Saturday, December 10, 2011

No Sh!t Sherlock

You know, we still aren't in love with Netflix streaming. We kept our streaming subscription after we dropped disks just so that we could watch Have Gun - Will Travel. Now that those are done, we had to search around for something else to watch. We came up with Sherlock, the new BBC Sherlock-Holmes-set-in-modern-times series. Needless to say, we are keeping our streaming subscription.

For this version, John Watson (Martin Freeman) is a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan - just like in the original! But he is a veteran of the current conflict, not the British Empire's last fracas in the area. That is touchstone for the series: when they update the stories, some things translate directly, some are strangely changed. For example, Watson makes Holmes famous by writing about him, not in the penny-dreadfuls, but on his blog.

Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, a name to be reckoned with. He has spooky eyes, wideset, pale blue, with slight epicanthic folds. His Holmes is brilliant and autistic, although he prefers to be considered a "high functioning sociopath".

This is not the Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett Holmes. He is younger and somewhat twitchier. He certainly isn't Robert Downey Jr. He is much more cerebral. He is also quite modern, always texting or checking something on his laptop. Although he is much less charming, his boundless self-confidence has a touch of Dr. Who about it, which is natural, since writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are also writing Doctor Who.

Freeman's Watson, on the other hand, reminds me a bit of Arthur Dent. He has the same peeved expression, with a touch of incomprehension, when Holmes breaks another convention of normal civilized behavior. He is much less of a bumbler than some past Watsons, but around Holmes, anyone will eventually feel like an idiot.

Watson isn't the only source of humor in the show. Holmes' ego and other's reactions to him are a lot of fun. The mysteries are pretty good - maybe not great, but not shabby - and new (as far as I remember), not updates of the original story. But the characters of Holmes and Watson are the best part.

Now the bad news: There are is one season available, 3 episodes of about 90 minutes. We've seen them all. There's another 3 episodes coming up. After that, who knows?

You know, we've been watching a lot serial films lately - James Bond, Fast and Furious, Marvel Comics, Pirates of the Caribbean. When you find something good, you want more. We want more.

Boone Companion

 It was on TV from 1957 to 1963. It was the reason that we kept Netflix streaming when we dropped the disk subscription. We watched it all 221 episodes, mostly over dinner. Have Gun - Will Travel may have been the best TV show of its era.

HG-WT starred Richard Boone as Paladin, a gentleman, man of fashion and learning and a gunfighter. He lived in post-Gold Rush San Francisco. It still showed some rough edges as a frontier town, but the Carlton Hotel, where he resided, was the peak of civilization. When he was in town, he dressed in elegant brocades and opera cloaks, ate gourmet meals and intrigued with fashionable ladies. But he also read newspapers from every frontier territory in the west. When he found a problem that he thought he could solve, he sent a note along with his business card.

The card shows a chess knight and the words "Have Gun - Will Travel/Wire Paladin/San Francisco". The card has its own theme, written by Bernard Hermann, that is played when the card comes out, which happens in every episode.

When he is on business, he wears his working clothes, all black, with a black hat and a black holster with silver (possibly platinum) chess knight on it. He is very good with this gun. Possibly the fastest in the West.

Boone is wonderful in this role. His lumpy face, with its big nose and silly little mustache, does not look like either a lover's or a fighter's, but he was very convincing as either. He was at his best when he was concerned, peeved or outraged. He hated injustice or cruelty. He had a great sense of humor and a large, uninhibited laugh. But when he was worried, his fingers twitched by his gunbelt, ready for action.

He knew how to use his fists as well (although confidentially, a blow to the back of the head would take him out of action for a few hours). Paladin's spirited scrapping probably owes more to stuntman Hal Needham. He went on to double for John Wayne and to direct Smokey and the Bandit, he got his start doubling for Boone.

He wasn't the only great supporting actor on the show. We see Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn, George Kennedy and Charles Bronson, Whit Bissell, Mike Connors, Strother Martin and Ken Kurtis, Duane Eddy, L.Q. Jones and Jack Elam, even Vincent Price playing a ham actor. But even when the faces aren't familiar, the actors, and especially the actresses, seem to be delivering a lot more than expected.

It might be the directors - Andrew McLaglen did the honors most often, and he was indeed Victor McLaglen's son. Others were directed by Sam Peckinpah, Ida Lupino and Boone himself. Lupino's work was notable for the great fight scenes. Boone's episodes often had small touches of classic black-and-white cinema, close-ups with beautiful studio lighting that really stood out among the 2- and 3-light shots.

We also get shown some beautiful scenery, with whole episodes taking place in the wilderness, mostly around Bishop, Lone Pine or Bend OR. Admittedly, we do see the same 2 or 3 Old West town back lot sets over and over, but that doesn't really make any difference. Some of the best episodes are set on a single soundstage set, perfect little one-act plays.

Because the real star of the series was the writing. The stories tend to be as sophisticated as Paladin himself. They are often tragic - the classic plot is: A father hires Paladin to find his son and bring him to justice. Usually, the job is to make sure he is hung by the authorities and not lynched. The father doesn't want Paladin to free the son, not if the son is guilty. But he wants him punished with dignity. Sometimes the son is innocent, and Paladin can help him. Sometimes, he is guilty due to a momentary lapse, and, although it is terrible, he must pay. Even when he is just plain evil, Paladin makes us see the tragedy of his inevitable doom.

Of course, not every episode is tragic. Some have happy endings, with the bad guys gettting a come-uppance, or the enemies reconciled and everyone sharing a laugh and a feast. Some of them had women at the core, deceitful yet alluring women. Not too surprisingly, these are often written by Gene Roddenberry.

Another repeated theme is prejudice - against Armenians, Mexicans, Indians, Chinese, Jews, Gypsies and even African Americans. I felt that they were pussyfooting around the civil rights fights with Armenians or Chinese standing in for blacks, but several episodes were very specifically about equal rights for the recently freed slaves. A lot of these scripts are written by Shimon Wincelberg, with sensitivity and understanding of prejudice and oppression.

Since I mentioned Chinese, I have to talk about Hey Boy. In San Francisco, Paladin's factotum and comic foil is the Carlton Hotel's Chinese bellboy called Hey Boy. He is not ashamed of the name - when someone calls him Hey You, he corrects him. Although he is pretty much the stereotyped bowing Chinese gofer, as played by Kam Tong, he has a real personality, and a life in his immigrant community. A few episodes deal with his family and the San Francisco Chinatown. If he is a stereotype, he is a well-rounded one, and when he mutters in Chinese, Paladin knows enough of the language to reply in kind.

I would love to tell you more about this series, my favorite episodes, like the one based on Paladin's knowledge of molybdenum, or the one with Odetta. I could talk about Paladin's knowledge of cooking or his discernment of fine whiskey - he may have encouraged Jim Beam to bring his beverage to a wider audience in one episode. I could mention the love of his life, a bluestocking lady doctor, played by June Lockheart.

But really, you owe it to yourself to just watch these. Start at the beginning - the series is strongest in the first few seasons.

Now, I assume everyone has heard of Hec Ramsey?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blame it on Caine

Pulp (1972) is sort of the opposite of Get Carter (1971), the first movie that director Mike Hodges made with Michael Caine. Get Carter is a tense revenge thriller. Pulp, on the other hand, is a goofy romp.

Caine plays a pulp fiction writer who is living on Malta, possibly hiding out from an ex-wife. His internal monologue supplies the unreliable narrative. He is approached by gravel-voiced thug Lionel Stander to ghost-write an autobiography for an unnamed personage. Quick digression - We last saw Lionel Stander in If Only You Could Cook. He makes a great thug/stooge - definitely worth the price of admission.

Caine goes on a Magical Mystery Bus tour to meet his patron, only knowing that one of his fellow travelers would contact him. One does, but may not be the right one. Especially when he ends up dead. At the beginning of the movie, Caine's narration gives the body count, so you can start counting now. Of course, it is unreliable.

His contact turns out to be a cute backpacker, Nadia Cassini. And the subject of the autobiography he will be writing is a retired film star with mob connections, played by Mickey Rooney. It may be that some of those connections don't want this book published. Or maybe the trouble is coming from the fascist-lite politician Cippola, who never appears in the flesh, but his wife (Lizabeth Scott, last seen in Dead Reckoning) is one of Rooney's character's ex-wives. Anyway, someone is trying to stop the book - if that is the reason people are dying.

This is not a tightly plotted thriller - or comedy. It mostly makes sense, but just barely. Someone compared it to Beat the Devil, and there is indeed a Bogart and a Lorre imitator on hand to drive the point home. I hope everyone enjoyed making this. I enjoyed watching it.

The One and Only

I guess it was Mr. Peel who got me in the mood to watch a Bond film, so when On Her Majesty's Secret Service showed up in the Netflix streaming recommendations, Ms. Beveridge and I realized that neither of us had seen George Lazenby's one and only Bond and decided to watch.

I believe Mr. Peel also argues that Lazenby might be the best Bond, for some value of best. He does bring a certain weightiness to the role. His Bond takes things seriously. He can flirt with Moneypenny and drop a one-liner with the rest, but he is neither flip nor camp. He has feelings.

For example, he hates Blofled, incarnated by Telly Savales. He hates him so much that Q takes him off the case, fearing that he has lost his objectivity. So he goes on a busman's holiday, using shady character Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti) to get to Blofeld in an unofficial capacity.

And love? As much as he hates Blofeld, he love Tracy Draco - Diana Rigg. And who is better suited to be wooed by James Bond than Mrs. Emma Peel? Because this isn't a Bond girl he beds and forgets - he gets plenty of those in Blofeld's Alpine allergy clinic. No, this is one for the ages.

