The Good, the Bad, the Weird

Korean cinema has really flourished over the last five years under the guidance of directors like Chan-wook Park and Joon-hoo Bong, and you could probably add Ji-woon Kim to that list as well. Though his last two movies (the horror thriller “A Tale of Two Sisters” and the crime drama “A Bittersweet Life”) haven’t had much of an impact overseas, his latest film is a fresh and fun action comedy that transcends its midnight movie façade to succeed as a true cult classic in the making. Unlike Takashi Miike’s “Sukiyaki Western Django,” which failed to make the most of its East-meets-West potential, “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” actually has a solid story and some great acting to go along with its flashy set pieces.

Clearly inspired by Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” Kim’s film takes place in 1930s Manchuria where three strangers – a bounty hunter (Woo-sung Jung), an assassin (Byung-hun Lee), and a clumsy thief (Kang-ho Song) – face off for possession of a stolen treasure map while being pursued by a group of bandits and the Japanese army. Though it’s a bit long at 130 minutes, Kim does well to keep the story moving along as we learn more about the characters and how they’re connected to one another. Granted, the supposed Good of the film isn’t really all that good considering he kills the most people, and Jung makes him so mysterious that he’s also the least identifiable, but the other two actors are perfect in their respective roles – particularly Song, who’s so amusing as the comic relief that it’s hard to imagine the movie working as well as it does without him in the mix. The film also features a handful of incredible action sequences that underscore everything that’s great about “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” and although it might not appeal to everyone, it’s one of the most wildly entertaining movies that I’ve seen all year.

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Weekend box office: In which we separate the men from the boys, and women from both

The Expendables

If we are to believe the prognosticators this weekend, testosterone will rule in a weekend which could turn out to be the most exciting movie three-way showdown since the climax of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The impression is that it really does threaten to send the genders, and possibly even the generations, on their separate ways at the nation’s multiplexes.

Of course, when I speak movies of aimed at us penile-Americans, I speak of the R-rated mega-macho ultraviolent action fest, “The Expendables.” The ensemble-action flick is directed, cowritten and co-starring Sylvester Stallone and features Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, and assorted other manly men who are masculine males in supporting roles and cameos.

Cinema prognosticators Ben Fritz and good old jolly Carl DiOrio seem to think this movie will easily take the top spot for Lionsgate to the tune of about $30-35 million with its appeal to males of all ages. Critics, for the most part, aren’t overly impressed, though a sizeable enough minority are treating the film as a campy, action-packed good time. For me, Stallone’s career peaked 35 years ago with his hilarious performance in “Death Race 2000” — “Rocky” has never done much for me and “Rambo: First Blood 2” did even less — but I still might be checking this one out at some point. I do have an affection for the ensemble action film genre. If you do as well, you might want to check out the salute to the sturdy sub-genre posted over at the Bullz-Eye blog.

Julia RobertsFor the more femininely chromosomed, this week’s big draw is supposed to be “Eat Pray Love” from director Ryan Murphy, best known as the creator of TV’s “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck,” and starring an actress you may remember named Julia Roberts. It’s an adaptation of a memoir about a divorced woman going on a worldwide physical and spiritual “journey of self-realization.”  I don’t know about you but when I hear “self-realization” and especially “journey of self-realization” I check out completely. I don’t think that’ s just because I’m male.

While I haven’t seen a single episode of Murphy’s shows, I gather he is associated with a certain degree of offbeat innovation and has clearly touched a nerve on two on the small screen. That doesn’t seem to have translated into much interest from film critics, however, who are mostly kind of unimpressed. Rated PG-13, “Eat Pray Love” does seem to be doing a bit better critically than his poorly received prior adaptation of a hit memoir, “Running with Scissors.” Jolly Carl expects to film to hit the #2 spot with an amount somewhere over $20 million.

And then comes what I hope may be this weekend’s wild card. The consensus seems to be that, despite a torrent of Internet publicity and huge geek buzz, Edgar Wright’s comic book adaptation, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” will be lucky to get much over $15 million which, for a movie costing about $65 million, isn’t great. Though reviews initially looked as they might be “middling,” they are actually shaping up as rather excellent for a film that risks alienating a certain percentage of its audience with its blatantly video-game derived comic book/manga aesthetic. The consensus being that, as with the highly entertaining “Kick-Ass” before it, geek awareness and mass audience acceptance just are not the same thing and it’s entirely likely this will come in the #4 spot behind last week’s #1 film, “The Other Guys.”

I’m sure there’s a good chance this will happen. However,  “Scott Pilgrim” seems to me to be a film that, at least over the long haul, has a potentially much wider audience than some other films because of it’s unusual combination of relationship-driven and action-comedy. The fact that, as a young skewing film, it’s PG-13 but also relatively racy in its advertisements might not hurt either. Not to be put in the position of defending a film I haven’t seen and pre-release online mini-backlash notwithstanding,  there is one thing I feel sure about. In a few years, the new movie from this weekend that people will still be talking about is “Pilgrim.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Actually, that’s perhaps not entirely true because there’s also a very interesting new film debuting in very limited release, and this one I did see a couple of months at the L.A. Film Festival. “Animal Kingdom” is an imperfect but highly assured debut from Australian first-time writer-director David Michôd. Though a bit overly dour and slack in the middle, to the point where it very nearly lost me, it’s one of the best crime films I’ve seen in a while with a real doozy of a last act. It’s opening on just small four screens but with a couple of brilliant bad-guy-and-gal performances, this is one I think you’ll be hearing about later on.

  

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Film geek Sunday

A segment from an English TV documentary about director Sergio Leone and composer Ennio Morricone’s collaboration on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”  and “Once Upon a Time in the West” and more good stuff, including Claudia Cardinale and food, and Rudy Giuliani-loving Republican actor James Woods’ apparent semi-agreement with the European Marxist interpretation of American history back in 2000. Interesting stuff all around and, of course, Quentin Tarantino is in it. Like they could keep him out of it.

  

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