Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year's!

I'd like to do a quick wrap-up of 2008 while I have a chance.

Best Film of 2008: I'm going to go with Bringing Up Baby, same as every year.

Best Film released in 2008: Probably The Dark Knight, but I haven't seen it so I can't be sure.

Best Film released in 2008 that I saw: Iron Man.

Best Film I saw in a theater: I'm pretty sure I didn't go to a theater this year. Maybe next year.

Best new cocktail for a New Year's Eve party: I got this from an early 50's cocktail pamphlet put out by the Angostura company - the Airmail:
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 tsp. honey
  • 1 shot white rum
Shake over ice and strain into a champagne flute. Top with champagne.

Happy New Year's!

Update: Now that I've actually mixed a few Airmails, I've got to say that the honey won't mix with the rum and lime if shaken with ice. It just globs up. Tasted pretty good anyway. The solution - use a honey/water syrup or mix with the lime juice warm.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pop Quiz

It's quiz time again at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, a favorite film blog. They have brought in Prof. Charles Kingsfield, Jr. (that Paper Chase guy?) for this one. He promises it will be easy, but unless you are conversant with Budd Boetticher's oeuvre, you'll have trouble with at least one question.

Fortunately, it is open book, with no time limit. Besides, the later you answer, the more chances you get to read other people's answers. BUT - the later you answer, the fewer people will read your answers, and isn't that what we do this for, the fame?

So I'd better get to work. Let's see: Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Other Bailey, Not George

I won't be writing about Christmas movies - I despise the wimp George Bailey and don't want to discuss it. I wasn't even going to acknowledge the holiday, but I realized that I have a holiday cocktail comment.

Every Xmas, Mrs. Spenser gets me a bottle of something nice for my Xmas morning coffee. This tradition started about 20 years ago with a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream that she brought in from a snow bank where it had been cooling. Other years it has been Amaretto, Drambuie, Irish Mist, and just about anything sweet that would enhance a cup of joe.

This year, I picked up a bottle of Godiva Milk Chocolate cream liquor. We found it disappointing, with a slight off flavor. Possibly it was an old bottle.

I had hoped for, but could not find, Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream. This is a delicious liqueur, but has very limited distribution. I recommend that you buy it if you find it. Good in coffee or straight up cold.

On Xmas morning, however, I found a fifth old Bailey's under the tree. Now, on the 26th of December, it is nearly gone.

In conclusion:
  1. Vermeer - best cream liqueur ever
  2. Bailey's - always welcome, makes any cup of coffee a treat
  3. Godiva Milk Chocolate - Not good, unless the bottle I got was just spoiled

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Black Adder Addition

The Black Adder series, along with its opposite, Red Dwarf, constituted the greatest TV of the 80s. Comic genius Rowan Atkinson was at the height of his inventive powers, with a great supporting cast (Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson) and brilliant concept: An evil but incompetent nobleman in the court of Henry IV - then, in the next series, Queen Victoria, then the Prince Regent, and finally, the Great War. Then, after four seasons plus a Christmas Special,by 1989, it was over.

Until Black Adder: Back and Forth. It is New Year's Eve, 1999, and a few friends are visiting Lord Blackadder. He has a cunning plan to bilk them with a phony time machine gag. Unfortunately, he left it up to his idiot servant Baldrick to build it, so it actually works.

The bad news: This is a 30-minute episode, then that's all she wrote. It's also not as sharp as the best of the old series. Tony Robinson's Baldrick looks quite a bit the worse for wear, but is as dim as ever. So, it's not so great, and such small portions.

Who cares? It's as cunning as a fox who went to cunning school, graduated with honors and was made head of the department of cunning-ness.

Library Science

We were pretty disappointed by the latest Indiana Jones, so the solution? Another archeology based adventure series: The Librarian: Quest for the Spear.

Noah Wylie is a perpetual student who gets a job as the Librarian at the New York Metropolitan Library. This position involves guarding the most secret books and artifacts in history, including the Lost Ark (chuckle), Excalibur, the Holy Grail and a piece of the Spear of Destiny. When the Spear is stolen, he is sent out to get it back or die trying. So, it's off to the Amazon and points beyond.

Now, Wylie is a smart guy, who knows a lot of history, geography and foreign languages, modern and ancient. But he is kind of nerdy and he lives with his mother, not the action hero type. Fortunately, he gets a bodyguard/facilitator, a kick-ass woman with an Elizabeth Hurley accent. Don't worry, though - she tells him right up front that she is out of his league, and surely there are HR policies in place to prevent any romance between them.

In general, this made-for-tv movie (first of three in the series, I think - the latest just released) is a little funnier, a little smarter and a lot less ambitious than the Indiana Jones pix. The fantastic temples and caverns are a little smaller, less ornate. The escapes are a little less death-defying. Our expectations are a little smaller - and they are met. That's a win for this series.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stranger than Meta-Fiction

If Will Ferrell is such a big draw, how come nobody heard of Stranger than Fiction? It's not Semi-Pro, but jeeze.

Ferrell plays a Chicago tax auditor who leads a mundane existence, until he hears the voice of a narrator. This voice begins narrating his life, which is disturbing, but when she says, "Little did he know he had only a short time to live," then it gets potentially deadly.

The narrator is Emma Thompson, a stressed-out, chain-smoking writer's blocked author. Her schtick is to kill off her characters, and she's having trouble deciding how to do it. We undertand that once she figures it out, Ferrell's character dies. Her publisher sends Queen Latifa as an "assistant" (minder) to help out. Thompson plays her role with courage and conviction, looking very believably on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Latifa plays her usual no-nonsense coolheaded competent type. Has she been cast as God yet? She could totally nail that role.

Meantime, Ferrell visits a doctor and a psychiatrist, who tell him he is schizophrenic. For a second opinion, he goes to a professor of English, Dustin Hoffman, whose approach is a bit more eclectic. He's got a low-key wierdness similar to his zen detective in I Heart Huckabees.

Ferrell also falls in love, with a free-spirited tax-dodging baker played by Maggie Gyllenhall. She does a great job, but this is the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who only exists to bring our emotionally dead hero to life. Why does a beautiful, sensitive woman in a people profession have no boyfriends, leaving her bed open for Ferrell to fall in? Oh well, you just have to accept some of these things.

In addition to a great cast (having a ball, I'd guess) and a great script, it uses Chicago locations in an interesting way. The city can look modern and cold, funky and warm, space-age and cool, and altogether lovely. The music is a nice indie acoustic rock mix, with a lot of Spoon. Not really my style, but they make me love it.

This isn't a goofy laff factory, and there's no frathouse or grossout humor. All the characters are named after mathematicians, to give you an idea. But it also isn't pure art-house - it's lighter than that. Thoughtful but fun. I guess I understand why nobody has heard of it.

Khan of Khans - the Early Years

In my student days, I was a bit of a Khan fan. I read The Secret History of the Mongols, Harold Lamb's Genghis Khan and maybe a few others. So I was pretty psyched to see Mongol, and not disappointed.

It tells the story of the young Temujin, son of a small clan's khan. He is betrothed to the beautiful Borte at about 7, and loses his father on the same journey. He is hunted, captured and escapes many times. He is united with Borte, and loses her several times. He is strong and steadfast and gathers followers. By the end of the movie, he is on his way to unifying the Mongols, and conquering the known world.

The story fit what I remembered pretty well, although they skipped a cute story - Little Temujin's dad tells Borte's father that to take care of Temujin, he's afraid of dogs. But never mind the story: look at the incredible locations in the steppes, the forests, rivers and hills of Mongolia. Look at the powerful still but expressive faces of the actors, all Mongolian, except Tadanobu Asano as Temujin. Just immerse yourself in the sounds of the Mongolian language.

A wonderful film. Watch and enjoy.

Ever-Lovin' Hulk

I don't have too much to say about The Incredible Hulk (2008). I definitely liked it better than the Ang Lee Hulk, although that might have been a better film with more to say. Ang Lee just tried to put too much into his film - and I just don't see Hulk as an Oedipus figure.

This is a solid Marvel movie, but after that, there's not a lot to say about it. Ed Norton recalls Bill Bixby as Bruce Banner, Tim Roth has a lot of fun as the villain, and Liv Tyler is beautiful, but her inflatable lips are a little distracting. Big Bill Hurt makes a nice Col. Ross, with a shaggy presence that reminds me of Sam Elliot's Ross in Ang Lee's film. The opening scene in a Rio favela has a little too much Bourne influence, but I guess that's the future of action movies...

So, I guess I rate this in the middle of the Marvel movie universe. Not a bad place to be at all.

In conclusion, Hulk smash!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Real Gone

Continuing our car movie extravanganza, Gone in 60 Seconds, the 1974 one, not the Nicholas Cage one.

This car-happy film was written, directed, produced and starring by car-nut HB Halicki, and features about 150 cars from his personal collection, many of them smashed to bits. Halicki plays a fancy car thief with an assignment to steal 47 specific cars (model, year and color). He assigns them code names and gets to work.

The first section shows Halicki and his team bickering, joking and stealing, making short work of the list. But a 72 yellow Mustang code-named Eleanor eludes him until the end. When the other 46 cars are ready for delivery, he takes on Eleanor, and immediately picks up a police tail.

