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HBO's Finest Hour
Don't like westerns? It really doesn't matter. Deadwood's producer / writer / resident armchair philosopher David Milch tosses every genre cliché out the window. Deadwood is a dirt-encrusted, visceral affair that depicts what real life was like in one of the most infamous old western mining camps during the late-19th century, and due to Milch's resplendently detailed writing, the show manages to use the Deadwood camp as a microcosm of the American experience.
The show goes from strength to strength, really. I've already mentioned the writing, but the dialog in particular deserves far more mention than it gets. It's Shakespearean. It has a beautiful pentameter. And it racks up about five F-bombs, S-bombs, or C-bombs a sentence. Much has been made of the profanity, but after watching each season about four times through, the profanity is one of the show's least memorable qualities. It's the texture of the characters, the setting, the haunting Oscar-worthy cinematography that ultimately keep drawing the viewer in to discover new layers.
Most shows, even GREAT shows are good for perhaps one or two viewings of each episode. Deadwood is like a detailed wood engraving. You just keep discovering new, masterful strokes in the dialog and plot and it just leads to repeated viewings.
Don't expect archetypes. Every character is awash with subtlety and nuance. No upright, unbending law dogs striking cheesy poses or mustache-twirling robber barons tying busty wenches to the train tracks. There are only different shades of black in Deadwood. Even 'His Holiness' Sheriff Seth Bullock (Tim Olyphant) has perhaps the darkest side of anyone on the show. While Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) engages in plenty of open bloodletting yet showcases perhaps the widest range of humanity on the show. Cy Tolliver (Power Boothe) is perhaps even more ruthless, yet is similarly humanized by his longing for the affections of a whore in his employ and by his own self-hatred. I could go on and on.
I have probably recommended this show to every single person I've ever met. It's no stretch at all to call it the best show in TV history.
Assy McGee (2006)
The Perfect 'Bad-Cop' Parody
Assy McGee is a show that you really have to be a certain age to appreciate. Otherwise, it's likely you'll miss the references to 80's cop films and simply think it's a running gag about a walking rectum. Think it's brainless, infantile poop humor? Go watch the Stallone film 'Cobra' and you'll see what I mean. This show actually has very subtle humor, which says a lot, both for a show that aired on adult swim, and for a show about a walking ass.
All the standard genre clichés are in place that made movies like Dirt Harry and Cobra so great and ripe for parody. Sanchez is Assy's partner, who is - as per the genre - level-headed and constantly apologizing for his partner's homicidal behavior. The police chief is, of course, a fire-breathing hard case who lives to scream "I want your badge on my desk first thing tomorrow morning!" The over-the-top, and sometimes completely nonsensical manner in which the 1980's 'Renegade Cop' film is parodied suits the subject matter well. For instance, while breaking up a bus robbery, one of the criminals stops to ask Assy, "Hey, where are you going, asshole!?" To which the title character snaps off the one-liner: "I'm going... to shoot you."
Highly recommended for anybody who loves 80's action movies, and has actually viewed enough of them to understand the humor.
Naechureol siti (2003)
Aiming High - Falling Further
Natural City is one of several recent Korean movies (such as 2046) from a new school of film-making in Asia. And unfortunately, after watching, digesting, and allowing this film to sink in, I can only reach the inescapable conclusion that this 'new school' consists of former music video directors who have watched Blade Runner far too many times. The discerning film-goer will even notice some exact shots are actually lifted in this movie from Ridley Scott's neo-noir masterpiece. This film - perhaps even more than the source material that it clearly owes its entire existence to - relies far too much on slick, but ultimately hollow and meaningless, cinematography.
Its story slows to a crawl, and patches together pointless scenes such as R's bar fight to keep what semblance of kinetic energy it promised on the film's back cover going. Ridiculous logistical scenes are turned into ethereal mini-music videos with no point and no underlying symbolism. It's as if the director is desperately trying to emulate the emotional power of scenes in Blade Runner by using that film's same tricks - slow motion, sappy music, and rain. Unfortunately, Natural City never hits anywhere near the mark it sets for itself, and the director seems genuinely clueless as to what his movie's actual symbolic meaning is. The result is a muddled atrocity of a story that moves like frozen chocolate pudding and has to resort to a big gunfight and cliché 'self-destruct countdown' sequence as its climax to make up for its own glaring shortcomings.
The good things about this movie? The lead actor, playing the part of R, is actually quite good at attracting empathy. Visually, there are a few interesting bits. The death of one of the film's main characters is a touching but hollow scene, which perhaps unintentionally works in its favor. Some of the atmosphere is very depressive and moody and really lends to the overall feel, but I don't think any single scene really steps out and defines this film visually. There is a very generic sci-fi feel to certain things (such as the M.P.'s, and the gunfight at the beginning of the film).
I should make very clear that while this film is clearly derivative of Blade Runner, it is nowhere near the feast for the eyes that the former is, and it also fails miserably at putting its own unique visual spin on the future. And as a simple aside, to those who suggest that it is unfair to compare the two films - Natural City itself draws the comparisons, actively inciting them on its front cover. That is this movie's gimmick, and ultimately, its failing.
Blade Runner (1982)
The Last Great Noir
This is a film that is so deep, rich, and multi-layered, it may require more than one viewing to fully absorb the brilliance of what you've just seen. At first glance, it can be a bit slow. It's told in a classic film noir fashion, so this is to be expected. Director Ridley Scott seems to want to savor every shot, and an astute audience will be able to sense this.
Now, I say the film is told in a classic Noir style, but this can be misleading. There is no Humphrey Bogart in Blade Runner, snapping off brilliant one-liners once a second. Only hopeless people, in many ways victims of the merciless world of which they are all a part. Deckard is a typically downbeat protagonist, a hard-boiled cynical leading man with a weakness for heavy drinking. The plot is a mystery in name only, as the audience is allowed to know what Roy Batty, Pris and Leon are all up to before Deckard ever finds out. This only lends to the dread and inevitability of the film, lending further to its pervasive gloom. There is no final scene at the end where the bold detective puts all the pieces together and says "Ah-Ha!". Instead, we find Rick Deckard questioning his own existence and drinking away his constant doubts, all the while embroiled in a romantic relationship with someone he's sworn to kill.
Blade Runner requires audience participation, particularly in the Director's Cut, which is entirely devoid of some rather necessary exposition provided by the Original Cut's much-maligned voice-over. Certain facts will not be clear even at the end of the film, requiring personal interpretation in order to be appreciated fully. Other facts will be given away in much more subtle ways than in most modern cinema, such as through visual cues and tenuous dialogue.
Finally, visually, this movie is quite simply a science fiction triumph. It looks better than modern computer effects in every way that counts. Superimposed special effect objects don't give off that unnatural, clearly computer-generated "Lord of the Rings" sheen common in today's effects-driven blockbusters. This, of course, is because Blade Runner - while a gorgeous movie - is not effects driven in the least. Rather, it is a visually driven story that doesn't rely on special effects. This is an important distinction to make in today's Hollywood.
"Touch of Evil" really wasn't the last of the Great Film Noirs!