The J.O.T. Film Festival 2013, Day Four

I’m a few days late getting this posted, as all this went down last Thursday. Julia arrived home that night, no worse for the wear. However, certain other denizens of this household were already poised with instructions.

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FYI, I’d already seen to the beast’s demands. I merely sent this text to amuse myself. And amused I certainly was. If this creature looks a little ragged, keep in mind she is 15+ years old.

Anyway, on to the last two movies, wrapping up this year’s edition of the J.O.T. Film Festival. . . .

The Legend of Hell’s Gate: An American Conspiracy (2011)

This was a movie I just dug out of my Netflix queue because I wanted to watch a Western that wasn’t 2+ hours long. I have to say the options for streaming from Netflix have really gone downhill. I don’t know if they lost some contracts or something, but there just isn’t much good stuff out there. I spent about a movie’s worth of time over the week just digging through the options, finding only a few that seem interesting.

This movie was mediocre at best. It was kind of a mess, with too much going on in the story to really make sense of, some bad stereotypes, etc. A lot of it just didn’t make sense to me at times. For example, there was this “mountain man” character who showed up a couple times, wearing a wolf’s head cape or something, who really played no part in the story at all but was just there to be tough. I don’t really know. Then, as I look at the cast, I see the writer/director also played the character whose acting was probably the worst. That’s never a good thing. I think if they had trimmed the story down to something simpler it might have worked, but for the most part, it didn’t.

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The Heart and the Sea (2012)

I’m not a surfer, but someday I’d love to learn, even if it only means surfing the rivers around here. Nathan Oldfield is an Australian guy who is a schoolteacher, loves to surf, and makes surf movies in his free time. I purchased this movie via download from The Surf Network. If you check it out expecting superstar “buff, bronzed, and bitchin'” dudes and dudettes gliding across the faces of enormous waves, you’ll be disappointed. This is a quiet little film of mostly normal people in love with the sea and in love with the sport. Some of the footage is just people surfing, with a trippy soundtrack playing. Other segments are about people who build their own boards, or older folks who have been surfing for decades, and what this relationship with the ocean has meant to their lives. It is hypnotic in its approach, with none of the flash and blast of big money surfing. Some people might call it boring. I loved it.

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The J.O.T. Film Festival 2013, Day Three

Three days down, one to go, with Julia’s arrival home tonight signifying the end of this year’s proceedings. Here’s what went down on day three. . . .

Dog Soldiers (2002)

This movie has been on my radar for a couple years but I’d never seen it. I think I might have even rented it once before but didn’t get around to watching it. Now I’m kicking myself, because for my money this may be the Greatest Werewolf Movie Ever Made. If it is surpassed, I’d like to know by what. Sure, the werewolves themselves look a little cheesy, but the story, and the way the movie is put together, is pretty damn awesome.

Some regular British army dudes are in the wilds of Scotland (gorgeous too, I might add) on a routine training mission against some special forces dudes. Turns out it is in a part of the country where, rumor has it, people are known to up and disappear. And it turns out that this “routine training mission” is a big setup and the army unit is there as bait to catch . . . you guessed it . . . a werewolf. Things go awry, of course, and there turns out to be more than just one of the critters, and the whole thing turns into an exercise in just trying to survive the night.

There’s a fair amount of blood and gore, so it may not be for the squeamish, but I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed that the main character is played by Kevin McKidd, who I was only familiar with as one of the better actors in the HBO series, Rome, as Lucius Vorenus. He plays a similar character here, I suppose, but he does a great job. Another familiar face was that of Liam Cunningham, who plays a villain here (the commander of the special forces unit). I’ve been seeing him a lot lately as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones. In GoT he’s the guy, if you recall, who is loyal to Stanis Baratheon in his bid to rule Westeros, but sees the Red Witch as an evil influence and only earns a cold spot in a dungeon cell for saying so. He lost his only son in the penultimate episode of season two, “Blackwater,” which just so happened to be directed by Neil Marshall, the guy who directed . . . Dog Soldiers! Marshall has made three other movies I’ve been highly entertained by: the cave exploring horror movie The Descent, the fighting-women-in-bellydance-outfits actioner Doomsday, and the sword and sandals CGI bloodbath, Centurion. Hell, I might just go back and watch all three of these movies!

Dog Soldiers is highly recommended if you like monster movies. Especially ones that have them fighting army men. I had a blast with it.

