Friday, December 27, 2013

Ghost Again

I started watching A Chinese Ghost Story 2 (1990) not really remembering whether I'd seen CGS I. I'm still not sure.

This is one of those crazy kung fu comedy fantasies. Our hero, Leslie Cheung, was married to a ghost in the first one, and she has apparently been exorcised. This made me think I'd seen it, but I was probably thinking of White Snake. So he wanders into a haunted temple, gets thrown in jail, meets a crazy old master who gives him a sacred medallion and lets him escape, etc, etc. His next adventures deal with a traveling mystic warrior with a freeze spell (who of course gets frozen before he can tell our hero the antidote).

It's all very silly and not too coherent or scary, although some of the monsters are somewhat disgusting. And of course there's a love story - Joey Wang plays a (living) woman who looks exactly like his (ghost) wife.

Lots of fun. I'd love to watch the original (unless of course I already have).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Magic Act

Con films and magic - two things I love that go great together. Hence: Now You See Me (2013). It's about a batch of stage magicians whose big Vegas act is to rob a bank and to give all the money away to the audience. Now that's a show!

The magicians are:
  • Jesse Eisenberg as the David Copperfield-like big Vegas star
  • Ilsa Fisher as his ex-assistant
  • Woody Harrelson is a hypnotist/mentalist reduced to running scams on tourists in malls
  • Dave Franco is the Kid, a fan who might just be running an All About Eve on the rest
Mark Ruffalo is the FBI man tracking them down (they really do rob a bank without leaving the stage), and Melanie Laurent is the beautiful Interpol agent working on the case - because the bank they robbed is in France. Michael Caine gamely plays their backer and manager.

Most of the movie is snarky dialog and flashy magic tricks. Of course, all the tricks are revealed (mostly) and of course they mostly make approximately zero sense. But so what, it's all good fun. Some people will be put off by the total lack of  likable characters, or the plot holes, but I just rolled with it. Hey if these clever heists worked, more people would be pulling them.

We've been watching a lot of Leverage lately - the quirky band of thieves and grifters who right wrongs with their extra-legal powers. If you can take the level of unreality in something like that, then this might be right up your alley.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Might as Well Jump

In the film quiz I recently posted, I said this about Jumper (2008):
I am a big fan on Stephen Gould's intelligent young-adult SF novels, including this one. Based on the reviews, I assumed that they had missed the whole point, dropping the thoughtful investigation of what a normal nerdy kid would do if he found out how to teleport, and made a stupid action movie. Which was kind of true, and kind of wasn't.
Let me elucidate. Gould's science-fiction style is rather old-school. He tends to take a premise and work out the details. Our hero can teleport: What are the limits? What are the rules? What happens to his angular momentum when he travels to the other side of the world? Also, what does a fundamentally decent kid do with that power?

Well, this movie doesn't get into this, really. But it is still in the movie - our jumpers come out of long jumps sliding to the side, all the jumpers have pictures of places so they can visualize target locations, but they never really explain it. It's just there for people who have read the book. Not that they are likely to appreciate it.

Christian Hayden as hero is not bad, not great, but his buddy, played by Jamie Bell, is a lot more fun. Samuel L. Jackson as the white-haired anti-jumper fanatic is, too.

On the whole, this is not a good adaptation of a great SF story. But it is much better than you might expect. I wish it was good enough to get a sequel.

Monday, December 16, 2013

They Live

They Live by Night / Side Street (1948/1950) seemed like a good deal - two B&W noirs for the price of one. They Live by Night was such a gut punch that we never made it to Side Street.

Directed by Nicholas Ray (first film, I think), this is the story of a gang of Depression era bank-robbers. We meet them after they break jail, hiding out with pals in a remote gas station. One of the escapees is young Farley Granger. He and Cathy O'Donnell are clearly attracted to each other, but she is an honest girl with her feet on the ground, and he's a boy with a past who can never go straight. However, they are named Bowie and Keechie, so I suppose they were destined for each other.

Granger looks so gorgeous in this, just luminous in Ray's dark shadowed noir photography. Gives James Dean a run for the money. O'Donnell is appealing as the tomboy who keeps the garage running. The rest of the gang are great: Howard Da Silva as scary, one-eyed Chickamaw and Jay C. Flippen as the quietly dangerous T. Dub.

The whole thing is both stylized and hard-core realistic. The small towns, bus-stops and tourist cabins that make up the world of these "big-time" criminals are so evocative. But it's the love story that got to us, the poor doomed couple.

Has anyone seen Side Street? We probably won't feel up to watching that for a while.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quiz Time

It happened again. I was just pining, wishing for a Film Quiz from Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. I had time, my mind was sharp, I was bored. I waited and waited, and finally gave up. Then, after I get busy and my mind gets mushy, this happens: PROFESSOR LARRY GOPNIK’S POST-HANUKAH, PRE-CHRISTMAS, POST-SCHRODINGER, PRE-APOCALYPSE SLIFR HOLIDAY MOVIE QUIZ.

I saw it early in the morning the day it was posted. It already had a half dozen responses. Time to get to work.

1) Favorite unsung holiday film
My legit favorite is probably Hogfather, the Sky TV Terry Pratchett Discworld 2-parter (does that count?). But I recently saw and rather liked the critically panned Reindeer Games, so I'll go with that.

2) Name a movie you were surprised to have liked/loved
My recent M.O. has been to watch recent movies that are considered bombs and kind of liking them. I call it "We liked that movie that everybody says is junk". The most recent, which I haven't blogged about yet, was Jumper. I am a big fan on Stephen Gould's intelligent young-adult SF novels, including this one. Based on the reviews, I assumed that they had missed the whole point, dropping the thoughtful investigation of what a normal nerdy kid would do if he found out how to teleport, and made a stupid action movie. Which was kind of true, and kind of wasn't. I wound up liking it a lot, and hoping they do the two sequels.

3) Ned Sparks or Edward Everett Horton?
Got to be E.E. Horton for everything from The Gay Divorcee to Fractured Fairytales. But I frequently drop into Ned Sparks nasal drawl when I the urge to sound cynical and deadpan comes over me. So he's a strong runner-up.

He was great as a lap steel player in a Hawaiian band in Hawaii Calls.

4) Sam Peckinpah's Convoy-- yes or no?
Heck, yeah. My favorite trucker movie, bar none.

5) What contemporary actor would best fit into a popular, established genre of the past
Not sure if he is still "contemporary", but Roberto Benigni would be a good character actor in classic slapstick - someone like Grady Sutton or Franklin Pangborn.

6) Favorite non-disaster movie in which bad weather is a memorable element of the film’s atmosphere
Wizard of Oz - no, I like the tornado, but the movie is not really a favorite. Key Largo? Body Heat (hot and sticky is bad weather too)?

7) Second favorite Luchino Visconti movie
The only one I've ever seen is Death in Venice. So, Boccaccio '70.

8) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD/Blu-ray?
Theatrically, a Deanna Durbin double-header: her first and last features, Three Smart Girls and For the Love of Mary. on Blu-ray, Keanu Reaves first directorial outing, Man of Tai Chi, another movie I was surprised to have liked.

9) Explain your reaction when someone eloquently or not-so-eloquently attacks one of your favorite movies (Question courtesy of Patrick Robbins)
I tend to splutter when people say dumb things, or try to earnestly explain what they are missing. I never convince anyone.

10) Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell?
Joan, an icon for a long career from pre-code to TV.  But I haven't seen any Torchy Blane movies, so I could change my mind later.

11) Movie star of any era you’d most like to take camping
I hear that Gable was a big outdoors man, so he might be handy to have along, but let's face it: Jayne Mansfield.

12) Second favorite George Cukor movie
A lot to choose from. I'll take Pat and Mike.

13) Your top 10 of 2013 (feel free to elaborate!)
It looks like I watched exactly 10 movies from 2013 in 2013, so I could just put those in order, but - It's a trick question! It doesn't say movies from 2013 or even top 10 movies! So, in no special order:

1. Top movie: Bringing Up Baby, same as always
2. Top 2013 movie that we saw in 2013: Pacific Rim
3. Top 2013 movie that we haven't seen yet: The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
4. Top shop: Discovered the Rasputin Records and DVDs in our neighborhood. 3 used DVDs for $10!
5. Top DVD bought from above: Addams Family and Addams Family Values box set
6. Top breakfast spot: Olympus, a Turkish cafe with lots of outdoor seating. Ms. Spenser's dog likes to hang out there while I have a mocha and a gozleme or boreki or pistachio burma.
7. Top bar: Cascal, a pan-Latin tapas bar, again with a large outdoor plaza. I would walk to the library with the dog and drop in for drink at an outside table on the way back. They have interesting things like mango caipirinhas, mushroom empanadas and ciabatta with corn kernels and herbed olive oil. Too expensive to do on every trip though.
8. Top musical event: Bob Dylan's AmericanaRama - last show of the tour at Shoreline Amphitheater, with Wilco and My Morning Jacket, plus Bob Weir and John Doe dropping in.
9. Top bummer: Ms. Spenser spent the summer back in Tallahassee, working on her dissertation.
10. Top joy: Ms. Spenser came back from Tally!

14) Name a movie you loved (or hated) upon first viewing, to which you eventually returned and had more or less the opposite reaction
I don't re-watch a lot of movies, and when I do, they are usually ones that I love. The biggest swings of opinion have been from Good to Meh or the reverse.

15) Movie most in need of a deluxe Blu-ray makeover
2001: Space Odyssey

16) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?
Delon is an icy beauty, but Mastroianni has sense of humor, and a heart. And his dance with an older, fatter Anita Ekberg in front of scenes from La Dolce Vita in Intervista is amazing.

