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!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

About the Torpedoes

Colonel Effingham's Raid lives or dies pretty much on your love for Charles Coburn. Since The More the Merrier is one of our top 10 favorites, we were pretty happy.

Coburn plays Col. Effingham as his usual character - irascible, old-fashioned and overbearing. He has moved back to his home in small-town Mississippi after a long career in the Army. The town is run by the Down Home party, a slightly crooked bunch of pro-business demopublicans who want to tear down the old courthouse so the Mayor's brother-in-law can rebuild it on a no-bid contract. When the Col. finds out about this, it's, well, "what Admiral Farragut said. About the torpedoes."*

This is framed by a love story about Coburn's nephew, played by William Eythe, and Joan Bennett (from TV's Dark Shadows), who work together on the town's smaller paper. The background is the coming World War II (the movie was made in 1946, set in 1940).

But there's a problem underneath this patriotic element: These southerners are always ready to defend their country - or to rebel against it, as the Col. is a big supporter of the Lost Cause and the Confederate Heroes. And the government is made up of scoundrels and crooks, so we should ignore elections and run the town based on mob-rule, led by retired army officers. Without the indomitable Charles Coburn, this flimsy froth quickly falls apart.

* If you haven't seen The More The Merrier, Coburn's catchphrase is "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" This is delicately rephrased in Colonel Effingham's Raid by the Col.'s elderly sister.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Robot Monster Meets Bikini Babes - in Space!

I couldn't tell you how Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster got into my queue. I suppose someone described it as a combination Monster-a-Go-Go meets Mars Needs Women, with bikini girls, and I fell for it.

The movie starts out with a lot of stock footage of the space program, and that sort of sets the tone. That tone is a combination of garage rock and stock footage. We meet our antagonists - a Space Babe and her weird sidekick Nadir in a flyng saucer, who destroys NASA with his catch phrase, "Maximum energy!"

Then we meet Astronaut Frank, who is secretly a robot ("Frankenstein", get it?). His mission is scrambled, along with his face, by the saucer, and everybody lands in Puerto Rico. NASA sends its best team to recover it: a bland scientist and his hot assistant. They hop on a Vespa and take off on a romantic tour of San Juan while the sub-Beatles-esque love theme plays.

So, more bad costumes, cheap props, military stock footage, very few bikinis (I was promised bikinis!), "our weapons are powerless", etc, etc. It's enthralling really.

I think this movie calls for a remake. I want the doughy general played by Joe Flynn. But since he's dead, let's get Jack Black. I want someone bland for the scientist - Keanu Reeves has the right emotional range, but has too much charisma. Maybe Megan Fox for the evil Space Queen. But most of all:

Nadir: played by Jon Lovitz

Frank: played by Jim Carey

Who do you want to cast? And is it worth watching to find out?!?!??

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love Jones

Cleopatra Jones is a great blaxploitation film from 1973 that does not star Pam Grier. Sorry. The globe-trotting, drug-crime-fighting, presidential-authorization-carrying Cleo Jones is played by Tamara Dobson. She is in Turkey, bombing the poppy fields when she finds out that the fuzz have been hassling the drug rehab house she sponsors in LA. She rushes right back to get to the bottom of it, driving around in a custom Corvette, wearing slinky outfits, and high-kicking anyone who gets in her way.

Along with the crooked cops, we have pimp/dealer Doodlebug, played with goofy gusto by Antonio Fargas (TV's Huggy Bear). But the lady behind it all, the Big Mommy, is Shelley Winters, a shrieking lesbian crime boss. She also seems to be having a great time in this.

This movie isn't very street, more comic book in style. The production values are great - the hair, the fashions, the rides. The big car chase is Fords v. Chevy and they race through the LA River with water in it. The kung fu is possibly not the best, but Tamara can kick over her head, and she's a tall woman. I've got to rate this as a superior blaxploitation.

But Dobson isn't Pam Grier. She doesn't have those eyes, those lips, those cheekbones. So I'll leave it up to you, readers: Friday Foster or Cleopatra Jones?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Documentary Night

Documentary night. Sounds pretty dry, right? Good news, the two I watched were fun, exciting and full of heart.

Double Dare is about 2 stunt women:

  • Jeannie Epper, who was stunt double for Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman in the 70s. As the intertitle says, "35 years later...", she is still working.
  • Zoe Bell, the young New Zealander who doubled for Lucy Lawless  in Xena. When that series wrapped up, she is still a teenager, heading to Hollywood and the unknown.
Both of these women have amazing lives, great spirit and bravery, and have a lot of fun. Bell is particularly magnetic - well, she's young and beautiful and the Kiwi accent doesn't hurt. She should really be acting in her own right, not just doubling. Checking IMDb, I find that she has.

Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart documents NewGrass banjo artist Fleck's trip to Africa. Since the banjo was an instrument that came to America with the slaves, he wanted to take it back to Africa to find its roots. He seems tentative at first - how will he adapt his bluegrass/jazz/avant-garde style to the polyrhythmic vocal and instrumental styles of Africa? -SPOILER- He does and it's beautiful.

There's some great music here, not too much scenery, and some lovely people that Fleck meets. I'm getting the album.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Short Films

The things that bubble up from the depths of my Netflix queue. Like For Your Height Only: Double Feature - a Pilipino James Bond parody starring midget Weng Weng, the shortest person to ever star in a movie.

Weng Weng is an appealing character, with big soulful eyes and a rather cartoonish nose. He's fine at comedy, but not much of an action star. He looks too sad and a little too tentative for the super spy role. I know that that's the humor of it, but I don't think they pull it off. He does have good moves - he's always sliding across the floor under the bad guys gunfire.

I couldn't watch the second part of the double feature. I can't recommend that you watch even the first.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Casino Night

Monte Carlo: What's not to love? It's a frothy love story directed by Ernst Lubitsch in 1930. Well, for one thing, it stars Jeanette MacDonald. At least her leading man isn't Nelson Eddy, it's Jack Buchanan. So, let's just say I'm not a fan of the stars. But I do love the Lubitsch touch.

MacDonald has run out on her wedding to some Duke. She heads to Monte Carlo with a little cash and a system at roulette. Buchanan falls in love with her from afar as she gambles away her last franc. To get close to her, he poses as a hairdresser and moves in with her as part of the staff.

We get some not-too-bad songs, and some stinkers. We get MacDonald swanning around in her underwear. We get some lovely Art Deco sets and a romance that is almost believable. If Buchanan wasn't so funny looking...

The style is a bit old-fashioned - it's early in the talkie era and you can see they are still figuring some of this stuff out. So I would not call this first-rate Lubitsch: the earlier Love Parade or later One Hour with You are superior (maybe it's Maurice Chevalier?). But as a frothy love story? Enjoy.

Cut! Print!

I was reviewing the films I've seen this year for the film quiz and I was surprised to see how many disappointments and just mediocre movies there were. On the other hand, Machete really satisfied. I'm going to call it the best film I've seen this year.

Based on a phony trailer in in the Grindhouse roadshow, Machete is the story of Danny Trejo, a Federale who is set up and supposedly killed by a drug kingpin. He turns up alive in Texas, a day laborer without documentation. He attracts the attention of Michelle Rodriguez, a taco truck operator and leader of the immigrant underground, and of Jessica Alba, an INS agent with a conscience.

Trejo is an amazing presence as Machete. He is about 60 years old, scarred, pock-faced and utterly badass. Machete is his name, and his favorite weapon. Dismemberment, beheading, impaling and the occasional bisection are his stock in trade. Will he run into the man who set him up and killed his family? Ya think? But did you expect it to be Steven Seagal?

He's great here, as is Cheech Marin, Lindsay Lohan, and, well, everyone. I suspect everyone was having a great time, especially Robert Rodriguez. On the other hand, rumor says that he didn't want to do this, but Danny Trejo forced him into it. Because you don't want that guy mad at you.

This is pretty much a comedy (albeit grisly) - a Mexploitation parody, almost as broad as Black Dynamite. It's funny, exciting, sexy (Jessica Alba is CGI nude!). And Danny Trejo is our new hero, along with Michael Jae White. Best chop-em-up of the year.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Back to the 30s

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was recommended (by M. Monkey, my other fan) as a romantic comedy for adults. That and Ms. Frances McDormand in a leading role were enough for me.

It takes place in England just before WWII. McDormand is a governess who has lost her position. In fact she has lost everything, and is starving to boot. Her only chance is a position as social secretary with Amy Adams, a flighty actress with a complex social life, involving a naked man in bed, the man who's keeping her showing up and an old flame just getting out of prison.  McDormand is a woman of morals and propriety, but she is determined not to starve so she makes herself indispensable to Adams.

She is rewarded with a peek at the luxurious life lived by the other kind of woman. And even though she may still starve, she does meet an interesting gentleman who designs women's undergarments.

We get a nice mix of near-screwball comedy of manners and something a little more serious, as England is on the brink of war. The script doesn't talk down to us, and it is both fun and entertaining. Unfortunately, the whole thing has the feel of a good BBC TV production - The lingerie specialist, for example, seems to want to be  Jeremy Brett or a Stephen Fry. Nothing wrong with these BBC productions - some are very good. But I feel like we should get something a little more in a feature film.

I guess you could call this a Small Film - not ambitious, it does what it sets out to do. Needless to say, McDormand inhabits her role effortlessly. But I am reminded of the famously boring headline "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative". I'm afraid this film is something like a "Worthwhile 1930s Comedy".

