Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ants and Uncles

Here's a fun double bill from this year: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Ant-Man (2015).

First up, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The Ms. and I were both great fans of the original series. I myself had several of the spy gadget toys, like the false finger gun, and David Maccallum as Illya Kuryakin inspired me to wear lots of black turtlenecks (as an 8 year old). So how does the new version fare?

It's basically an origin story: Armie Hammer is suave thief Napoleon Solo, blackmailed into working for the CIA in East Berlin during the Cold War. While extracting lovely mechanic Alicia Vikander, he runs afoul of gigantic Henry Cavill as Illya. Illya is a giant cold-blooded agent with a rage-control problem (or asset, if you think of it that way). But even though they start out fighting for control of Vikander, they are soon forced to work together to get at her father, the Nazi nuclear scientist Dr. Teller (hm, I thought he was one of ours).

So they dress Vikander up in mod clothes (Kuryakin is famously fashion-forward) and head for Rome. This being a Guy Ritchie movie, there are lots of fun action/comedy scenes, but there is a lot nice character stuff for the leads. Hammer makes a decent Solo - he gets the detached amusement and crooked smile right, but I'm not sure he has the Connecticut Lockjaw accent that Robert Vaughan was so good at. Which is funny, because of course, he is British, and that accent is an American affectation of a British upper-class accent. Never mind, as long as his suits are perfect, his accent can be a little off.

Cavill as Kuryakin is surprising - he is an East German Superman, and I never thought of Kuryakin as big or strong. He was more of an intellectual with karate skills. (Face it, he was Spock to Solo's Kirk.) He also didn't have Ilya's odd, big-eyed, big-forehead good looks. But in so many ways, he got it so right. There's one scene where he is guarding Vikander, playing chess solitare, when Vikander tries to seduce him. This scene is right out of the TV series (I think he was guarding a princess? The Quadripartite Affair?), and shows Kuryakin's cool detachment and intellect - although I think he put some cool jazz on the stereo in the TV version. In the movie, Vikander gets to do a sweet panty dance to entice him, so it works out quite well.

Next up for the weekend, Ant-Man, miles away from U.N.C.L.E - or is it? Hank Pym, Michael Douglas, is inventor of the Ant-particle, which compresses matter to tiny size while increasing strength. He is trying to keep his invention out of the hands of madman industrialist Corey Stoll. He does this by tricking master-thief Paul Rudd as Scott Lang into stealing the suit. So, Pym isn't Ant-Man in this movie - he passes the baton to Lang. His daughter, Evangeline Lilly, isn't too happy about all this. So, both movies have women with daddy issues.

Paul Rudd is fun as new Ant-Man. Like Napoleon Solo, he's a scoundrel who gets to crack at least one safe, but is basically a pussycat. His "posse", a bunch of wannabe thieves lead by Michael Pena, are a lot of fun, good comic relief. The action is fun, Incredible Shrinking Man style. We get a touch of the core Marvel Universe with an Ant-Man/Falcon fight, but mostly this is its own thing. It's a little sillier, more lighthearted than the Avengers. The villain is fun - he's a scientist and respectable businessman who may sometimes have to break a few eggs to make his omelet. He's like an evil Ray Palmer from Arrow - he takes over the company from the hero and builds a miniaturization suit!

Aside from the safecracking and the daddy issues, the thing that makes these two films such a good double-bill is their sense of fun. Good action, by directors who don't take themselves or their subjects too seriously. Good fun.

Update: Mr. Schprock in comments is right. I got the leads of Man from U.N.C.L.E. mixed up. I haven't corrected this in the text because: 1) I got kind of attached to the idea of Superman as Ilya Kuryakin, even though that isn't happening, and 2) you're pretty used to me being wrong by now, aren't you?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Seven Vampires for Seven Brothers

As I have said, I haven't seen many of the classic Hammer horror movies, but I have seen one of the strangest: Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). Let's say you like Hammer horror, but maybe your getting a little tired of the formula. Maybe you also like Shaw Brothers Hong Kong action movies. What would you say if we mixed them together? (!?!?!)

That's right, this is a Hammer/Shaw Bros. joint production. It starts with an evil monk travelling to Transylvania to meet Count Dracula. He wants the Count to come to China and help him revive the seven golden vampires, to make his temple feared again. That doesn't work out do well for him, and the Count takes his shape and does indeed go to China. This is a good choice for Dracula, because he is not played by Christopher Lee, and looks a bit silly.

A little while later, Dr. Van Helsing (who is played by Peter Cushing) is lecturing on vampires in a Chinese college. Of course, they called him mad at the academy - all except one student, Wong Han Chan, who can lead him to the village of the seven golden vamps. With Hammer girl Julie Ege supplying the money and cleavage, the set off.

Add in Van Helsing's son, a rather Terence Stamp-like Robin Stewart, and Wong's 6 brothers and a sister, and you've got a story.

But I'm leaving out the nonlinear craziness - parts of this seem to have been edited in a blender. Also, there were seven vampires, but one gets his golden bat removed, so that's six. Then Dracula comes, so, seven again, but the other one gets his bat back, so eight. And there are seven Chinese brothers fighting them, but what about the sister?

 That's fine, you don't come for straightforward storytelling. You come for horror, breastses, and kung fu. You'll get 'em and plenty.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tomorrowland Never Knows

I guess Tomorrowland (2015) was one of the years big disappointments, and I guess I get it. I liked it, though.

One of the problems was the form - it starts with George Clooney and young Britt Robertson talking to the camera, trying to tell a story. Clooney goes first and tells the tale of his visit as a boy to the 1964 World's Fair - hey, I was at that Fair! And so was Ms. Spenser! But I don't really remember much, so never mind, excuse the interruption.

Anyway, boy-Clooney goes to the Fair with his jetpack invention, and discovers a whole word of Tomorrow, with people in jumpsuits and spaceships and robots and and and... Let's go to Britt's story.

It is now the present. Britt is a young woman who likes to engage in a little light sabotage of the project to shut down the Canaveral launchpad. Her world is gritty, sour, frightened, almost dystopian, you know, the modern world. She finds a little Tomorrowland badge, and when she touches it, she can see Tomorrowland - the place the Clooney found, with crystal spires, anti-grav diving, jetpacks, spaceships, and and and...

Britt soon meets up with Raffey Cassidy, a tween waif with an adorable British lisp and a nice line of martial arts. And she leads Britt to Clooney and we eventually get the whole story. Except it really doesn't make much sense.

We get the overall theme of modern life being too pessimistic, obsessed with darkness, and the joy of science, of overcoming obstacles, of going beyond. We get this because it is hammered home in several clunky monologues, with illustrative montages. We get that Tomorrowland has been subverted by evil Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie!), who is Raffey's guardian. Also, the relationship between Clooney and Raffey is pretty clear even though they step on the scene that shows it (1 or 2 overhead long shots, in a flashback). But none of it holds together.

In addition, there is a Randian Galt's Gulch odor to some of the explanations of Tomorrowland, with the idea that you, the viewer are optimistic, yet practical, yet creative. You will get to live in Tomorrowland, not like those gloomy drudges in the real world.  But not quite because it isn't even that coherent.

Also, there's a lot of comedy and a lot of violent death, and I don't think they go together very well.

So, forget that, or blame it, like Rod Heath, on writer Damon Lindelof. Director Brad Bird is doing what he does best - beautiful constructions with a mid-century feel. If you ignore the plot, the settings and set pieces are fantastic. (Hint: Eiffel Tower.) The end credits, in a kind of Saul Bass meets the Jetsons style, are perhaps the best part.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tracers of Love

Another throwaway, direct-to-streaming (I guess) teen action flick: Tracers (2014). It stars Taylor Lautner (Twilight) as a bicycle messenger who  meets a cute free-running parkour traceur (Marie Avgeropoulis) in a traffic jam-up that totals his bike. To chase her, he has to learn parkour. Meanwhile, the loan sharks he owes money to are closing in, and without a bike he can't pay them off. So he falls in with Marie's gang, who use their parkour skills to pull crimes, lead by older Adam Rayner.

This is one of those movies, like Quicksilver or Premium Rush (which we haven't seen). The appeal is the location stunts and chases (and the cute young stars, of course). There's plenty of that here - both parkour and cycling. The New York feeling is strong, with shots of the bridge to let you know when they were going from Brooklyn to Manhattan, etc. Lautner did his own stunts, and frankly, he's kind of appealing - scruffy and cute, with a decent range. Of course, I was just praising Keanu Reeves and Shia Lebeouf, so take it as you will.

If you like this kind of movie, check it out. It's as good as any and better than most - say, for ex, Run, which I also liked.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Moore, Moore, Moore

This post is a bit of a cheat, because we did not rent Constantine (2005) on Netflix. We bought it. I'd heard one good review (and dozens of snide comments), but thought it might be a hoot. When I saw a it as part of a 3 Blu-ray set, along with V for Vendetta and Watchmen (the Alan Moore set, presumably) for around ~$10, I figured "What the hell."

Constantine is based on the Hellblazer comic series that I have never seen, although I gather it isn't too faithful outside of the basic premise: John Constantine, freelance demonhunter and exorcist. Constantine here is played by Keanu Reeves, doing what he does best - wearing a black sports coat and skinny tie. Also, smoking incessantly, and giving demons hell.

You don't get much backstory - just Constantine showing up to do some exorcism, then dropping in on Papa Midnight's bar (Djimon Hounsou) where the angels and demons gather to meet the Angel Gabriel, played by Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive). Transcendent, androgynous Tilda always welcome.

As Tilda explains to Keanu: "You are going to die young because you've smoked a pack a day since you were 15, and you are going to hell because of the life you took." Constantine is trying to avoid damnation by acting like a private eye, but against demons. His latest case is Rachel Weisz, a cop whose twin sister died under satanic circumstances. He is aided by his sidekick, apprentice and cab driver Shia Labeouf.