17) Your favorite opening sequence, credits or no credits (provide link to clip if possible)
Yojimbo - especially the dog, even though that's post credits (so I couldn't find a clip that included it).

18) Director with the strongest run of great movies
Not sure if this is a run, but Billy Wilder directed 27 films, and at least 22 were classics.

19) Is elitism a good/bad/necessary/inevitable aspect of being a cineaste?
Sure, isn't that the difference between cineaste and just film lover? Like the difference between gourmet and gourmand.

But the trick is to be an elitist about any movie you want - scorning people who don't appreciate the artistry of Wm. One-Shot Beaudine or the aerial photography of Coleman Francis, for instance.

20) Second favorite Tony Scott film
Funny, it looks like I've only seen True Romance, which we loved.

21) Favorite movie made before you were born that you only discovered this year. Where and how did you discover it?
It's more of a series: The Mike Shayne detective movies starring Lloyd Nolan. What a card.

22) Actor/actress you would most want to see in a Santa suit, traditional or skimpy
Fun fact about Danny Trejo - he is a wizard with the claw machine, and he gives all of the stuffed toys he wins to kids in the hospital. He'd make a great Santa (traditional), maybe with the beard from Bad Ass.

23) Video store or streaming?
Netflix DVD-by-mail. When we lived in Tallahassee a few years ago, we dropped the disc subscription and went with streaming only, and started going to a local cult video store, Video 21. It was fun, but I still like the convenience and selection of Netflix. We like to use streaming more for TV shows.

24) Best/favorite final film by a noted director or screenwriter
I feel like some famous blogger just addressed this, but I can't quite put my finger on it...

I want to answer with the most "WTF" final film, like Wilder's Buddy Buddy or One-shot Beaudine's Billy the Kid Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. But I'm going to re-use my answer to #1: Reindeer Games.

25) Monica Vitti or Anna Karina?
Monica was an amazing Modesty Blaise, but Anna Karina was my dream-girl when I was a New Wave fanboy - infâme? Non, une femme!

26) Name a worthy movie indulgence you’ve had to most strenuously talk friends into experiencing with you. What was the result?
I don't do that often, and as a result, I used to watch a lot of movies by myself (now I make Ms. Spenser watch with me). We did cajole some friends into watching Buckaroo Banzai and were shocked when we came out and discovered that they hated it.

27) The movie made by your favorite filmmaker (writer, director, et al) that you either have yet to see or are least familiar with among all the rest
I guess our favorite filmmaker is Akira Kurosawa. I haven't seen The Lower Depths yet.

Dutch mystery writer/Buddhist Jan Willem van der Wetering  tells about watching a movie in Japan that seems to be The Lower Depths, although he couldn't tell because he didn't speak or read Japanese. He perceived it as a heart-warming story of how poverty brings neighbors together to help each other. I am told by people who have seen the movie that he missed the point by a mile.

28) Favorite horror movie that is either Christmas-oriented or has some element relating to the winter holiday season in it
Rare Exports, which I haven't seen, but sounds awesome. Really, I don't watch much horror.

29) Name a prop or other piece of movie memorabilia you’d most like to find with your name on it under the Christmas tree
An Interocitor - or at least a catalog from Electronics Service Unit #16.

30) Best holiday gift the movies could give to you to carry into 2014
That Desolation of Smaug be good.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Well Done

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1974) seemed like a good introduction to the works of M. Brel. I knew a bit about him, mostly through people who he had influenced. I recognized Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" as Brelesque, without ever having heard Brel's music. The theatrical emotionality with a casual informal rhythm, perhaps. Anyway, it was time for me to give it a listen, so I queued up this movie.

The opening does not bode well - a bunch of Godspell-reject hippies cavorting around a theater. Then show starts and it all gets "meta", with the audience becoming performers and the atomic bomb threatening to wipe them all out. Was this fresh in 1974?

But the songs themselves mostly make up for it. Funny, intense, personal, fascinating. The major singers are an older woman, a slick young man, and a chubby guy with a Mario moustache. He is Mort Shuman, a songwriter in real life ("This Magic Moment") who supplied the English translations. His songs are mostly funny, about the dreams of an everyday shlub.

The height is M. Brel himself, singing "Ne Me Quitte Pas". He was very handsome, in a Belgian James Coburn way. He is smoking a cigarette, of course, and dying of lung cancer, although I suppose it wasn't known at the time. The movie is worth it for this song alone.

The rest of the songs are pretty great too, although the English lyrics may not always sparkle - do the French lyrics sparkle, or is the original a little prosey and ordinary, on purpose? Even the hippies get a sweet, true moment with a song, The Desperate Ones.

In conclusion, a charming set of songs, beautifully sung, in a pretty silly movie.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Head in the Clouds

Cloud Atlas (2012) - wow, what can I say? I have to admit that I queued it up on mainly the strength of Tom Hanks' facial tattoos. And I don't even like Tom Hanks.

It is made up of 6 interlocking movies, in different styles, set in different time:

  • An adventure yarn set in the South Pacific in the days of wooden sailing ships
  • A homosexual romance concerning classical music set in England of the early 20th century
  • A '70's thriller (with a blaxploitation touch) about a black reporter and a nuclear plant
  • A comedy set in the world of publishing and an old folk's home in modern-day England
  • A sterile sci-fi dystopia in future Neo-Seoul
  • A post-apocalyptic tale set in Hawaii
The post-apocalypse tale is the one Hanks wears a facial tat. But there are also facial tattoos in the South Pacific (Maori) and Neo-Seoul (subcutaneous electronics). Other odd themes recur in strange ways: Cannibalism, for instance. The Maori are supposed cannibals, and when our publisher is locked in the old-folk's home he jokes "Soylent Green is people" (sorry, spoiler). I'll avoid some other spoilers, but it does come up again.

The same actors play various roles in the different stories. In many cases, their roles are similar, in other cases much different. If I had diagrammed it all out, I might see a pattern that I missed, maybe even the whole point, but I wasn't watching it that way. I was mainly just thrilled by the spectacle.

It was directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker. I worship Twyker's Run Lola Run, and rather liked The International (which I had never noticed that he directed). Of course, everyone knows and loves the Wachowskis, even after Speed Racer. The two teams do an amazing job here, intertwining the stories, letting beats from one build in another, sometimes letting a story run, sometime cutting between them shot by shot. It's an amazing combination of script and direction.

The actors are great as well, really digging into their roles. The makeup required to let one actor do several roles of different periods, races and gender was handled tastefully, I thought, never calling attention to itself. Although I have to say, as someone who once mistook Jean Arthur for Barbara Stanwyck, I often found myself going, "Is that Tom Hanks? No, that must be Tom Hanks. So who is that?"

I'm not sure I would have gone to see any of the six mini-movies if they had been presented solo, but altogether they made something more. I guess this has been done before - I think D.W. Griffith intercut four stories in Intolerance. But Cloud Atlas is really something.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Things to Do in Tombstone When You're Dead

We've been seeing previews for Dead in Tombstone (2013) at the start of our DVDs for a while now and we were thrilled to get it recently. Here's what we got.

Danny Trejo, Anthony Michael Hall and the rest of their gang take over a town that has some disputed gold reserves. Trejo doesn't want anyone hurt who doesn't interfere. Hall shoots the sheriff, molests his wife and decides to settle down. Oh yes, and he kills Trejo. Of course, that just makes him mad.

Trejo winds up in Hell (because of the sins), facing a pretty nasty Satan - Mickey Rourke from Angel Heart! Trejo offers to hand the other bad guys over if he can live for just one more day. Rourke arranges it, and the rest of the movie is Trejo's revenge.

The style of the movie is an interesting mix of straight-to-video action and art film. I can't tell if they had arty pretensions from the start, or used them to class up a no-budget production. It was interesting, yes, but also boring - too often it just slowed up the action. The obsessive, ritualized preparation of the coffins had a nice spaghetti Western style, but didn't really move things along.

The action itself wasn't anything special, except it was Danny committing the mayhem. Dina Meyer as the sheriff's wife, also out for outlaw blood, was pretty effective as well.

All in all, not great, but a fun mystic Western with Danny Trejo. We'd watch it again.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Soft Touch

The Touch (2002) is the first film that Michelle Yeoh produced as well as starred in. Too bad that it is so ordinary.

It is about a family circus, run by Michelle Yeoh and her brother Brandon Chang. This acrobatic family has protected the secret of the mystical remains of a Buddhist saint. Now, a plaque that is part of the secret has been stolen by bad guy Richard Roxburgh and his gang of violent numbskulls. But independent thief (and Yeoh's ex-boyfriend) Ben Chaplin has stolen the plaque back and brings it to the circus. I think that covers the setup.

The movie moves around to Malaysia, the Miao tribes of southern China, the deserts of the west and Tibet. This contributes to the classy look of the film. The fights are generally fun, although the action is far from non-stop. Yeoh is fabulous as always, and Chaplin is appealing, although I can't say he knocked me out.

Roxburgh had a bit of fun with his part - when Chaplin shows up after supposedly being killed, Roxburgh sighs "Can't anyone kill anybody around here?" So, he's fun.

But - the big fight at the end is quite dire. It was all wirework and CGI flames, which isn't a dealbreaker necessarily - the anti-grav ending of Jackie Chan's The Myth was quite ridiculous, but I still liked it. This just wasn't that good.

Fortunately, her next film, Silver Hawk, was much more fun, even though a lot less classy.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oh, No! There Goes Tokyo!

Pacific Rim (2013) is pretty much the definitive Big Stupid Friday movie. As I've said before, we like a big, noisy, mindless action movie on Friday nights to help us shut down our minds. This one hit the spot.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Hellboy II), this is your basic live version of a giant monsters vs. giant robots anime. It seems that these Godzilloid monsters called kaiju have started coming out of the Pacific and stomping on our cities. Mankind react quickly, building giant robots to punch them back to the trenches.

