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.