Thursday, April 29, 2010

It Might Get Streamed

So, as I mentioned earlier, while Ms. Spenser was out re-watching a chick flick, I Watched Instantly the guitar documentary It Might Get Loud. It features Jimmy Page, U2's The Edge, and Jack White, talking separately and together about guitars, rock and loudness.

The conceit is something like this: Brash young Mr. White likes a raw sound - he can play on a guitar made out of a piece of scrap wood, some wire, nails and a coke bottle. Mr. Edge is a sound technician - he layers effects so that a single power chord sounds like a symphony. Mr. Page is just an ordinary rock god.

That worked pretty much. Unfortunately, Jack White dresses like a Johnny Depp-from-Benny-and-Joon impersonator and spouts pretentious trash talk that he can't back up. The Edge (can I call you "The"?) is articulate, but I'm not all that interested in his style of playing. Jimmy Page's sections were the most interesting to me, talking about his days as a teenage session player before he joined Zep. There just wasn't enough of it.

These three jam together a bit, which can be quite nice or a little funny. The Edge has a little trouble joining in on some slide blues, and Jimmy Page protests that he can't sing when they are doing "The Weight". All in all, I would have rather heard a lot more playing and a lot less talking.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Walking on the Ceiling

I queued up Room Service/At the Circus for one reason and one reason alone: To see Groucho walking on the ceiling with Eve Arden.

I skipped Room Service (we own it), and went straight to At the Circus. Rich boy Kenny Baker (a tenor from Jack Benny's old radio show) runs a circus that needs money. Chico and Harpo work for the circus, so they call shyster Groucho. The bad guys include a midget (Jerry Maren), a strong man (Nat Pendleton, the dopey cop in the Thin Man movies) and aerialist Eve Arden.

In the end, the guys put on a circus for Margaret Dumont, Baker's rich aunt, and everything is settled happily.

  • The songs are worse than usual (with exceptions)
  • Even Chico and Harpo's numbers were weak. Harpo's "Swingali", with a crowd of colored folk may be worse than "Who Dat Man?"
  • The movie forgets about the bad guys in the fourth act - I wanted more Eve Arden!
On the other hand:
  • Groucho sings "Lydia the Tattooed Lady", one of his best songs.
  • Harpo plays "Blue Moon" on the harp and really swings it
  • Eve Arden and Groucho really do walk on the ceiling, using suction cup boots, not trick photography. They even do a little rhumba
In the end, it's a Marx Bros. movie and that's enough.

In conclusion, the leader of the colored crowd gathered around Harpo was Dudley Dickerson. I'm sure you know him from the Three Stooges' A Plumbing We Will Go. He's the cook whose kitchen goes crazy when Curly starts working on the plumbing. He was in more than 100 movies, mostly as a bootblack, porter or cook. His role in At the Circus might have been weak, but at least he got to do more than bug his eyes and go "Yassa!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Last Fast

It occurs to me that I have not reviewed 2 Fast 2 Furious. Unfortunately, I don't remember much about it. Paul Walker is in it again, with Ludacris as a partner and Eva Mendes as romantic interest (good choice). Devon Aoki is in it too, later to appear in D.O.A: Dead or Alive.

It takes place in Miami, so you know they will be jumping drawbridges and driving cars onto yachts. It's fast and furious, so you know there will be street racing with lots of Japanese v. American muscle, nitrous for speed, and not a lot of realism.

The soundtrack could have been better, with Ludacris on board and a Miami location.

Any way, this is the last F&F franchise movie we hadn't seen. Now we've seen them all, until they make another one. We'll watch that one too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tremors: The Adventure Continues!

We got another cracked DVD. I've got to remember to check them when I get them. So, we went fishing around for something to Watch Instantly. We came up with Tremors 2: Aftershocks.

We enjoyed Tremors a lot - the story of a small town terrorized by underground monsters, and the terrible burden of what to call them. You know, when you go to sell the story to the movies. Fighting the "grabazoids" were the dynamic team of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, along with gun-nut couple Michael Gross and Reba McIntire.

