Why do I title this blog "Harsh Times Indeed" and then have a picture of the movie poster for THE THREE EXTREMES? Because this is going to be a disjointed Blog that will bring Oregon, Santa Cruz, LA, Sacramento, Salinas, Marina and Monterey together. I might even throw in some Las Vegas and some Bangkok for good measure. Piqued? Its a good sales pitch, but the rub is a lot more benign than you would think.
I work at this place where I make the tests that you fail. When I started there, I was hanging out with this guy named John. John and I hit it off for whatever reason and we would walk around the building every day at lunch. It is a big fokking building. We would discuss film and literature and the world around us. John had spent some time in the east. He has even married a woman from Japan. He had an understanding of Japanese culture that I have always wanted but never quite landed.
Then John got it together, purchased a house in Oregon and moved there to work from home. John and I keep a sporadic email relationship up. Something about once a month or so. These are great, profanity-laden missives that really score the rusted underbelly of the pop-culture war machine. We still talk movies. We still discuss Japanese culture. We discuss it all, actually.
So a few weeks back, I had an opportunity to go to Sacramento on a job thing. John was supposed to be there. We were supposed to do the big beers, the late nights, all of that stuff. Unfortunately, my end fell through. John burned some DVDs for me and sent them back to me through this other guy who didn't get them to me until last Thursday. The DVD I want to reference here is the DVD of the movie THREE EXTREMES.
THREE EXTREMES is three short horror films mixed together in one big film. I am a big fan of the horror genre and so is John, and this is a film we had discussed multiple times. He said that the first episode called DUMPLINGS was pretty good. Thursday night, I started to watch Dumplings. It was smooth. It was well filmed. It was about a woman who eats these dumplings served to her in a seedy apartment. Some beautiful shots. Some clean close-ups. A lot of questions hang in the air as to what these dumplings are made of.
Friday was my day to lift off out of Santa Cruz, hang out with the babies in Salinas and take Matt (see SLUTTIEST BREAKFAST EVAR) out for his birthday in Monterey, via Marina. I was rolling in the Mustang and the doors have the pop-lock alarm button now, so you know it was a sexy drive.
The babies were supposed to go surfing and L-Dogg and I were supposed to watch Mortal Kombat. Well, the surf instructor failed and suddenly I was on 100% duty. We went to In and Out. We went to the mall. We went to Claire's and I checked out the Happy Bunny display ("I did it, but I am blaming you)". Happy Bunny is the dope.
Got to Matt's house and started to talk about the THREE EXTREMES. He said that he had the thing and that he had started to watch it before. I was into firing the thing up and watching the first episode before we went out to see HARSH TIMES which was my birthday gift to the man. So we fired it up.
DUMPLINGS might very well be the most fokked up film short I have ever viewed. The dumplings are stuffed with aborted fetuses. There is a lot of moloch worship in this little ditty from Hong Kong. It is filmed in such a way that you are hoping that these aren't fetuses being chopped and served, but sooner or later, you have to give in and accept that yeah, Fruit Chan the director does in fact go there. So you see an abortion performed in a kitchen. This isn't the fun sort of birth that happens in Monty Python's the MEANING OF LIFE. This is even cruder. Then it turns out that the actress who is finding the unborn so damn comestible learns that her latest mean was a product of incest. This is when the film actually raises up with a conscience. Hey, abort and eat, but having sex with your granddaughter is just too doggone far. Of course it is supposed to hit you like a water balloon filled with maple syrup. Of course you are supposed to cringe at all aspects. When protagonist woman finally does indeed abort her own child, you are left to wonder if she actually ate it, because blood is running out of her mouth and a gigantic, fast-moving, slug-like tongue launches out of her mouth and slobs up the crimson drool.
Over the top? HOLY SHIT. This film hit me as hard as the DOOM GENERATION did back in the day. Unfortunately, I am older and more cynical. I am desensitized and pretty much done. Matt's friend Tino had posited to Matt a few days before that all film should be viewed from the POV of a 14 year old boy. This is the way he views film, and this is why he enjoys the crap of the 80s so much. I have watched such classics as THE WRAITH starring Charlie Sheen with Tino. I missed out on IRON EAGLE 2 a few weeks back, but this is what I am talking about.
Here is the truth for Tino though: if Matt and I had watched Dumplings as 14 year olds, I wouldn't be posting right now...I would be locked up somewhere. The short is not for anyone under 30 and that is the cold truth.
So we locked and loaded and got to the Osio in downtown Monterey to check out the Harsh Times. The previews were everywhere. It is being heralded as the next big thing from the writer of TRAINING DAY. Christian Bale is up in there. JK Simmons is up in there. FOK Freddy Rodriguez though. That fool hasn't done anything for me that is worth more than one dollar. It is set in South Central Los Angeles. It has all of the trappings of a good film. All of the trappings I said. But this is one hunk of celluloid that falls flat. DEAD FLAT.
Christian Bale is some ex-death squad fool from Iraq. He is trying to get into LAPD now that he is back on the streets of LA. He fails the psych test and decides to get high. Form that point on, you see this fool unraveling. The unraveling of a protagonist is a movie can be a beautiful thing. Think about FALLING DOWN. Think about TRAINING DAY. Think about FULL METAL JACKET. Think about Mah-fackin SCARFACE. The unraveling is something that we are fascinated with. Well, HARSH TIMES has an unraveling that is sloppy and ridiculous. There is no true explanation of this Christian Bale kid. There is no real explanation who his family is, how this white-boy got so damn bilingual or why he has a girlfriend in Mexico. The point when he realizes that he has smoked pot and now has to pass a piss test is so unbelievable that I was through forgiving the movie at that point, and I was a mere 20 minutes in.
Bale can act, but then again, he can't. Is this guy a one-trick tough-guy pony? I am beginning to think so. He is the man however, when it comes to handing out ass-kicking or scowling. He did a damn good Batman. He did a damn good Machinist. He was also a damn good professor in The Prestige. He was damn good in Equilibrium. He was pretty damn good in American Psycho. Hell, I'll throw in Reign of Fire and Shaft too. I have never seen this guy get his ass kicked on the big screen. This is part of his schtick. Christian Bale does some damn good macho work. However, no matter how damn good he is, HARSH TIMES as a film misses something fierce.
Check it out: when a movie ends, and you hear 360 degrees of collective profanity as people get up out of their seats on the opening night of a film, there is something seriously wrong with the film. That was our experience as the film ended.
HARSH TIMES is a waste of time. As Matt and I drove through spaghetti hill and I showed him my old stomping grounds, I realized a few things.
#1. We were still talking about DUMPLINGS.
#2. DUMPLINGS is about 25 minutes long.
This means that the 2 plus hours of HARSH TIMES was eclipsed by a fraction or filmwork from the other side of the planet. If there was a time to see HARSH TIMES, it was last friday night. That still didn't save it. I am still thinking about DUMPLINGS and HARSH TIMES is now officially off of my radar.
I must say that there was some good dialogue in HARSH TIMES, but nothing that was spectacular.
My conclusion? THREE EXTREMES > HARSH TIMES but I wouldn't suggest either of them if you want the truth.