Saturday, January 20, 2018

Step Right Up


I don't think I mentioned it in my year-end post, but I've been thinking about action movies: I love the adrenaline and the technical thrills of modern action movies, but do we really need to watch so much violence? If only there were some genre that valued displays of physical prowess filmed in an exciting way - wait! How about dance movies? Not only do you get the same kind of excitement as action movies, but there are a whole lot of them to choose from. We started with Stomp the Yard (2007).

It stars Columbus Short as a street dancer who gets into a beef with another crew that winds up with his brother dead. He is shipped off to Truth University in Atlanta, where his uncle is groundskeeper. Right from the start, he sets his sites on Megan Good. He also gets recruited by two frats, famous for their step teams.

If you don't know, stepping is a vernacular dance form practiced by members of Greek organizations at historically black colleges. It involves vigorous, synchronized stamping, gestures and some chanting. It reminds me a lot of New Zealand's haka. Of course, Megan Good's boyfriend leads one frat's team (the one that wins national championships year after year), and our hero pledges the other one.

StY is sometimes called Drumline without the drums, which is pretty accurate (Drumline even has a short stepping scene). In some ways, it's an ad for Greek organizations and college in general. Short is a good student, although he got in trouble. He works hard for his uncle as gardener, and spends a lot of his time studying - in fact, scenes with Short and Good studying together make black study very sexy.

But who cares? This is not why we watched this. We watched it for the stepping. So, first, there is a lot of hip hop dancing. It's not all step. In fact, the theme is that Short's team will need his urban battle dance training to win the nationals. It's pretty wild, but I might have preferred a little more traditional stepping. Also, more of the women - when Ms. (now Dr.) Spenser was at Florida State, we saw a little stepping, mostly from the women. They are fabulous - putting women through those strong, aggressive, percussive steps can be pretty awesome.

So, successful experiment. It sounds like the sequel isn't worth it, but there are plenty of others - the Step Up series, the You've Been Serveds, etc. We'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Torrid and Tart, Lucky and Comatose

Time for another old movie double bill: The Torrid Zone (1940) and If I'm Lucky (1946).

Torrid Zone answers the age old question - can anyone talk faster than James Cagney? It turns out that Pat O’Brien can. He plays the high-handed, hard-charging boss of a South American banana plantation. We first see him rousting Ann Sheridan from her singing job at a cantina, because in this town, what he says, goes. Because she won’t be rousted, she winds up in jail, playing cards with Latin revolutionary George Tobias. He gets taken out to be shot, which seems a little heavy for a comedy, but he escapes - and starts making trouble for the plantation.

But where’s Cagney in all this? He used to be O’Brien’s right-hand man, but he got a promotion and is heading back to Chicago - on the very boat that Sheridan is being sent home on. Of course, O’Brien will bully, sweet-talk, and swindle him into staying over for just a week, to take care of the revolutionaries. Also of course, he is going to romance Ann Sheridan into the bargain.

This has a lot going for it: O’Brien and Cagney quarreling twenty to the dozen, a pinch of Grady Sutton, a large helping of Andy Devine, and even George Reeves as Revolutionary #2. But the best part is probably Sheridan’s tart tongue - she gets off a number of zingers, including some clever ways to call someone a hoor.

If I’m Lucky isn’t quite so good. It sort of stars trumpeter Harry James as a band leader, with Vivian Blaine as singer and Carmen Miranda as his novelty act. When their agent, Phil Silvers can’t get them a gig, they find work bringing in crowds at Edgar Buchanan’s political rally. Then Perry Comotose shows up to pitch a song and pitch some woo at Blaine.

With that kind of talent, what can go wrong? Well, let’s see... Miranda gets one number and only a few chances to cuss someone out in Portuguese. Perry Como is a wet dud. Harry James is a good trumpet, but the musical numbers aren’t much to my taste - too square. Maybe 1946 just wasn’t a great year for white swing. Even Silvers doesn’t have much to do.

It might have worked with better music, or maybe removing some extraneous material. Hate to say it, but they could have dropped Miranda or Silvers and given the one they kept something to do.

