Wednesday, December 26, 2012

County Hunter

Not sure what made us think of Brisco County, Jr. I think we had only seen one or two episodes of this 1993 Bruce Campbell western TV series - we wanted to like it, we did like it, but never got into it. But since we've been watching some westerns, and seeing Campbell in Burn Notice, we thought we'd give it a try again.

The movie is set in the American West, ca. 1890. Campbell plays Brisco County Jr., a bounty hunter hunting the men who killed his father, Brisco County. I hope the oddball name gives you some idea of the slightly off-kilter humor of the series. He has been hired by a group of robber barons, who assign a pantywaist lawyer, Socrates Poole (Christian Clemson) to manage him, and play Artemis Gordon to Campbell's Jim West. John Astin's steampunk mad scientist completes the Wild Wild West feel of the show.

There is also a mysterious orb from outerspace with mystical powers.

The adventures are colorful and silly, there are a few pretty girls and terrible villains. But out favorite is probably rival bounty hunter Lord Bowler, a ferocious black man in an army uniform decorated with Indian beadwork and accessorized with sawed-off shotgun holstered on his back and a bowler hat. Lord Bowler is played by Julius Carry, who was, believe it or not, Sho'nuff, the Shogun of Harlem in Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon.

Not sure how many of these we'll watch - it only ran to 27 episodes, so not more than that. Also, they are only available on disc, not streaming. But we'll definitely watch a few.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Light and Magic

Hugo is one of those movies that seems so good, you're almost afraid to watch. Will it be too sentimental, too preachy, too crass? How will they spoil it? SPOILER ALERT - They don't spoil it. It's just that good.

You many know the setup: Hugo is a young orphan who lives in the clockworks of a Parisian railway station in the 1930s. He maintains the clocks while living a hand-to-mouth existence, stealing food and springs and gears from a toyshop, while dodging the station policeman (Sascha Baron Cohen, doing Kevin Kline). One day, the toyshop owner (Ben Kingsley) catches him, and that changes everything.

The movie is visually beautiful, and also full of stuff. For example:

  • Light: Snowflakes and dust dance in light beams, and images are projected on screens
  • Machines: The station clock, the toys in the shop, and even the station police's leg brace are all gear-punk machines, not to mention the second act reveal of Hugo's marvelous machine
  • Movies and film preservation: In some ways, that is what this movie is all about
  • Books: But just as much, it is about books. Hugo meets the shop owner's step-daughter, who introduces him to a bookseller, played by Christopher Lee. Both books and movies represent adventure and -
  • Magic: Maybe that's what the movie is about, the combination of mechanics, sleight-of-hand and wonderment that is magic.
Plus all kinds of fun: Salvadore Dali sketching James Joyce in the station cafe while Django Reinhardt plays as the camera swoops past, a few romances, mysterious statues of frozen men, and so on. Not to mention that it was in 3-D - not mentioned because we saw it on a regular flatscreen.

Director Martin Scorsese really hit this one on the head. My only complaint would be that it was too full of stuff, too many themes, schemes and dreams. But I can live with that.

I'd like to single out, among a great cast, young Asa Butterfield as Hugo, and Chloë Grace Moretz as his friend, both fine child actors.

In conclusion, I kind of wish Tin-Tin had been this movie instead.

Chips Ahoy

Wow, this was a tough film quiz. I don't think I've ever been so late for a quiz I actually finished. Even Dennis beat me (by months) with his answers and he is always late!

So now I submit my work, and get my reward - I can now read everyone else's answers.

1) What is the biggest issue for you in the digital vs. film debate?
None. I have no dog in this fight, no horse in this race. Since I watch everything at home on DVD/Blu-ray/streaming, it's all digital to me. But I guess preservation (and to a lesser extent, access) has got to be first. Let's not lose films to bit-rot and backup crashes the way we used to lose them to exploding film stock.

2) Without more than one minute’s consideration, name three great faces from the movies
Michael J. Pollard, Ned Sparks, Simone Signoret. Wow. Where did that come from? 

3) The movie you think could be interesting if remade as a movie musical
GREAT question! I'd have to say, any of them! 12 Angry Men! Alien (heavy metal music with Butoh dance)! La Dolce Vita (since 8 1/2 has been done)! In fact, everything can and should become a musical - Watergate, Hurricane Katrina, Red Sox win the pennant in 2004, what I had for lunch. 

I guess it helps if you have a reasonably large ensemble (Alien might be tough because the cast isn't large enough) and comedy works better than drama. But it all depends on the music. 

4)  The last movie you saw theatrically/on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming
As of now, we are in the middle of Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame in Blu-ray. We are loving it, but we fell asleep.

Theatrically, I got out to the Stanford Theater (see sidebar) to see Olson and Johnson's Crazy House, the follow up to Hellzapoppin'. It was, indeed, crazy.

5) Favorite movie about work
Since I've never seen Office Space, I'm not sure what to say.

6) The movie you loved as a child that did not hold up when seen through adult eyes
I remember loving Visit to a Small Planet when I saw it in a VT barn as part of some community kids event. I just re-watched it, and remembered my favorite part: The dog, Rags, still holds up. The rest is pretty weak.

Do I get partial credit?

7) Favorite "road" movie
I want to say The Hobbit, but it isn't out yet. So, Vanishing Point.

True confession: I haven't seen Damnation Alley, that SF race across radioactive future America in tanks cars movie, unless I saw it in 1977 when it came out. Since I don't remember, I guess it can't be my answer.

8) Does Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention change or confirm your perspective on him as a filmmaker/movie icon? Is that appearance relevant to his legacy as a filmmaker?
No real effect on my notion of him as an artist. I guess I knew he was a Republican asshole, although I was a little surprised to see him fall for the Republican empty suit.

I don't think much of the personalities and politics of most artists. Bob Dylan, the greatest song writer of our era, is by all accounts an asshole. Yet Ronald Reagan, our greatest president, was a terrible actor.

Heh, got through that last part with a straight face....

9) Longest-lasting movie or movie-related obsession
Ann Blyth's status as the actress to play men's fantasy roles - the silent mermaid, the lusty barmaid, the oriental princess, the girl whose every prayer is answered, and my favorite, Killer, the rich, perfume-soaked, lovestruck teenager from Once More, My Darling. I taped this from a late-night AMC show - note "taped" and "AMC" to estimate era - and still have the tape.

10) Favorite artifact of movie exploitation
I recently enjoyed the cameo of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen doing their dirty hit, "Everybody's Doing It Now" in Hollywood Boulevard.

But Pam Grier's shower scene in Friday Foster might be my favorite.

11) Have you ever fallen asleep in a movie theater? If so, when and why?
Many, many times. It's worse at home, of course (see answer 4). Now, our friend friend Billy was famous for this - we would say that a boring movie did not pass "Billy's Z test".

But falling asleep in front of a movie can be so much fun - the irresistible drug-like urge to drowse, the dreams that merge with the movie, the struggle to maintain consciousness. Some of my favorite movie experiences include sleep.

12) Favorite performance by an athlete in a movie
Rico Browning as the Gill-man.

13) Second favorite Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie
Wow - turns out I haven't seen any of his movies. It's just as well, they look depressing. I think I have been getting him mixed up with Wim Wenders. Which one made Ali: Fear Eats the Flesh and which one made The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick?

14) Favorite  film of 1931
Probably should be City Lights, but I'll go with Maltese Falcon. But, man, what a good year.

15)   Second favorite Raoul Walsh movie
Strawberry Blonde, with White Heat as number 1, both Cagneys.

16)   Favorite film  of 1951
Not as good a year as 1931, but there were some good ones. I pick African Queen.

17)   Second favorite Wong Kar-wai movie
Ashes of Time and Eagle Shooting Heroes are a tie for first and second place.

18)   Favorite film of 1971
Great year for car films - Two Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, Le Mans. But I'm going with Fists of Fury.

19)   Second favorite Henri-Georges Clouzot movie
Looks like I've only seen Diabolique, so I don't have a second favorite.

20)   Favorite film of 1991
This is not such a good year, at least according to the most popular films from 1991 on IMDB. A lot of slick, derivative stuff, IMNSHO.

However, I love Jackie Chan's Operation Condor. Fun, action-packed, and the 3 female leads - sex-ay!

21)   Second favorite John Sturges movie
Miracle of Morgan's.. wait - John? Not a favorite director, but I'd say The Great Escape. I saw it when it came out, I guess, and loved it. I guess everyone's first fave is the same.

22)   Favorite celebrity biopic
I'm going to answer this straight - The Benny Goodman Story. First: Great story of boy from the ghetto makes good, crosses racial lines, and makes hot swing popular on the West Coast where they listen to his East Coast midnight shows on radio at 9:00. Second: It's filled with the real musicians - the clarinet parts are really Benny. Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Kid Ory, Stan Getz, Harry James, etc, all play themselves. And Steve Allen does a pretty good job as the star. Almost a documentary.

23)  Name a good script idea which was let down either by the director or circumstances of production
Do you mean a whole script that went wrong, like Starship Troopers? Not the idea of doing it as a parody of militarism, but doing it without the powered suits.

24) Heaven’s Gate-- yes or no?
Not yet, but I'd like to. I've heard it's pretty good.

25)   Favorite pairing of movie sex symbols
Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman, real life.

26)   One word that you could say which would instantly evoke images and memories of your favorite movie. (Naming the movie is optional—might be more fun to see if we can guess what it is from the word itself)
So, this has to be my favorite movie, right, not just my favorite movie that can be evoked with one word? I guess I would have to say "intercosta-clavicle" (if that is really a word).

