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!