Monday, June 26, 2017

Bag of Donuts

I wait so long to watch My Cousin Vinny (1992), so I've got to watch it now, why? I don't know what gave me the idea, I just went with it.

It's that old story - two kids (Mitchell Whitfield and Ralph Macchio) from the big city get in trouble in a small Alabama town, where they don't cotton to city folk. But Macchio has a cousin who's a lawyer, Vinnie "Bag of Donuts" Gambini (Joe Pesci) who shows up with his long-time fiancee Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). The catch is that Pesci has never argued a trial in court. He mostly does personal injury, and gets settlements.

Also, he sticks out like a sore thumb in Hicksville, even if he is wearing cowboy boots. His lack of courtroom decorum and a conservative suit disturbs Judge Fred Wynne (Herman Munster, in his last picture). And so on, you get the picture.

This is an old-fashioned writer's comedy, with finely crafted scenes, without a lot of punchlines. Also, there's a lot of improvising going on (I assume), with Pesci and Tomei batting insults and endearments back and forth in deep Brooklynese. These are like music, and I assume the reason that Tomei won an Oscar.

In the end, we enjoyed this, but not a whole lot. It was "nice" - the hicks weren't monsters and found ways to work with and respect the city folk. Tomei's testimony cracks the case wide open. The kids got off without too much trouble, and had a pretty mellow time in prison. Pesci and Tomei look like they will get married, since he promised to marry her after he won his first case. I don't know if that's a happy ending, because he's about twice her age, and not pleasing to the eye. Can't have everything.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Phantasmic Breastmaster

We didn't intend on having a Don Coscarelli fest, but Phantasm II (1988) just bubbled up in our queue, so we went with it.

You may remember how the first one ended (SPOILER)  - it was all a dream the kid had. But just as he's about to leave with Reggie Bannister, the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and the dwarves grab him. This one opens 5-7 years later. The kid is now a young man, James Le Gros, in a mental institution. He has been having visions of a cute girl, Paula Irvine, who needs his help. She has been having visions of him and the Tall Man, and seeing her relatives die off one by one. Le Gros claims to be cured of his "delusions" and is released to Reggie.

Reggie still thinks the story about the Tall Man is crazy, but a disaster quickly changes his mind. Soon they are in the Hemi 'Cuda (Ms. Spenser's favorite character) and heading down to Home Depot to steal enough ordinance to deal with any dwarves Angus Scrimm can throw at them. Le Gros goes with a welding torch flame thrower, but Reggie has the best tool: two double-barreled shotguns, hose-clamped together, and sawed off with an angle-grinder - at  a 45-degree angle.

So they travel the state, looking for the Tall Man. Everywhere they go, they find deserted towns with shuttered storefronts, which means he has been there, or maybe Reaganomics. Along the way they pick up a cute girl named Alchemy, who Le Gros has seen dead in a vision. Even creepier, she seems to be into Reggie, a balding, middle-aged, ex-ice cream salesman.

They get to Irvine's town, and the four of them go after the Tall Man, with mixed results. We still have the atmosphere of horror, the dwarves, the dimensional gateway, and the flying balls. There's the mix of dream, vision, and reality. But best of all, the low-rent camaraderie between the boys and their new girlfriends. I just like hanging out with Coscarelli's characters.

Believe it or not, I've never seen The Beastmaster (1982) - I didn't have cable in the 90s. It's a fun sword-and-sorcery about an evil wizard (Rip Torn) who steals a queen's unborn son and puts him into a cow's womb, to be killed later. He is saved by a passing woodsman and grows up to be a great warrior.

Now for a minute, I thought this was a Buddhist allegory - isn't there a myth that the Buddha was threatened by his uncle, and so was magically borne, not by his mother, but by an elephant? Maybe not, but this kid doesn't grow up to discover disease, poverty, and death and embark on a life of austerities followed by enlightenment. Instead he becomes Marc Singer, a very fit young man who wears very little clothing. Ms. Spenser liked this a lot - seriously, because he is fit, strong, but not pumped up in a showy way. Functional and strong.

He also communes a set of animals, including an eagle, a tiger painted black (?!?) and a pair of weasels. He does less with this power than you might expect, although it does come in handy.

We love a good sword-and-sorcery story, so of course we loved this. All the nekkid breastses and scantily clad men and women make it fun (and give it my favored nickname Breastmasher). Like so many of Don Coscarelli's movies, it feels like it could have ended about five times before the real ending, but so what, that's just more fun for us.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Apocalypse Nu?

I've heard that the latest episode in the series is pretty good, but we just watched the second one: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004). Is this one of those things like Star Trek, where only the even episodes are good? Except in this case, it's the odd ones?

