Sunday, January 30, 2011

Who's the Man

 Iron Man was a real comics movie breakthrough - with Robert Downey Jr. brilliantly depicting the dissolute and desperate genius Tony Stark. Iron Man 2, on the other hand, is just a great movie, coasting on the first one. We still have Stark as alcoholic, asshole-ic badboy with a tragic flaw - the arc reactor that is keeping him alive is also poisoning him. He has a number of other problems, mainly that the Army wants to get its hands on the Iron Man suit. In fact, Don Cheadle manages to steal one while Stark is having a drunken birthday party.

Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke in Russia is creating a suit of his own, complete with energy whips. He makes a great villain for the piece: Not many actors can match Downey's badboy rep, but Rourke sure can. His Russian accent explains why nobody can understand a word he mumbles.

Add onto all of these Iron Men, we have Stark's daddy issues. It seems his father was a cold Walt Disney type, who - never mind, I couldn't buy any of this, and I won't try to sell you. We also have the romance between Stark and Gweneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts, his secretary. Of course, I enjoy seeing this develop, but I kind of wanted to keep the tension going for a while. Oh well, -SPOILER- I can't be sorry these crazy kids got together.

Ip Man is a totally different kind of man. It stars Donnie Yen as Ip Man, the founder of modern school of Wing Chun martial arts. It starts in 1930s Foshan, China, a rich little town with a lot of martial arts hobbyists. Ip Man is number one, but he rarely fights, preferring to hang out in his mansion with his wife and kids. When the Japanese come and devastate the city, he has to work in the coalworks to survive, but his calm dignified spirit is not broken.

The Japanese general is a martial artist himself, though, and soon seeks out Ip Man to stage fights, and tries to recruit him as a teacher for the Japanese soldiers. It all builds up to a classic karate vs. Wing Chun duel.

Yen is lovely in this role, dignified, grounded, and unstoppable in combat. The fights, choreographed by Sammo Hung, are well worth watching. The film has an interesting look, with a burnished antique feel combined with a white overhead glare in some of the fight scenes. Excellent martial arts movie.

Now, will Ip Man 2 be a disappointment when it is available?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

TV Jazz

This is just a quick note to let you know that the iconic TV detective series Peter Gunn was available on View Instantly. "Was" as in, not any more. They pulled it on 26 Jan. I guess I should have mentioned it before this...

Peter Gunn is of course most famous for Henry Mancini's stabbing theme song. But the whole series is soaking in 1950s jazz - Gunn hangs out at Mother's jazz club, where he meets his gal Edie, a chanteuse with the house combo. She sings a number about every other episode. Gunn's manhunts often lead him to other jazz or beatnik haunts, and there's the occasional guest star like drummer Shelly Manne. The series takes place in a city where the streets have San Francisco names (Post, Geary), but out of town is referred to as "across the river" - as if the locale is Greenwich Village in San Francisco.

Each episode is a neat little noir drama (or comedy, in some cases). Blake Edwards directs, adding little expressionist touches or classic glamor lighting to an otherwise set-bound low-budget series. Character actor Herschel Bernardi as harried Lt. Jacoby is a lot of fun too, as are the rest of the regulars. Billy Barty shows up a few times as a pool playing informant. All in all, more fun than you might expect.

You know what else they pulled off Instant on Jan 26th? Route 66. Their famous theme song was by Nelson Riddle. If you don't remember it, it featured Martin Miner and George Maharis as two young men bumming around the country in a 1960 'Vette. They stop along the way, have adventures and learn the meaning of "America". I only got to watch one episode before it got pulled off of View Instantly. The locations were lovely (Mississippi in the winter), especially compared to the stale backlot sets of Peter Gunn. The proto-hippy wandering youth thing was interesting, but I felt that the show was too long at 1 hour. Oh well, at least I got a chance to check it out.

So, why did Netflix pull these old TV series? This is one reason why I can't take streaming seriously as a replacement for DVDs-by-mail. Aside from the limited selection, the selection can disappear at any time. I want to watch what I want to watch, not what's currently "in stock".