27)   Name one moment which to you demarcates a significant change, for better or worse, on the landscape of the movies over the last 20 years.
Netflix, hands down.

28) Favorite pre-Code talkie
The Glorification of the American Girl - It's not really racy, but has a couple of nifty dance numbers, just a kid on stage kicking up her heels.

29) Oldest  film in your personal collection (Thanks, Peter Nellhaus)
By release date or date of acquisition? Release date is probably DeMille/Colbert's 1934 Cleopatra. But the movie I have owned the longest (and still own)? Probably a tape of the Spike Jones TV show that I bought when a Blockbuster forced the local video store out of business in the late 80s.

30)   Longest film in your personal collection. (Thanks, Brian Darr)
Wish I still had Brooks' Mahabharata, but I gave it to a friend.
31)   Have your movie collection habits changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?
Um, DVDs? I had a beautiful collection of 100+ VHS tapes - obscure musicals, Jackie Chan, Pam Grier, store-bought (not traded) Mystery Science Theater 3000 tapes, Firesign Theater's Hot Shorts, The President's Analyst, Marx Bros., silent slapstick, oh boy. Mostly bought secondhand from video rental places converting to DVD.

We just took them all to the recycling (well, except for Hot Shorts, The President's Analyst, and ...). We have a VCR (with a DVD dubbing feature), but it's just too much trouble to watch. We don't miss slow fast fwd or rewind. But I do miss the collection. 

32)   Wackiest, most unlikely "directed by" credit you can name
While working on this quiz, I saw a movie and when I got to the director's credit, I said, "That's it! That's the answer to question 32!" I wish I remembered what movie that was...

33)   Best documentary you’ve seen in 2012 (made in 2012 or any other year)
Looking over my notes, I don't see too many. We rather liked Year of the Horse, but mostly for the music, less for the old clips, and we didn't really pay attention to the interviews at all.

34)   What’s your favorite "(this star) was almost cast in (this movie)" anecdote?
Ronald Reagan was going to be Rick in Casablanca, right? 

35)   Program three nights of double bills at a revival theater that might best illuminate your love of the movies
Boy, you want us to work for this, don't you? I'll pick 3 of my favorite genres, with a more and less famous example

Night 1: Bringing Up Baby and Once More, My Darling (see above).
Night 2: Duck Soup and Hellzapoppin'
Night 3: District B13 and Raging Phoenix

Or mix them up: Baby and Phoenix, Duck and Darling, B13 and Hellza! It's all good!

36)   You have been granted permission to invite any three people, alive or dead, to your house to watch the Oscars. Who are they?
My maternal and paternal grandmothers and my paternal grandfather (my mother's father died before I was born). They weren't particularly big movie fans, but you've given me the power to raise the dead, if only for the length of a telecast. Sorry, family comes first.

37) Favorite Mr. Chips. (Careful...)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Space Duff

Spaceways is one of those can't-miss movies - Hammer Films doing 1950's sci-fi, with American sensitive tough-guy Howard Duff starring. You go into this kind of movie with low expectations, and you're rarely disappointed.

Duff plays a visiting American scientist at a secret English space program. Everyone is locked into the compound so there is no chance of  security leak. Nobody minds except for Duff's high-maintenance wife, who after all is not a scientist, and therefore shady. Well, Duff catches her canoodling with another scientist (probably an administrator), and then the wife and her lover disappear, and it looks bad for Duff.

The theory is that he killed them, and stuffed them in the rocket which is now orbiting the Earth. So the only evidence is in space. And the only person on Duff's side is cute Hungarian scientist Eva Bartok.

Bartok is lovely in this, with a certain intelligence that makes her believable as a scientist. She has a slightly wide jaw and a somewhat unbecoming haircut, so she is less glamorous but more beautiful.

The rest of the cast was servicable, except maybe the head of the project Philip Leaver. He makes a perfect jolly old professor type, acting as father figure to love-struck Eva. The setting is a great mixture of cheap, silly props that somehow becomes convincing - after all, post-war Britain had to make do, even in their secret rocket programs. The control panel in mission control is a beautiful piece of walnut, studded with gauges, like the dashboard of an Triumph or MG multiplied by 100.

So, a sci-fi film that's mostly a post-war film noir, with a melodrama romance - something for everyone. Especially Howard Duff - he has a beaten-up looking face with sad eyes that is perfect for tough guy roles. He has a voice to match - in fact, he was the voice of Sam Spade on radio for a while. Loved him in Jennifer.

In conclusion, there isn't a whole lot of space in this space movie. You have been warned.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Girl Fight

Haywire is, partly, the same-old same-old, and partly, it's the same-old updated. It stars Gina Carano as a secret agent who has been betrayed, and will stop at nothing to get her revenge on the people who betrayed her. That's the same-old.

The updating, I guess, comes from Steven Soderbergh is directing. He sets most of it in a cute flashback, with Carano telling the backstory to a young guy whose car she has commandeered. He's just an ordinary civilian, her age (young), which makes the frame story seem more like a youth comedy road trip than a thriller.

Then there are the action scenes in the flashback, set to electronica instead of gunshots and explosions, which is a nice distancing effect.

Then there are the supporting actors, including Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan MacGregor and I don't know who else. So we have a kick-butt girl for the guys in the audience, but plenty of candy for the ladies as well.

All in all, fun, interesting action movie. I had only one objection: I didn't believe that Gina Carano could fight. Sure, you can do a lot with rehearsal, fight choreography and film editing, but she just seemed too scrawny and cute. Probably used to be a model or something. (Looks her up in IMDB.) Hm, no, she's apparently a mixed martial arts champion. Huh.

So, now I don't what to think. Did Soderbergh mess up the fight scenes? Was I not reading the scenes properly? Is Carano a good fighter, but not as good a stunt fighter? I guess I need to watch it again to find out, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that. So, anyone else have an opinion?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tropical Punching

When we lived in Florida, I used to buy a tropical liqueur called Passoã. It's based on passion fruit and other tropical flavors, it's thick and syrupy and tastes a lot like Hawaiian Punch. In large doses, it's cloying, but add a teaspoon to a margarita, and it's delicious.

When we moved back to California, I headed out to BevMo to re-stock my bar. I couldn't find any Passoã, but did find a bottle of something called Kinky, promising a similar profile of passion fruit and clementines. Got a bottle, and found it to be even better than Passoã, not as sweet, not as bright pink.

Of course, I don't get to BevMo that often. In California, we can get our liquor in the grocery store. Our local Safeway doesn't carry Kinky, but I did find something called X-Rated. Again, passion fruit and clementines, again, less sweet, less shocking pink. More sophisticated, I'd say. Cleaner. More fruity than syrupy.

Drinking this teased my brain - it reminded me of another drink, but what was it? Then it came to me - Hpnotiq, the weird blue stuff. Now, I don't have a source for this, but I am guessing that X-Rated is an imitation of Hpnotiq, pink instead of blue. Kinky is am imitation of that, and Passoã and imitaion of that.

Or maybe it's just a coincidence, and these are all pretty much independent.

In related news, our Safeway was selling Hpnotiq for a little under $20 a bottle, a pretty good price, so I picked one up, you know, for research. My theory was:

Passoã < Kinky < X-Rated < Hpnotiq

But the Hpnotiq had an off-flavor, a little bitter or musty. Either it isn't the peak tropical juice liqueur, or Safeway was getting rid of some old or heat-damaged stock. Either way, I'm still putting it in my margaritas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Silent Running

I knew of course, that The Artist (2011) was a black-and-white silent film, but I hadn't realized that it was a silent film about talkies. Brilliant!

Although I am aware that this film won an Oscar, the reason we watched was for the team of director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin, who we loved in the OSS 117 films, Cairo and Rio. As in those films, they weave a mixture of detailed reproduction, loving tribute and biting spoof of their genre, in this case, showbiz pictures of the silent era.

Dujardin plays a Douglas Fairbanks-like silent films star. Like Fairbanks, he swashes buckle and laughs, ha ha! He encourages pretty callow ingenue Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller. With the coming of sound, she prospers while he descends into obscurity, poverty and alcoholism. The old story.

We also get John Goodman as a bigshot producer, James Cameron as Dujardin's loyal servant and a lovable  Jack Russell terrier. Completely enjoyable. And there's a boffo ending!


OK, we saw The Expendables 2, the second film in the series of action films featuring every action hero they Sylvester Stallone could round up. They lost Mickey Rourke from this one, but got Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

This outing has the team on a "routine" extraction in from China. We meet a guy who wasn't in the last movie, Liam Hemsworth, playing Billy the Kid. Since he's wearing a red shirt with a target on the back, and he spends a lot of time talking about his beautiful wife and how he was going to quit this dangerous business after one last mission, and everybody calls him "Dead Meat", you can kind of guess how long he lasts in this one.

So, the rest of the movie is a revenge tale set in some Balkan country, due to low cost of filming. JCVD plays the villain, named Vilain (which I think is kind of funny). Jet Li isn't used much, because he was doing another movie at the same time. Chuck Norris works alone and drops the occasional one-liner. Randy Couture doesn't have anything to do, because, I guess, Randy Couture. Jason Statham has the decency to look embarrassed. Stallone seems to be having a ball, and starts to let the kitsch out towards the end when Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis show up to fight, instead of just jaw like in the first film.

Look, you know me - I like stupid action films. But I like them better when they have a little self-respect. Sticking your tongue in your cheek and pretending it's all just a goof is fine unless you just add that in at the end when you realize you can't keep a straight face.

