He Returns Happily Defeated: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly/Weird

Good day all,

It has been far too long since I last had the chance to give you a sensible opinion on the bunker viewing and it is wonderful to be back. Regular Bat-viewers will remember that I had decided that being forced to watch movies for the next seventy years in a bunker wasn’t the life-plan I had in mind and made a run for it, only to discover that she had established said bunker in the middle of the Taiga Forest. She let me have one post, simply to let you all know I had been slapped in the face by the hopelessness of the situation, and then silenced my voice for a month or two (I think). You see, there was a certain “reprogramming” session; think Alex in  A Clockwork Orange, but replace rape footage and Nazi propaganda with Ang Lee films and Sophia Coppola movies to break me down. Long story short we came to an agreement: I would accept my fate with good humour and she would make our adventures less about torturing me with “great” cinema. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the high film we’ve discussed here was great as visual art, but not so much for being entertaining or being paced quicker than a snail with his nuts caught on a bush (there was an expansion of low-brow analogies in the agreement as well). Essentially I got the best deal I could and have come to terms with it and the lady, in her defense, didn’t bend me over and give me the Father O’Mally either (that low-brow clause is a beauty). Let’s do this thing!

The topic of today’s jaunt is based on a conversation the lady and I had in the negotiating process about Tarantino. We are both huge fans of his films but questioned how he would be remembered and what his long-term reputation would be. He has all the makings of an auteur: distinct visual style, complex and innovative dialogue, spectacular use of music and the ability to coax spectacular performances out of actors of all quality levels (looking at you there Travolta). The problem is that every one of his movies is a nod to a genre of film he loves and not much more than an innovative homage. Essentially, we came to the conclusion that we aren’t bothered by his finding a starting point that already exists, I mean Kurosawa did samurai versions of Shakespeare and they rock balls, but that the establishment would never see him at the level of Hitchcock, Wells or even Spielberg as an all-time Hollywood great. Now in a time when “new” ideas are running a little thin in the movies and we have been absolutely bombarded by shitty American remakes of good Asian movies,  good (and shitty) 80s flicks and more comic book characters than you can shake a stick at I understand the urge to call the guy derivative or suggest he just dresses up what’s been done before. I disagree with this but understand it. So to convince all of you, dear readers, I will give you the best example I have of why twisting an existing great is awesome when talented writers and directors are involved.

This story starts with a fella named Sergio Leone that was a fan of the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and based his first hit film, A Fistfull of Dollars, on Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. A lot of you our there are grinding you’re teeth and salivating at the thought of blasting this obvious point right now but shut up, not everyone is as smart as you. Anyway, the company that owned Yojimbo sued Leone and lost, mainly because Yojimbo was based on an awesome Dashiell Hammett novel called Red Harvest. You see where I’m going here. The overlap that is most important, for me, is that Leone seems to see a similarity between the badass cowboy of the old West and Ronin; both are trained in deadly arts and succeed because of their will and extraordinary talent in killing, both are carving out a living in a shrinking world where civilization makes them obsolete and both can range from men of the highest honour to sadists that kill and rape simply because they can. My favourite Leone movie, like most, is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and it take the ronin/samurai connection further. The three titular men all excel in what they do, but do it with very different codes. I see these as the types of men that do well in this shrinking, lawless world. The good is a man that can only be called good in comparison to the others. He cheats the civilized people, kills when it fits his needs and is just as greedy as the “bad” guys (but he won’t leave you hanging there without shooting the rope, eventually). The bad is the most successful of the evil men that make their money by killing. He claims to have a code but doesn’t, in fact hiring the guy to kill someone for you is pretty much signing your own death warrant because he will fuck you over and smile as he shoots you (and probably some family and friends too). The ugly just can’t be killed. A talented killer, but dumb as a stump and, much like the mighty cockroach or sewer rat, will be thriving long after humanity is dust. They are the model, and they are all pitted against one another for a huge score. I’m not sure if the treasure is just a bragging rights, or if these guys see that they are becoming extinct in a modernizing world. Hard to say, but it’s about as flawless as Western has ever been done (Wild Bunch maybe) from the music, performances and incredible camera work.

