Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Obligatory Year End Posting

The first decade of the 3rd millenium (depending on how you count) is rapidly drawing to a close. We are on holiday, staying somewhere cold with the Spenser-in-laws. We will watch a few movies, but I will not be blogging them - I don't concentrate the same way if I'm watching socially, and my readers expect me to devote my full attention to the films I discuss.

But I do want to commemorate 2009. I don't think I'll do Best Movie of the Year (which is still Bringing Up Baby, like every year). I'm not sure I saw any movies that rocked my world. I saw some good movies, and enjoyed some bad ones. I drove down to LA for the Hollywood premier of Larry Blamire's A Dark and Stormy Night at the Egyptian (Larry, release this on DVD now!). I kept my resolution to keep over 400 movies in my Netflix queue.

It was a good year for Cool Bev.

Next year, I resolve to:
  • Cut the Netflix queue down to 300. There's a lot of stuff we'll never watch, and if we decide to, we'll find them again.
  • Watch Instantly more. In fact, I can use Watch Instantly to get movies out of my main queue.
  • Rate movies more strictly in Netflix. I tend to give out 4 stars to anything I enjoy. I give 3 stars to pretty lame movies and 2 stars to bombs. From now on, a movie is going to have to be pretty good to get 4 stars, and "just OK" will be 3 stars. I hope it will improve Netflix recommendations for me when it finds out I'm not a pushover.
  • Watch more movies (at least one) in a theater. Preferably a cult movie with the director and star taking questions afterwards.
And finally, watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended version, starting next week.

For now, I'll be chilling champagne and turning on the Three Stooges marathon. Happy New Year's!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Progressive Cocktails

As a lover of cocktails, I am more of a dreamer than a doer. One of my dreams is to develop the tequila-sake martini - but the less said about that, the better.

Another is to develop a series of cocktails, with each one made by adding ingredients to the previous drink. So far, I've only invented one. It goes like this:
  • Take 4 shots (~8 oz) of good tequila - We like Don Patron Reposado
  • Pour 1 shot into a snifter. This is the first cocktail: Tequila shot
  • Pour the remaining 3 shots of tequila into a shaker of ice containing 3 oz triple sec and 3 oz fresh lime juice. Shake.
  • Pour 4 oz into a salt rimmed glass. That's the second cocktail: Margarita
  • Add the remaining 2 margaritas (8 oz) to 6-8 frozen mango juice ice cubes in a blender. Blend.
  • Pour half into a highball glass rimmed with Baby Lucas sweet-and-sour mango candy powder (sounds exotic, but pretty common in our neck of the woods). That's the third cocktail: Frozen Mango Margarita
  • Finally, pour the last eight oz of frozen mango margarita into a large champagne flute and top with sparkling wine: Mango Margarita Sparkler
I'm sorry to say that I've never attempted this cocktail odyssey. I have tried each and every step and can vouch for their flavor and effectiveness. Maybe for New Year's.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kentucky Fried Amazons

Amazon Women on the Moon is not actually a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie. It came 10 years later (1987), but it was only partly directed by John Landis, who directed KFM. Parts were directed by Joe Dante and others. And of course, the Zuckers (Police Squad, Airplane) whose writing was so much a part of KFM are not on AWotM. So what remains the same?

It is basically a loose series of sketches organized around a late-night movie. There are commercials, other shows, and just random bits. Some are hilarious, some just silly, none as great as they could be, all of them pretty funny. One of my favorite gags was in the opening credits: "Starring: A Lot of Actors".

It's true: We recognized Arsenio Hall, Steve Guttenberg, Rosanna Arquette, Carrie Fisher and a few others. B.B. King, Harry Silva, Steve Allen, Henny Youngman, Slappy White, Rip Taylor and a bunch of others played themselves. We didn't recognize Paul Bartel, Ed Begley, Jr., Sybil Danning, Griffin Dunne, Joe "Joey Pants" Pantoliano, and many more. Neither did we catch the cameos by Forrest Ackerman, Ralph Bellamy, Russ Meyer or Phil Procter. And many more.

So, watch it for the jokes, for the stars or the gratuitous nudity. If you loved Kentucky Fried Movie, you'll probably like this.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holidays in Hollywood

Like Scrooge and the Grinch, we hold nothing in our hearts but disdain for Christmas. However, we do like to watch some holiday classics - not How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol. However, we did like Christmas in Connecticut.

