Monday, September 28, 2015

28. Windtalkers

The movie: Windtalkers (John Woo, 2002)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: Netflix Instant Watch.

The recommender: Kabeer Parwani (previously recommended In Time)

The rationale: Real talk: I watch a lot of terrible movies. Windtalkers stood out to me as the worst of the worst. Windtalkers attempts to walk a the line between John Woo's arcade-style, high-body-count, shoot-the-red-barrels action, and a clumsy attempt to pay homage to Navajo soldiers. The movie walks that line as well as a drunk high schooler trying to convince a cop that “he's cool to drive.” Honestly, I think Pan's Labyrinth would probably be a better view into the life of a soldier in the Pacific.

John likes to throw around the word “trash” a lot. I think for the sake of this blog, the true, platonic ideal of trash must be examined. I offer Windtalkers.

My familiarity with this movie: I’m pretty sure my Uncle Larry loves this movie. I distinctly remember him saying, “JOHNNY, YA GOTTA SEE WINDTALKERS.” Or, rather, “WINDTALKUHS.” He also once told my mom to go watch a video online like so: “Go to w-w-w-dot-y-o-u-t-u-b-e-dot-com.” HE SPELLED OUT YOUTUBE. THIS WAS EARLIER THIS YEAR.

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “In this epic drama, gung-ho Marine Joe Enders is assigned to protect a ‘windtalker,’ one of several Navajo Indians used to relay messages during World War II because their spoken language was indecipherable to Japanese code breakers.”

What I thought of the movie: It’s a mess, folks. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s nice of the filmmakers to try to tell the story of the brave Navajo soldiers who risked so much for a country that has historically done so little for them. It was even nicer that they gave us a nice, white main character, played by Nicolas Cage, to make us more comfortable with that story. (Cage begins the film recovering from a grisly battle that’s left him injured and shell-shocked, and spends the entirety of the movie looking haunted. The one woman with a major speaking role is a kindly nurse who tends to him and says things like, “Your equilibrium's all screwy.)

The two Navajos are Whitehorse, who plays the recorder, and Ben Yahzee, who is basically a saint. We don’t get much more insight into their lives, which is weird considering that the movie is ostensibly about them. However, I was pleased to hear that Ben Yahzee had a son named George Washington Yahzee, since I’ve recently claimed that I plan to name my firstborn son George Washington Krizel. (I should also pause here and note that Ben Yahzee sounds quite a bit like Benghazi, which was very distracting. I found myself thinking, “When will we learn the truth about Ben Yahzee?”)

So the dialogue scenes are flimsy as all get-out, but the battle scenes are far worse. John Woo is one of the most acclaimed action movie directors of the past twenty-five years, and his work has been hugely influential on the genre as a whole. But his work here is shockingly poor, notwithstanding the appropriateness of having a stylist like Woo direct a war movie based on actual events and people. The battle scenes here are distractingly, flabbergastingly bad. There is more screaming in this movie than in the movie Scream (and more men on fire than in the movie Man on Fire). The screaming is constant: soldiers scream as they charge into battle, they scream when they’re shooting or blowing up the enemy, they scream when they themselves get shot or blow’d up, they scream after shooting people and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. The sound recordist logged a lot of overtime on this one.

Some things happen during these battles that defy logic. Bullets and missiles are whizzing every which way at all times, except for when two characters that we know have to have a meaningful moment, at which point the bullets tend to slow down or stop completely for a minute or two. Nicolas Cage is a goddamn wrecking crew in this movie; he’s positively Rambo-esque. Kabeer asked me to keep track of his body count and I ran out of fingers and toes after the first few scenes. (I also tried to keep a “Nicolas Cage makes a pained expression because of what he’s done or what he’s about to do” count, and ran out of fingers/toes after about three minutes.)

Cage individually kills dozens and dozens of people in the course of the film, and he does so in ways that would strain credulity in Call of Duty. He and Benghazi go behind enemy lines (because Benghazi looks Japanese) to commandeer a radio when theirs breaks, and it’s like watching Twitch. (In the early scenes, Benghazi is reluctant to kill anyone because of his Peaceful Indian Ways; at the end of the movie, he does a barrel roll into shooting a guy five times in the gut from point-blank range, and then beats another dude to death with a SHOVEL.) And in perhaps my favorite moment of the film, Cage shoots someone (while screaming), and then looks down and breathe-screams at the corpse, “HAHGJHHH, HAHGHHH, HUEHHH,” while standing bolt upright in the middle of a goddamned battlefield.