If you recall, when the zombie virus got loose in the Umbrella Corp. underground lab, Mila Jovovich barely escaped with her life - and an immunity to the virus. She wakes up in a hospital, and when she ventures out, she realizes that the zombie plague has gotten out with her. It is starting to run wild in Raccoon City.

Meanwhile, a top Umbrella scientist's little daughter is stuck in the city, and the corp. is hiring bounty hunters to get her out, including Valentine Guillory and a trio of redshirts. So we have a number of zombie fights, the redshirts get bitten one by one and turn, and the city is sealed off. There are also some genetically altered living weapons, being tested on the ... survivors? Not used to clear out the zombies. Because the survivors would be a better test. Not buying this.

It goes on like this, fight-fight-run-run, silly twist, fight some more. The original had a body count, but also an original feeling, due to the enclosed setting, maybe. This felt much more generic. Not bad (though silly), but not memorable. Also, needed more Mila Jovovich.

We still plan to watch up to the Final Chapter, completing Paul W.S. Anderson's six-movie trilogy. But we're not in a big hurry.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Contact? Contact!

I'm a little conflicted about Arrival (2016). It's strong science fiction, beautifully filmed (with an excellent score), but also left me a bit cold from the story perspective. Which was the same way I felt about Contact, come to think of it.

Amy Adams is a linguistics professor who gets called up by Col. Forrest Whittaker when the aliens arrive. Their ships are gigantic matte black pebbles, hovering on end 20 or so feet above Montana, among other places. On the team with Adams is mathematical physicist Jeremy "Lumpy" Renner. Sadly, he is pretty much absent in this movie - I wouldn't have minded at least a little bit of the old "math is the universal language" stuff.

The aliens are called heptapods - seven-legged cthuloid walking squid. They live in a smokey vapor environment and communicate with low groans and rumbles. Adams never figures that out, but their written language, which looks like the ring a coffee cup leaves on a napkin, is more amenable to analysis.

The analysis is all scientificy and the movie doesn't really get into it. We seem to pick it up very fast. But understanding is hampered by the difference in the aliens' perception of reality - and vice versa. Yes, this is a movie about the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis, that the structure of your language determines what you can think about. Perhaps, as she learns their language, she is absorbing their world view, and maybe even ...

There is another thread that runs through the movie, about Amy Adams daughter, from her birth to her early tragic death. I took it for a flashback at first, but that doesn't match some of the things she says. I guess I'll leave out the spoiler, except to say that the "twist" made Adams seem like a bit of a monster to me. Kind of like in Passengers (different circumstance, but similar stakes).

So, I wasn't all that thrilled by the plot, Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis included. But I loved the movie in general. It is beautifully photographed, full of big landscapes back-lit by a low sun, the air hazy with light. The score by Johann Johannson is also great, full of deep, droning ostinatos. It mirrors that spoken language of the heptapods, which has more than a touch of whale song.

So, even if the plot didn't do it for me (and Renner was wasted), we liked this movie a lot. Feast for the eyes and ears, but maybe not as much for the brain as expected.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Love the Dead

We sort of just discovered that Val Lewton produced 3 movies with Boris Karloff, so we queued up Val Lewton: Isle of the Dead/Bedlam (1945/1946). We watched The Seventh Victim, again for me, first time for Ms. Spenser, and she wanted to see the included video essay on Lewton - that clued us in to the Karloffs.

Both movies were based on artworks. Isle of the Dead was based on the Boecklin painting of the same name, showing an island at dusk with a white robed figure approaching on a boat. It is set during the Balkan Wars, when Greece was fighting for its independence. Karloff is a Greek general, who has just won a battle. An American reporter, Marc Cramer, convinces Karloff to take him to a nearby cemetery island to visit Karloff's wife's tomb - while his men struggle to clear the corpses from the battlefield, to avoid plague.

On the island, they find a few people living with an archaeologist, including a sickly woman, her husband (Alan Napier, a Lewton favorite, but we love him as Alfred, TV's Batman's Butler), and her companion, Ellen Drew. The housekeeper, Helene Thimig, hints darkly that the companion is so full of blood and life, and her mistress so pale and sickly, perhaps someone is a vorvolaka, a vampire like monster of the region. Not sure how it compares to the Wurdulak. That's not bad enough, but soon someone dies of the plague, and the general declares a strict quarantine. He is sure that science and medicine will save them. But when it doesn't, he too begins to look for evil influences.

Bedlam is based on a different artwork, the last painting in Hogarth's Rake's Progress, when the rake has wound up in the fearsome London institute, St. Mary of Bethlehem, or Bedlam. Here, Karloff runs Bedlam but wants to be a writer. He is looking for the patronage of Lord Mortimer (Billy House), and may have killed Mortimer's last pet writer. Mortimer has another protege, a witty young woman, Anna Lee. Although she is a sophisticated cynic, she doesn't approve of the modern practice of treating the asylum inmates as a source of entertainment. She lets Karloff know, and he takes a disliking to her.

