Sunday, May 27, 2012


Killer Elite has little—well, just about nothing—in common with Sam Peckinpah's 1975 movie of the same name (plus a "the").  Except for some important elements:

The Machismo-meter. The 1975 movie had James Caan and Robert Duvall.  This one has Jason ("When-Will-Someone-Realize-I-Should-Play-Doc-Savage?") Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro.  All of them get to have actual characters to work with—plus lots and lots of steely resolve and laser-precise rage.  There is almost something French—Jean Gabin or Reno-styled—about their cool under fire.  Genuine smoking pleasure.

The pace: The new one feels like a great '70s movie, willing to take its time—while never stopping, standing still, or sleeping on the job.  Things just move along, but without haste.  Everything is watched carefully and fully.

The plot: At once simple and subtle.  You don't need to pay attention all the time to every nuance of politics, personal vendetta, and, above all, professional pride; but when you do, you're rewarded with many little touches, both almost-tender and calmly brutal.

Like the recent Drive (also on Instant Play; I'll get to it soon), Killer Elite—although it has more plot—is mostly good in its mood, its consistent dedication to entering the Relatively Intelligent American Action Movie canon.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)

I hesitate a little to recommend a movie like I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK—but I shouldn't. It is so convinced of the rightness of its tone—tones, actually, from comic to psychotic, sentimental to surreal—and so consistent in its dedication to a kind of giddy expressionism (as the unbalanced inner lives of its characters become the outside of the movie—while that imbalance rights itself and becomes normal) that I surrendered to its excesses and stayed with it all the way.

The director, Chan-wook Park, is no stranger to strangeness.  He's directed a number of extreme movies—including a segment of, fittingly enough, Three ... Extremes (2005)—but is best known for the delirious Oldboy (2003).  The first of his movies I saw was JSA/Joint Security Area (2000; unfortunately, not on Instant Play), a multi-layered examination of friendship and war.  (The Bosnian film No Man's Land released a year later comes close to matching JSA's ability to mix the political with the personal.)

But Back to I'm a Cyborg ....  Like Park's other films, this one manages to make us feel deeply for its damaged, other-worldly characters without neglecting its skewed wit and the pure joy of making unforgettable images.  It can get pretty brutal, but the movie is so vibrant and malleable that I just rode with it.  Like other nuthouse films, it elicits our sympathies—but to feel that sympathy, we must be willing to suspend all kinds of disbelief and allow the movie to do whatever it wants—which it does with a vengeance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Shallow Grave (1994)

I'm indulging myself here (and maybe pleasing you) because Danny Boyle's first feature film, Shallow Grave, is finally returning to Netflix June 12--but not on Instant Play.  Still, despite this site's ray-zohn det-ra (as Nathan Arizona would put it), I couldn't resist.  This is a real piece of work, in many senses of the phrase.  Imagine a Seinfeld movie directed by post-Frenzy Hitchcock.  It's that snarky and brutal, funny and surreal, clever and nasty.  Put it on your Queue, and enjoy.  Just don't get greedy.