Indeed, this is a great Bond film, with some great mountain locations, including Piz Gloria (mirrored in the film Inception). However, I'm afraid I can't accept Lazenby as Bond - he just doesn't have the face for it. His low forehead and long nose give him a rodent-like look from some angles. From other angles he looks fine, and from still others, he looks different. Maybe if he had stuck around for a few more movies, his look would have settled down.

Best Bond ever? Daniel Craig.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thor Head

Yes, Thor is a Marvel superhero movie directed by Kenneth Branagh. Makes more sense than Ang Lee directing Hulk.

To sum up, Thor, Chris Hemsworth, is the crown prince of Asgard, expected to inherit the throne when elderly Odin (Anthony Hopkins!) steps down. Odin could pass the reins to his other son, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), but that doesn't seem too likely. But Thor gets all arrogant and mounts an impromptu war party against the Frost Giants. This gets him exiled from Asgard to New Mexico, Mittelheim. His hammer gets exiled too, sitting immovable in a crater.

In New Mexico, he meets up with scientists Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard, and their assistant/comic relief Kat Dennings. Since he doesn't know from life on Earth, they take him to their totally cool converted-car-dealership laboratory. But meanwhile, his hammer is attracting tourists (including guess-who in a pickup truck) - and the government.

So, in my opinion:
  • Asgard is awesome. It has a nice art-deco magnificence with a lived in look
  • Hemsworth is a great Thor - really dynamic, strong and noble. Or maybe he just has a great beard. The rest of the Old Gods are great as well. Special appreciation for:
    • Idris Elba as Heimdall. He gives his role some real heft.
    • Rene Russo as Odin's wife Frigga. I thought she was a little young for the part but turns out she's older than me. Very majestic.
  • Natalie Portman's Jane Foster (not Nurse Foster in this continuity) is a little on the bland side. Her romance with Thor seems a bit pro forma. Maybe I just miss the Kirby version, doting on her crippled Dr. Blake.
A rousing good adventure and another step along the way to the Avengers movie! Well done, Mr. Branagh.
In conclusion, I really want to live in that car dealership lab. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Five of a Kind

I think Fast Five is pretty much a direct sequel to Fast and Furious. The series gets kind of confusing with the reboots, sequels with little relation to the main sequence, etc. Anyway, it starts where F&F ended, Diesel on the bus to Lompoc and his buddies coming to rescue him.

After they break him out, they hightail down to Rio to hide out in the favela. I kept expecting them to run into Ed Norton as Bruce Banner. They get into trouble with the local crime boss, Joaquim de Almeida, and decide to take him down. In the meantime, a big bad government agent comes searching for fugitive Diesel - yes, it's that other no-necked bullethead: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. This could get confusing, with 2 heavily muscled bald guys running around. But Johnson is so ridiculously bulked up that Diesel looks like a skinny kid next to him. So that's OK.

The movie plays out as a heist film, with Diesel bringing in his team from previous films, buying a replica of the safe he wants to crack, recreating the course they need to drive, etc. This seems like it should be in a different movie, possibly the Italian Job or Ocean's 11 remakes. In fact, I think I counted 11 in Diesel's team, but I might have been seeing double. And there is a garbage truck playing the same role as in the original Ocean's 11.

It all builds up to a fun and literally unbelievable climax. -SPOILER- two cars could NOT outrace all the cops in Rio is they were dragging a 10-ton safe. Could they have at least put a creeper under it?

Never mind, it's all in fun. Some (Ms. Spenser, for ex) might prefer more car chases, but there's plenty of action, and not too much romance. One of the hookups was between Ms. Spenser's heart-throb Sung Kang and Gad Galot. I have to agree with the Ms. - she's cute, but too skinny. She wouldn't get a second look in Rio.

Make sure to watch to the end - set up for sequel.

Print the Myth

It's interesting to look at Annie Oakley as presented by Barbara Stanwyck in 1935. I wouldn't picture her as a hillbilly type, and her accent doesn't sound much like the Ozarks to me, but I think she sell it.

Oakley starts out as a country girl from a small town who bags quail for a Cincinnati hotel. Her signature is hitting them square in the head, leaving no buckshot to pick out. The hotel manager brings her up to shoot against sharpshooter Preston Walker, and she is so taken by his good looks and smooth manner that she lets him win.

Melvyn Douglas sees her act and hires her on with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, setting up the triangle between her, Walker and Douglas. Now, she's an easy sell - everyone is against the idea of a girl sharpshooter until they meet her. She's just so sweet and charming. Walker on the other hand is pushy, self-promoting and obnoxious. But here's the twist. He confides only to Annie that this is just his show-biz persona. He is going to build up their rivalry to increase her audience.

So, in this version, the sharpshooter that she is in love with is not a jerk, he only pretends to be one. Interesting choice.

In addition to Stanwyck and her beaux, we have Moroni Olsen as a pretty majestic Buffalo Bill, and Chief Thunderbird as Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull is largely a comic foil, but there's a great scene where he spots someone from across a crowded stadium and then chases him across New York. Pretty good for an 80-year-old Indian.

So, all in all, pretty fun. Not Stanwyck's most difficult role. The heartache and melodrama is kept to a minimum, and they run through the mythmaking at a good clip. And I didn't miss the songs at all.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Powers' Pirates

We were looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides for the usual reasons - Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow, pirates, swashbuckling, etc. I was looking forward for one more reason, "Suggested by Tim Power's On Stranger Tides".

When Philip K. Dick (who's every novel and short story will soon be a movie) lived in LA, he was friends with three young authors: K.W. Jeter, James Blaylock and Tim Powers. They are all great writers, who, among other things, invented the genre of steampunk. Powers has a great trick of weaving high myth, low folklore and history. In Last Call for instance, he mixes the Grail legend with the gamblers' superstition in Las Vegas. In The Stress of Her Regard, he shows that the Romantic poets were vampiric succubi. In On Stranger Tides, he has Blackbeard the pirate searching for the Fountain of Youth with the aid of voodoo.

One clever bit in Tides is the the sailors' tale of Mate Carry-For, a spirit who is always willing to help a sailor out. But his true name turns out to be Maitre Carrefour - the Master of the Crossroads, voodoo god Papa Legba.

Now, very little of this cleverness gets into PotC: OST. Basically, nothing but the phrase "Blackbeard the pirate searching for the Fountain of Youth with the aid of voodoo". Considering the amount of voodoo in previous movies, there was very little here. Basically, two zombies and one voodoo doll.

Also, considering Blackbeard is the most awesome of all pirates, known for sticking lit fuses in his hair and beard, Ian MacShane's Blackbeard is not as scary as could be hoped. He does let his beard smolder a bit, but that's pretty much all.

It seems that the new director, Rob Marshall, felt that he couldn't go bigger than the previous movies, so he toned it down. However, we don't have a sensitive character-driven movie here. It is still a big rowdy adventure. Even dialed back, there is plenty of room for fights, chases, capers and fun.

One thing this has going for it is the lack of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley. Great actors in good roles, but they had become a bit drippy. Let's face it, people come for Capt. Sparrow.

We get him in spades - acting loopy, setting off without a plan, meeting his dad (Keef!) and an old love, played by Penelope Cruz. She's great in this, as you might expect.

The look of the film is great, also as expected. If you liked the others, you should like this. It doesn't top them, but should be a good foundation for another trilogy.

Class Act

Well, we are now members at the Video 21 video store in Tallahassee. It's on E. Lafayette, across Appalachee from Governer's Square, if you're in the neighborhood. It's connected to Craig's Killer Coffee and they share a common theme of love for [coffee]/[movies] in defiance to commercial consideration. I think we'll like getting our video from them.

Even though they have a bunch of rare cult Asian and other DVDs (and tapes!), we went right to the Recent Arrivals and rented X-Men: First Class. If you are not familiar with this, it is the X-Men prequel/reboot. Of course, if you aren't familiar with this, you probably aren't paying attention to the X-Men movies at all.

This movie takes us back to the 50s and early 60s, when Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) was a telepathic PhD and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) was a concentration camp survivor, searching for the man who killed his mother to  force him to develop his mutant powers (Kevin Bacon). They meet, bond, and start training a band of mutants to help the CIA battle the rogue mutants who want to use the Cuban missile crisis to start WWIII.

McAvoy plays Prof X with a full head of hair and pair of functioning legs. He is good, but I don't know if he really owns the role the way that Patrick Stewart did. Likewise Fassbender - he plays the proud, tortured, Magneto in civvies beautifully, but until he puts on the helmet, I don't get a real feel for him as Magneto.

On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence looked great as Raven in civvies and all blue and prickly as Mystique. In this continuity, she is Xavier's more-or-less adopted sister, who only goes over to Magneto when she realizes that only he appreciates her in her true form. Which is the theme of the movie really - Mutant Pride vs. mutant assimilation. And it appears that Xavier is on the wrong side of the argument. He really is kind of a dick, making Magneto the good guy.

I saw a lot of comments about the great 60s feel of this movie, with its Mad Men and James Bond inspirations. Unfortunately, I don't think this came through very well. Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), for example, wears a bushy, bushy blonde hairdo that won't be popular in America for a decade, and evil mutant Alex Gonzalez looks like disco era Euro-trash.

Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy hits the right note with a Buddy Holly look. January Jones as Emma Frost also hits the Nancy Sinatra look dead on (anachronistic by a few years only). Unfortunately, she plays the role very stiffly, like she was a model and not a real actress. Maybe that hairstyle was slowing her down.