Oh well, maybe I just wasn't in the right mood, but this one didn't work for me. But I'll probably watch Expendables 3.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

High Seas

China Seas (1935) is just a crazy, fun romantic adventure movie. It stars Clark Gable as the captain of a ship running from Hong Kong to Singapore. He drinks hard on shore, but runs a tight ship once under weigh. Jean Harlow is China Doll, the party girl who is stuck on him. Rosalind Russell, on the other hand, is the society dame that he always loved. Since she was married to his friend, he went to China to forget. Now she shows up on his ship, a widow and open to offers.

This little love triangle sets up romance for a whole movie, but we also get Malay pirates, a secret shipment of gold, a taiphoon, a disgraced sea captain with a chance at redemption, and on and on. We even get a perpetually soused Robert Benchley for comic relief. Plus Wallace Beery as a villain, C. Aubrey Smith as the ship's owner, Hattie McDaniels as (guess what) the maid, Akim Tamiroff, Ed Brophy and so on.

I don't know how deep this is, although there are many affecting scenes. But it sure is fun.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Total Bummer

I mainly wanted to see Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (1933) for the Harry Langdon, but I was also interested in Al Jolson. I didn't realize that I was getting Rogers and Hart as well.

This is the story of the Mayor of Central Park, a bum named Bumper (Al Jolson). That name - savor it. It contains "bum", but connotes richness, fullness, a bumper crop. Also, to drink a bumper - a toast to "bon pere", the good father. He leads a life of homeless luxury in the park (wintering in Florida), and consorts with his good friend the Mayor of New York, Frank Morgan. He has an African American friend, Acorn, played by ever-smiling Edgar Connor. He has an enemy as well - Egghead, the socialist street sweeper, played by baby-faced silent comedy star Harry Langdon.

The story is about how Morgan's girlfriend Madge Evans gets amnesia and falls in love with Jolson, but never mind that. It's touching and all and there's a decent song or two if you like Jolson's style, but this doesn't really make the picture stand out.

What is really interesting is that about half the dialog is spoken in rhyme, written by Rogers (or Hart?). This makes it even more of a fantasy than the usual Depression era musical.

Also, Harry Langdon as Egghead. He is a devoted socialist worker, and as such condemns and despises the bums and loafers of the park as parasites on the system. His ideological purity, combined with his peculiar man-child appearance make him quite sympathetic. I am interested in his viewpoint and would like to subscribe to his newsletter.

Langdon is a bit of an acquired taste, or maybe he should just be taken in small doses. This is just right. I'm not sure about Jolson. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Revisiting a Small Planet

Look, I saw Visit to a Small Planet when I was a little boy - possibly at a church kids' theater in a barn in New Hampshire with my grandmother. Of course I have fond memories of it. Also, it was from a play written by Gore Vidal.

The plot: immature but powerful space alien Jerry Lewis lands in suburban Richmond and mixes stuff up. As an adult, I can see the seams where the sophisticated light comedy butts up against the mugging of Jerry Lewis. For example, he controls people's minds by twitching his nose, crossing his eyes, tugging his ear, etc. - literally mugging, making faces.

Then the American teenagers he befriends take him to a beatnik coffeehouse, where he feels he fits in because everybody is so far out. But the beatniks think he is too far out and flee. I guess this passes for sophisticated comedy in 1960.

Anyway, although I can't say I still love it on rewatching, but I did remember my favorite part, which I had entirely forgotten: Rags the dog. Lewis can talk with the dog, who hates and fears him (naturally). But he does get a chance to run off his enemy, Clementine the cat. Who is played, by the way, by Rhubarb, last seen in Comedy of Terrors and voiced by June Foray (Rocket J. Squirrel).

Also, Buddy Rich is the drummer in the beatnik dive. Cool, daddy!

So, not as much fun to watch this time as last. But I got to see my old friend Rags again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Prometheus Unbound

Watching Prometheus (2012) was really Ms. Spenser's idea, and a very good idea, indeed.

Prometheus is supposed to be Ridley Scott's prequel to the Alien movie, although not necessarily the Alien sequels. In fact, the continuity is so scattered that you can't really say how much it sets up, explains, etc. In fact, the plot is so weird and unlikely, you can't really say much about it at all. It's all about the experience.

From the surreally beautiful opening scene of a Titan dissolving in Iceland, through the Geigeresque scenes on the alien spaceship, the surreal big giant head, it's full of strikingly beautiful images. Someone (can't remember or Google who) suggested that it had the visual look of an old sci-fi pulp cover. They even had someone escaping from a giant hula hoop (spoiler, I guess). I saw that influence again and again.

I don't want to discuss the plot because it doesn't make much sense. Again, we have a group of dimwits and sneaks on a spaceship, again one is an android, one is a kick-ass woman. Again they meet up with space jockeys and chest-bursters. But the overall feel is very different. It's not the blue-collar haunted house in space this time. This expedition is all sciency and virtual realityistic.

Also, the android is Michael Fassbender, you know, for the ladies. For us guys, the kick-ass woman is Noomi Rapace, from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and also some Swedish movies about a girl.

This movie isn't the breakthrough that Alien was, but it was a lot of fun to watch. We expect to own it soon, and watch it again and again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stooge On!

The Three Stooges (2012) did not seem like a promising idea. In fact, it seemed hubristic, sacrilegious, even, for the Farrelly Bros. (modern-day hacks, in my opinion) to take on these icons of classic slapstick. But it worked out pretty well.

Early reports had all kinds of scary rumors about who was going to play who: Jim Carrey as Curly, Adam Sandberg, Johnny Depp, horrible things. In the end, Will Sasso as Curly, Sean Hayes as Larry and Chris Diamantopoulos are just about perfect. The script is a nice mix of classic gags (which the original Stooges constantly re-used) and updated material: Moe goes on Jersey Shore, which is just about right.

The movie's strength and weakness, in my opinion, is that it is really about Moe. The emotional center of the movie is a monologue by Moe where he breaks up the team go solo. It takes the movie into another realm, beyond slapstick and pastiche. But Larry and Curly don't get the same treatment. Sasso's Curly is very accurate, but doesn't really have a lot to do, beyond saying things like "Soitainly!"

Still, no objections. They pulled it off, and the difficulty level is high.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Deja Vu

I have a weird feeling that I've seen The Interpreter (2005) before. It starts with a scene in Africa. Three white men drive to an abandoned stadium. Right there, I said to myself: "I've seen this. Or have I?" At this point, I was thinking that the stadium was used in some other movie - probably in the Bourne franchise.

But as it played out, I recognized more and more. The basic idea is that Nicole Kidman, an interpreter for the UN, overhears a plot to kill an African leader. Recently widowed police detective Sean Penn is on the case. I didn't recognize most of the twists and turns of the plot, but kept running into material I thought I knew.

This might mean that it is just a predictable type thriller - and I suppose it is. It's directed by Sydney Pollack, who I always considered to be a bit square. I don't think I've seen any of his movies, even (especially) Tootsie. Checking IMDB ... wait, I've seen The Way We Were. Yes, he's a square.

But definitely a craftsman. This movie has a lovely look, especially the grand scenes shot on location inside the UN. Nicole Kidman is great in the title role, playing it very tight and close to the vest, slowly revealing depths within depths. She also just plain looks (and films) beautiful. Sean Penn, on the other hand, hams it up in a much more obvious role, but I guess they need that as a foil to her.

I can't say the plot was predictable, but there was something not-so-fresh about how it unfolds - not the twists and turns themselves, but how they are revealed. Or maybe it's just that I've seen the movie before and forgot it. In which case, my thesis should be that the movie is forgettable, a throw-away.

Maybe it's both, but it was a pleasant throw-away. I did enjoy it. I must remember not to watch it again.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

English as She is Spoke

I guess we had to give Rowan Atkinson another chance with Johnny English Reborn. It's not that Johnny English was so bad, it just wasn't that good. Still, we would take even second-rate Rowan Atkinson.

Johnny English is England's most incompetent spy, now in disgrace because of that incident in Mozambique. He has been training in a monastery in Tibet (like Batman! Or Rambo!) waiting to be called back to action. And a case comes up that only he can crack! But I'm going to skip over all that - honestly, I had to read to be reminded that the Chinese premier was involved.

The first Johnny English was a sort of generic spy spoof, with Atkinson as an almost generic bungler. The lack of freshness (as well as the weakness of the jokes) hurt that movie, we thought. This movie has something a little extra: take-offs on just about every spy or action movie you can think of. That includes spoofs of spoofs; I'm pretty sure I caught an extended riff on the Steve Martin Pink Panther. Of course, Johnny English is a bit of a Clouseau figure, but copying the Steve Martin version takes a certain something.

Or maybe they were just stealing the joke.

Anyway, this is not inspired Atkinson, like Mr. Bean or Black Adder - or like Peter Sellers' Pink Panther. But it is still pretty funny, like Steve Martin's Pink Panther.

In conclusion, better than Johnny English.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Watching the Detective

We've been wanting to see Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010). It has been on streaming for a while, but we couldn't turn the subtitles on. It was well-worth ordering as Blu-ray.

Set at a time when an evil regent (-ess?) is about to become empress. A giant Kanon, goddess of compassion, is being built. But there is trouble! In fact, the chief architect bursts into flames. Only one man can solve his mystery, Detective Dee! But the regent-empress has had him arrested for treason.

And so on. Dee is played by Tony Leung (Kar Fai), who I always look forward to. Along with the regent, played by Carina Lau, we have her Amazon gaurd, Li Bing Bing. Rounding out our trio of crime fighters, Chao Deng plays a blonde mystic, with mighty powers and mysterious motives. All fighting, flying, and talking trash.

