Thursday, May 08, 2008

Recent movies - Logan's Run, Charlie Wilson's War, The 400 Blows

Logan's Run (1976) - This was Jeri's pick for last night's Movie Night, and what an interesting choice. It's one of those movies that is referenced quite a bit in pop culture (like The Simpsons and Family Guy), yet I had never seen it, and really knew nothing about it.

The basic story is set in a future where everyone lives in giant domed cities because the rest of the world is supposed to be a toxic wasteland. It is an era of hedonism where everyone is cloned and no one is allowed to live past 30. Basil Exposition plays Logan, a "Sandman" who executes anyone who tries to avoid their expiration date. You can guess what happens based on the title, but it actually comes about in a unique fashion. Logan's Sandman partner is the guy who played the southern senator in The Hunt For Red October. The girl who helps Logan is played by someone very familiar looking, and I was trying to place her all night, but it turns out I've only ever seen her in The Eagle Has Landed. I guess she has a distinct face. Peter Ustinov steals the movie when he shows up towards the end. His goofy old man shtick was incredibly charming, although there was a point where I almost got sick of it because we saw so much of it.

It seems there were two creative forces driving the movie: a visionary with great ideas for the visual style and interesting ideas about the future, and a guy who likes boobs. Some of the sets, shots, and ideas about the world in the future are great, but they are tempered constantly by girls running around bra-less in ridiculous sheer dresses. Every cool moment has a cheesy moment immediately following. You have an intense scene involving cosmetic surgery lasers going nuts and cutting up a doctor followed by a slow-mo sex club. You have an intriguing scene where the protagonists explore the foundation of their city for the first time followed by a ridiculous "ice room" where they fight the world's least intimidating crazy robot.

Which is preceded by them getting naked! We all laughed out loud when Logan said, "We'd better take our clothes off before we freeze!" and the camera stayed and watched. It was like the boob-happy producer came on set every few days and looked at the dailies: "Good, good, I like what I'm seeing. Tell me, though: how long has it been since the last nipple?"

Oh yeah, I can't believe I forgot to comment on the guns! The Sandmen have these black pistols for dispatching Runners. They have a cool green muzzle flash, but the lamest result. Each time they are fired, it looks like the actor is squeezing a lemon at his target (who directed them like that?), and the resulting bullet effect on the walls always occur several seconds late and a few feet off-target. They needed to hire someone who knew what they were doing there. Watch for a hilarious scene where a Runner gets shot in the butt, too.

I'm glad I've finally seen this one.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007) - Continuing the odd "proper name + possession" title scheme trend I've got going, Amy and I watched this one over lunch breaks. It's about the largest covert military operation in American history, which was funded and pushed largely by the efforts of a Texas Congressman named Charlie Wilson. Tom Hanks plays Charlie, and is supported by Philip S. Hoffman as a gruff CIA dude and Julia Roberts as a right-wing rich gal.

The movie is very entertaining, and the fact that it's based on a true story makes it that much more compelling. Great performances and direction all around.

The 400 Blows (1959) - Francois Truffaut directed this one at the age of 27. Wow. I'm 27.

This was my first Truffaut film, so I suppose it's appropriate that it was his first as well. (First major one, anyway. Is that right? IMDB lists two before this one, but I could have sworn the DVD said 400 Blows was his first.) The title means something like, "to sow one's wild oats," or "to get into mischief." The story concerns a boy named Antoine, who is a bit of a punk, but has no reason to be good, either. His mom is very open about the fact that she didn't want him, and his dad is lazy gambler (as near as I could figure -- the movie focuses on Antoine and doesn't reveal much outside of what Antoine knows, which is appropriate. How many kids know exactly what their parents do until later in life? I didn't, at any rate). Neither parent knows how to be a parent, and his teacher is a tool, so he has no authority figure to look up to at all in his life. With no direction provided, he sort of rambles through life. He doesn't care much for school except for seeing his friends, and he doesn't seem to have a passion for anything. He turns to mischief because it's fun, but he never comes across as malicious.

The movie doesn't really have traditional structure. It's more of a snapshot of Antoine's life, though it does capture important transitional moments. Antoine is played by a boy named Jean-Pierre Leaud who gives a great performance. He is very good at acting as a boy his age would. My favorite bit for him was his reaction to a psychologist question about sex. His expression and surprise are the perfect blend of embarrassment and excitement.

The movie is also beautifully and creatively shot. From the opening scene that tracks the pin-up to the final loooooooong tracking shots, Truffaut picks interesting ways to tell his story.


Nobody said...

A few years ago one of my cousin's named his second son Logan, not after Wolverine but after Logan's Run!

Admittedly my cousin is 15 years older than me. I've never seen the movie though!

Ryan said...

This is horribly embarrassing, but the first time I ever heard the name "Logan" was when I read a Babysitter's Club book in 3rd grade. Logan was the new kid the main character liked.

I had read all the other books in our class's library! Don't judge me.

Nobody said...

You're right, that was embarrassing.

I didn't even know Logan was a real name for years, and just assumed it was one of those fake names invented in comics primarily to sound cool (like Jor-El or Madrox).

It is definitely cool though. I've always thought it was a "foresty" sounding name for some reason, probably because of Wolverine's Canadian origin. But now I've looked it up and apparently it's Irish Gaelic meaning valley or hollow.

jeri said...

The embarrassing thing is that Ryan remembers exactly where he first saw that name. Haha.

Anyway, as I told Ryan and Amy, I came across Logan's Run as a fluke while watching late night tv. And it was edited for tv, so I was surprised to see all the boobage this time around! I have always thought it was such a cool story. It seems to borrow a bit from Ayn Rand's Anthem and Planet of the Apes, but in good, archetypal ways.

Ever since I saw the movie, I thought Logan was a cool name, but when I saw a guy on MTVs Real World with the name, it kind of ruined it for me. And then people started naming their dogs Logan, and it was ruined even more. But secretly, I still think it's a kick-ass name.

As for forest vs. valley - perhaps a foresty valley?