All of the events that occur in the movie are so transparently foreshadowed at least one or two scenes before they happen. It’s a seemingly endless parade of tropes: the racist soldier (Noah Emmerich, from The Truman Show and The Americans) who ends up getting saved by the Navajo soldier that he’s earlier racisted, the soldier who talks about his wife and kids a lot, so he ain’t never gonna see them no mo’, etc. It’s hard to make any genuine connections to these characters because of this, and the fact that they are incredibly poorly written (one of them is played by a young Mark Ruffalo, who does his best).

The only suspenseful thing in the movie was the question of how Cage was going to sacrifice himself for Benghazi, which you know is going to happen for at least an hour. It takes so long to get there that I very much lost interest. But then it gets wild. The four remaining characters that we recognize (Cage, Benghazi, Ruffalo, and Racist Noah Emmerich) find themselves low on ammo, pinned down in a bunker by enemy fire, and three of ‘em start to realize it might be all over. Then Nicolas Cage says, “You’re not gonna die. Nobody else is gonna die. We’re gonna make it.” And then we immediately cut to a bunch of (screaming) Japanese soldiers firing huge missiles at them from an enormous cannon, which I imagine would really blunt the effectiveness of Cage’s pep talk. 

Eventually Cage and Benghazi are hit, and Cage, having just been shot and lying on the ground, shoots several Japanese soldiers from across a smoky battlefield with his handgun. He picks up Benghazi and puts him (and the team) on his back, and carries him to safety, bulking up to run through the bullets (which, despite recent testimony, is not a thing that happens) that eventually lead to his demise. End of film. Trash.

As I watched the climactic battle scene, I realized: we almost never see the Navajos actually do any windtalking. It happens once in an early battle scene, and then once at the end, as far as I can recall. And when Benghazi does use the code, it’s to relay the (stationary) coordinates of the Japanese artillery for American planes to target. Again, I’m no soldier, but it’s not like the Japanese could really move these enormous cannons that they’re using, right? Which begs the question: why do they need this unbreakable code for this specific purpose? Why couldn’t he just say, “FIRE AT THAT BIG HILL OVER THERE, THEY CAN’T POSSIBLY MOVE THE CANNONS THEY ARE TOO BIG.” It’s very possible that I am not understanding something properly and have just made a fool of myself, but that is often the case in this blog, and I’m not about to stop now.

In any event, what’s indisputable is that, for nearly all of the movie, the actual windtalking itself is almost completely neglected. The movie focuses on Cage and the other men in the unit protecting Benghazi and Whitehorse, which they do in much the same way that a knight would protect a damsel in distress. Which is outrageous on so many levels, not the least of which is: IT’S THE NAME OF THE MOVIE. LET THEM DO IT.

This is probably the most offensive aspect of the movie, and it does a real disservice to the actual Navajo codetalkers and the men who served with them. Of course, I’d say that the movie as a whole is a pretty big disservice, as well. It’s a slog, by turns terribly banal and wildly unrealistic. I’ll put it this way: There are several mercy killings in this movie. I could have done with one more.

Am I happy I took Kabeer’s recommendation?
B
E
Nah
G
H
A
Z
I

What’s next?

UPDATE: Steve Isaac, the man who made me watch Dunston Checks In, wins. His recommendation, for the third straight time, is the Tom Arnold film The Stupids. I do not believe in karma anymore.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Cube 2: Hypercube (Jon Foox)
2. Goodbye to Language (Micah Lubens)
3. Stay (John Frascella)
4. The Unauthorized Beverly Hills, 90210 Story (Pat Ambrosio)
5. Stuck in Love (Alexis Hipp)
6. The Stupids (Steve Isaac)
7. Cube 2: Hypercube (Kat Overland)
8. The Holy Mountain (Zach Gibson)
9. Across the Universe (Meg Moran)

Friday, September 11, 2015

27. Can't Hardly Wait

The movie: Can’t Hardly Wait (Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, 1998)

Have I seen this movie before? Parts of it.

How I saw it: Amazon Prime Video.

The recommender: Shannon Tucker

The rationale: I think this movie is The Breakfast Club of the ‘90s. That's my rationale. Nothing else needed.

