Sunday, April 27, 2014

Butt Thor

Before I get into Thor: The Dark World (2013), I wanted to get something off my chest: I think my blogging has been extra sucky lately. First, let me repeat what I think I am doing with this blog. I want to write about the movies I watch on Netflix in ways that are:
  • Informative - tell you something about the movie
  • Interesting - include something that you won't hear somewhere else, maybe just a little turn of phrase
  • Short - wrap it up befoe you get bored
I think I'm doing a pretty good job on the last one only. To be more informative, I'd have to pay more attention to the movies I watch and maybe do some serious thinking about them. To be interesting, well, that's a tall order...

So, Thor: TDW. You know we liked Thor pretty much, but I have to admit I was a little let down considering it was directed by Kenneth Freakin' Branagh. Didn't have that problem with The Dark World because it was directed by Alan Taylor (who's done mostly TV). I liked some of the look, especially Asgard. Psycho Stellan Skarsgard was fun. But in the end, I was mostly just entertained. I just don't have much to say about it. In fact, I almost forgot to post this - almost forgot I saw it.

Well, I could spend a little more time talking about why my posts haven't been more interesting and informative, but then this one wouldn't be short. So, sorry about the suck; I'll try to do better.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mad Scientists and their Beautiful Daughters

If you watched The Fake (like I did), The Diamond Wizard (1954) is more of the same: Once more, Dennis O'Keefe is an America in England investigating a forgery (man-made diamonds here), once more he gets involved with the daughter of an old duffer who is the main suspect, once more things get very strange.

One of the strange things is the crime at the heart of the film: Selling fake diamonds, indistinguishable from natural except for their super-high quality. But these aren't money or artworks - perfect diamonds aren't worth any less because they are man-made, are they? I guess we'll have to take that as given.

Another oddity is that the old duffer - mad scientist, really - has his laboratory in a Frankenstein castle. Well, it's in England, I guess they have a lot of those around. Also, the villain is a giant "brute of a savage beast" who tends bar in a pub and raises camellias. It takes all kinds, doesn't it?

There's some noir atmosphere, a nicely done police procedural car chase, some light banter between O'Keefe, his English counterpart (Philip Friend) and the mad scientist's beautiful daughter (Margaret Sheridan). Mostly it's just batty fun. Good luck following the whole 83 minutes.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


My father always talked about a movie he'd seen about gypsy truckers. He's pretty sure that it didn't star George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, so it probably wasn't They Drive by Night (1940).

The boys play brothers who drive a truck, dodging the finance company and drinking coffee in diners to stay awake. Raft is the ambitious one, while Bogart just wants a chance to get to see his wife once or twice. Raft meets up with a tough-talking waitress, Ann Sheridan, setting her up as his girl. But (without giving too much of the plot away), the wife of a friend and benefactor starts to make a play for him. That wife is Ida Lupino and -- OK SPOILER -- she goes totally off the rails for him.

There are a couple of problems with this movie, and one is that it is really two or three different movies - one a realistic but noirish trucker tale, the other a romantic psychodrama, with even a little intermezzo in the middle. Also, Bogart isn't much of a presence here, and is mostly pretty easygoing and mellow (gets a little tense in the middle). And Raft is a pretty stiff actor, although he does have a certain presence.

Sheridan and Lupino are great, though, even if Ida goes a little overboard. And the whole thing has classic feel. Ms. Spenser thought it was pretty silly, I loved it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Night at the Opera

I am not really a fan of opera or classical music - enjoyment of Amadeus aside. But I loved Ariadne Auf Naxos (1999), a movie recording a performance of the Richard Strauss opera. The opera is pretty high concept: The richest man in Vienna is throwing a party with 2 entertainments: a heroic opera and a burlesque dance. Due to time constraints, however, they will need to present them simultaneously.

The staging was a lovely mix of modern abstraction and realism - they fit together well because it is set in a rich man's modern abstract home. The opera starts backstage focusing on the Composer of the opera and Zerbinetta the dancer, then moves into the actual performance. I understand that Zerbinetta, the flirty carefree spirit, is considered the best role, but in this performance, the Composer was my favorite. This travesty role (man's role written for a woman) was sung by Sophie Koch, and what lovely singing in such a lovely role.

It's funny, I actually found the staging, action and book more interesting than the music. The Composer is presented as a stuffy, self-important nitwit, who gets distracted by an idea and starts writing beautiful music at the drop of a hat. The Diva who plays Ariadne and the Tenor playing Bacchus look like overstuffed dummies, but sing beautifully, and so on. The librettist von Hofmannsthal hs fun with the themes of popular and pretentious art. There is even some interesting camera work, with the camera, performers and guests mingling together.