And as absurd and astounding as everything is - spontaneous human combustion, talking deer, flying swordsmen (ok, that isn't so unusual), Dee focuses in on the logical, scientific explanation, and that's how he solves the crime.

Very satisfying, and beautifully made, even the ancient Chinese CGI cities. Director Hark Tsui is a master that this kind of epic fantasy action film. One thing I found jarring, though - there were occasional scenes where the lighting failed to be mysterious and atmospheric, and looked flat and overlit, like a cheap TV show. Possibly they were artifacts of the digital process, or just a lapse of taste or budget.

Anyway, a great action flick, and I probably shouldn't read too much into it, but the movie did have a certain political moral. We've seen it before, as well, in Hero, Little Big Soldier, and others. Dee has the choice between accepting an unjust ruler, or fight the ruler, and let civil war tear apart the country. In the end, they chose  - SPOILER - the ruler, who has the mandate of heaven. This is faultlessly traditional Confucianism, but it seems politically relevant in modern China, and somewhat convenient for the rulers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Battle of the Snow Whites

I wonder what brought on the two competing Snow White movies in 2012? We just watched both.

First, we saw Mirror Mirror, directed by Tarsem Singh. He is our hero, because of The Fall, and we stayed in love even after Immortals. We expect beautiful visions from him, but not necessarily great films. Snow White in this film is played by Lily Collins (daughter of Phil?!?), looking most Audrey Hepburn. But the story is really about Queen Evil Stepmother, Julia Roberts, as she tells us herself. She has let the king die in the forest hunting the Beast, and starves the kingdom to pay for her ridiculous parties, all the while being sweetly evil to Snow. And she does it all with only vizier Nathan Lane to help.

Meanwhile, Prince Armie Hammer and companion are beset by dwarf bandits on stilts, robbed, stripped and  sent on to the castle. The queen finds this naked prince most charming. He finds her enchanting after she enchants him with a puppy love spell. Hammer does a fine slapstick turn here, sniffing, licking and jumping up on the furniture.

Meanwhile, Snow goes out to the forest and befriends the dwarves, who are maybe the second best thing in the movie, after the evil queen. They are a fine crew of individual and ensemble actors, including Jordan Prentice of In Bruges.

If the presence of Nathan Lane (3rd best thing?) didn't alert you, this is basically a silly kid's comedy - almost Disneyesque in its treatment of the spunky yet down to earth yet romantic princess. I don't think the script pulled this off overall, but we enjoyed it.

Snow White and the Huntsman is a bit different. It has a darker feeling; even though it is still a fairytale fantasy, it is not for children (at least not the theoretically innocent children of 20th century America). Here, Snow White is Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame, and Evil Stepmother is played by Charlize Theron. Snow has a childhood friend, played by Sam Claflin, but her big romance is Chris "Thor" Hemsworth as the Huntsman. The dwarves here are played by tall actors like Bob Hoskins and Nick Frost, shrunk by special effects.

None of these casting decisions seem good to me, except maybe Hemsworth. Theron plays the queen either flat or shrieky, Stewart is likewise quite wooden. And so forth. But the movie is surprisingly beautiful. When Snow is lost in the Forest, she is surrounded by images of poison and decay, mold and mushrooms. Yet deeper in, there is a sacred grove called Sanctuary, with a Thousand-Antlered Stag, right out of Princess Mononoke. It's quite mesmerizing and lovely.

On the whole, Snow White and the Huntsman is probably the better movie - better production, effects and art direction at least. I didn't like the acting/casting as much, and the script was didn't quite work. The script for Mirror Mirror didn't really work either, but it failed at being a comedy romp, while Snow White and the Huntsman failed at being dark, mythic adventure.

But even though Snow White and the Huntsman is a better movie, I still think I prefer Mirror Mirror, for Julia Roberts, for Nathan Lane, and for Tarsem Singh.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gone Hollywood

Guilty pleasures: When Ms. Spenser is out of town, I put on something she wouldn't care for. That often means a Woody Allen movie like Hollywood Ending.

So, Woody is a washed-up director, who had won Oscars for a New York-themed movie (any guesses?) but was now stuck directing commercials in Canada. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, his ex-wife (Tea Leoni, looking awfully Diane Keaton) is trying to get her producer boyfriend (a beefy looking Treat Williams) to hire  him for their next film, a New York period piece.

Woody doesn't want to take the job, but needs the money and the credits. But he's so nervous about it that he goes blind. That's it. That's the high concept. A blind director.

I haven't watched all that many of the later Woody Allen films - after Stardust Memories, say.  I think they fall into roughly 2 classes: Good (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Scoop) and Funny (Manhattan Murder Mystery, Small Time Crooks). This is one of the funny ones: not significant or ambitious, just silly.

Woody Allen is at his Woody Allen-est, all mumbles, tics and neuroses. His co-stars look a lot like Woody Allen co-stars, like Tea Leoni's Keatonesque look. The slapstick comedy isn't as funny as it could be, but the angst - that's funny.

In conclusion, a movie made by a blind director is not going to be good. So, happy ending?

Thursday, November 1, 2012


What is there to say about The Hidden Fortress, Akira Kurosawa's 1958 extravaganza? It's just a fun film, one of his greatest.

It's starts out both comic and tragic, with two rubber-faced peasants arguing in a battlefield. They don't want to be soldiers anymore, but the enemy clan's army holds the pass. Alone in the wilderness, they find find a few pieces of gold, probably from the hoard of the defeated clan. Just when they are feeling good about this, they run into Toshiro Mifune, and silent woman.

Mifune plays his part way larger than life, wearing tiny shorts, an open vest and a ferocious scowl. The woman is dressed for travel, but has the most outrageous glamour makeup. You would think anyone could tell that she was a princess in disguise.

I had remembered this movie as an intimate story of our tiny band sneaking and skulking through the countryside. It has moments like that, but I had forgotten about the sweep and grandeur of some of the scenes, like the prison break at the castle, with hundreds of extras swirling up and down the castle steps.

In fact, this is less an art film and more a swashbuckling adventure, even though there are fewer swordfights than in some samurai movies. That George Lucas was influenced by this when he made Star Wars is definitely believable.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In the Beginning

For some reason, I started to get psyched for the new Batman movie. Since I never go to the theater, that won't happen for a while. So I re-watched Batman Begins.

The part where young Bruce sees his mother and father gunned down by a random mugger has to be included, I guess. I think it's hard to make it feel fresh, after all of the re-hashes. But the next segment finds Bruce Wayne all grown up in a Tibetan prison, fighting thugs for the guards enjoyment. It seems that he has been roaming the world, getting into trouble and learning the ways of the underworld. Soon, a mysterious stranger gets him out of prison and into a martial arts monastery for some real training. This is one of my favorite parts - it isn't in the canon that I know, and does feel fresh.

I don't think any of the rest is as good, but it is still plenty good. It's funny how this relates to the Burtonesque series of Batmovies that came before it. Batman Begins still has the cartoonish Art Deco sets, but the campy comedy is almost gone. The last trace of it has got to be Christian Bale's haircut as Bruce Wayne. I can't believe that was supposed to be taken seriously. It wasn't cool when young Steve Jobs wore it, it isn't cool here.

But once he gets into Batman gear, it gets dead serious. Probably the best Batman yet, although the competition is a little odd - Clooney? Kilmer? Keaton?!?!

Also, Michael Caine: second best Alfred (Alan Napier from the Adam West TV series was iconic). Gary Oldman was a pretty good Jim Gordon (only a sergeant as yet), too. Also, the whole rest of the cast - all great, except maybe Katie Holmes in a thankless romantic interest role.

No breakout like Heath Ledger's Joker, but a great superhero movie.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Campy Comedy

British comedy covers a lot of ground, from Oscar Wilde to Monty Python to Benny Hill. Somewhere around Benny Hill, you find the Carry On series. I've seen a few, and Carry on Camping may be the best. It may also be the last one I watch.

The basic premise of the Carry On series is to take a bunch of horny men and scantily clad pretties, put them in situations, add double entendres and roll. In this outing, series regular Sid James and buddy Bernard Bresslaw want to take their girls camping at a nudist colony. While the camp turns out to be disappointingly clothed, there are a busload of school girls to ease the pain.

You know, this should be just my cup of tea - stupid, sexist jokes, dumb blokes, pretty birds, etc. But I am beginning to think I just can't hack it. Of course you can see that punchline coming from miles away, that's not the problem. The problem is that you have so much time to see it coming. With jokes this bad, there has to be a lot more of them.

I did enjoy seeing all the familiar faces - you'll feel like you know half of these characters even if you've never seen them before. But I might have seen enough (after about 3).

Well, maybe one or two more.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Before I get into my post for The Avengers (2012), permit me to go meta for a paragraph. When I write a post on a movie, I try to be pithy - keep it short so people will read it, plus, so it doesn't take too long to write. I want it to be entertaining, of course, and informative (which for me means getting the actors' names right). In particular, I want to be original: I want to say something you won't read elsewhere, or at least not everywhere else.

For a movie like The Avengers that everyone has seen and every blogger commented on, that isn't easy. Especially if you have watched it with the most brain-absent, popcorn-munching, mind-blank attitude that I did. What can I say? The Avengers was great, meeting the expectations that have been building up for the last several Marvel movies. But you already knew that. What else can I say?

