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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Headhunters–So Close

One of the things I’ve been doing lately, particularly with the NBA and NHL playoffs ending, is diving back in a bit on watching movies. In the last year or so, my wife and I have dumped satellite television in favor of watching all our content via Roku through the internet. And far from being constricting, it has actually increased our viewing enjoyment, as we seek out things we actually want to watch instead of flipping on a TV and mindlessly scrolling through the channel choices and settling for whatever is on. It’s been great, and I will be writing in another post about some of the great movies I’ve watched lately.

Being a guy, the genre I have jumped back into full bore has been crime movies. Doing so inspired me recently to go see Headhunters, the latest thriller to hit the USA out of Norway (with Girl With The Dragon Tattoo having recently led the way). The movie seemed right up my alley, the story of a corporate headhunter who dabbles in stealing high end art on the side. He’s married to a woman who he thinks is out of his league, and when he meets up with a mysterious, suave businessman who might have the multi-million dollar art heist score he’s been waiting for, he sees his way to easy riches. But, surprise, things go horribly wrong. Everything about the previews looked good, from the slick, metallic look of the cinematography, the stylish modern clothes and sets, and the slight hint of comedy mixed in with a cat and mouse suspense story. I was in.

I will say that this was about two thirds of a really fun, very good turn off your realism radar and roll with it movie. Right from the jump, you realize you have to completely suspend your belief at the authenticity of the story. Down to the smallest details, you start out thinking how ridiculously convenient the plot connections are. But you quickly realize that that is part of the fun, it’s a story that is meant to be over the top and contrived. Once you give in to the fun, you just ride along as the main character, Roger, slides further and further into trouble and danger as he starts out trying to outwit his mark but quickly has the tables turned on him and is quickly fighting for his own survival. There are a couple of set pieces and scenarios that, on paper, would probably seem gratuitously over the top. But, on screen, while you will find yourself squirming a bit, you’ll also be shaking your head, laughing and rolling with the almost camp nature of the story and scenes.

The key to it all, besides the slickness of the visuals, is star Aksel Hennie, who plays the lead character, the art thief Roger. Either picture, or look up online, retired tennis star Boris Becker and fashion icon and Fiat scion Lapo Elkann. Combine those two guys and compress them into a mini version, and you have Roger. Part of the storyline is Roger’s insecurity in relation to his wife with how short he is. These and other insecurities play with his mind throughout and Hennie is brilliant at going from completely cool and composed to completely frantic and lost as he realizes what he thinks he knows is all wrong. On the other side of the story is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who stars on TV’s Game of Thrones. Coster-Waldau is sort of a Danish Aaron Eckhart, except smoother and better looking. And in Headhunters, Coster-Waldau plays the hunter to Roger’s hunted, and is not only a threat to Roger’s marriage, but a threat to his life, as well, since Coster-Waldau just happens to be ex-special forces and a trained killer.

None of this gives away too much of the movie, and believe me when I say that the majority of the film is just as fun, if not more so, than the premise would suggest. It’s in the last third of the film, where the movie veers too much away from a fun, yes there’s violence, but it’s so stylish and tongue in cheek that you can’t get too squeamish about it vibe, to an entirely different feel where things turn way too serious, bleak and overly desperate. The walls start to close in on Roger and, quickly, you go from rooting for him to overcome in a cartoony movie world to being kind of overwhelmed that his lack of hope. There’s a long section where Roger is reduced to hacking off his hair, facing possibly losing his wife and his life, and seeing no hope. The movie starts to philosophize and take itself much too seriously. And the fun and games of allowing yourself to be manipulated in an increasingly ridiculous hamster wheel maze is sucked right away from you. For a brief time, you’re left a little numb by it all. The movie does finish up with one of the more inventive, in a roll your eyes and laugh at the improbability of it all type of way, endings you will ever see. So, you do get to leave with a decent smile on your face. But, unfortunately, some damage is done to the fun ride you could have been on for a full film.