Monday, January 24, 2011

Let's Return Again

Let's return again, to Larry Blamire - The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, sequel to his masterpiece, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Of course, you've seen the original, right? If not, I'll wait.

OK, now we've all seen Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. We are either dying to see more Blamire, or cursing the name of Beveridge for suggesting it. Cursing people may skip the rest of this article.

All others, welcome! I offer reassurances - The Lost Skeleton Returns Again is just what you are looking for. All of our friends are there, even those who died in the last movie. Our story: The government needs scientist Paul Armstrong to find a scientific rock, but he has become a bitter drunken shell of a man, lost in the Amazon. The government and his wife Betty set out to find him. But so does the skull of the Lost Skeleton! Fortunately, so do their alien friends, Kro-Bar and Lattis, disguised as Earth humans Day Trillis and Zamie ... something...

Unfortunately, the rock they seek lies in they Valley of the Monsters! Fortunately - wait, I lost track.

Anyway, you know whether you want to watch this. We do and we're glad we did.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Such a Night

In 2009, I went to see the premier of a movie that was not available on DVD. Simply put, that movie, Larry Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night, is now available through Netflix.

Dark and Stormy Night is a loving parody of 1930s Old Dark House movies. I don't think that it is as much of a masterpiece as Blamire's The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, a 1950s sci-fi spoof. I guess it's a little harder to technically match the velvety shadows and creamy highlights of the classic black and white horror movie. Also, the tone is a little uneven, with some characters acting a little too "in on the joke". But it is so stuffed with characters, situations, gags and plot twists, it's hard to care while you are watching it.

Readers who have been reading may also know that the Lost Skeleton's sequel is also available: The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. We'll be watching that soon.

If you aren't sure this is your cup of tea, go to YouTube and search for "Tales from the Pub". You will find a few dozen short (2-3 minutes) black and white mysteries, all set in a pub, written and directed by Larry Blamire. If you like these, start queuing up the Blamire.

Update: We had so much fun watching Dark and Stormy Night, we went and streamed The Mystery of the 13th Guest. This is the 1942 remake of the 1932 Thirteenth Guest, with Ginger Rogers. Ginger Rogers is not in the remake, but it was directed by William "One-Shot" Beaudine, of Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter fame. It's a pretty dopey movie, with a comic police stooge named Speed (Frank Faylen). He adds a rather Stan Laurel touch to a pretty conventional mystery. What the movie lacks in chills, style, coherence or logic it makes up in ... well, it's very short.

The 1932 version is in the public domain, and you can download from

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Too Soon

One New Year's tradition I don't observe is the "Who Died" list - the list of influential entertainers who died in the last year. But we did feel the urge to commemorate one great late actor, Leslie Nielsen, died Nov 28, 2010. We did not watch any of his best or most famous movies, but we felt our choice was appropriate: Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

I'm not going to say too much about this film, because Mr. Peel of Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur said it so much better. It was made in 1995 and is, unbelievably, the last feature Mel Brooks directed. It isn't one of his funniest (or Nielsen's or co-star Harvey Korman's), but it has a very lovable quality. It feels like more of a tribute than a spoof. Some of the best parts are Peter MacNicol's dead-on Dwight Fry imitation as Renfield, and Korman's Nigel Bruce as Dr. Seward. Nielsen makes a terrible Dracula, but never lets on - keeping his Transylvanian accent firmly in place, and tongue far from his cheek.

The jokes are rare and mostly pretty lightweight, but it worked for us much better than, for ex, Spaceballs, which was just a mess.

Good-bye, Lt. Drebbin. We'll miss you.

A sad postscript - Nielsen's co-star in Forbidden Planet, Anne Francis died Jan 2, 2011. We loved her in Honey West.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year from Hotlanta!

We're flying home to Tally and we have a 4 hr layover in ATL. But I recently read about this restaurant on Concourse E - One Flew South. So Ms. Beveridge is having a French 75 and I've got a Smoked Manhattan:

Bacon infused rye
Allspice dram
Angostura bitters
3 housemade maraschino cherries

Neverbeen more happy to be stuck in an airport.