CiC stars Barbara Stanwyck as a Martha-Stewart-like writer of a homemaking column. She writes about the fine meals she cooks for her husband and baby on their Connecticut farm. In reality, she lives in a small Manhattan apartment and doesn't know how to cook. She gets all of her recipes from a Hungarian restauranteur, played by S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall.

But her publisher, Sidney Greenstreet, decides that she should invite a sailor to her Connecticut farm for Christmas dinner, and won't take no for an answer. She only knows one person with a farm in Connecticut - a nice but boring architect who has been trying for years to marry her. So, feeling she has no choice, she agrees to marry him if he will go along with the gag.

Of course, when Greenstreet shows up at the farm with the sailor, she falls instantly in love with him, and he with her. Can she avoid marrying the man who is supposed to be her husband, avoid revealing that she can't cook, and still get her sailor? And what about the baby?

I'm afraid that the sailor, played by Dennis Morgan, is rather a stiff. The supposedly boring suitor (Reginald Gardiner) actually seems quite nice - although older, maybe that's the dealbreaker.

The real joys, outside of Stanwyck's glorious presence, are the two fat men, Sakall and Greenstreet. Sakall hams it up, muttering in Hungarian if everything isn't "hunky-dunky". Greenstreet plays a broad, blustery, larger-than-life sort himself. And as a lagniappe, we have Una O'Connor, as the farm's cook and caretaker. Her patented skinny old Irish biddy plays well against Cuddles' Hungarian. I was hoping for romance between them, but no such luck.

In conclusion - favorite holiday movies? Least favorite? We also like The Bishop's Wife (Cary Grant) and Lady in the Lake - Robert Montgomery's Philip Marlowe movie that takes place over Christmas. I should like It's a Wonderful Life, being a fan of Capra, but George Bailey is such a wimpy martyr, it just makes me mad.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In the Name of Heaven!

We knew In the Name of the King was going to be bad. Everybody knows it is bad - It's directed by Uwe Boll, famously bad director. But how bad could it be?

The movie takes place in a mythical time of swords and sorcery, and picturesque scenery from the Pacific Northwest. Jason Statham is "Farmer", a stoical farmer with a lovely wife, a young son and an annoying neighbor (Ron Perlman). When bands of marauding Krugs kill his son and kidnap his wife, he sets off to rescue her.

Meanwhile, an evil wizard (Ray Liotta) is plotting against the the king (Burt Lancaster), his good wizard (John Rhys-Davies), while macking on good wizard's daughter (Leelee Sobiewski). Just roll that cast around in your head for a moment - a Goodfella, the Bandit, Gimli and Joan of Arc, all in one bad movie. Ray Liotta in particular looks like he is William Shatner playing the lead role in The Liberace Story.

So, big name actors, terrible acting. How about the action and special effects? The action scenes aren't bad, just a little muddled - especially when the ninja show up, do some stunts and have basically no effect on the battle. The scenery is gorgeous - I just found out this is called Scenery Porn. Some of the cinematography is quite nice, usually involving the scenery.

So, how bad was it? In my humble opinion, not as bad as you might think. The direction and writing are inept, but the production values give it an attractive sheen. I'd put it down around Eragon - Eragon had more soul, but ItNotK had better production values. So, it would be a contender the most expensive bad movie or the worst expensive movie.

But neither one could be said to be good. If you want to watch them, don't say you weren't warned.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thanks-mas Year Quiz

I was out of town around Thanksgiving when Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule hosted their movie quiz, hosted byRussell Johnson - the Professor of Gilligan's Island. So I was pretty late with my answers. Still, I wasn't the last one.

Instead of just linking, I thought I'd post the whole thing here - mainly to fix some answers I messed up.

1) Second-favorite Coen Brothers movie.
"The Cooler" - technically not a Coen Bros. movie, so it fits.

2) Movie seen only on home format that you would pay to see on the biggest movie screen possible? (Question submitted by Peter Nellhaus)
Possibly nothing. We pretty much hate movie theaters.

