Thursday, August 28, 2014

Man or Ant-man?

We finally got around to watching Joe Dante's tribute to B-grade horror movies, Matinee (1993). And by got around to, I mean Netflix finally sent us the movie, after it sat at the top of our list with status "Very Long Wait" for a very long time. Very annoying and makes it hard to orchestrate the optimum weekend viewing experience. But I'm not complaining.

Matinee takes place in Key West during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Simon Fenton plays a young navy brat (13? 14?), whose father has shipped out to blockage Cuba. Fenton doesn't really fit in on the base or with the townies, and he's at just the age when he needs to. His main passion is monster movies, which he scares his little brother with. And the most amazing movie is coming to town: director Lawrence Woolsey's (John Goodman) Mant!

Goodman's character is a larger than life B-movie director, something like William Castle. He drives around in a big Caddie with a beautiful starlet, smoking a huge cigar and wires gimmicks under the theater seats to make people jump. So the movie is a collision between B-movies, kids coming of age, and the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The kids' side of the story is great. Fenton makes a friend, a townie boy who wants to date a student council type good girl, who has a bad boy ex-boyfriend named Harvey Starkweather (any relation to Charles?). Meanwhile, Fenton meets a sad commie girl with long straight hair and liberal parents, who refuses to "duck and cover" when the air raid drill sounds. She was my favorite - she reminded me of the girls I wanted to hang out with.

So, good coming of age movie, good turn by John Goodman as a low-budget movie magnate. BUT! The scenes from the movie-within-the-movie, Mant, are awesome! I think everyone who has enjoyed Matinee says the same thing - "But I really wanted to see Mant." It's the usual dental X-rays causes a man to transform into a giant ant movie, a touch of The Amazing Colossal Man, a little bit of The Fly, and a big dash of The Beginning of the End, the Peter Graves giant grasshopper movie.

One of the scenes shows General Ankrum (Morris Ankrum plays the general in Beginning of the End) explaining the plan in front of a map of Chicago, and watching an ant climbing up the side of a picture of a building as a special effect - pure Beginning of the End. But please! Don't tell your friends about the astonishing ending of MANT!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Did You Know That School of Rock Even had a Film Course?

Film Quiz time! This time it is hosted by Jack Black Prof. Dewey Finn of the School of Rock at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. To respect the honor code, I have to say that I used Ms. Spenser for a lot of these, not always credited.

1) Band without their own movie, from any era, you’d most like to see get the HARD DAY’S NIGHT or HEAD treatment
Is there a Journey movie? That would be something.

2) Oliver Reed or Alan Bates?
Which one was in Three Musketeers? Then Reed, although Alan Bates would have been a great Athos.

3) Best thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video
Get it when you want it.

4) Worst thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video
Everything else. Quality, buffering, selection, special features, you name it. Of course, I'm not counting pirated downloads, which have another set of problems (I've heard).

5) Favorite Robin Williams performance
I haven't seen a lot of them, so Popeye. It was kind of a trainwreck of a movie, but I can't fault the casting.

6) Second favorite Carol Reed movie
Our Man in Havana. First favorite, same as everyone.

7) Oddest moment/concept in rock music cinema
Plenty of choices, but I'll say Zachariah. A rock Western that starts with the James Gang - the band - and features Country Joe and the Fish as a gang of bank robbers called the Crackers. Also, amazing Elvin-Jones-was-a-gunslinger moment.

8) Favorite movie about growing up
Not a favorite genre, so not too many choices. But I loved Gregory's Girl, especially for the way that the Northern summer twilight just goes on and on, like a childhood summer.

9) Most welcomed nudity, full or partial, in a movie (question submitted by Peter Nellhaus, class of 2004)
The topless women in Zardoz make up a lot for Sean Connery's diaper. The penis is evil, boobies are good!

10) Least welcomed nudity, nude or partial, in a movie (question submitted by Peter Nellhaus, class of 2004)
Amir Talai's bottomless scene in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo.

11) Last movie watched, in a theater, on DVD/Blu-ray, via streaming
Theater, nothing. I'll have to go to one of those some time. Last Blu-Ray was The Brothers Bloom, which is great, if you don't mind precious and whimsical. Streaming, Sherlock, the one from the second season where John and Mary get hitched.

