Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Onward, Through the Fog

To make a short story long, I'd like to mention a podcast I've started listening to, The Projection Booth. Curt from Mountain View recommended it, because the hosts know what they are talking about, unlike so many other film podcasts. Of course, they favor trashy B-movies, which may or may not be what I'm in the mood for. They have a sponsor promo that goes, "Ahoy maties, this is KAB Antonio Bay... Stevie Wayne here...I still haven't heard from that weatherman..." And even though I've never seen The Fog (1980), I've heard enough about it to know where that is from.

John Carpenter's The Fog starts with old timer John Housman and a bunch of kids sitting around a beach campfire late at night. He is telling them a ghost story, the story of the town of Antonio Bay, where they are celebrating their centennial. One hundred years ago, a ship lost in the fog spotted a campfire on the beach (just like the one the kids are gathered around) and ran aground. And there hasn't been a fog like that ever since.

We meet a few more Antonio Bayites: Tom Atkins who picks up hitchhiker Jamie Lee Curtis. The crew of a fishing boat out for a drinking party. Uptight politician Janet Leigh (JLC's mom!). Drunken priest Hal Holbrook, who finds a sinister hundred year old document. And commenting on it all over the airwaves, nightbird DJ Stevie Wayne, played by John Carpenter's then-wife Adrienne Barbeau.

A few notes:

  • This isn't really all that scary. There's some good tension, and few shocks, some screams from the scream queens, but nothing to insult my sensitive nature.
  • Also, there was a lot of Carpenter's humor, which I like.
  • It was pretty cheaply made, but looks great due largely to the beautiful locations around Inverness and Point Reyes CA - not far from where The Birds was made.
But the main reason I liked this is for Stevie Wayne, the DJ. She has a great late-night DJ voice, smooth, dark and sultry, as she introduces smooth jazz or reports on the strange fog bank. I think I've mentioned how much I enjoy having a DJ in a movie to act as Greek chorus, like in Cleavon Little in Vanishing Point or Shari Belafonte-Harper in Being from Another Planet (MST3K reference). Which we watched right after The Fog.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Curses, Foiled Again

The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2014) looked like a fun, light-weight boys-own adventure - heck, it's almost in the title. And it came through.

The story is set in a late Victorian steampunk era. A pair of Oxford antiquities professors, the Mundys (Ioan Griffud and Keeley Hawes) and their sons Mariah (?) and little Felix run into adventurer Will Charity (Michael Sheen), who brings news of a map, then disappears. When their parents disappear, the boys go on the lam. Felix is captured, leaving Mariah and Will to find him, the parents and the mysterious McGuffin, the Midas Box.

First of all, Mariah is played by Aneurin Barnard, a rather odd looking young man, with dark, brooding eyes, like something out of Gormenghast or The Sorrows of Young Werther. Or Morrisey played by Elijah Wood. He adds the Goth to the steampunk. Then there's Michael Sheen, who camps around as a kind of Arnold Rimmer as Dr. Who (David Tennant version). We also get Sam Neill as the evil Otto Luger and Lena Headley as the bitchy hotelier, Monica. All played with gusto, in great period clothing. Sheen, in particular, is a bit of a bohemian fop, with high collars, top hats and a jaunty corncob pipe. But Barnard gets to dress up when he goes to work as a hotel page.

About half the story takes place in an island hotel and spa, very steampunk, with lots of glass, elevators cages, cast iron balconies, etc. Very Grand Hotel Budapest. The whole movie was clearly made possible by inexpensive CGI, but we liked the look.

Now, the story was pretty silly. People appeared and disappeared as needed. Mysteries that vast conspiracies couldn't solve are figured out by a smart teen in an instant. There could have been more steampunk, more magic, more action or even more romance (Barnard has a love interest in freckled Mella Carron). But if you aren't expecting much, you might get it.

In conclusion, the McGuffin is OBVIOUSLY a sampo!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Abandon All Hope

Since we were on a Joe Dante kick, we decided to watch The Hole (2009), his most recent feature. Since this is a horror film, I was nervous, but Ms. Spenser was psyched. As usual, I didn't have to worry.

