Monday, June 26, 2017

Bag of Donuts

I wait so long to watch My Cousin Vinny (1992), so I've got to watch it now, why? I don't know what gave me the idea, I just went with it.

It's that old story - two kids (Mitchell Whitfield and Ralph Macchio) from the big city get in trouble in a small Alabama town, where they don't cotton to city folk. But Macchio has a cousin who's a lawyer, Vinnie "Bag of Donuts" Gambini (Joe Pesci) who shows up with his long-time fiancee Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). The catch is that Pesci has never argued a trial in court. He mostly does personal injury, and gets settlements.

Also, he sticks out like a sore thumb in Hicksville, even if he is wearing cowboy boots. His lack of courtroom decorum and a conservative suit disturbs Judge Fred Wynne (Herman Munster, in his last picture). And so on, you get the picture.

This is an old-fashioned writer's comedy, with finely crafted scenes, without a lot of punchlines. Also, there's a lot of improvising going on (I assume), with Pesci and Tomei batting insults and endearments back and forth in deep Brooklynese. These are like music, and I assume the reason that Tomei won an Oscar.

In the end, we enjoyed this, but not a whole lot. It was "nice" - the hicks weren't monsters and found ways to work with and respect the city folk. Tomei's testimony cracks the case wide open. The kids got off without too much trouble, and had a pretty mellow time in prison. Pesci and Tomei look like they will get married, since he promised to marry her after he won his first case. I don't know if that's a happy ending, because he's about twice her age, and not pleasing to the eye. Can't have everything.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Phantasmic Breastmaster

We didn't intend on having a Don Coscarelli fest, but Phantasm II (1988) just bubbled up in our queue, so we went with it.

You may remember how the first one ended (SPOILER)  - it was all a dream the kid had. But just as he's about to leave with Reggie Bannister, the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and the dwarves grab him. This one opens 5-7 years later. The kid is now a young man, James Le Gros, in a mental institution. He has been having visions of a cute girl, Paula Irvine, who needs his help. She has been having visions of him and the Tall Man, and seeing her relatives die off one by one. Le Gros claims to be cured of his "delusions" and is released to Reggie.

Reggie still thinks the story about the Tall Man is crazy, but a disaster quickly changes his mind. Soon they are in the Hemi 'Cuda (Ms. Spenser's favorite character) and heading down to Home Depot to steal enough ordinance to deal with any dwarves Angus Scrimm can throw at them. Le Gros goes with a welding torch flame thrower, but Reggie has the best tool: two double-barreled shotguns, hose-clamped together, and sawed off with an angle-grinder - at  a 45-degree angle.

So they travel the state, looking for the Tall Man. Everywhere they go, they find deserted towns with shuttered storefronts, which means he has been there, or maybe Reaganomics. Along the way they pick up a cute girl named Alchemy, who Le Gros has seen dead in a vision. Even creepier, she seems to be into Reggie, a balding, middle-aged, ex-ice cream salesman.

They get to Irvine's town, and the four of them go after the Tall Man, with mixed results. We still have the atmosphere of horror, the dwarves, the dimensional gateway, and the flying balls. There's the mix of dream, vision, and reality. But best of all, the low-rent camaraderie between the boys and their new girlfriends. I just like hanging out with Coscarelli's characters.

Believe it or not, I've never seen The Beastmaster (1982) - I didn't have cable in the 90s. It's a fun sword-and-sorcery about an evil wizard (Rip Torn) who steals a queen's unborn son and puts him into a cow's womb, to be killed later. He is saved by a passing woodsman and grows up to be a great warrior.

Now for a minute, I thought this was a Buddhist allegory - isn't there a myth that the Buddha was threatened by his uncle, and so was magically borne, not by his mother, but by an elephant? Maybe not, but this kid doesn't grow up to discover disease, poverty, and death and embark on a life of austerities followed by enlightenment. Instead he becomes Marc Singer, a very fit young man who wears very little clothing. Ms. Spenser liked this a lot - seriously, because he is fit, strong, but not pumped up in a showy way. Functional and strong.

He also communes a set of animals, including an eagle, a tiger painted black (?!?) and a pair of weasels. He does less with this power than you might expect, although it does come in handy.

We love a good sword-and-sorcery story, so of course we loved this. All the nekkid breastses and scantily clad men and women make it fun (and give it my favored nickname Breastmasher). Like so many of Don Coscarelli's movies, it feels like it could have ended about five times before the real ending, but so what, that's just more fun for us.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Apocalypse Nu?

I've heard that the latest episode in the series is pretty good, but we just watched the second one: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004). Is this one of those things like Star Trek, where only the even episodes are good? Except in this case, it's the odd ones?

If you recall, when the zombie virus got loose in the Umbrella Corp. underground lab, Mila Jovovich barely escaped with her life - and an immunity to the virus. She wakes up in a hospital, and when she ventures out, she realizes that the zombie plague has gotten out with her. It is starting to run wild in Raccoon City.

Meanwhile, a top Umbrella scientist's little daughter is stuck in the city, and the corp. is hiring bounty hunters to get her out, including Valentine Guillory and a trio of redshirts. So we have a number of zombie fights, the redshirts get bitten one by one and turn, and the city is sealed off. There are also some genetically altered living weapons, being tested on the ... survivors? Not used to clear out the zombies. Because the survivors would be a better test. Not buying this.

It goes on like this, fight-fight-run-run, silly twist, fight some more. The original had a body count, but also an original feeling, due to the enclosed setting, maybe. This felt much more generic. Not bad (though silly), but not memorable. Also, needed more Mila Jovovich.

We still plan to watch up to the Final Chapter, completing Paul W.S. Anderson's six-movie trilogy. But we're not in a big hurry.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Contact? Contact!

I'm a little conflicted about Arrival (2016). It's strong science fiction, beautifully filmed (with an excellent score), but also left me a bit cold from the story perspective. Which was the same way I felt about Contact, come to think of it.

Amy Adams is a linguistics professor who gets called up by Col. Forrest Whittaker when the aliens arrive. Their ships are gigantic matte black pebbles, hovering on end 20 or so feet above Montana, among other places. On the team with Adams is mathematical physicist Jeremy "Lumpy" Renner. Sadly, he is pretty much absent in this movie - I wouldn't have minded at least a little bit of the old "math is the universal language" stuff.

The aliens are called heptapods - seven-legged cthuloid walking squid. They live in a smokey vapor environment and communicate with low groans and rumbles. Adams never figures that out, but their written language, which looks like the ring a coffee cup leaves on a napkin, is more amenable to analysis.

The analysis is all scientificy and the movie doesn't really get into it. We seem to pick it up very fast. But understanding is hampered by the difference in the aliens' perception of reality - and vice versa. Yes, this is a movie about the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis, that the structure of your language determines what you can think about. Perhaps, as she learns their language, she is absorbing their world view, and maybe even ...

There is another thread that runs through the movie, about Amy Adams daughter, from her birth to her early tragic death. I took it for a flashback at first, but that doesn't match some of the things she says. I guess I'll leave out the spoiler, except to say that the "twist" made Adams seem like a bit of a monster to me. Kind of like in Passengers (different circumstance, but similar stakes).

So, I wasn't all that thrilled by the plot, Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis included. But I loved the movie in general. It is beautifully photographed, full of big landscapes back-lit by a low sun, the air hazy with light. The score by Johann Johannson is also great, full of deep, droning ostinatos. It mirrors that spoken language of the heptapods, which has more than a touch of whale song.

So, even if the plot didn't do it for me (and Renner was wasted), we liked this movie a lot. Feast for the eyes and ears, but maybe not as much for the brain as expected.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

I Love the Dead

We sort of just discovered that Val Lewton produced 3 movies with Boris Karloff, so we queued up Val Lewton: Isle of the Dead/Bedlam (1945/1946). We watched The Seventh Victim, again for me, first time for Ms. Spenser, and she wanted to see the included video essay on Lewton - that clued us in to the Karloffs.

Both movies were based on artworks. Isle of the Dead was based on the Boecklin painting of the same name, showing an island at dusk with a white robed figure approaching on a boat. It is set during the Balkan Wars, when Greece was fighting for its independence. Karloff is a Greek general, who has just won a battle. An American reporter, Marc Cramer, convinces Karloff to take him to a nearby cemetery island to visit Karloff's wife's tomb - while his men struggle to clear the corpses from the battlefield, to avoid plague.

On the island, they find a few people living with an archaeologist, including a sickly woman, her husband (Alan Napier, a Lewton favorite, but we love him as Alfred, TV's Batman's Butler), and her companion, Ellen Drew. The housekeeper, Helene Thimig, hints darkly that the companion is so full of blood and life, and her mistress so pale and sickly, perhaps someone is a vorvolaka, a vampire like monster of the region. Not sure how it compares to the Wurdulak. That's not bad enough, but soon someone dies of the plague, and the general declares a strict quarantine. He is sure that science and medicine will save them. But when it doesn't, he too begins to look for evil influences.

Bedlam is based on a different artwork, the last painting in Hogarth's Rake's Progress, when the rake has wound up in the fearsome London institute, St. Mary of Bethlehem, or Bedlam. Here, Karloff runs Bedlam but wants to be a writer. He is looking for the patronage of Lord Mortimer (Billy House), and may have killed Mortimer's last pet writer. Mortimer has another protege, a witty young woman, Anna Lee. Although she is a sophisticated cynic, she doesn't approve of the modern practice of treating the asylum inmates as a source of entertainment. She lets Karloff know, and he takes a disliking to her.

When the head of a lunatic asylum doesn't like you, they can do some nasty things. In fact, by treating some of her jokes as serious, he has her committed. Will the stonemason Quaker she met help get her out?

