In for the kill

This week I was excited to go and see Dredd. As a teen Judge Dredd was one of my favorite comics. Sly Stallone made a sad attempt back in the 90’s to portray the cool, severe judge but failed miserably. I don’t recall Judge Dredd ever removing his helmet and allowing his face to be seen.

In this new rendition, which is NOT a remake or a sequel merely a British take on the comic, Karl Urban (LOTR and Chronicles of Riddick) dons the helmet. He carries it well with only the curl of a lip showing. What really helps him to pull off the role is his low, rough voice that betrays no emotion, even when doling out death sentences. Known throughout Megacity as the judge not to toy with, Dredd is assigned a fresh out of the academy rookie to assess in the field. Olivia Thirlby (Juno) turns up as rookie Anderson, a mutant with psychic abilities from the radiation that destroyed most of the world.

As they leave the Hall of Justice on assessment day Anderson chooses what would seem to be a simple triple homicide in Peach Trees, a 200 story slum block. While there they end up in a drug bust where they detain a high level supplier of the Ma-Ma gang. Headed up by Ma-Ma, an ex-hooker played by a too-soft Lena Headey, they are the single producer/supplier of an all new drug called Slo-Mo that is all the rage In Mega City 1. Upon learning of the capture of her Associate, Ma-Ma locks down the building and informs everyone inside that until the two judges are dead the building will remain under lock down.

What ensues is massive hour long shoot ’em up. Anderson uses her psychic ability, indicated by a goldish glow around her head, to learn and gather information that will help them in their pursuit of Ma-Ma who spends most of her time in her 200th story sanctum. At one point her computer guy is able to “trap” the judges so that she can kill them. However even the three gatling guns she uses to pulverize the entire floor and its inhabitants does not kill the judges. They proceed on their quest, guns blazing, until Anderson is taken captive. Dredd continues his pursuit and eventually catches up to Ma-ma on the 200th floor, where he is reunited with Anderson, who has been accidentally freed by a moron. After a final battle Dredd is able to overpower and outwit Ma-Ma, save the residents of Peach Trees and walk out ready to fight another day with Anderson by his side.

What I haven’t told you is that this movie is available in both digital and 3-d. Now, the digital version is a blast and will keep you on the edge of your seat. I did not see it in 3-d because I often become ill in 3-d movies. However, I think that other than a few elevator shafts I probably would have enjoyed the 3-d version. With all the gun fire the audience would have been “showered” in glass and debris as well as been engulfed by Anderson’s psychic aura and the exhaled Slo-mo from the criminals inhalers.

Prohibition, Tom Hardy, and Guy Pearce get down and dirty

For my first ever movie blog I offer up “Lawless”. Based on the book “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant a grandson of one of the infamous Bondurant boys.

As our story opens up in rural Virginia we find the Bondurant boys, Shia Lebouf, Tom Hardy, and Jason Clarke , distributing mason jars full of their homemade moonshine amongst the county. Known to have the best whiskey around the boys are in high demand and raking in the profits.

Enter Guy Pearce as Special Agent Charlie Rakes. When first entering the county his attempt to blackmail the boys fails. This denial from the Forrest, the brother in charge, is just the catalyst needed for Mr. Pearce to turn on the creep button. I have rarely seen him in a movie where he wasn’t spot on. But in Lawless he is able to turn himself into what can only be described as an eyebrow-less, egomaniacal creep who comes off as hiding some type of perversion you would expect to find in the Silence of the Lambs. His portrayal of the special deputy gets you right on board and cheering on the boys and their bootlegging.

While Forrest runs the operation youngest brother Jake is aching to become part of the action and earn the snappy suit and pimped out ride the likes that mobster Gary Oldham drives. His chance arrives after Forrest and a new waitress at the family run gas stop and restaurant are attacked one night. Shia Lebouf took a lot of flack about his acting skills in this movie. I however found him to exactly what was needed to portray the whiney younger brother who constantly gets picked on despite his best intentions. ¬†As Jake grows the business and heads towards his dream of high fashion mobster a mis step with the local preacher’s daughter lands the boys in a sticky spot.

As the climax approaches we see the town coming together in a good versus evil stand-off leading to the much anticipated final interaction between the brothers and the deputy. Without giving away the ending I will stop here and encourage you to see for yourself how the Bondurant boys changed the face of bootleggers and how sometimes you just can’t help but root for the criminals.