Digression: Why not shoot them with missiles from airplanes or long-range gun batteries? This is not discussed, but I assume the answer is: "Our puny weapons are powerless to stop them".

Now these giant robots are controlled by a pair of pilots in cybernetic mind-meld, because why not. Mankind has gotten pretty blase about these monsters because the robots, called Jaegers, are so good. But then our hero, Charlie Hunnam, loses his co-pilot/brother to a new, badder kaiju, and now mankind is in trouble again.

Hunnam gets pulled back into the Jaeger program by hard-assed General Idris Elba. He takes a shine to Elba's assistant/ward, Rinko Kikuchi. Meanwhile, two bickering comic relief mad scientists are predicting worse monsters to come.

The scientists are a hoot:
  • Burn Gorman is the fussy mathematician with a touch of autism
  • Charlie Day is the tattooed Rick Moranis/Elvis Costello type who is just a little too into kaiju
After Day makes an amazing discovery about the kaiju, Elba sends him out to the black market kaiju parts district to try and buy some fresh brain. Since these 100-ton monsters are showing up all over the place, you'd think there would be plenty of material to go around. And you'd think the army would have access to it. And you'd think that they might keep the mad scientist in the lab, and send a flunky to get the brain, but anyway: The kaiju-part bootlegger is Ron Silver - Hellboy himself.

But the best parts are the manga/anime elements: The robot workshop, the monsters, the fights, etc. The rest is just frosting.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Havana Calling

The Big Boodle (1957) stars Errol Flynn in his declining years, and is set in Havana, in its declining years - two spectacular ruins, together.

Flynn plays a blackjack dealer at a Havana casino. When a mysterious woman loses 500 pesos in counterfeit currency, he gets into a heap of trouble. The crooks are after him, and he gets beaten up and shot. Police colonel Pedro Armendariz plans to either hold him for counterfeiting or use him as bait to get the real counterfeiters. On the plus side, he meets an impoverished banker from a noble old family with a beautiful daughter. But what is his connection to the counterfeiters, and hers?

This is a pretty average semi-noir, with a couple of things going for it. Flynn is far from his matinee idol heyday, but he is still a fine actor with a nice low-key approach (or maybe he's just drunk?). The colonel, Armendariz (Kerim Bey in From Russia with Love) is pretty good, and so are the femmes fatales.

Pre-revolutionary Havana is a big part of the movie's charm, in good old black-and-white. My favorite part is an extended club-crawl, as Flynn trawls a subject through town hoping to shake loose a clue. We get to see a number of musical acts, including a beer bottle percussionist that really gets on someone's nerves.

In conclusion, pretty pedestrian, with some points of interest for fans. We liked it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Down is Up

White House Down (2013) doesn't get a lot of love, but for us, it just hit the spot. (Yes, this is another edition of "We liked that movie that everybody says is junk".)

It stars a somewhat Brendan Frasier-esque Channing Tatum as a bodyguard for the Speaker of the House, but he is hoping to get a job with the Secret Service guarding the President. Partly this is because his daughter is a White House fanatic and it's about the only way he can get the 11 year old to give him the time of day. So he takes her on a White House tour on the day that terrorists take the White House hostage. But, since this is a Roland Emmerich movie, first they blow up the Senate, because of course they do.

Now Tatum wasn't going to get the Secret Service job, because the hiring boss turns out to be one of his many ex-girlfriends, Maggie Gyllenhaal, in serious ballbuster mode. But in the confusion he winds up guarding the president anyway - President Jamie Foxx!

Now, here's the thing - this is an action comedy - comedy quotient somewhere around Die Hard, say. A lot of the people who didn't like this movie seemed to have missed that. They saw it as unrealistic, not goofy. Fair enough, it wasn't really laugh-out-loud funny, maybe it's just not your thing.

The other reason a lot of people didn't like this movie is that Foxx was clearly doing his Obama. Almost every negative review in IMBD had something to say about Kenyan socialists. Now, I think Obama is possibly the coolest president in history. Maybe not the best, but the one with the most cool. Foxx plays the president as idealistic, a little geeky, and fun. There's a little scene with the President grabbing some hard shoes from the closet, then changing his mind and grabbing a pair of Air Jordans - the best footwear for a hostage situation.

Come on, wouldn't you bet that Obama has a pair in his closet?

The little girl, Joey King, is pretty great - courageous but not suicidal, with just enough "fuck you" attitude mixed in. I also enjoyed the terrorists - if you ever find yourself shouting "just shoot him!" at a movie, you'll like these guys. But, violent as they are, they still manage to look like lovable lunkheads half the time.

Now, it seems that there was another White House hostage movie that came out this year, Olympus Has Fallen. It's got Gerard Butler instead of Channing Tatum, Morgan Freeman instead of Jamie Foxx. Maybe it's better - a lot of people think so. But this was just what we wanted on a Friday night.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Art, Crime and Rock and Roll

Last Sunday we decided to take a break from the contemporary action movies we've been enjoying and go back to a simpler time, with some streaming black-and-white: Crime Against Joe (1956).

Joe, John Bromfield, is a Korean war vet, who lives with his mother and tries to paint. When he can't get the dream girl he is painting right, he goes out and gets drunk. He has a few adventures, most of which he doesn't remember the next day. Which is too bad, because some women have been getting attacked and one of them was murdered. So Joe, his chubby cab-driving pal Red (Henry Calvin) and carhop Slacks (Julie London) set out to find the real killer.

This is definitely Poverty Row, but has several things going for it. It's filmed in Tucson and has a nice lived-in small town feel. The murderer left behind a class pin, so all the suspects came from the same high-school. And almost everyone we meet had a motive and opportunity, sometimes just barely sketched in. It's not exactly clever, but it's a decent script.

Bromfield is pretty good - he's a bad artist sponging off his mother and drinking too much, but still manages to seem like a good guy. Julie London is the only "name" actress and she doesn't do any singing, but she looks pretty sweet. There's another singer, Alika Louis, who sings at the Pango Pango tiki bar - got to love a tiki bar.

So, not a great movie, but a fun 70 minutes if you like this kind of thing. We've been watching old Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which were made at about the same time, so this fit right in.

Since it's so short, we added a second feature, It's All Over Town (1963). This one is an English color production, full of musical numbers, but just as low-budget as Crime Against Joe. It pretends to be a documentary, with a narrator speaking Scouse, about two lads out on the town. This gives them the excuse to show a lot of songs and a little strip-tease (filmed in reverse). The songs are mostly very square - the star is Frankie Vaughan, a third-rate Sinatra who, it is said, was very popular at the time. But there are also appearances by The Hollies with a very young Graham Nash, and the Springfields, with a tall-haired Dusty Springfield. Granted, they have only  2 songs each, and one of the Springfields' numbers is a hideous faux-Latin "Maracabamba". But some of the other acts aren't bad, including trad-jazzman Acker Bilk and sweet Clodagh Rogers - One of Lenin's favorites, according to Monty Python.

The lads watching these numbers, Lance Percival and William Rushton (billed as Fat Friend), were also appearing in That Was The Week That Was, which I remember liking at the time. This, not so much, although it is only 60 minutes long and an interesting look at pop music before the Beatles were fab.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Grim Fairy Tale

You know, everybody says that Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) isn't very good. I think they are right. I know, I'm the guy who likes Fantastic Four and Daredevil, who just praised After Earth. This one, not so much.

The story is in the title: Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are grown up now, and they travel the land hunting witches. The mayor of Augsburg hires them to get rid of the witches in the dark forest who have been stealing children, although the sheriff doesn't like them.

The opening gag - glass bottles of milk with pictures of the lost children tied to them - isn't really typical. There aren't a lot of anachronism jokes, although there are plenty of anachronisms. The time period is during the Middle Ages, but after the discovery of insulin. The witch hunters' weapons (other than fear and surprise) are crossbows and shotguns that never run out of ammo. Everybody talks in medieval-ese,  except Renner, who says things like, "Whatever you do, don't eat the fuckin' candy." You know, when Bob Hope played the one guy who talked modern in a pirate film, it wasn't funny, and it still isn't.

Yes, there is gore and fights and blood and monsters and anachronistic ass-kicking, all of which is good. Did I mention that I own The Brothers Grimm? Which isn't very good, but is better than H&G. I don't quite know why. Renner is a lot of fun, especially when he is grumpily avoiding the pretty Pihla Viitala. Arterton is a bit less defined - Her role wasn't much and she didn't do much with it, but she didn't do bad in the fights.

So, not a good movie. Not terrible, but probably not worth the 90 minutes.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Back Again

As a little treat for ourselves, we watched Back to the Future Part II (1989). It's fun to watch something that is just that good.

While the first episode took place mostly in the 1950s past, this one travels to the future for a bit of fun with Marty McFly's dopey son and evil ancient Biff Tannen. While they are there, Biff travels back in time to set his younger self up with future knowledge. So when our heroes return to 1985 (the present), it is a horrible, Biff-ruled dystopia. Sort of an It's a Wonderful Life turn of events.

As in the first movie, every detail counts. A lot of the comedy comes from re-running or reframing jokes from the BttF1. But a surprising amount is quite dark - evil, alterna-1985 is quite realistically squalid.

It is almost the future (2015), and it doesn't look like we're going to get hover boards or flying cars. But it is amazing how accurate their images of the 1980s was, from within the 1980s. They really nailed that 80s nostalgia joint, showing a lot of self-awareness.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bearded Fury

When I was writing about that sub-standard Danny Trejo movie we saw, I completely forgot to mention Bad Ass (2102). I heard about it on the movie podcast How Did This Get Made and had to watch it.

