Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mongol - Dynamite Foreign Film

The other day, I was on the train with my office's intern, on our way to an off-site job we had to do. In between stops, she asked me if I'm a big foreign film buff. I answered truthfully, "I don't seek them out any more than any other kind of film, and I have to be in a certain mood to watch them."

I feel like there's a certain preconception about cinephiles, which, as writers, we obviously are: people who are very interested in movies inherently love foreign films. Being an avid foreign film watcher requires a love of the cinema that the average movie-goer is not apt to have. I'm not sure how much I agree with these sentiments. Chances are, I've seen more international pictures than many of my friends outside our League have seen. Nonetheless, I am not one to run to the Angelika or Sunshine just because there's a new Bolivian film that's only running for a week. Zombie is a big fan of non-domestic movies, and is much more likely to make such a trek than I am.

I think the thing about foreign films with regard to general audiences is the "negative stigma" they come with: production quality can be lower, there are no recognizable faces, they're often much more dramatic and less action-packed, and you have to read them. This last part, the reading, is the biggest obstacle foreign films have to overcome. I'll admit it, I'm much more prone to put on an English language film at the end of a long day or week at the office, because I'm generally just too tired to read the screen for two hours. I want my entertainment to be as easily accessible and mindless as possible on a Friday night. I don't want to have to work for it.

Well, last night I worked for it and damn was I happy I did.

MONGOL, Kazakhstan's official submission to the Foreign Language Film category in last year's Academy Awards, is about the early life of Genghis Khan and his rise as one of Mongolia's greatest warriors. An epic on the scale of Braveheart and Gladiator - both of which I thought about while watching this movie - Mongol was produced by Kazakh, Russian, Chinese, and German companies, to name a few. It is the first part in the "Mongol Trilogy" by Sergei Bodrov and is the uber Foreign Film. I fully believe that most any mainstream American audience would enjoy Mongol. It has amazing battle scenes, a thoroughly engaging and deep story (indeed, its 2 hour, 5 minute run time flew by), and is one of the most beautiful and vibrantly colored films I have seen in a long time.

I fully recommend this film. If you haven't seen it, Netflix it, rent it, see if any art-houses are still playing it. Onyx recently generated a very healthy discussion on paying $12 for a two hour movie-going experience. I had not been very aware of Mongol when it was in theaters. I missed the marketing, or rather, it missed me. But I would have walked out of the theater quite pleased with my decision to spend a dozen bucks on this film. I might have gone in reluctantly, what for all the reading ahead of me, but I would have known I'd made a great gamble in seeing Mongol on the big screen.

Trailer Trash XVI: Invasion U.S.A. (Chuck Norris, 1985)

"America wasn't ready... but HE was!"

The mid 90s were a very special time for bad movie fan like myself. This was back before Blockbuster and Moviezone were the only option for VHS rentals - the days of the Ma & Pa video store. The crowded little places filled with shelves of sticker-covered video boxes, loosely categorized by genre. The types of places that carried more b-movies than you could every watch in a lifetime for 99 cents a rental. The types of places that wouldn't carry Citizen Kane, but WOULD have a copy of Full Metal Ninja and all of its sequels.

I filled my library with hundreds of trashy VHS tapes when these places started going out of business in the early 2000s. There are still a few great holdouts in New York City - but with the sad news that St. Marks' Kim's Video is closing its doors, I'm afraid that number is rapidly dwindling.

Anyhow, back in those yonder days of my youth, I remember browsing the action sections of these small stores and finding all sorts of treasures. There was always one thing to be certain, though: if an action movie wasn't directed by Godfrey Ho or star Seagal or Van Damme, Chuck Norris was bound to be in it. Chuck Norris was in about a billion terrible action movies in the 80s.

This was one of those movies. And it's really, really bad.

At 0:05 - Cannon Video: one of the most surefire signs that a movie is from the 80s and awful, just behind being titled "Police Academy" followed by a number.
At 0:14 - Review so far: Decent amount of necking, but not enough Norris.
At 0:22 - What a wholesome, pleasant little American town. It feels like a place where nothing bad could happen...
At 0:45 - You can tell that guy's evil by his accent.
At 0:51 - Walker!
At 0:56 - Is it just me, or does there seem to be an unnaturally high number of bazookas in this trailer? That's number three, there...
At 1:04 - And there's number four.
At 1:17 - "You can address it to Chuck Norris, PO Box 666, Hell."

I love how the trailer doesn't give any indication at all how Chuck Norris is tied into this movie. I mean, we see him kicking ass and taking names, but WHY does he kick ass? WHY does he take names? Is he some sort of government agent? Part of a special forces unit? A Texas ranger? Or is he just Chuck Norris?

Is it possible to write a protagonist whose only motivation and goal is to "kick every ass"? Discuss amongst yourselves. While you're doing that, check out the poster that'll soon be my next tattoo:

Wikipedia kindly points out something about the poster I never noticed: though Washington, D.C. and the Manhattan skyline appear in the background, no scenes in the movie take place in either city.

Awesome bonus: this movie is written by Chuck's brother, Aaron Norris. Most of his movie credits come as a stuntman, but he has a few other scripts to his name, including a few episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger and story credit on Top Dog. And yes, that means he's the guy who turned to Chuck Norris and said, "Let's team you up with a dog. Awesome, right?"

"Didn't work, huh? NOW it will!"