Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Addison's February Film Journal

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 12:56 PM

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Journey To The West (2013; dirs. Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok)—Stephen Chow’s adaptation of what amounts to a few choice early chapters from Wu Cheng’en’s 16th-century Chinese novel is only the second film he’s directed since his triumphant live-action cartoon Kung Fu Hustle hit American theaters a decade ago. Unfortunately, distribution and exhibition vagaries prevented his newest work from reaching a wider audience; in fact, I don’t think Journey To The West played more than a handful of American theaters all year. Yet, like Hustle, Journey’s take-it-or-leave-it combinations of slapstick absurdity and spiritual gravity ought to surprise and delight any action-movie aficionado with an open mind, and it will bring great joy to anyone with a soft spot for the scrappy peasants and secret martial-arts masters of Hustle’s Pig Sty Alley. The CGI-heavy landscapes of this Asian period epic might look a bit chintzy at first, but as soon as an initially lopsided battle between a gigantic, man-eating thing-fish and an entire seaside village escalates into a deadly game of teeter-totter involving baby baskets, rickety bridges and peace-loving monks, quibbling about realism feels like poor sportsmanship. The other two big brawls—which feature professional bounty hunters, an angry Pig Demon and the wicked, all-powerful Monkey King—are just as zany; watching them is a little like watching a couple of bouncers try to beat each other to death with rubber chickens. Surprisingly, Chow’s ceaseless juggling of comic, romantic, sentimental and sorrowful over- and undertones make catching your breath between fight scenes something to look forward to. Grade: A

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Mr. Turner (2014; dir. Mike Leigh)—Mike Leigh is one of the indisputable titans of contemporary cinema, but his latest film—which shows us 19th-century England (and a bit of Europe) through the eyes of acclaimed landscape painter and grunting, ill-natured ogre Joseph William Mallord Turner (Timothy Spall)—is an altogether less pleasurable affair than either 2010’s Another Year or 2008’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Mr. Turner is a long, lumpy, and weirdly dull film; for nearly half of its 150-minute run time, period details, production design and first-rate location scouting threaten to trump any of the half-formed human and social drama on display. You find yourself thinking things like “Oh, so that’s what a pre-Victorian British art-supply store looked like!” or “Ah, so that’s how the locomotive that inspired the painting ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’ sounded!” or “Did John Ruskin really have a speech impediment?” Natural-light cinematography so vibrant it looks artificial is more immediate than Turner’s troubling interactions with his estranged family, his grotesque maid, and his doting dad. Eventually, though—and it took me a while to step back and see this—these scattered, seemingly disconnected scenes add up to a full, sympathetic portrait of an irascible artist who was alive to something inside himself that others simply could not reach. Once you realize that, Leigh’s methods and techniques reveal themselves more forcefully than ever before. He and his collaborators don’t forge iron links of cause and effect; they stack great and small blocks of incident on top of each other until they form something like a tabernacle for the souls they’ve chosen to observe and preserve for the British nation—and for us. Grade: A-

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Louis CK Live at the Comedy Store (2015; dir. Louis CK)—So this movie came out recently, and it stars this fat, balding redhead with a goatee who stands on a (more vivid) red-colored stage in front of what looks like Twin Peaks curtains for about an hour, and he makes funny noises and presents a whole bunch of absurd premises that he sometimes stops to think about and question and poke and prod until he feels like moving on to something else that’s totally unrelated to what he was saying in the first place. And it only costs you $5, and you can only buy it on his website, and if you forget your account password the reminder email will call you an idiot and make sure your new password includes the word “jerkoff” or something similar IN THE PASSWORD ITSELF. But even though you might feel like kind of a jerkoff now that you have an account password that reminds you of that, you should buy the movie and watch it anyway because it’s pretty funny. It’s not quite as good as his other specials, but it’s hard to think of anyone at his age—he’s 47, and he’s done like seven other hour-long specials—who’s as prolific and as entertaining. It’s a great bargain too.

At this stage in Louis CK’s stand-up career, the most conventional and bit-like bits of his act seem somehow beneath him; he’s so fond of pulling the rug out from under his own punchlines that when he lands one like the pro he is it feels like he’s using a cheat code. Still, he has the freedom to entertain himself as well as others, and it’s during those dark spots in his set where the audience is a little unsure of themselves that he still carves out some space for himself. After all, he’s the one who laughs hardest at exposing a hated neighbor kid to the concept of death. Other highlights include run-ins with bats and babies and racism, and the Gawd’s Hawnest truth about the Boston accent: “It’s not an accent, it’s a whole city of people saying most words wrong.” Grade: A-


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