Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jungle Love

I guess it's time to admit it: We love Central everything Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson does. So, we watched Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017).

Since we didn't watch the original, we have no idea how this relates. But it starts with a new back story: a kid starts playing a video game and is never seen again. Then we go to the "present day" and meet our heroes: a nerd who is writing a paper for his black, popular "friend", a selfie-obsessed girl, and a shy girl who doesn't want to participate in gym. They all get Breakfast Club detention together, and find an old video game. They chose characters and are magically transported into the game.

In the game, the nerdy kid is fabulous archeologist Dwayne Johnson. The big black kid becomes schlubby zoologist Kevin Hart. The popular girl is cartographer Jack Black, and the nerdy girl has become Lara-Croftian dance fighter Karen Gillan. So the nerds become hunks and the beautiful people become ordinary. That's the joke.

And it's a pretty good one. Seeing Dwayne Johnson fret because he doesn't have his inhaler, or Jack Black playing a teenage girl in Jack Black's body - funny. Of course, Johnson does it best, because of his gentle giant style. In fact, his role here kind of mirrors another movie he did with Kevin Hart: Central Intelligence. The weakest approximation is the nerd girl turned femme fatale - I'd guess because none of the ~5 writers are women, and they have a little trouble getting inside the character.

They get an explanation of the point of the game from a non-player character, Rhys Darby. He doesn't mention the three lines they find tattooed on their wrists. But when someone dies and re-appears (falling from a great height) with one fewer lines, they realize that these are life counters - and intuit (?) that when they lose the last line, they die for real.

On the other hand, if they don't die or win the game, they might wind up stuck in the game forever, like Nick Jonas, the guy from the opening scene, who has been stuck in the game on his last life for ~20 years.

The whole thing has a great mix of premise, character, and just plain jokes. The action isn't bad either, especially Gillan's dance fights, choreographed to "Baby I Love Your Way." But I kind of feel that it's Johnson's charisma that does a lot of the work here. He's just that likable.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Train in Vain

I wanted to watch The Great Train Robbery (1978) to see Donald Sutherland in outrageous side-whiskers (Sean Connery too, although his facial hair is a bit more restrained). Then I saw that it was written and directed by Michael Crichton, I knew I was in for a treat.

Sean Connery is a Victorian gentleman thief. Along with his paramour, Leslie-Anne Down, he convinces pickpocket Donald Sutherland to join him in an attempt to rob the train carrying the payroll for the Crimean War. To do this, they'll need 11 men... No, that's a different movie. But it will take a crazy process to get through the security precautions in place.

First, no one has ever robbed a moving train before (do Butch Cassidy and Sundance count?). Second, four keys are required to open the safe: two in the bank, two held by two bankers - one hidden and the other around his neck. Getting these keys is the middle part of the movie.

They get close to one banker through his love of the Victorian sport of ratting. Here is where the Crichton kicks in. He has obviously done a ton of research into ratting (basically, terriers fight rats in a pit, with bets on how many it can kill in a certain time), and he puts a neat condensed version on screen. As a science kid, I love the way he researches the odd and obscure, and lets you in on the results. I realize that not everyone appreciates this style...

Any way, they need a good second story man, so they break break Clean Willy out of Newgate. The clever plan they use seems to be just him climbing up a wall and getting his hands hacked up on the spiked fence. To get another key, they use the old badger game, where they let the guy get naked with Down, then burst in dressed as cops. For another, they need to break into a heavily guarded train dispatcher's office. And so on.

Once they get on the train, everything goes wrong, but our anti-heroes improvise. Connery does a tense run over the train top, doing his own stunts as the train flies through the countryside and under very low bridges - it looks kind of clunky compared to the super stunts of today, but it was really dangerous. And so on, until success - or failure.

As a movie, I'm not sure this is very good. But as an artifact, a representation of a barrel of historical research, it's great. Costumes, facial hair, period thieve's argot (my favorite!), sports and trains. Also, Donald Sutherland is always great, here with a very wobbly accent, seemingly an Irishman who spent a lot of time in America and is trying to sound Londoner. Him and Connery have a nice rapport, as do Connery and Down.

