Antarctic Journal (2005, Yim Phil-sung)

I guess this film has gotten some bad reviews. Or just excessively mediocre ones. It’s not quite populist enough–it sets itself up as a supernatural thriller set in Antarctica, but it’s all really about internal human conflicts and some creepiness sure. I’m trying to think of a good way to describe it and I suppose the best way is… imagine one of John Carpenter’s “horror” movies from the 1980s (They Live and Prince of Darkness). Now imagine it’s decent. Antarctic Journal is not bad. At some points, it could have gone either way. Respectably uncanny or human conflict. It didn’t need to have both and using the uncanny to fuel the human conflict, well, it’s cheap. I don’t if that’s why the film wasn’t successful. I doubt it. Emotional cheapness is highly rewarded by film-going audiences.

As a “box office failure,” Antarctic Journal is a bit of filmmaking achievement. It’s beautiful–snowy New Zealand fills in for Antarctica–it’s well-directed, the plotting isn’t bad, but the characters never gel. We don’t care enough about the ones who die first (it’s Korean, so it’s not Ernie Hudson) and we don’t worry enough to fuel that internal human conflict I mentioned early. The characters just aren’t full enough. They serve the filming location. The acting is good, even when you expect them to go overboard, the characters keep it under check.

I was fully expecting to turn Antarctic Journal off. I was going to watch the other night’s episode of “The Office,” maybe “Boston Legal” too, if I had time. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped a Korean movie. (The place isn’t called The Stop Button for nothing). That says a hell of a lot about a film industry….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yim Phil-sung; written by Yim and Bong Joon-ho; director of photography, Jeong Jeong-hun; edited by Kim Sun-min; music by Kawai Kenji; produced by Lim Heui-cheol; released by Showbox.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Choi Do-hyung), Yu Ji-tae (Kim Min-jae), Kim Kyeong-ik (Yang Geun-chan), Park Hee-soon (Lee Young-min), Yoon Jae-moon (Kim Sung-hoon), Choi Duek-mun (Seo Jae-kyung) and Kang Hye-jeong (Yoo-jin).


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Sling Blade (1996, Billy Bob Thornton), the director’s cut

I’m going to assume Sling Blade was a labor of love for actor/writer/director Billy Bob Thorton (remember how much of a big deal he used to be?), just because it has all the trappings of a labor of love. I watched the newish director’s cut DVD, which runs twenty-two minutes longer than the theatrical version at 148 minutes, and–to be fair to the theatrical cut, which I’m sure was a labor of love too–the film should be about ninety-eight minutes.

I kept thinking of a phrase while watching the film: “poorly executed.” Sling Blade has a lot of poorly executed scenes and sequences. There’s one particularly offending montage that I won’t go into, just in case anyone isn’t familiar with the conclusion. But the film has some beautiful, beautiful moments. Moments where tears came to my eyes (but didn’t escape, I’d be a lot more positive if they’d gotten away). Thorton creates these beautiful relationships–not just his character and the kid, but his character and everyone (except Dwight Yoakam’s character). It’s just when he fills in the moments with a lot of useless talk… a lot of labor of love moments.

Now, I was going to wait to talk about Dwight Yoakam, but I’m afraid I’ll forget the adjective for his acting if I do. Dwight Yoakam is atrocious. For the most part, Sling Blade looks like a “normal” motion picture. Miramax did not pay for it–it is from before Miramax paid for all their films–but it’s shot on 35 millimeter and the print doesn’t change film stocks or any other tell-tale signs… Except Yoakam. I presume Thorton and Yoakam were friends, because there’s no other reason someone would saddle down his or her film with such a crappy performance. Yoakam probably gets off six lines that aren’t cringe-inducing. Atrocious. That’s the right word….

Unfortunately, it’s also the right word to describe the musical score. A score doesn’t necessarily have to weigh down or improve a film, except Thorton relies on the score a few times for his terrible montages. Thorton holds shots too… there’s movement in them, but the shots hold for a long time, maybe even a minute. Hitchcock rarely went over twenty seconds. These lengthy, useless montages, with the terrible music–especially the end, after the character relationships have just produced this beautiful feeling in the viewer–are unspeakable. It’s a travesty.

I haven’t seen Sling Blade since 1996, when it came out in the theater, and I dutifully went and saw my “indie” movie. I read the screenplay previously and the screenplay, I remember, was better. The film doesn’t work, emotionally, for the same reason the Sixth Sense doesn’t work. The story is about this family and the filmmaker forces the story to be about an external force. It’s a loose comparison, but in the end of both, we’re cheated of the emotional impact, left instead with a gimmick–a nice little bow. With a nice pair of editing scissors, though, someone could Sling Blade into something really impressive.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton; director of photography, Barry Markowitz; edited by Hughes Winborne; music by Daniel Lanois; production designer, Clark Hunter; produced by Brandon Rosser and David L. Bushell; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Billy Bob Thornton (Karl Childers), Dwight Yoakam (Doyle Hargraves), J.T. Walsh (Charles Bushman), John Ritter (Vaughan Cunningham), Lucas Black (Frank Wheatley), Natalie Canerday (Linda Wheatley), James Hampton (Jerry Woolridge) and Robert Duvall (Karl’s Father).