As I said, I'm not much of a fan, so I shouldn't judge the music, but I have to say I didn't come out whistling any of the tunes. It barely seemed to start turning over until the opera-in-the-opera took off. But with the great acting, writing and staging, I can't complain.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Our Town

All Over Town (1949) is one of those cozy little comedies with no real conflict and no real jokes. It takes place in a little seaside town in England, right after the war. The town's all a-twitter that the star reporter for their little newspaper, Norman Wooland, is back from the war. He looks forward to settling down to writing inconsequential little articles about garden parties, with occasional burst of truth-to-power blasts against boring amateur musicals. The woman reporter who had been standing in for him, Sarah Churchill (Royal Wedding) would rather be off to a Big City (Bristol? Torquay?), but Wooland just loves the small town life.

Of course, they eventually uncover (minor) corruption and impropriety and must fight the comfortable interests, even with their press breaking down and the loss of sponsors, plus young love and an oddly touching side plot about a drunk young woman who turns out to be a demobbed soldier with a touch of PTSD.

And it all ends happily, and there will always be an England. I can't say I didn't enjoy this, but it was pretty insubstantial. Some nice little character turns, a few stock situations. But this isn't what I'd recommend to anyone, unless you really want to watch something like this, and you've seen Genevieve.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


We watched Taken (2008) a while ago, but somehow I never got around to blogging about it. I guess I might as well get that out of the way.

That's kind of the spirit we watched it in - It's kind of a classic action flick, we've got nothing better to watch, should be good. In a lot of ways, it was good: it moves right along, good fight sequences, some classic tough guy lines. In some other ways, not so good.

The setup is Liam Neeson is a divorced dad with a teenage daughter. He has retired from covert ops to be near his daughter, although his ballbusting ex, Maggie Grace, does everything she can to keep them apart. You see, she resents that he was never there when she was growing up. But nobody mentions that he has retired from spying, and spends all his time obsessively stalking her now. Shouldn't Maggie be pissed that he has gotten too clingy, not that he is too distant?

Anyway, his daughter goes on a trip to France - a trip he doesn't want her to go on. Of course, she gets kidnapped by white slavers right away. What kind of daredevil would take the risk of travelling to Paris? She was practically asking for it.

Fortunately, she is kidnapped while talking to Dad on the phone, so he gets to deliver the classic, "What I have are a very particular set of skills.." speech to the kidnappers before he heads off alone to France. By the way, he has a bunch of ex-ops buddies, but he doesn't try to bring them along. Why would he need to? He's a one-man army.

In case you can't tell, this movie annoyed the heck out of me. Ms. Spenser's big objection was the idea that human trafficking is mainly done for rich Arabs on yachts. By that time, I had given up.

Still, the ass-kicking was fun... It seems Luc Besson was involved. I usually like his stuff better than this. Oh well, I'll probably watch the sequel.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rock Me Amadeus

Wow, is Amadeus (1984) really 30 years old? It must be, since Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" novelty hit was pure 80's music. I guess we first saw it when it came out, but this time we watched the 3-hour director's cut.

In our house, this film is iconic. "Too many notes, your majesty" is a common catch-phrase around here. We've been listening to a little classical music lately - it keeps the dog calm. So we decided to watch Amadeus again.

Well, I'd say it was as good as we remembered. I don't have anything especially interesting to say about it, other than the music is awesome, and I kind of wish there'd been more of it. The new footage doesn't seem to be really necessary; I remember the old version as tighter, more to the point.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Block Party

Attack the Block (2011) got a lot of good press (blog press?) but I was kind of nervous to watch it - it looked a little intense. Fortunately, Ms. Spenser is not as delicate as I, and gave strength to bear up.

It is a simple movie in some ways, an independent first feature for writer/director Joe Cornish: Aliens attack an inner city block and run into the same kind of trouble anyone wandering into that neighborhood would. It takes place on Guy Fawkes in South London in an SF-themed council block (the central high-rise is named Wyndham Towers, after the author of Day of the Triffids). A gang of teenagers menace and rob a nurse, then run down a recently landed alien creature and take it up to the local dealer's flat in the block. But more aliens are landing...

There are a couple of things going on here:
  • The thugs are just kids really - nasty, stupid, brave and thoughtless. Some people hated them so much that they couldn't enjoy the movie. Your mileage may vary.
  • The action can be brutal and is almost realistic. There's at least one scene where the kids think they can do parkour and are clearly wrong.
  • The alien beasties are pretty badass. 
  • Nick Frost is in it.
I found this to be a nice mix of SF, horror, comedy and social commentary, not necessarily in that order. One note - the accents are particularly strong in this. You'll get a good overview of recent South London slang, but you might need to turn on subtitles.