It's got a pretty high-concept premise - the movie is based on a viral Youtube video, known as Epic Beard Man. Basically, an old guy (with a beard) sees some punks acting threatening on a bus and whales the tar out of them. This movie is the story of that man (except completely made up).

Trejo plays Bad Ass, as he is known in the movie version of the viral video: a Vietnam vet who was tortured by Charlie, came back to LA to find his girl was married, couldn't get a job. He wanted to be a policeman, but his war injuries kept him out. So he wound up working as a hot dog guy, and that's where he stayed until he grew old.

Then one day, he's on the bus and sees some punks, etc. The video of the confrontation goes viral, and he gets his moment of glory. But it doesn't really help much. His mom dies and he moves into her old house with her dog with an old army buddy. Then the buddy gets killed by punks and he doesn't start looking for trouble, but when it comes to him, he settles it.

There really isn't much to this - it's pretty much a standard straight to video actioner. It has some cute stuff riffing on viral videos and YouTube. Other than that it has Danny Trejo with a Fidel Castro beard in shorts and a fanny pack. It has him sad and alone and it has him kicking butt. He's great either way.

Other than that, there is a subplot with a whitebread cop who takes him for ride-alongs. I took him for a secret crook or racist, he was so patently honky. But he was just a nice guy.

This is not a great movie, but it is certainly a good one, and let's Danny be Danny even more than Machete. But even if you don't watch it, you've got to listen to the How Did This Get Made podcast. It includes an awesome interview with Danny Trejo, explaining fun facts like:
  • He always has a knife in movies as a joke on the parole board - his parole terms won't let him carry an edged weapon
  • He is an expert at the claw machines, and gives the stuffed animals he wins to children's charities
  • From his time in prison, he learned to judge who was truly dangerous by the look in their eyes. Guess which movie stars he sees as most deadly (not Nic Cage)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

After Oblivion

You know, After Earth (2013) really isn't that bad. It got pretty terrible reviews, and deserved a lot of them. But there was a lot to like here.

The backstory: One thousand years before the story starts, the Earth became so toxic it had to be evacuated. Mankind has settled on another planet, and seems to be doing pretty well, but some aliens have dropped some monsters to exterminate humans. These monsters are blind, but sense fear, so human Rangers learn to suppress their feelings and become invisible. That is a lot of backstory - pretty much enough for a whole movie, or possibly a spin-off series that director M. Night Shyamalan expected there to be a demand for.

So, on the story-story. Will Smith is the coolest of all Rangers, the man with no feelings (by the way, his character is called, get ready, Cypher Raige). His son, Jaden, on the other hand, washes out of cadet academy for feeling too much. His mom, Sofie Okonedo, convinces Will to take Jaden out on a space patrol. They get into a gravity storm or some such bafflegab, and crash on a forbidden planet - the most dangerous planet in the Universe: Earth!

Now, we are finally in the story! And... I'll just stop summarizing here, and talk about the good and the bad. The overstuffed, silly plot is one bad thing. Another is the acting. Papa Smith's acting decision is militarized anomie - he has no feelings and expresses everything in military lingo. Young Smith goes for permanently terrified. I hate to say it, but I mean Stepin Fetchit levels of anxiety. I know the kid has more range than this, and I think he could be pretty likable, but this is offputting.

Also, the plot is full of nonsense - like the evolution of flying snakes, giant eagles and poison slugs in the 1000 years that man has been away. I had a similar problem with Oblivion - the timescales just don't make sense. In fact, it might have worked better if this wasn't supposed to be Earth, just a hostile planet. But then you don't get the silly eco-editorial message, which they clearly wanted to stuff in as another plotpoint.

On the other hand, a lot of sfnal thought went into this movie, maybe too much. I can imagine that they figured the accelerated evolution of all these creatures was due to a mix of pollution and genetic tampering. They just forgot to mention it.

Or take the technology. The future tech available included levitating wheelchair, but not simple pegleg prosthetics. Well, it was a frontier world, with a funny mix of resources, social mores, etc. Maybe they were too macho? And the tech that they do have is based on fabric, flexible plastic and something like artificial bone made out of cardboard and electrical tape. This looks both like cheap art direction and internally consistent future tech. In fact, future architecture (Jaden's mom is an architect) features billowing cloth that Ms. Spenser and I independently surmised generated power when it blow around.

Speaking of cheap art direction, I saw an old Captain Video space serial, and the space ship didn't even have seats, just subway-style straps. I thought that was hilariously low-budget. Watch for the straps in the cockpit of the After Earth spaceship!

In fact, we enjoyed the overall look of the film - the tech, the new planet, the jungles of Earth. But I suppose that almost any movie can look beautiful. Art direction is a science now.

I can't say this was a good movie. I listened to the take-downs on the How Did This Get Made podcast, and I can't really argue (usually from laughing too much). But is wasn't much worse than Oblivion - which as just as absurd and suffered from Tom Cruise as well - and that's a pretty good movie.

In conclusion, go see it and tell me I'm wrong.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Old Dark House

The Haunting (1963) was Ms. Spenser's choice. She is a bit of a Shirley Jackson fan, and besides, she has stronger nerves than me.

It is based on Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting of Hill House, I knew that much. And that it was about a haunted house. I was right and wrong.

Hill House has a long and tragic history of madness and death, and is now deserted. Richard Johnson, playing a psychic researcher, wants to rent the house from the current absentee owner to conduct an experiment in the supernatural. In invites a long list of subjects, but only two show up: psychic Claire Bloom, going by the single name Theodora and neurotic Julie Harris. Playboy Russ Tamblyn is on hand as a representative of the owner. That completes the party, because the creepy caretaker and the cook won't stay after dark.

And after dark the spooks come out.

This is pretty much what I expected, but what I had not expected was Julie Harris. Her character is a nervous, spirit-haunted, death-obsessed woman. She had spent years caring for her terminally ill mother, then found herself alone in the world, sleeping on her sister's couch, unable to shake off the sickroom stench. When she is invited to stay at a haunted house (chosen because she was involved in a rain of stones as a little girl), she jumps at the chance. She thinks that the house wants her, and she is frightened out of her wits - but she wants to be taken. It's a wonderful role, and Harris is incredible in it.

The other roles have their charms - the down-to-earth researcher, Claire Bloom's sensual, backbiting psychic and the rude rustic caretakers are all very well. We don't get much of Russ Tamblyn - too sunny for this show. But it is Harris' role that makes the movie.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

DR Inferno

Is there any reason for Death Race 3: Inferno (2012)? After all, Death Race 2000 (1975) had director Paul Bartels and producer Roger Corman, along with David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone. The 2008 Death Race had Jason Statham, at least. I don't know about Death Race 2, didn't see it. As for DR3: Inferno - we saw it for Danny Trejo.

It has a cute premise: Ving Rhames, who has been running the Death Race out of Terminal Island, has to sell the franchise to Dougray Scott, who plans to put on Death Races all over the world. The first one will take place in South Africa. Rhames has one trick up his sleeve - the most popular driver, the man in the mask, Frankenstein, has won two races and will go free if he wins another one.

So, Luke Goss is Frankenstein - He acts about as well as his iron mask. His pit crew are chubby, autistic Fred Koehler, cute Tanit Phoenix, and tragically under-utilized Danny Trejo. Somehow, the director (Roel Rene, not Paul W.S. Anderson in this outing) manages to make this towering force of nature seem small, old and tired - well, Trejo is small, he is old and he may be tired, but a decent director wouldn't let it show.

OK, how about the races? In a word, weak. The cars and action are purely generic. About the only redeeming characteristic is the comedy - each driver has a "navigator", a cute prison chick to nag and annoy him. It's not very funny, but I was willing to take what I could get.

In conclusion, I want to compliment Jeremy Crutchley as driver Psycho. I thought he resembled Oliver Reed, but Ms. Spenser thought of Gary Oldman. He was pretty funny.

Friday, October 25, 2013

F is for..

The Fake (1953) is one of those B movie programmers I love so much, this one British and post-war. It starts down on the docks on a foggy night. A ship is unloading crates of fine artwork, when a fight breaks out and someone swaps crates. Our hero, American private eye Dennis O'Keefe, goes after the crooks, along with bumbling British inspector Guy Middleton. This section is pretty much film noir.

O'Keefe is keeping an eye on a priceless Da Vinci for its American owner while it is on loan at the Tate Gallery. Two other Da Vincis had been stolen with fakes left in their place. In the course of his investigation he begins to suspect an eccentric old painter, John Laurie. The trouble is, he is chasing Laurie's daughter, Colleen Grey, for a different purpose. This comes off almost as romantic comedy. Rom-com and noir - two of my favorites.

In addition, some of the film is actually shot in the Tate Gallery, which was full of modern art. That gives the whole thing a little twist of sophistication - not that there are beatniks in berets or beat chicks in leotards, but it was interesting to see a Brancusi or Moore in the background instead of the usual naked marble lady.

Now, I wouldn't say this was a good movie - a "classic". At 80 minutes, I might even say it was a little too long - one of the best things about these movies is that they don't keep you up too late. But if you like this sort of thing, you'll find this to be the sort of thing that you like.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Darkness Darkness

I'm not sure I know what to say about Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013). I expected it to be much worse, or maybe much better. In the end I guess it was just - meta.

It starts with Kirk blatantly breaking the Prime Directive. Now, how many times did that happen in the original series, and how many times did you say something like, "Oh come on, he can't get away with that"? Just like old times - except in this timeline, Kirk is busted for it, and loses his ship. So obvious that this is the director commenting on the series that we spent most of the rest of the movie comparing the new crew to the original.