That's right, Keanu and Shia in the same movie. I know I joke about Keanu, but I am actually quite fond of him. His acting is a little stiff and mannered, his accent kind of goofy, but his cheekbones are to die for. And I think his instincts are sound - he tends to pick material that I'll like, and that work around his limitations. Shia, on the other hand, is almost always annoying, but he does all right here.

Constantine has a nice mix of neo-noir and action, with some cute touches, like Constantine's lighter covered in signs and sigils, and his gold-plated, cruciform shotgun. There's a TV series out now, based more on the comic, and we want to see that too (when Netflix gets around to it).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Forgotten Horror

Wow, I completely forgot that we watched Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994). I guess it wasn't all that memorable. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who played Victor von Monster (or was Monster the monster's name?). It sticks closer to the book then most movies (Mary Shelley's book), including the Arctic part, letting the monster speak, skipping Igor, etc. It also leaves out something like heart, or maybe fun.

Along with Branagh, we have Ian Holm as his dad, John Cleese (seriously) as the original re-animator, Tom Hulce as Frankenstein's friend, and Helena Bonham Carter as his sickly half-sister and lover.

And the monster: Robert De Niro. So it's good that this version was articulate. He got a lot of great dialog - almost shook the Brooklyn accent too.

There was a lot to like about this movie - some real lunacy, like using electric eels for the re-animation. There's some surreal dream sequences that are fun. And when HBC dies (spoiler) we get a nice Bride of Frankenstein scene (not from the book? I haven't actually read it).

But all this didn't seem to add up to a good movie. It's somehow related to Coppola's Dracula (he produced, or was going to direct, or something), and was bad like that movie, too. That is, good in many parts, but bad overall. At least Frankenstein didn't have Keanu Reeves.

Heck, Keanu might have helped.

Songs in the Key of Leif

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Pathfinder (2006) - following up a slow, meditative exploration of the meeting between Europeans and Native Americans with a stupid action movie featuring Vikings v. Indians.

It starts with a Viking raid on North American shores - a Viking boy refuses to kill a captive and he is cast out. He grows up to be Karl Urban, living with an Indian tribe, but always watching for the Vikings return. And return they do. After many heroic acts, horrific slaughters, and feats of derring-do, our hero is captured and forced to lead the Vikings to the Indian refuge. But now they are on his territory...

This movie is based on a Norwegian film Pathfinder, a beautiful movie filmed in Sammi, the language of Lapland. It has roughly the same plot, although it is one tribe v. other tribe, not Vikings and Indians. It is beautiful and memorable, and so nothing like the 2006 version.

But, given that it is a stupid action film, it's pretty good. It has a nice look, with a lot of misty, desaturated landscapes. It reminded me a lot of Centurion, which is interesting, because those Roman v. Pict movies were what inspired me to start watching these Native American movies. That was another action movie made with a modest budget that was both better looking and more fun than you might expect.

That is, we thought this was a lot of fun. Yes, it's stupid, and we all know that Vikings didn't have horns on their helmets. A lot of it is by the numbers. But it looks good, and it's exciting, and Urban's Indian love-interest is cute and played by awesomely named Moon Bloodgood. (Additional awesomeness: That's her real name, and she's not of Native American descent - her mother is Korean and father is part Dutch. His name was spelled Bloetgoet.) OK, it's no New World. But we liked it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanks for the Memories

A long time ago, I suggested that we should watch some Native-American-themed movies and Thanksgiving seemed the right time for it. So when the big meal was served (menu after page break), we put on The New World (2005).

This is a Terence Malick film, the last before he kicked into his late career production with Tree of Life. It's the story of John Smith and Pocahontas in colonial Jamestown. But mostly it's about the beauty and mystery of the new world, the new continent, and especially the James River and Chickahominy River area of Virginia. The camera loves to watch cypress swamps, meadows, quiet forests, and flights of birds. The colonists definitely look like intruders.

Colin Farrell is John Smith - Ms. Spenser says he spends the whole movie "looming." He is sent to explore the interior and winds up captive of Powhatan. Just as he is about to be killed - the screen goes black and Farrell narrates that the chief's daughter intervened to save his life. This is a nice way to deal with the question of historical accuracy. The chief's daughter, played by Q'orianka Kilcher, is never named Pocahontas, either.

The natives live a good life, playing, dancing, praying - maybe a little too much. Did they really spend that much time on games and ritual? Meanwhile, Jamestown is starving, and Farrell heads back.

The story develops in odd ways, with Smith kind of dropping out altogether in the third act. But that's all right, it's really about the trees, the sky, the river, Mother Water. It was a visual feast, and at 3 hours long, a big one.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Forgotten Youth

I think I've mentioned that we lived in Japan for a few years, and got into manga and anime while we were there. One of the first things we did was let our 10 year-old Japanese cousin take us out in a typhoon to see the Captain Harlock movie My Youth in Arcadia. So of course we want to see Harlock: Space Pirate (2013). But we had our trepidations.

Harlock was drawn by anime master Matsumoto Reiji: He is a handsome immortal space pirate with a scar, a patch over one eye and his hair over the other. He flies the space-lanes in the Arcadia, a ship with the stern of a sailing galleon, the midships of a WWII submarine, and a huge skull for a bow. But this movie is not drawn - it is 3D computer animated, in that almost photorealistic style with the vaguely nightmarish faces.

Actually, that part wasn't too bad. The character design wasn't bad, except maybe the ultra-Barbie physiques of the female characters. The backgrounds were, IMHO, the best parts: steampunk spaceship engines, cloud filled alien skies, raging space battles. The Arcadia design sadly drops the submarine motif in exchange for a Geigeresque spine, but does come and go surrounded by huge billowing black smoke. It's explained as dark matter propulsion, but really makes you think it's a coal burner, or needs a ring job.

Which brings us to the plot (such as it is). Humans have populated the cosmos, but it isn't working out. Everybody wants to go back to Earth, but that would destroy it's fragile ecosystem, so it is put off-limits by a coercive bureaucracy. And that is the enemy that Harlock fights against.

So in a ship that blorts out great billows to black smoke, he fights for the right to screw up the Earth. Hm.

Most of the action revolves around a new crewmember, whose brother is the chair-bound aristocrat seeking to destroy Harlock. This is very anime - the whole family thing. But it doesn't really tie into the whole Harlock universe very well. Familiar faces from the series are missing here, including the little girl who keeps getting killed (my favorite, because WTF!?!). So, most of what we enjoyed way back when in Japan is missing here.

So all you Harlock fans, give this a miss. Fans of 3D computer animation, go ahead.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Horror! The Horror!

The Bela Lugosi Collection (ca. 1932) should really be called The Bela Lugosi/Boris Karloff Cornucopia. This one little disc contains 5 (FIVE!) movies (for a total of about 5-1/2 hours):
  • Murders in the Rue Morgue
  • The Black Cat
  • The Raven
  • The Invisible Ray
  • Black Friday
Side 1, the three movies "suggested by" Edgar Allen Poe. Only Murders is missing Karloff, it also is the only one that vaguely resembles the Poe story. M. Dupin is not exactly how I picture him, but Prof. Mirakle (Lugosi) is admirably creepy, and his plan to breed a Frenchwoman with an ape is pretty shocking.

Side 2 has a lot less Lugosi and more Karloff, but all these movies are a little (or completely) bonkers. Each one had at least one moment where the mind boggled - like in The Invisible Ray, when Lugosi sees a church with statues of six saints, and they turn into the images of his enemies. And then he melts them with his ray!

Our favorite was probably The Black Cat,  which has Lugosi and Karloff as the awesomely named Vitus Verdegast and Hjalmar Poetzig. It is directed by Edgar Ulmer (Detour), only his third or fourth feature. There are some amazing visuals, like Karloff, shirtless, arising from bed next to his sleeping blonde wife, in silhouette. It has war, revenge, modern architecture, black magic, incest, and a bit of skinning alive.

We really wallowed in these, the way the good old black-and-white stuff should be enjoyed, late at night in a kind of trance. As a result, they are kind of jumbled in my mind - which one had Janos the Dark, and which one had Janos Rukh? It doesn't matter, these are great, and a bargain as a single rental!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Friday Night Fever

I was a teenager/young adult when Thank God It's Friday (1978) came out. I am a veteran of the Disco Wars - an eager foot-soldier in the Disco Sux Army. I was a rocker and a hippie, and when I first saw a crowd of people, once individuals, now all robotically doing the Electric Slide in close formation - well, it chilled me to my core. Dancing was for getting crazy, not following steps!

But that's all behind us. Disco lost as a movement, but survives as a sound. It's in funk, in techno, hip-hop, pop. And now that it no longer threatens world domination, I have to admit, it's pretty catchy. I'm discovering what my frat brothers, Dapper Dan, Pork Chop, and G-More, were trying to tell me. So when I found out that Donna Summer starred in a disco movie, I queued it up for a Friday night.

This is one of those many-characters/one-night movies. The characters are pretty tropey:
  • The underaged girls trying to sneak in (One of them is Terri Nunn, of Berlin - "Take My Breath Away")
  • The good girl (Debra Winger) and her wilder friend, looking for love
  • The nice guy and his nerdy friend, ditto
  • The couple from the suburbs on their anniversary, getting more excitement than they planned
  • The singer who needs to be discovered (Summer)
  • The DJ with a mouth that writes checks his ass might not be able to cover
The locale is "The Zoo" on Sunset Strip (based on the real disco Osko's). You get some nice period West Hollywood night location shots to start. It's DJ Ray Vitte's (Car Wash) first night and he has promised that the Commodores are coming at midnight to perform live for the dance contest. The club owner, Jeff Goldblum at his greasiest, bets the DJ that he can score with the wife of the anniversary couple. That's sort of the plot.

But really, we follow this character and that: Young men and women trying to find a partner. The husband meeting the kooky chick who feeds him funny pills. The girls trying to sneak in being helped out by Marv Gomez (Chick Venerra), the Leather Man. He's a good example of why I liked this movie. He's a kind of stock character, the Mexican who loves to dance. But he isn't just that, he's that and more. He even gets a dance/monologue to explain it all to the nice guy.