All in all, a very good entry in the X-Men series, if not quite what I could have hoped for. It suffered a little from the usual problem of having too many mutants who are just sketched-in extras, but that might be unavoidable. I'm not sure director Matthew Vaughn succeeded in putting an indelible stamp on the franchise, but he did entertain.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Swarming Inferno

I guess it just all came together for The Swarm. First, This Island Rod, Roderick Heath's blog, did a terrific takedown of this 1978 Irwin Allen made-for-TV disaster.. movie. It was hilarious and without mercy, calling Allen a "second-tier George Pal", and worse. Now in my family, when the menfolk read something funny or interesting, of course they read it out loud to their wives. So I started reading selections to Ms. Spenser.

Unfortunately, she thought the movie sounded like fun.

Then I found out that the Filmsack podcast would be sacking The Swarm this week, and that sealed our fate. Since they only do movies from Netflix streaming, we now knew it was available. And so we watched.

The movie features Michael Caine as a shouty British bee scientist. He is found wandering around a nuclear missile silo full of dead soldiers. His story is that he walked in while following a swarm of deadly bees. Although the military don't trust him, when the bees threaten small town Texas, he gets to lead the defenses. SPOILER - he is not very good at this.

As is traditional in these Allen cheesefests, we get a number of roles for the long-time or soon-to-be washed up. Caine's team includes Richard Chamberlain and Henry Fonda. The Texas townspeople include Olivia de Haviland, Fred MacMurray and Ben Armstrong as a geriatric romantic triangle. It was sad to see Melanie from Gone with the Wind playing a matronly school marm, but MacMurray was Walter Neff! With two Fs, like in Philadelphia! To have fallen so low.

Anyway, I'm not going to go on about this, except to say that it is way more than 2 hours long. Read This Island Rod and listen to the podcast. Whether you watch the movie is up to you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The Warrior's Way was another Netflix suggestion - I imagine the criteria were "Likes psycho kung-fu Westerns with Korean leads". Netflix sure has us pegged.

Directed by (first timer?) Sngmoo Lee, Warrior's Way (2010) stars Korean Dong-gun Jang as the world's greatest ninja assassin, dedicated to wiping out the enemies clan. But when it comes to killing the last member of the clan, a baby girl, he changes sides, and takes the girl to America, to hide out in a dusty Western town.

There he meets a spunky girl played by Kate Bosworth and the remnants of a stalled travelling circus, including a short person named 8-Ball (Tony Cox) and drunk sharpshooter Geoffrey Rush. He protects the town against its enemies, but can he protect it against his enemies?

The look is that hyper-real comicbook style that the kids go for these days. I thought it was very well done. Of course, I went in assuming it was going to be a kind of B-movie, maybe even direct to video. For top budget feature, it was kind of weak. For a B-movie kung-fu Western, it was pretty good. Sort of a Sukiyaki Western Django knockoff.

In conclusion, Sngmoo Lee. Remember that name.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tiki - Florida style

I'm a big fan of tiki, although not hardcore enough to actually have visited to more than one or two. I keep the spirit of tiki in my heart; plus, I mix a mean Singapore Sling.

So I was pretty excited when I got to Florida and started hearing about all the tiki bars. They seem to be everywhere. But I soon found out that, around here, a tiki bar is just an outdoor bar, with maybe a palm roof for decoration. No tiki mugs, nets with glass ball floats, or wooden Moai. And the drinks tend to be Bud light rather than Mai-Tais or Singapore Slings.

But maybe I've been missing something because I just don't understand the lingo. You see, Mai-Tais and Singapore Slings are Polynesian cocktails - west-coast style. In Florida, tropical cocktails are inspired by the Caribbean - Tequila Sunrises, Pina Coladas  Bahama Mamas, Run Runners.

As it turns out, I am not well versed in this idiom. But I had a Rum Runner down in Tarpon Springs, and I loved it. Here's one recipe:
  • 1 oz light rum 
  • 1 oz dark rum or aged rum 
  • 1 oz blackberry liqueur 
  • 1 oz banana liqueur 
  • 1 oz pineapple juice 
  • 1 oz orange juice 
  • Splash grenadine
Shake over ice. Serve in a tall glass.

 I haven't tried making one of these myself, since I haven't been able to bring myself to stock banana liqueur in my drinks cabinet (also, our local liquor store doesn't have decent looking blackberry brandy).

It actually sounds pretty weird, but tastes very nice. Anybody suggest any other east-coast tiki drinks for "research"?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Arkham Express

I know it is long after Halloween, but I still have a few movies to mention, like Die Monster Die!. This 1965 American International picture starring Boris Karloff takes the outline of its story from H.P. Lovecraft's Color Out of Space.

It starts with American Nick Adams arriving in Arkham England (must be what the Arkham in America is named after) and meets a hostile reception when he says he wants to visit the Witley Manor. It seems that strange things are happening there. Nick's girlfriend, the daughter of the family is a normal young woman. But her mother is suffering from a strange aliment, the butler, Terence de Marney, is a bit peculiar, and her father is Boris Karloff, confined to a wheelchair.

The manor itself is perhaps the best part of the movie. The director, Daniel Haller, was art director for a number of Vincent Price films, and it shows. His sets are sumptuous and beautiful. Other than that, there is not a lot to recommend this.

Other than a few Cthuloids!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pickup Artists from Mars

We're still on Netflix streaming - we might be getting out of the movie watching habit. It happens, you know. We used to have cable, then they cancelled Mystery Science Theater 3000. Turns out that was all we were watching, so we cancelled our service.

I used to have a great disk queue with over 300 movies, everyone of them eagerly awaited (well, at least 50 of them, some of the rest were just "ehh"). But my Instant queue - kung fu, b-movie, boring, b-movie, depressing classic, obscure b-movie, kung fu, b-movie, and so on. So we go to Netflix recommendations, which are usually worse. But it did serve up Mars Needs Women.

This 1978 AIP cheapie stars Tommy Kirk and 4 other Martians who have come to Earth to abduct human females to repopulate Mars. Naturally, they pick a stewardess, a coed, a stripper (played by Houston burlyque star Bubbles Cash), a cheerleader, and - Tommy Kirk's pick - a sexy geneticist.

The geneticist is played by Yvonne Craig - TV's Bat Girl. Director Larry Buchanan apparently got her to work cheap, because the movie was shot in Houston, and she could visit family there. He shot a whole series of these zero-budget made-for-TV movies, and claims this was the only one that anyone remembers, because of the intensity and professionalism Craig brought to the role. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but she does give a little more than this movie requires.

Of course, this movie is 40% stock footage and has no special effects other than a plastic model spaceship...

For me, the big standout is Tommy Kirk. He is always the insufferably dweeby kid in movies like Catalina Caper and Village of the Giants. He is drippy and whiny and you just want to punch him. But here, as Martian Fellow #1, he shows a sort of wooden resolve, mixed with blank puzzlement, that gives him a kind of dignity. He reminded me a lot of Keanu Reeves in this. He has that same kind of stoic incomprehension.

So, all in all, a pleasant, short piece of camp. Thanks, Netflix streaming.

Terrible Comedy

The Comedy of Terrors isn't that terrible. It stars Vincent Price as a drunken undertaker, with Peter Lorre as his dimwitted and felonious assistant, Joyce Jameson as the wife he abuses and Boris Karloff as her senile father, who owns the funeral parlor.

Now, Price hasn't had a "customer" in a long while, and if he can't come up with some money, landlord Basil Rathbone will have him evicted. So Price and Lorre set out to make some corpses. Nothing works right until they get the idea of killing two ... of solving two problems at once, by killing Rathbone. Then things really start to go wrong.

This is more comedy than terror, the kind where the film speeds up for slapstick and there are slide whistles and a tympany "bow-oing!" to mark the gag. But the real fun is watching Priced drink, insult his wife and try to kill his father-in-law (among others). To see Lorre try to build a coffin so they won't have to keep re-using the only one they have. Sadly, Karloff spends most of his time drowsing over a teacup - his arthritis didn't allow him a more active part. But he does get to play a manic fiddle and deliver a vague eulogy.

Rathbone has a lovely role as the Shakespeare-quoting landlord who can never quite be killed. It must have been fun to get to play the ham so richly.

I have to say, however, my favorite character was Rhubard the cat, in his role as Cleopatra. This veteran of the classic cats-and-baseball movie Rhubarb adorns every scene in which he deigns to make an appearance.

Although this was directed by Jacques Tourneur, it is a long way from the subtle implied menace of Cat People. There isn't much menace and no subtlety. But at least a bit of fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bisk Limpet

I don't know why I listened to Netflix when it suggested Don Knott's 1964 The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I vaguely remember some of my film bloggers praising this movie, and I don't think I'd seen it as a kid, so I figured, what the heck?

It stars mild-mannered accountant Don Knotts, who lives only to dream about fish. He lives in Flatbush with a glamorous redheaded wife (who has a slight resemblance to a goldfish), who plainly prefers their chubby sailor friend Stickle (as in stickleback?). It is 1941, just before the war, and the navy won't accept Knottts, because he has poor vision and is generally Don Knotts.

But what he really wants to be is a fish. And on a trip to Coney Island, his wish is granted. He falls into the water and becomes an animated fish - with a musical number and everything.

After some adventures with a crusty crustacean (really, he gets called Crusty) voiced by Paul Frees and a sexy lady fish (yes, he names her Ladyfish), Knotts realizes that he could be helping with the war effort. So he gets in contact with his old friend Stickle (chubby Jack Weston) and becomes a secret reconnaissance weapon.

It was Jack Weston who got me thinking of recasting this movie for a modern remake - he wold be perfect played by Jack Black, or even better, Seth Rogen. But who would do Don Knotts part? That's when it hit me: Johnny Depp! It's just the kind of wacky thing he would do!

