This weekend basically boils down to the release of one of the year’s very best movies and one of the year’s very worst. Also, there’s a movie coming out in incredibly limited release, from the Beastie Boys’ Oscilloscope film company, about an evil Santa Claus. (In fact, it’s quite good.) So we don’t have a whole lot to talk about this week, but if you want to hear about the good, the bad, and the evil Santa Claus, please for the love of god read on!
Okay, let’s start off with the bad. It’s the only major release from a studio this week, and it’s called ‘The Warrior’s Way‘. It was written and directed by Sngmoo Lee, a first time South Korean director who seems, in my estimation, totally devoid of talent. The movie is an incoherent mess, a tonally muddled neo-Western about a disgraced ninja (Jang Dong-gun) who kidnaps a baby from a warring clan and in turn makes himself a target – even though he’s the most badass ninja ever and it seems pretty unbelievable that a squad of equally badass ninjas would travel across the seas to a vaguely Wild West America to get him back. The convoluted plot also features a band of Fellini-esque circus performers, including an incredibly broad Kate Bosworth as a knife-throwing, vengeance-seeking cowgirl. There’s also a deformed rapist (Danny Huston, slumming it). Geoffrey Rush, so good in the Oscar-worthy ‘The King’s Speech’, shows up here as the stereotypical town drunk. It’s sort of embarrassing.
The advertisements for the movie sell it as a kind of non-stop kick-ass action flick. (It’s even rated R!) But it’s so overwhelmed by its own style that it barely makes an impact. Instead, the movie lurches along from one tired and poorly staged sequence to another, consumed by the art-designed-within-an-inch-of-its-life look and the steampunk-ish costumes (everyone wears goggles). It’s supposed to be the American Southwest, but it plays more like Mars. And the plot is barely coherent enough to follow, let alone care about.
Run away from this one. Fast. And into a theater that’s showing Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece ‘Black Swan‘!
A ton of ink (both digital and actually, you know, inky) has been spilled on the new film by the director of ‘The Fountain‘ and ‘The Wrestler‘, and there’s still a lot to be said about it. It’s a totally brilliant and original work of art about a young ballerina (Natalie Portman) who, in training to be a part of ‘Swan Lake’, becomes involved in a labyrinth of sexual obsession (courtesy of Mila Kunis’ fellow dancer), duality, and the never-ending (and never-attainable) quest for perfection. The movie shares certain cinematic DNA material with such filmmakers as Brian De Palma (particularly in the thematic stuff and some of the way that the film is shot), Dario Argento (Hello, haunted ballet school ring a bell?), and Roman Polanski (whose early ‘Repulsion‘ is probably the film that this is the most closely modeled on). It’s brilliant, it’s scary, and I don’t want to say more until more people get a chance to see it. (Don’t worry, if you don’t live in New York or L.A., it’ll be everywhere by the end of the year.) All the Oscar buzz on Portman is totally warranted. It’s her statue to lose.
Before I go, I just want to mention one more film that’s more than deserving of your attention. It’s a tiny Finnish movie called ‘Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale‘. It’s the story of a young boy and his father who live in a small hunting village in the Finnish mountains. They stumble across the work of a monolithic corporation whose singular goal is to resurrect Santa Claus. As bizarre as this sounds, it gets even weirder, and I really don’t want to spoil anything for you. The movie has the same anarchic Christmas spirit as Joe Dante’s ‘Gremlins‘. (The “rare exports” in question are too good to give away.) The film moves briskly with its brief 80 minute running time. An argument has been made (in Film Comment, among other places) that the movie feels too much like a short film (which it was expanded from), but that still doesn’t hurt. It’s a great blast of nasty-nice holiday cheer. I can’t wait to watch it every year around this time!