Obviously, Bacon and McIntire won't be back for the sequels. But Fred Ward was convinced by a young hotshot (Christopher Gartin) to head down to Mexico to catch grabazoids for bounty.

Now, I'm not a big Fred Ward fan, but I kind of admire his work in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. That adventure never continued, so I think it's nice that he gets to be in a sequel. Michael Gross also shows up as the lovable gun-nut Bert Gummer. He's a great character, comically paranoid and lethally effective.

I can't say this is as good as the original, but it was definitely worth streaming. We'll be watching at least the Tremors III and maybe IV.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ninja Please!

The moment we have been waiting for has arrived! Ninja Assassin is available on Netflix. We timed our returns so that they would be picking the next item from the queue just as it was released.

Ninja Assassin starts with Sung Kang (from Tokyo Drift and Forbidden Warrior) getting a tattoo with his gang. This is my wife's favorite part - she has a big crush on SK. After a cryptic warning, a blade flashes out of the shadows, and someone dies. To give you some idea of the level of violence we're talking about, the top half of his head is sliced off, to lie on the floor looking around like "what the - ?"

I won't tell you what happens to Sung Kang, but Mrs. Spenser almost gave up on the movie then.

Ninja Assassin is what we call a chick flick at chez Spenser. Muscular men doing muscular things, dressed to show off their muscles. In fact, she was out last night watching her private blu-ray disk of this with some buddies, while I stayed home and watched a serious documentary (It Might Get Loud, review to come).

The real star of the show, Korean popstar Rain, certainly fills the eye candy role. Amazingly, he has no martial arts training - he learned his moves choreography style in about six months. Of course, the computer animation helps. He just has to jump around; his animated weapons are bound to find their mark.

Playing opposite him are the law enforcement agencies slowly realizing that ninja assassins are afoot - then dying horribly when they get too close to the truth. The last one standing is played by Naomie Harris, who I know as the voodoo priestess in Pirates of the Caribbean. Interestingly, she is not playing a totally hot babe, but a researcher whose only martial arts skills are one Tae Bo class. But that's why this is a chick flick.

In conclusion, this movie is awesome. But it is very bloody. Severed-head-and-body-parts-in-a-front-loader-washing-machine-full-of-blood bloody. You've been warned.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Night and the Museum

Night at the Museum 2, as you might guess, has a lot in common with Night at the Museum. Ben Stiller is no longer a loser/slacker/night watchman. He is now the CEO of a company that makes quirky novelties. But when he finds out that the animated exhibits that he befriended are being loaned to the Smithsonian, along with the Egyptian tablet that animates them, he heads to the Capital.

Tiny cowboy Owen Wilson and his centurion buddy Steve Coogan are back, as well as many others, including the capuchin monkey. Stiller has a new buddy, Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams), who doesn't do much but wear super-tight slacks and say old-fashioned things like "Criminy!" and "you've got moxie, kid!" I know she's supposed to be annoying, but that doesn't make her less annoying. Ricky Gervais is back as the director of the Natural History Museum, and Jonah Hill does his Jonah Hill impression as a security guard.

Aside from the whole plot, Stiller's character arc isn't from quitter/loser to self-made man. This time it is from workaholic exec to caring friend and father. The moral is not too heavy handed.

I'm not sure this was as fun as the first, but maybe I'm missing the magic of first discovering the museum come alive. Any way, pretty funny and worth watching if you liked the first one, or if you just like museums.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Mrs. Spenser is on a bit of a Korean kick, hence The Warrior. It is the story of a Korean ambassador to Ming China, who is expelled with his guards when relations between China and Korea go sour. Somewhere in the deserts of western China, the band is attacked by Mongols. The Mongols let kill the Ming escort, but have no quarrel with the Koreans. The Koreans notice that the Mongols have captured a Ming princess (Ziyi Zhang), and decide to rescue her, to win back the favor of the Chinese.