Both of these movies show Lewton's literary side and the subtlety of his horror. Karloff is a presence that can go from foolish, kindly, or genial to terrifying with no disconnect. The art-inflected cinematography is great, although you sometimes can see the lack of money on the screen. We also watched the commentary on Bedlam - it was fun and informative but mostly an info-dump that rarely connected to what you saw on the screen.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Disposables

Why in the world did I bother to watch The Expendables 3 (2014)? I wasn't that crazy about part 2. But Ms. Spenser was away for the weekend, and I wanted to watch something she wouldn't and this definitely fit the bill. She can't stand Stallone, mainly.

To dispose of the plot, it seems that Mel Gibson was not killed in whatever previous movie he was in (was he in one of these?). So Stallone wants to go after him, but not to risk the team, so he fires Statham, Couture, Lundren, and - whoever else is left over. He then spends the first chunk of the movie recruiting new (expendable) partners, including Ronda Rousey, and no one else I recognize. Antonio Banderas tries to get onboard, but he's too old (joke, I guess?). He's pretty funny though.

Of course, that mission fails, and the old team comes back, along with Jet Li, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwartzenegger, and whoever else is around (not Bruce Willis, he's dead or retired or something).

Now, my Blu-ray was having trouble playing, so for 3 or 4 of the audition scenes, it froze up and skipped to the next scene. That's too bad, because I bet those fights were better than most of the rest. But it got me to the end faster, so I couldn't complain.

Why didn't I listen to Ms. S?

I had some time left over, so I streamed Monkey King (2014). I wasn't sure if I'd seen it, but it was so goofy, I'm sure I would have remembered. Donny Yen stars, in a furry suit and monkey makeup, and runs around on his knuckles, and it's all very weird. Anyway, I fell asleep a lot. I thought this was somehow related to Stephen Chow's Journey to the West, but it isn't at all (except some of the same source material).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Peculiar Children and Where to Find Them

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016) is a kid's movie (young adult?) taken from a kid's fantasy series. This kind of movie always attracts me, but often disappoints (Percy Jackson, e.g.). This one, directed by Tim Burton, pays off.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo) is an ordinary kid living in Florida, when he hears that his beloved grandfather is in trouble. He rushes to his place and finds him dead in the woods, with his eyes gouged out. He may also have spotted a monster.

All his life his grandfather (Terence Stamp) has told him stories of globe-trotting adventures, all centered around a special school, full of odd children, like invisible Millard or the boy who was full of bees. With his grandfather dead, he needs to go find that school. He convinces/guilts his parents (father, mainly - Chris O'Dowd, played as a truly awful parent who can barely tolerate his son) to take him to the island in Cornwall where the school is located.

When he gets there, it is a wreck, destroyed by German bombs in 1943. But some kids from the school appear and take him there, and it is still standing, because he is back in 1943. Semi-spoiler: Miss Peregrine resets time to the morning of the day of the bombing, just before the bombing. So, Harry Potter, plus Groundhog's Day? Maybe more like X-Men, since it's a school for mutants?

Miss P. herself (Eva Green) doesn't appear until the movie is quite a ways along, which is too bad, since she is a sultry pipe-smoking schoolmarm, who can turn into her namesake bird. Sadly underused. We get a lot more of Ella Burnell, as the girl who is lighter than air, who has to wear lead shoes so that she doesn't float away. Creepy Finlay McMillan is the kid who can bring dolls and corpses to life, is also taken with her, which should be a big conflict, but kind of gets lost. He is also the most Tim-Burtony thing in the movie - his stop-motion animated dolls in particular.

The big bad is semi-ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson, who's actually pretty fun. All the children use their powers to attack him, and he just laughs them off - even the boy full of bees.

I couldn't help but compare this to Fantastic Beasts. In that movie, I liked the catalog part better than the actual story. In this, the story prevails over the list of peculiar characters. The mythology is rich with silly rules, powers, and names, like imbrain (?) and hollowghasts. I was a little put off by the hollowghasts - they are described as monsters running around Poland during WWII (and someone correctly opines that the monsters in Poland were human). But doesn't that name sound a little too close to Holocaust?

Anyway, I wasn't really following the mythos. The time-jumping was handled more or less smoothly. In fact the whole thing went down smoothly. I understand that the movies do serious damage to the books, but I didn't read them, so that's just as well. I don't know if they will happen, but I will watch a sequel.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Other Halloween II

We watched Halloween II (2009) because we liked the John Carpenter original, and I didn't notice that this was the sequel to the Rob Zombie reboot. Damn it!

It starts, we must assume, right after the events of the previous movie (which we didn't see). Sheriff Brad Dourif takes Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) away from the horrors. In the hospital, she tries to go see her friend, Annie (Danielle Harris), who also survived the attack, although both of them are horribly injured. Then the blood starts to flow, and Michael Myers is back.

This is pretty brutal. Aside from the slashing and stabbing, our heroine has multiple broken bones to start with. There's no one around to help, and if anyone shows up, they get killed horribly. At one point, Laurie lands on a dumpster full of corpses. Other than that, this was pretty good.

Laurie is now living with the Sheriff and his daughter Annie. Annie has some bad facial scars, but Laurie is a mental wreck. Full of anxiety, popping pills and fighting with her psychiatrist, plus filling her room with tacky punk rock paraphernalia.

She works with Annie in a funky vintage shop, rocking out to Kick Out the Jams and goofing on the old hippy manager. She seems to have a fun life, except for the PTSD. She even goes out with her friends to a Halloween party when she is at her lowest point.

That is brought on by Malcolm McDowell, the doctor from the first movie (which we didn't see). He has cashed in on his encounter by writing a book, and he is in town promoting it. He is a horrible person, insulting and egotistical. He also reveals something about Laurie without telling her. Hence, her very bad day.

The party, however, is a very good party, with a great band, Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. This is Jesse Dayton's shock-a-billy band, and they've got some great songs. I wished they were for real, not just for the movie. We'd listen to them any time.

There's also this thing where Michael Myers as a young boy and his mother and a white horse and ... never mind. My big take-aways:

  • Not a bad story
  • Laurie is very annoying
  • WAY too gory

Sunday, May 21, 2017

North Pole, Damn It!

Emperor of the North (1973) is a funny kind of film, brutal and funny. It starts in the 1920s with a train coming through a hobo camp, but most of the 'bos were to scared to hop aboard. When one manages, Ernest Borgnine, the train's captain named Shack, sneaks up behind him with a short-handled hammer and knocks him off. We see half a hobo on each side of a rail as the train passes by, then the credits roll.

Later, Lee Marvin, hobo A-Number-One, does manage to get on that train, but Keith Carradine, Cigarette, tags along behind and Borgnine spots him. Marvin realizes that they are screwed. He's a cynical old-timer. Carradine just brags that he's too smart to get caught. He's a young man full of talk and himself.

They make it out of the train through a dangerous trick, but Carradine is caught. The yardmen (including Elisha Cook, Jr!) don't believe he rode the that train, because Borgnine "would rather kill a man than let him ride free." They figure anyone who knows Borgnine will bet no one could ride his train, and then they'll reveal that someone has. In the commotion Carradine slips away.

Meanwhile, Marvin is convinced that if he can ride Borgnine's train to Portland, he'll be the greatest hobo in the land, the "Emperor of the North Pole." So he chalks his trips up on the watertower and the race is on. Will he make the trip? Will Carradine get to tag along? Will Borgnine kill one or both of them?

Robert Aldrich is a great choice to direct this, since he's a legendary tough guy, who directed Marvin and Borgnine in The Dirty Dozen. I associate him with the noir Kiss Me Deadly, but he did lots of fine color work. This has a clean, direct look, very well suited to the beautiful Oregon scenery and fine looking locomotives. It's full of that quaint old hobo feel, with Marvin's clever tricks - that endanger or kill more people than you might expect. Also, Borgnine is terrifying - teeth bared in a grimace, eyes bulging out of his head - not the McHale I remember.

I suspect the uneven tone is entirely intentional: The life of a hobo is romantic, free, and brutal.

My only complaint is the title: It was originally Emperor of the North Pole, which was puzzling, but made sense in context. Emperor of the North is just as puzzling, but makes no sense. I guess they were afraid people would think it's about Santa Claus.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Rogue Like

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) had one job - to explain why a Death Star would blow up from one little missile in the exhaust port. It succeeds brilliantly.

It starts with Gregoryc Orso (Mads Mikkelson) being dragged off of his farm by Commander Fenwick to work on the Death Star, leaving his little daughter hiding behind. She grows up to be Felicity Jones

We find this out when Rebel agent Prince Caspian (Diego Luna) rescues her and Imperial pilot and defector Buddy (Riz Ahmed) from being taken to Imperial prison. Then they all take off with a reprogrammed Imperial droid KRS-One (Alan Tudyk).

OK, I'll stop with the jokey names. But seriously, that's about how much of the dramatis personae I was picking up. I also got kind of lost between all the planets the story visited, but they all looked great so I am not complaining. The story turns out to be simple. The Rebels are beginning to hear rumors about a planet-destroying megaweapon. But Jones' dad has secretly built a tiny flaw into the reactor core, and the Rebels need to get the plans to exploit it.

The planets are cool. The main characters are fun. The droid is great, a Star Wars version of Marvin from Hitchhiker's Guide. Later on, we get a blind mystic kung fu master, Donnie Yen, who chants "The Force is with me" like it was "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo", along with his big-gun badass buddy Jiang Wen. Forrest Whittaker plays Saw Gerrara, the radical revolutionary, almost a throw-away. It would be nice to see more, but -SPOILER- I don't think we will.