It starts with two boys and their single mother moving into a new place. The older boy is a sullen withdrawn teen, the younger a cute grade-schooler who is afraid of clowns. The place seems nice, and a cute girl lives next door, but it seems there's this trapdoor in the basement. When they unlock the many padlocks and remove the stout beams holding it closed, they find... a hole.

The hole seems to have no bottom, and no features. But soon, strange things start appearing, and they are coming from the hole. The first is more silly than scary, 1980s TV horror show silly. The next is worse, and the final scare is "shit just got real" scary.

But --SPOILER!-- it all works out pretty much ok. So I'd say this movie is scary enough, but not nightmares for months scary. Just about the way I like it, It's got a bit of Joe Dante's humor, a Dick Miller cameo, and some interesting digital effects (it was made for 3D). It also handles the youths really well, which I guess is a bit of a Dante specialty, based on Matinee.

It seems that Joe Dante hasn't really made that many features. We're on our way to seeing them all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Where Eagles Plummet

One of my first blog posts proposed a film festival of all those WWII films with lots of mountain climbing. I finally got around to the second (and last?) film in that series: Where Eagles Dare (1968). It stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as leaders of a group of commandos infiltrating an impregnable Nazi castle.

It starts real slow, with the team parachuting into the Bavarian Alps, with just a hint that something else is going on behind the mission. For one thing, Burton seems to have brought along a spare sex kitten (Mary Ure) that no one else knows about. For another, team members start dying and Burton is awfully cagey about it.

The mission is to get into a castle and recover a captured general before he can reveal the secret plans. The castle is on a hill, surrounded by a wall, approachable only by cable car. So, quite a bit of commando work - riding the top of the cable car (as if you couldn't guess), climbing walls with ropes (holy Batman re-runs!), skulking along roofs, etc. I loved this kind of stuff when I was a kid, but since I saw it for the first time now as an adult, I enjoyed it while being annoyed at the unlikely parts.

Things start to pick up in two ways: the plot starts to twist and the body start piling up. There is a lot of combat from hand-to-hand to machine gun melee to dynamite bombs. Eastwood kills a remarkable number of Nazis, and none of the good guys get more than a scratch. Plus, double-, triple-, who-knows-how-many-crosses. Alistair MacLean can really write the hell out of this kind of thing - like Guns of Navarone.

So, starts off slow, picks up after a while, but it's still 2-1/2 hours long. Wish I'd seen it when I was a kid and could appreciate it.

In conclusion, lots of people falling to their death in this movie. Where eagles dare, indeed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Grand Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) is not really a Grand Hotel story - the intertwining stories of the strangers who come together in a busy place. It is the story of an author, who meets a rich old man, who tells him the story of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge of the titular hotel.

The hotel is located in a mythical Eastern European country, in a mythical time between the wars. M. Gustav keeps it running smoothly, taking a special interest in dear old ladies. He takes a lobby boy under his wing, a young stateless orphan called Zero, played by Tony Revolori. Their orderly world is disrupted by geopolitics, as armies and unrest sweep through the region. Gustav takes it all in stride, even going to prison with elan - having his favorite cakes delivered from the best bakery. Of course, the baker's girl is Zero's betrothed, the lovely Saoirse Ronan with a birthmark in the shape of Mexico on her face.

Many more strange and wonderful things occur, there is humor and pathos, plus flashbacks-within-flashbacks 3 or 4 levels deep. But like so many Wes Anderson movies, it is mostly about its oddball characters, in this case M. Gustave, and about beautiful sets designs, like the Grand Budapest, seen in its glory days, and post-Soviet dilapidation. Between M. Gustave and his hotel, we may dream of a sweet lost age of sophistication and culture. A time, a character admits, that may never have existed.

As usual with Wes Anderson, there is really too much here to get into, but if you like his movies, you'll be sure to like this one. If you don't, you probably won't - might be a little precious and artificial for some. If you haven't seen any, this is a good place to start.

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?