The second half of the movie is a ~40-minute car chase that takes Halicki and several police departments all over LA, through parks, up sidewalks, wrong-way over freeways, through dirt lots, on and on, to a lovely little twist ending.

Now, Halicki was an indie producer/director/actor/stuntdriver, practically an amateur. The acting succeeds because the cast are mostly really what their roles are, mechanics playng mechanics, cops playing cops, etc. The car chase is not up to the level of Transporter, say, or even Blues Brothers (although they destroyed a similar number of cop cars). But, like the rest of the movie, there is an agreeable level of energy.

The movie looks pretty low-budget but clean within its limitations - Halicki is no Ed Wood. But I'd say the best part is the solid 70s look. Every man has mutton chop sideburns, a porn 'stache and aviator glasses. The locations and "extras" (passers-by) are a nice look at that long-ago time.

But Eleanor is the real star.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thunder and Lightning

I guess I've always known about Thunder Road, because my dad always used to sing the theme song: "It was thunder, thunder over thunder road/Thunder was his engine and white lightning was his load/And it was moonshine, moonshine to quench the devil's thirst/The law they thought they'd catch him but the Devil caught him first!" Now I've seen the movie, and it pretty much matches the song.

Makes sense, since Robert Mitchum stars in it, co-wrote the script and the song, and produced. Oh, and his son was in it, as his kid brother.

Mitchum plays a Korean war vet back in the hills around Harlan, running shine the way his daddy and grand-daddy did. He is wild on wheels, so reckless the other runners are afraid that they'll get killed trying to compete. There's a girl who loves him, but he treats her pretty cool. He has seen the world outside the holler, outside Memphis even. He has a girl in Memphis, a nightclub singer played by Keeley Smith. He tells her that he doesn't belong in the backwoods now that he has been to Korea, knows how to order from a menu and "what a mobile is" (not a fancy Calder mobile, but a little paper one Keeley has hanging in her living room). He really doesn't fit in anywhere.

Actually, we get a couple of speeches like this from Mitchum, all awesome ode to existential angst in hillybilly hepster argot. They don't actually make a lot of sense, but they sound cool when Mitchum lays them down.

Where he really lives is on the road. This film is loaded with realistic (or almost) car rides and chases through the Appalachian hills (mostly around Asheville NC). This isn't Transporter, or even Vanishing Point. But the cars are all real, bought from bootleggers, who used the money to upgrade.

Keeley Smith, Mitchum's big city girlfriend. She had a slow, dragging delivery on a song, an emaciated face and a deep calm. I figured she was supposed to be a junkie. Then I found out she was Keeley Smith, who sang with Louis Prima, one of the biggest jazz band leaders of the 50s. I guess she was just supposed to be Keeley Smith.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sons of the Wind

The Great Challenge looks like a kickboxing or cagefighting flick at first, but it's actually a parkour film. Parkour, as I keep reminding you, is an urban sport that involves running up walls, jumping off buildings and climbing over fences, at top speed. It was developed by David Belle, who developed the concept based on his father's army experiences in "Indochine".

This movie (French title: Les Filles du Vent) stars Williams Belle and a band of parkour traceurs (runners) known as the Yamakasi. This band goes to Bangkok to set up a gym for street kids. At least that's the MacGuffin. They somehow get involved with a group of Thai/Chinese/Japanese ninjas who are fighting the Triads (Triad boss: Pink Panther's Burt Kwouk!) to gain the favor of the Yakoooza! OK, it makes no sense, but it does allow one of the Yamakasi to fall in love with the sister of the ninja leader.

Let's skip the plot stuff and break it down:
  • Sets and location: Bangkok looks like a cool city, full of barn-like warehouses (where the Yamakasi set up), international hotels (where the Triads rule) and industrial badlands (for the ninja). Also, idyllic temples and parks where they practice Muai Thai.
  • Costumes: The ninja wear these funny headbag hoodies, the Yakooza wear suits and ties, but the Yamakasi have the coolest Asian pajama/tracksuits/high-necked vests/djellabas/etc. I want to dress like that, but hope I resist the urge...
  • Actors: The Yamakasi leader, Belle, is Euro. Four others are of African origin, another is Asian. The leader of the ninjas, a real-life Yamakasi, is Asian/Euro. They look seriously good. They are all gorgeous and athletically gifted. They may not be great actors, because mostly they just look stoical, but man, they look good.
  • Editing: Only about 10% of the stunts are shown start-to-finish. This may have been an artistic mistake, but probably just allowed them to fake a lot of the jumps. But there are plenty of amazing stunts, for real, no wires.
It seems that this is more or less the sequel to Yamakasi (not on Netflix), and Luc Besson is involved. In the Phillippines, this movie is titled Yamakasi vs. Ong Bak. I see influences from both (someone does the Tony Jaa trick of running across peoples heads). Try it and see.

In conclusion, more parkour! Put these guys in more movies!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hahsit Babe!

Big Brown Eyes is an early Cary Grant comedy, co-starring Joan Bennett. Here's the setup: Bennett is a trash-talking manicurist whose boyfriend is "handsome policeman" Cary Grant. The big barbershop she works at is a hotbed of gossip, and she quickly becomes a star reporter. When a jewel theft leads to a baby killing (which kills the laffs for a few frames), Bennett and Grant start chasing the thieves/killers, even if they have to quit their jobs to do it.

The banter is breezy and the tone is cool. One of the bad guys is id'ed by his habitual greeting of "Hahsit, babe!", which is the title of one of the two stories this movie came from (the other - "Big Brown Eyes"). However, possibly due to the dual sources, the script has some lapses of coherence and continuity.

So take that as a big warning. Other than that, this is a pretty nifty little crime comedy. Plenty of sweet lines, great character actors (A young, handsome Walter Pidgeon as villain) and stylish deco sets. Just don't expect it to really make sense.

Update: BBE comes on a disk with another Cary Grant - Wings in the Dark: Aviator Grant is developing instruments to allow flying "blind" when, ironically, he is blinded. Barnstormer Myrna Loy falls in love with him and tries to help him back to self-sufficiency and self-respect. The problem is, Grant is a self-centered, self-pitying jerk, and Loy is patronizing and manipulative. That aside, this is a pretty well-done melodrama, with Grant doing a decent blind act. Loy is pretty lovable, if you can get over the creepiness of her watching Grant with tears in her eyes when he doesn't know she's there. But if you like Grant as a self-centered pilot, try Only Angels Have Wings, instead.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Royal Mess

Stephen Chow has made a couple of brilliant kung fu comedies that broke in the US - Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. He's also done tons of less famous stuff, such as Royal Tramp.

In RT, Chow plays a storyteller/fool in a brothel who gets mixed up with (more or less in order) Chin revolutionaries, Imperial palace eunuchs, the young emperor, his horny sister, the dowager empress, evil Tibetan martial arts lamas, and ... um, I'm getting lost here.

Anyway, the fool becomes a palace official and starts stealing everything he can get. He also gets involved with beautiful martial arts twins who want to marry him, as does the princess. There are fun fight scenes - everyone agrees that Chow's kung fu is weak, but all the other characters are powerful. The eunuchs can't be kicked in the balls because they don't have any. The lamas fight with cymbals, using them as giant shuriken, and also flinging them like frisbees and using them as flying stepping stones (yes, it's all wirework).

I understand there's a lot of clever wordplay in the original dialog. The subtitles are funny, but not because they are clever.

In conclusion, Royal Tramp 2 has Brigitte Lin in it! But I probably won't bother.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Honest Film Making

The earliest novels were epistolatory - in the form of letters. Early authors didn't have any model to explain the existence of an extended piece of narrative fiction, so I guess they struck on letters as a framing device. I've always wondered why film doesn't have a similar tradition. Filmmakers rarely account for the presence of the camera, instead it is traditionally invisible, the eye of God.

On the other hand, we have:
  • Dogme 95, a filmmaking style that calls for complete simplicity: No sets, no props, no lighting, only handheld cameras, etc. But they don't acknowledge or explain the presence of the camera.
  • The Blair Witch Project, which purports to be the video record of something chilling. But I have never seen it, and it is not purported to be very good. So I dismiss it.
  • Documentaries and mockumentaries, like This Is Spinal Tap. But these don't really count, for reasons I can't really figure...
Then - there is Cloverfield.

The opening gives the whole premise - this was found in the memory card of a video camera in what used to be Central Park: codenamed Cloverfield. It starts with a guy recording his girlfriend, then jumps to his friends giving him a bon-voyage party. Then disaster strikes - his girlfriend shows up with another guy.

But things pick up when an explosion sends the head of the Statue of Liberty flying through the street. Now, our party needs to rescue girlfriend and escape from New York, because very bad things are happening. The promotions for Cloverfield didn't reveal the nature of the bad things, so I won't either. But they are very gristly.

But the whole thing is done as-if with a handheld video camera - no editing, no music, no angles that the guy holding the camera couldn't get. Of course, it is purely pretend. The battery lasts forever, the sound is better than you'll get, the light and night vision work suspiciously well. Nonetheless, a great concept, brlliantly executed.

The characters we get to share this adventure with are mostly nitwits. (Surprisingly, the one who I hoped would get killed first seemed to survive. See if you can guess who!). For me, the "cameraman", Hud, is the exception. Where everyone else were well-socialized yuppie scum, Hud was a Seth-Rogen-type clod, always ready with an inappropriate joke. Or maybe I just liked him because he mostly behind the camera.