OK, honestly, this isn't that deep. It's pretty much what you would expect, except it's pretty well written and performed. Most of the actors weren't familiar, but they all knew what to do. I got the feeling they were all lesser known improv or other kinds of talent.

The music, I'm afraid, was only fair - there was some decent Cameo on the soundtrack, but the Commodores "Too Hot to Trot" was not one of their best. Donna Summer's "Last Dance" was pretty special, and deserved the Oscar it won.

Oh, yes, did I mention this film is an Oscar winner?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Draw Blood

A post at Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur lead me to queue up John Landis' An American Werewolf in London (1981). It fit right into our not-hardcore horror season, and makes a good follow up to The Howling. What was it about the early 80s and comedy-horror werewolf movies? Other than makeup artist Rick Baker, who started working on The Howling, but left to work with his buddy Landis on American Werewolf.

It starts with two American students (graduates?) bumming around Europe. Griffin Dunne wanted to go to sunny Italy, but David Naughton convinced him to hike around on the moors of England first. So we meet them freezing in down parkas in the midst of lovely, forbidding landscape. The pub they stop in, the Slaughtered Lamb, is none too hospitable, either. Downright sinister in fact, so they head back out into the dark and rain, wander off into the moors (although they were warned to stay on the road and "beware the moon"). They meet something horrible. Dunne winds up dead.

Naughton is luckier. He comes to in a London hospital under the tender care of Dr. John Woodvine and especially nurse Jenny Agutter. He is released more or less to her custody - she is strangely drawn to him. But first he has a visit from Griffin Dunne in an advanced state of decay, who explains the mythos to him. And so it unfolds.

For a little while, you could think that the whole thing is in Naughton's mind - then you get the awesome transformation sequence. As I understand it, a werewolf picture stands or falls on the transformation. Sometimes it's a lame time-lapse, sometimes it takes place off screen. This one really satisfies.

Like The Howling, this isn't a jokey comedy - although there are few set pieces that night make you laugh out loud, like the pile-up in Piccadilly. But it isn't social comedy like The Howling. It takes place on a more personal level. Naughton and restless dead Dunne seem like real, rounded characters. I'm betting they are from Landis' personal history. Or maybe they were brothers at Delta Tau Chi back at old Farber College.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Shaolin Goofball

Disciples Of The 36th Chamber (1985) is a sort-of sequel to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, but goofy. In the first movie, Shaolin monk San Te starts training lay Chinese to resist the Manchu overlords. The mood is serious, not so much Disciples.

It stars Hou Hsaio as Fong Sai-Yuk, son of a kung fu mistress. With his brothers, he spends his time making trouble, mostly aimed at the Manchu. His kung fu is so strong that he can't be hurt, but when he angers the governor, his mother makes him seek protection of the Shaolin Temple, and monk San Te.

Like any classic Shaw Bros. movie, this is full of classic martial arts fights and stunts. There is a great pre-credits scene of acrobatic duels against a black-out background - just abstract martial arts. So, you might be annoyed by Hou Hsaio's obnoxious pranking, but you will love the fights.

One question, though - is the unrelenting hatred of Manchus racist? I suppose they were in some ways invaders, although the history is complicated. But the insistence on the superiority of the pure Han race, it's creepy. Chinese social historians please comment.

Other Mother

Although I'm a follower of @NeilHimself, I haven't actually read a lot of his books. One I read that made me want to see the movie was Coraline (2008).

This is a stop-motion animated feature about a blue-haired girl named Coraline who moves into a ramshackle old boarding house in a rainy, dreary countryside. Her work-at-home parents are too busy for her and the neighbors are elderly theater-folk. The only kid her age around is an annoying wannabe punk named Wyborne. But one night Coraline finds a passage to another world.

In that world, the house is shiny and bright. Her father is whimsical and fun and Wybie can't talk. Her mother is cheerful and spends her time making Coraline her favorite food and stuffing her full. The neighbors put on magical performances. The only weird thing is that everyone has buttons for eyes.

The director, Harry Selick, did The Corpse Bride with Tim Burton and is a master of stop-motion animation - maybe the master. The look of the movie is inventive and fun, although some short sections had little jerky look to them. The only problem is that these days, you can do the same thing with computer animation, so I sometimes forgot I was watching real matter moving. The style was quite cartoonish, too - faces were a few spare lines, a lot of the design was sketched out simply, it would have been easy to computer animate. Plus, they seemed to use 3D printing to achieve some effects that would be hard conventionally. But regardless of the method, the final result looked great.

Dakota Fanning voiced Coraline, and made her some who I'd really like to get to know. Wybie was Robert Bailey, Jr. and his cat was Keith David (They Live). Mom and Dad were Teri Hatcher and John Hodgeman, and Ian McShane and French and Saunders voiced the theatrical neighbors.

Great story by Neil Gaiman, beautiful visuals from Selick.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Anty Raid

I don't know how, but I've managed to live my whole life without ever seeing Them! (1954), the greatest of all giant ant movies. As a child, I was too scared. A friend told me the story in gory detail, or maybe it was The Naked Jungle - either way, I vowed never to watch it. Once grown up, I guess I assumed it would be just camp. But it is still the Halloween season, so...

It starts in New Mexico, with police in a cruiser and a small plane surveying the desert, looking for a Russian ambassador -- wait, that's Beast of Yucca Flats. They find a little girl, mute and in shock, clutching a doll. All she will say is "Them!"

An odd animal track brings kindly old professor Edmund Gwenn and his beautiful daughter Joan Weldon on the scene. James Arness, representing the FBI, also shows up to be their foil, as they resolutely refuse to let him know what is going on, until one of Them shows up - a giant ant!

This is full of the cliches of bad 50s SF movies: The absent-minded professor and his beautiful daughter, the giant puppet monsters, "our weapons are powerless against them," etc. But the overall effect is actually quite suspenseful, and hardly cheesy at all. The noise the ants make, heard before they are seen, is very creepy, and the trip into their nest is legit scary. Or at least as scary as a mid-budget black-and-white monster movie gets.

I also liked Joan Weldon's character - she was tart and independent and as far as I recall, never needed rescuing - although she did remind me of the lady scientist in The Deadly Mantis. And speaking of giant grasshopper movies, James Arness looked and especially sounded so much like Peter Graves, I kept getting confused.

No, Peter Graves was not in this movie, but you may recognize an uncredited William Schallert (Trouble with Tribbles), and, to continue the Star Trek theme, a young Leonard Nimoy.

In conclusion, I had a lot of trouble coming up with a punny title for this - Should I have gone with "The Battle of Ant-Eat-Em"?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

All You Zombies

We've been Jim Jarmusch fans since we stumbled upon Stranger Than Paradise in 1984. We haven't watched all his movies, but we usually enjoy his downbeat black-and-white no-wave style. So we were pretty psyched about Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), not just as an odd hipster vampire story, but mainly a chiaroscuro Jim Jarmusch movie in color.

It stars Tom Hiddleston  and Tilda Swinton as ... undead creatures of the night (their condition is never named or discussed). Hiddleston is a reclusive rock-star, hiding out in deserted Detroit neighborhood. He calls mortal humans "zombies". His only connections to their world are the bootlegs of his work that leak out, and a fixer/connection who drops by with classic guitars and other necessities. But he only goes out of the house for blood. He doesn't hunt, however, he drops by the blood bank with a wad of cash to meet "Dr. Watson".

Swinton leads a more sociable life in Tangiers, hanging out in quiet nightspots with the locals and Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt) - yes, that Kit Marlowe, the one who wrote Shakespeare. But a phone call to Hiddleston sends her to join him.

Like most of Jarmusch, the story moves slowly, aimless. Things happen, amazing, horrifying, funny, tragic. But the story isn't exactly the point. We have Hiddleston's lair, filled with guitars and old electronics. Dark Tom and pale Tilda, wrapped up in one another. Candle light illuminating old crystal or faces, like a Rembrandt or Caravaggio. For such a supposedly detached director, Jarmusch has made a very warm movie.

Then there's the music, spare and sludgy. I thought it was White Stripes at first, especially when they went to visit Jack White's family home on their tour of Detroit. Or maybe there's an old R&B record, or a lute solo or Lebanese vocalist.

So, beautiful visuals, all filmed at night - warm, rich, decadent, somber night. Beautiful people with wild, tragic, brilliant, immortal lives. Beautiful fascinating music. And a story somewhere in among it all.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Rant On

It strikes me that I haven't complained about Netflix in a while, so I'd better remedy that. If you recall, my last complaint was that they were sending me extra disks, which is pretty weak sauce. So today, my topic will be "Selection". Join me, won't you?

The promise of Netflix was: Every damn movie you can think of. If it has been released on DVD or Blu-ray, Netflix will send it to you in a reasonable amount of time. Then, Netflix decided to get into streaming. The promise: We have a bunch of stuff, not all of it bottom-of-the-barrel drek. You can watch it right now! It probably isn't what you want to watch, but maybe it's something almost as good!

That's fine, I pay for streaming and use it to watch old TV shows (like last year's Arrow and Flash). But I expect the DVDs to meet my serious film-watching needs. I have a queue of 143 disks waiting to be watched. At the rate of 2-3/week, I'll never run out of movies to watch. But my "Saved" list - movies I want to watch but aren't available on Netflix, is 103 movies. Some of these are movies that just haven't come out yet. Those will go onto the queue in good time.

But some of them have been there forever, and I don't know if they are ever coming off. Yellow Submarine. Greaser's Palace. California Split. Sure, some of these are obscure or rare. But Speed, for goodness sake. You can't rent or stream Keanu Reaves' greatest commercial hit!

