Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CineMasochism: Redbelt

Welcome to the inaugural installment of/first attempt at CineMasochism. A series where I watch and then discuss a movie that I have never heard of. I will select movies by analyzing the DVD cover, the plot synopsis, and the cast. If there is a Tom Hanks movie I don't know about (and there is), then it is getting picked. Obviously this will result in me finding some gems and some stinkers, but I'm also expecting to see some movies whose absence in my consciousness seems inexplicable.

Which is the case with the first movie I chose, Redbelt. It was written and directed by David Mamet, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, and features Tim Allen, Emily Mortimer, Joe Mantegna,  and Randy Couture.  Ed O'Neill and Jake Johnson make cameos. It even has two That Guys, Ricky Jay and David Paymer. How have I not at least heard of this movie?

There are two parts to the answer. First, Redbelt was released on six screens May 2nd, 2008, the same week Iron Man came out. The following week Redbelt expanded to almost 1,400 screens and Speed Racer opened. Speed Racer looked real good on the big screen.

The second part to the answer has to do with the movie itself. Mamet described Redbelt as a Fight Movie, except there isn't much fighting. It's a shame, because this could be a solid Sunday afternoon TBS movie. It has all the right elements. Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, the owner of a struggling jiu-jitsu studio who, because of a cabal of show business types, must enter a martial arts tournament to earn money to pay off debts and defend his dead friend's honor. It has famous athletes (Cotoure) acting.

One scene in particular best illustrates Redbelt's potential as perfect double feature partner to Timecop. In it Ejiofor questions a bartender in the middle of a shift for information on why his cop buddy, who had been working as a bouncer at the bar, hadn't been paid. During the exchange a magician interrupts the two, attempting to con the bartender into rolling a dice for a free drink. Ejiofor asks a question, the magician says something wacky, the bartender answers the magician, Ejiofor repeats his question, and the bartender answers. It's two conversations between three people happening simultaneously, the kind of thing that happens all the time in movies but never in real life.

What keeps Redbelt from achieving it's full potential is the lack of action. Mamet had been studying and practicing jiu-jitsu for years before making the movie. As a result the fighting is realistic instead of flashy (except for when Ejiofor runs up a wall to escape a choke-hold). This isn't inherently bad, but when the fighting in a fight movie is infrequent, tactical grappling it's not the most inherentlyengaging  cinematic experience.

How to use this movie to be a film snob
There are multiple tacks to take when using Redbelt to flex your toned cinephile muscles. You can explain that it adds a seriousness and maturity to the Fight Movie genre. When they point out the lack of action is extremely boring, you counter that the realism of the combat technique leaves viewers free to appreciate the selflessness and philosophical ideals of Ejiofor's character. They may argue that the plot is needlessly complicated and requires multiple viewings to follow. Counter by saying something about it being an homage to B-level predecessors, then change the subject to seeing the greatness Ejiofor would later display in 12 Years a Slave, even in a historically "low art" genre. You may also condescend to them that, which it was intricate, you had no problems following the plot. Be sure to study IMDB's synopsis, because it is pretty goddamn ridiculous. If explaining Redbelt to someone who hasn't seen it, do not attempt to give them a plot summary as it cannot be done in less than five minutes. Every plot point builds on the one preceding it in an absurd way. You can't explain why Ejiofor has to enter the tournament instead of pursuing his intellectual property lawsuit without talking about Mortimer accidentally shooting out the jiu-jitsu studio's window in the opening scene. Instead say that Redbelt is about a man struggling to uphold his moral code against outside forces. It will seem as though you are mysterious and understand film on a deeper, philosophical level than normal humans.
Key phrases to bandy about: CinemaScope. Thinking man's Road House. Peaceful warrior. Mametian.

Sweet lines to help you start Redbelt's cult following
"Let the wheel come around."
"Administer the fight. Insist."
"The battle is the issue. Who imposes the terms of the battle will impose the terms of the peace."
"Boxing is as dead as Woodrow Wilson."

Is it rewatchable?
Yes. Chiwetel Ejiofor is undeniably cool as Mike Terry and CinemaScope is pretty.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dear Diary: That Damn Scarf

Dear Diary,

Something I've noticed since being fully immersed in public transportation in a city with people who feel the need to appear hoity toity is that everyone has the same stupid scarf. The tan one with black, white, and red stripes. 

You know the scarf. 

Yeah. This stupid thing. Everyone has it. Men. Women. Animals. I don't understand why so much of the population wants to have the same scarf as everyone else. 

But Dennis, It's April. Spring is elbowing Old Man Winter back into his celestial nursing home until next years doddering ambulations. Soon leaves will be sprouting from trees like hair from the armpits of junior high students. What concern is a scarf to you now, in the time of Day Light Savings? Besides it's from Burberry.

To that I say, shut up, Diary. It's not even a good looking scarf, and I just looked it up and it costs $300. Tell me that isn't the stupidest thing you've ever heard. You can't, because it is. 

That pattern is unattractive. It looks like couch upholstery from the 70s. I'm not willing to debate this. It's objective fact. Which makes it even more confusing that every third person I see on the subway would be wearing this overpriced piece of neckwear that doesn't even look that warm. Are we really so easily influenced by what everyone else buys that we have made a scarf a status symbol? 

Seriously, it's the color of diarrhea.