Again, I'll skip over the bad things, in case you haven't heard about them yet. Better to be surprised. However, I will say that this film is clearly an attempt to work through the effects of 9/11, like Godzilla was Japan's attempt to work through the atom bomb. The special fx team clearly know what it looks like when a building collapses in NY. I wonder - is it too soon to use this in a monster movie?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Remember Sarah

I forget whether we are still supposed to love the Judd Apatow crew, or if backlash has set in, and we hate them. No matter, I rather liked Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But there was something I couldn't overlook.

First, the story: Jason Segel is a schlubby slacker man-child whose world is shattered when Sarah Marshall (Kirsten Bell) breaks up with him. To get over her, he goes on a vacation in Hawaii, and runs into her and her new boyfriend, rockstar Russell Brand. But he gets some emotional encouragement from the cute hotel desk clerk, Mila Kunis.

Next, the love: This is a very well-put together comedy that cares about the characters. They are not just there for the jokes. Russell Brand, for instance, is a piss-take on British rockers, but surprisingly sympathetic. He meditates, he takes people seriously, and he has been sober for 7 years. I was sure he was going to fall off the wagon with "humorous" results, but no. His basic coolness makes him a great romantic rival - making him a slimeball or a moron would be too easy. I liked Segel's half-brother in a similar way.

But now, the problem: As soon as I saw Segel go up to the pretty desk clerk, my heart sank. I thought, she's going to take him under her wing, get him to open up emotionally and learn to love again. And by god, she did.

That's not so bad, though, is it? Sure, it's a cliche, but this is a romantic comedy, what do you expect? But it had a chance to be better than that. Especially because the movie commits that other cliche, the one that drives me nuts - the dumpy, dopey guy that has gorgeous women all over him (see: Knocked Up).

Look, Jason Segel isn't bad, but he doesn't really seem to be in the same league as his ex Kirsten Bell or the new girl Mila Kunis. He also isn't charming, funny, talented, rich, smart... He's a schlub. Why was Bell with him in the first place? OK, she's a little high-maintenance - besides, we don't know how they started out. But Kunis latches onto him right away. To me, it makes no sense. It kills the suspension of disbelief.

In conclusion, a funny movie, really well made, with an incredible sense of male entitlement.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Here Comes the Bride with White Hair

Welcome to another in our continuing series of Hong Kong kung-fu classics: The Bride with White Hair. It features Leslie Cheung as the sensitive, rebellious Wu Tang clan heir. Lost in the woods as a child, he is saved from wolves by a mysterious Wolf Girl, who grows up to be a notorious witch (Brigitte Lin), allied with the Northern tribes and their evil cult, called the Evil Cult. The Evil Cult is led by a decadent brother and sister pair of sorcerer, Siamese twins conjoined at the back. Wu Tang boy and Wolf girl fall in love, although they belong to enemy factions.

So we have lots of wirework action, sorcery, wild sets, haunting photography, kinky sex, and rather confusing plotting. I wanted to call on ODB, Ghostface Killah or some other member of the modern Wu Tangs for an explanation several times. I've gotten used to that in this type of movie, though.

But I still didn't like the occasional cheesiness of the look. Maybe it was the DVD transfer, but some of the day-for-night wirework scenes looked almost made-for-tv. Furthermore, the melodrama often got in the way of the action. I guess the exact mix of overwrought emotion and ass-kickery is a matter of taste.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Bone Headed Franchise

Was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really all that bad? Maybe it's just that we loved Raiders so much when it first came out - it was so satisfyingly entertaining. So fresh and original, and yet old-fashioned.

None of the sequels were really great. Crystal Skull definitely isn't. I suppose it's a pretty entertaining film, and if I had seen any of the others I would be pretty happy with it. So is it really that bad, or just doesn't live up to expectations?

I don't know, and don't intend to explore this question. Instead, I intend to insult Shia LeBeouf. First, "LeBeouf"? Second, "Shia"? Sounds like it should be followed by "As if!" But mainly the sad sidekick role he got stuck with - made Short Round look dignified.

LeBeouf as "Mutt" Williams appears on a motorcycle, dressed in Brando drag. He is a switchblade-flicking, coif-combing juvenile delinquent. Unfortunately, he looks more like Harvey Lembeck than Marlon Brando. You know, that would have worked - if he thought he was a Wild One, but was really Eric von Zipper.

He does occasionally find the humor in his character, but not often. Mostly he is that stereotyped kid-you-are-supposed-to-relate-to, along for the ride. Did he at least Save the Day at the end? I can't even remember.

Other than that - I rather liked Cate Blanchett's evil Russian dominatrix villain.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Close to Perfect

I was still bummin' over My Lucky Stars, but you've got to get back on the horse that throwed you, so I checked out So Close, another Hong Kong action film, from the public library. Good move.

Directed by Corey Yuen (Transporter, fight choreography for Kiss of the Dragon), it features 2 gorgeous sisters - a glamorous, high-kicking assassin (Qi Shu), and a cute hacker (Wei Zhao). They inherited an all-seeing satellite surveillance system from their murdered parents, and use it to kill for money and justice. They are pursued by policewoman Karen Mok.

The fights are tight, with lots of slow-mo wirework and stunts. Example: Qi Shu kicks the guns out of two attackers hands, leaps into the air, and catches the guns while upside down. When her high heels touch the ceiling, they shoot out piton, so she can hang from the ceiling and shoot up the room. She then leaves the building as her sister jams the intercom with "Close to You". The movie is full of this kind of thing.

In between times, we have several soppy subplots: Elder sister falls in love and wants to quit the business. Younger sister wants to get out from behind the computer. Both sisters mourn dead parents. Cakes are bought. This kind of melodrama seems a little out of place, but since it's played out by sexy women in skimpy outfits, the boys won't complain.

The sisters are great, but Karen Mok is really something. She has a slightly jolie-laid face, a little horsey, say like Janeane Garofalo. She plays it very plain, fresh scrubbed, sharp. She invites her nerdy assistant to sharpen his wits by engaging in intellectual wordplay (she asks him when he masturbated last). She is a kick.

There are also a few cute themes running through the movie, like a video camera that younger sister uses to film her family. It is used like a photo album might be in an older movie, but also anchors this movie in the present day. I've seen this in several HK movies - cell phones mix-ups, for instance. It both assumes both novelty and familiarity with new technologies. Interesting trope.

Anyway, if you like slick modern action movies, lovely women kicking butt, and don't mind a little melodrama - this is for you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Not too many people know that the Humphrey Bogart Maltese Falcon is a remake - actually the third time the story had been filmed. Want to see the other two? Check out this disk: The Maltese Falcon / Satan Met a Lady.

The first Maltese Falcon (1931) stars Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, Bebe Daniels as Ruth Wonderly, andUna Merkel as Effie Perrine. I've never heard of Cortez, but Daniels is pretty well known from 42nd Street. Dwight Fry, Renfield from Dracula is the gunsel Wilmer. As good as Elisha Cook Jr, but with less screen time. The Cairo and Gutman roles are pretty well done, although very different from what we are used to.

Now, this is not a very good movie. The Bogart Maltese Falcon was a B movie, and so is this, but the acting is much worse. The writing isn't bad, though, and neither is the direction. Cortez is a much less likable Spade - a skirt chaser and probably crooked. He shows his teeth a lot, like Bogart, but in an insincere grin, not Bogart's grimace. Still, the story is there, and some scenes are very similar, like Spade meeting Cairo, and the scene in the DA's office.

Satan Met a Lady is a different beast - it takes place in San Remo, and features Warren William as private eye Ted Shayne and his search for an antique horn. The Gutman character is called Madame Barabas, a nasty old lady. Effie calls herself Murgatroyd. And so forth. Everything changed just enough.

Warren William has the wrecked face of an aging roue and he plays Spade - I mean, Shayne - as a creep. The Wonderly/O'Shaughnessy character is played by Bette Davis, and I've never seen worse line delivery, even by non-English speakers who learn their lines phonetically. Shayne's secretar Murgatroyd, though, is played by Marie Wilson, radio's My Friend Irma. She's a great dumb blonde character, with a classic voice (reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe). I've always like Effie Perrine - more than the Wonderly dame - but this version is the best.

Satan is really The Maltese Falcon done as a comedy. William may be trying for a William Powell/Thin Man drollery. It might even work in places. But the only real funny comes from Marie Wilson (N.B. - not to be confused with raven-haired noir goddess Marie Windsor). I'm tempted to watch My Friend Irma / My Friend Irma Goes West, but they also feature Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In conclusion: Fun to watch, but not classics. Although Warren William had a hand-tooled leather pipe box, but no one made roll-you-owns like Bogart.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


We were stoked from watching Forbidden Kingdom that we promoted the first Jackie Chan movie on our queue to the top. It was My Lucky Stars. We should have known better.

To cut to the chase, this is not exactly a Jackie Chan movie. As fans know, not all movies "starring Jackie Chan" actually contain detectable amounts of Jackie Chan. Many contain large amounts of Sammo Hung, for example, and other cronies. As far as I can gather, Jackie and Sammo went through Chinese opera training with a crew who came to be known as the Lucky Stars. This is a movie about them.