The next part of our little meta-adventure involves a Korean cat named Jee-woon Kim. For those of you that missed the lady’s post on these two he is a very talented director from South Korea and is quickly becoming one of my favourites. The lady ran down I Saw the Devil and A Tale of Two Sisters so I won’t go too far, but this guys has chops. His writing is spectacular, he is in complete control of the camera and he can create the perfect atmosphere to fit his genre; Sisters is an incredibly creepy ghost story with a more sparse camera, Devil jumps between wild violence and crushing suspense smoothly and The Good, The Bad and the Weird has an epic style with the type of stylized action you see in good comic book movies. His eye is present in all three, but only in the way A Hard Day’s Night and Abbey Road are both Beatles’ albums.

In getting to the actual movie, the only flaw is that it is a retelling of a near perfect film. There are specific scenes and sequences taken right out of the original, with only tiny changes keeping them from being a Van Sant/Hitchcock mess. In a few instances I actually liked Kim’s style more. The guy playing the Bad is spot on, moving back and forth between serious and brooding in the quiet times and smiling like a child as violence starts to erupt. Like Angel Eyes he mentions a code and having a job to complete, but it’s clearly just a cover for his genuine enjoyment of killing. Even his styling is almost anachronistic; like you took a modern, Korean gang member and dropped him in the Asian frontier. Likewise the Weird is pulled off wonderfully. This guy is clearly, for Kim, like Mifune was for Kurosawa; the go-to actor that can play anything. His performance as the killer in Devil is brilliant in a completely disturbing way, and this performance is of equal quality in a goofy way. The Weird captures the spirit of Tuco, but takes it in a different direction than Wallach and Leone did. You perpetually have the feeling that there must be more to the guy, that there’s a grand brain to match the killing skill and he’s just playing dumb; the truth is that he is simply nature’s greatest adaptation in the survival of the fittest, the creature that will survive on sheer will. You’ll be sure you have him beat and he’ll find a way to survive, like Tuco, but there is no evidence of the thinking ahead and scheming Tuco showed. That leaves the Good. The truth is the guy is too good. He’s a great killer, he’s badass with rifle or pistol and he is more than able to keep up with the other two, but he seems to have too much honour. Blondie was only good in comparison and, if it came down to survival, he would do whatever it took good or bad. I think we are supposed to see him as a sketchy bounty hunter, but he really feels more like a lawman. He smiles a fair bit, and not Clint’s sardonic “I’ll fuck you over” smile, like he’s actually happy. I don’t mean to badmouth the actor, and it’s a minor criticism, but he just doesn’t do the job as well as the other two.

Simply put friends, you need to see these movies if you haven’t. Also, if you are a die-hard fan of the original you will love the re-imagining even if it can never be perfect. There’s an old saying that goes “talent borrows, genius steals”, hell even Einstein and Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, so I think we need to stop assuming that anything nodding to something that’s been done is automatically bad. Pulp Fiction may just be another pulp/exploitation story, but it’s told in such an innovative way that it becomes larger and more signifigant that the genre originally being paid tribute (see every movie that breaks up the narrative and plays with time since). Kill Bill may just be another revenge flick, but both have sequences, specifically the 88s in part one and the grave/training sequence in part two, that are as good as any kung-fu flick or Spaghetti Western you’ll see. Reboots and remakes of foreign flicks aren’t evil, they are just evil in the hands of the same studio hacks that ran out of ideas in the first place (hello Michael Bay and Platishit Dunes).

Until the next time, which will be much sooner than the last time, keep your head up and eyes open, because you might end up loving a bizarre twist on something you love now,


The Hostage


P.S. As a Canadian and a dirty Socialist I would like to give a shout-out to Jack Leyton. For you non-Canucks, he was the leader of our NDP party (our larger, left-leaning party) and passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. He, like all politicians, claimed to have the best interests of the middle and working classes at heart but, differently from other politicians, actually put forward suggestions and legislation to back that claim up (looking at you Harper, and like-thinking, American GOP [and most Dem] politicians). He was a good man in a dirty business and my thoughts go out to his family. Let’s keep he and what he stood for in mind in upcoming elections.

~ by stew37 on August 27, 2011.

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