  • It was a bit busy, like most of this Marvel crop, trying to pull together a peck of plot points in a pint of film. That's especially tough with a 8-10 heroes and a few villains.
  • The problem of the heroes' disparate powers is handled well: They split into pairs:
    • Thor and Hulk, whose powers are transcendant
    • Iron Man and Capt. America, augmented human powers
    • Black Widow and Hawkeye, plain humans, just darned good
    Then there's the SHIELD agents: Most bad-ass Nick Fury and Bob-Newhart-like Agent Coulson. And they make it all come together.
  • I love Robert Downey, Jr's take on Tony Stark, but he was a little too much this time, always with the wise-cracks
  • Scarlett Johansonn as Black Widow, on the other hand, looks good, but strikes me as static and vacant. Too bad, because I've read a lot about how her non-super-powered, female character was the key to the movie. Well, she didn't stand up to Hayley Atwell's Agent Carter from Captain America, in my opinion.(I guess her character is dead or old in this time frame. Oh well.)
  • In a cast of amazingly handsome guys (Evans, Hemsworth), it was interesting to see Mark Ruffalo  and Jeremy Renner cast as Bruce Banner and Hawkeye. They are fine actors, but lumpy in the face, like Michael J. Pollard. 
And that's about it. Great movie, one that I expect to buy and watch a few more times. What else can I say?

Saturday, October 13, 2012


The Raid: Redemption seems like it should have been an obscure gem, an Indonesian action film. However, it won the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness award for 2011, and it got the attention it deserves.

The plot is simple: A gangster and his mob are living in a high-rise apartment building in Jakarta. A highly trained, heavily armed police squad is going in to take him out. They start out quietly, taking floors quickly without raising the alarm. But it can't last.

What you get is relentless, brutal action. The police and gangsters do their mayhem with large and small arms, long and short blades, their bare hands and feet, and improvised weapons. Unlike a lot of action movies, the violence is more-or-less realistically lethal: people don't dodge point-blank bullets or take a bullet to the shoulder and fight on. When shot, they die. And when a man with a knife attacks a man with a gun, it's over quickly.

But it isn't all gunplay. We get to see a good range of fighting styles, with an emphasis on pencak silat, Indonesia's native martial arts style. It is energetic, almost acrobatic, and features plenty of weapon work, especially blades.

I won't go into the "plot", because I wasn't always following it. Same with the "characters" or the outstanding athlete/actors - suffice it to say that everyone is great, the fight choreography is amazing and the direction is crystal clear. Also the action never stops.

I don't know if director Gareth Evans or star Iko Uwais have raised the bar for these kind of movies like say, Luc Besson or Tony Jaa, but they certainly cleared it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Quiz Emergency

It's bad enough that I'm about 4 movies behind on my blogging, but now Sergio and the Infield Fly Rule has another film quiz: PROFESSOR ARTHUR CHIPPING’S MADDENINGLY DETAILED, PURPOSEFULLY VAGUE, FITFULLY OUT-OF-FOCUS BACK TO SCHOOL MOVIE QUIZ.

Just when I am going to get it done, I am sure I do not know. But I will get it done. Meanwhile give it a try yourself.

Holmes, Sweet Holmes

Finally, the second year of the BBC Sherlock is on Netflix. We streamed Sherlock: Series 2: A Scandal in Belgravia, and to celebrate, got the disc of the second Robert Downey, Jr/Jude Law Holmes series, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

In A Scandal in Belgravia, our modern Sherlock meets up with the woman who will become "The Woman", Irene Adler, played with great erotic power by Lara Pulver. Sherlock's brother Mycroft has summoned Holmes and Watson to Buckingham Palace to get him to retrieve a cellphone with incriminating pictures of a royal personage from her. I am not a confirmed Baker Street Irregular, but I feel that most fans will appreciate the depiction of The Woman. The mystery is a bit incredible, but well within the boundaries of Doyleania.

A Game of Shadows is something different. Downey's Holmes is almost clownish, although he sure can fight. The trick where he analyzes a fight, predicting every move before it occurs and then countering everyone is quite neat. Guy Ritchie can really sell this kind of action. He's not too bad with the slower expository scenes either. But I don't feel that he really got the overall arc of the movie right.

Irene Adler makes an appearance here, played as a blonde by Rachel McAdams. However, she is reduced to a sidekick, and not a very dignified one. She even has a rival, a gypsy played by Noomi Rapace, who has a much better role. Besides, Watson will always come first in Holmes' heart.

Oh, and Steven Fry is Mycroft Holmes. Not a good physical match, as Mycroft was famously corpulent, but his attitude was perfection.

All in all, the Sherlock series is much more solid, although the Ritchie films have their charms. For one thing, Benedict Cumberbatch is such a good Holmes, where Downey is a real stretch. Still, I loved both and look forward to more.

In fact, we've already watched Sherlock: Series 2: The Hounds of Baskerville.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Country for Old Men

Unless you're a big old-school country fan, you've probably never heard of Ferlin Husky or Faron Young. If you have heard of them, and want to see them, you may want to see Country Music Holiday (1958). If you consider that June Carter (later Cash) played Ferlin's girlfriend, or that he is vamped by Zsa-Zsa Gabor (as herself), you may find this movie irresistible. But think carefully before you commit the 70 minutes or so it will take to watch.

The plot is the usual - backwoods boy Husky gets home from the war to find out that he is no longer the number-one singer in his small town. His rival, Faron Young, has gone to New York and started singing on TV. So Husky's army buddies, Al Fisher and Lou Marks (an Abbott and Costello type team), take him to New York to compete for fame. He gets a manager, Jesse White, whose assistant is ex-pug Rocky Graziano (as himself). Soon, he is painting the town with society dame Gabor - but what if June finds out?

The story is pretty pedestrian, as is the comic relief. But, asks the music fan, how about the songs? Well, Husky has a beautiful voice, but the arrangements are strictly squaresville, and I don't think this is his best material. Faron Young is a little wilder, with some almost rockabilly stuff.

And June Carter doesn't sing a single song. Aside: a young Patty Duke plays Husky's sister, and she is very cute.

Interesting to see the "country music on TV" phenomenon that Fred Astaire and Betty Hutton complained about in Let's Dance (made 8 years earlier, though).

Similar, but much better is Mr. Rock and Roll (1957). It stars Teddy Randazzo as himself, a rock 'n' roller being promoted by Alan Freed, as himself. Randazzo resembles Dick Contino from Daddy-O - he even sings a song called "Kiddio". We can safely ignore him and concentrate on the other musical acts, which include:
  • Chuck Berry
  • Little Richard
  • Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
  • Clyde McPhatter
  • La Vern Baker
  • Lionel Hampton (?!?)
  • Ferlin Husky (again, with better material)
The movie goes something like this: static, boring scene with Randazzo and romantic interest, cross-fade to Alan Freed introducing a musical act, then a static boring comic relief, then cross-fade to a spinning record and Alan Freed introducing a musical act, etc. The effect becomes kind of dreamlike, especially when the acts are the surreally rocking Little Richard or Chuck Berry - talk about showmanship!

Oh, and the comic relief is Fisher and Marks and Rocky Graziano, just like in Country Music Holiday. Maybe they are a package with Ferlin Husky.

Not a bad movie, and a great chance to see Alan Freed, who invented rock 'n' roll. He broke the color barrier by playing rhythm and blues by black and white acts, for black and white audiences. All hail!

Late Update: I just looked up Teddy Randazzo for some reason, and it turns out that he wrote, among other things: Gonna Take a Miracle, Hurts So Bad and Going Out of My Head! Wow! So sorry for the put-downs, honest, I rank those songs up with Burt Bacharach. Go, Teddy go!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Disk Man

I know the posts have been a little skimpy lately; we've been busy with the moving and everything. We haven't actually watched a lot of movies per se - most of our Netflixing has been TV shows: We've settled into a pattern of Burn Notice or Psych, followed by Futurama.

Even now that we are settled, I think we're going to be doing a little more socializing, seeing old friends etc. So don't expect a lot more posts. But, in celebration of our return, I've signed up for the Netflix 2-disk + streaming plan.

So at least we'll have a wider variety of movies not to have time to watch.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Road Trip Report

The Spensers are home, home from the sea (the Tallahas-Sea, ha!). Here is the tale of the trip, after the break. (Caution: long, boring.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Change of plan

Due to tropical storm/hurricane Isaac, we will NOT be going through Louisiana. We are now in Arkansas, heading to Oklahoma, on to Santa Fe.

Details to come.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Soldier Man

Jackie Chan is getting older, not as willing to the the crazy stunts as he once was. If the result is films like Little Big Soldier, I won't complain.

Jackie plays a farmer, conscripted in the army during the Warring States period. He has survived a massacre by playing possum, using a variation on Steve Martin's arrow-through-the-head gag. The only other survivor turns out to be the enemy general, whom Jackie captures. Now, if he can deliver this general to the king, he will be excused military service for life.

And so it becomes a road picture, with Jackie, a cowardly old farmer, trying to get a captured general through the bandits and enemies to his home country, and in the process, the little soldier and the big general come to know each other.

It's a beautifully made film, full of lovely scenery, the horrors of war, and Chan's rather fine singing. It's often funny - Jackie's martial arts move here is to run away, fanning his sword behind him. There are some fine fights, but it is more thoughtful than action-packed.

This movie seems to fit right into the Hero/Red Cliff/Three Kingdoms Chinese epic, rather than martial arts movie, although on a more intimate scale. Well worth watching.

We Interrupt this Blog

This blog is going on a short hiatus while we drive across the country. Yes, the Spensers are heading home to California. We moved out to Florida just two years ago, and now it is time to return. We should be at the ancestral Spenser Estates by next Sun, if the creek don't rise.

