Monday, January 27, 2014

Solid Jackson

The Frighteners (1996) was a Film Sack special - the special part is that they liked it. It was a horror comedy starring Michael J. Fox, directed by Peter Jackson before he got the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And yet it is almost totally unknown - at least to me and the Film Sackers.

Fox is a sad-sack widower, a hearse-chasing ghost buster. His gimmick is that he really can see ghosts and in fact has a couple of ghost buddies that he sics on the recently bereaved, then lets them pay him to remove the haunting. Meanwhile, in a spooky secluded house, a troubled young woman is haunted by demons that push out of the walls (like in The Haunting). A local serial murderer may also be involved.

The funny stuff is pretty funny. The spooky stuff is pretty scary. Fox does a great job - much more losery than his Back to the Future role, but just as likable. I don't know why this movie isn't better known. It's quite good and it lead to Jackson getting the Ring trilogy. Maybe it was too New-Zealandy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Too Soon Too Often

We watched Fast & Furious 6 (2013) because it became available on Netflix - we considered delaying out of respect for the death of star Paul Walker. But then we thought, what would Walker have wanted us to do? And decided that we didn't know or much care, so we went right ahead.

As you recall, in F&F5, Walker and Vin Diesel's gang pulled off the big heist and escaped from lawman Dwayne Johnson. Now, Johnson needs their help to take down a worse gang. So they Get the Old Gang Back Together Again. The gang is pretty much the same, except of course, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is dead. Johnson has a new assistant, Gina Carano from Haywire.

And about that other gang - two things:
  1. They are basically the evil twins of Diesel and Walker's gang. Luke Evans, their mastermind, even resembles Walker a little.
  2. --SPOILER -- They have Letty in their gang.
They didn't really go full-on Evil Twins trope, but with Michelle Rodriguez they pulled the lamest soap opera move in the book - Amnesia. Yes, Letty survived crashing and getting shot in F&F5, but she lost her memory. So Diesel has to woo her all over again.

Rodriguez is one of my favorite movie stars - I've written about how much I love her style. She gets a fair amount of screen time here, but the whole amnesia thing doesn't help her part. As for the rest of the movie, well, to pull evil twins and amnesia out of the bag o' tricks, you have to reach way down. Not necessarily scraping the bottom, but.

I guess the next one was almost in the can when Paul Walker died, and we will watch it regardless.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dog's Life

My Dog Tulip (2009) is a bit out of our comfort zone (which I consider to be recent action or action/comedy and B&W comedy or mystery). It's an animated love story of an old man for a poorly behaved dog.

The story is based on an autobiographical novel by J.R. Ackerly, about his dog Tulip. He rescued the dog from a family who didn't do much to care for her. He takes her for walks, but doesn't do much in the way of training her. There is a lot about her bodily functions, her barking, her mating, and so forth, as well as the author's grumpy life and the people who he doesn't get along with, and so forth.

All this is of moderate interest - it is helped by the quotes from Ackerly's apparently beautifully written book, and undermined by how obnoxious Ackerly seems and how clueless he seems about training and cleaning up after his dog. The animation, in a simple/sophisticated style out of the New Yorker, is what made the movie worthwhile for us. It nicely mirrors the direct, casual and seemingly straightforward narrative.

Although I didn't realize it, we had already seen parts of this story - the movie We Think the World of You is based on another Ackerly novel about how he got the dog - from his working class rough-trade ex-lover. That Tulip's owner is gay (in England between the Wars) is gay is never mentioned, but seems to me to be conveyed quite clearly. It's an interesting subtext.

But it is just a subtext. This really is a story about a particular man and his particular dog, and the non-particular, universal love that they shared.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Yes, Virginia

I don't usually blog about vacation movies, but Virginia City (1940) is just too much to skip. My bro-in-law was going on about this Western with Humphrey Bogart as a Mexican bandito with a zip mustache. Incredulous, we did a web search to find out whether he was as crazy as that sounds. We turned up Virginia City and put it at the top of their queue.

VC really stars Randolph Scott as a Confederate warden and Errol Flynn as one of his Union prisoners. One of Scott's old flames, Miriam Hopkins, recruits him on a secret mission to get several million dollars of gold from the mines of Virginia City NV to the South to support the war effort. In the meantime, Flynn has broken out of the POW camp with his comic sidekicks Alan Hale (Sr) and Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams as Marblehead. He got wind of the plot while in camp and heads out after Scott.