The ambassador dies quickly, leaving three factions in the Korean group: the general, now down to a handful of men, feeling somewhat in disgrace; the sergeant, a weatherbeaten grizzled veteran, loyal to his men, his nation and his general, in that order; and the ambassador's freed personal slave, a man of strength and honor, even if he is scorned by his countrymen.

This is a beautiful military costume drama, with great battles and individual fights. It is also an interesting personality study - the personality of fighting men. They are fighting for honor and for the beautiful princess (Zhang seems to have cornered the market on princess roles). They may have no hope of succeeding or even living out the battle, but they continue.

If I may be obscure for a moment, this movie reminded me of the works of fantasy/sf writer Glen Cook. He is noted for the realism of the grunts and mercs that he portrays in his epic fantasies like the Black Company series. Since very few of you have read Cook (or seen The Warrior, either), I guess that doesn't tell you much.

Maybe it would be better to compare The Warrior to Kar Wai Wong's Ashes Of Time Redux - the same grand scope and personal detail.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Movie Quiz!

Yes, it's that time again! Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule hosts a film quiz. This time, I'll post my answers on my own blog.

1) William Demarest or Broderick Crawford?
"Definitely the same dame," and definitely Demarest.

2) What movies improve when seen in a state of altered consciousness? (Patrick Robbins)
All of them. Fantasia comes to mind.

3) Favorite studio or production company logo?
The Universal Pictures planet with aeroplane - or maybe the RCA planet with the huge radio tower. Any logo with a planet, I guess.

4) Celeste Holm or Joan Blondell?
Joan Blondell, if only for Topper Returns.

5) What is the most overrated "classic" film? (Tony Dayoub)
I suppose that Magnificent Ambersons is a safe choice.

6) What movie do you know for sure you saw, but have no memory of seeing? (Patricia Yokoe Cozzalio)
I had the opposite experience with Hideo Gosha's Goyokin - As soon as I saw the credits, I remembered the whole movie, but had no memory of ever having watched it before. I was convinced it was just deja vu for the first half, but eventually had to assume I had watched it and then forgot.
As for movies that I know I saw but can't remember anything from, that's a tough one - by definition. I know I saw Underworld, but can't remember anything but vague dissatisfaction.

7) Favorite Hammer Film?
I don't think I've seen any of the classic Hammer horrors, but perhaps the 1937 Legosi The Phantom Ship counts?

8) Gregory Itzin or Joe Pantoliano?
Joey Pants. Just for the nickname.

9) Create a double feature with two different movies with the same title. No remakes. (Peter Nellhaus)
How about the Korean epic Musa (The Warrior) (review to come) and teen gang classic The Warriors? No? Partial credit?

10) Akiko Wakabayashi or Mie Hama? (Ray Young)

11) Can you think of a (non-porn) movie that informed you of the existence of a sexual act you had not known of prior? (Bob Westal)
Claire's Knee introduced me to kneecrophilia.

12) Can you think of a black & white movie that might actually improve if it was in color? (Patrick Robbins)
Yeah, Manhattan. What's up with that? It's not 1932 anymore, Woody!
Just joking. Put down the big stick...

13) Favorite Pedro Almodovar Film?
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. But we liked Labyrinth of Passion a lot, too.

14) Kurt Raab or Udo Kier?
Udo Kier, for classing up The Story of O. Also, I've never heard of Kurt Raab.

15) Worst main title song (Peter Nellhaus)
I considered the theme to the Ross Hagen biker flick Hellcats (as presented by Mystery Science Theater 3000). But that was actually better than expected for an Anthony Cardoza production. On the other hand, take one of the world's greatest songwriters, working on one of the world's classic film franchises, and come up with "Live and Let Die"?

16) Last movie you saw in a theater? On DVD, Blu-ray or other interesting location/format?
Haven't been to the theater since the last quiz. Last DVD from Netflix was Night at the Museum 2 (blog review to come).

