Saturday, February 21, 2009

Greatest Spielberg Ever?

In this episode of Movies That Everybody But Me Hates, But I Like: Steven Spielberg's 1941. Previously, I've discussed movies that I thought weren't that bad (Mummy III), but I actually think 1941 is one of the best movies ever.

I'm not even sure why it is supposed to be so bad. As I understand it:
  • It cost a lot to make - most expensive movie ever made at the time. But, hey, that doesn't increase my ticket price, and believe me, when he sends a whole house sliding off a cliff, you can see every penny spent. (Sorry, I meant to say -SPOILER-.)
  • The plot was a mish-mash of semi-connected stories. Just like a thousand other movies, including Spielberg's Close Encounters.
  • It has Eddie Deezen in it. Ok, good point - no, wait, I like Eddie Deezen. He does a ventriloquist act... Ok, good point.
  • It's just a bunch of things blowing up. See, that's why I like it.
I could go on and on about why I like this movie: The quotes from Jaws and Dr. Strangelove and Duel. The awesome jitterbug dance contest fight scene with Joe Flaherty as bandleader, Toshiro Mifune as a Japanese sub commander, Belushi as a strangely inarticulate fighter pilot, Dan Akroyd, John Candy, Elisha Cook Jr! Wendy Jo Sperber as a floozy hot for Treat Williams. Robert Stack as Gen. Stillwell watching Dumbo - and you don't just wish you were watching Dumbo instead.

Instead of all that, I'll just mention that this DVD was a new cut, with about 20 additional minutes. I'm not sure they added that much. One of the scenes, the arrival of a black soldier (Frank MacRae) and the greeting he gets from racist John Candy is pretty distasteful - especially Candy's Curly Howard imitation. Overall, I think the added material adds to much slack to an already rambling story. But maybe I'm wrong. I guess I need to see the version they released in theaters - where I saw it first, in 1979, before I heard the reviews.

OK, maybe Raiders of the Lost Ark was better, but 1941 is at least the second greatest Spielberg ever.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What Part of Dr. No Don't You Understand?

In Dr. No, the first James Bond movie ever, I get that:
  • His game is baccarat
  • His name is Bond, James Bond
  • His boss is M. His boss's secretary, Moneypenny, wants him
  • He has a license to kill
  • He carries a Walther PPK (although he prefers a Beretta)
  • He drinks vodka martinis, medium dry, shaken not stirred
  • He can fight, drive and love like nobody else
  • He fights evil madmen who want to rule the world, usually from an undersea or underground lair
Dr. No sets up a lot of the iconic Bond themes, missing only Q and the gadgets. Compared to the next movie, From Russia with Love (which we will be watching as soon as Netflix gets more than 1 or 2 copies), it is a very mainstream Bond. A surprisingly complete snapshot of the mythos.

What I don't understand is why we had to wait more than half the movie to meet Ursula Andress.

Tokyo Drifters

No, not Seijun Suzuki's nihilistic gangster classic, but The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. This is the third volume of the F&F franchise, with basically no connection to the Vin Diesel original (except for a surprise cameo). Of course, that movie had no relation to the original Fast and Furious except the title (and cars, I guess), so fine, no complaints.

Bad boy Lucas Black can't stop racing, so he's sent to Tokyo to live with his dad. He falls in with a fast crowd of outcasts, yakooza and b-gals, all centered around a drift racing scene. Drifting involves taking corners at high speeds in a controlled skid.

I won't spoil the plot for you (OK, I will - our hero wins the big race), but I will let you know there's a ton of fancy driving and fast Japanese cars. If you like that, you'll like this.

Also, Street Fighter JJ Sonny Chiba plays the head Yakooza.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Curvy Bullets

You know, I liked Wanted. So sue me. What's not to like, anyway? James McAvoy is a corporate drone recruited into a secret society of assassins by Angelina Jolie. A secret society of assassisns led by Morgan Freeman!

Because his father was secretly a member, McAvoy quickly learns all the tricks of the trade - recovery from bullet wounds in a hot wax bath, shooting people from moving trains, and most importantly, shooting bullets with some body English so that they go around corners.

Ms. Spenser got annoyed because, after a brief training montage, a pasty office worker becomes a master ninja. Look, no matter how hard you train, you won't be able to make bullets curve around corners. If you can buy that, you can buy anything.

Did I mention Angelina Jolie is in it? I don't know why I love her in action roles. She can't really move that well, and her acting range goes from birch to pine. Also, in Wanted she looks painfully thin, with pipestem arms. But she is covered in bad-ass tattoos (mostly real) and has a charming fuck-you attitude. Plus, she has a way of being too good for you, but also, available - there for you.

Morgan Freeman is shockingly underused, but gets a few good lines in. Terence Stamp is barely in it, but welcome when he's around.

The best part is the action sequences and special effects. They were more than adequate for me. Conclusion: Good (if not great) action fantasy.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

South Pacific

As I said recently, we've been wanting to see McHale's Navy. As usual, the question is: "Is it as good as I remember?" We got lucky again - It is.

This 60's sit-com set in the South Pacific during WWII starred Ernest Borgnine as Cmdr Quint McHale, the renegade PT boat skipper, and a band of misfits, goldbricks and hustlers. Strait-laced Captain Binghampton (Joe Flynn) assigns by-the-book but incompetant Ensign Parker (Tim Conway) to be his second-in-command to rein him in. Unfortunately for naval discipline, McHale likes Parker's spunk, and the crew of the PT 73 take him under their wing.