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Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Can you believe I’ve never seen this one before? It’s true, this was the first viewing. When it came out, I was tired of Tom Hanks, kind of tired of Spielberg, and just wasn’t that interested. It had been so highly lauded, and the landing at D-Day so discussed, I was curious if it would still hold up.

Man, does it ever.

I’m glad this movie was made pre-CGI, because having access to that technology probably would have made the opening 40 minutes or so just too much. Even so, it is still powerful, powerful stuff. Violent, realistic . . . it isn’t easy to watch. Who can imagine experiencing this in person and not being totally screwed up in the head after surviving it? It really makes one reflect on the horrors of war, and how young men have been shoved through the meat grinder to satisfy the whims of older men. It’s heartbreaking, and also heartbreaking that any real breakthroughs in treating PTSD happened long after any of these men could benefit from them.

The final battle at the end goes on a bit longer than I’d prefer, I suppose . . . it starts to feel like just another action movie at that point. But the story is a good one, and the ending is, at best, bittersweet.

It’s truly a classic. Highly recommended, especially today, the 69th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy.

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The J.O.T. Film Festival 2013, Day Two

Day One was easier because it was a terrible weather day. Day Two turned out glorious in the afternoon, which makes it difficult to stay indoors. I did get my watching in, and was also able to get outside a bit. Day Three promises to be equally challenging. . . .

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

This should/would have been the second part of my Coen Brothers night, if I’d actually done one. This is one of their movies I’d not seen before (I guess there are about 5 more I’ve yet to see as well). I enjoyed it, but it took some getting used to. It lacks most of the humor I usually associate with their films. It is more straight up drama, though in the end I’d say it is still better than average. It’s a gangster thing, set in the Prohibition days, where the main character is caught in the middle of a budding war between two crime bosses. His loyalties are divided, if only because he happens to be having an affair with a woman connected to the boss he’s most loyal (ahem) to, and the principal bone of contention (i.e. one boss wants a particular guy dead, the other boss claims the man as being under his protection, and blazing tommy guns ensue) is a slimy character who happens to be the woman’s brother. Make sense?

Gabriel Byrne delivers a standout performance in the lead role as an Irish gangster with a thing for booze, gambling, and beautiful women. The main story is how he uses his wits to keep himself alive, playing one side against the other, raising questions of loyalty within each side’s ranks, etc. While there is some violence, it’s more of a think piece than an action movie. There are quirky, humorous moments, but fewer than I’m used to with a Coen Brothers film. I suspect I’d enjoy it more with a second watching.

All in all, as a fan of these period gangster flicks, I’d definitely say it’s worth watching. I’d see it again.

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The Warrior’s Way (2010)

This isn’t a movie I had in my must see list for this year’s J.O.T. Fest, it just happened to be in my Netflix queue and had a relatively short running time, so I watched it. As low budget action movies I expect to be awful go, it was better than expected. Even borderline enjoyable at times.

The story is about a Japanese assassin who kills all of the members of his clan’s enemy, becoming the greatest swordsman of all time. Only one member of the opposing clan remains — a baby girl. Poised to kill her and wipe out her clan forever, the man hesitates and spares her life, taking her with him into exile. This of course makes him clan enemy #1 in the eyes of his former allies. He goes to the American West, where he has a friend he expects to meet up with, but, it turns out, has died. Instead he falls in with a town of quirky circus performers trying to make a go of it as an actual town. He takes over his former friend’s laundry business, falls in with a girl with a tragic past, one thing leads to another and of course he ends up facing off first with an entire gang of cowboy killers and then his ninja-like former clan mates.

If all this sounds laden with action movie seen-that-befores, it is. The final battle reminds me of my days playing the MMO video game City of Heroes, where my uber-powerful character would just mow down throngs and throngs of thugs. While that can be fun at 10 PM working the controls with one hand and shoveling takeout Chinese food into your mouth with the other, these overblown set pieces in action movies are getting more and more tiresome. The acting isn’t that great, and even the good characters are stereotypes, but I didn’t hate it. Some of the cinematography is pretty neat, and they made the most of their limited budget.

I liked it okay, and prodigious consumers of Netflix may like it well enough. For people like me, though, who really don’t watch that many movies, there are probably better options out there.

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The J.O.T. Film Festival 2013, Day One

Opening night this year was nearly derailed by a last minute, unplanned trip into town, but I managed to keep the thing on course. Here’s how it went down. . . .