And then it came back to me - the vague memories of film blog discussions. A little googling did not turn up the exact blogs, but I had remembered correctly. Johnny Depp was planning to star in a remake. I don't know if it is still on, but I'm looking forward to it, more than to his upcoming Dark Shadows.

I can't say I'm in love with this, although there are a lot of "pretty good" things about it. I do think it would be a nice opener on a double bill with Mr. Peabody's Mermaid. Ann Blythe's uninhibitedly amorous mermaid seems to represent the same kind of male fantasy as Ladyfish. A fishy kind of a kink, I must say.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Master of Reality

Since it's getting to be Halloween, we naturally thought of streaming some Vincent Price. Since The Abominable Dr. Phibes is not available on streaming, we thought we'd try some non-horror, adventure Price:  Master of the World (1961). 

It starts in pre-Civil War Pennsylvania, where strange explosions and Bible-quoting voices are heard from the top of Great Eyrie Mountain. Government agent Charles Bronson goes to the Philadelphia Ballooning Society to recruit a balloon for aerial surveillance, and picks up arms magnate Henry Hull, his daughter Mary Webster and her fiance David Franken. In short order, they are up in a balloon and just as quickly, shot down by a mysterious missile.

They wake up in a great steampunk airship, run by the Nemosque Capt. Robur (Price). They soon find that he plans to use his mastery of the air to destroy all armies and navies and abolish war - regardless of the wishes of the nations of the earth.

Price is clearly a noble, altruistic genius, and his "guests" are a war profiteer (Hull), a simpering ninny (Webster), an arrogant bully (Franken) and sadly miscast (Bronson). And yet, he's the villain.

But this irony is intentional. What is not intentional is the woefully threadbare special effects - scant models, international locations that never get much past Malibu, and what appears to be extensive stock footage. By the time it gets to the - I think - genuinely exciting climax, this movie had used up all of my good will, and I was just making fun of it.

I understand that most of Vincent Price's oeuvre represents a triumph of art over budget. I'd call this a draw at best.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Still here

I am still here, just not watching movies.

1. I'm still fairly jet lagged, and can't stay awake after 9 o'clock.
2. We haven't gotten around to renewing our Netflix disk account or visiting the video store.

Last night, I started watching Hellgate with Sterling Hayden on streaming. Somehow I had gotten the idea it was a pirate movie. The tiny picture of the poster seemed to show a guy in a Robin Hood hat fighting in front of a ship's rigging. Well, it was a Civil War military cap, and the rigging was the wooden grating over a the entrance to a subterranean prison - the titular Hellgate.

So, basically a prison Western. It looked like a pretty good one, and you've got to love Sterling Hayden, looking stern and strong-jawed whether faced with a horse having trouble with a foal or a pest-infested military hellhole.

But, you know, it was on streaming, and for some reason I just don't commit to watching streaming the way I do to disks. So I watched about 25 minutes - just enough to ensure that he wasn't going to suddenly get on a ship and turn pirate - then gave up.

I do that a lot with Netflix streaming. Partly because the selection has a lot of bombs in it, but partly because of some psychological quirk in me. I don't like to watch part of a movie. I hate to come into a movie after it has started, or stop before it's done. I want to commit to a movie, give myself up to it. Something about streaming feels casual to me, makes it too easy to lose focus and drop out of the experience.

So, Netflix, it isn't you - it's me. I'm feel like I want more than a streaming relationship. I want the commitment that comes with a solid disk in the mail. And I don't know if I trust you to provide that.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm Back and Qwikster is Gone

Well, I'm back from Japan. Flew into Miami Beach BOAC - no I didn't, that's something else. I'm still suffering from from jetlag and a serious sinus issues (deaf in right ear, constant vertigo) but I'm very happy to be back.

And it looks like Netflix is welcoming me back by cancelling (postponing, I suppose) their plans to spin the DVD-by-mail business off to a new company, derisively called Qwikster. I still kind of want to try out the local video rental place, but I know I am going to reward Netflix by signing up for disks again.

And the dirty secret is, we are hooked on streaming as well. Yes as many bad things as I have to say about streaming, we watch about an hour and a half of streaming every day. That's right, 2 episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel washed down with an episode of The Addams Family.

The way I see it, streaming is for TV, movies should be watched on disk. At least as long as that remains an option.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Plan B

I'm a big fan of the B-Movie Cast, a couple of chuckleheads who discuss their favorite B movies (along with guests and lately, the lovely, non-chuckleheaded wife of the host). Lately, I've been listening to the Naschy Cast as well. This is a different set of chuckleheads discussing the B movies of Spanish horror auteur Paul Naschy.

These are both great fun. The hosts are funny and interesting, neither intellectual nor dumb. They have great affection for the movies they cover, without losing track of their basic trashiness. Thanks to Curtis in Mountain View who got me started listening to them.

But one thing they don't do is inspire me to watch the movies. I love me some B movies, but am not a big fan of the horror genre. They aren't the same thing you know. Not all B movies are horror, monster, thriller or gorefests.There are B comedies, gangster, melodramas, westerns - OK, I don't like the melodramas or westerns much, either.

But they never seem to inspire the same kind of fandom, do they? Was there ever a magazine like "Famous Comedians of Filmland"? Did kids stay up at night waiting for a Jack Haley or Joe E. Brown movie to come on (other than me, I mean)? I suppose that's the key - the visceral experience a kid hiding behind the couch scared silly just sticks with you in a way that a few corny jokes or a tough guy noir doesn't.

I still love these podcasts, and enjoy listening to them much more than I would enjoy watching the movies. So, thanks to Curtis from Mountain View, frequent B-Movie Cast commenter, and the guy who turned me on to these 'casts. I know he enjoys hearing about, say, Yolanda and the Thief, but would never want to watch a musical. Well, to each their own.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wish List

While I'm here in Japan, I could watch some movies, at least while I'm not at the salt mines. But it just doesn't feel right.  So I'm dreaming of what I'll watch when I get back. Since I lost the ~300 films in my Netflix queue, I'll have to start building that up.

One of the movies on the queue was Undisputed II, mainly because Michael Jai White is in it. We fell in love with him in Black Dynamite, and we'll definitely consider anything he's in.

But a direct-to-video sequel? We were apprehensive, but I recently read this appreciation of direct-to-video action films in Movie Morlocks: Action Items: Direct-to-Video, Into My Heart. It starts out with the premise that the best action is on DTV, but it turns out that is mainly true if it involves English actor Scott Adkins and Israeli director Isaac Florentine. And Undisputed II (and III) meets that criterion.

So far my new queue is mostly mental. It includes all the usual suspects, the films everybody wants to see - Thor, X-Men First Class, Spaceways with Howard Duff. And I think we can find time for a little DTV.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Basketball Jones

Kung Fu Dunk is one of the last Netflix movies I saw before heading off to Japan. As a result, it's going to be one of the last Netflix movies I'll blog about, at least for a while.

To get the obvious out of the way, KFD is a Shaolin Soccer rip-off, and by no means as inspired as Steven Chow's masterpiece. It is also a Jay Chou vehicle. We know Chou as the recent Green Hornet's Kato. In China, he is a combination rock/rap/pop star and action hero - sort of a combination Marky Mark and Mark Wahlberg. Except he looks more like Justin Beiber, with his adorable moptop hair.

He was abandoned as a baby at a Shaolin monastery, where he becomes a bit of a rebel. It's kind of a lousy monastery anyways, with a corrupt head monk,  few lazy teachers and a gay couple (unless she was supposed to be a butch nun?).

When Chou runs away, he meets a homeless genius, played by Eric Tsang, who decides to make him a college basketball star. Tsang I recognized from a thousand Sammo Hung movies - he was one of the Lucky Stars/Aces Go Places crew. A lot of the other faces were familiar as well.

Chou's teammates include a matched pair of cute guys, both the thin-faced, scraggly-bearded pony-tailed Chinese hipster types. You could tell them apart only because one was a drunk. He was the one who taught Chou the mystery of the Slam Dunk. It isn't clear why this is needed, because Chou could hit the basket from anywhere on the court. I guess if the opposing team has wire-fu skills, they can block pretty well, so you have to carry it in.

Skipping over the lame romantic angle and the meager laughs, we jump to the final big game, which has been fixed by gangsters. The opposing team are all thugs and the ref looks the other way. Only Kung Fu can save them. Interestingly, I watched this right around when a Shanghai team was playing a "friendly" game with Georgetown in the US that wound up in a brawl, supposedly due to biased refereeing. No mention of kung fu on either side, though.

OK, so it was a pretty lame, messy movie. But how were the action scenes? Pretty good, actually. The fights and games were all really well done, best that money can buy. Let's just say I've seen worse and enjoyed it.

But Jay Chou seems a lot less cool to me now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Qwikster? Really?

I guess we've all heard the news from Netflix. They are now all streaming, and the DVD-by-mail business will be handled by a new company called Qwikster. Just the name alone shows how much contempt they have for the whole old-fashioned business model.

Since everybody else's blog has already covered this to bits (even though the email was sent in the middle of the night on a Sunday), I don't have much else to say. I've already explained why I prefer a near infinite variety of crisp, clear disks to a limited selection of highly compressed streamed video. And Netflix has explained why it thinks I am wrong, and that they don't want me as a customer - although they never quite explain why.

I get that they think streaming is the future. Fine. I'll switch over in the future. For now, it is distinctly lower quality. This isn't dumping vinyl for CDs, this is dumping vinyl for 8-track. I'm not refusing to buy an iPhone, I'm refusing to buy a Newton.

So I should probably hold my nose and join Qwikster with the rest of the old media losers. As Netflix slowly starves it of resources, I can decide when to jump. Just because Netflix abandons a media that still has a couple of good years left in it, there's no reason that I have to.