It starts out well, with Jackie and Yuen Biao in Tokyo chasing crooks. There are some stunts at an amusement park and some fights with ninjas and Yuen Biao is captured. Because the crooks have infiltrated the police, Jackie calls on the gang "from the orphange". So first they get Sammo Hung out of prison, then start collecting the others - a crook, an idiot, a mental case, and a con-man. But basically, all idiots - more or less the Five Stooges. There's a cute policewoman who they sexually harass, as well.

So after 15 minutes of kung-fu action, we get an hour of Hong Kong slapstick. It isn't bad if you like that kind of thing, but it isn't Jackie Chan. Finally, we get to Tokyo and meet up with Jackie and have a big fight in a ninja infested funhouse. So, approx. 15 more minutes kung-fu. And not the best ever, either.

So, for fans of Hong Kong slapstick and Sammo Hung, not Jackie Chan. This crew made 3 or 4 movies. Fortunately only on seems to be available through Netflix: Winners & Sinners. Avoid.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Drunk v. Monk: Clash of the Titans

I believe we have already discussed Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan/Jet Li: Who is most awesome? I will not rehash that discussion here. And Bruce Lee is gone beyond. And we can watch Jackie Chan and Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom.

Unfortunately, Forbidden Kingdom is not their story. It is the story of Jason, a chinless wonder played by Michael Angarano, but could have been played by Shia La Beouf or that kid from Die Hard 4. He is a sad-sack from Southie who haunts a Chinatown pawnshop for kung-fu tapes and gets beat up by bullies.

One day, the bullies make him help rob the Chinese pawnbroker. He gets his hands on an iron staff and is transported to Ancient China. Finally! He quickly runs into a drunken beggar - Jackie Chan in dreadlocks. Later he meets up with a beautiful pipa (Chinese lute) playing assassin and a silent monk (Jet Li). Their mission: to return the staff to the Five Elements Castle, where Monkey has been turned into stone by the Jade Warlord.

Jet and Jackie have a few nice fights. They seem to be carefully calibrated so that neither has the upper hand. They move incredibly quickly and in perfect synch. Clearly, this movie will not resolve who is more awesome. Whoever, this movie also features some goofy fighting from Monkey, which involves a lot of wirework and putting the paws on the hips, throwing back the head and laughing.

Round-eye Jason gets martial arts training from the guys, which is not too convincing. He gets some doe-eyed glances from the gal, Swallow, played by Yifei Liu. She looks great, although she may remind you of other martial arts babes. This is not really a criticism, because the whole movie is a tribute to other martial arts movies, mostly Shaw Brothers. Bride with White Hair is referenced, and Swallow says, "Come drink with me" when she attacks, refering to the movie with another martial artist named Swallow and her drunken friend.

Great fun, but was the drippy Jake Gyllenhall/Toby MacGuire/Shia LaBeouf character really necessary? And if so, did he have to be so drippy? Couldn't he have been more of a Seth Green type? Or at least had a realistic training process where he learns and grows. Guess not.

In conclusion: Justin Long. That was the guy from Die Hard 4.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I am Iron Man

If I had to say one thing bad about Iron Man, it would be the limited use of Black Sabbath. In fact, the soundtrack in general was weak. The main theme seemed to quote Led Zep's Kashmir, and there's some AC/DC and Ghostface Killah, but mostly weak, orchestral stuff. Sorry, Ramin Djawadi.

Let's see, what else? I loved Gwenyth Paltrow as Tony Stark's girl Friday, Pepper Potts. However, I couldn't help but think of Annie Potts in the role. She would have played it very much like Paltrow, I think. The same combination of cool competence and flustered klutziness. I don't think I have to tell you how her crush on the boss works out.

Robert Downey Jr. completely owns the role of Tony Stark. A complex character, a charming jerk. There are some slow scenes in the middle (Ms. Spenser fell asleep), where Stark perfects his suit. This is where I fell in love with him - because I am a geek, and he is showing his geek side. There is a scene where he is soldering, and before he sticks the soldering iron in the wire coil holder, he wipes the tip to remove the flux and crud that builds up. All you techies who've used a soldering iron know what I mean. That little gesture sold me.

Did I mention that Ms. Spenser loved this movie? So much so that she wanted to get a "Stark" license plate like all of Tony Stark's cars. She could have gotten "STARK10", but **SPOILER** she chose "NCK FURY".

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's a Pippin

When we saw Zachariah, Ms. Spenser informed me of the connection to the musical Pippin - both the star and the plot. Although the original cast version is not available on DVD, a TV version is, so we watched that.

The story is similar to Zachariah, Siddhartha, and probably a bunch of others - young man tries to find his way among many paths. Pippin (William Katt, not the John Rubenstein as on Broadway and in Zach) is the sensitive son of Charlemagne, but Charlemagne has set his mother aside for a new wife, Fastrada (Chita Rivera, yeow!). Pippin tries his hand at war, sexual adventure, patricide, all the usual. All through, he is advised by Lead Player Ben Vereen, a Mephistophelean figure who is pretty much the star of the show.

I guess I've always known about Ben Vereen, but only by reputation. If this show is representative, he lives up to his reputation. He's a wicked dancer, has a great voice and a charming, evil, presence.

Bob Fosse did the choreography, so there was a lot of walking around in a stylized manner - shoulders back, head and hips forward, jazz hands. Not a lot of what I call dancing, with steps and kicking and so on. Look, I love jazz dance - that syncopated body line and off-kilter poses. But in the 1920s (when I was a teenager), the flappers knew how to dance - they really moved. Feet, knees, hands and elbow all pumping to the rhythm in different directions. But these days!

Sorry, I got carried away. The dancing was fine, and Ben Vereen really knew what he was doing. So does Fosse, even if it isn't always my thing.

In conclusion, Pippin has to choose between suicide and marrying a cute wealthy widow with an adorable son. But I won't spoil it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Borderline Case

People seem to have trouble assigning a genre to Borderline - romantic comedy, film noir, road picture? Actually, it's a classical example of the romantic noir comedy set in Mexico, just like The Big Steal and or His Kind of Woman.

In Borderline, narcotics cop Claire Trevor goes undercover in Mexico to find out who is sending shipments of heroin over the border using married tourists as mules. She tries to vamp suspected kingpin Raymond Burr (the villain in His Kind of Woman come to think of it), who gets hi-jacked by Fred MacMurray. The gag is (minor spoilage) MacMurray turns out to be an undercover customs agent on the same mission as Trevor. The rest of the movie has them racing for the border with a consignment of contraband, set on turning each other in.

Viewers of a certain age will associate Fred MacMurray more with Disney movies than film noir, but I guess most people are familiar with Walter Neff ("with 2 Fs, like Philadelphia") now. He handles the funny tough guy with no problems. Claire Trevor is known as a noir doll, but I'm not entirely convinced. She comes off as an Eve Arden type, a wisecracker, but not too tough.

Anyway, I don't know where this genre comes from - except that Hollywood types must have been familiar with the tourist circuit from Tijuana to Ensenada. I suspect they must have been fun to film, especially if they went on location. They're fun to watch, too, if you like this sort of thing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Miller's Tale

As you may remember, we quite enjoyed Lucky Number Slevin. Amongst all of its film references, I've heard that it was specifically a tribute to Miller's Crossing, which has been on my queue for a while. So we watched it.

We were a little nervous - this was an intense, serious Coen Bros. movie, not The Big Lebowski. But we'd made it through Blood Simple, so onward.

Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan, lieutenant to Irish crime boss Leo O'Bannon, who is sleeping with Verna Bernbaum. The Italian mob boss, John Caspar, wants to kill her brother, Schmatta, who has been chiseling. So the harps and the eye-ties are going to get into a gang war over the sheenies.

Reagan plays the diplomat, telling O'Bannon to let Schmatta die - what's one Hebrew more or less? - and negotiating with Caspar. As you might have guessed if you have seen The Glass Key, Reagan is eventually forced out of O'Bannon's gang and into Caspar's. His initiation will be to take Schmatta out to Miller's Crossing and execute him.

The Glass Key is definitely the "key" to this movie. O'Bannon is very much Paul Madvig, Brian Donlevy's character. A rough, bold leader, with a weakness for a dame. Reagan is Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd), loyal, smarter than his boss, and with a few weaknesses of his own.

The writing in Miller's Crossing is pure tough-guy noir patter - "What's the rumpus?", "Let's dangle", "He's an artist with a Thompson". The Coens, drunk on language again. The look of the movie is more modern, say 1970s Godfather or The Sting: Tobacco-colored light through wooden venetian blinds. I can't tell if this is homage, or just what passes low-key noir lighting in color films.

I had the film figured for pretty much a pure style play - swipe the plot from a classic, write some beautiful dialog, add some action and enjoy. A little shallow, but a great surface. But Ms. Spenser saw something deeper. She reminded me of Caspar's line about Schmatta's chiseling: "It's about, I'm almost ashamed to say it, ethics." The depth of the movie is its exploration of ethics, honesty, loyalty, heart and humanity in a crooked world. Now I want to watch it again.

In conclusion, I can't believe The Glass Key isn't available from NetFlix. No USA DVD release! I'm pretty sure we have the VHS somewhere, but still. Somebody needs to get to work on this.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All You Need Is Love

We wanted to like The Love Guru, and honestly, we didn't hate it. I won't lie to you though. It wasn't good.