When the head of a lunatic asylum doesn't like you, they can do some nasty things. In fact, by treating some of her jokes as serious, he has her committed. Will the stonemason Quaker she met help get her out?

Both of these movies show Lewton's literary side and the subtlety of his horror. Karloff is a presence that can go from foolish, kindly, or genial to terrifying with no disconnect. The art-inflected cinematography is great, although you sometimes can see the lack of money on the screen. We also watched the commentary on Bedlam - it was fun and informative but mostly an info-dump that rarely connected to what you saw on the screen.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Disposables

Why in the world did I bother to watch The Expendables 3 (2014)? I wasn't that crazy about part 2. But Ms. Spenser was away for the weekend, and I wanted to watch something she wouldn't and this definitely fit the bill. She can't stand Stallone, mainly.

To dispose of the plot, it seems that Mel Gibson was not killed in whatever previous movie he was in (was he in one of these?). So Stallone wants to go after him, but not to risk the team, so he fires Statham, Couture, Lundren, and - whoever else is left over. He then spends the first chunk of the movie recruiting new (expendable) partners, including Ronda Rousey, and no one else I recognize. Antonio Banderas tries to get onboard, but he's too old (joke, I guess?). He's pretty funny though.

Of course, that mission fails, and the old team comes back, along with Jet Li, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwartzenegger, and whoever else is around (not Bruce Willis, he's dead or retired or something).

Now, my Blu-ray was having trouble playing, so for 3 or 4 of the audition scenes, it froze up and skipped to the next scene. That's too bad, because I bet those fights were better than most of the rest. But it got me to the end faster, so I couldn't complain.

Why didn't I listen to Ms. S?

I had some time left over, so I streamed Monkey King (2014). I wasn't sure if I'd seen it, but it was so goofy, I'm sure I would have remembered. Donny Yen stars, in a furry suit and monkey makeup, and runs around on his knuckles, and it's all very weird. Anyway, I fell asleep a lot. I thought this was somehow related to Stephen Chow's Journey to the West, but it isn't at all (except some of the same source material).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Peculiar Children and Where to Find Them

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016) is a kid's movie (young adult?) taken from a kid's fantasy series. This kind of movie always attracts me, but often disappoints (Percy Jackson, e.g.). This one, directed by Tim Burton, pays off.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo) is an ordinary kid living in Florida, when he hears that his beloved grandfather is in trouble. He rushes to his place and finds him dead in the woods, with his eyes gouged out. He may also have spotted a monster.

All his life his grandfather (Terence Stamp) has told him stories of globe-trotting adventures, all centered around a special school, full of odd children, like invisible Millard or the boy who was full of bees. With his grandfather dead, he needs to go find that school. He convinces/guilts his parents (father, mainly - Chris O'Dowd, played as a truly awful parent who can barely tolerate his son) to take him to the island in Cornwall where the school is located.

When he gets there, it is a wreck, destroyed by German bombs in 1943. But some kids from the school appear and take him there, and it is still standing, because he is back in 1943. Semi-spoiler: Miss Peregrine resets time to the morning of the day of the bombing, just before the bombing. So, Harry Potter, plus Groundhog's Day? Maybe more like X-Men, since it's a school for mutants?

Miss P. herself (Eva Green) doesn't appear until the movie is quite a ways along, which is too bad, since she is a sultry pipe-smoking schoolmarm, who can turn into her namesake bird. Sadly underused. We get a lot more of Ella Burnell, as the girl who is lighter than air, who has to wear lead shoes so that she doesn't float away. Creepy Finlay McMillan is the kid who can bring dolls and corpses to life, is also taken with her, which should be a big conflict, but kind of gets lost. He is also the most Tim-Burtony thing in the movie - his stop-motion animated dolls in particular.

The big bad is semi-ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson, who's actually pretty fun. All the children use their powers to attack him, and he just laughs them off - even the boy full of bees.

I couldn't help but compare this to Fantastic Beasts. In that movie, I liked the catalog part better than the actual story. In this, the story prevails over the list of peculiar characters. The mythology is rich with silly rules, powers, and names, like imbrain (?) and hollowghasts. I was a little put off by the hollowghasts - they are described as monsters running around Poland during WWII (and someone correctly opines that the monsters in Poland were human). But doesn't that name sound a little too close to Holocaust?

Anyway, I wasn't really following the mythos. The time-jumping was handled more or less smoothly. In fact the whole thing went down smoothly. I understand that the movies do serious damage to the books, but I didn't read them, so that's just as well. I don't know if they will happen, but I will watch a sequel.