In conclusion, not related to the OTHER great train robbery of the 1960s.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Maddin's Hockey

I've read a lot about Canadian avante-garde director Guy Maddin. I finally got around to watching, starting with Cowards Bend the Knee (2003). It was something.

In form, it is a shortish, hour-long film in 10 chapters, in distressed black & white without synched sound (not silent, but near as never mind). Chapter One: The Sperm Players! A gentleman in a lab coat puts a slide into a microscope, and looks in to see: A hockey game! Player Guy Maddin (played by Darcy Fehr) takes a hit to the head and is concussed. He forgets that his mother is in the hospital! He takes his girlfriend to the beauty salon that is an after hours abortion clinic, and leaves her to die on the table while he runs off with the madam's (it's also an after hours brothel) beautiful daughter. She won't let him touch her with any hands, but the blue hands of her dead father (his cheap hair dye caused the blueness, not his death). So he lets the abortionist transplant her father's hands onto his arms! But when Maddin is under the anesthetic, the doctor just paints his hands blue! And then there's the deserted wax museum of hockey greats!

Whew! It's over-the-top old-timey, with broad overacting. The editing is mostly old-timey, too, except there's a touch of hip-hop in the way he repeats a few seconds over and over, like scratching. The girlfriend has a very Mary Pickford look, the madam is Gloria Swanson and her daughter is more Anna May Wong - both von Sternberg dragon ladies.

In conclusion, I now feel I know what Maddin is about and don't feel a strong need to watch much more.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Screwy

We watched Foul Play (1978) because I want to love 70s screwball comedy. Also, Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase!

It starts with Hawn at a San Francisco engagement party. She doesn't look very happy, but her friend catches her before she can leave and tells her she needs to try to connect with guys. Across the room, she spies Chevy Chase and their eyes meet. Then he pours his drink on himself and she isn't encouraged to follow up.

Taking a drive, she picks up a good looking hitch hiker Bruce Solomon, and lets him invite her on a date. What she doesn't realize is that he is being chased, and has slipped a McGuffin into her purse. When they meet for their date at the movies, he tells her, "Beware the dwarf" and dies.

When she tries to get the manager and police, the body has been moved and nobody believes her. Classic screwball setup. Hawn is attacked by any number of sinister fiends, including an albino and a Turkish chauffeur, and escapes through luck and spunk. And nobody believes her.

The best part - almost a separate movie unto itself - is when she gets Dudley Moore to help her hide from the baddies. He thinks it's a pick up, and takes her back to his hilariously set up sex apartment. When she realizes what's up, she escapes, and gets attacked again. This time, police detectives Brian Dennehy and -ta-da - Chevy Chase come to interview her.

I guess I don't have to tell you that Chase and Hawn wind up in bed on his fabulous Sausalito houseboat. That there is a plot to assassinate the pope, and that light opera plays a significant part. It's all part of the screwball game.

In the end, we enjoyed this without exactly being bowled over. For one thing, Hawn is a librarian, not an airhead. She has a tart put-down for every one of Chase's come-ons, and not the type Gracie Allen was known for. She does get a little flustered when romance is involved, and when targeted for murder.

All in all, not a bad movie, with the Dudley Moore interludes pushing it into the good category - not great maybe, but a solid watch. We will continue to check out Ms. Hawn's work.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Forgive Us Alien Trespass

Alien Trespass (2009) is a spoof on the old SciFi movies of the 50s, with the broad shouldered scientists, rock 'n' roll crazed teeners and aliens both monstrous and humanoid. Unfortunately, it isn't very funny or even much fun.

It stars Eric McCormack, as an astronomer, barbecuing steaks for his anniversary with Jody Thompson. He's distracted by a meteor, while his wife is trying to get him to be romantic, or just maybe do her. He finally heads up to the crash site, along with the usual teenage hot-rodders and an old drunk. There he has his body stolen by silvery humanoid Urp. Urp is trying to find his pet monster, the Ghota (pronounced "fish").