Then Mrs. Spenser had a brilliant idea. Although I complain about Tallahassee a lot, there is a funky coffeeshop not too far from our place. It is shares a storefront with ... a video store! If DVDs are so danged old-fashioned, we might as well go all the way. Video 21 here we come!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Only a Dream

We got Jennifer on a tip from MovieMorlocks - and a great tip it was. It stars Ida Lupino - hooked yet? She has come to a desolate old Spanish mansion in the Santa Barbara hills looking to take a position as caretaker. The owner, rich young Mary Shipp, tells her that the last caretaker, cousin Jennifer, just disappeared - probably just left, the flighty thing - and can you start right away?

 Of course, like Rebecca and Laura, this is a movie about an absence.

 Lupino needs the job, and doesn't mind being alone. In fact, she seems to want to spend time by herself. She seems to have had a recent past - romantic disappointment, nervous breakdown, it isn't clear. But she becomes obsessed with Jennifer, reading her diary and eventually wearing her dress. And finally believing that she was murdered.

But who did it? The laconic gardener? The chatty grocery boy? Or could it be - Howard Duff, the guy who is making himself just a little too much at home in the mansion. Always dropping by and helping himself to a beer, trying to make a date with Lupino and not taking "no" for an answer. He seems like a nice guy...

Lupino is predictably excellent in this low-budget thriller/melodrama. She conveys her character's vulnerability and growing hysteria wonderfully. But secretly, I'm really here for Duff. As radio detective Sam Spade, his voice has the prefect combination of deadpan humor and tough guy nerve. Here, I get to see his face, and it just fits. I didn't realize he was married to Lupino until I looked him up just now.

So, an atmospheric thriller (albeit low budget and short) with Ida Lupino and Howard Duff. Good enough for me.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pink Drink

I have written before about my love of the French passionfruit liqueur Passoa. In large doses, it tastes like fruit punch cough syrup, but a drop can make any drink taste tropical.

Case in point, from an Indian restaurant in Shinagawa - Passoa lassi and Passoa beer. The lassi was pretty sweet, but I liked the beer a lot.

Thanks to model/cocktail tester Ms. Y.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great Scott

Roberta from 1935 seemed like a natural - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. It turned out to be Scott that I enjoyed the most.

Astaire has travelled to Paris with his band, the Wabash Indianians, along with buddy Scott. When the gig falls through, they look up Scott's old aunt Roberta, who runs the swankiest dress shop in town. Scott quickly falls for Roberta's secretary, a Russian emigre, played by Irene Dunne. Meanwhile Astaire is interested in Ginger, a Russian singing sensation who can get his band a job.

No need to tell you that love doesn't run smoothly until the last act, or that there are several song and dance numbers. Dunne sings beautifully - I didn't know that. She does "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in  a high-class manner. Astaire does "Lovely to Look at" and "I Won't Dance".  Rogers sings in a phony Russian accent but with a little swing, but that's the gag. Astaire recognizes her as his grade school crush from Wabash. Norma Shearer pulls the same gag in Idiot's Delight 4 years later in 1939.

I've always thought of Randolph Scott as a big stiff, the Ralph Bellamy sort. I guess I don't watch enough Westerns. He is big, and a little stiff, but it fits his straight arrow character. He's a pleasure to watch, even when sharing the screen with Irene Dunne.

Of course, it all ends with a gala fashion show, which is a disaster. The gowns seem to come from one Bernard Newman, and he should be ashamed. The lines are generally competent, but he has two tricks:
  • Clunky, eccentric fur collars, cuffs or sleeves
  • A huge bow (18-24 inches) on the left breast
I don't think that started any trends.

The movie did start a trend - it was remade in 1952 as Lovely to Look At, with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Marge and Gower Champion, Anne Miller, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Red Skelton. It's one of those movies where everyone is unpleasant, except the comics, who are unfunny. Nice dancing though. Stick with Roberta.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Spirited Away

Juliet of the Spirits is a movie that I wanted to see with Mrs. Spenser. I think it helped her understand how I feel about its star, Giulietta Masina.

Masina plays Giulietta, the middle-aged wife of some hotshot fashion world PR guy, Mario Pisu, looking like a shopworn Marcello Mastroianni. She lives in a tiny jewelbox villa in the country by the beach, with a pair of maids, her visiting nieces and the friends and family that come to visit.

Her husband is rarely home, and when he is, he brings his crazy scenester friends. They are all glamorous grotesques, and sweet, frumpy Giulietta doesn't really fit in. Even her mother and sister are great beauties and social lions. But she shares an interest in spirits with this gay crowd, and joins them to visit mediums and seances.

Although Fellini makes the world of glamour deliriously fascinating, like in La Dolce Vita, it clearly disgusts him. Whereas Giuletta, quiet, grounded, loving is greatly attractive, even if everything in the movie conspires against her. Her friends ignore her or give her bad advice and the mystical truths that the spirits speak are all hateful and stupid.

Some of us know Masina from Il Strada and Nights of Cabiria - but I haven't seen these movies. I did she her as the prostitute Cabiria in The White Sheik. But that's not why I fell in love with her. Fellini, who was Masina's husband at the time, lets all of his love for her show. He might not do her any favors by making her middle-aged and dowdy, but he lets her soul shine through. And Masina seems to have the soul for the job.

The ending is ambiguous. I was contented by it, Mrs. Spenser was not. But I was glad she was willing to watch it with me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

40 Days over Tokyo

As I mentioned previously, I am now in Tokyo. I will be here a total of 40 days, plus or minus. I will not be watching Netflix during that time. So (I ask myself), what happens to the blog?

Well, I've still got a backlog of movies I haven't discussed. (I never mentioned the we saw Inception - I figured, what can I say?) I can still write about cocktails, although I doubt I'll be visiting any classic cocktail lounges here. I've been doing short restaurant reviews on Facebook just to pass the time - convert to foodie blog?

Maybe I'll go with the ever popular free-form, whatever's-on-my-mind Bill Needle from SCTV kind of thing. Actually, I think I'd rather go on hiatus.

But I haven't used up all of my material yet, so don't go away. And who knows? Maybe I'll start reviewing Kabuki.

Update: I'd be remiss if I mentioned Kabuki without linking to the MST3K Japanese Theater Sketch.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Kids like Us

Two reasons that we watched Spy Kids: director Robert Rodriguez, and Machete. This was a good idea.

There was plenty of Robert Rodriguez, especially if you consider Antonio Vargas to be his onscreen presence. Antonio and his wife, played by Carla Gugino, are raising 2 kids (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) in a big house somewhere in Mexico. They seem like normal parents, but they have a secret: they are retired spies. The secret comes out when they are captured by mad genius and kiddie show host Alan Cumming and his minion Alexander Minion, played by Tony Shaloub.

The kids are forced to become spies themselves, and turn to a spy gizmo maker for help - their uncle Machete! Yes, it's Danny Trejo as a family friendly version of Machete.

Overall, the film is fun and satisfying. It looks great, but not slick enough to be pure spectacle. Instead, it's just lo-fi enough to pull you in.

I don't know how much kids would like this, but we did.

Netflix Apocalypse

I guess I've been pretty bad about keeping up with this blog - it's partly because I got an iPad. I use it for recreational websurfing instead of my laptop, but it isn't much good for blogging, so I just tend to not get around to it. It's only going to get worse. More about that later.

What do you think about the Netflix-alpyse - their new fare structure that decouples DVDs from streaming? Streaming is no longer going to be "free" - included in the price of the DVD rentals. You can get either DVDs or streaming, or both, but it will cost you.

We are mainly into Netflix for the DVDs. I've explained my problems with streaming before, but there's something more than that. Basically, we want a particular movie watching experience - a special time set aside for a specific movie, planned in advance, etc. We have the 3-disc plan, and I tend to try to get a well balanced set of movies,  something exciting, something silly,something classic - for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

The Netflix streaming experience is more like TV, flip through the channels, see if there's something you want to watch.

So, maybe we'll just drop streaming? Well, we could, but we do use streaming - to wach TV. Recently, we've been addicted to Have Gun Will Travel. And, because HGWT can get pretty grim at times, we use The Addams Family as a chaser. This is an experience that's hard to match with discs - we'd need to subscribe on the 15 discs-at-a-time plan.

So, we're dropping the disc part of the subscription. Partly to protest Netflix's price plan, but mainly because - I'm on an extended business trip to Tokyo. I won't be back until early Oct, and Mrs. Spenser doesn't watch movies when I'm not around. We'll sign up again when I get back, probably 3-at-a-time, with streaming.

But don't tell Netflix, it would ruin the protest.

One benefit of this: It will zero out my queue, which is full of movies that I don't really want to watch. And I can lovingly build it up from nothing!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's a Swamp Thing

I guess I queued up Swamp Thing based on the Film Sack podcast, and based on wanting to see a dumb comic book movie. The presence of Adrienne "Boobeau" had no influence on my decision to watch this.

Barbeau is visiting a secret government lab deep withing the swamps of So. Carolina when they are attacked by commando-thugs, seeking the magic plant-life elixir. At the same time, scientist Ray Wise has been exposed to the elixir and become - the Swamp Thing! AKA, stuntman Dick Duroc in a rubber suit.

Made by horror-schlockmeister Wes Craven in 1982, Swamp Thing is surprisingly tame. It's mostly swamp chases - he gets the steamy atmosphere dead on. Barbeau looks surprisingly ratty, with big 80's hair and a rode-hard/put-away-wet face. The monster looks totally like a guy in rubber suit. The magic plant powers are pretty silly. Still, it's fun in a retro monster movie way. And the ending gallops right along.

Enjoy it. We did.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dicking Around

The Adjustment Bureau is another Philip K. Dick movie adaptations. It's not a blockbuster like Bladerunner or Total Recall. It's kind of a small picture, like Paycheck.

