Monday, June 25, 2007

Two Mules For Sister Sara

Eastwood or Wayne? Keaton or Chaplin? Lee or Chan? Katherine or Audrey? Vorhees or Myers? Truffaut or Godard? Spielberg or Scorsese? These are a few of the many choices that might point a person in the direction they gravitate toward regarding film taste. When it comes to westerns (or oaters as I like to say around the house), I’m an Eastwood man.

I just have never been drawn to Wayne’s films the way I have to Eastwood. Wayne’s too much of a “hero”. Eastwood’s protagonists are much more “grey” in their heroism. I like that. I love the Eastwood squint. I love the way his characters often have no name, are usually loners, and are hell bent on killing and revenge as a solitary act. In Eastwood’s westerns, people who ride with him are usually tag alongs, extra weight, useless and needing help in the rugged, frontier setting.

The Don Siegel directed Two Mules For Sister Sara (1970) is a very pleasant western with some of the elements I love so much in an Eastwood film of this sort. What makes it surprisingly fun though is the way it twists some of the Eastwood standards over to reveal lighthearted moments.

Clint, as Hogan, rides alone (of course) until he comes across a nun trying to get away from banditos. Begrudgingly for Hogan, the nun becomes useful when she provides information regarding an armory Eastwood wants to rob. Sara, the nun, played by Shirley MacLaine, has a lot of spunk for a nun. She’s prone to cursing, swigging alcohol and other non-nun like behavior and this gets Hogan’s attention. “If only this feisty and attractive nun wasn’t a woman of the cloth!” he hints to Sara during a drunken moment of their journey. The pair bond during the trip to the French garrison to settle the score/rob the place.

Two Mules For Sister Sara has similar aspects to many westerns—people on an arduous journey via horse/donkey over treacherous terrain, intentions to rob and the planning of that robbery and the always usable story of a small band of underdogs, joining together to defeat those who are the villains (in this case, the French military). Even with those standardized elements, the comedy from Eastwood/MacLaine, their chemistry and a memorable Ennio Morricone score makes the film a fun, worthy addition from a bygone era of great westerns.

Oh, for the record: Eastwood, Chaplin, Lee, Audrey, Vorhees, Truffaut, Scorsese. You?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Death Proof

I saw Grindhouse when it was released and liked its subversive spirit, fake trailers and mayhem but I was lukewarm to Quentin Tarantino’s contribution Death Proof. In Finland, I re-watched it to see if I might change my mind. When the film ended though, I’ve decided it was more of a failure than I thought.

Released as a stand alone in Europe (I bet they wish they’d done the same in America with its lukewarm business), minus the fake movie trailers (maybe THE best part of Grindhouse!) and even including the “missing” reel where Butterfly gives Stuntman Mike the lap dance. Death Proof is too talky (another weak QT script) and the film needs more adrenaline, violence and seediness to make it truer to the kind of film it replicates.

Death Proof is supposed to be a 21st century version of the sensationalist, drive-in, b-film, grindhouse kind of movie. You know, real car crashes, sleazy action, T + A, over the top violence and performances. For the most part, the film falls flat in the face of such “low brow” attempts.

Tarantino spends way too much time focusing on the silly banter between girlfriends and less time on car destruction and T + A—let’s face it, if QT wanted to really do a ‘70s drive-in/grindhouse picture, these starlets would be cavorting around topless and in their panties more than once and for no reason. Although QT does get to further promote his fondness for the female foot as he gives us multiple lingering shots of dry and wet feet. These films were known for their T + A, not T + A + F!

Regarding the ridiculous banter, I don’t know what has happened to Tarantino and what he writes these days. When you watch his first three films—Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown—the dialogue is so electric and original it jumps off the screen and almost jolts you. A second or third viewing is a must to let Tarantino’s wave of words seep fully into you. Not now. Kill Bill and Death Proof have none of that spark except for a stray line or two. Some scenes in those two films are down right embarrassing. I’ve seen QT all motor mouthed on TV saying Death Proof has the best writing of his career and I think, “What is he talking about? Is he drunk or high? Was his brain injured in a way that has debilitated his ability to write or properly judge his writing?”