Right now, I'd say I enjoyed this more than Ep. 7, maybe more than any Star Wars movie since Ep. 4. I liked the rich texture, the cities and the crowds, the scenic planets. It hit all the Star Wars notes, but still stayed fresh, with only a few hints of R2-D2 and C3-PO, plus a digitally rejuvenated Princess. Oh, and the late Christopher Plummer plays Tarkin by CGI - tasteful, but looks a bit video game.

And Mr. Vader gets a great scene at the end, whooping it up with the force. All in all, a very satisying movie.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Priests and Preachers

We saw Priest (2011), thinking it was the movie version of the TV series Preacher.  You can see how that might work - similar names, both based on comics, both involving vampires. Never mind. Netflix has been recommending this forever, and we would have surrendered eventually.

It starts with an animated introduction, about how mankind had always fought the vampires, but finally, the church had found the ultimate weapon: Priests. These human fighting machines had put the last remaining vampires in reservations. The priests were then retired, to live in obscurity. We then see the last bit of the war, where Priest Karl Urban (Bones!) gets sucked into the hive and Paul Bettany can't hold on to him.

Then, a little family farm in the wastelands of Texas is overrun by vampires, and we're done with the setup. Bettany is living in a Metropolis/Bladerunner city, when the young sheriff comes to tell him his brother's farm had been attacked. Although he's retired, and the Church refuses to let him go, he reluctantly heads out for vengeance, and to save his niece, Lilly Collins, who is being held captive.

It takes a while to figure out, but these vampires aren't regular vampires. They are not undead humans, but CGI eyeless, hairless creatures. There are weird looking humans as well, called familiars, but they aren't really explained. But the leader seems to be ... Karl Urban, in Sergio Leone drag, with fangs! It turns out he is the first of a new race of human-vampire hybrids. He is using the girl to lure Bettany to get either revenge, or to enlist him as another vamp.

This is kind of mixed up. There's a Searchers sub-plot, where the sheriff fears that Bettany is going to kill Collins if she has been "polluted". But up to now, we haven't seen these vamps turn anyone except Urban. They just eat people. So what are they thinking? Am I misunderstanding the mythos? Are the writers?

Never mind, that's not what's important. What's important is Paul Bettany with a huge cross tattooed on his face. Turbine engine motorcycles racing across the desert towards huge Babel-sized vamp hives. Bad-ass long coats. Karl Urban in a cowboy hat and serape (looking so much lie Deforest Kelley - remember, he was in a lot of westerns). Crucixes used as shuriken. You know, comicbook stuff.

So, it was fun, but not that much fun. We'll see what the Preacher TV series is like.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Curse of the Night

Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon (1957)  is a Jacques Tourneur horror film, with a twist - you get to see the monster. Not like in Cat People!

It starts with Professor Harrington begging a begging Dr. Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) to lift the curse, saying that he is sorry to have doubted him. Karswell, a chubby fellow with a beard like a billy goat, makes some soothing noises and gets rid of him, and goes back to playing cribbage with his mother. In a shocking development, we see a huge monster appear and kill him.

Now, American Dana Andrews is arriving in England to present at a conference about psychology (?), and to debunk Karswell's satanic cult. At the same time, Peggy Cummins, Professor Harrington's niece has also arrived.

It seems that Karswell can place a curse on you by slipping you a piece of paper without your knowledge. Your only hope is to sneak it back into the cursor's possession. Andrews starts out laughing and gets more and more spooked. Karswell starts out looking like a joke and gets scarier and scarier. Andrews and Cummins go to meet him and find him dressed as a clown, doing magic tricks for the local kids. When Andrews and Cummins don't take him seriously, he conjures a fierce storm - still done up in clown makeup. It's quite a scene.

The horror is real, but mostly psychological. We never meet more than one or two of the supposed cultists, and they aren't very impressive. But the way Tourneur builds suspense, conveying the inevitability of the curse, is masterful.

This isn't as great as some of the Lewton-produced Tourneur, but it's pretty good.

Viewing note: The two movies on this disc are the original, Night, and a cut-down version, Curse. At 95 minutes, the long version is short enough.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Don't Crush that Dwarf!

Phantasm (1979) is the latest in the horror retrospective, sponsored by Ms. Spenser. We've enjoyed several of Don Coscarelli's movies, especially Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End. But we hadn't seen his classic horror, so I queued it up.

It starts with a guy getting laid in a cemetery. The beautiful woman on top of him them proceeds to kill him with a knife, momentarily turning into a tall ugly man (Angus Scrimm) in the process. the next day we meet Bill Thornbury, the dead guy's buddy, and his teen brother, Michael Baldwin. Their parents were killed and Thornbury moved back home to raise his kid brother. Now his buddy died and he is getting ready to go to the funeral. Little Michael spies on the ceremony and sees the tall man lifting a coffin into the hearse as if it weighed nothing. That's his first clue that something isn't right. Also, that coffin was supposed to be buried.

He decides to investigate further, and breaks into the the funeral home to check it out. He is attacked by tiny people in Jawa robes, but fights them off. Then, in a marble-lined columbarium (look it up, that's the word), the tall man spots him and sends a horrible weapon after him: a flying chrome ball with hooks on it that latches onto your face, drill a hole in your head, and drains the blood out a spout in the back.

If you know anything about this movie, you know about the chrome ball thing. It is one the posters, along with Scrimm's face. But notice that we have now seen several menaces from the tall man:
  • Super strong
  • Turns into a sexy lady and kills guys while having sex in the graveyard
  • Attack dwarves
  • Flying kill-ball
I kind of fell like that is too many threats, with no central theme.

There are some other weird deadends in the movie. For ex, the kid goes to a fortune teller who basically gives him the Gom Jabbar test from Dune - "Fear is the mind killer". Since big brother hangs out at the Dune Cantina, you think this is leading to something, but it isn't. Still, it's kind of cool.

I guess the series is most famous for it's semi-surreal, dream-like quality, and maybe also it's extreme cheapness. Fair enough, but my favorite parts were Thornbury just being a guy, maybe a little rebellious, dreaming about leaving town, picking up out-of-town women at the Dune, playing music with his friend, Reggie Bannister. Actually, they play pretty well together - I wouldn't have minded a few more scenes of that. At least, we get plenty of Reggie, who plays an ice cream man, and wears a natty bow tie for a lot of the movie.

Another nice point is that the kid has real proof of the whole thing, and Thornbury and Bannister believe him pretty much right off.

Ms. Spenser's favorite part, however, was the sweet, black 1971 Hemi 'Cuda that the brothers are restoring. She digs them muscle cars.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Crying Wolf

i'm sure I have mentioned the happy years we spent in the early 80s, watching Japanese movies at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. We'd get a season's pass and watch one or two double bills a week. We only watched one Lone Wolf and Cub (1972) film, and actually didn't care that much for it. But I thought I'd give it another try.

It stars Tomisaburo Wakayama as the Lone Wolf. He starts out as the shogun's executioner - actually, his official "second", the person who decapitates someone when they commit seppuku. This relieves them of the agony of disembowelment, and also makes sure they are dead, so someone condemned to kill themselves can't wimp out. He gets embroiled in political intrigue, and his wife is killed. Then he is framed in a plot to kill the Shogun, and forced to go on the run with his infant son.

He first gives the kid a choice. He sets out a ball and a sword. If the boy picks the ball, he will be sent to join his mother (in Heaven). If he chooses the the sword, he will join his father on the road to Hell - revenge. Since he picks the sword, our hero and the boy will roam Japan, seeking revenge.

In this installment, he heads for a hot springs that has been taken over by criminals. The first person he meets is a crazy woman who thinks that his baby is hers, and nursing him. This is an odd mix of eroticism, maternity, and madness - it all adds up to exploitation. That mood gets worse when the bad guys force Lone Wolf  to publicly semi-rape a prostitute to degrade them both. He does so with such gentle manliness that she falls in love with him.

Then he kills everyone, the end.

There's a lot of sordid sex and ultra-violence in these movies. There's a lot of zen warrior philosophy, with Wolf reminding Cub that they were already dead, so there is nothing to be afraid of. This is a very stylish movie, as well as a silly one (come on, killer baby carriage?). It was fun to watch, but we only watched the first movie - there were two one the first disc - and we probably won't order any more. That kind of confirms what we thought the first time around.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fantastic Find

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) is not a Harry Potter film, but it is a "prequel". It mostly had a different feel - goofier - and we liked that.

It's set in America, 1920s. Wizard Eddie Redmayne arrives on these shores with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts, with a wonky latch. He soon meets up with Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury), a regular guy who is looking for a loan to start a bakery. He has a suitcase full of pastry samples. These suitcases don't get mixed up - yet. But I did get a yearning for a kolache.

When they are watching a group of anti-witchcraft fanatics, they attract the attention of Katherine Waterston, a spunky agent for the Magical Congress (FBI for magic) - in disgrace, we learn later. After some fun with beasts, magic, and a bank vault, they all hide out at Waterston's place where we meet her telepathic sister, Samantha Morton. Morton plays the sister with a Marilyn Monroe whisper, and is a great magical cook. Soon, her and Fogler are making eyes. But Redmayne is on a mission, and Waterston doesn't trust him.

This, in my mind, is the fun part of the movie. The sweet love affair between a chubby no-maj (American for muggle) and gorgeous telepath, the prickly screwball attraction between Redmayne and Waterston, the goofy monsters in the suitcase (which holds a whole menagerie - bigger on the inside).

