Reviews Too Late

by wjw on April 21, 2008

My life of late has sort of sucked. I got really sick. I spent vast amount of time trying to get my taxes done on time. I went to the Jack Williamson lecture in Portales and hung out with Patrice Caldwell and Connie Willis and Steve Gould. (That was the part that didn’t suck.) Then I came home and got sick again, this time with a totally different virus.

Still, I seem able to put words together in a semi-coherent fashion, so I thought I’d inaugurate a new feature, Reviews Too Late.

Since I live in the country, it’s a 75-mile round trip to see a movie. Which means that I usually don’t see them till they come out on DVD, six months or so after they’ve hit the theaters.

Still, I watched a bunch of movies while I was doing my taxes, mostly action films where I only had to look up when explosions were going on. And I have opinions. So why not share them, now that it’s too late to make any difference in your life?

So call me quixotic.

Shoot ‘Em Up

Okay, so the title pretty much tell you all you need to know.

This movie opens with the seedy Mr. Smith, played by Clive Owen, eating a carrot at a bus stop. A hugely pregnant woman staggers by in a state of terror. She is followed by a nasty man uttering threats against her life. Mr. Smith intervenes, kills the nasty man, and saves the woman. Good on him.

But then it turns out the nasty man has about fifty friends, all in black leather trench coats, all heavily armed.

Mr. Smith, by contrast, has a pregnant woman and a carrot. He soon finds himself delivering a baby in the middle of a firefight in which he kills all fifty assailants. (I don’t think I’m giving away much here, since this all happens in the first ten minutes.)

The fifty assailants each turn out to have fifty friends. The mother is killed. Mr. Smith is left with a baby and a lot of lead flying his way. So he finds a lactating hooker and . . .

Well, stuff ensues. Chase scenes alternate with firefights, unless of course the firefights and chase scenes happen at the same time. Points for Paul Giamatti as the unconventional bad guy (“Do we really suck or is this guy really that good?”). Points for imaginative use of a carrot. (“Eat your vegetables!”) Points for the cinema’s only chase scene featuring skydivers, guys zooming around the sky shooting automatic weapons at each other. Mr. Smith kills people while sliding on grease, while watching TV, while operating shotguns by remote control, and while having sex (“Talk about shooting your wad.”).

If you don’t mind movies in which the entire sountrack is gunfire and heavy metal music— and apparently I don’t— then this is a lot of fun. The movie isn’t meant at all to be taken seriously (Steven Seagal, take note), and that’s all to the good.

And check out the bonus features on the DVD. which shows how writer/director Michael Davis animated the entire film, shot for shot, on his Apple before he so much as shot a single live-action frame. He got the studios to finance the movie by showing them the movie on his computer!
This, my friends, is a major paradigm shift.


Wow. Gay fascist porn.

And it’s bad gay fascist porn. Watch humorless Aryan bodybuilders chop their way through swarms of mixed-race and Negroid subhumans in an orgy of computer-generated blood spatter! And even with all the CGI available, and the three hundred promised by the title, there never seem to be more than a couple dozen of our heroes.

There are only two women in the movie, and both get raped. (Thank you, Frank Miller.)

I’d make relentless savage fun of this movie, but Robot Chicken already made the perfect parody.
The thing that really offends me about this film, however, is that the success of this movie means it will be at least a generation until Steven Pressfield’s superb Gates of Fire is made into a movie.

Kiss Me, Deadly

I have related elsewhere my singular history with Mickey Spillane. Now I’ve seen what is doubtless the best movie made from his work.

This film is so crazed, so demented, so weirdly psychotically paranoid, so totally far out there, that it took unanimous raves from French film directors to save it from obscurity.

We have Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer— not as Spillane portrayed him, a brutal New York psycho obsessed with justice— but a seedy, brutal L.A. gumshoe who makes his living by getting his secretary, Velda, to sleep with rich husbands, then blackmailing them. The Hammer-of-the-film truly enjoys violence, enjoys inflicting pain, and enjoys his hideous, creepy misogyny.

Meeker’s not terribly sympathetic in the role, but the rest of the cast is pretty good. We’ve got the young Cloris Leachman in her first role, the excellent Maxine Cooper as Velda, and the young Jack Elam as a thug. (There is something very desperately wrong about the very idea of a young Jack Elam, isn’t there?) We’ve also got Hollywood stalwarts like Juano Hernandez, Paul Stewart, and Jack Lambert.