Chris Pine is certainly arrogant, but does he have the core of self-importance that Shatner so effortlessly gave Kirk? Zachary Quinto has the detachment and the chin to play Spock, but there is something soft and sensual about his lips that make me wonder. John Cho is great as Sulu, but plays hesitant and out of his depth, unlike the always cool George Takei. Simon Pegg has a great take on Scotty, but he isn't Scotty. Anton Yelchin doesn't make much of an impression as Chekov, which is reasonable, since he wasn't in the original episode that [spoiler deleted] is based on.

But Karl Urban really seemed to nail Bones - his cantankerous eccentricity, his deadly serious quarrels with Spock, the way he treats Kirk, with just a hint of the accent. He's not my favorite character (although the original Bones is Ms. Spenser's favorite), but he's the one who most reminded my of his original.

What else? Kirk's most infamous line is assigned to Spock in this timeline, and Kirk goes through an ordeal that Spock went through in the movies. It's all good fun, but like I say, kind of meta.

In conclusion, Benedict Cumberbatch is also in it, being very Cumberbatch.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Street Fighting Damme

Why Street Fighter (1994)? Simple - it was featured in two hilarious bad-movie podcasts: Film Sack and How Did This Get Made?

For anyone too young to have spent time in a video arcade, Street Fighter was an 80's video fighting game that I never played (I was too old - more of the Asteroids/Missile Command generation). In the movie version, an evil warlord, M. Bison (!?!), played by Raul Julia (!???!?!) in his last feature role (!@#$%?!) rules the Asian port city of Shadaloo. He takes a busload of aid workers hostage and demands 40 billion dollars!

The Allied Nation forces, lead by American Yankee non-European Jean-Claude van Damme, must rescue the hostages and take down Bison. His joined by a raft of player and non-player characters from the game. There are fights, but not many, and none (as far as I remember) in streets. There is humor, but not much.

So, if you came for the fights, you will be disappointed. If you thought it would be funny, you will be dissatisfied. If you are a fan of the video game - I don't know, confused? It seems that M. Bison was  the black boxer character in the game (Mike Tyson, get it?). The rest of the cast of characters seem to be part inspired by the game, part made up or mixed up.

So, it wasn't terrible, but not good. You do get to see Ming-Na Wen as Chun-Li in a cheongsam try to kick Raul Julia's head off. So there's that.

In conclusion, a sad end to Raul Julia's career - he will always be remembered best for his Gomez Addams. But he really sold the Bison character and almost got JCVD in the end.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vanilla Earth

Oblivion (2013) is another beautiful film. I think it also tries to be a smart film, and it certainly isn't as dumb as it could have been (for that, we're planning to watch After Earth).

The set up is this: Earth was invaded by a bunch of alien scavengers, or Scavs. We pretty much got rid of them by nuking the planet. Now Earth is mostly empty, all the people gone to live on Titan, leaving Tom Cruise and and Andrea Riseborough as caretakers and drone technicians living in a modernist Farnsworth house on a stalk above the clouds.

Life is good, with the elegant cloud lifestyle and the idyllic depopulated Earth at their feet. But Cruise keeps dreaming of a time before the invasion, and about Olga Kurylenko. This disturbs him, although I would find it rather pleasant (although I thought she was Noomi Rapace for the whole movie).

Soon he begins to find out that nothing he believes is true. Since he has his mind wiped clean (for reasons) every five years, it's pretty easy to fool him. Just like in Vanilla Sky, when something seems too good to be true, it's probably an artificial reality planted in your brain somehow.

I don't want to spoil the twist(s), although I sort of did, so I won't discuss the plot holes in detail. Except:

  • Timeframe: This supposedly takes place less than 100 years after the invasion. Yet civilization is almost wiped from the earth - New York harbor is a meadow with the torch of the Statue of Liberty sticking out. Shouldn't it be like 1,000 years after invasion? 
  • Boomer-centricism: Cruise has feelings that bubble up through the mindwipes - a love for the simple true things of human culture, like 70s FM rock music. That's certainly universal, isn't it? (OK, he also gets into the poetry of Macaulay.)
I'd better say no more - except even if you don't buy the story, this is an incredibly beautiful movie. A lot of it is like the Iceland portion of Prometheus, lovely blue wilderness. Just enjoy.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Easy as Pi

Ang Lee's Life of Pi (2012) is one of the movies Ms.Spenser saw without me in FL, so we wanted to watch it together - to keep my life experience synched with hers. But we were both concerned: would it be too slow, or a bring down? What could a movie set in a lifeboat do, I worried, to keep interest up? (No, I haven't seen the Hitchcock movie). At least I knew it would be beautiful.

So, after getting the disk and sending it back unwatched once or twice, we dug in. It was, indeed, beautiful.

It is the story of an Indian boy, nicknamed Pi, stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger. It is framed by the adult Pi telling the story to a novelist. The story starts in Pondicherry, where Pi is raised in the zoo his family runs. It is a sweet life, with friends, religion and an awakening romance. Then they are uprooted to go to Canada on a freighter, and Pi and a few of the zoo animals are cast adrift in a lifeboat.

This makes up the bulk of the movie - the lifeboat, the tiger, the sea, the sky. The struggle to survive, to avoid being eaten by the tiger, and even to keep the tiger alive. And it is incredibly beautiful. The sunlit clouds, the still waters, deep-sea luminescence at night. The tiger, lovingly animated, like almost all of the rest Sharaj Sharma, the actor playing Pi, is also very beautiful, if I may say so.

The story is also a good one, although you may find it a touch pretentious. There's an antidote for that contained within the movie, though. The author in the framestory, listening to adult Pi telling the tale, is subtly drawn as a bit of a nitwit. Pi himself, both in the frame and in the lifeboat, is a bit of a clown, with great ideas about survival, tiger taming, etc. that aren't quite as smart as he seems to think. (It took me a while to decide that Ang Lee was doing this on purpose.)

So, lovely thoughtful story that's not as pretentious as we feared, and not boring at all. Glad we watched it together.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


What can I say about Iron Man 3 (2013), except that we fell asleep? I don't think it had much to do with the movie, we were just tired.

We were pretty good up until Tony Stark's first panic attack. He's in a restaurant, signing a drawing of Iron Man for some cute kiddies, when it all gets too much for him. He starts freaking out, writes "Help me, Erin!" on his portrait and runs out of the restaurant to climb into his suit. At this point, we're imagining mind control scenarios, fear gas, even that he is trapped in a virtual reality, trying to communicate with the outside world. The film gets a little trippy, a little dreamlike.

Or does it? Maybe it just seems like that because we were falling asleep.

Oh well, we'll watch this again. In fact, we're looking forward to it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Parallel Parker

We mainly watched Parker (2013) on the principle that you should watch anything with Jason Statham in it (yes, that includes In the Name of the King). But I'm also a great lover of Richard Stark's iconic Parker crime novels. They are deadpan and realistic, with Parker meticulously planning and carrying out modest, workable crimes that go horribly wrong. Parker is a great character, serious, detail oriented, principled (although crooked), and resourceful enough to get out of the scrapes he always winds up in - and lucky, I guess.

This is Statham's Parker as well, although with a touch more ass-kicking.

It starts with a heist at the Ohio State Fair involving clowns and fake firemen, and Parker's promise to the scared security guard: He never steals from people who can't afford it, never hurts people who don't deserve it, and if someone lies to him, he will make him suffer. The job goes over pretty well, except for an unplanned fatal fire. Where it really goes wrong is at the split. The gang wants to pool the take for another, bigger job. Parker wants to take his share and leave. They compromise by trying to kill him and toss his body in a ditch (not for the last time).

To fulfill his third rule (Lies -> Suffering), Parker sets out for revenge (and his cut). He tracks the gang down to Palm Beach, and gets failing real-estate agent Jennifer Lopez to show him around. She seems very comfortable in this role - a glam front with desperation just underneath. She also adds a bit of sunshine to this dark story. Too bad she has to meet Parker's angle Claire, Emma Booth.

Note that the clever heist schemes don't really make much sense. Richard Stark sometimes throws in a scene where the robbers are fighting and someone says, "This is a five person job, we can't do it with four" to break it up. But the job looks like it could be done with three or even fewer. Nonetheless, the gang is great, led by always fabulous and menacing Michael Chiklis. The black driver, greasy-haired psycho and spoiled brat mafia-connected punk round out the band.

In a lot of ways, this is just another Transporter - criminal with principles is crossed, gets revenge. I'm perfectly happy with it on those terms. Interrogating the Parker myth through the filter of the Statham persona is just a bonus.

In conclusion: Nick Nolte as Claire's father?!? The guy who introduces Parker to the Chiklis gang? What was that about?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Howard's End

I hear that little Ron Howard is doing a race car movie, and I'm all behind that. In his honor, we watched Eat My Dust! (1976).

Howard plays a small town rebel, who steals a hot Mustang from a racetrack to impress a spoiled rich girl and takes her joyriding with their pals. His dad, the sheriff, doesn't exactly chase him, just sort of locks up the people who come in to complain.

Not really much of a plot - more of a romp. Just lots of driving fast around back country California with a bunch of teens piled in the back of a stolen car, plus police cars flipping over or crashing through Chinese restaurants. There's an occasional touch of hippy surrealism, like when the chase stops at a railroad crossing to let three longhairs to go by on a handcar. That's just the way it was in 1976.

It seems that Howard made this for Roger Corman in exchange for the the opportunity to direct his own car chase movie, Grand Theft Auto. This one is just as much fun. Written and directed by Charles B. Griffith,  who wrote Little Shop of Horrors, Bucket of Blood, Death Race 2000 and such like for Corman, really seems to know how to write drive-in flicks for teenagers. So does Corman, obviously. Since Howard pretty much is a teenager, this all works out great. I look forward to seeing Rush.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

All You Zombies

Hey, I forgot to blog Zombieland (2009). We watched it over Labor Day weekend - I prepared for the long weekend by getting a huge stack of DVDs from the library. In the end, we did social things, and only got a chance to watch one of the stack, and this is the one we chose.