But there is also the "real" story: Magical politician Colin Farrell (who is in everything, it seems) is trying to weaponize an invisible beast created by the frustrated magic of the fundamentalist anti-witchcraft folk. This gives us a set of villains, which I guess is important. When this crew scapegoats Redmayne and friends, they all get the death penalty, so, stakes. But I just didn't care much about all this. I wanted to get back to the fun part, with Redmayne trying to re-capture a floopasaurus by doing a silly mating dance, or Fogler getting involved in another heist.

Of course, the "dark" part is the most Harry-Potter feeling - and also carries the "message" of acceptance. But it doesn't really fit with the sillier tone of the Redmayne/Waterston/Fogler/Morton sections.

I should also say that Redmayne looks great in the part but wildly overplays the shy deference - he keeps his eyes averted to an excessive degree. Fogler, on the other hand, was spot on, right out of a 30s screwball - like Billy Gilbert without the sneeze gag.  I said some mean things about him (second-rate Jack Black, more or less) and I take them all back. Samantha Morton is something else too.

So, yeah, we'll be watching all the sequels.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Train in Vain

Someone on TV mentioned famous action movie The Train (1964) so we queued it up. I had heard about it from The Projection Booth podcast - Burt Lancaster got John Frankenheimer to direct after having good luck with him in Birdman of Alcatraz. And someone called it the first of "One Man Army" movie. All good signs.

It takes place in France near the end of WWII. Nazi officer Paul Scofield as been collecting "degenerate" art in a museum outside Paris: Degas, Renoir, Picasso, Dufy, Gauguin, van Gogh, and on and on. As the Allies advance on Paris, he plans to pack them up and load them on a train to Germany. Burt Lancaster is a French dispatcher (?) at a the yard near the museum. He has to follow the German's orders, but Scofield's general won't release a train for mere art, and refuses to cut orders for the train.

It seems this is loosely based on a true story. In the real world, the French Resistance used German bureaucracy, red tape, and paperwork to keep the train from getting out of Paris. In the movie, Scofield gets it moving, dragooning irrascible, fat old Papa Boule (Michel Simon) as the engineer. Burt and the rest of the gang fear that this will get him in serious trouble and they are right. But that's just the beginning.

The movie starts a little slow, but there are some amazing set pieces - when the train stops at the first station, Lancaster sneaks off like a ninja and hides in Jeanne Moreau's hotel, who's pretty pissed about it. Burt Lancaster does most of his own stunts, and gets shot in the leg in towards end to account for a limp he picked up golfing.

But this really doesn't play like an action movie. It plays like an art movie. It is filmed in black-and-white, and is full of gorgeous compositions - lines of soldiers next to long trains making diagonals in perspective, harshly lit faces in night-time scenes, empty stations - some of the scenes reminded me of de Chirico more than Picasso or Renoir. There's an almost Last Year at Marienbad quality to some of it. This makes the almost-Hogan's-Heroes prank in the middle a little disconcerting.

I've never been a big Burt Lancaster fan, but he makes a good Frenchman here, and his athleticism helps out in the action scenes. But we mostly liked it for the cinematography.

In conclusion, they got the shots of the railyard getting bombed by actually blowing up a railyard that was scheduled for demolition. Saved the railway some money!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Title Says It All

Zen Noir (2016) is a very silly movie, and not very long. It may be very deep, I wouldn't know. But I'm glad Netflix suggested it.

It starts with a detective. We know he's a detective, because he wears a hat. The gun and bottle of booze on the table are also clues. His phone rings and someone says, "Get to the temple. Someone is going to die." When he finally finds the Zen temple, he busts in on three monks meditating, and one corpse. "Don't anybody move!"

So, if you think a guy with a gun telling a group of people meditating, "Don't move!" is funny, then you'll like this movie.

The temple is pretty small: dead Chinese guy, young Caucasian man, cute (bald) dame, and old wise man (Kim Chan) - maybe wise guy is closer, because every time the detective asks him a question, he pulls out an orange. In fact, oranges are a theme in this movie. We see repeated close-ups of an orange burning, or being chopped up.

There are also almost no sets - the detectives room, one or two nondescript rooms at the temple, a few flashbacks of Malibu. Only five characters. The movie is 71 minutes long, and a lot of that is burning orange padding. Still, it has jokes and koans, a mystery that is solved, and even the orange thing pays off.

Ok, maybe some of the laughs are cheap (sexy bald dame isn't a monk, she's a layperson. That's a person who can get laid). And I don't think anyone will be enlightened watching this. Mostly, it's a cute story for an audience of (mainly) American students of Zen - like us! So we liked it. We give thanks to writer/director Marc Rosenbush who made this sucker on a shoestring and a mantra. It's Zen and it's Noir.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Not Afraid

Ms. Spenser wanted to see some Guillermo del Toro, so I looked to see what was on Netflix that we hadn't watched. I immediately queued up Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011), and Netflix put it in the mail just that quick. Even before I noticed that del Toro did not direct - he co-wrote. Oh well. I also didn't realize it was a remake.

It starts creepily enough, with an old man calling his maid down to the basement. He kills her with a hammer and chisel and puts her teeth as an offering in a stove. Then something pulls him in and down into the ashpit.

But that was in the past. In the present day, Guy Pearce and his girlfriend Katie Holmes live in the house. They are refurbing the house, and have all their money and professional reputation tied up in it. His ex-wife sends their young daughter (Bailee Madison) to live with them - and doesn't care what they or her think about it.

She thinks the place is pretty creepy, and doesn't exactly warm to Mom's girlfriend, but seems like she's willing to work with what she's got. She's on some kind of medication, so maybe she has some problems, but they don't seem too severe. When she hears voices in the walls, she thinks they might be fun to play with, but they are not.

The gremlins start making trouble, which Bailee gets blamed for. They scare her, which makes her seem unstable. In the original 1973 TV movie this is a remake of, it is the wife, Kim Darby, who is threatened, who everyone thinks is crazy. Women and children, we never believe them, especially in horror movies.

I thought this was all pretty scary, although -minor spoiler- when we see the creatures, they are kind of silly. Ms. Spenser was not impressed. I still owe her a scary movie.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Who Knows What Evil?

We watched What We Do in the Shadows (2015) in part to prep for Thor: Ragnarok, to be directed by Taika Waititi (who directed What We Do...). Also, it looked like fun - a documentary about four New Zealand flatmates who happen to be vampires.

Waititi himself is sort of the lead character. He's a dandy, a bit fussy, about 300 years old. Jonny Brugh's is a sexy vampire - at least he thinks so. Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) is the bad-boy leather jacket type of vampire. Brugh and Clement don't do chores, which leads to some friction in the flat. There's one more (Ben Fransham), but he is a Nosferatu - just growls and drinks blood. They don't even try to get him to do chores. He's a thousand years old anyway.

This sort of starts out kind of predictable - flatmates can't get along AND they're vampires! Also, vampires are supposed to be scary, but these guys are kind of pathetic. There's an extended scene about their clubbing activities. They dress up in their vampire finery and look kind of goofy. They go to the hot clubs, but can't go in because the bouncers won't invite them. Their usual hangout is a sad empty dump, where they dance listlessly. It's well done, so we didn't mind that it was a little predictable.

There's a recurring motif of the vampires knitting or playing music together. Like in The Hunger, but instead of lovely chamber music, it's bloody awful trumpet and balalaika.

But it gets better. First, they run into trouble with their Renfield, Jackie van Beek, who they need to scrub the blood off the floors. Then, they accidentally turn a civilian (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, and he's just a little too into it. He also has a mate, Stu (Stu Rutherford), who is not a vampire, and they all agree not to eat him, even though he has a very ruddy complexion and is probably full of delicious blood.

Stu is an ordinary boring bloke who works as a computer consultant. He's kind of shy and quiet, and I think this is because he is played by an actual computer consultant. He showed up thinking he was going to work on the computers and they put him in the film.

This is a very improvised movie, and it kind of shows. But it also has an arc, stuff happens that has consequences and isn't just erased for the next joke. But also, plenty of jokes - there seems to be a particular type of New Zealander humor about the low standards you have to put up with in a small isolated country. But what do I know? I've never been. Too many vampires, I hear.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

I am a Passenger

We watched Passengers (2016) because that's the kind of SF we watch, but we had been warned.

It starts with Chris Pratt waking up in his hibernation pod in a great spaceship. He expects to find the crew and the rest of the passengers getting ready to arrive at the colony. But no one else wakes up - there was an accident, and they still have another 90 years to the voyage, and he would be dead before that.

He goes a bit crazy then. He takes a little solace in the ship's bar, talking to the robot bartender (Michael Sheen). He takes a space walk, then contemplates doing it without a suit. He happens across Jennifer Lawrence's pod, and falls in love with her. He knows he mustn't wake her up - it would be a kind of murder. She is a "writer" (we never learn what kind, but I think journalist/essayist most likely) and he obsessively reads all her writing. The parts we hear him read out loud sound kind of corny, and it's not clear whether we're supposed to think she's a shallow airhead (but we kind of do).

After a white-knuckle year, he gives in and wakes her up, and lets her think it was another accident. Soon, they are making love. So, a life in solitary and sex under false pretences: not quite rape and murder, but very close.

This is what so many viewers couldn't accept, and it's not downplayed. Both Pratt and Lawrence know it is unforgivable. The movie's job is now to make Lawrence forgive Pratt. More importantly, to make us forgive Pratt (and not think Lawrence is an idiot if she forgives him).

I'm not going to spoilerate, but I'd like to mention a few things. For instance, there's a critique of corporatism in the movie: The spaceship is like a big shopping mall, or a resort with a rigid class structure. Pratt is a blue-collar machinist with a subsidized ticket. The robot mess hall won't serve him the caramel macchiato, just plain coffee. He spends his time tinkering on the ship, while Lawrence mainly jogs and works on her journal. This also explains why there's no adequate automated backups - stupid corporations. I don't think it really goes anywhere.