Fargo (1996)

Last year I was going to have a Coen Brothers night, then discovered that none of their stuff was available via Netflix. I rectified that situation this year by renting a couple of their movies beforehand, and decided to kick everything off with this one. Of the movies I’ve selected thus far, this is the only one I’ve seen before, but it’s been a long time. I can say it definitely holds up, and it’s a classic. A dark, dark comedy and crime story, it might not be for everyone, but it’s a gas. Every character is perfect. Good guys, bad guys . . . they are all entirely memorable. The desperation of William H. Macy’s bumbling car salesman in a pinch. The sweetness of the relationship between pregnant police chief Frances McDormand and her husband. The classic awfulness of “funny lookin'” Steve Buscemi. The cops. The hookers. The terrible buffet! In fact I have a little smile on my face just thinking about it. Isn’t that great about movies? When they do things right, they really deliver a great experience that few other things can. So much more than just simple entertainment.

One aspect I enjoyed in particular this time around is I’ve been to the part of the country where it takes place several times, and I hadn’t the first time I saw it. I’ve experienced that very specific kind of cold of a Minnesota winter, the openness of the stretches of highway, and the salt of the earth people who inhabit the smaller towns. Yeah, some of the accent stuff in this movie is over the top, but that’s part of what makes it fun. When I was thinking about this post, there was a great little scene from the movie I hoped would be available online, and I’ll be damned if I found it almost immediately. This might be my favorite exchange, by two characters who really only appear in this scene:

You want another one? Oh, alright, twist my arm:

If you’ve never seen this movie, do yourself a favor and watch it already.

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Game Seven

Oh yeah, I did take time out to watch Game Seven of the Miami/Indiana series too.

Death Race 2000 (1975)

By the time the game ended it was getting late and I didn’t think I could make it through another Coen movie, so I watched this via Netflix on my iPad from the rack. It may shock some to learn that I’ve never seen this movie before. If it’s sort of a pulpy, dystopian science fiction cult classic, you’d think it would be right up my alley, right? Well, I guess it is . . . but it’s one of those movies you’d have to be in the proper mood for to enjoy fully (:cough: drunk :cough: high :cough:), I think. The idea here is that in the future they have this cross country car race where the contestants not only are racing to reach the finish line first, they also earn points for the pedestrians they mow down along the way. Given the budget and production values of the day, it’s delightfully cheesy. I particularly loved Sylvester Stallone as Machine Gun Joe Viterbo. David “Kung Fu” Carradine is the hero, a man mysteriously known only as Frankenstein (his secret weapon, a “hand grenade”, is literally a grenade built into a fake hand that he keeps hidden by always wearing a glove, even when gettin’ naked with the ladies; tell me someone wasn’t REALLY high when they thought of that little bonus!). The sub-plot, with something about a resistance and killing the president is ridiculous and really doesn’t matter. Hell, the whole thing doesn’t matter, if only to underscore that beautiful women in the 70s were a lot more beautiful than the scrawny ideals of today.

Bottom line is if this movie sounds like your kind of thing, you’ve probably already seen it.

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It’s Festival Time Again

Yesterday morning I delivered Julia to the airport for her to make her annual trip to visit family in ¬†Tucson. Unfortunately for the second year in a row, my schedule didn’t line up so I could accompany her. My loss is your gain, however, because that also means for the second year in a row it will be the Julia’s Outta Town (J.O.T.) Film Festival here at Naked But For a Loincloth!

My plan will be the same: try and watch at least two movies each day she’s gone (Monday through Thursday) and provide short reviews. Since today is already Tuesday, that means I already have two movies from last night to report back on, which I hope to do yet this afternoon. These movies (ahem, excuse me, films) will be ones that I wouldn’t necessarily watch with her. So either stuff I want to re-watch (she isn’t a big re-watcher), stuff she thinks I should see because she already has, or stuff I want to see that I doubt she’d like, or that she has already said she doesn’t want to watch. Expect nothing but the best.

Meanwhile, here is a recap from last year’s event, which also covered four days.

Day One: Haywire and Underworld: Awakening

Day Two: Batman Night, featuring Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

Day Three: Winter’s Bone and American Grindhouse

Day Four: True Grit

Looks like last year had some problems, and kind of fizzled out at the end (i.e. X Night never happened?!). I’m better prepared this time around, with movies already rented and ready to watch. The excitement . . . can you feel it?