There are good elements to Death Proof. The car stuff is riveting and the final chase/showdown harkens back to an era of real cars, real stuntmen and no CGI bullshit. Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike was also great but he wasn’t in the film enough. Why Russell wasn’t in this more instead of the endless girls yapping to one another is beyond me. Stuntman Mike should have been out there causing more carnage on the road, instead we get a bunch of girls eating breakfast and talking on and on.

The muscle cars and Russell save Death Proof from being a total failure but it’s another disappointment for Quentin Tarantino. I’m starting to believe he’ll never recapture the zeitgeist he had in the 1990s although I’m hopeful his WW2 film will be a return to greatness his early films were.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Watching movies in Finlandia

No trip to another country is going to stop me from watching movies unless they don’t have theatres or the films aren’t in English. I saw nine films in a theatre on this trip—three cities, two countries. The bulk of my movie watching was in Helsinki where I saw six. I saw two in Tallinn, Estonia and one in Turku, Finland. Here is what I learned.

I have fallen in love with the Finnish people and how they behave in a movie theatre. It is going to be a shock to return to the American norms that seeing a film consist of. Noise, either people talking or cell phone abuse (ringing or being opened) is the kind of noise I’m hinting at. This sort of noise is virtually nonexistent in Finland. Imagine that!

Do you know how surprising and wonderful it is to sit in a theatre and not get disturbed by nitwits who must discuss what is happening or attention deficit starved people who can’t bare the thought of missing a precious phone call for ninety minutes of their self-important existence? Let me tell you it is indeed wonderful. Of the seven films in Finland I saw, I heard or noticed a total of ZERO cell phones. Amazing. I did see one cell phone in Tallinn for the record. It was almost the same with talking. Only one film had two teenagers who wouldn’t zip it—the other films were completely and utterly silent. This just goes to show you how rude and lacking in manners a lot of Americans are. This rudeness manifests itself in public quite often these days, especially in movie theatres. Oh, how I wish I could watch movies year round with the civilized Finnish people.

Candy. There were some quirky choices thanks to the Candy King stores located next to many theatres. I had to be careful here as the Finns are into this strange salty licorice that sends my taste buds into revolt. I did find some new hard candy that I liked. I also broke out the old fashioned combo: raisonettes with popcorn at one film. That’s a classic.

Assigned seating. I wasn’t so into this at first (I’d done it in other cities in Europe so it wasn’t new) but as long as the people around you are quiet—and these incredible Finns are!—who cares if you sit in an assigned seat. And you do get to choose your seats from what is still available so it isn’t like they force you to sit on the front row or some other seat you despise.

Tickets remaining. I love this feature of Finnish/Estonian multiplex. As you stand in line to buy a ticket, the number of tickets left for each screening flashes after the start time. American theatres should do this now I tell you.

Commercials. Sadly, I was bombarded with 5-10 minutes of commercials just like in the U.S. At least they were in Finnish and I didn’t have to sit through some Nascar/Coke promotion or those wretched Coke young director short films. Anyone else think those films are garbage?

Theatre hopping. I’m highly skilled in the art of theatre hopping but admit it is an impossible or very difficult thing to accomplish in Finland. Each theatre is opened only a couple of minutes before the film starts. There is always a ticket taker who checks/tears your ticket as you enter. After the film you exit en masse out the back—usually some stairwell or onto the street itself. It’s also not possible to LEAVE the theatre and return from the entry doors as those doors are locked. You can leave but it is through the exit doors. I am sure this violates some kind of civil rights—like the right of every American to go theatre hopping!

So there you have it, the similarities and differences of going to movies in Finland. I urge all of you to be like the Finns if you aren’t already: don’t speak during a movie and for the love of all that is good in the world, turn off your cell phones! You aren’t important enough to not miss a call and even just opening the phone and streaking rows of eyes with light is a big disturbance. Maybe we can rise up to the level of the Finnish people and actually do what we have collectively gathered in a darkened room to do—watch a movie in peace and quiet. Wouldn’t that be a lovely change of pace?