Mike Meyers is Guru Pitka, a Canadian orphan raised (along with Deepak Chopra) by Guru Tugginmypudha (Ben Kingsley). If you think the funny Indian name gag is lame, the movie's best material is wasted on you.

Pitka becomes a wealthy and influential Love Guru, but he himself can't love - because his guru locked him in a chastity belt until he can learn to love himself. If you think this message is lame, um, you're right.

Still, there are plenty of silly body process jokes, including elephant sex. Stupid names, like Dick Pants and Punch Cherkof. Dopey self-help tags, like "BIBLE = Book of Instructions Before Leaving Earth" to which Pitka always adds "TM!" The best one, in our opinion is Pitka's universal greeting "Mariska Hargitay". We're going to use that one.

Unfortunately, no one will get it, because no one watched this, and if they did, they will pretend they didn't.

Now, I heard Mike Meyers on the radio, talking about the death of his beloved father. Austin Powers, for instance, was a gift to his dad, who loved James Bond and all the swinging 60s spies. After Mr. Meyers died, Mike was very dejected, and started reading works of spiritual self-help, like, possibly, Deepak Chopra. He didn't really seem to take them seriously, except that they did help. The message of love, self-love, love of others helped him grieve his father.

So, if you were wondering where this movie came from, that's the story I heard. Laugh at it if you want. That might be all you're laughing at.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wild Weird West

Two weird westerns:

They Call Me Trinity: A spaghetti western parody, staring Terence Hill as fast-drawing, tight bunned Trinity, a lazy, grimy gunslinger with blue eyes to die for. He travels on a travois dragged behind his horse and doesn't even wake up when the horse drags him through a river.

His half-brother, Bambino, has accidentally become sheriff of a small town, and the boys wind up protecting the settlers from the town crime boss. The settler are noted for their their spiritual pacifism, their work ethic and their cute daughters. When it turns out that they are Mormons, and at least two of the daughters are willing to marry Trinity, he starts thinking about settling down.

The pacifism would be a problem. Trinity doesn't have to fight much, because he is so fast on the draw. He's fast with his fists, too, and Bambino is a giant who just konks villains on the head or picks one up under each arm and bonk their heads together. It all culminates in a Seven Brides for Seven Brothers style fight at the settlers' house-raising. Good fun. There is at least one sequel and it is in the queue.

Then, Zachariah: Young cowboy Zachariah (John Rubinstein) gets a mail-order gun and is inspired by the James Gang to become a gunslinger. The James Gang is the one with Joe Walsh, not Frank and Jesse. See, this is a Rock 'n' Roll Western, with electric guitars. Remember, acid rock was founded at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, by the Charlatans in western drag.

Zachariah's friend Matthew comes along - a young Don Johnson with surfer dude hair and attitude. Zachariah and Matthew love each other very much, but not that way. Nonetheless, there's a lot in this movie for women and gay men to enjoy.

Zach and Matthew go on a crime spree with the Crackers gang, played by Country Joe and the Fish, who look realistically grubby. Joe makes a great gang leader, and it's great to see young, curly-haired Barry the Fish Melton. They do a couple of fun songs, as well.

Firesign Theater gets writing credits on this film - mostly giving goofy lines to the Fish, I'd say (Peter Bergman plays a bank teller).

Our young gunslingers want to take it to the next level, so they head out to find Job Cain, top gun in the area. He is played by the ferocious Elvin Jones, John Coltrane's drummer. He shoots a man dead and tears through an amazing drum solo. Zachariah sees him and begins to turn away from gunfighting. Matthew decides to join up with Cain.

Zachariah takes up with Belle Starr, notorious courtesan, but winds up with an aging organic pacifist farmer, cultivating his spiritual side. This is the point where most critics decide this is a Rock Western version of Siddhartha - young man has money, power, love, gives it up to search within. But Mrs. Spenser notes that John Rubinstein was Pippin on Broadway, and that this is the same story as Pippin. Now I have that queued up.

No sequels to this one - sank w/o a trace, I'd say. I'd call it a lost masterpiece, based on Elvin Jones alone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Go Speed!

I don't think I watched much Speed Racer when I was a kid (it was more my brother's thing). I didn't even know that Racer X was Speed's brother, although I did know there was a chimp involved, named "Chim-Chim" (Japanese for "penis"). So I wasn't particularly psyched about the movie version, until I started seeing reviews about the awesome, surreal and psychedelic techniques that the Wachowski Bros put together. That got me interested.

The film is about stunt racing, a futuristic sport that takes place on a pinball-like track. Speed Racer, played by Emil Hirsch, is the void at the center of this film, a brilliant but conflicted young racer, haunted by the memory of his brother, Rex, who turned rogue and died. Pops and Moms Racer are ably played by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. He does very well at cartoon characters. Speed's girlfriend is Christina Ricci, who I like as a cartoon character (she totally was Wednesday Addams), but she's a little real for the role. There's also a fat kid brother and the aforementioned chimp. They are the most well-developed characters, and are much less annoying than you'd think.

As for the plot, there is one. But who cares? Let's talk 1) action sequences and 2) technique.

The CGI race sequences borrow heavily from computer racing games. I'm not a gamer, so I can't say how well they compare (I'll ask a 12-year old later). I thought they were fun and exciting, especially the cross-country race.

The Wachowskis have given the movie a spectacular look, with super-saturated colors and sparkly green-screened backgrounds. The signature move is a talking head in close-up with a green-screened scene drifting in the background - or sometimes two scenes, one on the left of the foreground face, one on the right. This is pretty cool, but it reminds me of something. I didn't watch a lot of kiddie TV in the 90s, but I think that's where this technique debuted. I guess that fits a film made from a kiddie TV show, but shouldn't they be borrowing from anime or something?

Never mind, it's a fun movie, well made and engaging, unless you like substance and acting and stuff. I take that back - this movie has plenty of stuff. Which I like.

Riffing on the Trax

As faithful readers know, I'm a big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan. I got cable for that one program, and canceled when it went off the air. These guys have done a few things since then, including Cinematic Titanic and the Film Crew. Another one is RiffTrax.

The idea is quite simple. You rent, buy or steal an ordinary DVD. Then you download an MP3 file of Mike Nelson and/or some other guys riffing on the film. You play the DVD on your DVD player while simultaneously playing the MP3 file on your MP3 file player. And there you have it - you get a movie with professional sarcastic commentary, and they don't have to get reproduction and distribution rights.

For our first Riff, we chose Spider-Man 2. Have I already complained about the Spider-Man movies? Oh well, I'm too apathetic to look it up. The RiffTrax was provided by Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett (Crow) and Josh Fruhlinger, host of the Comics Curmudgeon (see my blogroll), a website that makes fun of newspaper funnies. I think they brought him in for his insight into the newspaper Spider-Man strip (insight: S-M/Peter Parker mostly sits around watching TV).

The experience was not quite as ... immersive as MST3K: partly because the commentors have no character arcs (or silhouettes on the screen), partly because the sound was coming out of different speakers. But it's still funny, and beats the heck out of watching Spider-Man 2 without riffs.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Go West , Young Honey

I know that TV is going through a Golden Age, with your Sopranos and your CSI: Whattahecks, and so forth, but I pity those who weren't young during the 1960s. Leaving out Get Smart and My Mother the Car, we had Man from U.N.C.L.E, Girl from U.N.C.L.E, and (from 1965) Honey West.

Anne Francis (from Forbidden Planet) plays private eye Honey West. She fights crime with skin-tight cocktail dresses, high-tech gadgets and judo. She doesn't fight crime very well, though, since every episode seems to start with Honey blowing a case, which she spends the rest of the episode clearing up. There are martinis, bikinis, sunglasses, sports cars and yachts.

Honey's Aunt Meg acts as office manager, and Sam Bolt is her associate, her Willy Garvin, her Ilya Kuriakin. He also gives her a chance to say, "Saaaaayaaam" in her whiskey-and-honey voice. And, she has a pet ocelot named Bruce.

Bruce doesn't get a lot of screen time, but he's the best part by far. He's sleek and sexy, and loves to play. He is usually seen tearing up his blanket or kicking, scratching and biting Honey. This combination of playfulness and ferocity are a great match for Honey West. A vicious, clawing, biting ball of gorgeousness, both of them. It is said that Bruce would often get upset on the hot, noisy stage, and that only Anne Francis enjoyed working with him, even though he raised bruises with his paws and once bit her hard enough to draw blood.

Aaron Spelling got the inspiration for this series from Honor Blackman of The Avengers. When The Avengers came to America, Honey West was cancelled after one season. Only one action female at a time.

In conclusion: Bruce!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gene Kelly is D'Artagnan!

As promised, this week, Gene Kelly's Three Musketeers from 1948. Much better than last weeks Don Ameche/Ritz Bros. For one thing, no singing - no dancing either, which is strange, but probably a good choice, because jazz tap was unknown in the reign of Louis XIII.

But Kelly does a lot of bounding, leaping over hedges and horses and things. His swordfighting is almost credible, at least in the beginning. Proper fencing involves small motions and attempts to poke the opponent, rather than swishing the blade around three feet away from him. The people in this movie seem to know this, although the swishing is too much fun to avoid for long.

