Saturday, January 31, 2015

Slayer Cake

I don't think I heard about Dragonslayer (1981) when it came out. Maybe it was promoted as a kids movie (it was produced by Disney), maybe just didn't get a big release. I came across it via podcasts again, like Film Sack. I got the idea that it was the usual sword and sorcery thing, but with a little extra oomph.

It starts with a delegation of villagers begging wizard Ralph Richardson to help slay a dragon. He agrees to go but before he even starts he lets himself be killed by a thuggish soldier. It is up to his apprentice Peter MacNicol and elderly servant, character actor Sydney Bromley, to fulfill the quest.

Now, MacNicol has a doughy face and curly blonde wig, and looks like a Richard Simmons imitator, but he does a pretty good job as an apprentice wizard. He's boastful and dramatic, but he is willing to fight dragons and can actually do magic, even if he's a little dim. For example, he doesn't notice that one of the villagers is a a cute girl, Caitlin Clarke, until they go skinny dipping together. Sorry if that's a spoiler, but she was wearing makeup, didn't anyone notice?

Actually, the underwater nude Clarke (and/or MacNicol, if that's your fancy) are the reason many young people loved this movie. The dragon is usually the other favorite bit. I thought it was a bit stiff - a big mechanical puppet, where a stop-motion dragon might have had a bit more personality. The dragon spawn were also a little ... muppety. They were in a really gory scene, which makes it even more incongruous.

In the end, this was pretty much the usual sword-and-sorcery fare, The Magic Sword with a better budget, plus a little nudity and gore. But that's not so bad. Besides, I really think they got the magic across better than most of these. So if you like this kind of thing, check it out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Keeper

As I have mentioned, Ms. Spenser wants to watch more scary movies. I'm letting her have her way, cautiously (and I expect her to let me watch some manly musicals in exchange). So Curt from Mountain View (as he is known by the B-Movie Cast) suggested The Innkeepers (2011) and I queued it up. He did not steer us wrong.

It is the last long weekend for the Yankee Pedlar hotel. After a century of doing business in some corner of New England, it is closing up. There are almost no guests and only two people staffing, a pair of young slackers played by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy. He is a nerdy college dropout with a terrible website about the ghosts haunting the Pedlar. She is a perky-punky type who really wants to see a ghost, and preferably capture it on film (or tape, because their camera is busted).

I'm going to try to avoid spoilers, but I can tell you that most of the movie is just the two leads goofing off, playing pranks and talking trash. Also, it's really more of a horror-comedy, with a lot of the comedy based on these characters. Interestingly, when Kelly McGillis shows up as an ex-TV star now psychic (and secret drinker), she is not played as part of the comedy. She looks age-appropriate, a bit stocky, with sensible-cut grey hair, and comes across as really human and honest.

So, this is not the slasher-rama I was afraid of. It gets tense at times and is legit scary (sometimes), but nothing to give you (me) nightmares. I liked it a lot.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cradle Robbing

We saw a used copy of Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) in the video store, and it looked interesting, but we passed it by, even at $3.99. But we did remember to queue it up from Netflix.

It's part of a kind of trilogy from director Andrzej Bartkowiak. It stars Jet Li and rapper DMX - like Romeo Must Die stars Jet Li and Aaliyah and Exit Wounds stars Steven Seagal and DMX: Martial arts meets hip-hop. DMX is a high-tech jewel thief who takes down a bank vault and makes off with some mysterious black diamonds. Jet Li is the Taiwanese detective sent to keep the diamonds out of the hands of arms dealer Mark Dacascos.

Dacascos is why we almost bought the disc. You may remember him as the Mohawk martial artist in Brotherhood of the Wolf. Making him the Final Boss was good, but I would have liked to see him fight Li a few more times. But mainly what he does is kidnap DMX's daughter. So DMX and Li join forces to get the little girl and the diamonds. They get a little help from fence/arms dealer Tom Arnold, obviously broad comic relief. If you can stand him, you going to make it through this movie.

Although I don't seem to have blogged it, I remember Romeo Must Die as a pretty gritty movie, with a great hip-hop soundtrack. Cradle is much less realistic, what with the sophisticated jewel thieves and the comic relief - it's pretty much a comic book. The girl, for instance, is adorable and spunky and annoying as all hell, but not much like a real kid. And for some reason, the soundtrack did not grab me. I never felt like it was driving the action.