And since we plan to be driving up the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Louisiana right in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac, there's a good chance the creek will rise. We'll see.

The plan is:

  • Lafayette LA
  • Wichita Falls TX
  • Santa Fe NM
  • Flagstaff AZ
  • Gardena CA (Hi Gyl!)
  • Home
We may or may not watch in movies during the packing and driving phase, but I definitely don't plan to blog them. Since I haven't been very good about updating this blog regularly, you may not even notice the difference. We've been watching mostly Netflix TV anyways, and some One-Shot Beaudine and Tim and Irene Ryan B movies that don't necessarily deserve a post.

But when we get back, I'm going to treat myself to a DVD-in-the-mail subscription to Netflix - no longer will we be at the mercy of streaming. We'll be watching nothing but classics! Howard Duff marathon, here we come!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hong Kong Soul

Saviour of the Soul (1991) is a total comic book of a movie. Based on the star Anita Mui and a character named Silver Fox, I was expecting a very loose sequel to Heroic Trio and Executioners. Well, it came out 1-2 years before those movies, so that was wrong. But from the overall feel, it might as well have been one in the series.

Directed by David Lai with fight direction by Corey Yuen, it starts with supervillain Silver Fox (Aaron Kwok) busting his master Henry Fong out of prison, then killing him and swearing revenge. The fight in prison is wire-tastic, with the Fox flying around, over and through bars and barbed wire. His master is handcuffed to a wall that is not just damp, not just dripping, but covered with a sheet of constantly pouring water. The scene, lit from above and shot from below, is powerfully graphic and atmospheric. However,  it may be impossible to ignore the fact that all of this elegance can be done with little or no budget.

We meet our heroes, the City Soldiers (?): Anita Mui, her suave boyfriend in a silk suit and Panama hat, Kenny Bee, and the tongue-tied boy who also loves her, Andy Lau. Bee's teenage sister, a tomboy in a baseball uniform (Gloria Yip, totally cute) shows up and falls in love with Lau. Mui's sister (played by Anita Mui, but seemingly voiced by a drag queen), wears trashy outfits, talks like a slut and gets shot in the butt.

Carina Lau, as Pet Lady (?), world's greatest physician, shows up a few times, but it is not clear why.

There is a lot of melodrama, with Lau longing for Mui, Yip longing for Lau, and so on. The action gets more an more ridiculous - Silver Fox's big move is to inhale some weird gas, then run through his opponent, thus poisoning him. Amazingly, this is not the wackiest martial arts move, not is Lau's sword that rolls up into a yo-yo. You'll just have to watch it and see.


  • Silky, flowing billowing costumes, on men and women
  • Shadows, light, water, fog
  • Monumental buildings, concrete palaces, warehouse lofts, empty of people
  • Beautifully composed frames, looking like they came from a comic (and maybe they did)
As I said before, the low budget sometimes shows, and you may notice some weaknesses in the logic. But never any lack of imagination.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fox and Honey

The Honey Pot, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz in 1967 belongs to a class of movie that just doesn't get made any more. It's a prestige presentation with a witty script, deluxe sets and top-rank stars, all in service of a more or less throw-away mystery.

It stars Rex Harrison as the fabulously wealthy Cecil Fox, living in a Venetian villa. Rex Harrison, how deluxe is that? We meet him watching a few acts of Volpone, in the Venice Opera House, all alone, in a private performance. Then the plot begins. He has hired as a personal assistant one William McFly (Cliff Robertson), middle-aged aspiring actor. The job includes general secretarial, and help in pulling off a grand prank.

You see, Fox will be pulling off a variation on the plot of Volpone. He will gather around him his past lovers, on the pretext that he is mortally ill, and convince each one that she is the beneficiary of his vast fortune. McFly will play the part of the Volpone's servant, Mosca. Volpone = Fox, Mosca = Fly. Very clever.

And so it goes, with literate dialog, clever plot twists and A-list actors taking it to the top, and a bit over. The ex-lovers are Susan Hayward, Capucine and Edie Adams (oil, old money and Hollywood, respectively). The standout of them all is Maggie Smith, as Hayward's nurse/companion. Of course, among all of these glamorous women, Robertson falls for her.

When one of the women is murdered, the prank takes a different turn, and Aldo Celi (Largo!) turns up representing the Policia. All in all, this movie could hardly be any more fun - my only issue would be with Cliff Robertson, who is a bit of a Tom Ewing presence: he has an air of anti-charisma that he can't shed when he becomes the focus of the plot.

This reminded me a lot of The Last of Sheila. Same kind of twisty plot set among the ritzy class, dissolving into fluff once it's over. Do they make these any more? It seems to me that now, trash is trash and prestige is prestige. Any modern examples?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dante's Inferno

Joe Dante's Inferno, that is: Hollywood Boulevard. It seems that Roger Corman gave two of his film editors a chance to direct a film - if they could keep to budget under $60,000. These director-pupae? Joe Dante (Gremlins) and Alan Arkush (Rock 'n' Roll High School).

The movie is the story of a starry eyed girl (Candice Rialson) who comes to Hollywood to be discovered. After several mishaps, she finally gets an agent, low-budget hustler Dick Miller. He gets her a job with Miracle Pictures (you know the gag), which has an alarming rate of mortality for starlets. It also has Paul Bartels as a director and Mary Woronov as leading lady.

Let me emphasize that Dick Miller's role is more than a cameo, as well as Bartels and Woronov. If that doesn't sell you on this movie, it probably isn't for you. And if it does sell you, you've probably already watched it.

The script is pretty silly. The action sequences are all stolen from other Corman movies, keeping the budget down and padding the film. The mystery is handled pretty well, everything considered. There are a ton of in-jokes, including a Robby the Robot cameo.

Best part for me? Commando Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen have a number of songs, including a live performance of "Everyone's Truckin'" under the Hollywood sign. It was great to see the Old Commander, along with Buffalo Bruce, Billy C., John Tichy, Bill Kirchen and everybody.

In conclusion, cheap fun.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Soul in Africa

Back in 1974, when Ali fought Frazer in Kinshasha, Zaire - the "Rumble in the Jungle" - Don King decided to hold a soul music festival at the same venue. They filmed it, but never got in released in 2008 as Soul Power.

The musical lineup for this festival was amazing: The Spinners, Sister Sledge, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, Celia Cruz and the Fania All Stars, Manu Dibango, all culminating in the Number 1 Soul Brother, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Unfortunately, not a lot of this got into the movie. In a 90-minute movie, about an hour is the preparations, politics and problems of setting up this festival. It was kind of interesting, but it should have been in outtakes, with more of the music. Only 3 or 4 bands get a whole number. Sister Sledge is shown rehearsing a dance number only. James Brown gets a couple of songs, but that's it.

They probably did what they could with the footage available. It's even possible that they made this movie out of outtakes from When We Were Kings, a great documentary about the fight itself.

So, good movie, some great music, too much talking. Shut up and cut to the concert footage.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


We may be the best audience for Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tin-Tin (2011). We are fans of Herge's comic strips, so we came in with some background, but we're not fanatics, so we don't get upset when the movie takes liberties.

Herge's comic strip is about Tin-Tin, a plucky boy reporter and his dog, Snowy. He gets into wild adventures with his friend Captain Haddock, and the help or hindrance of two Scotland Yard types, named Thompson and Thompson. It is all drawn in bright colors with black outlines, a style called ligne clare. The movie gets the adventure just right, but chooses a different graphic style.

The movie is made in fully rendered 3D computer graphics, almost photorealistic, with motion capture that gives the scenes a strong live action feel. It almost seems like a live action version at times, and since modern live action can include a lot of CGI anyway, well, maybe this animation is meeting live action half way. The faces of the characters are clearly based on the comics, but much more realistic - except most of them have large cartoon noses, a bit disconcerting.

I am tempted to say that this work falls into the "uncanny valley", where a representation is too real to be artistic, but not real enough to fool you. But I didn't really get that. I just forgot about how Tin-Tin is "supposed" to look and rolled with the adventure.

And what a great adventure: A model ship, a hidden treasure map, a reclusive aristocrat, kidnapping, pickpockets, pirates, travels all over the global. Tin-Tin meets Capt. Haddock - a wild drunken sea captain played by Andy Serkis (voice and motion capture artist extraordinaire). Tin-Tin is played by Jamie Bell, little Billy Elliot himself. The bad guy, Sakharine, is Daniel Craig, and Thompson and Thompson are Nick Frost and Simon Pegg - great casting.

There are a couple of great set pieces: The pirate battle shows the Pirates of the Caribbean how it is done. There is a great chase through a Mediterranean village, and there is a seaplane scene that really reminded me of Porco Rosso - a Studio Ghibli film with a Herge-inspired look.

But I'm going to say that the star of the show is little Snowy, who always knows what is going on, even if nobody pays him any mind. Good dog!

In conclusion, Capt. Haddock says many colorful things, but never "Bashi-Bazouks!" This calls for a sequel.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mars, Bitches!

One good thing to the financial flop of John Carter is that it came to the DVD store fast.

I've been psyched about this film since I first saw the pencil tests for a Thark a couple of years ago (or did I imagine that?). I was disconcerted when I heard they had removed "of Mars" from the title. But once the negative reviews started coming out, I had no more fear. I felt sure that the naysayers were all idiots.

And I was right. John Carter is a lot of fun. It starts with a frame story: A young man in the late 19th century inherits the estate of his eccentric wealthy uncle John Carter. He finds Carter's diary and we go into a flashback, the main story - Carter (Taylor Kitsch) in the American Southwest during the Civil War. He finds a mysterious cave full of gold, and a strange icon, and is transported to Mars.