Also, I should mention that Laurence Fishburne shows up for a little and watch for Andy Garcia's big part.

In the end, we liked this. The outer space setting was very cool even if it made very little sense (why was the robot bar operating when everyone was in hiberbation? Never mind, robot bartender was our favorite character - and an homage to The Shining.). And the romance, though creepy, worked for us. So we got carried along, like passengers, even if everybody else just slept through it.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Smart as a Rock

We saw a few reviews for Central Intelligence (2016), and figured, why not? Dwayne Johnson, we like. Kevin Hart, we don't really know, but looks funny. So we queued it up. So worth it.

It starts in high school. Hart is BMOC - star quarterback, valedictorian, beloved by all, known as the Golden Jet, boyfriend of beautiful Danielle Nicolet. Then there's this other kid, a fat kid who dances while he showers at school. A bunch of bullies grab him (after one guy comments on his dancing "he's pretty good!"), and toss him naked into the middle of a pep rally. Everyone laughs but Hart, who gives him his letter jacket to cover up.

Fast forward twenty years. Hart is now an accountant getting passed over for promotions. He is married to his high school girlfriend, but things are getting bumpy. At this point, I decided we were watching The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, but they went another way. He gets some goofy text messages, and it turns out to be that fat kid. So he goes to meet him for a drink, and the fat kid grew up to be The Rock.

So the high school hero has become a zero, and the fat nerd is now Mr. Universe. But the beauty part is, Johnson is still a nerd. He wears a unicorn tee-shirt ("Always Be You!") and a fanny pack with jorts. He talks like Jonah Hill - still thinks "Wassuuuup!" is cool. He is sincere and lovably dorky. Also, it turns out he is a spy, and he needs Hart's accounting expertise.

So there's a McGuffin, and the Agency thinks Johnson has gone rogue, but I doubt you care about that. You care about Johnson wreaking havoc while Hart screams, and you get it. It's a lot of fun - maybe not earth-shattering or even side-splitting, but fun.

Now a SPOILER and also Too Much Information: The final, triumphant scene takes place at the high school reunion. Hart dreaded it as the high school big shot who feels like he hit a dead end. Johnson feared it as a bullied former fat guy who can't shake the feelings of insecurity. But when Johnson gets crowned King of the Reunion, he triumphantly re-enacts his original humiliation, and strips naked on stage, now unashamed.

The TMI part: You know those dreams where you're naked in high school? Mine go like this - I'm in high school, it's finals week, I haven't studied, I don't even know where my classes are. The tension and fear ratchet up, and then I take all my clothes off, and everything just chills out. The teachers who were hassling me just laugh, the mood is now light and happy. I'm being open, guileless, defenseless. How can you get upset about a naked guy?

So, thank you, Mr. The Rock, for showing my point of view. Don't be ashamed, let your freak flag fly, and Always Be You. His goofy brand of power nerdiness keeps this from being just another action comedy - say Knight and Day with Hart as Cameron Diaz.

In conclusion, San Andreas or not?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Slash Fic

Ms. Spenser keeps asking for scary movies, and I feel like I owe her for all the musicals and rom-coms - you know, guy movies. We've never seen Halloween (1978), and we're John Carpenter fans, so...

It starts on Halloween night, 1963, with a prowler sneaking around watching a teenage girl and her boyfriend. The camera watches from the prowler's point of view through the windows as they go upstairs. The camera sneaks into through the back door, stops in the kitchen to pick up a knife, then heads up the stairs - all one long tracking shot, handheld. Then he repeatedly stabs the girls (in a relatively bloodless and slightly silly scene).

The next shot shows the prowler - a little boy in a clown mask, holding the bloody knife.

Now it's 15 years later. Dr. Donald Pleasance is going to collect the boy, Michael Myers, to take before the parole board. He talks with his nurse about how frighteningly creepy Myers is, and gets pretty upset when he finds out that he has escaped. In fact, Myers kills the nurse and steals the car.

Meanwhile, back in the small town where it all started, three teen-aged girls are getting ready for babysitting on Halloween night. Jamie Lee Curtis (actually teen-aged, in her first movie) is the serious one, Nancy Loomis is her more frivolous friend, and P.J. Soles (Rock 'n' Roll High School!) is, of course, the wild one. Guess which one dies first, which one dies last?

Come evening, Jamie and Nancy are babysitting nearby, and we get some nice time with the kids, a boy and girl who are entranced with scary movies (The Thing - before John Carpenter remade it), comic books, and monsters. The babysitters are always on the phone or sneaking a boy in. There is pot and beer, even though Loomis' dad is the police chief (who is named Leigh Brackett, a tribute to the great screenwriter of The Big Sleep and Star Wars). Neatly observed slice of life.

And then, more slicing, less life.

I enjoyed this - Carpenter's tracking shots and long, long takes, the myth building, the barely glimpsed terror. Ms. Spenser, on the other hand, thought it was silly, and not very scary at all. So I still owe her a scary movie.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Blue Lives Matter

Yes, after all these years, we watched Avatar (2009). It isn't because we are getting ready for the 20 sequels director James Cameron is planning. It's not the ads for Disney's Avatar-land that keep showing up in my Twitter-feed (maybe a little). When it came out, it was the most amazing thing every (but we didn't bother to go see it). After a few years of reconsideration, it was the dumbest thing ever ("Smurfs go to Fern Gully"). At this distance, I think the consensus is: visually cool overcomes dumb story. So we signed up.

Sam Worthington, a Marine whose legs are paralyzed, is going to the planet Pandora. He took the job when his brother died, because he is the only one genetically matched to his brother's avatar. Avatars are like biological tele-presence robots, adapted to the Pandoran atmosphere. They look like the natives, called Na'vi, 10-foot tall blue humanoids. Since humans are on Pandora to pillage the land of its unobtainium (really!), they tend to be hostile as well. Also, they can connect to other local life-forms through their ponytails and commune with them. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Worthington doesn't seem to know anything about the planet, and the snooty scientists don't seem to be in a hurry to help him out. So it's no surprise that he almost gets killed the first time he takes the avatar for a spin. And he's supposed to be security for the team.

Of course a Na'vi princess (Zoe Saldana) pulls his fat out of the fire. I checked to see if she really was a princess, and if you count daughter of spiritual leader (C.C.H. Pounder), she was. Worthington is soon falling in love with this planet and it's noble (yet primitive) people. He realizes that the Earth humans are going to destroy it unless he, their savior, can stop them.

That reminds me, I didn't like Dances with Wolves either.

So, the story is a bit on the predicable side, and perhaps offensive to native sensibilities. But I have to say, the planet Pandora pretty much made up for it. I didn't even have to get to the floating mountains before I was sold. This is Roger Dean come to life.

I should note that Sigourney Weaver was the head scientist, and even though she has good reason to hate aliens, she was on the side of the Na'vi. Also, Michelle Rodriguez was a badass helicopter pilot, and I was worried that she would be whooping it up and shooting blues. But, spoiler, she totally came through.

In conclusion, dumb story, cool visuals. We're not anxiously awaiting the next dozen sequels, but we'll probably watch them.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Hawaiian Superman

Two things about Moana (2016): it is very beautiful, and it made me cry. The beauty is no surprise: The great artists at Disney working on an amazing subject: the South Pacific. The crying took me a while to figure out.

It started during the first song, Where You Are. It is about the beautiful island young Moana lives on, how it provides everything they need, and how they will never leave. Moana is the daughter of the chief, well loved by all the village she is destined to lead. But the song is laced with a yearning for freedom, for exploration, for the outside world. I don't know how Lin-Manuel Miranda does it, but he sure does. And this was written before he became famous for Hamilton.

Although Moana's father forbids sailing beyond the reef, her grandmother is the crazy lady of the island, and encourages Moana to roam. Also, she dances a fine hula. She has told all the children the story of the Creator Te Fiti, and how the god Maui stole her heart. Not like she fell in love with him, but like he took her heart, a small jade carving, and ran away with it. That brings down a curse on the Pacific, and all living things suffer - except maybe the island where Moana lives.

But when the plague threatens her island, she goes off to get Maui to return the heart. Maui (Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson) is the Hawaiian Hercules, a trickster and a shapeshifter, who gave man the secret of fire and who pulled the islands out of the sea with his magic fishhook. When Moana, after many trials, finally tracks him down, he turns out to be vain and self-absorbs, and he sings her a very funny song, You're Welcome, accepting all the thanks and praise she has failed to offer him.

He also has a beautiful set of animated tats that reflect and even affect the story. These are hand animated in a simple, classic style. The rest of the movie is computer animated, which does wonderfult things to the sea, the landscape, and the lighting. Even the coconut pirates, a goofy interlude that doesn't seem to belong with the rest of the movie, are fun, and there's a great Fury Road payoff.

Although the Lin-Manuel Miranda songs get most of the attention, because they are in English, the Polynesian music by Opetaia Foa'i is lovely and atmospheric. Authenticity was very important to this production, so a lot of the voice cast come from Pacific Island backgrounds, including Moana, 14-year-old Auli'i Cravalho and Johnson, who's part Samoan. The writers spent time talking to the elders all over the Pacific to make sure the story (not traditional) was respectful and realistic. I think that helps make the story hold feel unified and grounded.

In conclusion - Moana is the daughter of the chief, and this is a Disney movie, but is she a Disney Princess? Views differ.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Two Nights of Fright

This is a two-fer, and there will be a quiz at the end.

First up: Fright Night (1985), a horror comedy written and directed by Tom Holland. Young William Ragsdale is making out with his girlfriend Amanda Bearse while horror theater Fright Night plays in the background. But he keeps getting distracted by somebody moving into the old house next door - and moving a coffin into the basement.

