an hour of this picture, taking away what was that main weapon when it came to scaring you; suspense. There’s virtually no suspense whatsoever in this picture, as Zombie instead goes for wallowing in gore filled kills, all of which lack the fun of the original’s exploitive sequels.

The film’s shining moments happen in very small spurts, as Ken Foree and Sid Haig get awesome cameo scenes, but unfortunately get all too little screen time. Instead we’re force fed ham-fisted characters and Prequel-style moments that come off as almost insulting to the Halloween fan base. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I almost wish Busta Rhymes had burst in at the end and fought Michael to the death, just like he does in Halloween: Resurrection. At least that type of audacious badness would have been surprising, instead of the predictable amount of foul-mouthed tripe that’s in this movie.

War Starring Jet Li and Jason Statham. Directed by Philip G. Atwell

So you’ve got a movie about Triads Vs. Yakuza starring the leads of Fist of Legend and The Transporter. This should be one of the coolest movies of the year. Instead, we get a picture with four short fights and a lot of talking. The film does have a ridiculous twist that almost makes it worth a rental, but it never resolves it into a satisfying conclusion. This is really just a gigantic waste of potential cool. Fortunately, War ended up being just the first half of a double feature I had on this particular Saturday.

The Bourne Ultimatum Starring Matt Damon and Albert Finney. Directed by Paul Greengrass.

I’m probably going to cover this film in depth in a column before too long, so I’ll just give you the short version. The Bourne Ultimatum is an absolutely terrific film. Taut on a level that I haven’t experienced in a while, there’s just no fat on this movie at all. This is basically just a chase scene that goes on for a couple of hours, never letting you catch your breath until you finally hear Moby’s familiar theme.

At first it’s a little jarring how Paul Greengrass shoots this ENTIRE movie in handheld, but after a while you realize that he does it on purpose. Every single scene in this movie has movement in it, even if its just the camera that’s moving. It’s that motif that keeps you on edge for the entire picture, a technique that Kurosawa employs in Seven Samurai.

Suffice it to say that The Bourne Ultimatum is one of the best movies of the summer. The final car chase is absolutely incredible, and the movie makes a great conclusion to one of the best movie trilogies of this decade. The film also made a great finale for week at the movies.

So at week’s end, I ended up seeing one of the greatest movies off all time, one classic blockbuster, one terrific popcorn flick, one truly mediocre popcorn flick and one of the worst remakes I’ve ever seen. Still, there are worse ways to spend a week. Sitting in a theater and taking in a movie is simply one of my favorite things to do in the whole world, and good or bad, this week ended up just reaffirming that love.

Picture Credits: razyboard.com, impawards.com, Kentuckytheater.com

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