South Park Self

Drive-in Saturday

Movie club! As you know, Bob, we (being me and jo&stv, occasionally with the EL) have a technically monthly movie club, whose simple and stated purpose is to watch two movies back-to-back, preferably films none of us have seen before, with a common theme or possibly "common" "theme" and excellent food of the eat-on-your-lap variety. The proceedings (and discernment of theme) tend to be well lubricated by lots of relaxing alcohol, which is very rewarding to the critical facilities. We rotate the responsibility for choice and cooking. We're terribly erratic timing-wise, but have managed to actually achieve two movie clubs in the last two months, the first of which I didn't ever get around to blogging on account of general wossname. I shall now proceed to Catch Up, TM.

Last month's movie club was my choice, although it included Kurosawa so jo&stv cooked because I'm not licensed to cook gyoza. I love gyoza (they're those little fried/steamed Japanese dumplings). They were excellent, and went very well with at least half of the the movies, which were Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress and the recent crowd-funded Iron Sky. The theme was a bit of a kludge: it was supposed to be the simple purity of "the Kurosawa movies which influenced George Lucas in his Star Wars films", i.e. Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai. However, it transpires that Seven Samurai is a tad under three and a half hours long, which is a bit extreme for a two-movie evening, and I'd brought Iron Sky as a back-up plan. Thus we ended up with Hidden Fortress and Iron Sky. Theme: no bloody idea. But it transpired, after watching both, that the theme was probably "the destructiveness of single-minded pursuit of treasure in the midst of conflict between authoritarian regimes", with a side order of "films which really didn't do what I was expecting them to". Other offers welcome.

hidden fortress We seem to have a bit of a thing for classic movies in these club evenings, mostly because our choices deliberately push our comfort zone boundaries, and because the contrast between a classic and a modern film can be so rich. Hidden Fortress wasn't at all what I vaguely expected, which was a sort of epic political action film thingy, and I was surprised at both how amusingly slap-stick it was, and how accessible given the conventions not just of 1958 cinema, but of Japanese film and culture generally. Weirdly, one of the strongest parallels we found was Shakespeare, in the focus on minor, comic characters against a backdrop of great political events. The film's pace is slower than the modern, and the rapid-fire phrasing of the Japanese together with the blandness of the subtitles makes it more difficult to extract emotional nuance from the acting. But it's a lovely story, often funny, with a seriously kick-butt hero and heroine and a nice sense of danger and high stakes.

The parallels with Star Wars were clear, not just in the focus of smaller characters against a much larger backdrop in the clash of political regimes, but the centrality of a feisty princess-character being protected by a warrior as she tries to escape through a war zone. The two greedy peasants, in how they're shot and in their argumentative, slightly slapstick relationship, have clearly inspired Lucas's two droids, and there's a fight using long spears which beautifully maps some of the choreography of the lightsabre battles. I also found myself wondering if the recurring theme of the princess's servants sacrificing themselves in her place inspired some of the Padme plot in Phantom Menace (or would have if the film actually existed, which fortunately it doesn't).

Verdict: fun in its own right, and fascinating as an indicator that George Lucas used to actually be interested in plot.

iron_sky_poster_smallOK, this one blindsided me. Iron Sky is a marvellously fringe movie, made with no-name actors by a Finnish/German/Australian indie film collaboration on a tiny budget partly raised by crowdsourcing. The trailer has been kicking around the internet for a while, inspiring me with a mad determination to see the film because of the perfectly wonderful B-movie fatuousness of its premise: the Nazis don't disband after having their butts kicked in World War II, they flee to the dark side of the moon, where they establish a giant swastika-shaped moonbase and continue to plot for the furtherance of the Third Reich. They then re-invade the Earth via flying saucer. No, really.

So I expected this to be B-movie parody - fun, but nothing at all serious. It thus bit me rather unexpectedly in the butt to discover that the film's closest relative is probably Dr. Strangelove - however camp and ridiculous the premise, the film is first and foremost savage and extremely black-humoured political satire, which achieves most of its force by cheerfully pillorying the Nazis and contemporary America in almost identical terms. It's also very funny, and milks the Nazi sterotypes as inherently ridiculous to the fullest possible extent, but its message - that American politics and Nazi Germany are indistinguishable in their disconnect between rhetoric and actuality, the way that their official ideologies mask an unrepentant power-grab - is ultimately chilling. I loved this film (its Sarah Palin parody is particularly biting), but however over-the-top the trappings of its story, in some ways it hovers on the fine line between clearly ridiculous and perfectly possible in a way that gives me the cold shivers. It also made me wish I was more of a World War II political-movie geek, the one parody of the angry-Hitler meme scene from Der Untergang made me lose it completely, and I'm sure there are other examples I missed.