The new neighbors are Jerry (Chris Sarandon) and his buddy (Jonathan Stark), two very handsome men who are supposed to be fixing up the house to resell. Dorothy Fielding, Ragsdale's single mom is even kind of taken by him (not picking up on the two-handsome-men-living-together-doing-interior-decorating thing). But Ragsdale knows he is a vampire.

Of course, no one believes him. His "friend" Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) teases him and finally takes his money to provide advice on killing vampires culled from horror movies. I just want to pause here and say that Evil is my favorite character by far. He comes from the Corey Feldman school, but takes it way farther, with a grating way of needling with flowery eloquence, and nerdy jerkiness. I actually knew a guy a lot like him, and it's kind of magic.

Far later in the movie than you would expect, young Ragsdale calls in an expert: washed-up horror host of Fright Night, Roddy McDowall. His name, Peter Vincent comes from Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, but he isn't quite in their league. He also doesn't believe in vampires - he comes along only to help Bearse prove to her boyfriend that his neighbor isn't a vampire. You can guess how it turns out.

Skip ahead 26 years to Fright Night (2011). In this one, the kid is Anton Yelchin (more Odd Thomas than Ensign Chekov), his mother is Tony Collette, and Jerry the vampire is Colin Farrell. It is set in a new subdivision in the middle of the desert outside Las Vegas - where people come and go and aren't missed, and someone who only comes out at night isn't so strange.

Yelchin is an ex-nerd who now has a hot girlfriend, Imogen Poots and wants to forget his old friends - like Evil Ed. This Evil is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (or Munch-Pants, as Evil might say), more of an ordinary needy nerd, who blackmails Yelchin with iPhone movies of them playing superheroes. In this one, Evil is the one who figures out that Farrell is a vampire, and warns Yelchin not to invite him into the house.

This leads to some funny scenes where Farrell stands smoldering in the doorway, angling for an invite and not getting it. His vamp is a lot rougher than the suave Sarandon. I think he was having fun with it.

The Peter Vincent character isn't a horror host, but a Vegas magician, like maybe David Blaine, but looking more like Russell Brand - but it's not: it's David Tennant, the 10th incarnation of the Doctor. He is successful but discontented, quarreling with his lovely assistant in their penthouse. It turns out he has a hidden reason to refuse to help, and later, to save the day.

So, the quiz. Please go watch both of these movies (in chronological order, I think) and tell us which one you like better. The remake was very good. It had some high-powered actors, clearly having fun. It had a nice take on the mom, who trusted her son, even when he was acting weird, and it paid off. And we love Yelchin (RIP) as a young person in supernatural danger.

But the original is more - original. The romance felt more real to me, less WB - is that just because I'm old? I actually tasked a high-school aged relative to watch these and report back to me on that.

But in the end, Geoffreys' Evil Ed was such a work of manic genius that I have to award the trophy to the original. No offense, Mr. Munch-Pants.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Black by Popular Demand

The Last Boy Scout (1991) is another Shane Black script that really feels like a Shane Black Script - maybe the Shane Black script.

Bruce Willis plays a drunk, washed up private detective who discovers that his wife is sleeping with one of his associates (Bruce McGill). McGill gives Willis a lead on a job, bodyguarding a stripper, and then gets blown up by a car bomb.

When Willis goes to meet the stripper (Halle Berry), her boyfriend, a football player bounced from the league for drugs (Damon Wayans) takes a dislike to him. But when Berry is killed, they might have to work together. The two go to Willis' place, where they meet is obnoxious young daughter.

If you've seen, say, The Nice Guys, you may have figured out that the daughter will be put in danger, and will also save our heroes. That those heroes will fight but learn to work together, trust each other, and even love each other. The villains will turn out to be respectable hypocrites and our heroes will take them down hard (but society is to blame).

But that's not what's important. The quips and the chemistry between the leads is. Director Tony Scott manages to get that out of his two leads - Wills and Wayan - possibly more than they had in them.

I think The Nice Guys does it best though.

In conclusion, I always got this confused with Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, for some reason.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Warcraft Faire

We never played the game but we were psyched to watch Warcraft (2016). We were expecting nothing more than a spectacle, but we got a lot more.

It tells a tale of the olden days, before the Orcs and Men had met. The Orcs' homeworld was dying, drained of life by the force of fel magic. But their great warlock had a plan to open a gate to another, more fertile world. It just required the deaths of thousands of members of a slave race. One of the first warriors through the gate was our protagonist (?), Durotan, his pregnant wife Draka, and his sonorously named friend Ogrim Doomhammer.

When the humans get wind of this invasion, their finest knight rides out to survey the damage and find a human mage on the scene. They ride back to convince the king that they need to call in the greatest wizard, known as the Guardian.

So there are battles, magic, treachery, and romance. The orcs are very cool, with lovingly rendered tusks, tattoos, piercing, and jewelry. Basically, Ms. Spenser loved their sense of style. The humans are equipped with shiny armor, and the scenery and CGI sets are great. Also, Ruth Negga plays the human queen. There are a lot of other "name" actors, but I didn't recognize any (because I am out of touch, not because of the CGI makeup, I guess).

We loved the spectacle, but also the story: it made the Orcs into more than mindless enemies. They have a history, politics, and a culture. Also, the humans aren't all noble and good, but mixed in motives and morals.

But really, it's all about the Orcish style. Let's see what's on Etsy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Strange Days

We have been waiting for quite a while for Doctor Strange (2016), and it was worth it. I don't even mind the long origin story.

It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, brilliant neurosurgeon and all-around asshole. He shares some banter with his ex-girlfriend, Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler from the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlocks), who works at the same hospital, but definitely doesn't want him back in her life. Things look good for Dr. S., until a moment of distracted driving leaves him with hands destroyed, permanent nerve damage. He is no longer a surgeon.

Desperate to recover the use of his hands, he travels to Kathmandu to search for Kamar-Taj, the mystical society that might be able to heal him. Their guru, the Ancient One, turns out to be bald Tilda Swinton. I guess making him an old Asian with a Fu Manchu beard would have been too weird. Or maybe James Hong wouldn't take the part.

Now things start cooking. To show Strange what it's all about, Ancient One sends him on a psychedelic sleighride through the realms of mystery and it is a TRIP! This is the kind of thing this movie is for.

I won't bother describing the section of Strange getting training, working with Master Wong the librarian (Benedict Wong) and Master Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and the villain and, basically, the main plot. I want to talk about the characterization. I've mentioned Swinton - I would have liked a venerable Ancient One, but she's always awesome, so no complaints. Wong, who was Strange's servant in the comics, has a nice role here as one of his teachers, played severely deadpan with a sly touch.

I'm not so sure about Cumberbatch - he plays Strange as a wisecracking American, in the vein of MCU's Tony Stark. The comics' version was kind of a stick, who said things like, "By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth! What evil threatens the Ancient One?" I think Cumberbatch could have played that (keeping his English accent) - but would anyone want to watch? Never mind, he's great as this version of Strange.

But this movie, for me, is really about the magic. The approach is interesting - they use Steve Ditko's hand halos from the original strips, interpreting them as golden sigils the glow around the magic user's hands. They also kind of use his style for the dark dimensions, but I don't think it plays so well. They do use his design for the classic window in his Greenwich Village sanctum. In fact, they expand the mythos of this design a bit.

My favorite part, though, is the magical/special effect that they use the most: A kind of stone-fu, where masonry and architecture bends to the will of the spellcaster. This takes the bent city from Inception to a whole new level as buildings twist and bend, and marble floors expand when you try to run across them. But they don't just stretch, they get more complicated. The patterns on the floor get more complicated, the walls sprout mullions and spandrels and brackets (if those are things) as they stretch. It's very fractal - in fact, at one point, Strange's fingers grow hands, and the finger on those hands grow smaller hands, and so on. Very trippy, and yet, mathematically rigorous.

In conclusion, I'm kind of bummed that Clea, Dr. Strange's magician's assistant from another dimension, in a satin leotard and fishnets, is not in the movie. Maybe a sequel?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Back in Black

The Black Castle (1952) is kind of a Universal horror - it features (but doesn't star) Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff. But it's kind of different.

It stars Richard Greene as an 18th-Century nobleman who is going undercover to Germany to seek out Count von Bruno, who resides in the titular castle. Two of his friends from the African wars visited there and never came back, and he wants to find out why. He arrives with his valet (Tudor Owen) in a spooky old inn, and gets into a fight because he let the coachman eat with him. The coachman, if my information (IMDB) is correct, was Henry Conden, the second guy to voice Fred Flintstone. Anyway, it's a great swashbuckling fight and shows off Greene as a bad-ass.

When he gets to the castle, the Count (Stephen McNally) turns out to be pretty creepy - for one thing, he has a mute servant (Lon Chaney Jr.) named Gargon, and his personal physician is Boris Karloff. On the other hand, he has a beautiful wife, Rita Corday. On the third hand, he treats her cruelly and you know that Greene and her will fall in love. Ah, forbidden love.

But how is this horror, you may be asking. Well, the whole thing starts with a living burial, for one thing. And there is the spooky castle. But mostly it isn't horror - it's more costume adventure. Our hero performs a little derring-do, like wrestling a leopard (in Germany? Imported from Africa, of course). So, all in all we enjoyed it.

In conclusion, Ms. Spenser did not allow me to count this as a horror movie. So I still owe her.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ge-Ge-Ge no Kubo

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) is another great stop-motion animation from Laika, the studio that made Coraline, among others. It holds your attention from the first words: "If you must blink, do it now."