His wife is alarmed by his transformation, but discontented waitress Jenni Baird takes a liking to him. If only they can convince the dumb cops, who think it's all a prank that the kids are playing.

A lot of this is swiped from The Blob, down to the movie scene - and the movie playing is The Blob. A lot of it is spot-on, and a lot of it is funny. But I didn't think enough of it was funny enough. I feel like it didn't have a sharp point - it didn't quite know what it was making fun of. Maybe it would have been better as an almost-straight tribute.

In conclusion, I think a better watch would be Invasion! or any of the Larry Blamire movies.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Again?!?

Dead Again in Tombstone (2017) stars Danny Trejo. That's really all we needed.

Of course, we had seen the original Dead in Tombstone. Synopsis: Western badguy Danny Trejo gets killed and makes deal with devil. He will deliver other badguys to hell before their time, in return for being sent back to Earth. In this sequel, he is still alive, still killing badguys, but the devil is asking for more deliveries.

Meanwhile, Jake Busey as a Confederate veteran with a gang of other soldiers are looking for a mystical book to cure Busey's consumption (?) and generally allow them to take over the world. That book is being guarded by ... Trejo's family, something nobody saw fit to tell him. He looks up his mother and daughter - Michelle Rios and Alysa Rotaru - who don't much look like him.

So, while the last one had a nice clean spaghetti-Western revenge plot, here it is family-in-peril. And I just don't feel like Trejo's character should even have a family. Certainly, he shouldn't have a family secret, and if he has to, it shouldn't be about cosmic mysticism. Although I guess it answers why the devil was willing to give him a deal.

Still, we enjoyed seeing Trejo be a bad ass. Likewise Rotaru as his daughter, not taking any from anyone.

In conclusion, Mickey Rourke did not come back to play the devil.

Flat, I guess

We were pretty psyched to watch The Shape of Water (2017), but I wasn’t sure I was quite in the mood. Bear with me here - I wasn’t so much in the mood for a heavy fraught Guillermo del Toro movie. I felt more like watching something more quirky and whimsical, like a Wes Anderson movie. Actually, I got it.

We first meet Sally Hawkins, waking up. She seems to have a very regular schedule, putting eggs on to boil, setting a timer, getting in the bath and masturbating until the timer goes off. When she brings egg and toast to her neighbor in the next apartment, we realize that she is mute, communicating with him using sign language. Her neighbor is Richard Jenkins, an older illustrator whose little affectations and love of old musicals codes him as gay.

She leaves her apartment, which turns out to be above a movie theater, and takes the bus to her job. She works as a night cleaning lady at a government installation, along with Octavia Spencer. So Hawkins is not wealthy, and her job is not easy or glamorous, but she seems content. She has friends and a life. Then she discovers what secret the installation holds - a Gill Man.

Now, this is all set in the Fifties, during the height of the Cold War. So the guy who is running the program, Michael Shannon, gets to be a total dick to "the coloreds", "the help", and pretty much everybody in the name of America. His plan is to vivisect the monster and see if it will help with the Space Program, because... His chief scientist, Michael Stuhlbarg, is actually a Soviet double agent - who has also been ordered to kill the monster.

Meanwhile, Hawkins has been forming a bond with the Gill Man (Doug Jones, in costume), and decides to break him out.

I guess I'm being a little facetious when I call this movie whimsical. Compared to the crushing horror and despair of some of del Toro's films, it is somewhat justified. The Gill Man (they don't call him this in the movie) only commits one horrible act, and it's a misunderstanding that is quickly forgiven. The Fifties setting makes it nostalgic in a funny way, even though that decade wasn't great for the marginalized.

And that isn't glossed over - the main protagonists are a disabled woman, a black woman, a Communist, and a gay man - and a monster, of course. The antagonists are bigots. But this is far from a social message film. It's mood is mostly meditative, light at times, and above all, hopeful. It was just what I wanted.

In conclusion, afterwards I felt like watching Paul T. Anderson make a Coen Brothers movie, so I watched Inherent Vice again.