3) Japan or France? (Question submitted by Bob Westal)
It's not just Kurosawa and Ozu vs. Truffaut and Godard, but for total corpus, I vote Japan. The breadth and width of the samurai movie genre alone guarantees it.

4) Favorite moment/line from a western.
"Never apologize. It's a sign of weakness." Or the opening barfight from Destry Rides Again (almost any moment from that movie).

5) Of all the arts the movies draw upon to become what they are, which is the most important, or the one you value most?
I'm going with visual composition - the look of a frame. The most basic.

6) Most misunderstood movie of the 2000s (The Naughties?).
Wish I could say Speed Racer, but I guess I agree with conventional wisdom - it was flashy fluff with no deeper meaning. I got nothing.

7) Name a filmmaker/actor/actress/film you once unashamedly loved who has fallen furthest in your esteem.
Woody Allen. I can't tell if his quality has fallen off or if the skeevieness of his private life has put me off.

8) Herbert Lom or Patrick Magee?
Herbert Lom - unless you mean Patrick MacNee?

9) Which is your least favorite David Lynch film (Submitted by Tony Dayoub)
Gee, it turns out I've never seen anything but the "Twin Peaks" TV series and "Dune". So, I guess Dune. But I kind of like Dune.

10) Gordon Willis or Conrad Hall? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)

11) Second favorite Don Siegel movie.
Dirty Harry - Favorite is The Big Steal.

12) Last movie you saw on DVD/Blu-ray? In theaters?
DVD: Star Trek: The Reboot. In theater - same as last time: the Hollywood premier of Larry Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1245091/. RELEASE THIS MOVIE ON DVD! So I can buy it.

13) Which DVD in your private collection screams hardest to be replaced by a Blu-ray? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)
We don't have Blu-ray, so it's a moot point. We've got lots of VHS tapes that aren't released on DVD still - how about Hot Shorts, Firesign Theater's What's-Up-Tiger-Lily-ization of a bunch of Republic serials.

14) Eddie Deezen or Christopher Mintz-Plasse?
McLovin. But really, anyone who isn't Eddie Deezen. (OK, I liked him with Rainbeaux Smith in Laserblast).

15) Actor/actress who you feel automatically elevates whatever project they are in, or whom you would watch in virtually anything.
It's funny, I like everything I've seen Brendan Fraser in. Even if it is really a turkey, his niceness seems to make it all OK. Yes, that includes George of the Jungle.

16) Fight Club -- yes or no?
Heck, no. Only happy movies for me.

17) Teresa Wright or Olivia De Havilland? I've heard of De Havilland, so...

18) Favorite moment/line from a film noir. "I'll have few bad nights, but I'll get over it."

19) Best (or worst) death scene involving an obvious dummy substituting for a human or any other unsuccessful special effect(s)—see the wonderful blog Destructible Man for inspiration. The decapitation at the end of The Omen (is that the right movie?) is so obviously a process shot that it is shocking and funny.

20) What's the least you've spent on a film and still regretted it? (Submitted by Lucas McNelly) I was an usher at the opening of What's Up Doc?. Free and not worth it.

21) Van Johnson or Van Heflin?
Van Helfin for now. We just saw Act of Violence w/ him and Robert Ryan.

23) Name a documentary that you believe more people should see. This is Spinal Tap.

24) In deference to this quiz’s professor, name a favorite film which revolves around someone becoming stranded.
I was trying to decide between Swept Away, We're Not Dressing, Admirable Crichton and all that ilk. Then my wife said: Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

25) Is there a moment when your knowledge of film, or lack thereof, caused you an unusual degree of embarrassment and/or humiliation? If so, please share. One time, I tried to hold my own in a film discussion with Time film critic Jay Cocks.

26) Ann Sheridan or Geraldine Fitzgerald? (Submitted by Larry Aydlette) Ann Sheridan - she wasn't in "Arthur".

27) Do you or any of your family members physically resemble movie actors or other notable figures in the film world? If so, who? My brother looks like Tom Selleck. It's the moustache

28) Is there a movie you have purposely avoided seeing? If so, why? Yes - thousands. All depressing, gross or horrible movies, plus all sticky, sentimental trite and tacky movies. It's a wonder we can watch anything.

29) Movie with the most palpable or otherwise effective wintry atmosphere or ambience. Pathfinder - filmed in Lapland in Saami, the Lap language. Haven't seen the remake w/ Vikings and Indians.