Furthermore, the list is getting longer all the time - not because I am adding to it, but because movies that were available on my regular queue have fallen down into Saved. I suspect that movies are dropping to Saved faster than they are ascending from there to the Queue. And of course, there are the "Short wait", "Long wait", and "Very long wait" items. I've had a "Short wait" movie (Bela Lugosi collection with The Black Cat) at the top of my queue for 6 weeks, still no sign of it. "Long wait" items usually just stay that way for a year or two, then drop to Saved.

I forsee a future when you get a small selection on Netflix, along with some Netflix "Originals" (which have been quite good, I have to say). Other services will have locked up other content, the way Hulu locked up Criterion. That breaks the Netflix monopoly, but not in a good way.

OK, maybe I'm getting all worked up over nothing. You know, like "The food is terrible and the portions are too small." There are still more great movies on Netflix than I'll ever watch. But I was promised EVERYTHING!

Rant off.

Update: Coincidentally, Todd Van Der Werff on Vox wrote about this very topic, and refers to Jon Brooks of KQED from last year. Still think I'm just a crank?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cold Comfort

I'll admit, I just put on Iceman (2013) for a whim - It starred Donnie Yen, how bad could it be? Spoiler: Not bad at all, but kind of weird.

It starts with a truck crash, and 3 cryo-chambers break open, releasing ancient warriors Yen and two of his enemies upon modern Hong Kong. The tone is set when Yen celebrates his revival by pissing like a firehose "the full length of the parking lot." Well, he has been asleep for 300 years. So action-comedy.

Dressed as an ancient warrior, our hero strides downtown, where it is fortunately Halloween so his costume doesn't rate much attention. There he meets a drunken party girl (Shengyi Huang, dressed as an old-timey princess, natch) and falls under her wing. In the meantime, the badguy icemen are hanging out with roughnecks and kill a policeman.

So, action comedy with a distessingly cold attitude towards murder.

This odd mismatch of tone and content gave me problems throughout the movie. Maybe it reads differently to Hong Kong Chinese.

Of course, it has great wirework action sequences. The icemen are supernatural strong and talented - as Yen says, "Why are people in this time so weak?" There is also a plot, with one or two mystic McGuffins, but I think you'll be more interested in the romance with Shengyi Huang, who gets to be a strong presence, while staying resolutely ditzy and shallow. We saw her last with Jet Li in The Sorcerer and the White Snake.

I didn't mind watching this, but it is not going to do Yen's reputation much good. It seems this is a remake of The Iceman Cometh with Yuen Biao. I'm willing to watch that.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Furious Road

We were in a hurry to watch Furious 7 (2015) so we could listen to the How Did This Get Made podcast, but we were going to watch it as soon as it came out anyway.

This installment opens with Jason Statham talking to his comatose brother in the hospital, vowing vengeance on Torreto and the Fast and Furious gang. Yes, the Transporter is going to be the bad guy. And The Rock is after him, of course, and then KURT RUSSELL shows up as the Agent Coulson guy, and we are so on board. (OK, we were on board starting around Tokyo Drift and never got off.)

It seems Djimon Hounsou has kidnapped the world's greatest hacker and her Eye of God track-anyone McGuffin (so much like the ARGUS in TV's Arrow). If the F&F gang get her back, Kurt Russell promises to let them use it to track down Statham.

Which is pointless, because he is following them around. They don't need to find him, they just need to stand in one place for a minute. Heck, why am I bothering you with plot? They drive a sports car out of one skyscraper and into the next. Then they do it again to the next skyscraper. They run their cars straight into each other head on, or off a cliff and just shake it off. Stunt after stunt, explosions, fights, bigger and better, over two hours of it.

Along with Russell and Statham, they squeeze in Ronda Rousey and Tony Jaa, but only for one fight each. Still, this series is getting to be like The Expendables - let's get as many action stars in as possible. On the other hand, they killed off Han (Sung Kang) and his girl Giselle (Gal Gadot), which is a shame, because they are great.

Of course, Paul Walker died during the filming of this movie. They do a good job covering this up with Shemps and CGI - I don't think I ever noticed it. But there was a lot about him retiring to be a family man, most of it kind of silly ("he misses the bullets" - as long as they miss you, dude).

The other emotional arc is Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who still has amnesia and, you know, likes Dom and all, but doesn't remember being in love with him. This is not handled all that well, in addition to which, she doesn't get much to do. This is the worst waste in the movie.

And it all ends up with Walker and Diesel saying goodbye in a way that made no sense to me - Dom leaves everybody at a beach party, including Letty, and Paul comes after him. Why? Who knows, I guess it seemed iconic. Then there is a farewell to Paul Walker song that didn't really do much for me and roll the credits.

I guess they'll do the next one without Walker - at least I hope they don't scrape up any old footage to recycle. He will be missed and it won't be the same. But with enough explosions, I will barely notice.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Zombie Movie

Robert A. Heinlein is called the Dean of Science Fiction, but he is not well represented in the movies: 1950s drive-in fare Destination: Moon and parody/fiasco Starship Troopers. Now we have Predestination (2015), and it's done right.

I went in having read the source story "-All You Zombies-" so the whole thing was thoroughly spoilerated for me: It follows the source very closely. I think it might be a better experience if you've read the story, but I'm not going to spoilerize it in this post, except for two points:
  • This is a time-travel story. The opening scenes don't exactly make this clear. You might figure it out or you might just get confused. The movie doesn't really explain what's going on, and I'm a little dim, so I was glad to know this going in.
  • Like the original story, it is framed by a story a man is telling in a bar. Yes, the movie gets it: A guy walks into a bar is a lame way to start a joke. But the man's story starts "When I was young girl..." and it's off to the races.
 As I said, the movie matches the story in some funny ways. Since it was written in 1958, it has some pretty old-fashioned gender ideas, even though it's mostly set in the 60s and 70s. There are hints that this is an alternate timeline, anyway - a comment about spacers and their women. For a Heinlein fan, this is sweet and nostalgic - I don't know how a newcomer would see it.

I do think you can enjoy the movie without knowing any Heinlein. It has nice retro look and Ethan Hawke as the bartender and Sarah Snook as the Unwed Mother have nice parts. The wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff is handled well - beats Looper in my opinion. And at it's heart, it's a romance, although a pretty kinky one. If you've read much Heinlein, especially the later stuff, you know he had some pretty specific kinks, and this caters to a lot of them at once.

This is a low-medium budget Australian production - no big effects, little action. It was directed by the Spierig twins. This is only their third film, but it looks like they have some art/genre cred; heck, they got Ethan Hawke.

So, great Heinlein adaptation, maybe great movie. If there's anyone out there who hasn't read the story but has seen the movie, please let me know what the experience is like.

In conclusion, IMDB reminds me that they made a movie out of Puppetmasters, Heinlein's pod-people story. Guess I have to check that out too.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Vision Thing

So, we watched the new Avengers movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and of course I think its the best one yet. It's got Wanda and Pietro, and the Vision.

It starts with the Avengers recovering Loki's scepter from HYDRA in the Eastern European country of Souvlakia. Tony Stark discovers that it hides a gem with artificial intelligence powers, and decides to build it into a robot - which is, of course, a terrible idea. All the rest of the Avengers tell him that, and they are right. It forms itself into a junk contraption and takes off to Sopapilla.

I'll skip most of the middle stuff except to say that Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, and her brother Pietro, Quicksilver, are around to fight the Avengers and then join them to fight Ultron. These two have been favorites of mine since the Kirby days. They are exotic and strange, evil yet noble, like Magneto, who they become linked with (not in this movie, though). We saw Pietro (as Peter), played by a different actor in Days of Future Past, due to rights ownership issues. Doesn't matter, great to see him.

Ultron made a great Frankensteinish villain, played with a bit of hammy humor by James Spader. The Vision, on the other hand, is played by Paul Bettany, the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. Two artificial beings in one movie! I won't tell you where the Vision came from, except to say it was another one of Stark's stupid ideas. In fact, one of the morals of the story is "Keep doing stupid things, and one of them might just work out." Words to live by, my friends.

I'm skipping over lots of good stuff, mostly fights and explosions (Ironman fights Hulk! Sokinajia takes off into the air! Nobody can lift Mjolnir!), just to say that I love the cosmic Vision, and look forward to his romance with the Scarlet Witch, which was just hinted at here.

Now, Ms. Spenser thought this was a little weaker than than the preceding Avengers. Too much going on without enough that matters. She might be right - as I think back over it, a lot is just a blur of the aforementioned fights and explosions. Or maybe she is just annoyed that they shoehorned practically everyone in, but left out Loki, her beloved Tom Hiddleston. Oh well, you can't have everything.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mad, Mad World

It's been so long since I've seen the first movies, I can't really compare them to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). I don't remember Max being quite so mad, though.

He's played by Tom Hardy (Inception, author of Wessex novels) here, not Mel Gibson. He's almost catatonic at the start, captured and tortured by the Immortan Joe, a messianic warlord, ruling an oasis with an army of radiation-poisoned war-boys. When one of his trusted lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), takes off with his pregnant wives in a war-rig, he sends an army of modified muscle cars after her - one of them is driven by war-boy Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy in Days of Future Past). He props Max up on the front of his car like a living hood ornament and runs a transfusion line from him into his own bloodstream, stealing his vitality. Yes, in this dystopian future, everything is running out, gasoline, water, healthy blood.

This sets up the series of long chases and running fights that make up Fury Road. Mutants and uglies in chopped-up struggle-buggies chasing Furiosa and/or Max. It is brilliantly conceived and beautifully imaginative - although you might feel like you're seeing a video game with next generation imaging technology.

Although Max is pretty mad, Furiosa is just plain bad. She has a shaved head, dipped in black motor oil. She is missing an arm. She may or may not be able to kick Max's ass, but she certainly made a good attempt. And she never becomes a romantic interest or princess in peril. A lot of the time, this is really her movie.

So, mind-boggling, non-stop action, amazing world-building, great characters - and just enough depth behind the action. Takes the franchise to a new level.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Red and the Black

Continuing our Halloween not-all-that-scary horror movies, we watched Blacula (1972), a charming mix of horror and blaxploitation.