The voice-over is spoken as a small boat careens across giant Hokusai-sized waves in a stormy sea, finally coming to ground on a small island. It carries a woman and her baby. Years later, they live in a cave at the top of the island's central mountain. The woman silent and troubled, the baby now a boy, Kubo, who goes down to the village every day to earn a living as a storyteller. He begins his tale with "If you must blink, do it now" and a chord on his three-stringed shamisen. His story, about magical weapons, is accompanied by a stack of paper folding itself into origami shapes and whirling around his head. But when the bell rings at sundown, he must hurry up the mountain, because his mother told him never to be out after dark.

One night, he does stay out late, trying to contact the ghost of his father, and his aunts show up: two scary witches. There is an epic battle and when it is over, Kubo is alone on a beach. His little wooden monkey charm is now a large, grumpy monkey, who tells him that his village is gone, his mother is dead, and they need to hide. He is also aided by an origami samurai who has come to life, and a giant talking samurai beetle who can't remember his past, but is sure that he is a great warrior.

One of the best things about this movie, other than the visuals, is the Japanicity of it all. There's more than a bit of the modern silly/sarcastic style dialog, but also classic strangeness. A beetle samurai may seem strange, but Japanese children traditionally make pets of stag beetles, whose horns resemble a samurai helmet.

In fact, the whole story seems to be based on a Japanese TV show popular in the 80s when we lived there: Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro ("ge-ge-ge" represents terrified stuttering, so "Scary Kitaro"). Kubo wears an eyepatch because his grandfather stole his eye. Kitaro wears an eyepatch because his grandfather is his eye - a little eyeball with arms and legs who bathes in a teacup.

There is plenty of silliness in this movie, but overall, it's more serious than Kitaro. It's fascinating and well-written as well as beautiful. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

News Flash

I'm pretty sure we saw Flash Gordon (1980) in the theater when it was released (unless I'm thinking of Flesh Gordon). We mainly wanted to see it again for the Queen soundtrack. As it turns out, there is only the main theme: a paino playing a single chord in eighth notes while Freddie sings, "Flash! Ah ah ah." It's pretty monotonous, although Brian May's guitar leads kick it up a notch. But, you know, we weren't at all disappointed.

It starts with Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow!) getting bored and starting to destroy Earth - earthquakes, volcanoes, hot hail, that kind of thing. Meanwhile, Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) is coming back from vacation in a small plane with Dale Arden (Melody Anderson). Ms. Anderson is a rather generic 80s babe, but Jones has a beefy Reb Brown (Rock Hardpecs) quality that is quite endearing.

When their plane is forced down by the hot hail, mad scientist Dr. Zarkov (Topol!) tricks them into his spaceship and they take off for planet Mongo, to confront Ming. So far, it's a nice mix of 80s and 30s-50s sci-fi. But when they get to Mongo, it gets even better.

First, Ming decides he wants Dale for a sex slave. Then we meet his daughter, the numptuous Ornella Muti - and she falls for Flash. This is all just as kinky as can be (or am I thinking of Flesh Gordon?). We meet the warring tribes of the planets ruled by Ming, including Timothy Dalton and bluff Brian Blessed of the Hawk people. There are fights, intrigues, space flights, all as cheesy as can be, in lurid colors (with some Brian May guitar and Freddie Mercury singing "Flash!").

This was much better than we remembered, or maybe we were just in the mood for some ham and cheese.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Goonie Things

The Goonies (1985) is another movie that's taken us a long time to get around to. I'm glad we did - it's good background for Stranger Things.

It takes place in an idyllic west-coast town they call the Boon Docks. But a developer is buying everything up to build a golf course, and they are all going to have to move. The kids hate this idea, since they have a great bunch of kids, who call themselves the Goonies:
  • Mikey (Sean Astin): Sensitive and asthmatic, he's also the main instigator of their adventures
  • Mouth (Corey Feldman): All slick New Wave fashion and sarcastic remarks
  • Chunk (Jeff Cohen): Always eating
  • Data (Ke Huy Quan): Genius inventor Chinese kid
Mikey's older brother Brand (Josh Brolin), his girlfriend (Keri Green) and her friend (Martha Plimpton) are just old enough to out of the Goonies, but not so old they are in a different world. Plimpton, by the way, seems to be the inspiration for the ill-fated Barb in Stranger Things - at least as far as glasses and hairdo. She does not meet the same fate as Barb, and in fact, becomes a Goonie herself.

We first meet these kids at Mikey and Brand's place, where Rube Goldberg device is used to open the gate for Chunk. There isn't much payoff for this, except to show off producer Spielberg's love of complicated devices. Also, a lot of the movie is a complicated device.

The Goonies plan to save the Boon Docks is to find pirate One-Eyed Willy's buried treasure. So off they go on their bikes - and you immediately see where Stranger Things came up with the images of a gang of kids cranking around the neighborhood on their bikes.

So to get to the buried treasure, it turns out they have to get through a gang of bank robbers and their giant pinhead brother. This all involves underground caverns, including a waterslide that might be the first movie scene designed to be made into an amusement park ride. It all ends with an amazing set piece that makes me think director Richard Donner loves those complicated devices as well.

So now we know why this is such a significant movie for kids ("of all ages") of the Eighties. It was so Eighties that Cindi Lauper did the theme song, and parts of the music video are included. At that point I started wondering if this was a recent movie done as a parody of Eighties movies. But that's Stranger Things.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Special Delivery

Midnight Special (2016) is a special kind of movie: very low-budget indie, with a big concept, but played out small, focused on the lives of simple, quiet people. We saw the preview when we watched Take Shelter, and it's definitely got the same genes. Also, both star Michael Shannon and were directed by Jeff Nichols.

The key image of the film is a car speeding through the night, two men driving, Shannon and Joel Edgerton. In the backseat, a little boy is wearing dark goggles and reading a comic by flashlight. We don't know who he is or where they are going, but we are hooked.

Little by little, the story is revealed. The boy and his father, Shannon, belonged to a Christian cult who considered him a prophet or savior. Shannon and his friend Edgerton took him on the lam, to get to a location at a time for reasons that we do not know. But we do know that the cult and the government are chasing them - government scientist Adam Driver for one. Also, Shannon is ready to kill, even kill state police, to make it to the rendezvous.

Are these guys crazy? Is this a child abduction metaphor? Well, they stop to pick up the boy's mother, Kirsten Dunst, so that's not what's going on. I guess I'd have to say it's about the same thing as Take Shelter: Ordinary fucking people in situations that push them to their limits, situations that they and we can't understand.

I'm not sure the whole thing holds together, partly because of the elliptical approach to the story. There is an ending, and things do get explained, but I'm not sure I'm completely satisfied. But the art direction of the finale is lovely and makes me wish it was more of the movie. But then it might have turned out like Tomorrowland.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Say Goodnight, Geena

Continuing on our Shane Black-athon: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), directed by Rennie Harlan from a Shane Black script.

It stars Geena Davis as a sweet grade school teacher with a boyfriend and a daughter, and a secret. She has amnesia, remembers nothing of her life since she was found on a beach several years ago. Mostly she doesn't care, but she did hire a cheap detective (Samuel L. Jackson) to look for her past. Amazingly (he is not all that competent or hard-working), he gets some clues to her past. As it starts coming back to her, she realizes that she used to be a covert government assassin. And now the agency that she belonged to wants her dead.

So Davis and Jackson go on the road to find out who she is, who's trying to kill her, and to stop them. In a lot of ways, this is The Bourne Identity, except gender swapped and sillier. Since it's a Shane Black script, it's full of quotable lines and great situations. (Also, the daughter is both put in jeopardy and saves her mom - one of his calling cards.) It's also full of chases, gun fights, and explosions. The action has a cartoony quality - people are thrown for miles in explosions, and get up and dust themselves off. In one scene, Davis throws her daughter out a second-story window, and she lands safely in the treeehouse. This kind of thing is both funny in itself, and a reminder to turn your brain off.

I don't think this is Black's most coherent script (or maybe I turned  my brain off too much). But it's definitely a fun one. More to come.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

So Long, Marian

As I've mentioned, I'm a Richard Lester fan. So we wanted to see Robin and Marian (1976), and since Witchfinder General got us psyched for some ye olde romance, we queued it up.

It starts with Robin (Sean Connery) and Little John (Nicol Williamson) in France, laying siege to a castle defended by a solitary old man. When King Richard (Richard Harris) comes along, he insists on laying the castle to waste. The old man throws an arrow at him in disgust, and in the next few scenes, the Lion-Hearted One dies of blood poisoning. Oh well, he was getting to be a jerk, and Robin is getting tired of France. So they return to Sherwood Forest, which they left some twenty years ago.

They find that the poor are still oppressed by the Sheriff (Robert Shaw) and the Will Scarlet (Denholm Elliott) and Friar Tuck (Ronnie Barker) are still around. But what of Maid Marian, wonders Robin, as if he hadn't thought of her in years? She's become a nun in the nearby convent. Also, she is Audrey Hepburn, now 40-ish, but still radiantly beautiful.

And so, for a while, they live once again as they did, in Sherwood Forest. This is a very reticent love affair - she's married to Jesus, he is too much of a warrior to show his true feelings. As for a happy ending, well, that depends on your definitions.

This can be a very thoughtful and simple movie, which isn't very Lester-like - he's known more for his frenetic energy. There are a few touches, like King Richard's dwarf jester, but there isn't a lot of grotesquerie or the little background bits of Three Musketeers. But still a lovely, sad movie.

In conclusion, Audrey Hepburn's a mervel, isn't she?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Nothing can Stop the Shape

Since we like old Sci-Fi, we watched Things to Come (1936). It was based on a, H.G. Wells treatment of his story The Shape of Things to Come. Not that great as science or fiction, but great science fiction.