17) Favorite movie reference within a Woddy Allen movie? (Larry Aydlette)
Mrs. Spenser says all of Play It Again, Sam. I say, all of Stardust Memories (but I love Fellini).

18) Mary Astor or Claudette Colbert?
No real contest. Colbert, just for Midnight. What does Astor have other than Maltese Falcon?
(Oh jeeze - I just looked her up and Astor was in Midnight too. I think that just proves my point.)

19) Favorite trailer (provide YouTube link if possible)?
Black Dynamite! I can't find the old trailer with the tagline, "He wears a hundred dollar suit and drives a thousand dollar car!". "He's super cool and he knows kung fu!" This had us salivating for months until it was released.

20) Oddest double bill you either saw or saw listed in a theater
Like Romeo and Juliet and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice? Wait, that was just a joke. I think all the double bills I've seen made some kind of sense.

21) Favoite Phil Karlson film?
I'm pretty sure I haven't seen any.

22) Favorite “social problem” picture?
You mean like the zombie apocalypse issue in Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland?

23) Your favourite Harryhausen film/monster? (Ali Arikan)
Giant scorpions in Clash of the Titans.

24) What was the first movie you saw with your significant other? (Patrick Robbins)
We saw a lot of movies together in college (Dartmouth Film Society, 1976-78), but not as a couple. Our first movie "date" was Woody Allen's Interiors. A bit of a bummer. I think we might have watched the Brando Mutiny on the Bounty on TV that weekend as well.

25) John Payne or Ronald Reagan?
Even though Reagan played George Murphy's son in This is the Army, I'll go with John Payne, because he is not Ronald Reagan.

26) Movie you feel a certain pressure or obligation to see that you have not yet actually seen
A lot of influential movies from the last 20 odd years are somewhat repellent to me, like Fight Club or The Usual Suspects. I've also skipped all of the Godfather movies. But I guess I don't really feel an obligation. I get pressure to see a lot of lousy movies (or movies I expect will be lousy), from friends with rotten taste, but just ignore them. (Hi Gyl!)

27) Favorite “psychedelic” movie (Hey, man, like, define it however you want, man…)
2001. No, Zardoz. No, wait, I'm going with the answer to number 2, Fantasia.

28) Thelma Ritter or Eve Arden?
Our Miss Arden.

29) Favorite iconic shot or image from a film?
My number 1 favorite image in all cinema? You're killing me!

30) What is the movie that inspired the most memorable argument you ever had about a movie?
The More the Merrier with Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur and Joel McRea. It was one of the Film Society movies I mentioned in question 24. The young woman now known as Mrs. Spenser wished that it could have had a happy ending. Instead, Arthur marries the jerk played by Joel McRea. She would have preferred her to kick him straight to the curb. I felt that it was a simple formal requirement of a comedy that the couple, however unlikely, must end up married.
It was decades before she could enjoy many screwball comedies due to this issue.

31) Raquel Torres or Lupe Velez?
Torres was in Duck Soup and all, but Velez was the Mexican Spitfire. So, Velez.

32) Favorite adaptation of Shakespeare to a film?
I could go with a quirky adaptation, like Throne of Blood or Legend of the Black Scorpion. But seriously, I love Branagh and Thompson's Much Ado about Nothing. Some of Michael Keaton and Keanu Reeves' best work, as well.

33) Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (in 3D)-- yes or no?
Oh hell no.

34) Favorite movie rating?
X, XX, XXX, or as many Xs as you got!

35) Olivia Barash or Joyce Hyser?

36) What was the movie that convinced you your favorite movie genre was your favorite movie genre?
Seven Samurai for samurai movies? Bringing Up Baby for screwball? No, I choose Chaplin's The Kid for slapstick.

37) Favorite Blake Edwards movie?
A Shot in the Dark, which I saw at a drive-in, in my pajamas from the backseat of the my parent's stationwagon. That might affect my choice, but it really is the most nearly perfect Clouseau, after the canon is established, but before it becomes too stylized.

That's it. Back to my Netflix queue, already in progress.