It starts long long ago, with African diplomat Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his beautiful wife Luva (Vonetta McGee) negotiating the end of the slave trade with a Transylvanian prince - that doesn't work out so well, and Mamuwalde ends up undead in a coffin.

In the present day, two antique dealers (to say gay antique dealers seems redundant) buy the coffin and release into our world - Blacula!

The dealers' friends and relatives hang out at a club where the Hues Corporation plays nightly (although not their hit, "Rock the Boat"). The gang includes handsome doctor Thalamus Rasulala and Vonetta McGee, Mamuwalde's wife reincarnated. They soon meet up with the suave caped African, who woos McGee while not savagely tearing the throats out of cute lady cabbies like Ketty Lester.

The leads are great - William Marshall is both sympathetic and frightening and Rasulala a strong tough black man whose role could have been a private eye. McGee is tender and beautiful, with just a touch of the unearthly. I've always liked the dignity she brought to the role of Jemina Brown in The Eiger Sanction. This is a better role.

The scares aren't all that scary, which is fine with me. Bonus: Elisha Cook Jr. plays the creepy morgue attendant - with a hook hand!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Skin in the Game

We went into Skin Trade (2014) to see Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White, two of our favorite martial arts stars - two of the most underused. Honestly, I would have liked to see more of both, but the movie was about more than them.

Basically, Tony Jaa is a Thai cop fighting human traffickers at the source. Dolph Lundgren is an American cop, fighting at the destination. Ron Perlman is the Russian running the girls, White is CIA. I think that covers it.

I'm really beginning to take to Dolph Lundgren. The big lug gets better looking the older and more battered he gets. He picked a topic that he clearly feels strongly about, unlike the silly Taken movies. The director, Ekachai Uekrongtham (Beautiful Boxer), does a good job on the action, and equally good on the drama. Jaa does a little more acting and a little less ass-kicking, and both are fine.

My main complaint is that Jai White got ripped off on screen time and fights, really just one. He looks great in suits, though.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Paisley

You might guess that we queued up Roger Corman's teen classic Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979) because there is a little part for Dick Miller. And you'd be part right. Also Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel, the Real Don Steel, P.J. Soles and Dey Young, and of course the Ramones. But mainly, Grady Sutton - Og Oggleby himself.

Really what brought it on was a very thorough podcast on the Projection Booth. They interviewed the writers, director Alan Arkush, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles, Dey Young and more. It was very informative, telling the story of how they got Roger Corman to make this movie - It was going to be Disco High School, but they convinced Corman that if he liked the music, the kids would hate it and vice versa. Then it was going to be made with Cheap Trick, but they wanted too much money. And so on.

But one story was how they wanted to get some real old Hollywood into the film, so they called up Grady Sutton - you might recognize him as the kid that W.C. Fields calls a jabberknowl and a mooncalf in The Bank Dick. He was living in quiet retirement but agreed to do this, his last film. It isn't a big part, but it's a great one.

Of course, the big thrill in the movie is the Ramones. It's amazing how well their music holds up - hard-rocking and full of hooks, stripped down and poppy. The incidental music is great, too, with Brownsville Station, Peter Greene and Danny Kirwin era Fleetwood Mac, Brian Eno, Devo, and the MC5.

Finally, Dick Miller plays the police chief (there's a rumor that his badge says "Chief Paisley"). His ad-libbed line, "The Ramones are ugly, ugly people" pretty much sums it all up.

Friday, October 16, 2015

B/A Movie

We approached Black Angel (1946) expecting the usual B-movie noir. There are so many movies like this that we'd never heard of, many of them better than you'd expect. This turned out to be as good as we'd hoped, but not really a B-movie.

It starts with Dan Duryea looking at an apartment building. The camera pans up the face of the building and through the window in a fluid shot that might have made Orson Welles go "hmm". The apartment belongs to Constance Dowling, apparently Duryea's wife. But she tells the doorman not to let him in. The doorman does let in Peter Lorre.

When Constance turns up dead, Duryea isn't under suspicion. He was drinking all night, and then passed out and locked into his dive apartment. John Philips takes the fall, because she was blackmailing him. His wife, June Vincent, can't believe he did it and sets out to prove his innocence, and eventually forms an alliance with Duryea.

Her sweetness and innocence inspires him to stop drinking. His songwriting and piano playing convince her to form a nightclub act with him. They stake out Peter Lorre's club to see if they can find the mysterious McGuffin.

This is all basic noir, down to the Cornell Wilde story it's based on. But it isn't a B, at least it doesn't look like it. The night club, for instance, has a full set of customers, real sets, a band and so forth. Production values, in other words.

I'm not sure the story is quite up to it, in the end. My main problem -SPOILERish - is that Duryea and Vincent spend months singing in a nightclub, clearly getting nowhere, while hubby is sitting on death row. I mean, I guess that was kind of the point - they were falling in love while theoretically she was trying to clear her husband of the murder of his wife. But it didn't work for me, unless I didn't think about it.

So I'd say A for production values, B for tight plot, and full marks for noir.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Rowdy Weekend

These movies were inspired by two recent events, one happy, one sad.

First, like all good internet dwellers, we love Ronda Rousey and we cheered when we heard she was going to star in a remake of Road House (1989) - which we hadn't seen. So to get psyched, and to make up for this lapse in our viewing, we queued up this Patrick Swayze classic - Directed by Rowdy Harrington.

Since everyone else has seen this, I'll keep the synopsis short: Patrick Swayze is an uber-bouncer (or "cooler") brought in to clean up a Missouri road house. Which he does while getting the babe and destroying the local bad-guy (Ben Gazzara). He does it with a mixture of zen centeredness and ass-kicking. Anyway, a few thoughts:
  • I really like the Jeff Healey Band - Healey is a blind Canadian with an odd way of playing lap guitar. He plays a combination of classic bar-band rockers (Mustang Sally, Knock on Wood, Travelin' Band) and a few originals. As the leader of the house band and Swayze's buddy, he gets to be a kind of Greek chorus.
  • Was Patrick Swayze supposed to resemble Kurt Russell so much? It's not just the mullet - it was also everybody saying they thought he would be taller.
 Looking forward to Rousey's take.

In other Rowdy news, Rowdy Roddy Piper has passed on. Very sad, but a great excuse to re-watch They Live (1988) (previously blogged in 2007 - one of my first posts!). This John Carpenter action-comedy (or possibly documentary) has a simple premise: Drifter Piper finds a pair of sunglasses that reveal the truth - rich people are aliens who have brainwashed humanity to worship money, watch tv and stay asleep. At this point, he utters his famous tagline, "I've come to kick ass and chew gum, and I'm all out of chewing gum."

But our favorite part (like everyone's) was when he tried to convince Keith David to try on the glasses. This results in an epic brawl that goes on and on. David is now fixed in our minds from the last season of Community, and the Riddick movies. But this is surely his finest hour.

Looks like they are remaking They Live as well. I'm not looking forward to that as much.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Can't Do My Homework

Finally got a break from work-work and did my homework. Although Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has buried the quiz under two long Dressed to Kill posts, you can find it if you know where to look. And maybe it will cut down on the competition.

1 ) Favorite moment from a Coen Brothers movie
So many to choose from. To please the crowd, I'd say "There's a beverage here!" (note subtle self-plug). But I'd honestly have to say, "You know, for the kids!"

Ms. Spenser says least favorite is the puking scene in every one of their movies.

2) Scratching The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty and The Hudsucker Proxy from consideration, what would now rate as your least-favorite Coen Brothers movie?
Raising Arizona, because I haven't seen it yet. And it has Nic Cage in it.

3) Name the most underrated blockbuster of all time
 I really want to say Around the World in 80 Days, but its rating of "indigestible lump of spectacle" is pretty accurate. How about MASH? I'd say that really changed cinema comedy in fundamental way. But people now think of it more as a lead-up to the somewhat more conventional TV series.

4) Ida Lupino or Sylvia Sidney?
Ida Lupino for everything from They Drive by Night, to Jennifer, to Have Gun Will Travel. We especially liked the way she handled fights in that last.

5) Edwards Scissorhands—yes or no?
Never seen it, but Yes, I've heard it's great.

6) The movie you think most bastardizes, misinterprets or does a disservice to the history or historical event it tries to represent
I suppose it misses the point, but Knight's Tale. I get that they were trying get you to relate to the days of jousts, but I felt it was just wrong headed.

I'm not sure about Quest of the Delta Knights, either, but the fact that it was filmed at a Ren Faire to save money adds points for extra credit.

7) Favorite Aardman animation
The Wrong Trousers.

8) Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie
I've only seen Irma Vep, and I loved it. Thought of it more of a Jean-Pierre Leaud movie, I guess because he was embodying the director.

9) Neville Brand or Mike Mazurki?
 Mazurki, for Moose Malloy and any number of flatfeet and palookas.

10) Name the movie you would cite to a nonbeliever as the best evidence toward convincing them of the potential greatness of a favorite genre
That's tough - Duck Soup for slapstick, Bringing Up Baby for screwball. But the people we're trying to convince would be like, "That's just silly" or "They talk so fast, it's making my head hurt" (these both really happened). So maybe you just can't convince people. They'll either come around or they won't.

11) Name any director and one aspect of his/her style or career, for good or bad, that sets her/him apart from any other director
Seijun Suzuki is the first that comes to mind - his deeply Japanese, utterly insane stories, full of stylized gestures and compositions may not be unique, but they sure stand out. Maybe you could compare him to Tim Burton, but more Japanese and with a lower budget (and an early career in gangster films).

12) Best car chase
Still Bullit.

13) Favorite moment directed by Robert Aldrich
 The opening of Kiss Me Deadly. No, wait, the end of KMD.

14) The last movie you saw in a theater? On home video?
 In the theater, nothing for years. At home, Witness for the Prosecution. Ms. Spenser hadn't seen it and I managed not to hint at the twist.
OK, I'll admit it, we watched Witness over two nights, with Age of Ultron between.