Carter discovers that his Earth gravity muscles let him jump 40-ft high, in a hilariously realistic, spastic way. As the film goes on, he discovers that races and politics of the red planet: the 4-armed green Tharks, riding banthas, a speedy little frogdog, flying machines, cities and a princess of Mars (Lynn Collins).

The story is well told, the action is great, the art direction beautiful. Taylor Kitsch did a great job in the title role. I'm hoping to see more of him, which hasn't been my experience with all of the young muscle guys I've seen.

When the "flashback" ends, we're brought back to the young man reading the diary (Daryl Sabara). I won't spoil his name, but his initials are E.R.B.

The ending is a great setup for a sequel, which I assume will never happen. And that's the bad thing about the financial flop of John Carter.

Friday, July 13, 2012


The Spirit is Willing looked good on paper (on screen anyway): William Castle makes a haunted house spoof in 1967. It stars Sid Caesar as the neurotic dad, Vera Miles as the perky wife, and Barry Gordon, as the sullen teenager. (He was the kid in A Thousand Clowns - "Go to your alcove!"). They are vacationing in a small town in Maine - Mendocino, I think it is - in a haunted house.

The ghosts are a ship captain (Robert Donner from The Catalina Caper!), his ugly wife (Cass Daley), and their serving wench, played by Jill Townsend, who also plays her modern day descendants, a pair of sisters. It is never explained how these scions of an old Maine family come to have English accents, but we understand that her role/roles is to the sexy English bird, very popular in those days.

Anyway, the ghosts annoy the kid, everyone thinks he's just acting out, and one character even says, "Nobody ever believes little boys". There are a bunch of familiar faces in supporting roles, including Doodles Weaver, Nestor Paiva, Mary Wickes, Harvey Lembeck, classic snob John McGiver, and John Astin (Gomez!).

Ah, John Astin. He plays the psychiatrist called in to check on the boy who sees the ghost. When he attempts to get chummy, people start to suspect he's "that kind". If this doesn't sound that funny to you, you are beginning to get the picture.

This movie just isn't funny. Caesar has a few moments, even Vera Miles does. But there isn't much for them to work with. I have no objections to the crummy special effects, or nonsensical plot, but I need a few laughs thrown in now and then.

Still, it did have a score by Vic Mizzy, who did the Addams Family theme.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Super Dicks

We've gotten into the habit of watching TV on Netflix during dinner. We used to watch the same series every  night. First it was Dark Shadows, then Have Gun - Will Travel, then Dr. Who. Then I got worried about running out of shows, so I stacked up a whole set of series. Strangely, they are all 21st century shows about detectives with superpowers.

We have finished the whole series of The Dresden Files. It stars Harry Dresden as a wizard and consulting detective in modern-day Chicago. Pretty police detective Valerie Cruz sometimes uses his talents, and he has a foppish ghost named Bob for a sidekick (Terence Mann). The tone is fairly light, with Bob doing most of the comic relief, along with little modern magical touches, like Harry's drumstick for a magic wand. I had read one of the Jim Butcher novels the series is based on, and wasn't impressed. For one thing, they don't have Bob, our favorite part.

Then there is Numb3rs. It features Rob Morrow as an FBI detective and David Krumholtz as a mathematician who uses his genius to help solve crimes. The tone is much darker, the crimes bloody and violent and Krumhotz has big sad Elijah Wood eyes that show all the pain this causes him. The math and science are supposed to be real, and they do that pretty well. It's well written (so far), well acted and their dad is played by Judd Hirsch.

Psych is much lighter, basically a comedy. James Roday plays an amiable young man whose hard-ass cop father taught him to be very observant. He can solve a crime just by glancing at it, noting the telling details and filling in the blanks. When the police decide that he knows too much and must be involved in the crimes, he pretends he is psychic to explain his powers. He ropes his friend Dulé Hill into forming a psychic detective agency and goes to work.

It's pretty silly, although they do try to make the crimes and solutions plausible. Hill is the eternal reluctant sidekick, but the writers actually let him win a few. He has his own superpowers: He has a supersensitive nose, and since his dayjob is pharmaceutical salesman, he knows a lot about obscure drugs. 

Lie to Me is kind of in between - it is less intense than Numb3rs, less goofy than Psych, while still being fairly intense and pretty goofy. Headliner Tim Roth's superpower is lie-detection: He can read your emotions and tell if you are lying. He has a consulting agency that works mainly for the government, catching liars. 

Now, I love Tim Roth, although I haven't seen him in much. Really, it's mostly his role in RosenKrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He's a great presence here, insightful, tricky, and totally cynical because he knows that everyone lies about everything.

Rounding out the lineup, Burn Notice doesn't quite fit in. The hero, Jeffrey Donovan, doesn't really have a superpower. He was a spy until he is burned by his agency: cut loose, cut off from all of his contacts as well as his credit cards. He is stuck in Miami with his ex-IRA ex-girlfriend Gabrielle Anwar, his ex-buddy Bruce Campbell, and his psycho-family. So he spends his time solving crime and helping the little people while trying to find out why he was burned. And maybe his superpower is "spycraft".

The location gives it a touch of Miami Vice, and so does the easy going vibe. Our favorite part is, of course, Bruce Campbell. It's funny, there's some decent action, and every episode (so far) has a stand-alone case plus some movement on the overall arc of Donovan's burn. My sister's family turned me on to this one. 

I know that there are a bunch more of these - House is the same kind of eccentric genius, for example. Or Leverage, about a team of con artists that solve crime. But these aren't on Netflix. Anyway, I don't think we will run out of material for a while.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

To the Victor

If you have seen and enjoyed Victor/Victoria, you might want to take a look at First a Girl. Made in England in 1935, this is actually a remake of the German 1933 Viktor und Viktoria. It stars Jessie Matthews as a shopgirl who wants to be in show business. She meets Victor (Sonnie Hale), a wannabe actor who is really a female impersonator. When he loses his voice, he gets Jessie to impersonate him as man  impersonating a woman. Of course, she is a great success, and goes on to tour Europe.

In Monaco, she meets Griffith Jones, a gigolo to a princess. He falls for her before he finds out that she is really a man (not really), and the game is afoot.

The musical numbers are frothy, the comedy is light and amiable, and the stars are rather sweet. Sonnie Hale is a bit of an Edward Everett Horton, but not at all gay as the female impersonator who never even looks at Jessie that way. Jessie doesn't look a bit like a man when she is out of (or into?) drag, but she has a lovely way of swaggering around with her hands in her pockets, acting "manly". You can really see where Julie Andrews got her style in the later movie.

And speaking of nice little comedies from the black and white days, we recently watched One Big Affair (1952). It starts out with a tour group in Mexico City, which looks like a pleasant modern city, Chicago maybe. The tour is run by Gus Schilling, another Edward Everett Horton type, who keeps rushing everyone around. One member, Evelyn Keyes, gets left behind when they set out for Acapulco.

She meets up with lawyer Dennis O'Keefe, who is bicycling to Acapulco and trying to stay out of trouble. But the police think that she has been kidnapped, a Mexican orphan boy thinks that they would make him good parents, he loses his wallet, and other merry mixups occur.

This isn't a great movie, but it is immensely likable. Someone called Dennis O'Keefe's films "cheap and cheerful", and that sounds about right. This movie reminded me a lot of The Big Steal, with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. One Big Affair is not as good by any means, but seems to take the same kind of joy in rambling about Mexico. Evelyn Keyes (the girlfriend in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and the wife in The Seven Year Itch) has a certain something - she's a little old to be an ingenue, but perfect for a single teacher from Pomona on a package tour of Mexico. O'Keefe has touch of the comic Robert Montgomery - a bit puffy and dissipated but full of charm.

Also, only 80 minutes long. We enjoyed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Largo Winch Refrigerator Hatrack

The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch - screwy name, huh? Comes from a Belgian comic book, and Largo Winch is the main character's name.

Largo (Tomer Sisley) is secretly the adopted son of Nerio Winch, the insanely wealthy head of the Hong Kong based W Group. When Nerio is assassinated, the race is on for Largo to come and assume his place at the head of the company, or for parties unknown to kill him too. The action goes from a Brazilian prison to  the Adriatic coast of Croatia to the boardrooms of Hong Kong. Largo's main sparring partner is his father's right-hand woman, played by Kirsten Scott Thomas.

I got this on recommendation from Ta-Nehisi Coates - he calls it "trashtacular" and he is right. It was somewhere between James Bond and a modern action film. In fact, it reminded me a lot of M:I II. All of the action on yachts in Hong Kong/Sydney Harbors, for ex. I understand it was supposed to recall the heyday of French action films, mostly starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Well, Tomer Sisley is no Belmondo and no Sean Connery either. He's got his own scruffy charm, sullen rebel style.

I can't say this was my favorite of the year. The details started to fade as soon as it was over. But as mindless trash, you could do a lot worse.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fair Cop

Hard to believe that we hadn't seen RoboCop - until now.

I'm sure you're all familiar with Paul Verhoeven's 1987 satirical action film. It stars Peter Weller as an ethereally handsome cop, transferred to the urban hellhole of Detroit. The Detroit police are being run by a corporation that wants to replace them with something more efficient. When Weller gets killed by a gang, they rebuild him into RoboCop! Obedient, unstoppable, and doesn't strike for better funding.