Jesse Eisenberg is a lonely nerd who has survived the zombie apocalypse by following a few rules. The first is "Cardio", so you can outrun the zombies. He runs into Woodie Harrelson, and they tentatively team up. Harrelson plays a kind of macho yahoo, so they've got a little odd couple thing going on. They meet up with a hot girl and her cute sister and - but perhaps I've said too much.

I'm not a big fan of zombie movies. I haven't really seen any - Resident Evil if that counts. But I did love Shaun of the Dead, and this movie is the same thing: a goofy comedy with zombies. Eisenberg is nicely low-key while Harrelson is over the top. The girls are a bit typical - Emma Stone pretty much just a sex bomb and little Abigail Breslin the wise beyond her years kid.

But it all ends pretty happily, except for the undeath and degradation of almost all humanity. Oh well, omelet, eggs.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

West Pointless Story

A friend who is getting into tap dancing was in town, so of course we wanted to see some James Cagney. People who think of him as a movie gangster don't always realize what a great dancer he was. The problem is, we've seen all his best stuff (I particularly like Footlight Parade) over and over. Solution: The West Point Story (1950) directed byRoy Del Ruth, which none of us had ever heard of.

It goes something like this: Cagney is an irascible director, reduced to doing nightclub shows. His assistant, Virginia Mayo, wants him to do something better, and an old partner and enemy, Roland Winters, wants him to direct a show at West Point. The idea is to lure Winters' nephew, Gordon MacRae, away from the service and onto Broadway. In the end, they bring in Doris Day as a ringer for the traditionally all-male show.

Now, most of the story doesn't make any sense. Cagney hates the army, but agrees to live as a cadet while putting on the show - does West Point really work like that? And if they could get a woman into the show, why didn't they think of that before? But never mind.

The best thing about West Point Story is Cagney, of course. He doesn't dance much, but he does some great jumping up and down when he gets angry. He has a number at the end for reasons that don't really hold up, but we appreciate it.

The second best part is the pervading sense of homoeroticism, with the cadets in drag playing female roles (Alan Hale, Jr!), and the rest of the young men standing "proudly erect". I know these kinds of jokes are juvenile, but I dare you to resist.

All in all, not very well known and for good reason.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jingle All the Way

While Ms. Spenser was in FL, I watched a lot of movies that I plan to re-watch with her. But she was watching movies down there, and wants to share with me. One of these was Reindeer Games (2000). Since this is John Frankenheimer's last movie, and I'm beginning to like Frankenheimer, it was an easy sell. Also, the How Did This Get Made podcast crew did an episode that I couldn't listen to until I'd seen the movie.

It starts with Ben Affleck in prison. He is a car thief just finishing a 6-year stretch, with a cellmate, Nick, who has a penpal girlfriend waiting to meet him when he gets out. But cellmate gets killed and when Affleck sees that the penpal is Charlize Theron, he decides to pretend to be Nick.

He regrets this when Theron's brother, Gary Sinise shows up. He looks like Steve Buscemi playing Charles Manson, and has a gang consisting of Donal Logue, Clarence Williams III and Danny freaking Trejo. They have a plan to rob the Indian casino that Nick (but not fake Nick, Ben Affleck) worked at. And if they think Nick isn't Nick, they'll just kill him.

That is the first or second plot twist. There will be more. They do not always make sense, but you were expecting that, right? Also, you didn't believe Charlize Theron is who she said she was for a minute, did you? Well, maybe for a minute.

We liked this movie a lot. I enjoyed the whole low-rent look - it all takes place in Northern Michigan, like an Elmore Leonard story, and the Indian casino they were robbing could hardly be more ratty. Sinise does a great menacing psycho, although Affleck is a bit of a blank here. I liked all the twists, and didn't even worry much about how much sense each one made.

Now, the How Did This Get Made gang thought this movie was ridiculous garbage - I can respect that. I liked it a lot, though. It might have been better if Frankenheimer's last movie was Ronin, but I can see this. As I have mentioned before, I used to think of Frankenheimer as a "square" director, making prestige, pretty, stodgy movies (like Grand Prix). But he also made the oddball Seconds (which we haven't seen). So it's nice that he went out on a weird comedy heist thriller.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Have I mention the podcast How Did This Get Made? They not only recommended Punisher: War Zone(2008), but interviewed Lexi Alexander, the director. She's a great storyteller, with a cute German accent. The basic story is that the crew from the original Punisher movie wanted the sequel to be more realistic and gritty. Alexander took it way in the other direction, comic-book ultra-violence.

You might know Frank Castle, the Punisher, from the previous movie (we liked it OK) or the comic book, or maybe just from the skull logo (which Alexander thought was cheesy, and tried to leave out, but the fans wouldn't allow it). If you don't, tough, because this movie doesn't re-do the origin story - but it does establish the Punisher as a guy who metes out savage violence against criminals. But on one mission, he kills an undercover agent, and worse, lets the boss live after sending him through a glass crusher.

The boss (Dominic West) needs so much plastic surgery after this that he takes the name Jigsaw. And he gets so mad, he decides to get his brother, Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison), out of the loony bin to help get revenge.

Jigsaw and Jim are both scary and goofy. The whole movie is bloody, scary and goofy (if you have a hard-hearted sense of humor). I recommend watching it, then listening to the interview.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wolf Pact

When Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) came out, I saw previews - I thought it looked like a brainless gore-fest. Which is not what I like, although I know tastes differ. But some film bloggers (I forget just who) started talking about it, and I got the idea that it was a superior sort of cult movie.

The story takes place in France, after the Enlightenment but before the Revolution. Our heroes are Samuel Le Bihan, a royal naturalist and rake, and Marc Dacascos, his Mohawk companion and blood brother. We meet them arriving in a backwater of France, in the rain. A gang of men in dresses are beating up an old man and young woman. They come to the rescue, but it is already apparent that nothing is what it seems.

The naturalist has come to find the truth about the Wolf of Gevaudan, a creature that has been terrorizing the countryside - and to capture it, if possible. In the process he will meet the local nobility, priests, whores, soldiers and gypsies. But will he capture the beast?

In some ways, this is a classic costume swashbuckler. I savored phrases like "les crimes de la bête" - we watched the French version with subtitles. Sometimes, it seemed like a costume comedy of manners - a Ridicule with wolves or Liaisons Dangereuses - tres dangereuses. Then again, there were grisly horror scenes and martial-arts-style action  scenes. The direction style that ties this all together slides in and out of a dreamy trance state.

Finally, the question of the reality behind the wolf - monster, hoax, demonic presence, something else? This is handled adroitly; at least it kept me guessing for longer than I would have thought.

So, loved it. It looks like the director and Dacascos, the Mohawk, made a version Crying Freeman, from the Japanese comic strip - we used to read this when we lived there, and it was just a naked man floating in a void, so it should be interesting.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mondo Kane

It's funny, I'd never heard of Solomon Kane (2009). I mean, I knew the character, created by Robert E. Howard for the pulps. I don't remember reading any of his stories, but I definitely read some of the Marvel comics. But I hadn't heard about the movie until Netflix suggested it. Well done, Netflix.

Kane is played by James Purefoy, an actor with a bit of Hugh Jackman or maybe Jason Statham going on - or is it just his accent? Maybe I'm thinking of Henry Cavill. Kane is a vicious mercenary for Queen Elizabeth, until the Devil comes for his soul. He resists and retreats to a monastery. When they kick him out, he joins up with some Puritans, aiming to be a man of peace. But there is a demonic presence in that part of England ("the border of Devonshire and Somerset") that he must face conquer - even if his soul be damned!

This is a good swashbuckler, if not a great one. We watched it on streaming, so we couldn't really see the details, but parts looked a bit cheap. Still, lots of fun if you like this kind of thing, which we do.

Side note: Ms. Spenser is back from her summer term in Florida! So posting, never very frequent, might get a little lamer. I plan to re-watch a lot of the movies I liked with her, and of course, expect to have a bit of a social life. Please let me know if you notice.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Do the Hu$tle

The Monkey Hu$tle (1976) is a cute little blaxploitation comedy set in Chicago. Yaphet Kotto plays small-time hustler Daddy Foxx, who mentors a gang of kids in "gettin' over". They all hang out at Momma's soul food restaurant, worry about the expressway that's going to demolish the neighborhood, make time with girls, etc. There's a crooked cop, a community organizer, an unemployed drummer, and Rudy Ray Moore as Goldie, the big-time hustler.

There isn't much of a plot. There's a lot of  jivey dialog. There's one quick hustle that's pretty cute, but you don't get much idea of how Kotto rakes in the bucks. He's pretty interesting as a hustler - I don't think of Kotto as a light, nimble actor, but he does great here. I thought at first he was doing Rudy Ray Moore, but when Moore shows up, halfway through, the difference is like night and day. Kotto is a hustler, but Moore is The Hustle.

Not a great film, but a fun look at the long ago time when a teenaged boy could wear a crop-top tee-shirt, tight cut-off jeans and red Cons and be considered cool.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Centurion 21 and Up

The Eagle (2011) is the other Lost Legion movie made in 2010-2011 (Centurion is the first one). I had heard that one of these movies is great and the other one stinks. I still don't know which is which.

The Eagle starts with Channing Tatum arriving at a small Roman fort in the north of England. He is the new commander and he is going to whip them into shape. There's a rumor that his father was in the Ninth Legion when they were overrun by the natives and lost the eagle standard - bringing dishonor on the army. But a skirmish with the locals both proves our hero's worth and gets him seriously wounded. He is put out to pasture at Donald Sutherland's villa.