Verdict: a marvellous, ridiculous, terrifying film. Watch this.

Last night's movie club was Steve's choice, and given that he insisted on flinging together The Maltese Falcon and Step Up: Revolution, it was a more-or-less explicit attempt to stretch to the limit our basic premise that you can find a common theme in any two movies at all. Which, of course, we did. Last night's themes: (a) lying women who disrupt the relationship between male partners, and (b) cool hats. With a side order of (c), conceptual whiplash. The food: Jo's unbelievable Cuban pulled pork on crusty rolls, with Major's Hill shiraz. Amazing.

el_halcon_maltes_1941_3I last watched Maltese Falcon as part of an Honours film seminar, rather longer ago than I care to think about, and I didn't remember much of it. In the interim I've also become a lot more familiar with Dalshiel Hammet and noir detective thrillers in general, so it was also fascinating as an adaptation. There are clearly good reasons why it's a classic of noir cinema, not the least Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade, whose laconic emotional distance is both idiosyncratic and charismatic. We were impressed by the film's pacing, rapid-fire and slightly breathless, overcoming the slightly more measured timing of much 50s cinema. It also, of course, stands or falls on its femme fatale, who is simultaneously transparent and compelling; the movie has, to me, one of the more emotionally satisfying denouements in this genre. Bonus homoerotic subtext, comfortably sinister Sydney Greenstreet villain, and perfectly functional but arbitrary McGuffin.

Verdict: a classic, immersive and absorbing. See this if you haven't already.

step up 4Apparently I share with Steve an unrepentant fondness for dance movies, although he tends more to the hip-hop end while I gravitate to Fred Astaire and his ilk. Jo just likes the bit where someone learns to dance, either from scratch or a new style. Either way, it's no hardship for any of us to endure large-scale dance numbers and the inevitable narrative reductionism of a dance-based film. Step Up Revolution is really indistinguishable from its previous three iterations, with only the lead characters and the ostensible motivation changing; here, the big-budget-film format co-opts, without a trace of irony, the notion of large-scale street performance art becoming protest art, becoming marketing gimmick without batting an eyelid. The plot is laughably transparent and predictable to the last cliché, telegraphing its every development, and the acting barely merits the designation, but it doesn't matter: the dance sequences are amazing. In particular, the art-show opening and the corporate-imagery riff (with aforementioned cool hats) are phenomenal. This movie owes an enormous amount to Improv Everywhere, and is notable for an egregiously false use of the term "flash mob", but it's a fun watch, full of beautiful bodies moving beautifully to an extent which makes the lack of plot forgiveable. (Although I did feel that the lack of the traditional rehearsal montage was a bit egregious).

Verdict: not a good film in any absolute sense, but absolutely a product of its genre. See this if you like energetic dance numbers and can forgive the occasional hip-hop ugliness of movement. (I'm a Fred Astaire fan to the core, but absolutely could).

Movie Club: dislocating your neck with rapid thematic transitions since 2009. Watch this space for further updates!
What a lovely read to start the day on, while having morning yoghurt (stewed fruit and custard flavour)and coffee. I don my imaginary fedora *makes putting on hat motion*, pose in first position, and depart stage left.
What a lovely image to reward a long rambling review post! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I hope it inspires you to watch some of these movies.
Am currently distracted by the need to re-watch all the Marvel movies in preparation for Iron Man III, but I keep seeing the CD on my desk and thinking "gosh, must watch that!" I'll get there, promise.
Thanks for the reviews, I've always wanted to see Hidden Fortress, as I enjoy Kurosawa.

I shall definitely seek out Iron Sky, given my strong tendency to add weird-science Nazis into my Cthulhu campaigns at every opportunity - this year running Achtung Cthulhu's 'U-boats to Atlantis' and 'Assault on the Mountains of Madness' ww2 campaign.
In a belated follow-up to a recent conversation, herewith a suggestion for your next movie club: Life of Brian and This Is Spinal Tap.

I have the DVDs if you wish to borrow them.