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!