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (3D)

The movie poster for Cave of Forgotten DreamsLast night Ted and I made the trek out to Robinson to go to the Cinemark theater at Settler’s Ridge. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” was released months ago, but the Robinson Cinemark is the first place in the area to show it; Tuesdays, by the by, are the “sale” days out at that theater – our 3D tickets were $8.25 apiece.

First, a word about 3D: in general, like Roger Ebert, I’m opposed. I’ve seen several “blockbuster” type movies in 3D, and I never think the experience adds much to the viewing. To begin with, 3D movies do not resemble human, stereoscopic vision – rather, what they allow is for you to examine all of the plains of focus in the shot, since all of the plains are simultaneously in focus, as opposed to traditional 2D films, which confine the viewer’s examining gaze to only that plain that the director has chosen to focus on. The thing is, my experience has been that there’s never anything worth examining in these 3D blockbusters’ other plains – the directors never seem to take the opportunity to fill the middle or far distance with anything visually interesting or important, making the opportunity to examine them not worth the distractingly unrealistic nature of the 3D format, nor the increased ticket price. In general, it seems 3D directors only value the ability to have fists, swords, exploding debris, or what have you “fly out of the screen” at the viewer, and I don’t see that that enhances the movie-viewing experience, certainly not to the tune of five extra bucks.

Cave drawings, in black on undulating stone walls, of mane-less lions

A pride of lions from Chauvet cave.

However, also like Roger Ebert, I thought “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” utilizes 3D differently and well. The movie is a documentary that explores the Chauvet cave, discovered in France in 1994, which contains the earliest known cave paintings produced by human beings – the paintings, spanning thousands of years, are between 40,000 and 30,000 years old. A rockslide sealed the mouth of the cave many thousands of years ago, preserving it perfectly until it was recently rediscovered. Since its discovery, the French government has kept it carefully sealed and guarded, allowing only scientists to briefly enter the still nearly pristine cave; even they must limit their visits to a scant hour or two at a time, and they may only tread on a narrow, carefully laid steel track. This cave and its artifacts are treasures of humanity, and the care with which they are being preserved gives one a sense of relief.

A cave painting, in black on undulating stone walls, of horse heads.

Horses on the Walls of Chauvet

The drawings themselves are breathtaking, heart-rending renditions of prehistoric animals in overlapping numbers, doing battle, nuzzling, running, uttering. The geology of the cave itself is also stunning, and here is where the 3D makes the film: all of the plains of focus in the cave are worth examining in the minutest of detail – the geologic formations, the bones of animals preserved over time, and the drawings themselves, which were drawn upon undulating walls and which the artists rendered in such a way as to take advantage of the walls’ undulations in conveying a sense of movement in their animal subjects.

Werner Herzog narrates the film, and if you’ve ever seen a Werner Herzog movie before, you know he’s absolutely crazy, which can be fun. (I highly recommend you check out Encounters At the End of the World, streaming live on Netflix, for an example of his batshittery and the unexpected joy it brings to some of his films.) But crazy can be distracting, too, so it’s lucky that Herzog chooses to narrate Cave of Forgotten Dreams only lightly, and so does not tread on the absolute wonder he documents in this cave, which seems to represent the beginning of human-ness, the birth of what Herzog calls the human soul.

A painting, in black, on an undulating rock wall, of a rhinocerous with an enormous horn

Chuavet Rhinocerous

What I found most striking about the drawings was their continuity over time: scientists have determined that different drawings were made up to 5,000 years apart, and yet they clearly share the same artist’s conception of the world and its creatures. Considering the fragmentation of our modern culture – our inability to meaningfully understand our ancestors’ lives of only a hundred or so years ago, or even our inability to understand our contemporaries if they are located too far from our experience – it astounds me that these ancient artists’ work and its content was coherent and meaningful to their fellow artists thousands of years later.

I was also struck by their impression of the natural world as literally teeming with life: the animals on the cave walls are in crowds, they suggest multitudes. I believe that if you could transport one of the artists from 30,000 years ago to the present, the absence in the modern world of this crowd of life would be the most shocking change. Technology, of course, has advanced, but these people, our ancestors, had tools, and understood their usefulness – once the shock had worn off, I’m sure they would see and understand that our buildings, equipment, transportation devices, are all just improved tools for survival. But I get the sense that the absence, in our ever-diminishing world of environmental degradation, of the teeming host of fellow creatures that must have been of such bedrock importance to a time-travelling paleolithic artist would be irreconcilable.