Still, a pleasant pastime, if you like that sort of thing.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

City of a Thousand Goofs

When we started watching Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), it took us two extended scenes before we found out why everyone hates it. The first scene, set to Bowie's Space Oddity, shows the ISS space station growing as Earth nations, then aliens add modules. The second shows an alien beach planet where gender-fluid, supermodel aliens engage in a pearl-based economy, or religion, or something, before a space battle levels them. These scenes are beautiful and engaging.

Then we meet our protagonists.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are Valerian and Laureline, agents for the human defense organization that protects the ISS, now grown to immense size and free of Earth's orbit. They report to Herbie Hancock, which is cool, but that's about all that's cool. They are presented as douchebag and douchebaguette - Since they are wearing trashy tourist wear, Hancock tells them to change clothes for their mission. So they change into something worse - Hawaiian shirt over mesh tee for him, bikini for her.

But - the mission involves visiting a funky bazaar in another dimension, where Valerian gets stuck because he has a transdimensional gizmo on his arm and it's malfunctioning. All this is a good-fun action scene with a good twist.

THEN, they barely manage to escape while their squad gets slaughtered. Not only don't they try to save them, they don't even acknowledge when they get killed. Ms. Spenser was most upset about this callous reaction, not just from the characters, but from the movie. Myself, I wondered if it were intentional, to establish that the characters were completely self-involved - you were supposed to hate them. But probably not.

The rest of the movie progresses in more or less the same manner - wild, gorgeous visual sequence, obnoxious, stupid leads. A new character, a shape shifter played by Rihanna, is introduced with a Caberet-tinged strip tease. It's a beautiful scene, but it goes on too long, and fails to advance the plot much. SPOILER - Rihanna is killed when she is no longer useful, and our "heroes" just barely care.

I will pass over the "lousy woman driver" jokes.

Dennis Cozzallio liked this movie, which gave me hope. Could it be another John Carter, but it's more of a Jupiter Ascending, an interesting movie that was critically panned for very good reasons. But, you know, like Jupiter Ascending, on the whole I kind of liked this movie. I assume that director Luc Besson thought the leads were the type of people kids today go for - YouTube stars or something. Other than them, there's a lot of good in this movie. But it was no Fifth Element.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sweet Science

Gentleman Jim (1942) is an interesting exercise in making a fun movie with an incredibly charismatic, unlikable lead.

It stars Errol Flynn as Gentleman Jim Corbett, early heavyweight boxing champion. It starts in the late 1800s, in San Francisco. Everyone is headed for an illegal boxing match. Flynn and his buddy Jack Carson, poor bank clerks, see one of the bank's directors among the spectators and head over in hopes of kissing up. When the fight is raided, Flynn fast talks the cops into letting the director go. Later, when his daughter. Alexis Smith, comes by, giving him a chance to wangle his way into the Olympia Club, where the upper class are planning a legit boxing club to clean up image. And Flynn knows how to box - because...

At home with his Irish immigrant father (Alan Hale) and two brothers, Jim plays the gent, all formal good manners. His brothers tease him all the time, leading to brawls that all the neighbors come to watch, with the catch-phrase, "The Corbetts are at it again!"

So Flynn has wormed his way into society, having himself paged to keep up his image, then gets kicked out because Jack Carson acts like a drunken lout. But he works his way up through the fight game, until he defeats John L. Sullivan (Ward "Is" Bond). There's a touching scene where Bond meets with Flynn privately to tell him how much he respects him and Flynn butters him up, and it's all very sportsmanly and gentlemanlike.

But this is a boxing movie - you know, Wallace Beery in tights (I guess that's wrestling, but whatever). So how are the fight scenes? Remarkably good for it's era - I don't suppose it threatens Raging Bull (haven't seen), but it is pretty realistic and quite fast. So even if Flynn comes off as a stuck-up, kiss-up class traitor, at least he knows how to fight

Thursday, January 11, 2018

War Games

You know, we actually love sequels. But for Tron: Legacy (2010), we’ll make an exception.

I remember very little from the original Tron. Mainly, I liked the special effects that simulated CGI with hand animation and rotoscoping. The look was striking - not like existing work or the real computer animation that came after. Of course, the sequel used modern CGI, so the look is a lot less original.

It stars Garrett Hedlund as the son of Jeff Bridges, who disappeared somewhere when he was young. Now he’s a rebel, riding a motorcycle and disrupting the his dad’s company. He was raised by Bruce Boxleitner, his father’s partner, and, with Bridges, part of the original movie in some way I don’t remember. Anyway, Boxleitner gives Hedlund access to the secret video arcade, which transports him into the land of Tron, a computer generated universe.