Cover Girl

I'm a fan of Spanish novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, especially his trademark puzzle stories, where an artifact from the past has a symbolic meaning that holds the key to a modern mystery. Polanski made his novel The Club Dumas into one of our favorite movies, The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp.

The movie we watched recently, however, was Uncovered, starring Kate Beckinsale. It is based on The Flanders Panel, something I didn't realize when I started watching it. I can't remember why I queued it up. I think it's because I like Kate Beckinsale.

Beckinsale plays an art restorer in Barcelona, working on aFlemish triptych showing a chess game. An infrared photo shows a painted-over Latin inscription: "Who captured the Knight?" As she begins to remove the cover-up, people related to the painting start turning up dead. It seems to be related to the chess game in the painting.

Anyone looking for a delightful intellectual romp will be pretty disappointed. Anyone looking to watch Kate Beckinsale, often in close up, romping around the famous Gaudi monuments of Barcelona - Bingo.

Most of the other actors are more or less icky, except maybe the chess hustler. He is a blond gypsy hippy type who is at least age-appropriate to Beckinsale.

I also object to all the smoking that the characters do around the old painting, the manhandling and the complete lack of security. Beckinsale leaves the painting, which they hope to get millions for, in her apartment with open windows and a weak alarm system.

Well, I can't say I hated this movie. I did enjoy watching Beckinsale. Barcelona looked beautiful, although there could have been more Sagrada Familia. The whole mystery and puzzle is lame as can be, but I've watched worse. It's a case of "the kind of thing you'll like, if you like this kind of thing."

In conclusion, watch The Ninth Gate instead. For Beckinsale, maybe Laurel Canyon. I don't remember enjoying Underworld.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monster Mash

This one was recommended by Netflix: The Monster Squad. I'd never heard of it, but it sounded cute.

A group of junior highschool kids in a small town have a monster club, and it turns out that Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy and the Gillman have moved into town. They are planning to bring the End of the World, and only the kids can stop them.

Made in 1987, this movie has plenty of that cute 80's-style kids being nasty stuff - cursing, talking about sex, sneaking cigs, and so on. It's still a kids movie (pre-teen, I guess), but adults can enjoy it too.

We did enjoy it, but it didn't become an instant favorite. I understand it's kind of a cult movie. I haven't seen The Goonies or The Explorers, but I kind of bet they are better than this.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Forbidden Pleasures

What do you watch when you don't know what to watch? Do you have a category of films that you know will satisfy? Requirements:
  1. Similar enough so that you can be assured of getting what you want
  2. Numerous enough so that you haven't seen them all
  3. Not so great that you'd be likely to watch them if they weren't in the category
Some examples: Clint Eastwood westerns, Fred Astaire musicals, Cary Grant comedies, later Woody Allen, early Jackie Chan. And Stephen Chow martial arts comedies.

Chow made 2 of the greatest comedies ever: Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. He also made a lot of other movies. Forbidden City Cop is one of them.

Chow plays a secret policeman protecting the emperor. But he doesn't have any kung fu skills, he wants to be an inventor. He goes out undercover as a gynecologist, but he is happily married to Carina Lau. So, goofy martial arts, silly inventions and a very sweet romance.

Nowhere near as good as SS or KFH. Maybe funnier in Chinese, or if you know all of the references. For ex, there's an extended James Bond riff in the credits. But, wait - I got that reference, and it wasn't all that funny.

Still, good for laughs and the romance is quite sweet. Carina Lau seems to be a decent actress as well as being very pretty. No great acting required here, though.

Also, she is Tony Leung Chiu Wai's girlfriend.

In conclusion, there's still 3 or 4 of these in my queue, and I'll probably watch them when I don't have any better ideas.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Living Large

I saw this one on an airplane a long time ago, and for some reason, I wanted Ms. Spenser to see it: Love at Large: 1990, Tom Berenger starred, Alan Rudolph directed. Ever heard of it?