Still, Jet Li gets a workout, DMX is a pretty good jewel thief and I thought the goofy parts were fun (it starts and ends with missiles). I guess it's somewhere between Romeo and Exit Wounds, and I haven't even seen Exit Wounds.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Dork Knight

Readers who have been reading may have noticed that I like podcasts. The problem with podcasts is that I can only listen to them when I'm doing something that doesn't require verbal concentration, like cleaning, which I don't do very often. But over the holidays I did a lot of driving, and we listened to a lot of Filmsack, including the one about Batman (1989). So we watched it.

Does everyone remember this? The first Tim Burton Batman, the first with Michael Keaton. The one that was supposed to be so dark and serious, not like the old TV show? Since we've now seen Danny Devito as Penguin in Batman Returns, not to mention the Nolan Dark Knight movies, that seems unlikely. In fact at the time since Tim Burton wasn't exactly unknown, it was reasonable to expect something pretty goofy. I remember thinking at the time, Michael Keaton, what the heck? And I hadn't seen Beetlejuice.

Watching it again, we were surprised by how not-goofy this movie is. The art direction is dark and gloomy and the violence gets right in your face. Michael Keaton actually makes a pretty good Batman, although the costume does most of the acting. I swear the collar of the cowl had a push-up bra effect, giving Keaton a squarer jaw.

As Bruce Wayne, however, I just couldn't get behind him. Too neurotic, not suave enough.

But what about the Joker? Was Jack Nicholson as the Joker silly or scary? It's hard to remember now, but before Heath Ledger, Nicholson was the Batman villain. I've seen so many Nicholson-as-Joker tattoos - almost as many as Nicholson-doing-"Here's-Johnny". His gleeful malice is so over the top, it just sweeps you away. And I think it sweeps the movie over to the silly side - maybe that's where Burton threw in the hat on the dark and gritty, and decided to just go goofy.

The choice of Michael Keaton seemed weird, but after Val Kilmer (who I like, damn it) and George Clooney were chosen, he fits right in. But the actor who plays Alfred, Michael Gough, is now my favorite Alfred next to TV's Alan Napier (sorry, Michael Caine).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Back to the Library

The path that lead to us watching The Librarian 2 (2006) is twisted indeed. You may recall we watched the first Librarian movie a while ago. And I mentioned that John Rogers, of Leverage fame, is doing a TV show based on these movies - which is not on Netflix yet. So we're watching Warehouse 13 instead, coincidentally featuring Saul Rubinek and sometimes Mark Sheppard from Leverage. Well, one night, the Warehouse episode (season 2, "Buried") took our team to Egypt to find a secret collection of artifacts, so I said: "We've got to watch Librarian 2: Return to King Solomon's Mine."

We find our Librarian, Noah Wylie, settling into his role as collector and protector of mystical treasures. No longer a callow wimpy scholar, he now considers himself a badass. Back at the Library, his bosses (Jane Curtin! Bob Newhart!) send him on a mission to Casablanca to find the legend to the map to King Solomon's Mines (and offsite magic storage facility). His first step is to an archeological dig site run by Gabrielle Anwar (Burn Notice), with whom he'll fight and fall in love.

(Note: In the Warehouse 13 episode, Jaime Murray shows up for the dig in short shorts and tanktop, ala Lara Croft - since she's from the past, she depends on movies to let her know what the well-dressed tomb raider wears. Gabrielle Anwar has the same getup, but there is no lampshading of the source.)

This series is kind of light-weight, and this episode isn't even as much fun as the first (the scenes in the library are short and a little cutesy - the original Excalibur is a frisky nuisance, etc). Also, for a show dedicated to geekiness (Wylie and Anwar try to one-up each other based on the number of post-graduate degrees they have), the history, geography and mythology are pretty sloppy. Still, for me, it's like National Treasure, Night at the Museum, even the Percy Jackson movies - cute adventure stories for kids who like to read.

Anyway, after the Librarian movie, we decided to continue the Mummy vibe with The Mummy Returns with Brendan Fraser (we own this outright, so no Netflix blogging) and then the Mystery Science Theater presentation of Atomic Robots vs. the Aztec Mummy. We fell asleep through most of these. So now all the Warehouse, Librarian, Mummy and MST3K are mixed up with dreams and that's probably for the best.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sea Minus

As kids, Ms. Spenser and I were big fans of adventure movies - and we still are. We revisit the oldies from time to time, and see how they hold up. Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) doesn't do so well.