12) Second favorite Bertrand Blier movie
Looks like I've never seen one.
Update: Reading another entry, I am reminded that I saw A Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe. I enjoyed it a quite a bit, although the feeling is a little spoiled by Tom Hanks' charmless remake. Still no second favorite.

13) Googie Withers or Sally Gray?
Googie Withers, mainly for the name. I'd swear I just saw her in something, but I can only find Night and The City.

14) Name a piece of advice derived from a movie or movie character that you’ve heeded in real life
"Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." Not really.
It wasn't advice, but I noticed in Claire's Knee that people were always touching (not just knees), embracing even. I was raised in a stand-offish New England environment, and decided I wanted to change my ways. And I did - I'm a hugger now.

15) Favorite movie about learning
Do kung fu training montages count? How about Drunken Master? Or 36th Chamber of Shaolin? OK, Kung Fu Panda (sucking up to Prof. Finn).

16) Program a double bill of movies that were announced but for one reason or another, never made. These could be projects cancelled outright, or films that were made, but at one time had different directors, stars, etc., attached-- and your "version" of the film might be the one with that lost director, for example (question submitted by Brian Doan, class of 2007)
This is easy: Jodorowsky's Dune and Lord of Light, aka Argo. We saw both the documentary and the pseudo-documentary recently, and boy did I want to see those movies. Two of my favorite SF novels, with storyboards/art direction by Moebius and Jack "King" Kirby? Oh yes!

17) Oddest mismatch of director and material
I haven't seen Skidoo, but it's hard to imagine odder.

18) Favorite performance by your favorite character actor
Eugene Pallette's "Where's my breakfast" scene from The Lady Eve.

19) Favorite chase scene
The motorbike-through-the-Metro scene from Diva. Was it the first to use motorbikes up and down the stairs, now common?

20) Movie most people might not have seen that you feel like proselytizing about right now
I was just touting Expresso Bongo (1959) to a movie friend. Laurence Harvey as a small-time Soho agent/hustler who latches onto Cliff Richards. Not as much of a teen exploitation as I expected. More of a British (and less bitter) Sweet Smell of Success.
Sadly, neither Googie Withers nor Sally Gray are in it.

21) Favorite movie about high school
Since I mention Rian Johnson above, I'll say Brick. But Ms. Spenser says Rock 'n' Roll High School, and she is right.

22) Favorite Lauren Bacall performance
The phone scene from The Big Sleep - supposedly improvised. "You'd better talk to my father."

23) David Farrar or Roger Livesey?
I haven't seen much of David Farrar, although I liked his Sir Guy in The Golden Horde.

24) Performance most likely to get overlooked during the upcoming awards season
What's the funniest comedy from last year? That's the one. Funny roles never win.

25) Rock musician who, with the right project, could have been a movie star
What about Springsteen? I bet he can act - Little Stevie could. Ms. Spenser says Jon Bon Jovi - might not be much of an actor, but looks so dreamy.

26) Second favorite Ted Post movie
Not counting TV? I think I've only seen Magnum Force.

27) Favorite odd couple
Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jr - Enemy Mine.

28) Flicker or Zeroville?
These are novels about movies, right? Haven't read them. Thanks for reminding me.

29) Favorite movie about college
Guess it has to be Animal House. I still think our frat was wackier, though. Hi, Hi, We're Phi Psi!

30) In a specific movie full of memorable turns, your favorite underappreciated performance
We choose Benedict Cumberbatch as the featureless white light in the first Hobbit movie.

31) Favorite movie about parenting
The last three Thin Man movies, after Nick Jr. was born.

32) Susannah York or Sarah Miles?
Now I'll ask you one: Julie Christie or Hayley Mills? I don't get this game, do I?

33) Movie which best evokes the sense of place in a region with which you are well familiar
Joe Dante's Innerspace does a surprisingly good job showing the the office parks of Silicon Valley and the rest of the Bay Area, considering it was mostly made in LA.

34) Name a favorite actor from classic movies and the contemporary performer who most evokes their presence/stature/talent
Don't you think Jean Dujardin (The Artist) has a nice Doug Fairbanks feel, even when he's not in a silent?