There, he finds the oppressive regime set up by a de-aged Jeff Bridges, and his real father, aged Jeff Bridges, hiding out and being all Zen. Simulated babe Olivia Wilde keeps him from getting lonely.

So, Hedlund has to topple the hierarchy and ... Oh, forget it. Ms. Beveridge nailed it with her review: “It’s boring.” There are disc fights and light cycle races, which are nothing special. There’s a comic turn by Michael Sheen as a fruity club owner/procurer/fixer type. Music is supplied by Daft Punk - they also make a cameo appearance. I don’t really know their stuff, and this didn’t make me want to rush out and listen to more.

The movie is also full of references to the original and other movies - most of which I only recognized by the leaden thunk they made when dropped. In particular, the quote from War Games: “The only way to win is not to play”. Wish I’d followed that advice.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Everyone Says I Love You

I don't think I need to say much about the Marx Bros.' Horse Feathers (1932). Just so you remember, it's the one about college, with Groucho singing "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It" and everyone singing (or playing on the harp) "Everyone Says I Love You". It has the "swordfish" scene. Thelma Todd is the college widow, wooed by Zeppo and everyone else.

It all ends with a big football game. Nat Pendleton, the cop from the Thin Man series, plays a ringer for the opposing team. And the whole thing is over in a little over an hour.

Written by Kalmar and Ruby, with S.J. Perleman. They wrote some of Goucho's best songs.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Way We Were in 2017

Welcome to 2018 - time for one of my patented half-hearted year in review posts. I want to note that this was my tenth year operating this blog. This is my 1184th post. And I never seem to get better at it.

I don't have a top 10 list - I've always been terrible about those. I'll post my top movie of 2017, though: Bringing Up Baby, same as every year. I don't think we actually watched it this year, but that doesn't matter. Best is best.

Reviewing my viewing for the year, I see that we watched a fair number of "classic" movies. By "classic" I mean either "black and white" or "made before the studio system was broken up". It doesn't mean "high quality". It's what the Self-Styled Siren calls simply "old movies", but that could include anything made after, say, 1992.

Anyway, we've watched good, or at least interesting, old movies, mostly crime (noir or noir adjacent) and horror. This is a good strategy because they are often short, so you can watch them when you're pressed for time and they often come two or even three on a disc.

For crime, I'm going to nominate Decoy as best of year, because it is so WTF, right up to the ending. Also for Sheldon Leonard as Jo Jo Portugal.

For old horror, the 8-pack we watched in October really pushed the numbers up. But I think my favorite was The Devil Commands, Boris Karloff as a perfect mad scientist.

We watched some non-classic horror as well, but mostly horror-comedy, due to my sensitive nature. I'll nominate Night of the Creeps for best, but the two versions of Fright Night are a close second (original) and third (remake).

It seems that we watched a bunch of Shakespeare, although maybe no more than usual (3-4/year). I'll put Branagh's wacky  Loves Labour Lost at the top of the list.

We didn't watch as many foreign films as maybe we should have, but we saw some samurai movies. The best was probably Harakiri. I also saw Drunken Angel for the first time, but (although directed by Kurosawa), it is not a samurai.

For the rest, we saw a lot of the usual remakes, sequels, reboots, comic book, and car chase movies, often in combination. We regret nothing - we enjoyed almost all of them - even Suicide Squad. The ones we liked best had something that was missing in too many movies in general: fun! Movies like Gaurdians of the Galaxy II and Spider-Man: Homecoming were filled with joy. When Drax does something stupid and glorious and then throws back his head and laughs, you can't help but laugh along.

Best DVD purchases of the year? Probably the three Marx Bros. movies I picked up in used CD/DVD stores: Animal Crackers, Night at the Opera, and Night in Casablanca. Casablanca may not be top-shelf Marx Bros., but it has some good stuff, including Harpo playing Liszt on the harp. It was our first movie of the new year.

Oh yes, and our New Year's cocktail was a Mai Tai:

1/2 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. orange juice
1/2 oz. triple sec
1/2 oz. Frangelico
2 oz. dark rum
splash of prosecco
Garnish w/ cherry

Cheers!