On his way, he meets up with Miriam Hopkins, and also Mexican bandit, sure-enough Humphrey Bogart with an accent midway between Brooklyn and Leo Carillo's Pancho. The bandits are dispatched easily enough, but Hopkins and Flynn are starting to fall in love.

I'll skip over the rest and get right to the end --SPOILER!-- Scott and Flynn join forces in batle against the bandits, Anglo vs. Mex. Flynn keeps the gold from the Confederacy, but vows that it will be used to re-construct the (white) South.

Actually, this movie wasn't as pro-Confederacy as I expected, and there was only one lazy Negro stereotype at the start of this movie. So I should be carpetbagger sentiments about these copperheads to myself. Scott was his usual strong self, and Flynn looked like he was having a great time. Miriam Hopkins is surprisingly plain looking, but gets to dig her teeth into the role toward the end. Still, needed more Bogart.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Tai Chi Time

I swear I didn't do it on purpose - I wasn't paying attention to the Netflix queue, plus some Very Long Wait movies didn't show up, and I got a Tai Chi weekend.

First, Keanu Reeve's directorial debut: Man of Tai Chi (2013). It stars Tiger Hu Chen, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuntman. as the Man. He is a promising student, but his master fears that he is not controlling his Tai Chi, but letting it control him. Mysterious millionaire Donaka Mark (Keanu Reeves) spots him in a match and decides to recruit him for an underground fight ring.

Donaka Mark - what kind of name is that? Spelled one way in Japanese, it means "inside the earth". Spelled "donniker" in Aussie slang, it means toilet. Is Donaka his family name, coming first as in Chinese practice, with Mark his given name? Or his he really the target of a scam, the "mark"? Perhaps we will never know.

Reeves gets a very Keanu-like performance out of Hu - that blank look of hurt incomprehension that he perfected. Hu even resembles Reeves a little. But he fights like a demon. The fights are staged in a few settings: traditional temple courtyards, tournaments, sterile corporate rooms, and of course, in CGI world.

Yes, the Final Boss fight is with Keanu, and they need some serious CGI to pull it off. I can't tell if it is all CGI or a stuntman with a Keanu face applied digitally, but I don't think that's him fighting.

Other than that, it's an pretty decent kung fu flick. One of my favorite plain-faced beauties, Karen Mok, plays a detective after Donaka's fight ring. Although I kid Reeves about his dim-but-pretty appearance, he seems to have a good touch for this. I'm looking forward to 47 Ronin.

Tai Chi Hero (2012) is the sequel to Tai Chi Zero, which was a combination straight martial arts flick, goofy martial arts flick and steampunk martial arts flick. This episode is a lot less goofy than the first, and maybe a little more steam-punky. Mainly just an ordinary kung-fu movie with some funny bits. The surprise ending -- semi-SPOILER -- that ties together the steam punk and the Tai Chi is pretty cute though.

And there is supposed to be a third movie to this trilogy, which I will also see, of course.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year!

It's Jan 2, 2013 2014 and I guess that means that it's time for my usual lame New Year post. I have already done a top 10 list (question 13), so I can skip that. I planned a top 10 movie all time list, and came out with 9 utterly conventional choices, so I dropped that (for now at least). I could look at the 10 movies from 2013 I saw in 2013, or pick out surprise faves, disappointments, oldest movie, best foreign, etc. But I'm fundamentally a lazy, lazy man.

But I would like to say that I've been writing this blog since Aug. 2007 - 6-1/3 years, more than 700 posts. Amazing, isn't it? Not every post is a winner (I don't do much copy-editing, as you might guess), and some of my sentences might meaning hardly can't. My goal: convey my feelings for the movie, give some idea of what it is about, and add an original insight, if possible. And I want to do this in the least space possible, so nobody loses interest. It's harder than it sounds.

Still, my motto is "You can do anything you want, as long as you don't have to be too good at it." And I think this blog proves it.

Oh yes, and our New Year's Eve films were the MST3K version of Gorgo from the boxed set I got for Christmas, followed by Night at the Opera and a few Three Stooges shorts. We were going to stream some other stuff, but either Netflix or our internet connection wasn't up to the challenge. That was OK, I guess - we slept through most of it anyway. Happy New Year!