35) Your favorite hot streak of any director (question submitted by Patrick Robbins, class of 2008)
The career of Billy Wilder. 40-odd years, 25 or so films, 3 or 4 clunkers?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fairy Tale

I'm going to start my review of Winter's Tale (2014) with, again, a discussion of the source material. I read, and pretty much loved, Mark Helprin's magical realist novel of New York. (Distraction: I had poet and novelist Mark Helprin mixed up with rightwing water-carrier Mark Halperin for a long time. I was glad to find out they were not the same person.) It is a wondrous tale of beauty and mystery and I didn't care whether it made a lick of sense.

Now, the movie actually manages to tease a plot out of the book. It tells about how Peter Lake's (Colin Farrell) immigrant parents set him adrift in a model yacht when they were turned away from America at Ellis Island. He grew up to be a thief in 1914 New York, on the run from Russell Crowe's gang of bowler hatted ruffians. He is rescued by a magic white horse, who Crowe calls the White Dog of the East - yes, the horse is really a dog. Yes, that is truly magic.

The horse gets Farrell mixed up with the beautiful but doomed Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). She suffers from a consumptive fever, so she walks around barefoot in the snow and talks about how light connects us all to the stars and miracles and destiny or something. Oh and she has never been kissed on the mouth. She is not just feverish, she is hot.

So Farrell and Findlay are in love. They go up to her upstate mansion on the white dog-horse, on the frozen Hudson. They meet her father, William Hurt, millionaire media mogul in mourning for his wife. He is barely in the movie, but manages to make his mark.

Now, in the book, a lot of things happen. There is a lot of stuff about early 20th century gangs, like the Dead Rabbit gang. The Grand Central Station Oyster Bar is a major locus of power. Also, characters are unanchored in time, disappearing and showing up decades later, unaged, but sometimes changed. This movie strips most of that away, in favor of a love story that almost makes sense. Although it has some time travel, several magical creatures and a somewhat confusing metaphysics of light, stars and miracles, it is a very simplified version of the novel.

As a result, it is somewhat less magical, less enthralling. Also, the cinematography doesn't always match the ambitions of script-writer and first time director Akiva Goldsman (Batman and Robin, but don't hold that against him). Still, this is a pretty lovely movie. It's a bit schmaltzy, but Findlay is quite lovable, and I always enjoy Colin Farrell - Daredevil's Bullseye!

Your mileage may vary. Once again, it might help if you read the book a long time ago, and liked it, but don't remember the details very well.

In conclusion, the How Did This Get Made podcast had a lot to say about this one. I mainly watched it so I could listen to the podcast without worrying about spoilers.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

To Say Nothing of the Dog

Before we discuss Three Men in a Boat (1956), the movie, I'd like to ask, do you know of Three Men in a Boat, the 1889 novel by Jerome K. Jerome? Science fiction fans of a certain age may remember it from Robert Heinlein's Have Spacesuit - Will Travel, where Kip's father reads it obsessively, drawing deep philosophical inspiration from the incident with the pineapple tin and no opener. Younger SF fans may be more familiar with Connie Willis' tribute, To Say Nothing of the Dog.

If you haven't heard of this book, then this movie may not be for you. On the other hand, if you are a big fan, you may be disappointed to find that the movie only vaguely resembles it. So be warned.

Sometime in the 1890s, three men (and a terrier named Montmorency) who take a rowing holiday on the Thames. They are a handlebar mustached Nigel Bruce type, trying to get away from his fiancee's mother (Jimmy Edwards), a henpecked husband (David Thomlinson), and a bank teller and ladies' man, Laurence Harvey. They are rowing from Hampton Court to Oxford, and sleeping out under the stars (or drenching rain, since it is England). There are misadventures, slapstick, sunny days and cute girls. There is, indeed, a struggle with a tin of pineapple.

Once again, we have a gentle little English comedy. If you like that sort of thing, if you've read Three Men in a Boat, but aren't a fanatic, or if you want to see Laurence Harvey in a non-bongo-related role, give it a look.

In conclusion, the 1975 TV movie version, written by Tom Stoppard, starring Tim Curry, Michael Palin and Stephen Moore sounds amazing.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lego My Ego

The Lego Movie (2014) is definitely fun, clever and funnier than it had to be. It was written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the team responsible for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, both also better than they had to be.