Word is that a Hollywood remake is already in the works for this. In a lot of cases, Hollywood versions of foreign films end up being too watered down and sanitized to be as good as the original. In this case, I think we could be looking at a really fun remake. Because chances are that here, a decision to avoid any of the seriousness of the original and just roll with a completely over the top version would be the right decision to make. In the end, Headhunters is better than probably 80% of the movies out there, and is a good, solid, mostly fun little thriller. I just wish it would have stuck with the fun ride vibe all the way through.

 

Marley Delivers

Kevin McDonald’s documentary on reggae legend Bob Marley, descriptively entitled Marley, does nothing if not remind us how magnetic a figure the head Wailer really was, on stages both small and large. Much like last year’s sensational doc Senna, the Marley film soars every time its subject is on screen. To be sure, McDonald is going for a full blown biopic, tracing Marley’s birth and early life in the hills of Jamaica to his musical beginnings in Kingston’s infamous Trenchtown and the birth of his band the Wailers, all the way through Marley’s rise to superstardom before his way too young death at the hands of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36.

There are no gimmicks in the construction or pacing of the film, as McDonald gives Marley a straight ahead, chronological, respectful treatment reflecting the esteem with which McDonald and almost everyone who loves music hold Marley. This by the numbers approach comes across as refreshing and actually sort of elevating in a media world that has become increasingly self- consciously ironic and, in many cases, phonily edgy. Bob Marley didn’t need a schtick and McDonald is basically telling us that neither does a documentary on him. For the Marley aficionados and experts, there may not be a ton new or eye opening in this film. There is so much available on Marley’s life in the public domain already. On the other hand, it is so well put together that it will stand nicely as a definitive look at Marley’s life.

The film relies heavily on interviews with several key surviving people from Marley’s life, including Wailers co-founder Bunny Wailer (Livingston), Marley’s widow Rita Marley and Island Records and Marley producer Chris Blackwell. The interviews frame Marley’s life, particularly his early life growing up in Jamaica, dealing with growing up without a father and as a child of mixed race parents, how his early career in music began, how spirituality and Rastafarianism came to define his life and music, as well as how he wasn’t necessarily the most faithful husband or greatest father. To be sure, there are small details that are glossed over too quickly. One that sticks out the most is the diminishing of the role of reggae superstar and Wailer co-founder Peter Tosh in not just Marley’s early career but in the rise and honing of the reggae sound in general. The film treats Tosh as little more than an early co-writer with Marley who just left the Wailers and was gone. In many ways, though, Tosh was the yin to Marley’s yang in the world of reggae and the film lost a chance to explore the Marley-Tosh relationship and dynamic in more depth.

It is in Marley’s role in the birth and explosion of reggae, the role of his Rastafarian religion and spirituality, and his powerful involvements in the political struggles of not just Jamaica, but Africa, and the increasing universality in the messages of his music that the film focuses on the most. The film also talks about Marley’s love of soccer, generosity with friends (and hangers on), how his children saw him, and his reputation as a ladies’ man. McDonald’s research is well done and there are little bits that are excitingly fresh and new, such as Marley’s frustration that his audience in the United States was mostly white and how he planned to deal with it. The informative bits are all keys to the overall effectiveness of the movie. But it is in the archival musical material that the film truly takes off, carried on the absolute magnetism of Marley’s  delivery. In many, many cases, reality doesn’t live up to the legend. But in Marley’s case, it absolutely does. His live music could hardly be described as a performance. It was a total immersion, an absolute spiritual journey that he was taking himself and his audience on. And all of that comes through every time Marley is on the screen. Eyes closed, twirling around, bouncing, swaying, pulling the audience along with him, Marley’s live show was less a performance as a delivery of a gift.

One thing that struck me watching Marley and recalling Senna from last year is what the documentary biopic might become in the Youtube and video generation. Particularly when it comes to our musicians, sports stars, artists, etc, everything they do is documented, most of it on video. I think back to, for example, the Ken Burns Baseball films. Burns’ research is always meticulous and well done. But what you basically had was the narrator telling us about those 4,000 home runs Babe Ruth hit and then maybe four seconds of Ruth silently waving at a camera. Those days are gone. Now, if you want to tell me about the legend of, say, Michael Jordan, I can just show you all of his games on video. The video evidence of his greatness is 10,000 times more powerful than what somebody can tell me in words. Having all of this video could make it easier, I imagine, for documentarians in that there is so much more rich material to choose from. But it arguably makes it more difficult for them to control the editorial message they are trying to get across. As great as Marley was as a film, as I mentioned the best parts were when Marley was on screen performing. So after leaving the theater, I went home and looked up “Marley live” on Youtube and there was a ton more material available to me than McDonald could have ever put in his film, most of it riveting. Marley was a very, very well done doc, one I would recommend any Marley or music fan in general go see. The music and the performances are even larger than life on the big screen and well worth seeing that way. But having so much at our fingertips begs the question of how many people really want to spend money seeing something they can mostly see for free.    