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The End Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Pt I is the beginning of the end for the Harry Potter franchise. I didn't read the books, so I guess I'm just a muggle, but I enjoyed these a lot. The cast was particularly appealing, and the mechanics of movie making let them grow up at about the same rate as their characters do - a rare case where real life and movies work out together.

I'll miss these movies when there are no more new ones being made. Still, they can't string something like this out indefinitely - at least they shouldn't. It's gotten darker and darker, until you don't want it to go much further. The romantic subplot can't be teased much longer. And we expect and demand some actual battles between Good and Evil.

Still, it seems that there is still a lot to tell, maybe too much. This movie seemed to be full of "new character enter", and new legends and gimmicks that everybody has heard about except for me and maybe Harry. I think he says "Does everybody know about this but me?" at least twice.

Once is about the symbol for the Deathly Hallows - a line in a circle in a triangle. The line symbolizes a wand, the circle a stone and the triangle a cloak. Because cloaks are triangular, I guess. It seems a little late to pull this McGuffin out, but we have a bunch of them: an old lady historian, a brother for Dumbledore, etc.

Then there is a whole Ministry of Magic subplot, a 1984/V for Vendetta style political dystopia. I feel that this was almost forced on Rowling by current events. I don't think it worked well with the rest of the story. Still, it gave a chance to use some great visuals of oppressive architecture.

So, one more movie and it's over. I suppose it  is time.

Pencils Down!

Just finished the Film Quiz. Hope I can get partial credit on some of the questions.

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché
Least loved: Whore with heart of gold, even if it is Marlene Deitrich in Destry Rides Again.

2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?
Well, I've exaggerated about Knife in the Water. I really did see most of it on a black and white TV that cut off the subtitles. But honestly, I didn't watch the whole thing.

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?
E.E. Horton, of course. If only for Fractured Fairy Tales.

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie
What makes you think my favorite is The Girl Can't Help It? Although it is. Second favorite is anything else that doesn't have Jerry Lewis or Doris Day. Porky Pig is OK.

5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?
Yes, but I don't know if I'll watch it again. (Fun fact: I can play I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper on the ukulele.)

6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)
All I can think of is Rocky Horror Picture Show.

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?
Melanie Laurent, because I have vaguely heard of Blake Lively.

8) Best movie of 2011 (so far...)
I'm going to say Fast Five, although we haven't seen it yet. That's the way we feel about car movies.

9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)
I say Rondo Hatton. Mrs. Spenser says that's too easy - How about Humphrey Bogart? It's subtle, but noticable.

10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)
I've always liked his Dogme. Never seen a movie, though. Never wanted to.

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?
Henry Silva. Leave the Bronx!

12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences
I'd have to pick gritty fantasy author Glen Cook, although he has nothing to do with movies. For movie writers, I got nothing.

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming
Theatrically, nothing. On DVD, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - worthy, but not completely satisfying, like a decent BBC miniseries. Last movie on streaming was Call of Cthulu - a 2005 version of a 1920s silent Cthulu horror film. Not a joke, actually.

14) Favorite film noir villain
I just know everybody is going to say the same thing: Tommy Udo - Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death.

15) Best thing about streaming movies?
That they are streaming. Everything else stinks - low quality, poor selection, hard to rewind/ff, no features... But if the DVD you got from Netflix has a crack in it, at least there's something to watch.

All that said, we've been watching old TV shows on Netflix streaming. Our favorite now is Have Gun - Will Travel.

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus) 
France Nuyen, mostly for being on Star Trek, but also Operation Diamond Head.

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas that isn’t called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus) 
The bad, beautiful one? The one called Einar? (Ok, I looked that one up.)

18) Favorite movie about cars
We are so in love with car movies - we even saw Ron Howard's directorial debut for Roger Corman, Grand Theft Auto. Not our favorite, though. Mrs. Spenser wanted me to say Two-Lane Blacktop as a good snobby answer, but I have to tell the truth - It's Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.

19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?
Marie Windsor for so many reasons - Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy among them.

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul
The Shining really cries out for a Mel Brooks style parody, with maybe Rick Moranis in the Jack Nicholson role.

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences
Is Carlos Saura considered low profile? He makes amazing movies about dance, mostly flamenco. I never hear anything about him, though.

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)
Mickey Rourke comes to mind, but we haven't seen The Wrestler. We did see The Expendables, but everyone in that was a self-parody.

23) Best place in the world to see a movie
At my house, because they know how to make a Margarita there. We don't have a video set up in our bedroom - yet.

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?
Sterling Holloway. Or am I thinking of Earl Holliman?

25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film
As it turns out I may have only seen one - Ochazuke no Aji. We actually moved to Japan because we loved Japanese films so much, but it was for the samurai films, not the home-drama.

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure
Here's Johnny... (Note: So you don't think I'm lying about films I've seen, I have not see The Shining.)