This computer animated movie takes place almost entirely in a Lego world. Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a perfectly ordinary Lego mini-figure with a job building Lego projects exactly according to instructions. He loves his job, and his attitude is summed up by the dance hit of the summer - "Everything is Awesome". But he is fingered by wizard minifig Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) as the Special One, who would overthrow the tyranny of Lord Business (Will Ferrell), etc. All this would be pretty dire, except for the cute yet feisty girl minifig he meets, Wild Style (Elizabeth Banks).

All of this is partly but not quite entirely just an excuse to run through lots of Lego sets and meet minifigs like Batman, 1980's spaceman, Abe Lincoln and George Washington, a pirate, and Superman and Green Lantern (Tatum Channing and Jonah Hill from 21 Jump Street). These scenes are pretty great, and very funny - especially Will Arnett's super-serious Batman.

But that's not all - the movie takes a serious, almost real-world twist towards the end. It doesn't get too heavy, but it is more than just a series of riffs supported by clever CGI.

However, I must say - I'm not sure this stuff is for us. I enjoyed all of these movies, but I didn't love them. I am including the Lord and Miller movies, but also Wreck-It Ralph and similar. I wonder if we're just the wrong generation (even though the jokes all seemed to be aimed at Boomer/post-Boomers like me). I feel like I might be like the grownups who didn't get Rocky and Bullwinkle back in the day. I can see the talent, and I respect it. It just doesn't thrill me.

In conclusion, I'll keep watching, they may be getting better.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Greatest Movie Never Made

My recent review of Argo pretty much just went on about the fake movie within the movie and its real-life story. I wouldn't have minded a movie just about that amazing unmade movie. Which is pretty much what I got from Jodorowsky's Dune (2013).

Alexander Jodorowski is an odd surrealist filmmaker. I've never seen any of his movies, but his psychedelic Western El Topo was one the the first great midnight cult movies. In the mid-70s, he had a chance to make a movie with a substantial budget, and he picked Dune.

Why he picked Dune is a little unclear - I'm not sure he had even read it. In fact, it's kind of a running joke that no one involved actually read the book. But he threw himself into it with all his heart. He wrote a script. He hired Jean "Moebius" Giraud (The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius) to do storyboards. He got Pink Floyd to do some of the soundtrack. SF paperback cover artist Chris Fosse would do art direction, along with H.R. Giger (Alien). He got commitments from Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and David Carradine to play various roles. Dan O'Bannon (Dark Star, Alien) would do special effects. And then it all fell apart. The project passed to David Lynch. None of the material was used.

And yet... The thesis of this documentary is that Jodorowski's Dune inspired a generation or more of cinema - When the detailed storyboard went around Hollywood, it failed to find backing, but it inspired a lot of imitation. This film gives credit for Star Wars and Alien at least to Jodorowski. It sounds pretty far-fetched to me, but it's an interesting idea.

Also an interesting movie. I'm just guessing, but I'll bet Jodorowski's Dune, if it had been made, would have been a worse disaster than David Lynch's. Maybe an interesting cult film like Zachariah, with a tiny audience of rabid fans with low expectations. I think I like it best the way it is, as nothing but a dream, and a damned fine documentary.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Wonderful Life

Isn't Life Wonderful! (1954) is an amiable, colorful British comedy about a turn-of-the-century upper class family and the changing times. It features a stern father, Cecil Parker, and an alcoholic blacksheep uncle, Donald Wolfit. Uncle Willy has to be gotten out of the way so he will not upset brother (cousin?) Frank's marriage to a rich American, Dianne Foster. So they set him up with a bicycle shop, much to the delight of little Peter Asher, who plays narrator and Greek chorus.

The humor comes from Willy's gentle tweaking of Edwardian propriety, not limited to drinking but including women riding bicycles and new fangled motorcars. This is pretty mild stuff. In fact, it's hard to see how they stretched this to the whole 83 minutes.

But you British Invasion fans may be interested to note that the little boy, Peter Asher, is the Peter in Peter and Gordon, as in "World without Love". Brother to Paul McCartney's girlfriend Jane Asher and so on. Well, maybe not exactly interested, but it is something.

In conclusion, just a little time-filler from Netflix streaming recommendations.