Matt Damon is a young New York politician, whose senatorial bid has just been crushed by the publication of a youthful indiscretion. He meets the girl of his dreams, Emily Blunt, in the men's room of a hotel before his concession speech, then on the bus the next day. So, he loses the senatorship, but gains a cute British girlfriend. He's OK with that, until the Men with Hats show up.

Not the alt-disco group Men without Hats, but the Adjustment Bureau, a group of long-lived beings with mysterious powers tasked with adjusting reality to make destiny come out right. Their powers are mainly:
  • Books with sketches that update automatically and show what is going to happen, similar Harry Potter's Marauder's Map
  • The ability to go through doors and come out almost anywhere
  • To wear hats without irony
They let him know that he is destined to be a great senator, but not to ever see Blunt again. Care to guess whether he accepts this, or decides to fight?

Good things about this movie:
  • Blunt plays a ballet dancer, and they get a very good dancer to double her. Her dancing really is inspiring, and you can see how Damon would be touched
  • The Men with Hats are suitably drab and anonymous, except:
    • African-American agent Harry, played by Anthony Mackie in a cool stingy-brim
    • "The Hammer", a high-level agent played by Terence Stamp
  • New York - this is another New-York-Looks-Wonderful movie. The city may be the best character in the film
Bad things? Well, it doesn't make a lot of sense. It is not Damon's best acting job. I personally would have liked a bit more action. But all in all, I liked it. It was fun, sweet, easy on the eyes and no deeper than it needed to be.

Extra credit, compare and contrast w/ Paycheck: Damon/Affleck, free-will/determinism, love/fate, etc.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Carrying On

Carry On Cruising is the fourth in England's classic Carry On series. If you have heard of it, that may be all you need to know. The series ran from the late 50s to the early 70s, plus a few latecomers. The basic premise is: Throw a loose cast of regulars into a setting (cruise ship), add as many slapstick gags and double entendres as you can think up, and go.

In this episode, Sid James is captain of a cruise ship, the Happy Wanderer. James is a great character actor - famous for his dirty laugh. I was going going to describe his accent as "cockney", but further research indicates it is Johannesburg Jewish. Fans of British comedy series Are You Being Served can think of Mr. Goldberg for reference. Actually, fans of AYBS should enjoy the Carry On movies in general.

There are some new crew members and two lonely young women looking for romance, and so forth. The young lovelies are not the usual voluptuous bimbos, but rather ordinary-to-attractive, not that young women, Liz Fraser and Dilys Laye. (Or am I misreading them? Maybe these are considered bombshells by local standards.)

The hi-jinx are pretty tame - for example, Sid James is a captain, not a sponger, pervert or conman, his natural strengths. The innuendo is mostly mild, the titillation limited. Still, fun for those who like this sort of thing, and the only Carry On film available on streaming, except Carry On Columbus,  a late entry, reportedly a stinker.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Patsy

Pigskin Parade is an average 1930s college comedy, good as any and better than some. It also stars Patsy Kelly.

Yale intends to challenge University of Texas to a charity game, but accidentally invites tiny Texas State University. TSU has just got a new coach, Jack Haley (the Tinman) and his wife Patsy Kelly. Their is a bit of nonsense with the coeds (including an early Betty Grable) and then they need to find a ringer.

On a roadtrip up to Arkansas, they meet a melon farmer (no euphemism), Stuart Erwin, who can toss a casaba the length of the melon patch. They round him and his hayseed sister, Judy Garland up and enroll him.

But first there's some nonsense with a college socialist, played by Elisha Cook, Jr (!). Plus a lot of musical numbers - not very good - mostly featuring some superannuated sophomores called the Yacht Club Boys. And that's all before the big game. Not bad for 93 minutes.

In fact, the movie is not bad at all. The musical numbers are weak, even Garland's, but the big game, played in the snow, is well-staged. I'd say they spent a little money and it shows.

But what I was really interested in was Patsy Kelly. I read about her and Thelma Todd on Movie Morlocks, and it piqued my interest. You see, Kelly was an open lesbian, and this made it hard for her to get roles - at least until the 60s, when her TV career picked up.

She's a sharp-tongued comedian here, and smarter than her husband Jack Haley. They make a good team, him a little weak and clueless, her all spiky and full of vinegar. She makes an OK film into one that's worth watching. Next up: Road Show, where she has at least a minor role.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gen X

Genever is a mystery to many Americas, who don't even know it is pronounced, more or less, "yenay-ver". Not my gin loving friend DW. He knows that this Dutch liquor, flavored with and named after juniper, is the predecessor of English gin. He is well versed in the flavor profiles of classic and modern artisanal gins and genevers. At a recent meeting, he introduced me to the Gen-Gin, a variation on the classic 2-ingredient cocktail, the gin and ginger:

2 oz. Bols Genever
2 oz. Reeds Extra Ginger Beer

Mix over ice in an old fashioned glass.

Chin chin!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Spaced Out

I don't remember Joe Dante's Innerspace from when it was released in 1987. I have seen it in video stores many times, but never bothered to pick it up. It was only when Mr. Peel did a writeup that I was moved to put it on the queue. Thank you, Mr. Peel!

Innerspace stars Dennis Quaid as a drunk, washed out test pilot who volunteers to test a new miniaturization process - the latest thing from Silicon Valley. He is going to be miniaturized in a mini-sub, Fantastic Voyage style, and injected into a rabbit. But industrial spy terrorists invade the lab and in the ensuing mixup, Quaid is injected into hypochondriac nebbish Martin Short.

Quaid is able to communicate with Short through his auditory nerve, which makes Short think he is going crazy. They find Quaid's ex-girlfriend, Meg Ryan, and she thinks they are crazy. They all go after the bad guys, and it is crazy.

The sci-fi plot framework is handled pretty well. I'd call the effects good for the money, assuming this was not a big budget feature. But Martin Short makes it hilarious.

I like, but don't worship, Joe Dante. This film is done with his tidy workmanship and frequent little touches. There is some nice casting, including William Schallert (from Trouble with Tribbles and a lot of other TV work), Orson Bean, and Henry Gibson as Short's manager. The staff at the minaturization lab was played by real lab technicians, to get the real lab feeling down (and possibly to keep salaries down).

Two final points:

  1. Big 80's feel here, including a visit to a San Francisco club, with the limpest dance music ever.
  2. Even though it was shot in LA and Marin, with a few SF locations, they got the Silicon Valley feel just right. And the final scene, driving over Mt. Tam towards the Bay made us very homesick.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Animal Style

Talking animal cartoons - the latest thing? We watched Kung Fu Panda, which is pretty much a standard silly kung fu movie, except everyone in it is a cartoon animal. Jack Black plays the eponymous panda, the chubby lazy son of a noodle shop owner. But he dreams of being a great warrior, and in typical film fashion, it comes to pass.

There's a lot to like about this movie - the look can be beautiful, the fights are fun, and the voice cast is stellar. Black fellow students are the Furious Five: Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Seth Rogen and Lucy Liu. But all in all, I felt this was only standard quality - good but not great.

We mainly watched to hear James Hong, playing Black's father, say "We are noodle folk!" Hong is a hero on the Filmsack podcast, and that's good enough for me.

Rango, on the other hand, is a takeoff on Westerns, starring Johnny Depp as a lizard. He lives in a terrarium with a windup goldfish and a headless, legless, one-armed Barbi torso. His world is shattered when it falls out of a car in the great American Western Desert and he has to make his own way and find himself.

He comes to the town of Dirt a stranger,  and becomes sheriff when he takes the name Rango and starts bragging about his skills with a gun. At this point, the movie becomes The Shakiest Gun in the West, and Depp starts doing Don Knotts. But the town of Dirt is dying from lack of water, due to a plot by the mayor, a tortoise voiced by Ned Beatty - doing John Huston from Chinatown.

Funny, the chief temple priest in Kung Fu Panda was a tortoise as well.

This all plays out to the tune of a mariachi band of burrowing owls, who let us know that Rango may become a hero, but he will certainly die - and soon. These cheerful critters are my favorites - but that's partly because the character design is mostly pretty gross. These are a mangy pack of low-life cartoon animals and no mistake.

Gore Verbinski, who directed Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, has a lot of fun with the source material here, making this a bit deeper and a lot more fun than Kung Fu Panda. Both movies have that problem where the incompetent lazy boob can defeat any villain if he only believes in himself. But in Kung Fu Panda, it's Jack Black. In Rango, it's funny.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


We watched Ronin because From Paris with Love (and Renaissance) made me want to watch a good car chase set in Paris. In my case, this was a re-watch, but I have to admit it - I remembered almost nothing.

I remembered the start, an edgy group of strangers gather in a Paris bar, all recruited by Natascha McElhone for a shadowy mission. They include Sean Bean (or Deadmeat as they call him), Jean Reno and Robert DeNiro. I also remembered that there would be car chases and gunfights. I didn't remember Nice at all - car chases on narrow roads hanging above the sea. I didn't remember Katerina Witt playing an Olympic skater. I didn't remember what was in the MacGuffin. I did remember that there would be awesomeness and I was right.

I think Mr. Schprock recommended this to me. Going in the first time, I guess I expected it to be kind of lame. I mean:
  1. Pretentious Japanese title - how Jean-Pierre Melville
  2. DeNiro - a little old to play a tough guy
  3. Frankenheimer - not my favorite director, too old-fashioned
I was just wrong. Frankenheimer's next movie (and last feature?) may have been Reindeer Games, but he clearly knew what he was doing here.  A classic in the action genre.

In conclusion, Luc Besson. He's not related to this, but with Paris, Jean Reno, action, his spirit is present.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's Up Doc?