30) Gerrit Graham or Jeffrey Jones?
Jeffery Jones: "Too many notes, your majesty". Also, Mom and Dad Save the World.

31) The best cinematic antidote to a cultural stereotype (sexual, political, regional, whatever). Orlando Jones in Drumline, who counteracts the stereotype that black musicians are cool.

32) Second favorite John Wayne movie. Rio Bravo - Favorite is El Dorado.

33) Favorite movie car chase.
We tried, but we couldn't beat Bullit.

34) In the spirit of His Girl Friday, propose a gender-switched remake of a classic or not-so-classic film. (Submitted by Patrick Robbins) Put Michelle Rodriquez in the Vin Diesel role of The Fast and The Furious (any version) - or even in the John Ireland role from the original 1954 version.

35) Barbara Rhoades or Barbara Feldon?
Agent 99.

36) Favorite Andre De Toth movie.

37) If you could take one filmmaker's entire body of work and erase it from all time and memory, as if it had never happened, whose oeuvre would it be? (Submitted by Tom Sutpen) Dino De Laurentiis.

38) Name a film you actively hated when you first encountered it, only to see it again later in life and fall in love with it.
We weren't at all impressed by Mel Brook's History of the World Pt. I, but have grown to love it for the catchphrases "Count DeMONET!", "It's good to be da king", the Inquisition number, etc.

39) Max Ophuls or Marcel Ophuls? (Submitted by Tom Sutpen)
Oh, Max, every time.

40) In which club would you most want an active membership, the Delta Tau Chi fraternity, the Cutters or the Warriors? And which member would you most resemble, either physically or in personality?
We saw Animal House at college and felt that OUR house was really fun and goofy, not lame like those Delta Tau Chi guys. I lived with Major Tom, D.W.I Griffith, the Fat Rogue, Dapper Disco Dan, Porkchop, but best of all, Bolo. They had Bluto, but we had Bolo (if you're reading this Bolo, you rock!).

41) Your favorite movie cliché.
The woman warrior in action flicks.

42) Vincente Minnelli or Stanley Donen? (Submitted by Bob Westal)
Stanley Donen - we love his style. Whereas Minelli is vulgar, garish and sentimental. The only Minelli I will accept is The Pirate.

43) Favorite Christmas-themed horror movie or sequence. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians - horrible enough for me.

44) Favorite moment of self- or selfless sacrifice in a movie. I actually don't know what movie this is from - saw just a few scenes in a bar. American soldiers or mercenaries invade an Asian village. An elder pulls out a machete and chops off his own hand, and cauterizes the wound in a fire. The children grab the soldier's gun barrels and press them to their own heads.

Basically, the villagers showed no fear of dying or pain, totally throwing the bad guys off until the good guys showed up. If you know the name of this, let me know - maybe starring Dolph Lundgren? (Late update: Possibly Men of War?)

45) If you were the cinematic Spanish Inquisition, which movie cult (or cult movie) would you decimate? (Submitted by Bob Westal)
I'll go with the torture porn horror genre. Actually, it's existence doesn't bother me so much, but since I have the power...

46) Caroline Munro or Veronica Carlson?

47) Favorite eye-patch wearing director. (Submitted by Patty Cozzalio)

48) Favorite ambiguous movie ending. (Original somewhat ambiguous submission---“Something about ambiguous movie endings!”-- by Jim Emerson, who may have some inspiration of his own to offer you.)
"The End. Or IS IT?!?!"

49) In giving thanks for the movies this year, what are you most thankful for?
Netflix. I swear, it's my life.

50) George Kennedy or Alan North? (Submitted by Peet Gelderblom)
Can I write in Harrison Page, Capt. Trunk from "Sledge Hammer"?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

French Spies

Back in the 60s, the French made a series of James Bond ripoff movies known as OSS 117. This series has been revived in OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.

Jean Dujardin plays Hubert Bonissuer de la Bath, secret agent OSS 117. The year is 1955 and Hubert's WWII comrade Jack Jefferson has gone missing while investigating arms shipments in Cairo. Ah, Jack, Hubert remembers how they used to play on the beach, roll together in the surf, throw their heads back and laugh...

