Monday, 22 April 2013

The fortnight in brief (8 - 21 April)

Here's a list of the movies I've watched over the last couple of weeks:

The Raid: Redemption (2011): 9/10
Bug (2006): 7/10
Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos) (2011): 6/10
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011): 7/10
Citizen Ruth (1996): 8/10

The best film I saw since my last update was The Raid. Even on the small screen, it's still a tremendously lean and well executed martial arts picture. However,  as I've already covered that movie a couple of times on this blog (here and here), I'll move swiftly on to my second pick, Citizen Ruth. Alexander Payne's debut feature finds a slow witted young homeless woman named Ruth Stoops (played brilliantly by Laura Dern) caught in a tug of war between two groups of activists fighting a pitched battle over the life of her unborn child. The die hard Christian group wants her to keep her baby, the Right to Choose lobbyists are keen for her to get an abortion, but all she wants to do is huff solvents and maybe make a little money on the side... Although the movie is a little unpolished compared to Election or About Schmidt, it's still a very sharp and biting satire, tackling a controversial issue in an unusual way. Payne doesn't come down on either side of the abortion debate - instead, he portrays the activists on both sides in a negative light. Both groups are far more interested in scoring political points than in Ruth's welfare. When I reviewed his most recent movie (The Descendants), I felt that Payne had moved too far towards sentimentality - but here we find the director at his most cynical, taking aim at just about everyone, with barely a sympathetic character in sight. While it's unlikely to win him any Oscars, I think I prefer him that way.

I didn't see any terrible films this week, but Juan of the Dead was probably the bottom of the pile. Billed as "the first Cuban zombie comedy", it takes the concept of a zombie apocalypse and moves it to Havana. Our (anti) heroes are Juan and his friends, a bunch of small time crooks who decide to follow the example of Lionel Hutz and cash on on the tragedy, by offering their services as freelance zombie killers. Though there are a few attempts at political satire/ humour here and there (for example, the zombies are referred to as 'dissidents', the plague seems to have emanated from Guantanamo Bay), on the whole the movie is content to play out as a sort of low key comedy/ horror. It's all well and good up to a point, but I had a couple of problems with the picture. Firstly, the protagonist and his posse are a pretty dislikeable bunch, who have no problem in leaving innocent people to die at the hands of the zombies if it means they can steal their possessions. The lack of a sympathetic character makes it hard for the viewer to care when the group gradually gets bumped off by an ever growing zombie horde. Secondly, some of the better moments in the film have been lifted wholesale from other, better films. Finishing the movie with a pre-credits rendition of "My Way" by Sid Vicious would have been a nice touch, but it's already been done (at the end of a far better picture) by Martin Scorsese. Similarly, having a zombie killing priest with the catchphrase "I kick ass for the Lord" could have been fairly amusing, until I realised that the same idea also featured in the (superior) Peter Jackson movie Braindead. If I was to rank the gimmicky comedy zombie movies that I've seen, Juan of the Dead is significantly better than Dead Snow, but not even close to it's near namesake, the brilliant Shaun of the Dead.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Sideways (2005)

"Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.
Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!"

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