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.