27) Name a non-action-oriented movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround 
Maybe one of those crazy Bollywood movies, where the dance numbers go from the marketplace to the Eiffel Tower to the Alps? And the movie is all dance numbers?

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?
Mrs. Spenser hates Chris Evans for his Human Torch. I kind of like him.

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era
We've got a million of them. How about Nat Pendleton, perennial dumb cop of the Thin Man movies? You recognize him immediately.

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw
Wakulla Springs Florida, where they made Creature of the Black Lagoon. Lovely park with a great boat tour that goes right to the place where the Gill-man surfaces. Gill was played by a park lifeguard who later went Hollywood.

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie
You can ask a Budd Boetticher question every single quiz - I'm still not going to watch any of his movies.

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?
This one stumped me, but since Julie Adams seems to have been in the Creature from the Black Lagoon, then her.

33) Favorite Universal-International western
I don't think I've ever seen one, but I guess Winchester '73 is the one I'm most likely to see someday.

34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)
I guess it would be stunt-casting, like Neil Young's cameo in Love at Large, or Jerry Garcia in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (he was the bum with the banjo and the dog).

35) Favorite actress of the silent era
Does Zasu Pitts count as silent era? She was pretty big in talkies, too, but great in Greed.

36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)
Singing "Landlord fill the flowing bowl", then demanding "Where's my breakfast!?!?" in The Lady Eve. We love that scene. I quote itabout every morning.

37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)

38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?
Owners could set aside a theater or two for themed film-club style programs - fright night, samurai sagas, New Wave, what ever. Moviegoers could just shut up! Except where appropriate, of course.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

No Illusions

If you've seen all the Jacques Tati films I mentioned earlier, and you want more, then you pretty much have no choice but to watch The Illusionist. Although it is an animated film, made in 2010 by Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville), it is based on a Jacques Tati script. Best of all, it stars a M. Tatischeff - Jacques Tati's real name.

M. Tatischeff is a stage magician, working 1930s Paris music halls and getting shoved off the bill by an an anachronistic rock band. His search for bookings takes him to the far Hebrides, where he performs at a pub to celebrate the coming of electricity. There he meets a naive teenage girl who seems to believe that he can really do magic. Because he produced a pair of red shoes for her out of thin air (that he had bought for her as a surprise), she follows him to Edinburgh.

The animation for M. Tatischeff is remarkable - he is like the poster for Mon Oncle come to life. He moves with M. Hulot's gawky precision, leaning into a stiff bow or turning on his heel. His young charge is drawn with a simple gamin beauty - part elf, part Eskimo, all Scots.

And Edinburgh is rendered in loving detail, a handsome dirty complicated city, overlooked by castle and crags. It's a character in the same way the Studio Ghibli makes the surroundings into a character, like Tokyo in The Cat Returns.

So, a must for lovers of M. Hulot - BUT! I must warn you, the effect of this movie is very different from a M. Hulot story. M. Hulot is a bumbler and a fool, but always a happy one. M. Tatischeff is more wise, more world-weary. His face is older than even the latest M. Hulot. He is tired, he is failing and he knows it. The girl he has taken under his wing will be fine - she is young and beautiful. He may not be so lucky.

As a magician, of course M. Tatischeff has a rabbit. It is a terror, who bites everyone and refuses to get in the hat. Yet in a quiet moment, just before dawn, we find M. Tatischeff asleep with the rabbit on his chest - probably just for the warmth. And finally, at the end of his rope, M. Tatischeff takes the rabbit to the peak of one of the crags overlooking the city and releases him. Seeing this rabbit alone in the wild is perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of the movie.

Oh, that was a spoiler, I guess. The spoiler is that this movie may leave you sad and depressed, and not in a wistful, rueful, warm and melancholic way.

Tati wrote this script when he was at his peak - before Playtime bankrupted him and all of his backers. He dedicated it to his daughter - and there is a bit of a scandal about an illegitimate daughter he never recognized. But clearly, this is not about daughters, but about the public, who see Tati as a magician who can produce a pair of shoes, a dress, or a comedy out of thin air. He wants us to acknowledge the price he pays to produce the magic. And the price seems to him to be very high.

I'm sorry. M. Tati, I prefer the illusion.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Snap Quiz

You know those dreams you have where you're in school with no pants on and there's a test that you didn't study for because you don't go to school any more, you're a grown up darn it? Well, that dream just came true! Unless you're wearing pants. Or still in school.

That is to say - Prof. Avery has just posted the CORTIZONE-FUELED, BIGGER-THAN-LIFE, SUPER BIG GULP-SIZED SUMMER MOVIE QUIZ over on Sergio Leone and and the Infield Fly Rule. I'll be working furiously on it for the next few days - get your answers in fast or nobody will read them.

Hint: the answer to 5 is Yes. What are you putting for 31?