But he is soon fed up with hanging around with politicians and parasites and comes up with a plan to head north, past Hadrian's Wall, with a single local slave (Jamie Bell). This 2-man guerilla operation might succeed where a legion would fail.

In many ways, the two movies are alike. The Eagle could almost be a sequel, since it takes place a generation or so after the Legion was destroyed in Centurion. The depiction of the Picts as naked tattooed savages, a little punk, a little Native American, is similar in both. The overall feeling of the two are quite different. Where Centurion was edgy, gritty and low-budget, The Eagle has a more prestige feeling, with more open, contemplative scenes.

There were a lot of fights in both, and I'm not going to score those any differently. I will say that Tatum seems too cute to be a soldier in several scenes. Bell is much more fun.

In conclusion, a spoiler: The eagle standard is being held by an odd tribe of "seal people". I am sure this is a mistaken translation for "seilie", Scots for "blessed" or "happy".

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pick Up the Pieces

I just got the news today - Elmore Leonard has died. By coincidence, I just saw one of his movie, 52 Pick Up (1986).

It stars Roy Scheider as a cool industrialist, who drives an old Jag to his factory in East LA, and Anne Margaret as his wife, who will be running for LA city council. Scheider comes home one day to discover three masked men with a video showing him and his stripper mistress, demanding blackmail money.

I don't want to give too much away, but it doesn't go too smooth for any of them.

As is typical of Elmore Leonard, the joy is in the characters, especially the crooks. The trio includes:

  • John Glover, as the smarmy b-school dropout pornographer who leads the crew. I was convinced that he was Gary Busey for most of the movie, and I mean that as a compliment.
  • Robert Trebor, as the chubby, whiny, sweaty gay peepshow operator. He was kind of a Jon Lovitz type.
  • Clarence Williams III, as the coke-snorting pistol-cleaning bad-ass stone killer. Very scary. I was expecting him to be the Final Boss.
I guess I don't have much else to report, except there are some scenes that are very hard to watch. Violence against women, let's just say. So rough that I can't really recommend this whole-heartedly. But if you can stomach that, this is a great movie.

Directed by John Frankenheimer, who I'm kind of starting to like.

Monday, August 19, 2013

There Will Always be an England

Sometimes, I want something cozy, fun and not too hard on the brain cells. For that, there will always be British comedy. The Ealing Studio/Alec Guiness stuff is my favorite, but I don't mind second best.

Mary Had a Little (1961) is considered to be the first of the modern British sex comedies. It stars Jack Watling as broke and shiftless promoter Scott Raymond (?!?). He plays it handsome but sweaty, a bit like a blond Patrick McGoohan in desperate Danger Man mode. A psychiatrist claims that he can make a pregnant woman bear the child genius through hypnosis, and Waling bets him a five thousand pounds he can't. His plan is to get a beautiful actress to play the mother-to-be, but she isn't really pregnant, so he can't lose.

Now, the mechanics of this bet are dubious on so many levels - won't they have to wait at least a few years before determining whether the child is a genius? If the woman isn't pregnant, doesn't that void the bet? Hypnosis, really? But so what - it is just a means to introduce lovely Agnes Laurent as the fake mom.

Of course, Watling has a girlfriend who wants to marry him (the lovely Hazel Court, apparently a horror queen for J. Rank and Roger Corman). Agnes Laurent has a boyfriend, a big bloke who plays rugby. People get into compromising situations and it all ends in the police station with everyone shouting - how traditional.

You'd think that Cottage to Let (1941), a spy movie made in the middle of the war, would be more serious. Only barely. It takes place in the hielands of Scotland, at the eponymous cottage and the manor. A number of strangers converge - a wounded RAF pilot, a nurse/daughter of laird, two London evacuee boys, a new butler with flat feet, a lodger (Alistaire Sims!) who has let the eponymous etc. Since the household is run by a vague old Ladyship, this seems quite natural, until you discover that his Lairdship is the inventor of a famous bombsight, and begin to suspect espionage.

And you get it, with many a twisty turn, as evacuee boy George Cole starts sleuthing. There's a lot you'll figure out right away, but I bet some twists will trick you. Here's one that fooled me. The scientist has a very shifty weedy assistant, who is in love with the mad scientists beautiful daughter. But she is nursing the wounded pilot, who is in every way dashing, witty and handsome. Guess who she kisses?

It's a silly movie, with a plot full of holes and tropes. It was taken from a stage play, and shows it, with few sets and fewer locations. Well, it was wartime, you cannae ha'e great expenses. But Syms is having so much fun with his role, and so do the rest of the cast, that you can't resist it.

I discovered both of these because Netflix pushed them on me. They were available on streaming and there when I wanted them. Well done, our Netflix!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Oz the Good Enoough

Oz The Great and Powerful (2013) seems like a good idea: a prequel showing how the wizard got to Oz. It's directed by Sam Raimi, who I like even when I don't much like his movies (*cough*Spiderman), and stars James Franco, a charming actor with chops to spare. So what went wrong?

It's easier to say what went right. After the basic idea, the look of this was amazing. The land of Oz is truly magical. I liked the flying monkey. And ... the ending.

On the other hand, I didn't really like the story of the witches, good and bad. I liked them all individually: Evil Mila Kunis, confused Rachel Weisz, good Michelle Williams (does she remind anyone of Terri Garr? Or do I mean Teri Hatcher?), but the payoff wasn't there. In fact, as their arcs develop, their three-dimensional natures are compressed more and more until they are just flat signifiers. Maybe this is the idea, that Fate or the force of the fable made these women into witches, good and bad, the same way it made the smarmy Oz into the Wizard? No, I think Raimi just succumbed to the cliche.

And speaking of the Wizard, I know the carny version of Oz is not supposed to be a misguided saint, but did Franco have to play him so slimy? I don't mind ham - Franco shows a lot of teeth, but so does Jean Desjardins. But he just wasn't that likable, at least until the end.

Now, the ending I liked a lot. Raimi takes up the slack, picks up the action, and Franco shows what a truly great and powerful Wizard he is. It left me with a much better feeling about this movie than I had when, for ex, we meet the creepy Disney-fied China Girl.

In conclusion, I liked the art direction best. It had a Roger Dean feel, and that gives me a great idea - a feature length animation based on the prog-rock classic Tales From Topographic Oceans. Once we get Roger Dean attached to this project, we can get Raimi to direct, and with Kickstarter funding...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Good to be the King

King Eagle (1971) is a classic Shaw Brothers Hong Kong kung fu movie. It starts with the betrayal of one of the Tien Yi Tong leaders by another. Someone escapes to bring word of this treachery to the council, but only gets to tell a wandering kung fu hero before he dies.

This hero, King Eagle, (Ti Lung) doesn't want to get involved. He tells the bad guys again and again that it isn't his business, but they try first to kill him, then to co-opt him. Neither works, and the beautiful but deadly master played by Ching Lee can't seduce him - he doesn't even notice her.

But later on he meets her beautiful and good sister, also played by Ching Lee. Although they look identical, because she is good, he falls for her. Now his neutrality is over, now he now wants to get involved. Now, he is pissed.

I don't think this is the greatest Shaw Brothers, but it does have a few great spots - the dual role for Ching Le, some neat weapons like the claw fingers, sharp-edged shields and leopard paw, decent fights. Actually, the fights were kind of middle-of-the-road, with some silly wirework, some pointless jumping around, etc. But King Eagle is a great character - a reclusive loner who doesn't want to get involved, but is unstoppable if you push him. Very Clint Eastwood. Even with the cheesecloth hairpiece.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

From the Archives

This blog is supposed to be about my Netflix queue (with some cocktails), but here's a secret - you can download free no-copyright films from The site also hosts a ton of live music, including a lot of Grateful Dead, and the Wayback Machine, a historical archive of the whole internet. But that is by the by.

I recently downloaded a few movies onto my my iPad. Here Comes Trouble (1948) is newspaper comedy starring William Tracy and Joe Sawyer. Tracy is a sad-sack veteran, coming back from the war to his rich sweetie and his job as copyboy at her dad's paper. But her dad hates him, so he gives him a job as crime reporter - a job with a high casualty rate.

Meanwhile, dad is blackmailed by burlesque girl, Bubble Larue, played by Joan Woodbury (wasn't she married to Paul Newman? No? Oh). Along the way, Tracy's army buddy, Joe Sawyer, shows up, now an incompetent policeman.

It all ends in a big fight in the burlesque house - very Night at the Opera/What's Opera, Doc?. It's been done before, but it's done very well here, possibly because it's produced by Hal Roach, who is one of the ones who did it before.

Besides, you know I love the burly-Q.

Her Favorite Patient (1945) is another post-war comedy. It starts with Ruth Hussey, a doctor on her way to Chicago, picking up 3 hitchhiking soldiers named Smith, Smith and Smith. She needs to stop in her old hometown first, just for one night.

Her little hometown has blown up in the war economy, and her "Uncle Doc" (Charles Ruggles!) is one of only two doctors for the whole population. He wants her to stay in town and join his practice. There is a rather sweet scene where she agrees to perform reconstructive surgery on the high-school prom queen's face because Ruggles skills would leave too many scars.

But she still plans to move on to Chicago the next day (I'm not sure how if she really did this surgery on the first night home, but OK). However, John Carrol, who she mistook for her old school buddy Smedly, wants to keep her around as well. He is a fearless test pilot, so he pretends to be fearful to get her to treat him for shellshock (her specialties are plastic surgery and psychotherapy).  Meanwhile, the three Smiths have been pretty much forgotten, but whenever we check in on them, they are meeting nice local girls and don't mind waiting to get to Chicago.