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a nice continuation of the Wallace and Gromit tales, with Nick Park's traditional stop motion animation with some CGI to pull it all together.

Wallace and Gromit have become pest control specialists, under the name Anti-Pesto. Their biggest job is to remove a massive infestation of rabbits from the manor home of Lady Tottington ("Totty" to her friends). This leaves them with a lot of rabbits to be held captive - or could they be rehabilitated? If they no longer craved vegetables, they would no longer be a threat to the annual Tottington Giant Vegetable Competition. But the experiment goes horribly wrong, and they have created - a Monster!

The movie overflows with little jokes all over the place. If you've seen any of the other Wallace and Gromit pics, you know what I mean. If not, why not?

In conclusion, Totty is a bit all right.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rude Mechanical

The Mechanic is the original 1972 version of the Jason Statham movie of the same name. It's pretty much the same, but completely different.

The title character is played by Charles Bronson, and he's plays it a lot like the Statham character - cool, methodical, detached. But where Statham has an emotional range that includes mildly amused and pissed off, Bronson feels nothing. But he unlike Statham, he can't sleep at night.

The mechanic's mentor in the later movie is played by Donald Sutherland, as a lovable old coot, a retired spook turned professor. In the Bronson version, he's played by Keenan Wynn as a shifty fixer.

His son, who becomes the mechanic's apprentice, was played as an annoying hipster by Ben Foster in the 2011 movie. In 1972, he is Jan Michael Vincent. His role is the 1972 equivalent, but I guess annoying hipsters were cooler in the 70's. He's not just a spoiled punk, but he has a chilly existentialist core. He is also Jan Michael Vincent - Big Wednesday, Damnation Alley, Airwolf (OK, skip that). He was the Val Kilmer of his day (hmm, maybe skip that too). Anyway, he was a great beatnik anti-hero, like Buck and Ron from Kitten with a Whip.

Also, in 1972, the movie takes place in LA (Hollywood, Malibu) and Naples, instead of Louisiana. I liked Statham's bayou pad, but Bronson's has it beat solid. And the sleazy side of LA looks even better than New Orleans.

As far as the action goes, there's some pretty decent explosions, motorbike chases, etc, but of course, nothing up to modern standards. They claimed the largest explosion in LA for the time - took out an old hotel.

I'm not sure how great this movie was - we liked it, though. But maybe that's just in comparison to the comparatively soulless 2011 version.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Judgement of Paris

From Paris with Love showed real promise: an action comedy buddy film written and produced by Luc Besson, directed by Pierre Morel of District B13, set in Paris, with John Travolta as the tough guy and John Rhys Meyers as prissy partner. It actually works pretty well - at first!

Meyers is the secretary for the American ambassador to France. It is established that he is meticulous, has a lovely exotic girlfriend, and is dabbling in espionage. His spy-bosses instruct him to help get Travolta into the country and take him around. Travolta is an ugly America, with a bald head and goatee, a leather jacket, and a potty mouth. But do his provocations conceal a deeper purpose?

Yeah, of course. Travolta has bulked up a lot as well as shaving his head for this. He looks more like Jess Ventura - but he still sounds like Vinnie Barbarino. That tenor is just not so tough.

I'm pretty sure you can write the first hour of the script yourself: Travolta does something inappropriate, Meyers is mortified. Big fight scene. It turns out that Travolta was really exposing some criminals, Meyers is impressed. Big fight scene. Travolta makes Meyers do something ridiculous (carry around a large Chinese vase full of cocaine), and it turns out really useful. Big car chase scene. And so on.

But toward the end, the stakes get higher, and the action gets more serious. I'll leave out the spoilers, except to say that the action gets more serious, but the movie never does. They do some awful things and never really acknowledge it. In the end, Travolta and Meyers both seem totally unsympathetic, and we kind of hate Besson and director Morel as well.

In conclusion, this just made me want to watch a good action movie set in Paris, so Ronin has been queued up.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Whip It: Good

Sometimes we like to take a break from the contemporary action comedies and black and white obscurities to see something just plain good. For example: Whip It.

In Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, Ellen Page plays a 17-year girl in a small Texas town. Her mother wants her to be a beauty queen, but she's a little too indie rock for that. On a shopping trip to Austin, she sees a flyer for the local Roller Derby girls - the Hurl Scouts - and it becomes her dream. Her best friend, a spunky Wendie Jo Sperber-type played by Alia Shawkat, helps her steal away and join the team.

Now, I'm not sure which calls for more suspension of disbelief - that Ellen Page could pass for 22 when she's supposed to be 17 in the movie, or that someone whose last pair of skates had "Barbie" could become the star of the Derby in a few short weeks. Well, Page the actress is 22, so that works ok, and it is established that the Hurl Scouts suck, so maybe it doesn't take much to become their star.

None of this really bother me - nor that a shy smalltown kid gets the cute guy who tours with an indie band. We believe Page can do anything. I haven't seen her in Juno, but she's great here: beautiful in a quiet way, like Janeane Garafolo, smart, mixed up but determined. And she doesn't get a lot of clever lines like some of the kid's comedies lately (Easy A, Juno?). She just seems nice - and so do her parents, friends and even the destructo roller derby maidens.

Yes, I've saved the best for last. There isn't a lot of skating in this movie (but you could say the same for Rollerball), but what there is, is choice. The other skaters, including one played by Barrymore and several played by real skaters plus Kirsten Wiig and Juliette Lewis, are all great, goofy, nasty and fun.

Special shout-out to Zoe Bell, the stuntwoman featured in Double Dare. She stunted for Xena and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, now she's getting some face on camera time. Good to see her.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Plain Black and White

Renaissance is an interesting experiment - sci-fi noir black and white animation. And we mean Black and White. Not only is there very little color, there are very few shades of gray.

Daniel Craig voices Karas, a cop in future Paris who plays by his own rules. He gets a little too involved in the case of a missing scientist and her lovely sister. It's all tied in with the Avalon Corporation and their search for the cure for progeria and the secret of immortality.

But that's not important. What is important is the look, the style. The animation is amazing - I assume they did some motion capture, then turned it into black shadows and white highlights. It is lovely and impressive, but gets tiring pretty quickly. The information content is quite low, so your eyes have to fill in the details that are lost in the high-contrast. But they do some amazing tricks with reflections, rain, surveillance, shadows and the whole film noir vocabulary - in high-contrast black and white.

Future Paris is given an interesting look - it reminded me some of Immortal, the Enki Bilal graphic-novel-inspired semi-animation. It has a retro-future look, with the canal boats floating along in cast-iron aqueducts high above the streets (but far below the toits de Paris - the rooftops of Paris).

So - visually stunning (although facial expressions were a bit crude in contrast to the rest of the artwork). As far as the story goes, somewhere between disappointing and disposable. I suggest ignoring this part, and letting the artwork wash over you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Myths

Watching Clash of the Titans got us psyched for more Classical mythology, so we queued up Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. We we kind of expecting a Motown or gospel group, but that turns out to be Percy Sledge.

So, young Percy (Logan Lerman) is a disturbed high-schooler who likes to sit on the bottom of the school pool. He lives with his mother and stinky stepfather in Hell's Kitchen and has ADD and dyslexia. But one day in a museum he discovers that he is a demigod - his absent father is Poseidon, and there is a War in Heaven, because someone stole Zeus' (Sean Bean) lightning.

So - first he goes to demigod summer camp. This looks like a nice place in the Saugerties, with log temples and archery, spear and shield practice. His best friend Brandon T. Jackson, a satyr, is with him, and he meets another nice demigod, Annabelle, daughter of Athena.

Soon, they are off on a random series of quests through mythical America:
  • Uma Thurman as Medusa
  • Nashville's Parthenon
  • The Lotus Eater Casino in Las Vegas 
  • And finally, Hades by way of Hollywood - Hades played by Steve Coogan as a rock'n'roller, with Rosario Dawson as slutty Persephone
Just a note - this makes 2 films from 2010 with a Medusa and Charon the ferryman. And neither one used the  obvious Chris de Burgh song.

Directed by Chris Columbus, this movie came across as sort of sub-Harry Potter. We rather enjoyed it, although I would have liked to see the same style (special effects, etc) applied to a story with a little more hef, or at least coherence. I guess fans of the books agree, considering the movie to be a desecration. We were thinking that a light-weight version of something by Gaiman, like "American Gods".

Actually, "American Gods" is being made into a movie, and I don't really want Chris Columbus to make it.

In conclusion, don't pay the ferryman. Don't even name the price.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life For Me!

What could be cooler than pirates, huh? A pirate double bill, maybe? The Yankee Buccaneer / Double Crossbones DVD might be just what you are looking for.

Double Crossbones features Donald O'Connor as a shopboy who falls among pirates. The only way out for him is to become a pirate captain himself. He gets to do a little crazy legs dancing, some swashbuckling, and he wins the girl, played by Helena Carter. In the process he meets several famous captains, including Blackbeard, Capt. Morgan, Ben Avery, Capt. Kidd and Anne Bonney. Bonney is played by the large and homely Hope Emerson, in a style that would have done Margaret Hamilton proud.

I'm a big fan of O'Connor's physical comedy, and he didn't get to make many movies, so this was a must for me.

Yankee Buccaneer is a bit more serious. It stars Jeff Chandler as a straitlaced naval commander who is ordered to turn pirate and find out who is behind all the piracy in the Caribbean. He runs into Suzan Bell as a Portuguese senhorita who gives him the info that he needs. It doesn't make any sense to me, but for him, it cracks the case wide open.

