Saturday, June 5, 2010

More Catch as Catch Can

I saw a number of films in May that were less than satisfying.

Benjamin Bratt in La MissionThe most prominent being La Mission. This film was selected for Sundance and was the opening night film for the 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival. The film tells a familiar story - a young man revealing he is gay to his father. In this case, the men are Latino so there is his father's (Benjamin Bratt) machismo to deal with. Actually, writing that last sentence made me realize how much La Mission relies on Latino stereotypes - the Mission District of San Francisco, the father's tattoos, the lowrider cars, etc.

While the film slums it in the barrio, Benjamin Bratt gives a strong performance. Putting aside the Aztec warriors dancing in the street when Bratt has his epiphany and other silly tropes, Bratt plays an angry man (regardless of ethnicity) with conviction. I haven't seen Bratt in a role like that. It's not too hard to make a comparison between Bratt's Che Rivera and Robert De Niro's Jake LaMotta. In fact, director Peter Bratt (Benjamin's brother) peppers the film with cinematic references - posters of Clint Eastwood and The Godfather are featured prominently and Rivera's catchphrase is a quote from Animal House.

La Mission entertained me although it never made an emotional connection. I couldn't quite bring myself to care for the characters. Besides Bratt's performance, the film has little going for it. With his numerous & ominous tattoos and hardened face (given considerable street cred by the graying facial hair), Bratt dominates his fellow castmates. The plot feints and weaves for most of the plot but eventually takes the long way around to where I expected it to end.


Speaking of Clint Eastwood, I caught The Good, The Bad, The Weird which is a Korean remake of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Set in remote Manchuria (which looks a lot like the US Southwest) during WWII (perhaps pre-Pearl Harbor), three Koreans are looking for buried Ching Dynasty treasure. What are Koreans doing in China during Japanese occupation? I don't know but it doesn't matter. Although marketed as a "Kimchi Western," the film's showcase scenes are action oriented including an extended train robbery, a shoot 'em up escape/gauntlet in a outdoor market and a mechanized Charge of the Light Brigade.

Thoroughly ridiculous, the film still wasn't completely a waste. Strangely, the Bad was vaguely effeminate and bore a passing resemblance to the rock star Prince. The Good was a victim of the vicious bandit known as The Finger Chopper (maybe it lost something in the translation). He even has a prosthetic fingertip/whistle although it did not seem to affect his impressive dexterity with firearms. The Weird turns out to be pretty damn Bad and Ugly at the end. The Japanese Imperial Army stands in for the Confederacy and they even have the three way shoot-out for a climax. Clint Eastwood was iconic and Eli Wallach was pitch perfect in the role. In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, the Good is kind of boring, the Bad looks like a glam rocker and the Weird is a schmuck until a dues ex machina ending.


The PFA screened The Valiant Ones, a 1975 HK action film. I had high hopes but was ultimately disappointed. The action sequences looked quaint 35 years later but this could have been overlooked with a few charismatic or ever over-the-top performances. The actors' interpretations were a too flat or even subtle for my tastes. This is a Hong Kong action film after all. Sammo Hung (barely recognizable due to 35 years of age and weight and thick white face paint) gives 110% as the evil Japanese pirate.


La Mission starring Benjamin Bratt; directed by Peter Bratt; (2009) - Official Website
The Good, The Bad, The Weird; Korean with subtitles; (2008)
The Valiant Ones directed by King Hu; with Sammo Hung; Mandarin with subtitles; (1975)

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