Directing is Robert Aldrich, later responsible for such macho fare as The Flight of the Phoenix, Ten Seconds to Hell, The Choirboys, and Ulzana’s Raid, plus the Gothic kink of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Killing of Sister George. This movie shows that he’s learned all the lessons that German Expressionism had to offer— we’ve got all the weird camera angles, the shadows, the looming doom. (All ways to make a low-budget film seem interesting.)

We start with a naked woman running down the road in a trenchcoat, and end with nuclear annihilation by way of treachery, torture, bombings, and beatings. Even today, the utter nihilism of it all is breathtaking. I can’t but wonder how a Fifties audience would have reacted.

Kiss Me, Deadly is the film that created the trope of the Glowing Thing in the Box that was later used to such effect in Repo Man and Pulp Fiction. This is, I have to say, its best use.
Spillane supposedly hated the movie. He was wrong.
He Who Walks On All Fours April 21, 2008 at 8:15 am

As a fan of (some of) Frank Miller’s work, I can only say that the dude appears to be somewhat confused. Sometime’s he’s all libertarian and what not, jumping on the “no government like no government” bandwagon, complete with total racial and sexual equality and positive portrayals of women, non-whites and homosexuals, and sometimes he turns out fascist art like 300.

Although in fairness to him, the subplot with the queen wasn’t in the comic.

Steven Gould April 21, 2008 at 4:53 pm

I’ll have to go check out the Clive Owen thing. I really like him.

dubjay April 21, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Good to know that the Queen Gorgo story wasn’t in the comic.

I remember seeing a comic strip showing heavily armed feminists pointing guns at Frank Miller’s head while ordering him to create a female character who isn’t a whore. Sweat flies from his face, but he fails the test.

Melinda Snodgrass April 22, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Thank you Walter, for hating the 300 as much as I did. After the first twenty minutes of admiring the computer generated world, it gets really boring, really fast.

I enjoyed Sin City despite hookers able to hide a submachine gun in their garters, but the 300 was one of those movies where I wanted that lost two hours back.

Larry Lennhoff April 23, 2008 at 1:08 am

Shortpack had the comic scene you are thinking of.

Cliff Burns April 23, 2008 at 4:12 pm

LOVE the movie reviews (belated though they may be). I hate, hated, HATED “300” and all the juvenile arses who praised it wouldn’t have last ten seconds in a Spartan society with their atrophied muscles, junk food bellies and Gameboy-enhanced thumbs.

I’ve read of your difficulties securing new readers, the frustrations that has caused and my heart goes out to you. Your work has never been properly and respectfully handled by your publishers, you’ve never earned the profile you should have and that is a shame. I want to reassure you that your writing is far superior to the vast amount of drek proliferating in the genre and I would like to believe that in the end quality survives, the crap will drop by the wayside and you’ll float to the surface, like the finest cream. I shall add you to my blog roll and try to steer more people your way. Don’t lose heart, don’t give up and leave the field to the hacks and gits who share crop or churn out media tie-ins. We DON’T need another Star Wars/Star Trek novel but SF literature would be a lot poorer without more efforts from one Walter Jon Williams. Keep the faith, bro, this is one colleague who holds you in very high esteem indeed.

Jörn April 23, 2008 at 8:47 pm

Hi, longtime fan of your fiction here. Since I’ve had to fight with a virus myself recently and wasn’t sure whether I should work or just crawl into a corner to die, I can understand how you feel. But to give you some appreciation, I always thought your work ranked among the best SF ever written. Be it space opera, be it fun stuff like the Drake Magistral books, be it smart non-stop-action like Hardwired or Voice of the Whirlwind, or your masterpiece Aristoi, that was and still is just mindbogglingly brilliant. Or your many excellent short stories: Prayers on the Wind, Green Leopard Plague and all the other ones. So, what I want to say is, I hope you get better soon and know that your work is really appreciated.

dubjay April 23, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Wow, Cliff and Jorn, thanks.

I’m not about to quit writing, and I’m fortunate in my career that anything I write will be published, somewhere, by somebody. (Whether at a profit to me or someone else is another issue.)

So yes, I will continue to transcribe the events taking place on the tattered cinema screen of my mind.

As it were. If you know what I mean.

Christopher Weuve May 18, 2008 at 2:47 pm

I must admit I disagree with the prevailing opinion on 300. Frank Miller’s alleged attitudes towards women notwithstanding (I say “alleged” only because I am not familiar enough with his other work to comment either way), I think the key to understanding the tale is that it is just that — a tale told before battle, with all of the exaggerations one would expect. It’s Spartan propaganda, and expected to be recognized as such.

As the Greeks themselves used to say, “Everyone admires Sparta, but no one wants to be like her.” (Note that Sparta was the ONLY polity in Greece where there was anything approaching gender equality.)

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