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My Name is Nobody (1973, Tonino Valerii)

What a peculiar Western. Sergio Leone produced it and directed some of it, so there are a few familiar trappings, particularly Ennio Morricone’s score. Oddly, it’s probably his worst. But the film also stars Henry Fonda and it’s a sort of a follow-up to Once Upon a Time in the Western, except Nobody manages to be incredibly preachy. It’s about the changing West and goes so far as to hammer that point in quite a few times.

But that hammering isn’t what makes it odd… While Fonda is the main character, the lead is really Nobody, played by Terence Hill–who’s got blonder hair and bluer eyes than Clint Eastwood ever did. Hill is affable (I was going to say likable, but affable is better) and it’s obvious he’s having a good time and Nobody is a comedy to some degree, but there’s so much wrong with it. In some ways, it’s a nice close to Fonda’s Western career–particular My Darling Clementine–since he’s playing a lawman again. But that’s not enough to carry it and the plotting is plodding. It’s a Leone Western without gunfights. There’s one sequence in which the editing ranges from beautiful to unspeakably bad (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about)….

The film’s not bad, however, and at times, it’s a lot of fun to watch, it just pisses you off. There are goofy little scenes meant to be goofy and long, intricate red herrings. There’s no payoff to Nobody. Once it establishes itself, it becomes predictable–then there are the murmurs that it might not be quite so predictable, but then it veers right back on the original course.

Leone just made too many Westerns. He really should have quit after Once Upon a Time in the West.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tonino Valerii; screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi, based on a story by Gastaldi and Fulvio Morsella, from an idea by Sergio Leone; director of photography, Giuseppe Ruzzolini; edited by Nino Baragli; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Gianni Polidori; produced by Morsella; released by Titanus Distribuzione.

Starring Terence Hill (Nobody), Henry Fonda (Jack Beauregard), Jean Martin (Sullivan), R.G. Armstrong (Honest John), Karl Braun (Jim), Leo Gordon (Red), Steve Kanaly (False barber), Geoffrey Lewis (Leader of the Wild Bunch), Neil Summers (Squirrel), Piero Lulli (Sheriff), Mario Brega (Pedro), Marc Mazza (Don John) and Benito Stefanelli (Porteley).


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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Shane Black)

It’s nice to have Robert Downey Jr. back. Val Kilmer is hardly doing anything, so I always looked at Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a Kilmer film, but then, watching, I realized that I hadn’t seen Downey in anything since… Wonder Boys? Probably Wonder Boys. But he’s the lead in Kiss Kiss and it reminds you just how great he is an actor. Didn’t want to end with an “it” there.

Kilmer’s great too, but the show’s all Downey’s. Downey’s and Shane Black’s. Kiss Kiss isn’t perfect–it gets way too serious when it doesn’t have to–but it’s an impressively constructed film. It’s like if Adaptation had worked. Black “reinvents the buddy film again!” No, I’m just kidding–lots of people are bringing up that Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon. But there’s a difference between the two films… Kiss Kiss takes some responsibility for itself. It might actually take too much responsibility, but there’s actual weight to the characters’ violent acts. That’s something new.

Either some or a lot of notice has been given to Kilmer playing an openly gay character. This notice falls under my observation a few years ago: GLAAD has an award for best portrayal–in an amusement–of gay characters as… human beings. When I first read that, I checked the calendar and, yes, I was living in 2004, so I decided that the human species just needed to be firebombed. Or something. The character’s gayness probably started–for Black–as a way to comment on the genre and the character relationships, but Kilmer and Downey just made it part of the film. And their relationship is great. So good I used an “and” to start a sentence.

I guess I should pay some attention to the female lead, Michelle Monaghan. She’s really good in the film–playing Downey’s high school dream girl no less–one of the further ways Black plays with the medium–and she needs to be in other films I want to see.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is probably the best time I’ve had in the theater in a long time. I’m glad I went (instead of just waiting three months for the DVD).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Black, based in part on a novel by Brett Halliday; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Jim Page; music by John Ottman; production designer, Aaron Osborne; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony Faith Lane), Corbin Bernsen (Harlan Dexter), Dash Mihok (Mr. Frying Pan), Larry Miller (Dabney Shaw), Rockmond Dunbar (Mr. Fire), Shannyn Sossamon (Pink Hair Girl) and Angela Lindvall (Flicka).


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