15) Jane Greer or Joan Bennett?
Jane Greer, mainly for The Big Steal. I think Joan Bennett never got serious until Dark Shadows.

16) Second-favorite Paul Verhoeven movie
 Starship Troopers, following Total Recall as number 1. Both did horrible damage to the original story, and in both (in all his movies?) he seems to make terrible artistic decisions and cover by calling it satire. So, I don't like his movies much, but I love Dick and Heinlein, and even if he mistreated them at least he got them onscreen.

17) Your nominee for best/most important political or social documentary you’ve seen
That's easy: Inconvenient Truth. It's pretty much the only one I've seen.

18) Favorite movie twins
Patty Duke doesn't count, right? Spock and Evil Spock? That's TV too. Let me ask Ms. Spenser. She says John and Boomer in Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons. Done!

19) Best movie or movie moment about or involving radio
I'm a big fan of "exposition radio", where the characters turn on the radio just in time to hear that the police are on the lookout for ... them! And of course Woody Allen wrote a whole movie around the days of radio.

But I'm going with the scene in Neighbors when the creepy music sets you up for a scare, until Belushi turns off the radio - diegetic sound jokes get me every time, and I think that was the first one I noticed.

20) Eugene Pallette or William Demarest?
I'm not playing if you are going to be mean.

21) Favorite moment directed by Ken Russell
For now, I'll have to say the Nuns and Nazis hallucination in Lair of the White Worm - only because I've seen it most recently.

22) All-time best movie cat
Rhubarb, for sentimental reasons. I saw Rhubarb when I was a child sick at home on the Million-Dollar Matinee. The actor, a marmalade tabby named Orangey, was also in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Comedy of Terrors, and played Minerva in Our Miss Brooks.

23) Your nominee for best movie about teaching and learning, followed by the worst
I saw Real Genius a while ago, and was surprised at how much I liked it. But even though it is a movie about college, did anyone learn anything? I mean, other than lessons about life? Sorry, I got nothing.

24) Name an actor/actress currently associated primarily with TV who you'd like to see on the big screen
Off the top of my head - Saul Rubinek. He has a way of turning up in shows we like (or being the best part of shows we don't). Also, he's a mensch. He's been in plenty of movies, but I associate him with TV.

25) Stanley Baker or David Farrar
Can't place either, but I see that David Farrar was Sexton Blake, so him.

26) Critic Manny Farber once said of Frank Capra that he was "blah-blah-blah"
What is the Capra movie that best proves or disproves Farber's assertion?
And who else in Hollywood history might just as easily fit his description?
Master of effects who can come off as contrived? I think that description fits almost everyone, except for the likes of Ed Wood and Coleman Francis, who are incompetent and contrived.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Reader who have been reading may have noticed that I haven't been updating as often as I should. I've been under deadline pressure, actually forced to work, and it is crushing my soul.

So, movie blogging to resume after we ship, maybe next week. But in the meantime, here is some homework:


Yes, it's time for another one of Dennis Cozzalio's fascinating film quizzes. I don't know when I'll get my answers in, but I promise not to read any of the answers until I do. Even though it means I can't visit The Mythical Monkey's page - he's already posted his answers!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Chav Who Loved Me

If you like the occasional over-the-top action film, and who doesn't?, may we present Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014).

This is the story of Taron Egerton, known as Eggsy, a London kid being raised by his widowed mother in a London housing estate. But his father died in the service of the Queen as a member of the mysterious secret agency, the Kingsman. Now that he's grown up, Colin Firth shows up to offer him training to become a member.

Kingsmen are generally upper-class James Bond type spies. Their headquarters are in a posh tailor shop, everyone dresses in bespoke suits with expensive accessories (some weaponized). But Eggsy doesn't fit in. He is a "chav".

If you are familiar with the term, I apologize. It is considered offensive, with justification. It's a term for a type of lower-class Londoner, based on the flashy fashions they like: designer knock-offs, hip-hop bling, big baseball caps, etc. Counterfeit Burberry plaid is a favorite, but Eggsy doesn't go in for that. Word is that Burberry paid to be kept out of the movie.

Now "chav" probably comes from a Romany word for "kid", so there's some racism in the term, but mostly it represents the classist snarling of the respectable about the lower class dressing above their station. So I'm kind of ashamed to use it; the movie never does. But come on - the kid is a chav.

The Kingsmen (not the Louie, Louie guys) are represented by Colin Firth in full-on Harry Palmer drag, and Michael Caine himself as the top man. The trainees are all disposable upperclass twits and one cute girl, Sophia Cookson. The whole muddle in the middle dealing with class issues and character are a bit of a struggle, but it gets better.

The big villain in the piece is Samuel Jackson, wearing an odd hip-hop nerd couture and speaking with a lisp. He's a computer genius who plans to use his huge fortune to cure global warming - by killing off most of humanity by driving them into a killing frenzy. A test drive in a church with Firth leads to one of the best, most gruesome and funniest action scenes ever, with everyone killing each other in long takes and in slow mo.

Now, if you love the idea of a church full of bigots and a lone spy driven into a killing frenzy is your idea of fun, this movie may be for you. If you don't like the idea, or if confused politics and message bug you, you might want to stay away. After all: a black entrepreneur who kills in name of global warming and a lower-class hero who wins when he accepts his inner snob - it's pretty messed up.

And I didn't even mention Sophia Boutelle, the evil Bond girl - she plays a double amputee who kills with her sharpened blade leg prostheses. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Bucket of Paisley

Horror-comedy season continues with Bloody Mama/A Bucket of Blood (1959), although we only watched Bucket of Blood. After The Howling, we wanted to see the original Walter Paisley.

In this Corman cheapie, Dick Miller plays Walter Paisley, a dim-witted busboy in a beatnik coffeeshop. It starts with Julian Burton on stage reciting a beat poem about Art with a freeform sax accompaniment. Listening to the poem gives Walter the idea that no one matters except the artist, so he decides to become a sculptor. I don't think I'm giving away anything when I say that his first sculpture is a cat he accidentally kills, covered in clay.

Of course, "Dead Cat" becomes a hit among the habitues and patrons of the coffeeshop. Art collector Bruno VeSota is willing to pay big bucks for it, but what will he do for an encore? Something with a human subject, perhaps?

Although this is totally low-budget, it has a lot going for it. The beatnik demimonde seems very realistic - Julian Burton wrote his own poetry, and actually habitually wore sandals. There were poets, hangers-on, kibitzers, plain-jane groupies (and junkies), slumming straights, and narcs. The folksinger, who sang murder ballads while Walter displayed his grisly statues, was Alex Hassilev, soon to form the Limelighters.

The writing is nice as well, with Walter repeating lines of dialog from earlier in the movies, giving them a new spin. All better than it needed to be. Not good, of course - this is Corman we're talking about. But lots of fun.

According to IMDB, it is not true that Dick Miller's character is always named Walter Paisley in whatever movie he is in. He is in a lot of movies, and only a few times as WP. But this was the first and iconic appearance.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Drink that Got Away

I haven't been doing much cocktail blogging lately. I've been mostly just drinking margaritas - the craziest I get is to through in a slice of pineapple. Since the mint is finally coming in, I've had a few mojitos, but that's about it.

I had some egg whites left over, so I thought I'd make a White Lady, and maybe add some Maraschino to make a ... I don't know, Cherry Lady? As I was mixing, my stomache gave a lurch and I remembered a long ago episode from the dawn of my days as a mixologist. I had recently graduated from college and decided to invent the tequila-sake martini.

It was at a small party with college friends. They were mixing frozen watermelon margaritas. These were wholesome and delicious and I should have stuck to them. But I felt that I could replace the gin in a martini with tequila and the vermouth with sake. I tried several variations, for 1:6 dry to 1:1 equal, and even added a squeeze of honey to counteract the bitter note in the tequila. Needless to say, none were any good, although I drank them all.

The next day, we got up early, hit a diner for pancakes and went mountain climbing. I started out game, but the exertion started pushing the toxins out of my liver, and by the time we reached the hut at the ridge trail, I lay down on the ground. I heard that someone had been killed by lightning on that spot recently, and I noticed the sky getting overcast. Seeing a way out, I asked my friends to leave me there to the lightning, but to bury my boots so the wolves wouldn't eat them.

Well, we made it down without being killed by lightning or hangover, and had a big dinner in a  Chinese restaurant. But what a  cautionary lesson. Sometimes, I think I should leave bartending to the experts. I almost tossed out my Cherry Lady without tasting it.

But I didn't, and it was very nice - not quite perfect, though. Maybe needs some Creme de Violette, like an Aviation with an eggwhite fizz...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Das ist Alles

This Is the End (2013) was kind of what we expected it to me: a Seth Rogen comedy. It was a pretty good one. I don't think we like Seth Rogen comedies, though.

The conceit is pretty cute. Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen. His friend Jay Baruchel is visiting Los Angeles and they plan to have fun hanging out, eating Carl's Jr., watching 3D video and getting high. But Seth Rogen wants them to go over to James Franco's house warming party and Jay thinks Franco and all his friends are dicks.

This is the first theme: Jay thinks all the famous people in this movie are jerks and they kind of are. Even Jonah Hill, who Jay hates the most, who is the sweetest, most friendly guy in the world to Jay, is a bit off-putting. But that Michael Cera, all coked up and slapping Rihanna's butt! We won't be sad to see him go.

Which is the second theme: the Apocalypse. All good people ascend to heaven in shafts of light and the earth opens up and flames shoot forth, yada yada. The kind of thing that always happens to LA - very Day of the Locust. Around here, the film goes from cameo-filled to small ensemble: Everybody else goes to Hell.

There's a lot of funny stuff here, and I'd estimate about 1/2 improvised. Lots of famous folk from the Rogen milieu poking fun at their selves. So I enjoyed it all. But, really, these guys (the only women are in brief cameos) are just not that likable. Rogen is not really bad, just kind of a doofus. You start out sympathetic to Jay's lack of love for Hollywood phonies, but he gets pretty tedious. And so on.