Lana Turner as Milady DeWinter (hot). June Allyson as Constance (drippy). Frank Morgan is King Louis, Vincent Price as Richlieu (perfect). They call him Prime Minister Richlieu, not Cardinal - censors won't allow Catholic villains?

Athos (Van Heflin), Porthos (Gig Young) and Aramis (Robert Coote) all fail to make much impression, except Van, who has a lot of forehead going on. He reminds me a lot of Orson Welles that way.

Man, wouldn't Welles have made a great Porthos? Possibly in Twenty Years After, the sequel in which Porthos dies (or was the Man in the Iron Mask?). Probably wouldn't have been interested, as it would have been a supporting role only.

I'm not sure Gene Kelly is the best D'Artagnan ever. I'm still going with Michael York and his huge Gascon nose. Anyone have any fantasy casting ideas for Three Musketeers?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Which is your favorite Three Musketteers?

I guess I'll have to go with the Richard Lester, but I like the one with Gene Kelly as D'Artagnan for the big sword fight at the start. Least favorite? The Three Musketeers.

This version, from 1939, stars Don Ameche as D'Artagnan and, so help me, the Ritz Brothers as the Musketeers. I don't know if you are familiar with these knuckleheads, but they were quite popular once. Sort of second rate Marx Brothers or Three Stooges. But that's not fair - they are much worse than second rate.

What is wrong with the Ritz Brothers?
  • They are silly, but not funny. Silly like skipping around, tossing feathers.
  • They are indistinguishable. For a while I thought that one was doing a pompous Barrymore, and another was doing a daffy Ed Wynn, but it was the same guy.
  • Not only do they have no distinct personalities, they don't even have one distinct personality. Are they dumb, wily, cowardly, foolhardy, shy, boastful? Whichever is needed for the gag of the moment.
  • They can't or won't do slapstick. There is plenty of action in this film, swordfights, etc, and we get a few stale pieces of business and some running around.
I can see why they are so obscure. (Internet research indicates that they were better than this in vaudeville, but none of their films are any good, mostly worse than this. Be that as it may.)

The non-Ritz Brothers parts are pretty good. Don Ameche makes a fine swashbuckler, Binnie Barnes is Milady DeWinter, and Lionel Atwill is DeRochefort. The elements of the Dumas story are in place, to the extent that some scenes are even shot the same way as in the Richard Lester film. I doubt that Lester copied this, however.

So, decent swashbuckler spoiled by Ritz Brothers. But wait, there's more! It's a musical, with about four very lame songs.

Next week: The Gene Kelley Three Musketeers, to wash the taste out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blue Whiskey

My favorite flavor is blue. You never know what it will taste like. Blue popsicles are often best, sometimes coconut, a flavor that has no color, or pineapple, which can't use yellow, because that's already lemon. Sometimes the flavor is a new one, one that never existed before popsicles.

Blue cocktails are, of course, the height of sophistication. Until recently, that meant blue curacao, a blue liqueur made from bitter oranges on the Caribbean isle of Curacao (artificially colored - it comes in clear and orange as well). My father brought souvenir bottles back from a trip or two, and I was allowed to taste it as a child. So it always reminds me of children's cough syrup. Still, it makes a fine replacement for triple sec if you want to turn a drink like a margarita blue. But the classic is the:

Blue Hawaii

2 oz. rum (I like it with coconut rum, like Malibu)
1 oz. lime juice (~1 lime)
1 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. blue curacao
Shake and strain into a martini glass

But a new, blue liquor, Hpnotiq, is the rage. It is a French concoction made of brandy, vodka and "tropical fruit juices", colored a pearly turquoise blue. It has a distinctive flavor, not as sweet as you might expect, with a funny herbal flavor. It is like orange juice and toothpaste - not nasty like o.j. and t.p., but unexpected, like two sweet flavors that mix together bitter.

I guess you'll have to try it. It's pretty popular in champagne, but you can drink it on the rocks. I've had it in a number of cocktails this last few weeks: In a Blue Crush at the Hukilau in San Jose and the Xanh Burn at Xanh in Mountain View. And it's flavor haunts me.

Like the song says, "I'll send you a jug in the morning."

Goofy name though.

I Remember Mama

Who likes Roger Corman 1970s exploitation films? Everyone who raised their hands, how about a Bonnie and Clyde rip-off with no budget, weak car chases and lots of banjo music? Still on board? How about if I said it stars Sgt. Pepper Anderson and the captains of the Enterprise and the Nostromo?

OK, everybody who didn't put up your hands, how about if we get those 3: Angie Dickenson, William Shatner and Tom Skerritt, butt naked? If I throw in a couple of starlets playing Angie's daughters (also frequently nude), is everyone on board? Good! I give you: Big Bad Mama.

The story, more or less: Angie Dickenson is a dirt-poor single big bad mama with two horny teenaged daughters who turns to crime when a bootlegging relation is killed. She takes up with bankrobber Tom Skerritt and is soon rolling around in bed with him. When she meets southern-fried con artist William Shatner, however, she shifts her affections. This allows the two daughters to seduce Skerritt - which may be more squicky than sexy. And so on.

In between the sexy stuff, we have some inept action scenes, mostly substituting wacky hillbilly banjo music for actual action. There is enough lame slapstick to identify this film as being a comedy, without it actually being funny. So you've got two things going for you: camp value and the naked bodies of two young women, Angie Dickenson, Captain Kirk and Captain Dallas.

Also, the music is rumored to be composed by Dave Grisman and performed by Jerry Garcia on banjo. But they aren't credited.

In conclusion: Angie Dickenson. Stark naked. While "Police Woman" was still on the air! At least "Star Trek" had been cancelled, and Shatner needed the work.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Slevin Up

Lucky Number Slevin is a slick piece of work. It starts with a story - Bruce Willis is talking to a young dude in an airport. The story is full of colorful patois and streetwise wisdom: It's about a nobbler from Belgium who's running a drugstore handicap, which all leads up to the Kansas City Shuffle ("Where everybody looks right and you go left"). So we know we are in a movie about stories, a movie that is intoxicated by language and lingo.

The story is told in flashback - a confusion of horserace and violence, mostly people dying in creative ways. It doesn't make much sense, but we know it will be important later. Then we come to the main section of the movie.

Josh Hartnett is shaving in a New York apartment when Lucy Liu bursts through the door to borrow a cup of sugar (not just "sugar", she doesn't have a cup, either). Josh tells his story - he is a guy named Slevin, staying with the apartment's owner, but the owner didn't show up. Slevin has had some bad luck, lost his job, found his girl in bed with a friend, gotten mugged and lost his wallet. But meeting Ms. Liu has livened his day up a little.

But when she leaves, some thugs come in, because the owner of the apartment owes the Boss some money. Slevin gets beat up, threatened and ordered to kill the son of an crimelord, the Rabbi (Ben Kingsley with an awesome Brooklyn accent). And the game is afoot.

The game is a sort of combo Guy Richie/Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - hyper-violence, cute situations and slick patter. For example, Slevin has a broken nose. When he mouths off to the Boss (Morgan Freedman! Awesome!) says, "That mouth got you that nose." If only mobsters talked like that.

There are lots of allusions to other movies, like the James Bond series. Some might contain clues, like the reference to North by Northwest. Maybe not, though.

I liked Lucy Liu a lot here. She plays the spunky girlfriend, technically known as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl: the stereotype who shakes the stodgy guy out of his rut by being all unconventional and awesome. Slevin's reaction to this is pretty much "Whatever", because he is not that guy. It's fun to see this convention ignored. I also like that she doesn't just drop everything to start sleuthing. She still has to go to work. Shows responsibility.

Finally, the plot: twisty. I don't think anyone will figure it out, because it doesn't make any sense. The movie also cheats - leaves out important details. So just lay back and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Travels with Harold

I guess we saw Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle before I started this blog, so here's my capsule review: Fuckin' hilarious.

So how did we like Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay? Even better.

The sequel starts the day after White Castle. Nerdy Korean Harold Lee (John Cho) and freaky Desi Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) are going to Amsterdam to find Maria, the love of Harold's life (who he has barely spoken to) and enjoy the marijuana that the city is famous for. However, when Kumar tries to smoke a bong on the airplane, it is mistaken for a bomb, and they wind up in Guantanamo Bay.

But before they got on the plane, they had met Vanessa, the love of Kumar's life, who was going to Texas to marry a Republican douchebag. So when they escape from Guantanamo, they head for Texas - Harold thinks they are going to get the douchebag to pull some strings and get them out of trouble, but Kumar plans to mess up the wedding.

From here, you get the usual Harold and Kumar roadtrip - they meet up with rednecks, Neal Patrick Harris, threatening black men, the usual. We also get to meet a few of their old college buddies - the douchebag, a Miami beach Persian who's hosting a bottomless party (topless is passe), Rosenberg and Goldstein, etc. I liked this part - we see H&K in their social milieu: Ivy League oddballs.

This movie is the traditional roadtrip movie, the mess-up-the-ex-girlfriend's-wedding movie, the stoner picaresque. But it's also a movie about feelings - about Kumar coming to grips with his feelings for Vanessa, and for his friend Harold. That makes this a little deeper movie, I think.