There are a few sea battles, some melees on land, and capture by Carib Indians - led by Jay Silverheels! This is really pretty tepid fare, but Jeff Chandler has a certain allure. He is absurdly handsome, but he also looks exactly like Eugene Levey of SCTV.

In conclusion, what is cooler than pirates? I'd say, robots and ninjas, but not monkeys or zombies. But robot monkey ninjas vs zombie pirates? I'll leave that one up to you.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rehash the Kraken!

Hard to believe that Ms. Spenser and I saw the original Ray Harryhausen 1981 Clash of the Titans together in the theater. But it's not like seeing the new 2010 Clash of the Titans was a big nostalgia trip or anything. This is a whole new movie. Except for a quick cameo from the mechanical owl. And the Kraken.

The overall plot is approximately the same - Perseus, Andromeda, Medusa, Pegasus, etc, etc. This time around, it is overlaid with a strange Men against the Gods theme. This doesn't quite make sense - The gods are fighting each other, some men are fighting the gods, the men who love the gods are kind of Hindu suicide bombers, Perseus hates his father Zeus for being an absent parent and also hates Zeus' enemy Poseidon for killing his step-family, but Perseus also gets all of his powers from the gods, and he doesn't hate that. I think the political stuff was just put in for modern sensibilities, so of course it is incoherent.

The old Perseus was pretty boy Harry Hamlin, all curly hair and jutting jaw. The new version, played by Sam Worthington, goes the other way, with big muscles and a crewcut. In fact, he's the only guy in the movie with short hair, which makes him look kind of weird. I guess he was afraid of looking like a sissy.

But of course what you are really interesting in are the monsters. How do today's CGI beasts compare to Harryhausen's stop motion creatures? Well, they are bigger and more polished, but I can't say they are really better. The giant scorpions are fun, but edited to make it hard to really see them. The Kraken looks swiped from H.R. Geiger, and was really short on personality. I liked the sea monster from Voyage of the Dawn Treader better.

But, muddled editing, clumsy plot, silly haircuts and all, this was a fun action movie. It may have been less original than the original, but it served the same purpose - mindless entertainment - and served it well.

In conclusion, "Release the Kraken!"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nobody's Perfect

Back before television, they used to make a lot more movies. People would expect to watch a new double bill every week at least, and they wanted to see something reliable. Big-mouthed, rubber-faced Joe E. Brown is best known now for having the last line in Some Like It Hot: "Nobody's perfect." But in the 30s and 40s he was starring in 2 or 3 movies a year. I figure they are all worth watching, although none of them is great. Like the man says, "Nobody's perfect."

The Gladiator / Wide Open Faces is a nice double bill. In The Gladiator, Brown is an assistant at a children's pediatric hospital who loses his beloved job to a college man. When he comes into some money, he decides to go back to college. There, he is given an experimental super-serum that takes him from weakling to star athlete instantly. This lets him court coed June Travis and fight Man Mountain Dean. You may not remember Man Mountain, the 300-pound bearded pro wrestler, but it's great to see him here. Brown's love for the kids at the hospital also adds a sweet touch to the usual college sports plot

In Wide Open Faces, Brown is a small-town soda jerk who bumbles into the capture of a bank robber. The robber was heading for a rundown inn at the edge of town, which is owned by Jane Wyman (Mrs. Ronald Reagan the First) and Alison Skipworth (last seen with W.C. Fields in Six of a Kind). Soon, gangsters from all over are flocking there, looking for hidden loot. It all ends with a rather snappy car chase, better than what I was expecting.

Of course, I wasn't expecting much. A guy with a silly face, a pretty girl or two, some pratfalls, and I'm happy. If I get two movies on one disc, all the better.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

Action Jackson is a nice little cop action film from 1988 that manages to slip in a little bit of a late blaxploitation feel. Big man Carl Weathers is police Sergeant Jericho "Action" Jackson, busted down from Lieutenant for excessive violence. He is working on a case that involves people around auto magnate Craig T. Nelson dying noisily (e.g. falling from a tall building through a skylight onto a restaurant table. On fire).

He starts by meeting with Nelson's wife, Sharon Stone, but she winds up dead in his apartment. So he moves on to Nelson's mistress - Vanity. Yes, the Vanity who sang with Prince and "acted" in Berry Gordy's Last Dragon. Yes, she has a musical number. No, I do not know why.

I was put onto this movie by the guys at Filmsack - thanks, guys! And I would be remiss if I didn't use their old catchphrase here: "Boobies!" Both Vanity and Sharon Stone work topless for this movie, if that is of interest to you.

The 'Sackers also pointed out the joy that is Chino "Fats" Williams as retied boxer Kid Sable. He has a gravelly voice with a New Orleans twang, and is practically indecipherable. But very lovable.

So, the movie has a badass Detroit setting, lots of great action (gun, fist, knife and cab fights), plus Sharon Stone, Vanity and Carl Weathers with no shirt on. What's not to like?

Win or Loser

My take on The Losers is that it's the same old thing with a bunch of new guys.

A crew of renegade adventurers is deep in the Bolivian jungle, calling in an airstrike on a druglord or something when it all goes wrong. They discover that their shadowy masters meant them to die on this mission. They conceal the fact that they survived, and, with the help of a hot local chick, make their way back to the US - and vengeance!

These losers are
  • George Clooney-like leader Jeffrey Dean Morgan
  • Scary enforcer Idris Elba
  • Ice-Cube-ish driver Columbus Short
  • Cool Latino sniper Oscar Jaenada
  • Chris Evans, who I actually recognize from Fantastic Four, on comms

Hot chick is Zoe Saldana, from Star Trek, among other things. I kind of recognized her, too, but probably was thinking of someone else, like Halley Berry in X-Men.

That was my reaction throughout this movie - I recognized the actors, then realize I was thinking of someone 20 years older. I can't tell if this is intentional, if the actors are inhabiting the archetypes, or maybe I'm just bad at recognizing actors.

Anyway, this is a fun action movie with a real evil villain, some funny scenes, and big guns and explosions. If that's your thing, you should like it. And I expect we'll be seeing more of these guys, maybe even after they get old enough to have replacements.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Good Buzz

I wasn't expecting much from Seth Rogen's The Green Hornet, because, like, Seth Rogen. I figured it would be a parody of an action film, without actually being funny. It would be a little wacky, inappropriate and there would be humorous situations, but no laughs. I got that, and more.

Rogen plays Britt Reid, neglected and spoiled playboy son of a crusading newspaper owner. When his father dies, he inherits the empire, and meets his father's chauffeur and companion Kato. Now, to get a head of things a little, Kato is played by Jay Chou. I had never heard of him, but in China, he is a rock star and martial arts hero. Possibly brain surgeon and theoretical physicist as well. As Kato, he is infinitely cool. I don't know if he is as cool as Bruce Lee's Kato, but cool enough for this story.

Right, back to the story - Rogen and Chou hang out, get drunk, play pranks, the kind of bad boy stuff Rogen was doing before his dad died. But one day they save a couple from some muggers and Rogen decides they should fight crime, by posing as criminals.

Their opponent, Christopher Waltz as Chudnofsky (or "Bloodnofsky" as he liked to call himself), is one of the best parts of the movie. He rules the LA underworld, but worries that he doesn't inspire fear due to a lack of a snappy catchphrase.

Joining GH and Kato in their fight against evil is Lenore Case, played by Cameron Diaz. She honestly doesn't have a lot to do except to give Rogen someone else to be a dick to. He calls her an old hag and hits on her, basically, while she figures everything out.

So, Rogen plays Reid as an insenstive, entitled, selfish asshole, which is what I was expecting. He condescends to treat Kato as an equal, when Kato is clearly his awesome superior. And, yet, somehow it works. Maybe because he is so unapologetic - he doesn't expect you to love him even though he is an jerk. He expects you to point and laugh at him. Or maybe it's just because Jay Chou is so awesome.

In conclusion, the car chases are probably the best part of the movie. As one of the special features describes it, every time they came up with an effect that needed CGI, they wrote it out of the script. So it's all practical effects, with just a little CGI for wire removal, etc. It's worth it for that alone.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Nothing like a good Jason Statham movie. The Mechanic is close enough.

Statham is, as usual, a meticulously expert criminal, an assassin this time, although possibly working for the government. He has a cozy hideout on the bayou in Louisiana, possibly near John Malkovich's place from Red. His only friend is elderly Donald Sutherland, retired spook and professor. But his boss convinces him that Sutherland has gone bad and needs to be killed, so Statham reluctantly does him in.

But when he finds out that Sutherland's ne'er-do-well son Ben Foster is taking the death hard, Statham takes him under his wing and trains him to be a covert killer.

Now, this doesn't make much sense, but neither does much else in this movie. There are enough gunfights, fistfights and explosions to keep you interested, but don't think too much. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that Ben Foster is total jerk, and Statham is too uptight to be likable. A little charm or humor would have been appreciated. Sutherland might have been good for that - he also looked cool with the big beard - but he gets killed early on.

Also, either the sound was poor or everybody mumbled all the time. That's normal for Statham, but I didn't get most of the dialog. Fortunately, that is not what this movie is about.

In conclusion, this is a remake of a Charles Bronson movie. Which is in the queue.

Don't Say Cthulu!

We just wanted something short to pass the time. When we streamed The Call of Cthulhu, we little realized that we would soon face the unspeakable horror of the Elder Gods!

This is a 47-minute, black & white, silent film adaptation of some of H.P. Lovecraft's chilling tales. It shows the influence of German Expressionism, and the acting is a bit primitive, as you might expect from the early days of cinema. But it was made in 2005.

We were expecting a Larry Blamire style comedy, but they actually play it pretty straight. So if you have ever wished that someone in, say, 1920 had made a Lovecraft movie, this is your flick.

But, please, don't say Cthulu!