My familiarity with this movie: It’s hard for me to evaluate Shannon’s claim, in that I've never seen The Breakfast Club of the ‘80s (that is, The Breakfast Club). I assume this movie will feature all sorts of interesting breakfasts.

Can’t Hardly Wait is one of those movies that’s somewhere floating around in the haze of my useless-trivia-addled brain. I know I’ve seen parts of this movie, but my memories of it are like Letty’s in Furious 7: they’re only just starting to come back. (I wonder if any of the characters in Can’t Hardly Wait will get married while wearing a tank top and white jeans.) I feel like the movie involves a big party, that it’s set in (or just after?) high school, that Seth Green is dressed like a doofus, and that the final scene is set in an airport or some such. Why do I remember these specific things? Why don’t I remember, like, who the characters are and what happens to them? I don't understand.

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “At a wild party, newly minted high school graduates celebrate and ponder the future -- including love-struck dork Preston Meyers, who tries to work up the courage to act on his feelings for beautiful prom queen Amanda Beckett.”

What I thought of the movie: I feel like a cross between end-of-Furious 7 Letty and Celine Dion, because it’s all coming back to me now. I was pleased to see that all of my hazy memories were pretty much right (except it’s a train station at the end, not an airport, but that’s close enough).

More importantly, I was pleased to find that (most of) this movie was v fun for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it brought me back to the late-’90s in a SERIOUS way, most notably through its soundtrack. This movie prominently features two Smash Mouth songs. Two! (It also uses the Third Eye Blind song “Graduate” in a very literal way, much like the hit 2014 Capital Fringe Festival show The Program Assistant.) Waiting to hear what song would be playing next on the soundtrack was a key factor in my enjoyment of the film. (I should also note that there’s a wonderful scene set to “Paradise City” by Guns ‘n Roses, which I firmly believe is one of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs of all time.)

I also really liked that it didn’t try to be more than an archetypal high school movie. Nearly the entire movie is set at a party on graduation night, with each stereotypical clique getting its share of screen time. They’re not particularly specific or well-drawn characters, but some of them are really vibrant and memorable, most notably Special K, indelibly portrayed by the great Seth Green. (Taste My Queue is bordering on becoming a Seth Green fansite at this point, y’all. It’s a shame that I don’t allow you to recommend TV shows, because otherwise I’d expect one of you to suggest the overlooked gem Greg the Bunny.)

All of these good things were generally able to overshadow what I didn’t like about the movie: its main character, played by Ethan Embry of That Thing You Do! fame. We’re meant to root for him as he embarks on a quest to finally tell Jennifer Love Hewitt, the girl he’s been pining after for four years, how he feels about her. Unfortunately, I found his character to be unbelievably unlikable. He spends every second of this movie with a look of crazed desperation on his face, clutching a letter that he’s written to her that he hopes will sweep her off her feet. (Of course, she has no idea who he is, which is, to borrow a word from every blog post I’ve ever read, problematic.)

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that this is not an inaccurate depiction of what a lot of high school boys are like, and maybe I can’t relate to it anymore because I’m too old, but still, the fact that he gets the girl in the end was thoroughly off-putting to me. And not to be a stick in the mud, but I really do think that plots like these, where the obsessed guy writes the beautiful letter that wins over the hot girl, are almost offensive to (or at least very unhelpful for) women, and potentially contribute to the ugliness of so much male-female interaction these days, particularly on the Internet. (Ban Men.)

But that’s not really the point here, I guess. It’s a fantasy movie, an idealized, unrealistic look at a wild, drama-filled last-night-of-high-school party, and for the most part it’s legitimately funny and compelling. I was very interested in finding out what would happen to (nearly) all of these people. Especially Special K. We should all aspire to be more like Special K.

Am I happy I took Shannon’s recommendation? I can’t hardly wait to tell you how happy I am about it. (Obligatory.)

What’s next?

UPDATE: It's like classic TMQ! The first comment wins today, as Kabeer Parwani's Windtalkers recommendation comes through on its third attempt. Kabeer is the first Repeat Recommender of the Blog (RROTB).