Back in the 19th century, it seems that a scary sea-monster was threatening shipping in the largest tank on the Disney lot - I mean, in the South Pacific. Professor Paul Lukas and his assistant Peter Lorre are on their way to Saigon, and join a government expedition to hunt the monster. Seaman Kirk Douglas comes along to add some manly manliness and sing some pop sea chanties.

Douglas' song confirmed the fear that had been growing in our hearts - this movie was going to be a bit of a trial. It picks up a but when the monster sinks the expedition with all hands except the above. It is the Nautilus, Captain Nemo's (James Mason) submersible, a lovely set that I remember fondly from childhood viewings. Mason is good as the tortured, civilized yet vicious Nemo, so is Peter Lorre as the voice of reason against him. The special effects are .., interesting, I suppose, from a historical perspective. The giant squid fight was a lot sillier and less exciting than I remember.

But I'd say the worst offense this movie commits is Kirk Douglas' agressive cheesiness. His character is supposed to be somewhat obnoxious, I guess - the brash working-class American among the intellectuals - but he comes off as just a prick to me.

The best thing about it is Nemo's pet seal, who seems to love everyone and everyone loves her. So there's always that.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

X Post Facto

I still can't tell - was X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) the best comic book movie yet? It had a wild plot, great actors with Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr played by two actors each, nice superhero character dynamics, some humor, lots of great action. Plus a little something extra, a touch of visual class that pulled me right in.

It is set in the universe of X-Men: First Class but it starts in a dystopian future where all-powerful Sentinel robots dominate mankind and exterminate mutants. Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine and a small band make a last stand in a kind of Thai castle. Their only hope: Send Wolverine back in time to the 1970s to make sure the inventor of the Sentinels isn't assassinated. Oh, you thought they would kill the inventor? No, Mystique tried that and it just made him a martyr to the mutant menace.

And that's not even the beauty part - the inventor is played by Peter Dinklage. He wears a 70s pornstache and aviator-framed glasses and looks so right that it took me several scenes to notice his height and a few more to notice that it was Dinklage.

So Logan wakes up in the past with no knowledge of what is happening. Did he forget his past? Didn't Prof. X brief him? Was it an alternate past in some way? Anyway, ladies, watch for a serious Hugh Jackman naked butt scene. Man, that guy is built. Sorry, where was I?

He finds that Prof. X has been shooting up a mutation cure to stop the telepathic voices in his head (and to let him walk somehow? Not sure how that works), drinking a lot, growing a beard and just saying "fuck it". Magneto is in prison for killing JFK (which explains the magic bullet). So they get teenage Quicksilver to help break him out, and the game is on.

Quicksilver has a shortish part, but it's great, full of puk energy - every Pietro, although he's just Peter here. These scenes have some nice super-slo-mo effects, but we have a complaint. Nobody as punk as Quicksilver would be listening to "Time in a Bottle", even in 1972.

In fact, our main complaint was that they didn't have as much fun with the retro setting as they could have - there were 4-5 classic 70s hits, but only Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" stands out. And would an old groundskeeper really be listening to a radio station that played Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken" in 1972? It wasn't quite underground, but it was pretty hip. That song and Springsteen's "Rosalita" kind of defined my 1972, and I was a high-school hipster.

There's a lot of Mystique in this and her part is great. There's quite a bit of Hank "Beast" McCoy, one of my favorite original X-Men. Ororo still doesn't get a decent scene, oh well. Also, while I like James McAvoy's hippie junkie act, I still don't quite buy him as Charles Xavier. I think Michael Fassbender as the younger Magneto was more convincing.

And of course, Hugh Jackman is just so Wolverine, you almost don't notice how awesome he is.

There's the usual problems with too many things going on and too many characters. Rod Heath, in his encyclopedic year-end roundup, critiques these movies as random grab-bags of plot elements, which is very true. But, I ask you, isn't this a tribute to the serial nature of comic books? Each book stands alone and is part of a loose continuity only. When someone in this movie explains that Mystique killed Trask or Magneto assassinated the president, I can almost see the little footnote signed by Stan the Man or Marvelous Marv, letting us know what issue that was in. Maybe it was an issue we hadn't read, maybe we had read it but don't remember it that way, but that's the story now, get used to it - until the next time jump, or next story editor, or next movie.

In conclusion, Ms. Spenser thought the movie was a little slow. She might be right - maybe I'm just a pushover. But I loved it.