But don't worry, it's still not deep enough to get your 'nads wet. Vanessa is just barely a character, and Harold's love interest, Maria, is even less. Lack of attention to female characters is pretty much standard for this type of comedy (maybe even the point), but it often bugs me.

But the story is really about the boys. Kumar is brilliant but self-centered and irresponsible, maybe because he has daddy issues. Harold is uptight but sweet and sincere. His scene in the whorehouse, dishing the dirt on Kumar with the girls, is priceless: "You see, Sparkle, it's all about him. Sure, Candy, he's a good man, but he can't say, 'I'm sorry.'"

I don't want to spoil it by telling you what Kumar does at the whorehouse, or what Neal Patrick Harris does. For that matter, do they ever get to Amsterdam? Watch it yourself and find out.

Two warnings, though:
  1. I don't know how many poop, pee-pee, pubie, etc gags you can take, but this movie has more than that. John Waters probably went, "Guys, too far!!"
  2. I don't know how you feel about the war on terror, but jokes about indefinite detention w/o cause but w/ torture and the Dim Son spearheading it, but they play it pretty light. It's like they made Hogan's Heroes during the war. Dudes, too soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Louder than Bombs

No, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is not a a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 Robert Montgomery/Carole Lombard screwball comedy. In the 1941 outing, very married Mr. and Mrs. S discover that their marriage was not legal and break up as a result. In the 2005 version, bored, very married Mr. and Mrs. S discover that they are both secretly government assassins and try to kill each other.

You might come to this expecting an action comedy with a marriage twist. It is actually a relationship comedy with an action twist. It shows our heroes, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, in typical (stereotypical or even sitcom-ical) relationship problems, but the twist is, they are secretly trained killers. It would be completely different if they got into typical action setups, but the twist is, they are a bored married couple.

Or would it?

Anyway, the relationship comedy would be pretty stale by itself: She wants him to get interested in window treatments, he hates her cooking but won't tell her. Their married life seems completely phony - but I guess it would. I wonder what a real social critic would make out of a premise like this? Vince Vaughan as Mr. Smith's would-be player buddy increases the fantasy for me. I don't get the whole Swingers thing.

How about the action? Around halfway through the movie ***SPOILER*** Mr. and Mrs. start trying to kill each other. It's kind of sweet actually. It's how trained killers work things out, I suppose. There are a couple of scenes where they do worry they've gone too far, but those are kind of glossed over. You are made to understand that these guys are bulletproof. When Brad knocks Angelina down and kicks her repeatedly, at least they hide it behind the sofa. They may have felt that took it a little too far.

The best parts were the little twists on domestic life - like the minivan car chase:
  • Mrs. Smith takes the wheel because, after all, she is a suburban housewife.
  • Mr. Smith hits the automatic hatchback opener to shoot out the back.
  • When a bad guy climbs in through the sidedoor, Mr. Smith opens the opposite side and throws him out through it, commenting, "These extra doors really are handy"
OK, so the jokes are kind of lame. The action scenes aren't the greatest - Angelina Jolie seems to be leaning heavily on stuntmen/women. My wife figured this out in Tomb Raider. She hardly takes 2 steps without a double standing it. Neither of us care, though. The idea of the kickass Angelina Jolie is enough.

All in all, we found this a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn movie. It's got action and Angelina for the guys, relationships and Brad for the gals. Who could complain?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


This was going to be a review of Best of Abbott & Costello: Vol. 3: Disc 4, which features Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and Lost in Alaska. But when we went to watch it, it turned out to be cracked. Which is annoying because we've had it at home for about a week, and I checked it, but not closely enough to detect the crack from rim to center.

Needless to say, this is an outrage that leaves us without a short, mindless movie to watch. "If I could only write, I'd write a letter to the mayor, if he could only read" - W. Kelly. Stronger inspection standards are called for. Quality assurance must be tightened!

Aw heck, just a movie. Anyways, it's a school night, we shouldn't be staying up late watching movies anyway.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Silencers is Golden

The Silencers is the first of the Matt Helm movies, and the only one I've seen. I'll be seeing them all soon enough.

Matt Helm is a private eye and girlie photographer, played by Dean Martin, in this 007 parody. The humor is mostly pretty flat - Take Matt's secretary, Miss Kravezit. When he finds out her first name is Lovey, he asks, "Lovey Kravezit?" She replies, "Yes." That's it. Setup, punchline, but where's the joke?

Well, who cares, when Ms. Kravezit is the lovely Beverly Adams, up to her neck in a bubble bath with Dino? Who got there from his rotating, motorized circular bed, by the way. I think that pretty much defines the genre - movies with circular, rotating beds. Let's see: Kiss Me Deadly, Diabolik, the Austin Powers movies (will someone please check, does the Man of Mystery have a rotating bed? Thanks).

There are at least 4 beautiful women here, some good, some evil, none trustworthy. Cyd Charisse is the best looking, although she has a small role, and she's dressed in a body stocking covered with tassles that look like little swinging penises - a lot for the little lady to overcome.

You also get Victor Buono (from Four for Texas) as a Chinese villain.

My take - if you love Our Man Flint, you'll at least like this. You don't need to see it to fully appreciate Austin Powers, but it helps.

Dino sings a little too much, however.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Remember Johnny

I want to say that Johnny Mnemonic is (like Wagner) better than it looks. Not sure that is true, though.

This 1995 cyberpunk extravaganza stars Keanu Reeves as the title character, a wetware courier who smuggles data in his brain. His capacity is 120 gigabytes - 240 if he uses ZipIt. This astonishing amount of data is almost 10x the capacity of common cellphones. Of course, this is in The Future - 2021.

Cyberpunk was an SF genre popularized by William Gibson featuring a punk rock attitude merged with virtual reality technology. I enjoy cyberpunk, and since Johnny Mnemonic represents a paycheck for William Gibson, I cut it some slack.

Reeves is his usual blank self here, a suit-wearing cipher who had his memories of childhood removed to fit more memory into his head. His "I want room service" monologue is one of the high points of the movie. Henry Rollins as the underground doctor, Spider, is another high point, although I wanted to see more of him - or his tats, any way.

Japanese comedian/actor/director Beat Takeshi plays a "yakooza" boss (they are like yakuza, but scarier). It's a great role, but there isn't much of it.

We saw this in the theater when it came out, and where pretty bemused - liked it, but recognized its weaknesses. Now, it is either forgotten or considered to be one of the worst movies of the 90s. Seeing it now, I judge it to be part of the 90s punk SF oeuvre - from Streets of Fire to Escape from New York to the Matrix. If this is your thing, you'll want to see this one.

I won't guarantee you'll like it...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Onward through the Fog

Night and fog are the main visual motifs of A Touch of Zen. Many scenes are set in near darkness, and those set in the daylight always have a little mist blowing through. The Hong Kong Smoke-Wafters Union must have gotten a lot of overtime on this arty little number.

Zen is considered to be a wu shia (martial arts) movie, but watch out: the first fight doesn't come until over an hour into the movie. That's the second thing you have to know before you start to watch. The first is that it is over 3 hours long.

The story is complicated and mysterious - it starts with a slightly goofy small town scholar who lives with his mother. He gets curious about strangers in town, the spooky abandoned palace, the beautiful woman who has moved in there. This section features him creeping around and gazing dumbly at mysterious goings-on. His observer gaze is major theme of the movie. This section plays like a ghost story.

In the next section, we discover that the mystery woman is a member of a family condemned to death by Eunuch Wei of the Western Chamber. Their spies are everywhere, and our scholar will try to help this woman survive and escape. This section is a movie of intrigue, and the fighting starts.

Here is a third thing you should know: There is no wire work in this movie, but the fights aren't really realistic. Director King Hu recreates the wire work style with only editing. For example, he does a "running across the tops of the bamboo" (imitated in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?). He does this by showing people running (shot from the waist up) and bamboo rustling (but not the tops of the bamboo). He does the magic kung fu leaps the same way - one shot of someone jumping, cut to that person high in the air, cut to same person landing. Is this effective? Personally, I would have preferred seeing more skilled fighters, with or without wires.

Finally, a group of monks who have been fading in and out of the action take center stage. I think they are great, with the final fight showing more than a touch of zen. But they are pretty much tacked on.

All in all, I'd have to say, this is not a film for action and fights. But it is a beautiful film of atmosphere and compostion. I was struck by the resemblance of this film to those of Hideo Gosha. That might not mean much to you - Gosha made some great samurai/yakuza movies with abundant atmosphere (night and fog) - derelict temples, rundown farmhouses, groves of bamboo, rocky gorges. The plots are complicated, the characters silent, desperate and deadly. Lots of action, but more style, part art film, part cut-em-up.

I wonder if they had any influence on each other - or if they had even heard of each other.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Year Zero Again

As summer draws to a close, we see that I have been posting to this blog for more than a year. I officially denote this first year as year zero - a year of experimentation and learning. Actually, I settled on the format pretty early - Silly title (if I could think of one), try to mention the movie title as soon as possible, one movie per post most of the time, cocktail columns when I come up with a new subject (not often, because I mostly just drink margaritas).

What have I learned, Dorothy? Writing stuff is hard - at least if I want to be coherent, concise and interesting. Which I do. Want to be, I mean.

See, that last para was mess. I thought I could do better, and promise to improve in the next year, which I will denote year zero, again.