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Windtalkers (Kabeer Parwani)
2. The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon (Pat Ambrosio)
3. How to Marry a Millionaire (Tony Krizel)
4. Stay (John Frascella)
5. Baby Geniuses (Kate Meroski)
6. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Jay Rhee)
7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Micah Lubens)
8. The Stupids (Steve Isaac)
9. The Stupids (Leah Isaac)
10. The Stupids (Evan Chiacchiaro)
11. Labyrinth (Alexis Hipp)
12. Burn After Reading (Maggie LeGendre)
13. Across the Universe (Meg Moran)

Friday, September 4, 2015

26. Predestination

REMINDER: The new blog rules mean that you have 24 hours to comment with your recommendation after this post goes up. (Also recall that all are invited to recommend one movie per post, even if you have already recommended a movie.) I will keep track of the recommendations at the end of the post as they come in, and then randomly select one of them to watch next after the 24 hours is up. ONWARD.

The movie: Predestination (Michael and Peter Spierig, 2014)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: Matt Gottilla

The rationale: After years of subjecting you to intellectually challenging films such as No Holds Barred, I decided to take it easy on you and recommend the slightly less mind-bending Predestination. Also, it's a good movie.

My familiarity with this movie: Matt is the former roommate of the blog (FROTB), and so I’ve got tons of info on what this man likes. (Incidentally, Matt would like you all to know that Crazy Town has just released a new album, The Brimstone Sluggers.) While we differ on our opinions of many things, including scary movies (he likes them, while I find them too scary), we do share an affinity for films that are mind-bending (if not necessarily RIP ‘EM-level mind-bending).

So I was v pleased to have learned that Predestination is of the latter genre. I know nothing else about this movie. I do know that the concept of predestination was a key tenet of Calvinism, thanks to a v informative play I once saw about the life of John Calvin starring FOTB Steve Isaac. (Maybe seeing that play ~predestined~ me to watch this movie. That’s how it works.)

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “Dispatched on a mission intended to alter the fabric of history, a temporal agent from a remote reality travels through time to prevent a criminal madman from carrying out a devastating attack on New York City.” [Editor’s Note: TIMECOP.]

What I thought of the movie: This might be my favorite recommendation that I’ve received for the blog so far. It’s not the best movie that I’ve watched, especially when you consider that previous blog recommendations have included such films as All About Eve and Twin Dragon Encounter. But this movie completely fulfilled my goal for this blog: someone would recommend a movie I’d never heard of, it would be awesome, or weird, or awesomely weird, and then I’d get to tell everyone else about it. So let me tell you about it!

Except actually I’m not going to tell you very much about it. As is the case with so many mind-benders, it’s preferable to have your mind as unbent as possible going into this movie. (I intentionally did not embed the trailer so that you can go into this as unspoiled as I was.) Generally speaking, it’s a time travel movie, but it’s not like any time travel movie I’d seen before. Matt pointed out that, rather than creating rules or shortcuts to work around the paradoxes inherent in time travel as so many films do, Predestination tackles them head-on in an incredibly creative way, while still being (somewhat) comprehensible. (I had to read the Wikipedia after to make sure I got everything, but I think that’s allowable.)

On top of that, it’s a genuinely thrilling movie. There’s suspense and mystery and PLOT TWISTS. OH THE PLOT TWISTS. I shouted “WHAT” at my computer multiple times (the good kind of “WHAT,” not the “a monkey is running loose through the hotel” “WHAT"). It had incredibly compelling characters that were brilliantly portrayed by Ethan Hawke and an Australian actress I had never heard of named Sarah Snook, who is out-of-this-world good. It was great in ways that I did not even remotely expect. All of you need to watch it right now so that we can discuss it.

Am I happy I took Matt’s recommendation? I formally apologize for ever questioning Matt’s taste. As penance, I am now listening to “Hit That Switch,” by what I now believe is one of the greatest bands in recent memory, Crazy Town.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Shannon Tucker's recommendation, Can't Hardly Wait, wins the first-ever Taste My Queue random drawing, powered by our friends at random.org (actual website). I can't hardly wait to watch it (that joke will never, ever get old).

RECOMMENDATIONS: 
1. Jodorowsky's Dune (Micah Lubens)
2. The Stupids (Steve Isaac)
3. God's Not Dead (Tony Krizel)
4. Windtalkers (Kabeer Parwani)
5. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (Jon Foox)
6. Stay (John Frascella)
7. Wild Wild West (Kate Meroski)
8. Can't Hardly Wait (Shannon Tucker)
9. The Houses October Built (Alexis Hipp)
10. The Cat in the Hat (Katie Ross)