Where was I? Oh yes, Cairo. OSS 117 is sent to find out what is happening. He discovers that it is a nest of spies: Russian, English, American, and most dangerous of all, Belgian. He has a beautiful female assistant who is somehow insulted when Hubert tells her the Islam is a stupid religion that people will get tired of soon enough. He is mainly concerned about getting to try out his new tuxedo. He punches out the muezzin so he can get some sleep.

De la Bath bumbles through the film like Inspector Clousseau, incredibly inept but coming out on top every time (and getting the girl). Dujardin does a brilliant job, channeling Jean-Paul Belmondo (who starred in a lot of these 60s/70s Bond knockoffs) and Sean Connery, by way of Don Adams and Steve Carrell. He would make this movie worthwhile even if it had been a lot weaker. But it was actually very funny.

So, we now want to watch some Belmondo and, finally, the Steve Carrell Get Smart. One question: when will the sequel, OSS 117: Lost in Rio, be available?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Fast and Furious

We have now seen the first Vin Diesel-era F&F: The Fast and the Furious. It turns out that Fast and Furious is simply the sequel to this. That would make it much simpler, if we cared about the plot of these things at all.

Paul Walker is a cute guy who is macking on Vin Diesel's sister, trying to get into Diesel's street racing gang, and, ultimately, spying on him for the LAPD/FBI. Vin is a tough, taciturn racer with a hot girlfriend (Michelle Rodriguez!), a loyal team of mechanics and rough necks and the respect of friends and enemies on the street racing circuit.

The "plot" is about Walker's romance with Vin's sister, his self-doubts about betraying his outlaw friends, Vin's nihilist racing philosophy ("One quarter-mile at a time"), some Asian gangsters, etc. But the real action is the racing.

Most of the racing takes place on the streets of LA - Culver City, El Segunda, Long Beach. It's pretty thrilling, not a lot of special effects faking. The edge always goes to the guy who uses nitrous - are NOS systems really so popular in street racing?

I guess I liked the sequel better, but this is a solid F&F movie. And now we've seen them all except 2 Fast 2 Furious. Coming soon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sung the Praises

This one was for Mrs. Spenser: Forbidden Warrior. An American-made kung-fu costumer, it had one attraction - Sung Kang, the Korean actor who played Han in F&F: Tokyo Drift (and the beginning of Fast and Furious). She thinks he's cute and who am I to argue?

Forbidden Warrior is set in an ancient land (Griffith Park, Bronson Canyon and similar locations) with warlords, monks and pirates, about 75% Asian ancestry, 25% whatever. An ancient prophecy foretold the birth of a boy who could read the book of magic called "Gaia Za" - yeah, right. Anyway, turns out it's a girl (Mari Matiko), who is raised by a mystical monk, while the warlord's two sons try to kill her. One is evil (Ron Yuan) and the other is good (Sung Kang). Guess which one the girl falls for?

Really, the movie isn't that bad. Sung Kang gets a bunch of comic relief followers - Mouse, a hunchbacked bucktoothed traitor, Jibberish, Jon-Lovitz-looking guy who speaks great wisdom that nobody can understand, except Tall-Tall, a giant idiot who can translate for Jibberish. Not bad comic relief, in other words. Likewise, there's some good scenery to chew, a story that is no more pointless than most martial arts films, decent costumes, etc. If the action scenes were better, this wouldn't be half-bad.

The action scenes are not good. I'm sorry, Ron Yuan - you did a fine job as the bad guy, but as fight director, you were mediocre at best. By the way, we loved you as David Park in Fast & Furious.

So, not a bad film overall. It would have been good with better action scenes. But that's true of about any movie you could name. Put about 30 minutes of Jet Li or Jackie Chan action into Titanic, say, and I'd watch it.

Oh well, Sung Kang is coming up in Ninja Assassin, with Korean pretty boy popstar Rain. Mrs. Spenser should be pleased.

Vitamin Q

The quince is not a familiar fruit to most people. We've heard of it possibly or maybe eaten it in the form of membrillo, quince paste, with cheese. But rarely do we encounter the fruit in the wild. So, when I saw some at the farmer's market, I bought a few for a pie.