In conclusion, I'd like to thank my readers, but I think they are both on vacation. Have fun, guys!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pop Quiz

Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has another movie quiz, presented by Doctor Smith from Lost in Space. I highly recommend reading the results, including mine (I'm about #39).

I'd also like to mention question 12: 'Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, "This is me."' My friend Schprock left a comment on my blog that answers this for him:

I remember telling my father: "If you want to understand me, go watch Billy Jack."

Best answer so far.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Whimsy done right

We were so disappointed in Arthur and the Invisibles that I wasn't sure if we should watch Stardust, based on Neil Gaiman's novel. So many of these kids' fantasies come up short of the mark. Not this one, though.

It starts in the village of Wall, in rural England a few generations ago. A young man crosses the wall that separates the village from Fairyland, to prove that there is no Fairyland on the other side. Of course, he is wrong (although it is called Stormhold). He meets a woman there and nine months later, a baby is delivered to his door. Stardust is the story of this boy.

He grows up a painfully average boy, unaware of his connection to Stormhold. But he promises the village beauty that he will bring her a fallen star, and that takes him across the wall.

The fallen star is also being sought by the princes of Stormhold, conveniently named by birth order, Primus, Secundus, through Septimus - except they've been murdering each other, so some are ghosts. The one to find the star will inherit the kingdom.

Also after the star are three witches, lead by Michelle Pfeiffer. They can restore their lost youth and magical power by ripping out the star's heart and eating it. For the star, you see, is Claire Danes.

Claire Danes has an otherworldy beauty, huge eyes and generous lips. Her cheekbones make her a worthy adversary for Michelle Pfeiffer. You can imagine the effect she has on our young hero.

And the quest is on, princes, ghosts, witches and a unicorn. And I haven't even mentioned Air Pirate Robert Deniro.

We liked it so much, we're watching another Gaiman movie - MirrorMask. But I've already reviewed that one.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Never Met a Man I Didn't Like

As Ms. Spenser says, "I never met a man I didn't like until I saw Will Rogers in Life Begins at Forty." She has a low tolerance for homepsun cornball philosophy. Me, I love it.

Life stars Will Rogers as an old cantankerous publisher of a small-town newspaper. He match-makes a cute ex-con and a schoolmarm, and so forth, but I'm not going to get into the plot. I want to talk about the character actors. Early on, we meet Sterling Holloway, a classic chinless bug-eyed yokel. But he fades away, leaving the stage for one Slim Summerville.

He plays W. T. Meriwether, a lazy hillbilly who sleeps in Rogers' newspaper office and idly whittles on the furniture. A look at IMDB shows him acting in more than a hundered movies, and directing a slew of silents. I'll keep my eye out for this character actor.

Judging by Ms. Spenser's reaction, you need a pretty high tolerance for hokum to enjoy this film. I can't say there are many real laughs, but plenty of grinning.

Also, hawg callin' plays an important part in the plot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

They Call Me 'Mr. Vampire'!

Mr. Vampire is apparently the first of the Chinese "hopping vampire" movies. If you were unaware of the hopping vampire genre, this may not mean much to you. These are based on Chinese Taoist legends where vampires ... hop ... and stuff. OK, I have no idea what these hopping vampires are about.

This movie features a Taoist priest - the guy with the salt-and-pepper mustache who usually runs the failing kung-fu school because he isn't all that good. He has two assistants, a goofy one and a handsome one. Can stereotypes be racist if they are made by Chinese for the consumption of Chinese? No? Good, so I can enjoy.

There's a lot of slapstick, some decent fights, and a lot of stuff that might make sense if I understood more about Taoist legends. Maybe not though.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kid Stuff

We got a recommendation for Arthur and the Invisibles from a friend, but not one with reliable taste (if you're reading this, sorry, but it's true). Since it was directed by Luc Besson, we figured it couldn't really miss.

Well, it could have been worse. I rank it somewhere around Labyrinth - which also featured David Bowie as the villain. A nice look, some fun parts, nothing bad, just not so great.

A 10-year old boy (cutie Freddie Highmore from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) gets shrunk to bug size to find his grandfather among the "minimoys", animated microscopic trolls. He meets a beautiful minimoy princess (modelled on Franka Potente, but voiced by Madonna with admirable restraint) and a wishnik-looking prince (voiced by the always suspect Jimmy Fallon). They set off on a quest against the evil M... Malthazar (voiced by David Bowie, who seemed be having a ball).

The animation is OK, but I didn't find Arthur and his princess as adorable as they are supposed to be. Maybe I'm just too old, the wrong demographic or something.

But Mia Farrow, as Arthur's grandmother, is way too young. She is gorgeous.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Knock, Knock, Knockin'

Many people who like I'm Not There didn't care for the Richard Gere part. We liked it fine - a little underwritten, but clearly part of the mythos. But we couldn't quite get the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid thing. So we set out to watch it.

We'd originally seen it when it first came out, and it looked a little bit different in the context of the 70's. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood were making Western movie revisionist history. Peckinpah fit right in. It is an iconoclastic, slightly surrealistic and beautiful film.

Looking at it today, it seems much stranger. The dynamic of wily old actor James Coburn as Pat Garrett v. goofball folksinger Kris Kristofferson as Billy the Kid is amusing (note that a more dignified Kristofferson narrates I'm Not There). The old Western character actors (Jack Elam, Chill Wills, Slim Pickens, etc) stand out more than they did at the time, now that they are icons rather than actors who just didn't get many parts anymore.

But I'd really like to concentrate on Dylan's part. I think he kind of hijacked the movie. Peckinpah didn't really know who he was, but Dylan played a few songs for him that left him in tears. Eventually, he was able to worm himself into a role, playing Billy's sidekick "Alias". I had remembered him as a ratfaced skulking lickspittle, which isn't quite right. He does come across as a hero-worshiper, and his specialty is knife-throwing, which is not quite manly. But he can stand beside Billy the Kid almost as an outlaw peer.

The soundtrack is remembered for "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", but most of the soundtrack is one song - a song with a simple progression and an indefinite number of verses. Somehow, I feel that Dylan is taking over the movie from Peckinpah, swinging it away from a "straight-forward" meditation on aging, the end of the frontier with the coming of civilization and violence, and towards a more mythic tale with themes that were only vaguely visible through the sunlight's glare and the gunsmoke.

But what do I know? I'm just a Dylan fan. Watch it yourself.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect

I am a bit of a Bob Dylan fan. I got it partly from my parents, who were into the folk scene - although my mother had to forbid me from listening to Bob Dylan before breakfast in high school. I have often been mistaken for a Minnesotan due to my adopted Dylan accent, and I celebrate "Talk like Bob Dylan Day" every May 24th. I read Tarantula, Positively 4th Street and Dylan's autobiography.

So, guess how much I liked I'm Not There? That's right, a lot. This is a deep, complex film with some very creative ideas, brilliantly executed. And that's putting it lightly.

The basic idea is an imaginary biography of fantasy Bob Dylan. He is played by 6 actors. The youngest is a 11-year old black hobo who calls himself Woody Guthrie. The oldest is Richard Gere in western drag in a kind of Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid/Woodstock/Basement Tapes milieu. In between we have Christian Bale as Jack Rollins, a Sing-Out-style folksinger and Heath Ledger as Robbie, a young rebel actor who plays Jack in a bio-pic. Later, we get Jack Rollins as the born-again Christian Dylan.

In the middle we have Ben Whishaw as an effete poetic Arthur Rimbaud, facing a kind of inquisition, and the best part, Cate Blanchett as Don't-Look-Back-era Dylan in England, named Jude Quinn.

I have a lot of analysis of this film, but I'll skip it for now to say - Blanchett is amazing. The film has the look of the Pennebaker documentary, and her impersonation is spot-on. I just recently realized what a pretty-boy dandy Dylan was in that period, and having him played by a woman is perfect. Sadly, she doesn't sing - Stephen Malkmus does them for her bits.

(Digression - the music is sometimes the original Dylan, sometimes covered by someone else. That surprised me. Somehow I expected all covers or all Dylan.)

Other sweet bits: Charlotte Gainsbourg as Dylan's (I mean Robbie's) French wife. Mainly drawn from Sara Lowndes, but she also imitates Suze Rotolo from the Freewheelin' album cover. Another is Julianne Moore doing a brilliant imitiation of Joan Baez. She is sitting in a nice home with Ethan Allen furniture, fiddling with a big turquoise bracelet and talking about this little twerp who wrote these amazing songs. This isn't quite something Baez would really say, but seems to get at the heart of a concept of her and her relationship to Dylan.

Which is the idea of this movie - to get at the idea of Dylan, not the reality. Dylan the dreamer and storyteller, Dylan the failed husband and missing father, the sinner repentant, and the crazy poet. All of these Dylan's are quite obnoxious, annoying really, and yet we love them or at least, find them fascinating.

That's a funny thing about this movie - it shows Dylan as a jerk, but it makes you love him. Ms. Beveridge is not a big Dylan fan, and couldn't watch Don't Look Back because Dylan was just too abrasive. But this she found fascinating. I don't know why.

Disclaimer - I am not sure this movie will be of any interest to people who don't know that Dylan dropped out of public life for a period after a motorcycle accident. For the film gives the impression that he dies in that accident, in scenes that recall the end of Lawrence of Arabia.