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.