 

Mallrats, A Kevin Smith Joint

Mr. Kevin Smith. Take a gander across the masthead of this fine example of internetistic jibber jabber and you’ll find a quote from the auteur of the common man (or at least the auteur of the common man who’s a teenager from Jersey). The quote across the top on this page is but one example of the high regard with which Sarah holds our Mr. Smith. Another example was brought to my attention recently when we decided it would be a good idea for a Sarah Presents Kevin Smith movie night with a viewing of the seminal 1995 film Mallrats. Not just any copy of Mallrats, mind you, because Sarah broke out an autographed by the man himself copy of Mallrats. Impressive. And since I own a boomerang autographed by Tony Orlando (go ahead and give yourself a second to read that again), I decided not to ask for a certificate of authenticity legitimizing this cultural tschotske.

Mallrats isn’t necessarily a movie that I want to give the full review treatment. It’s Kevin Smith, the good kind of Kevin Smith, mindless and juvenile. If you want a few laughs mixed in with some sketchy performances, Smith is usually your man. Honestly, if you want to see Mallrats and you feel the need to know the critical reception given to it, or a full breakdown of the plot, Wikipedia is always available. Suffice it to say that it’s a Kevin Smith movie that features a couple of bros chilling at the mall, trying to figure out how to get their ladies back while simultaneously getting love advice from Stan Lee, ogling Terri from Three’s Company and her eye opening anatomy, and getting varying levels of logistical help from Jay and Silent Bob. One of the bros engages in a knockdown, drag out rivalry for Shannon Doherty’s affection with a brilliantly mouth breathing Ben Affleck (who works at a place in the mall called The Fashionable Male), which culminates in the airing of a sex tape featuring Affleck demanding his underage partner to refer to him as a particular member of The Backstreet Boys.

Truthfully, when you type it all out like that it’s some pretty funny stuff. Kevin Smith, for me, is always hit or miss for pretty much the same reason. He hits because of the I’m just a dude from Jersey who’s blissfully stuck in adolescence (in a good way), making and writing the kind of stuff that I would have found funny when I was in high school, and doing it all with Hollywood’s money the way I want to do it. There’s always some genuinely funny stuff in his movies and, beyond all that, his movies usually give off the type of positive vibe you hope would come through when a guy feels like he’s playing with house money. On the other side of the same coin, most of the time what he finds funny actually is funny, but sometimes it’s not. It’s not very often, but you end up cringing at certain scenes that aren’t funny in the same way you cringe at the drunk guy at the party who thinks he’s funny but isn’t. And you sort of wish Smith would let just a little editing creep in. Plus, there are always those one or two scenes where you realize a lot of the “actors” are really just Kevin Smith’s boys that are in all his movies.

For sure you want to be in the mood for something mindless if you want to break out Mallrats. But if you’re ready for some laughs on a juvenile, let the good times roll level, this is just one of many movies of its type that will work for you. Because just as that drunk guy at the party sometimes makes you cringe, sometimes the booze talking actually does make him kind of funny. I’m going to leave it to Sarah to flesh out in a future post where the true genius of Kevin Smith lies. But watching Mallrats after not having seen a Smith movie in a good long time reminded me that the guy is good for some laughs. And watching it with a true Smith fan was a treat. Sarah tipped me off to the “good parts”, nodding in appreciation even though it was probably the 20th time she was seeing the movie. Mallrats will make you laugh and supply some mindless entertainment on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but it’s even better if you watch it with a friend or a group and you can all laugh together, like the characters in the movie. Do it, Doug!!!

 
 
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