So, what can I say? A well-made, creative, funny movie that just wasn't to my taste. I'd just stop watching this crowd's movies. Well, maybe Paul...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

White Night

Once again, a podcast made me watch a movie. I had to watch Night Moves (1975) if I wanted to hear the Projection Booth episode. And it turned out that Ms. Spenser had watched it when it came out - and had hated it.

It stars Gene Hackman as an old-fashioned detective in new-fashioned LA. His wife, who works in a high-class interior design office or something, wants him to go to work for one of the big detective companies, but what does she know? She's the type who goes to the movies to see My Night at Maude's - with a man she isn't married to.

One of those big companies throws Hackman a job: A drunk and promiscuous ex-movie star wants someone to find her daughter, a 16-year-old who has been trying sleep with everyone her mother bedded. So Hackman starts working through a trail of men, mostly in the movie biz, starting with James Wood as a punk mechanic and working up from there. Hackman plays an ex-football player and can either rough a guy up or bond with him, man-to-man. For a while, I thought that everyone involved in the case was an old friend of his, but they actually just kind of took to him.

The trail leads to the ex-husband's retreat in the Florida Keys, and the tone changes. It's more laid back, more natural, maybe more real. For one thing, there's 16-year-old Melanie Griffith running around without a shirt on. I was going to say how brave that is, but maybe it's something more like innocence. Anyone can go naked at that age.

But there's another woman, only glimpsed at first through her long hair: Jennifer Warren. She's a little older, and a lot more mature. She's got a wry sense of humor (if doing Groucho voices counts as wry) and she's both upfront and mysterious. Kind of a hippie femme fatale. Griffith is too young to tempt Hackman, but Warren is different.

It goes without saying that Hackman is over his head. There's a lot in this movie, and I don't know if it's all cleared up by the end.

In conclusion, Ms. Spenser liked it a lot more this time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

She, Robot

Here's an interesting movie in the recently popular A.I genre, which, oddly doesn't seem to feature Scarlett Johansson: Ex Machina (2015).

It is basically a "three-hander": nerdy programmer and cog in Google/Apple/Oracle-like hi-tech company Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley from Harry Potter) wins a lottery to stay at charismatic oddball founder Oscar Isaac's remote compound. When he arrives, and after he signs a very intrusive NDA, he is introduced to the third character: humanoid robot and A.I. Alicia Vikander. Objective: determine whether the A.I. has human-level intelligence, using methods similar to the Turing Test.

What we wind up with is a mixture of arthouse, comedy, and sci-fi action. The compound is a cool modern space, and we get plenty of shots of people sitting or standing blankly in modern architecture looking blankly at displays or just the walls. We have all the requisite philosophical discussions about the meaning of intelligence and humanity. But Isaac's tycoon is a hard-drinking flake, whose lack of seriousness, abundance of ego, and vague creepiness keeps Gleeson on the defensive - I guess comedy is too strong, but it is kind of silly. The end has some unexpected (SPOILER?) action, and cinematography that matches what we see in Transcendence, Her, etc.

It's also a bit of a character study, and the characters are a bit odd. There's Isaac, but he could be thought of as Tony Stark. Besides, I'll bet most Hollywood writers are familar with egotistical alcoholic geniuses. Gleeson's nerd is also a little outside the usual parameters. I kept referring to him as clueless or socially stunted, and Ms. Spenser kept correcting me: He is actually smarter and more thoughtful than he seems; he's just a little shy and not very assertive. And of course, there's the A.I. Whether she is truly intelligent and to what degree is the puzzle of the movie.

This could have been the best of the latest batch - a lot more thought went into it then most of the rest. But it still suffered from some of the same problems, like the apparent failure to make anything of an amazing new technology. Like new technology appearing sui generis from the hands of a single tinkerer. Like treating tech like magic.

But I'm afraid I would have enjoyed it more if there had been more action, even if it were stupider.

Monday, September 7, 2015


Now as summer comes to a close, it's time to start gearing up for Hallowe'en. Yes, horror is on the menu again, at least if it isn't too extreme for my sensitive sentiments. The Howling (1981) fits, since it is really more of a comedy-horror, and we are trying to watch the complete Joe Dante.

It starts with newswoman Dee Wallace acting as bait for a serial killer, meeting him in a porn video booth, and almost getting killed. This leaves her shook up, and Dr. Patrick McNee recommends a rest at his "Colony", up on the Mendocino coast. The folks out there are uninhibited, with parties around the bonfire on the beach, and the locals are a little creepy. Her husband Christopher Strong goes hunting with a local guide, even though he tries to avoid red meat, and meets the local witch woman.

I'm not going to spoiler this, although I don't think there are any big surprises. Our favorite scene is when Wallace and husband try to find answers at Dick Miller's occult bookstore. It's always great to see our friend Walter Paisley.

This isn't a jokey movie, but it pokes fun at the culture of news entertainment and the pop-psychology of losing inhibition. It's funnier than it is scary, but it is pretty scary.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Last Mann

Can you believe I've never seen an Michael Mann movie? Mostly he's not my kind of thing, but for some reason, I wanted to see The Last of the Mohicans (1992). I think it started after I watched those Lost Legion movies: Centurion and The Eagle. The whole Romans v. Pict reminded me of colonists and Indians, so I queued up a bunch of movies that I didn't watch, until now (remember what I said about Netflix sending me more movies than expected, dropping into the odd part of my queue? That.)

I think I got what I wanted: rousing adventure, romance, cool Indian costumes, makeup, and hairdos. Daniel Day-Lewis is handsome and heroic and his companions, Russell Means as Chingachgook and Eric Schweig as Uncas are noble. There is a lot of nobility, as when General Munro surrenders the fort and is allowed to retreat, or when a British soldier demands to be tortured by the Hurons in place of the General's daughter.

There are some great set pieces like the siege of the fort, or the canoe chase through the mist. The look of the film was beautiful too, with a lot of misty primordial scenery. There's some nice long rifle work to admire as well. But there is a lot of silliness too: Day-Lewis' character, known in Fennimore Cooper's books as Leatherstocking and Hawk-eye, or by his real name, Natty Bumpo, has the more dignified monicker of Nathaniel Poe in the movie. The plot seems to call for him to run away a lot - sure, he comes back to rescue the ladies later, but it's not always clear that he couldn't have rescued them right there.

Well, it isn't supposed to be realistic - see Mark Twain's essay on Cooper's shortcomings as a novelist. It was still fun, exciting and beautiful. In conclusion, we might or might not follow up with Squanto: A Warrior's Tale.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Apocalypse Now and Then

Ms. Beveridge had never seen the original Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux (1979). I had never seen the extended Redux cut. So we queued it up.

First, I was surprised by how silly a lot of it was. I vividly remembered the first scene, "Still in Saigon" with Martin Sheen dancing around to the Doors as hallucinatory and delirious.On second watch, deliriously silly. It gets much better after that - at least the "Charlie don't surf" scene was intended to be funny.

The new material was mainly a meeting between the crew on the boat and a plantation of French colonists. The decision to cut this was a smart one in my opinion.

Then back to silliness when the crew finally meets Col. Kurtz - the bald and rotund Marlon Brando. Even without Dennis Hopper hoppering about, it's pretty hard to take seriously.

I can't really comment much on the differences between the cuts, except for the plantation scene. I was slipping in and out of sleep toward the end. Afterwards, I told Ms. Spenser that the last scenes were very different - they had cut out the "Are my methods unsound?" scene. No, she told me, that was definitely in the movie. What about the buffalo sacrifice? That was in as well. I just slept through them.

It's OK, I was really mainly interested in Mickey Hart's River Music. Hart, a drummer for the Grateful Dead, along with Billy Kreutzmann, his fellow drummer, Zakir Hussain, and others, contributed a jungle drumming soundtrack that mostly got cut. But what's left adds a lot.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thunderbirds are No Go

I don't think I had heard about the Thunderbirds (2004) live-action movie, until it popped up in recommendations. Does everyone remember the Thunderbirds TV show from the 60s? One of Gerry Anderson's "Supermarionation" shows - kids' adventure acted out with marionettes. I watched Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5 and Stingray: rescue, space and undersea adventures, respectively. The stories were pretty good as I remember, although the goofy puppets were pretty cheesy.

The movie featured Bill Paxton as father of a team of rescue specialists who live on a secret tropical island base. The youngest son can't go on missions yet, until the evil Hood (he doesn't wear a hood, but he is played by Ben Kingsley) invades the island and captures everyone else. It takes Sophia Myles as pink-obsessed Lady Penelope and her Michal-Cainesque chauffeur (Ron Cook) to save the day.

The kid was a major problem. He has a boy genius and cute girl helping out, and all that's missing is a monkey companion. The action wasn't much either.

Of course, the island looked great - a classy mid-century modern tropical setup. Lady Penelope is great as well. If the rest of the movie was as good as her, I would have been happy.

Jonathan Frakes directed. I've enjoyed some of the TV he has directed, but this was his first feature. He is pretty sure it will be his last.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Coop and Dagger

It appears that I neglected to blog Cloak and Dagger (1946), which we watched quite a few weeks ago. Funny that it slipped my mind; in some ways it was very memorable, in other ways, not.

It was directed by Fritz Lang, better known (to me at least) for silent films, like Metropolis. From the name you may be expecting a very generic spy story, and you kind of get it. It stars Gary Cooper as an atomic physicist being recruited for a secret mission. It starts out as an attempt to get his old colleague Helmin Thimig out of Switzerland. The mission fails, since Cooper is a professor, not a spy, and he proposes to go deeper into Nazi territory to retrieve his old professor from Italy.

There is some swift death in the dark, silent fights, and skulking in the shadows. Also, Cooper slowly falls for hard, cynical spy Lili Palmer. It's all filmed in Lang's stylish black and white. It isn't exactly cutting edge, maybe even a little old-fashioned even for 1946. But fun and exciting, even somewhat realistic in the way the best plans can fall apart if the luck doesn't go your way.