Borgnine plays his role rather broadly - makes Alan Hale Jr.'s Skipper look subtle. Tim Conway goes overboard too (metaphorically - literally too, of course), but he has the comic chops for it. This is a great role for him. Joe Flynn is great as Captain Binghampton - Old Leadbottom - always fuming in a slow burn, unless he is shouting.

Carl Ballantine, our reason for being here, is as much fun as expected, always working an angle and fast-talking his way out of trouble. Billy Sands, as "Tinker" Bell hasn't had a good episode yet, but rounds out the comic ensemble well. The rest of the guys (including Gavin McLeod as Happy) seem to be around for beefcake - hunky, shrtless guys in navy caps.

So, it looks like all of the 60's TV I used to like really was that good. What do you know.


So, Mr. Mitchum, we meet again, this time in Macao.The last time we saw you with Jane Russell, it was in Mexico, was it not? And it was in Mexico that you were running with William Bendix, as well? We're a long way from Mexico now.

Josef von Sternberg is directing, in the style of The Shanghai Gesture or The Shanghai Express. And a very stylish style that is, all shady alleys, casinos, misty waterfronts and mazes of nets and wharfs. Mitchum, Russell and Bendix meet on the ferry to Macao, 2 drifters and a nylon salesman. They immediately run into the gambling king of Macao, an American gangster who will be arrested by the international police if he is ever found outside Macao territorial waters. He lusts after Russell and suspects that Mitchum is undercover police.

The plot actually makes a little sense, reportedly because Nicholas Ray took over from von Sternberg, who was a bit erratic. Ray could do von Sternberg's shadows and fog wonderfully, and he brings with him his wife, Gloria Grahame.

Now, Jane Russell does a creditable job here. I don't think much of her acting, but have no complaints here. She even does a decent job on a few songs, including "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)". However, Grahame blows her off the screen. She plays the bad guy's floozy, and does it very well. Reportedly, she hated the movie, and offered to give Ray a no-alimony divorce if he would get her out of doing it. Glad he didn't.

In conclusion, not as decadent and over-the-top as Gesture, and we haven't seen Shanghai Express yet.

Three Cheers

As I recollect, it was Dennis Cozzalio's blog that got me to watch Revenge of the Cheerleaders. Not just because it's a teen sex comedy with lots of topless- and bottomlessness.

Anyway, he's right - this is a sweet film that's a lot of fun and has a lot of topless and bottomlessness. I can't believe that it was released when I was in high school, and that I knew nothing about it. I will not dignify the "plot" with a synopsis, just let you know it involved the screwy cheerleaders of Aloha High, their stuck-up rivals, the tough kids at Lincoln Vocational, corrupt land developers, um... school board something, new principal something something, drugs in the spaghetti, oh I give up.

The titular (obligatory pun) cheerleaders spend as much time as possible naked and/or simulating sex. Their boyfriends on the basketball team are pretty inert, including David Hasselhof as "Boner" - too much sex makes them groggy, I think.

The girls aren't all that easy to tell apart, either, except:
  • One is Asian-American
  • One is African-American
  • One is pregnant
The knocked up cheerleader, played by Rainbeaux Smith, is one of the reasons this film is so well liked. She is not scorned, or fawned over, she's just another kid. That non-judgmental attitude prevails throughout - it's sweet fun to watch, although it helps if you enjoy seeing undressed cheerleaders - and David Hasselhof (without a boner, though).

But our favorite part is the beloved principal, Professor Ivory, played by Carl Ballantine - Gruber from McHale's Navy! He seems to be having a great time, although he sets his office on fire early on and doesn't get to come back until the end of the movie.

In conclusion: Best teen sexploitation film I've seen. And now we want to see McHale's Navy.

Fantasy Island

On an Island with You seems to be an innocent musical starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban and Peter Lawford, assisted by Jimmy Durante, Cyd Charisse and Xavier Cugat. But it is, in reality, much darker.

It starts in Hawaii (or Florida filmed as Hawaii). Williams, Montalban and Charisse are making a movie, called Tropic Thunder... No, wait, it's called On an Island with You. Williams and Montalban are engaged in real life, I mean in the movie, not the movie-within-the-movie (in real life, they were married), but Cyd is mooning over Ricardo. Durante is acting as AD, and providing comic relief. Into this paradise, Peter Lawford appears.

He plays a Navy lieutenant, hired as a technical advisor for the movie. He has a thing for Esther Williams, and won't take "I'm engaged" for an answer. Soon, he has kipnapped her and taken her to a desert island to have his way with her.

The movie treats this as a humorous contretemps, but Lawford's solipsistic attitude and soulless, dead eyes make it chilling for any modern viewer. As this little psychodrama progresses, Williams comes to identify with her captor, in an early case of Stockholm syndrome. Meanwhile, her intended, Ricardo, decides to make time with the lovely Cyd. Horrifying.

We chose this to honor Ricardo Montalban's recent passing (and we've seen Star Trek II often enough). He has some fine swimming scenes with Williams, and soem great dancing with Charisse. But he is really overshadowed by Durante's schtick - he seems to think it's his movie. Cugat has a few numbers, which don't do anything for me - likewise his chihuahua, Chita.

Cy Charisse has a few dances, including a South Seas Savage number during which she badly injured a knee. It wasn't worth it.

The best part was a cameo by precocious child actor Kathryn Beaumont, playing a precocious child actor.

But Peter Lawford - Brrrr. He should have had more horror roles. Deeply frightening.

On the other hand, Marie Windsor has a tiny part as Jane the script girl. She looks like Betty Page and sounds like Eve Arden. Oh Marie, always cast as the tough girl - why couldn't they have given you more comic roles?