They look like big, lumpy, ugly yellow pears with a kind of fuzz on their skin. But they smell like hyper-apples (with a hint a pineapple in this variety). You can't eat them raw - you have to peel, core, slice poach them for about 30-60 minutes. At that point, they turn pink and the poaching water turns sweet and quincy.

I'll skip what I did with the quinces (quince-apple pie). The recipe I was reading suggested using the pink poaching juice for quince-mopolitans:

1 oz lime juice
1 oz triple sec
2 oz quince juice from poaching quinces
2 oz. vodka

Shake over ice and strain into martini glass

We liked these all right, but the quince flavor was a little mild, so I decided to cook the juice down to syrup, from a pint to about 4 oz. I mixed up a few, and Mrs. Spenser drank hers down, pronouncing it an improvement. I started tidying up, and when I got back to mine, the syrup had set up like jelly - quinces are full of pectin. It wasn't a full blown Jello shot, but it didn't exactly pour, either.

Interesting effect, but it'll never catch on. The pie came out well, though.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To Boldly Go and Reboot

First of all, we are not Trekkies. We are Trekkers. Second, we are very traditional - Original Series only. Third, the new Star Trek may be the best movie ever.

It starts with the birth of James T. Kirk, and the death of his father, a starship captain killed in by a mysterious Romulan ship. As a result, young Kirk grew up a troubled lad in Iowa, near the starship factory. He spots Uhura in a spacer cantina, gets in a fight and is recruited by Commander Pike, a friend of his dad's. Soon he is getting into trouble at Starfleet Academy, dogging Uhura, befriending a medical cadet called Bones McCoy, and being hazed by a half-Vulcan instructor named Spock.

Naturally, a terrible emergency has them all shipping out before graduation on the new NCC-1701, the Enterprise, under Cmdr. Pike, with Ensigns Sulu and Chekov. Saving the best for last, they come upon an irascible Scotsman on a mining station and draft him as engineer.

I'll leave out who else they run across. I was going to go all spoiler here, but I think I'll skip all that. I'll just say that they have a great excuse for anything that doesn't match the "bible" - the sum of all existing backstory. This could be the ultimate sacrilege. But it works!

The reason it works, in my opinion, is that they got the characters right. Kirk is an swaggering braggart who can back it all up with brains, skill and his fists. Bones is a cranky young country doctor, who thinks he's going to like Spock as soon as he meets him. Sulu gets to a swordfight. Chekov has almost no lines, and they are spoken in an accent the computer can barely understand.

Spock may be best of all. A Vulcan, he is ruled by logic and takes no heed of emotion. But he is also half human. My only objection is that Zachary Quinto looks a little goofy, with the bowl cut and funny eyebrows. But he also really gets into Spock's skin.

I didn't recognize many actors - they seem to come mostly from recent TV series. Simon Pegg as Scotty is a hoot, I wish we had seen more of him. John Cho's (Harold and Kumar's Harold) Sulu is played with a delicate touch. Sulu has always been a character that's a little deeper than he seemed and Cho got that across. But really, everybody was great. Eric Bana as the Romulan bad guy had maybe a weaker role than the good guys, but that's my biggest complaint.

So how does it compare to the rest of the movies? Look, when the Original Series movies were made, the actors were getting on. The movies had to accept them as aging, going through changes. The new Star Trek gives them their youth back and lets you see them in a new way, while acknowledging and honoring the myth.

And I saved the best for last - SPOILER - Leonard Nimoy.

Race Movie

Continuing our festival of remade low-budget car movies, we bring you: Death Race. Not Death Race 2000, Paul Bartels' directorial debut, produced by Roger Corman in 1975 (gee, did I really see that on a double-bill with Rollerball?). This is the 2008 movie starring Jason Statham, co-produced by Roger Corman.

It's 2012, and the economy is based almost entirely on prisons, just like today. But the twist is, they hold races on Prison Island, and if you can win 5 races, you go free. The pay-per-view audience supports the entire economy. By the way, the cars are heavily armed, and the drivers would just as rather kill the competition then beat them by speed.

Jason Statham is unjustly imprisoned when his ... Wait - am I seriously going to discuss the plot? Let's just say that the prison is hellish, the warden (Joan Allen) is evil and hot, and the race scenes are the whole point.