The first half seemed to kind of meander - the Smiths, Smedley, the tearjerking scarred-up prom queen, etc. It was all pretty well done, but left me wondering where it was going. The second half, which concentrates on the hijinks of "scared" John Carrol, are better focused, and also pretty funny.

So here are two B+ movies free for the taking. There are many others - lots of silents, of course, since anything before 1923 is public domain. Lots of deservedly forgotten B movies, but some classics as well, like Rene Clair's And Then There Were None. It's worth digging around in.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Smiling Through

Once more it's time for the Lubitsch Touch: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931). The last time I watched a Lubitsch film, I complained about the lack of Maurice Chevalier. This one has him in the title role. He is a lieutenant in the Austrian guards, but a swordsman with the ladies. His first song, "Toujours l'Amour in the Army" pretty much sums up his lifestyle.

His latest conquest is girl musician Claudette Colbert. He is smiling and winking at her across the street, but the carriage of visiting royalty passes between them, and the wink is intercepted by Princess Miriam Hopkins. She is a stuck-up prissy prig, and is inclined to make an international incident over it, so Chavalier has to pretend to be lovestruck at the sight of her. Which works too well - now she wants to marry him.

Chevalier plays this quite broadly (I know, what a surprise), taking the title quite literally. Colbert is beautiful and sexy, and Miriam Hopkins is able, somehow, to appear plain and dowdy. But the ending is a real shocker. So - SPOILER - Chevalier marries Hopkins, but is true to Colbert, until Colbert takes Hopkins aside, explains what men like, and "jazzes up her lingerie". At this point, Chevalier is all about Hopkins, and Colbert is discarded.

We knew he was a cad from the start. We've seen his leer, his wink and heard his Toujours l'Amour song. But somehow, the way he dumps the woman you thought he loved for the princess he was forced to marry, just because she has hot underthings - it gives you a jar.

In conclusion, not my favorite Lubitsch, although I admire his chutzpah. The songs weren't that great, either.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Character Study

My Son, the Hero (1943) is one of those Apple Annie stories: small-time grifter Big-Time Morgan has been telling his son that he is a successful business man, and has to fake up a mansion, wife, etc, when he comes to visit. It's been done a thousand times. The sweet part is who plays Big-Time and the rest.

Big-Time is Roscoe Karnes, the classic wise-cracking character actor. He is the agent of a glass-jawed boxer, played by Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, the classic punch-drunk slugger. Maxie's ex-wife is brassy loud-mouth Patsy Kelly, with everybody's favorite Italian stereotype Luis Alberni filling out the cast of characters.

If you don't know who these people are, try this one out. I think you'll like them. Karnes, often a cabbie or hard-bitten reporter, gets to show a lot of soul here. He is a grifter and out of control gambler who always loses, but he loves his son and can't bear to disappoint him. Kelly doesn't have a big role (even though she's top-billed) and tones down her act a bit, which makes her easier to like.

The rest of the cast are the straights - Karnes' son, who is a war correspondent trying to sell a lot of war bonds (which is like a con job, but for the government). He falls for a show girl hired to play his half-sister, although there is a nasty rival for his affections.

That part of the story is really skated over. The straight world isn't really for them. This is Roscoe's movie, with Patsy, Luis and especially Slapsie Maxie.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kame. Hame. Ha!

Readers who don't know me might not know that I lived in Japan for a few years in the 80s. People who do know me have heard the stories until they are tired of them. One of the things that most surprised us about Japan was manga and anime. Everyone knows about them now, but when we went we had no idea that grownups spent most of their free time reading comic books, and that you could watch these amazing cartoons on TV every night.

Since Dragonball was one of our favorites, I had to see Dragonball: Evolution (2009). Of course, this is a very different Dragonball. The one we watched was about a little boy with a tail named Son Goku. His master was training him for the Tenkai-Ichi Budokai - #1 Under Heaven Martial Arts Tournament. Goku grew up and fought as a teenager in Dragonball Z. I don't know what happened to his tail. We were watching in Japanese, and it didn't make much sense.

But this is a different Dragonball, a reboot, and in live action. Son Goku is played by Justin Long -- wait, that's Justin Chatwin, with no tail. He is a normal high-school student being raised by a martial arts grandfather (Randall Duk Kim), who forbids him from fighting. We get some good training scenes and a scene where he doesn't fight the bullies, just lets them destroy each other. But the bad guy, Lord Piccololo, kills grandfather and is after Goku.

I guess this more or less follows the plot of the original Dragonball. Goku gets a new master - Chow Yun Fat! - meets cute Chi Chi (Jamie Chung), thief Bulma (Emma Rossum), other thief Yamucha (Joon Park), and bad girl Mai (Eriko, in the style of Bai Ling), all from the comic. I didn't see the somewhat generic Chatwin as Goku, but he had some better scenes toward the end.

If you're not a DB fan, I think a lot of this will just leave you puzzled. If you are a fan, it will annoy you, because it is done all wrong. So I don't know who the audience for this movie. But if you ignore that, it's actually a pretty good kids' action movie. I'd even watch the sequel.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

South of Eden

South Sea Woman (1953) is a funny one - a Burt Lancaster comedy. Funny odd, though.

Lancaster is a Marine MP who is being court-martialed for desertion and other crimes. He refuses to testify or plead, so it is up to the witnesses to tell the story in flashback style.

It seems that he was in Shanghai, rounding up all the Marines as they withdrew in late 1941. Pvt. Chuck Connors has one thing he wants to do first - marry bar girl Virginia Mayo so that she can get evacuated as a spouse. Between one thing and another, they miss the boat, hijack a yacht, get lost, and land on a South Sea island (the woman of the title is a red herring) occupied by Vichy. To stay free, they "pose" as deserters. I use quotes, because by this time Connors really is deserting - he doesn't care about the war, he just wants to shack up with Mayo for the duration. But Lancaster is always looking to get back to the fight, especially when he finds out about Pearl Harbor.

Here come the SPOILERS -- Connors stays pretty resolutely "make love not war" until he decides to go on a suicide mission, freeing Mayo up to fall for Lancaster. Her testimony gets him acquitted (he couldn't testify himself without sliming Connors, so he had to keep stumm), and they live happily etc.

Except Connors, who is probably dead! Nice way to honor his sacrifice, but he was just a dirty deserter, I guess. Really, this was my biggest problem with the movie. Lancaster apparently got this role for Connors, and he is written as a lovable, loving lunkhead, but also: deeply dishonorable, cowardly and treasonous. Of course, the loser in these romantic triangle comedies has to be shown to be unworthy of the love of the girl. But they went too far in this.

Still, now I've seen Burt Lancaster try comedy.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Centurion 21

Centurion (2010) was another Rod Heath/Ferdy on Film suggestion. I knew there were two of these Roman-Legion-in-Britain movies made in 2010-2011, and I could never remember which one was supposed to be good. Once I had his recommendation, I went for it.

This is basically the story of a handful of legionnaires on the Scottish border fighting a guerrilla war against the native Picts. The Legion (the lost Ninth of legend) is soon reduced to a handful, racing across the snowy mountains of Scotland, trying to get back to the Roman line. They are pursued by the beautiful but deadly Etain, played by the exotic Olga Kurylenko, in lovely woad-blue makeup.

In some ways, this is a B-movie sword-and-sandals action romp. It is incredibly bloody - There were more throatcuttings than decapitations, and there were a lot of decapitations. People administered long bloody gashes the way you might pat someone's cheek. From torture to hand-to-hand to melees, there's something for everyone.

But it is also a beautiful film, full of gorgeous scenery and settings. The rugged snow covered mountains, the rugged shirtless Michael Fassbender, the blue-tinted Kurlyenko - it seemed like more of an art film than an action movie sometimes. I understand that it was made on a slim budget, but it doesn't show in the cinematography.

I liked this a lot. I now want to see The Eagle, the 2011 movie about the lost legion. And probably Gladiator, which sort of started the trend. And... any other recent Roman epics? Has anyone remade Ben Hur?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Freezing Tri-Flap

The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) is another W.C. Fields movie. What, so soon after You're Telling Me? Sure, why not? I was just back from vacation, feeling jetlagged and bleary and it was just the tonic I needed.

Besides, this one's different. Yes, he is a drunk with a nagging wife and a loving daughter but he is not an inventor - he works as a memory expert. He remembers every detail about every man his executive boss has met so that the boss can impress them when they meet again. It's just funny to see the vague, bumbling Fields reel off the exact information nobody else can remember.

As for the rest of it, well, it's not really that different. Hitting the cider jug, singing "On the Banks of the Wabash" with some burglars, telling the boss his mother-in-law is dead so he can go to the wrestling match, and so on. Plus Grady Sutton, that jabberknowl, as Fields' worthless brother-in-law. Just what I was looking for.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Kick Ass

I've recently add Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee to my blogroll. Proprietor Peter Nellhaus seems to concentrate on classic black&white and recent Asian action movies. This Girl Is Badass (2011) is one of the latter.

It stars Jeeja Yanin from Chocolate and Raging Phoenix (which I saw but didn't blog?). She is definitely the girl from the title. She is a bike messenger who takes shady jobs, and executes sweetly, sliding under trucks, jumping off her bike and over walls - then jumping back on again, etc. She works for a very goofy outfit, with a bald giant with a Hitler mustache and a penchant for frilly outfits as a boss. She gets tangled up with some bad (and pretty silly) gangsters, and much fighting ensues.

The fights are great, especially the fight in the bike shop. The rest is just bizarre, with her boss's outfits getting more outrageous, her partner, an Italian cyclist who is never out of his spandex gear and helmet, and the gangsters competing for most silly evil-doers.

I got pretty tired of the Thai comedy - it probably isn't much more subtle in the original Thai, I think it's just a matter of taste. But the action more than made up for it. Thanks, Peter.