Tom Berenger is a private eye in a bad relationship with a crazy retro girlfriend. He gets a call from a mysterious women who wants him to trail her man. He takes the job, and soon finds the secret of the man he is tailing: He has at least 2 wives. But there are 2 things Berenger doesn't realize: He is tailing the wrong man, and someone is tailing him - Elizabeth Perkins.

So, although our "hero" is a detective, this isn't a mystery movie, it is more of a romantic comedy. Berenger brags that he is very good at what he does, but he doesn't come across as very bright. He also has a strange gritty growl to his voice. He sounds kind of like John Candy in a Robert Redford's body. He has love troubles, his client has love troubles, the man he is trailing has love troubles, and so does the woman trailing him. It's a little sad, but mostly laughable.

The look of the movie is totally retro. Berenger's girlfriend wears like poodle skirts and a beehive and listens to lounge music on vinyl. Berenger's client wears a cocktail dress and hat with a veil, and they listen a jazz combo. Everyone drives cars with "Classic" in their name. It's mostly filmed in Portland, a very retro town, with a trip out to a ranch near Bend. It's quite lovely, but I'm not sure I get the point - does this have something to do with the 1990's swing revival? Or is it a hattip to classic noir? Whatever, it's fun anyway.

This is not a great movie. I guess I can understand why it got so little attention - it's a small movie, with little more ambition than to entertain a few people. It certainly did that for me and a little more. It reminds me of Into the Night, which we just watched, but not quite as good. It even has a rock star in a minor role: Neil Young plays the guy Berenger was supposed to track. Sad to say, he is not menacing like Bowie was in Into the Night.

In conclusion, let me mention the theme song by Leonard Cohen, "There Ain't No Cure for Love". Nice song, that guy is going to go places some day.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Night Moves

I think it was Mr. Peel who got me to queue up Into the Night, John Landis' 1985 comedy-thriller starring Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer. I see it as the perfect Mr. Peel movie, touching his love of LA, the 80s, John Landis, movie music, and above all, movies.

Jeff Goldblum plays an aerospace engineer with a boring life and bad insomnia. His co-worker, Dan Akroyd, suggests that he should just go out to the airport, and fly to Las Vegas. Everyone there stays up all night anyway, and he could be back before anyone notices. When Goldblum tries to take this advice, he runs into Michelle Pfeiffer, who is fleeing from Iranian hitmen. And the game is afoot.

The midnight adventures are wide-ranging and fun - through cheap apartments of gay Elvis impersonators, to movie sets, yachts, Beverly Hills hotels and mansions, Malibu Beach pads and the LA Airport. I don't think the movie would have held up as just a chase, though. It's pretty loosely held together, and may not even make sense if you look too closely.

What holds it together are Goldblum and Pfeiffer. He's a mixed up guy, groggy from sleep deprivation and not too fast on his feet, but dependable, loyal and trustworthy. Pfeiffer is a very realistic party girl, a model and professional mistress, living in the world of money and luxury, but not of it. She doesn't exactly use Goldblum, she asks for his help. She doesn't try to seduce him, and he doesn't fall for her. It's a nice dynamic, one that movies have been known to wreck by forcing a romance.

Pfeiffer's classic 80's red leather jacket doesn't hurt things, either.

I would say, these two and the midnight chase through LA (actually, more like 48 hours) would be enough. But wait! That's not all! Landis seems to have a habit of giving cameos to fellow filmmakers. IMDB says there are 17, including himself and Frank Oz, who is paged at the airport. I recognized a few, but only because so many directors have beards. So if a minor character has a beard, I figure: director.

Also, David Bowie appears as a detective, and Carl Perkins as a bodyguard. And they fight to the death! B.B. King on the soundtrack is just frosting on this confection. (Actually, when the synthesizer kicked the theme song off, I thought it was going to be all cheesy New Wave. I might have even been disappointed when it wasn't.)

Fun movie, highly recommended. Thanks Mr. Peel. If you're reading, check back next time for a film you might enjoy, 1990's Love at Large.