And what scenes they are. Statham drives an up-armored Mustang with machine guns, oilslick, smokescreen and napalm. His opponents are stone killers. The warden wants viewers, but seems to want Statham dead more. There are many crashes and explosions, some fairly creative.

I don't think the races were quite as good as the Fast and Furious or Transporter franchise, but they fit the requirements. Enjoy.

Next week, The Fast and the Furious, 2001.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grandmaster! Cut Faster!

After enjoying Krush Groove a while ago, we decided to queue up Wild Style.This is from a slightly earlier period in hip-hop history (1983). It concentrates on tagging instead of rapping, but you still get low/no production values counteracted by letting entertainers play themselves.

Notorious graffiti writer Lee Quinones plays Zoro, a notorious graffiti writer. His (ex) girlfriend Rose is played by writer Pinky Fabara. She wants to integrate graffiti into the mainstream, hanging with the Union, doing wall pieces for money. Fab Five Freddy plays Phade, a hip-hop promoter who wants Zoro to go legit, make some money, at least give an interview to the reporter who is coming by. The reporter is played by Patti Astor, as a kind of low-rent Debbie Harry. She's reputedly an actress, but just as wooden as the rest of the crew of acting amateurs/hip-hop professionals.

Throughout we get real oldskool rapping from Cold Crush Brothers, Double Trouble, Fantastic Freaks, etc, as well as cutting by Grandmaster Flash, DJ AJ, etc and breakdancing by the Rock Steady Crew, etc. Also, soundtrack by Chris Stein of Blondie, and some Blondie in the background. Plus much, much more! It all ends up with a big concert.

So - not really a documentary, but close enough. Let's call it a fictionalized biography. Whatever you call it, if you like oldskool - watch it. After all, "Fab Five Freddy told us everything's fly"!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Discworld Holiday

As soon as Thanksgiving was over, we felt entitled to a Christmas movie: Terry Pratchett's Discworld movie Hogfather. As I explained in my review of The Colour of Magic, Discworld is a flat planet, carried through space on the back of a giant turtle, where magic works. And every midwinter, on Hogwatch Night, the people of Discworld wait for the Hogfather to come and bring toys to all the boys and girls.

But this year, someone has taken out a contract on the Hogfather with the Guild of Assassins. The guild has assigned a young Mr. Teatime (pronounced Tay-a-ti-may) to the job. A chubby faced Michael J. Pollard type, who seems nice enough, except to his black glass eye and all-white natural one. He immediately sets out to get the Tooth Fairy under his control and sets the process going.

Since the Hogfather seems to be missing on the night, someone has to take his place - so this year Death will be delivering the presents. And his granddaughter, Susan, has to find out what is going on.

This disc contains 2 90-minute made-for-Sky-TV episodes, so there's lots of Discworld for your money. Watch for Tony "Baldrick" Robinson in a small part.

Pie in the Sky

To prepare for a trip to Japan, I watched Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky. I've been happily working my way through his collected works for a while now. This entry is solid, but not outstanding.

It takes place in a world where earthbound villagers work in mines for ever-decreasing returns, while high above fly cruiseships, zepplins, dirigible destroyers and air pirates. These pirates attack an airliner and a mysterious girl escapes overboard. Her mysterious pendant slows her descent, and she hovers to a stop next to a young boy.

This boy, Pazu, is a classic Japanese kid - full of spunk and hustle, omnicompetent, he seems to run the mining village he lives in. He longs to follow in the footsteps of his air-explorer father and discover the floating city of Laputa. Of course, mysterious girl Sheeta's pendant consists of phlebotinum, which is linked to just that floating city. So, chased by the fascistic government troops, the plucky kids join up with the air pirates to search for their destiny.

The best part of this was (some of) the artwork. It has a lovely handshaded Moebius style, all rounded edges and sparse crosshatching. The scenes are inventive, especially Laputa, the eponymous castle. But I don't think it ever takes off into the kind of transcendence we see in Nausicaa or even Porco Rosso (although the air pirates with more issues and hearts of gold are pretty similar in the latter).

Also, although our young lad is spunky (perhaps too spunky), the princess is a bit passive. She might be more lovable to a Japanese audience. The Magic Necklace plot device doesn't stand up to even cursory examination, but that shouldn't be an issue.

In conclusion, a good Miyake, perhaps not a great Miyazake.