In conclusion, Gary Cooper is kind of wooden, isn't he?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice

Most people who know Edgar G. Ulmer mostly know him from his classic low-budget noir Detour. He had come to Hollywood from Eastern Europe with ambitions beyond becoming a master B-movie director. Carnegie Hall (1947) is an example of what he did when he got a chance.

Marsha Hunt plays a war orphan whose relatives bring her up at Carnegie Hall. She goes from a little girl who see the first performance at the hall, conducted by Peter Tchaikovsky himself to a cleaner to an office manager. She falls in love with an impulsive pianist and when he dies, raises his son to someday play at Carnegie Hall himself. But this part is not that interesting.

What is interesting is the performances that the story wraps around. We get Stokowski (without the mouse) conducting, and Rodzinski and Bruno Walter. We hear Rubinstein and Piatigorsky on piano and cello. Ezio Pinza and Lily Pons sing for us, and many more, including a pop number with Harry James on trumpet, to show how the hall changes with the times.

It's transporting if you are at all interested in classical music (although the choices may be a little stale - although we were happy to hear de Falla's Fire Dance). And Hunt's reverence for the famed venue is touching. But - as I mentioned - her story is a bit slow and melodramatic. And they could have been a bit more informative about the hall. For example, they talk about Tchaikovsky conducting, but not that it was the opening concert. And later when Hunt gets an apartment above the hall... Did you know there were apartments above Carnegie Hall? Gorgeous from the looks of them. I heard about them on the news because they closed down recently, when the last rent controlled tenant from the 1950s died.

I guess they assumed all this was common knowledge in 1947, and maybe it was - maybe it still is. Well, at least I know this stuff now, because this movie made me want to look it up.

It's great that Ulmer got to make this, and I hope he had a great time. But all the melodrama makes it too long - over two hours. I thought it was worth it for the performances, your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Conan the Gremmie

We watched Conan the Barbarian (1982) again for exactly one reason: Gerry Lopez, Pipeline Master and Surf God.

According to the Projection Booth podcast, John Milius got to know Gerry on his surfing movie Big Wednesday, where he was a stunt-rider and "technical consultant". He told Gerry that he should try acting, and when he was making Conan he called him in. There are some great stories about the crew and the fun they had in Spain on the shoot. But you can check that out yourself - no need for me to second-hand it here.

I remembered Subotai, Lopez's character, from the first time I saw the movie. He was one of my favorite characters, for some reason. Possibly, because he was named after Subutai, Genghis Khan's great general. Also, he was the Thief, one of my favorite fantasy types. Maybe it goes back to reading The Hobbit as a child. I was surprised this time around that he played less of a role than I remembered - I might have attributed some of Mako's scenes to him. It's an easy mistake to make, when you consider Lopez's mustache.

This time around, that heinous bandito beard and 'stache combo was my first impression. My final impressions:
  • He seemed a little tentative, unself-confident, naturally enough since he isn't really an actor
  • In his non-speaking parts, he moved a lot more confidently, naturally enough since he is a champion athlete
  • He used his silly accent to his advantage, letting him deliver his lines very believably
So, in general, he was as good as I remember, but there wasn't enough Lopez. The rest of the movies more of a mess than I remember. J.E. Jones Looks sillier than I remember in Cher's wig. Sandahl Bergman had a nice warrior-woman look, but seemed a little clumsy and had a ridiculous death scene. Schwartzenegger, of course, is a walking special effect. This must be his greatest movie.

So, if you saw Conan a long time ago and loved it, I am recommending that you don't watch it again and spoil it. Unless you want to see Gerry Lopez out of the water.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hot Rods

So, funny thing: when Netflix doesn't have the film at the top of your queue handy, they send you another one right away, then the one at the top of the queue a day or so later. They put a notice up "Wondering why you have an extra disc?" which links to a non-explanation and everything. Anyway, due to the recherche nature of our queue, we are now up to 6 discs at home on a 3-disc plan.

However, I don't manage my queue much past the next 3 movies. After that it tends to be movies that I wanted to see once upon a time, then skipped over for years, and they just stayed there. That's how we wound up with Buster Keaton Rides Again/The Railrodder (1965).

Now Buster Keaton, as I'm sure you know, is the greatest film comedian that ever lived. His best work is from his youth in silent pictures, but he is entertaining even in talkies with Jimmy Durante and in the Beach Blanket movies. As an older man, happier and sober, he developed an amazingly craggy face, still as stone-faced as in his prime. Somehow, in 1965, when he was 69 years old, the National Film Board of Canada convinced him to make a little film to promote Canadian rail tourism.

He's a little old for stunts, although he looks a little exposed zipping along the rails in an exposed car. Mostly, his comedy is the mildest possible - but his iconic face can raise a smile when he is just sitting there. And it's only 25 minutes long - there's a one hour "Making of" documentary on the disc, but we skipped that.

In conclusion, I've changed over to a 2-disc plan. It makes more sense, but I hope we still get an oddball movie like this now and then.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Choice Material

Since we were in the mood to watch some Charles Laughton, we finally caught up with Hobson's Choice (1954). Not sure why we hadn't watched before, it's a real classic - not just an old movie.

It's about a cobbler who lives, works, and drinks in a suburb of Manchester in the 19th century. His wife has died and left him to care for three daughters. Now that they are grown, and considering his fondness for the pub, they are mainly taking care of him. He tyrannizes them, and in that day and age, they have to take it. The younger two he will marry off, if he doesn't have to provide a dowry. The eldest he calls an old maid, because he wants to keep her as his servant.

By the way, the youngest daughter is played by Prunella Scales, later Sybil Fawltey.

It may not surprise you to learn that the worm turns.

This is a lot of fun, full of classic turns - John Mills the meek cobbler, Brenda de Banzie determined not to die an old maid, Laughton drunk, and all of his cronies in the pub. The movie was made on location, giving it a well-worn look, appropriate to a movie made from a play written in 1915. Still fine today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I 8 1 2

We've just finished another "TV" series, in this case the Netflix original Sense8 (2015) from the Wachowskis. It's a wild mixture of soap-opera and Sci-Fi.

The premise is revealed slowly. Eight random people around the globe start catching glimpses of each other's minds and sensations. They also see: a woman in a derelict church killing herself, a mid-Eastern man, and a creepy doctor. The series is largely about their lives and problems and how they intertwine.

It reminds me a lot of Cloud Atlas - in fact, the Wachowskis may have learned their technique on that film. They actually film the series in Chicago, San Francisco, Mexico City, London, Berlin, Mumbai, Nairobi, Seoul, and Iceland. They assigned a different crew to each location, and all the locations and characters have their own plot, involving parents, sexuality, law and morality, but most specifically, counterfeit AIDS drugs.

The individual stories are fun, ranging from lesbians on the run from the law, to Berlin safecrackers, to Kenyan bus drivers and Korean martial-arts and white-collar crime. I don't think I'd tune in for these stories though. Only when they are woven together does it get really interesting.

We enjoyed this series a lot - great acting, fun action, interesting themes, and fine cinematography.We were a little disappointed that it doesn't wrap up in one season of 12 episodes. But also happy that there may be another season.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Interstellar Overdrive

Followers of this blog who have been following this blog may have noticed that there's been a bit of a lull. This partly because we've been watching a little less. Our dog has decided that ~6:00-8:00PM is outdoor playtime, even if we think it's movie watching time. But also, there has been kind of an obstacle to my progress: Interstellar (2014).

It starts in a near-future dystopia where all the food crops on Earth are gradually falling to Blight. As a result, humanity has retreated from technology and concentrated on farming as hard as possible. Our hero is Matthew McConaughey, who used to be an astronaut, but is now a farmer and single dad to stolid Tom and live-wire daughter Murph (somehow, I kept wanting to call her Scout), raising them with the help of curmudgeonly old Granddad John Lithgow.

This part of the movie irritated me for some reason. It was solid world-building, with no voice-overs or info-dumps, letting you figure out the problems of this world yourself. But I felt that someone, maybe director Christopher Nolan, wanted you to identify with these good hard-working country folk. It wasn't as bad as a truck commercial, but maybe like a solid country song that you know was written by a New Yorker.

Anyway, McConaughey gets recruited by rump-NASA to fly through the wormhole around Saturn to a distant galaxy and bring back the secret of gravity and/or find a new planet to colonize. This part does require an info-dump. Kindly old Dr. Michael Caine sends McC. with his daughter Jane Hathaway, a small crew and a robot into space. This pisses off Murph to no end.

But it does lead to some beautiful filmmaking. Really - J.J. Abrams wishes he could make space look so beautiful. It might even beat Jupiter Ascending, and even people who didn't like it had to admit it was beautiful. After all, they picked Saturn as a locale, even more picturesque than Jupiter. The following sections include a trip through a wormhole, orbiting a black hole and an almost 2001-esque metaphysical climax. They got physicist Kip Thorne to vet the physics, including the black hole visualization, but it all still had an oddly bogus quality. Possibly because so many of the astronauts decisions seemed really dumb.

I remember I had a similar problem with Contact - another movie with an Earth-bound first section, a second section in space and a famous scientist contributing. I had the same feeling that I should love it, but didn't. Maybe it was all the discussion of faith and love as being just as important as science and knowledge. That doesn't usually bother me, though. But there's something about the tone that bugs me.

Still, very beautiful movie, very well made. I was a little annoyed by the Murph character arc: She stayed pissed at her father for a long time, but not, in my opinion, long enough. I liked the robot a lot - a collection of rectangles that can look like the 2001 monlith with HAL's front panel. It tuns out that he was voiced (and puppeteered) by Bill Irwin, one of our favorite clowns from the New Vaudeville movement. But the movie just bugs me, and I'm not really sure why.

In conclusion, Matthew McConaughey was in Contact too. Huh.