It’s been a while since I’ve done these, and since it’s a slow week I decided that I would write about some of the films I’ve watched recently on DVD.
Nacho Libre and Gentlemen Broncos — Both of these films were made by Jared Hess, best known for the out-of-left-field hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” and both received something of a critical drubbing.
In the case of “Gentlemen Broncos,” I can sort of see why — this is a very strange, occasionally off-putting, not-for-all-tastes film about a somber, homeschooled teen (Michael Angarano) whose science fiction novel is stolen and published by a best-selling sci-fi writer (wonderfully played by Jermaine Clement from “Flight of the Conchords.”) For much of the movie, I was on the fence. It was clearly a personal, idiosyncratic work, but I wasn’t sure it held together well — the fantasy elements were bizarre, but not necessarily in a good way, and Hess’ trademark scatalogical humor seemed random and pointless. But something clicked toward the end, and I found myself won over by this odd and heartfelt tale.
I feel less conflicted about “Nacho Libre,” which stars Jack Black as a Mexican monk who begins moonlighting as a wrestler to raise money for his orphanage. Most critics hated this movie, but I thought it was hilarious from pretty much the first frame. Also, it has a lovely comic book look distinguished by bright colors and quirky details. Black gives one of his best performances as the monk, and he’s supported by an able quirky cast. I laughed through this entire film, and I honestly cannot understand the scorn heaped upon it.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: “Napoleon Dynamite”
Rambo: First Blood — I’ve been catching up on cultural touchstones from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and decided that I should watch a Rambo movie, since I’d never seen one. My expectations weren’t very high, and I was pleasantly surprised: “First Blood” is an effective B-movie, a brisk, efficient thriller about a misunderstood war veteran battling a nasty local sheriff’s department in the Pacific Northwest. Sylvester Stallone plays the veteran, in a mostly wordless performance that’s quite good, and Brian Dennehy plays the evil local sheriff. Rambo’s actions are questionable, but the sheriff is such a creep that it’s easy to root for him. The film flies off the rails a bit toward the end, becoming a little too ridiculous, but the first two-thirds, where Rambo demonstrates his formidable survival skills and hunts down the local sheriff’s deputies, are pretty exciting. And the scenery is great.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: Sylvester Stallone is a very good screen presence, but his roles don’t always require him to do much in the way of acting. One exception is the moody 1997 police corruption drama “Cop Land.”
Carlos — This film, about the Venezeulan terrorist Carlos the Jackal, originally aired as a three-part miniseries on French television. Directed by Olivier Assayas, the five-and-a-half hour film charts Carlos’ rise from a college student with Marixst leanings, to something of a celebrity after holding the OPEC conference in Vienna hostage in 1975, to an international pariah unable to find a safe haven.
As played by Edgar Ramirez, Carlos is a sex symbol who relishes the media spotlight, whose physical decline dovetails with his professional unraveling. “Carlos” is detailed and exciting, filmed with a documentary-like realism, but at times I wondered whether the film would have benefited from a shorter running time and a smaller canvas — there are so many characters, it’s easy to lose track of people and events. But the film is always interesting, and Ramirez is quite good as Carlos.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: In recent years, there have been a number of movies about left-wing terrorists, including “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” a sprawling look at Germany’s Red Army Faction, and “The Legend of Rita,” about a Red Army Faction member who flees from West Germany to East Germany, and begins a new life for herself.
Bugsy — Warren Beatty and Annette Bening got together while making this film and it’s easy to see why: The chemistry between the two actors is one of the main draws of “Bugsy,” which tells the story of gangster Bugsy Siegel (Beatty), his affair with actress Virginia Hill (Bening) and his visionary plan to build a classy casino in the desert, effectively creating the Las Vegas we know and love today.
As directed by Barry Levinson, the film has a fairly light touch, especially when compared to other gangster movies, and many of the earlier scenes have the feel of a classic screwball comedy. Of course, “Bugsy” gets darker and more serious as it progresses, as films of this type often do, but still manages to make the somewhat subversive case that Bugsy deserves to be remembered and even admired for his impact on American culture.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING: The 1995 Martin Scorsese film “Casino” tells the story of the mob’s involvement in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s; as you might expect, the Scorsese film is bloodier and more violent than Levinson’s relatively tame tale.
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