At the movies: Before SPECTRE comes out, everyone wants to put their spy movie out, several of them spoofs. Why I wouldn't call the generically-titled Melissa McCarthy entry in the superspy genre a "spoof" exactly, it IS a comedy, and a damn funny one at that. It's the story of a brilliant CIA agent who has been wasting her potential in the "basement" partnering with Bond-like Jude Law from a computer console, until the active agents' identities are blown and she's put in the field. While trailers made this look like Paula Blart, it really isn't. McCarthy's character is somewhat clumsy and doesn't have the superspy's traditional "look", but she is extremely competent. So expect a coherent (hey, many of the Bonds can't claim that) and action-packed spy story in addition to jokes both cheap and clever. Jason Statham almost steals the show as a hard-nosed agent in love with his own outrageous reputation. It's like he's lived through all his other movies and then some! Huge, huge fun, entertaining right through the credits. You'll want to stay in your seat 'til the end to get the full story.
DVDs: Speaking of spy spoofs, I also watched Archer Season 5 AKA Archer Vice, a branding that showcases the animated show's new direction for the season. That's right, they literally blow up ISIS (no relation) in the first episode, and the cast recycles itself into rather incompetent drug lords for the duration. On TV, they promised it with a montage showing clips of what was to come, and that probably worked as a "we're not kidding" promise. On DVD, unless you're watching these very slowly, which I was not, it stays fresh in the memory as a sort of spoiler. So I wish they hadn't done it. Is the show on the wane? Either I know these characters too well by this point, or it really has lost some of its comedic spark, but either way, the last couple seasons have not had me in stitches the way the first three have. The longer story thread is appreciated, but perhaps gave the season a sameness that kept it from feeling fresh again despite the wind change. The DVD has three little extras - a Cherlene music video, a Cherlene interview, an an Old MacDonald Had a Farm parody.
Next on my i-MUST-CheckMovies 2015 Project was the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, a lyrical, snowbound picture that's really about feeling like an outsider. The twist, if you will, is that the leads are 12 years old. She's an immortal vampire, trapped at that age, and he's the friendless kid who gets bullied at school. Friendless, that is, until she moves in next door with her "father". Will young Eli be her next caretaker when he dares fall for her? More a platonic romance than a horror picture, it nevertheless has its splashes of gore and its unsettling moments. Because while it may seem a charming tale at times, it's still ultimately about the creation of a monster, a monster created by isolation and oppression. But geez, talk about bad influences! I keep telling people I hate vampires, but I keep seeing really, really good vampire pictures lately.
Jodorowsky's Dune is a documentary about a film that was never made, probably could never be made, but it's also a portrait of one of the '70s strangest directors/visionaries, which kind of puts it in the same category as Crumb for me. Now, I have a past with both Dune (have read the book several times, hated the Lynch film, rather a fan of the Sci-Fi mini-series) and Alejandro Jodorowsky (have seen his films, read his comics, seen him in interviews before) so the movie doesn't seem as shocking and strange as it might others. I love "troubled film" narratives (Hearts of Darkness, etc.) and this is one of them. But where the story is usually about heaps of problems followed by a miraculous success, Jodorowsky's Dune seems blessed by amazing and unbelievable luck, yet ends in rather predictable and mundane failure. Though his mystical, poetic, surreal Dune wasn't feasible in 1975, it did assemble a team of creative types who would go on to put their stamp on cinematic SF in the very near future, taking what they'd learned and made during pre-production and bringing it to other projects. The documentary's thesis, then, is that it's the most influential movie never made. You be the judge, but it's probably true, no matter how fantastical some of the story is. Either it all happened as told, or it really should have, either way, it's an entertaining tale. Its accidental theme is the opposition of art and industry, really. The DVD also includes about 45 minutes of deleted material, which may redeem Jodorowsky in some audience's eyes regarding his apparent naivety (if not other elements), all quite interesting and useful in understanding just what happened.
Working on The Matrix made Keanu Reeves rather interested in projects that interest me too. His recent career choices have been heavily influenced by Hong Kong cinema. Man of Tai Chi was a pure martial arts picture starring his Matrix stunt man, for example, and John Wick looks a hell of a lot like a Hong Kong-made crime drama/action flick. Story-wise, it's not reinventing anything. It's a revenge picture that would almost seem absurd if it didn't feel so true emotionally. Reeves plays the most dangerous hitman of them all who retired to get married. His wife dies tragically, which puts him on the edge, so when punching bag extraordinaire Theon Greyjoy (whose father runs the Russian mob in New York) steals his car and kills his dog, it's really a matter of psychological transference that puts him on the road to destroying the whole damn organization. Cue lots and lots of action, both hand-to-hand and in the gun fu mold, shot, edited and scored with Hong Kong's maverick attitude, and filled with actors borrowed from various HBO shows. They've already announced a sequel (or prequel), which I believe is as much a testament to the world of assassins created as backstory as anything else. I want to see that hotel again!
Jean-Claude Van Damme's Lionheart, for its part, is an odd revenge picture because the main character, a French Legionnaire gone AWOL to see his dying brother in California finds he can't GET revenge on the anonymous hoods who killed him. So he'll help his brother's widow and daughter by making money in underground fights. A bit clunky as a plot, but I don't dislike the twist and it plays to Van Damme's strengths. He's saddled with an annoying "street" sidekick, but no matter how much smack the script forces Harrison Page to dole out, his heart shines through in the end. The fighting arenas are nice and varied, leading to some fun choreography, and the way every character seems to aggro on Van Damme is a kind of weird joke that can be enjoyed for its own sake. Of course, the 1990 fashions are terrible, that's part of the fun of these things. I very much think that if Lionheart (or A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave, or Wrong Bet, or Full Contact,or whatever else it's been called) had run on TBS instead of, and as frequently as, Bloodsport, IT would have been the iconic film in JCVD's early career. I think I like it better. Then again, it's not quite as ridiculous...
Hey, haven't taken a bite out of my BBC Shakespeare Collection in a while. Where was I up to (in the possible order the plays were written). Ah yes, The Life and Death of King John. Not the best known History, and you can see why. It's still full of Marlovian cartoons, with the exception of Faulconbridge the Bastard, a sort of proto-Hamlet who is the only character in the play to speak to the audience, letting us in on his interior life and how he explains his loyalty to an obviously corrupt king. Oh, there are some moments of note, especially with the highly rhetorical Cardinal, Constance's grief, and John's denials, but it's really a lot of aristocrats making speeches at other aristocrats. What saves it is excellent acting from all but the young princeling Arthur who is AWFUL. The theme here is legitimacy - it runs through the lives of various characters - and the battleground for proving one's legitimacy is political. For fans of better-known Shakespeare plays, it'll seem like a reprise of Richard III, however. A repeat of that play's success, but featuring a weaker, and less clever, king.