There's plenty of action, but also a lot of commentary on the morals of corporate life, almost all of it just as fresh today as it was 25 years ago - even the disco scene looked timeless. Glad we caught up with it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two by Woo

We were in the mood for something mindless, yet solid. Mission: Impossible II seemed to fit. We were very skeptical of the whole M:I movie franchise. First: Tom Cruise. Second: beloved TV series re-imagined - see The Avengers or The Saint. But we now understand that the series will give different directors a chance to try out their skills on the series with an blank slate and a decent budget. Also, Mr. Schprock told us that we would like M:I II, directed by John Woo.

And we did. The villain is a little improbable - Dougray Scott plays a rogue Mission Impossible agent impersonating Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise's character), who steals a bio-agent MacGuffin in one of those typical mid-air robberies (homage to Charlie's Angels 2?). Cruise in the meantime is doing some ridiculously cool free-climbing in Moab or somewhere (homage to Eiger Sanction?). He has to get the MacGuffin by buddying up with international jewel-thief Thandie Newton, Scott's ex-honey.

Lots of globe trotting adventure, with classic M:I rubber facemasks and Cruise hanging from the ceiling. Woo puts his own stamp on this, and not just with his slow motion doves (he loves slow-mo shots of doves flying through his action scenes). Now we're looking forward to the next 2 episodes, to see what J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird do with the franchise.

I was feeling so much regard for John Woo, I decided I'd take a chance on his American debut, Hard Target, mainly because I had listened to the Filmsack (they loved it). Bad guys Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo are running a Deadliest Game human hunt in New Orleans, and the victim is Yancy Butler's dad. When she comes to town to find out what happened, she hires rebel roughneck Jean-Claude van Damme as her guide and protector.

Now, I have nothing against van Damme, especially after seeing him in JCVD. But he isn't much of an actor, and he really doesn't sound very cajun. In fact, Wilford Brimley, playing his uncle, sounds more convincing. All in all, this looks like your basic grindhouse/direct to video actioner. BUT! Van Damme, Henriksen, Vosloo, even Wilford Brimley (looking younger than you might expect), with the final shoot-out at a warehouse of defunct Mardi Gras floats, all directed by John Woo.

The Filmsackers made a lot about how groundbreaking this movie was when it came out, introducing Hong Kong style slow-mo action to America. I don't know enough about the genre to comment (although these kids seem to think that synced sound was invented in the late 90s). This is the first film I've seen with Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo, although I recognize their names from all the B-Movie podcasts I listen to. So I guess this is my initiation. Thanks, Mr. Woo.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hits Keep Coming

Time for some musicals. Up first: Hit Parade of 1943. Susan Hayward comes to the big city to stay with her sister Eve Arden and be a songwriter. In fact, song publisher John Carroll has already decided to use one of her songs - without giving her credit. And so she plots revenge, a revenge which involves letting him romance her.

Now some of this is kind of hard to understand. Carroll's character is a lousy songwriter, a cad and a cheat. But Hayward never lowers the boom, because she soon realizes that she's in love with the lug. Now personally, I can't see it. But exchange the genders. Suppose Carroll was the innocent songwriter and Hayward was the beautiful swindler. Can't you see him going along with the gag, if it got him close to the honey? Well, why shouldn't Hayward play the same game?

Carroll does have a nice singing voice, but most of the songs are pretty forgettable. However, we do get a number by Count Basie and Dorothy Dandridge - unfortunately, it is "The Harlem Sandman", not a classic. There is a nice dance number by Pops and Louie, hoofers in the Nicholas Brothers style.

Also Gail Patrick plays another singer Carroll is stringing along. Poor Gail, never gets the guy. Of course, neither does Eve Arden.

This is a Republic picture, a few steps above Poverty Row, but not quite an A picture. Fun though.

Next, Hot Rhythm (1944) from Monogram, probably a step down from Republic. Also, it was directed by William "One Shot" Beaudine. Netflix has decided that I love everything he's done, so they just keep serving it up, and I keep falling for it.

However, this one is a bit of a surprise. It had a budget - sets are dressed in deco splendor, there are extras, orchestras for the musical numbers, and so forth. It features Robert Lowery and Sidney Miller as a couple of songwriters - no big coincidence, everybody is a songwriter in these musicals. They latch onto new-comer Dona Drake as their key to success, and no wonder. She looks great, Lauren Bacall with a touch of Judy Garland.

They work for music publisher Tim Ryan (who also wrote the show). He has a new secretary, played by his real-life wife Irene Ryan. That's right, Irene "Granny Clampett" Ryan, looking like an ingenue of 40 years. She does a great Gracie Allen style dingbat role, and even sings a few songs. She and her husband were billed as just Tim and Irene, and I guess they were a well-known team, if not exactly famous.

So, two lesser known B-musicals, both worth watching, if only for Count Basie and Irene Ryan. Good enough for me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Conan the Reboot

I don't really get why they thought they had to remake Conan the Barbarian. My guess is that they wanted to do sword and sorcery but couldn't sell it unless it was based on a proven premise. If they had used an unknown story, or remade Quest of the Delta Knights, then nobody would have cared. But they had to mess with Conan.

It starts, as usual, with young Conan among his people, the Cimmerians, a simple warlike tribe. The best part, his dad, the chief, is Ron Perlman. But that ends soon, when the evil Stephen Lang and his spooky daughter Rose MacGowan come and destroy everyone but Conan. By the way, I changed my mind. MacGowan, with an eccentric hairdo, hairline tattoos, and witchy, witchy ways, is the best part.

Lang is looking for the piece of the magic thingy that the Cimmerians held sacred. With this thingy, he can rule (dare he say it?) THE WORLD! Except he needs the blood of a particular virgin, boring Rachel Nichols. Who Conan will have to save or at least help her stop being a virgin.

The whole thing is spectacularly generic. And it would have been a fine generic sword and sorcery epic - if the hero had been called King Krom or Hagar the Horrible. But don't try to pass this off as Conan.

In conclusion, Joseph Momoa, who plays Conan, has weird eyebrows.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Together Again

Executioners is Johnny To's sequel to The Heroic Trio - at least in the sense that Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung play the same roles. Other than that, totally different movie.

The first one was a classic three fighting women kung fu movie, taking place more or less in present-day Hong Kong (with superheroes, demons, etc). This one starts where the last one left off. Then, in the first minute, there is a nuclear war that leaves the whole world desperate for clean water. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Anita Mui, widowed in the first film, is retired from superheroing, holed up in her old mansion with her daughter. Michelle Yeoh is an ascetic aid worker, helping the refugees. Maggie Cheung is a bad-ass leathergirl water pirate outlaw. And so it goes.

The villains are a water industrialist, hideously deformed by radiation, corrupt government officials, a white-robed mystic who is their dupe. The feel is grimy, downbeat and post-apocalyptic. The fights are just as fantastic.

So, if you liked The Heroic Trio, here's more the same, and something completely different.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tactical Advantage

Once again, we wind up at the video store, scanning the new releases and not recognizing most of it. Well, I recognize Super 8 - that's supposed to be good. How about Hugo? But wait! Here's a Steve Austin 2011 direct-to-DVD action pic, Tactical Force! Didn't a Movie Morlock like that? It's got Michael Jai White on board? Sold!

The setup is a four-person SWAT team dealing with a hostage situation in a grocery. SWAT team: Austin, White, Steven Bacic and little Lexa Doig. This is a good little action set-piece, with takedowns including frozen steaks and BB guns.

As usual, the captain doesn't approve of the team's unorthodox methods, and sentences them to a training exercise with dummy ammo in a secluded warehouse. By coincidence, two Russian mobsters, Michael Shanks and leather clad female enforcer Candace Elaine have dragged weaselly Michael Eklund to the same location. Eklund, a ratfink with an inexplicable Cantinflas moustache, has hidden the MacGuffin in the warehouse and the mob wants it back.

In fact, the other mob wants it back, too - a gang of (2) Italians show up, one of whom, Adrian Holmes, is black (what, a black man can't come from Rome?). Eventually another couple of enforcers are called in, but the small ensemble suits the "tactical" aspect of the movie, as well as keeping the budget down.

So, four cops without working weapons vs. two opposing small groups of bad guys. One MacGuffin (which they studiously never explain). Several skirmishes and some silly dialog. It's fun and much better made than it deserves to be. My only complaint, not enough fights. They have Steve Austin and Michael Jai White and only really use them once or twice.

Were you expecting a disappointment? We were - maybe that's why we were pleasantly surprised. If this had been promoted like  The Expendables, our reaction might have been different. As it was, we had a blast! Kudos.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Singh Singh Singh

As readers who have been reading probably know, I like epics, action, sword and sandals action epics, etc. Also, I love Tarsem Singh, based entirely one movie, The Fall. So it shouldn't surprise you that I liked Immortals. Of course, I may be the only one.

It is set in a ancient Greece, Kolpos Penninsula 1383 BC (on a Tuesday). This exactitude must be some kind of joke, because this movie is less historically accurate than Raquel Welch riding a dinosaur. Our hero is Theseus, played by Henry Cavill, who I thought was James Caviezel - they are both kind of non-distinguished handsome types. He is up against Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion, the standard grade totalitarian despot. There is a super-weapon, the Epiros bow, a beautiful oracle played by Frieda Pinto, and so forth.

But mostly what you get are lovely CGI landscapes, inventive anachronistic costumes, slo-mo CGI fights like in 300, all lit by gorgeous sunsets or torches and moonlight. Some of the scenes were a bit too dark, but other than that is beautiful. If you can ignore the terrible story and weak acting, and just enjoy it as a spectacle, you should be fine.