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.