It starts around Christmas in Everytown, England. Raymond Massey is worried about rumors of war in the news, but his obtuse friend Edward Chapman tells him it's probably nothing. Then the bombs start falling. It doesn't take a prophet to predict, in 1936, that war is coming, but he got that right.

The movie is pretty episodic, skipping through future history, always meeting thoughtful Massey and feckless Chapman. The war continues for years, leaving Everytown (basically, London) a ruin. A strongman, Ralph Richardson, rules the neighborhood, dreaming of the day when he can get an airplane flying to defeat the hill people and steal their coal.

But there is a nascent World Government of scientists called "Wings over the World" that is bringing civilization back, and Massey is their vanguard.

The politics is a bit suspect - technocratic fascism? - the story is a little choppy and the writing is no better than it needs to be. So is it worth watching? I'd say yes, mainly for the costumes and sets. Once again, art direction FTW.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

No Accounting for Taste

The Accountant (2016) is kind of funny - funny ha ha and peculiar. It's a slow-moving action film, about forensic accounting and autism.

The Accountant is Ben Affleck. We get to know him as a nice man who helps an older couple save some money on their taxes. The Treasury Dept knows him only by reputation, a shadowy figure who the underworld trusts to run their crooked books. J.K. Simmons has been hunting him for years, and young agent Cynthia Addai-Robinson to help.

From flashbacks, we learn about the Accountant's childhood. He is profoundly autistic, but his military father doesn't want to get him into treatment, he just wants to toughen him up, with weapons and martial arts training. Later, the adult Accountant winds up in prison, and is tutored in Evil Accounting by Jeffrey Tambor. Now, I haven't watched much Arrested Development, but just based on the memes I've seen, I can't really take him seriously as a Bernie Madoff type. YMMV.

It sort of all comes together when Affleck is auditing the books for a high tech company. As he and company accountant Anna Kendrick zero in on the problem, company, people start getting murdered, and he has to let her into his life.

So, corporate thriller, action movie, romance, family drama, and mental health tale, all rolled together. In the Movie Sign with the Mads podcast, they talk a lot about this, and I think they may have preferred more of the hardcore action. I kind of agree, but I think the balance worked pretty well, considering. The forensic accounting was a little boring - not sure it made sense, but there were lots of scenes of Affleck writing numbers on the walls and windows of a conference room. (Are we watching Numb3rs now?) Also, there's a cute beat where they try to pull Affleck off the job, but he gets anxious when he can't finish something. Autism, you know.

I think you should watch this movie, so I won't spoil the RV for you. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Which witch?

This one was for Ms. Spenser, who always wants more horror: Witchfinder General (1968) (AKA Conqueror Worm). I had heard a lot about it, and was under the impression that it was pretty intensely scary. I was misinformed.

It takes place during the English Civil War, where the Puritan Roundheads fought Royalist Cavaliers. In this fragmented society, the Witchfinder General (Vincent Price) made his living "detecting", then sexually torturing and executing witches at a few pounds per each. His companion is Robert Russell, a brutal sadist without Price's polish.

When Price goes after Hilary Dwyer, who is soldier Ian Ogilvy's intended, things get intense.

Now, there is plenty of creepiness in this movie, but it isn't that scary. It was filmed in color, mostly in broad daylight in the English woods (supposedly East Anglia, and maybe so). It all looked rather bucolic. My favorite part of the movie was people galloping around on horses, looking all romantic. We need to watch more knights-in-armor movies.

Price seems tired and not really into it. Russell, his creepy sidekick and enforcer, has to do most of the work being threatening. This came from Tigon Films, the cut-rate version of Amicus, who were the cut-rate version of Hammer. That might explain things.

So we were pretty disappointed with this one. I can't explain why it has any reputation. Maybe some kind of "not as bad as we expected" backlash?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Death Race Now

Did you think we were just going to skip Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 (2016)? Come on! The original, directed by Paul Bartel, was a riot. The modern spin-offs took the bare bones of the idea and tried to make an action franchise out of it (like they did with The Fast and the Furious). They were still mostly fun. But this is the real thing.

It's 2050, and the Corporate States of America are holding another Death Race - a race across the country with points for speed and for running over civilians. The race is hosted by the Chairman, Malcolm McDowell looking like Andy Rooney playing Donald Trump - Seriously, how did they get Trump into a movie released in Jan 2017? Did Corman know something we didn't?

The crowd's favorite is Frankenstein (Manu Bennett), who wears an iron mask to cover the hideous scars from past crashes. He ditched that pretty quickly. There's also a weird Christian/Elvisite cultist, a woman with a self-driving machine who doesn't need a man (if you know what I mean, and you can bet they make that as explicit as the rating allows), and body-beautiful Burt Grinstead, a totally hetero muscleman who likes to strip down and oil up.

While all of America watches on their virtual reality headsets (because real life sucks), a group of revolutionaries led by Folake Olowofoyeku are working to bring down the Chairman.

The humor is very broad and surprisingly topical. It's surprising because it follows the original story pretty closely. When Bartels made Death Race 2000, Corman was reportedly mad that it had so much comedy, and wanted to up the gore factor. This time around, he was happy to keep the comedy.
 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Second Sight

Here's an oddball for you: John Frankenheimer's Seconds (1966). The title sequence by Saul Bass gives you a good idea how it will play out: close-ups of a man's face in a distorting mirror in black and white, with a disorienting Jerry Goldsmith score.

It follows John Randolph, a middle-aged banker as he takes the commuter train home. Someone is following him through Central Station, someone who seems to have the camera strapped to his back, filming over his shoulder. These kinds of odd POV shots, as well as fisheye lenses and other distortions, give the whole film an air of paranoia and unreality. It seems that Mr. Randolph has had an invitation from a dead man.

He goes to the address he's been given and gets directed from spot to spot, until he gets to a meat packing plant, where he's loaded into the back of a truck, like so much... yeah, you got it. It turns out the scheme is this: A shadowy organization, run by Will Geer, will fake your death, give you a new face, body, home, career, everything, all for a small portion of your earthly wealth. And so John Randolph becomes Rock Hudson.

Hudson's new life involves a house in Malibu, a career as a painter (with moderate commercial success already set in motion). He feels aimless at first, but he meets a cute girl on the beach, Salome Jens. She's a mature bohemian blonde, just the kind of woman for the man that he has become. She takes him to a wild beatnik bacchanal, which he is too square to dig, until he starts to enjoy it. Soon he's throwing drunken cocktail parties, but maybe he's getting a little too into it. Is this really the life he wanted?

There's so much in this movie on so many levels. The commodification of lifestyle was one that got me thinking: that the bohemian life Rock Hudson chose was just as pre-fab and inauthentic as his life as a suburban banker. I should also mention the scene where he visits his ex-wife and sees how little effect his death had on anyone. She doesn't even miss him. His death is a chance to remodel.

But the camera is the real star. It's wielded by the inestimable James Wong Howe, who is using every trick in the book. I wonder if Saul Bass had any influence beyond the credits - this reminds me a little of Bass' Phase IV. I guess the influence would have run the other way.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Swingers

You know what I like every now and then? A good old-fashioned jungle adventure movie. So we queued up the new The Legend of Tarzan (2016). Tarzan movies have a reputation of being poison (unless they are animated, I guess?), but this was a lot of fun.

It starts with Tarzan, that is, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) is living the civilized life in England with his genteel Jane (Margot Robbie). A group of religious worthies want him to go to the Belgian Congo and help out the poor savages there. He declines, but American Samuel L. Jackson convinces him that some bad stuff is happening there, and they should go investigate. Of course, Jane misses home and wants to head back too.

Indeed, bad things are happening, as this is the Congo under King Leopold, noted for vicious inhumanity. Things down there are being run by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who is enslaving the natives with the help of the Leopard Men, led by chief Djimon Hounsou. Two things here:
  1. This Africa is historical, not a timeless Dark Continent. Rom was a real person, and King Leopold a very real villain.
  2. I love me some Leopard Men. Always have. 
After a short idyll in their village, Jane is captured by Rom and taken up the river, where he plans to search for the Gem of McGuffin. He plans to use Jane as bait to catch Tarzan - and you can guess how that works out.

Skarsgard makes an interesting Tarzan, tall and lean, without the broad chest of Weissmuller's Tarzan. Director David Yates said that he wanted to emphasize "verticality", which fits. Also, he doesn't take off his shirt until well into the movie, but when he does, look out - ripped and shredded. There could have been more web vine-swinging, in my opinion, but it looked like it was mostly CGI, so maybe that's for the best. It was certainly CGI of the highest caliber, though.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that the big conflict in the movie (although  submerged) was purely African. The fight with the Belgians was important and full of incident, but what was closest to Tarzan's heart was between him, the apes, and another tribe. It's not exactly Afro-centric in total, but a lot less Euro than I feared.

I doubt that this will make jungle movies popular, like Pirates of the Caribbean did for pirate movies. But we enjoyed it.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Los Boys

It seems strange that we haven't seen The Lost Boys (1987) until now. Back in the day, some of our gothy friends were so into this movie, they used to get fangs made by dentists for maximum realism. Maybe that's why we never saw it. As a result, we never realized that it was made in Santa Cruz.

It starts with an old van with a mom and two kids rolling into Santa Cruz - re-labelled Santa Carla for the movie, because of course, vampires can't stand la cruz. We see the light house, Boardwalk, and all the hippie and crusty kids. Also, we see people posting flyers for lost children, and graffiti calling Santa Clara "Murder Capital of the World".

It seems that Mom Dianne Weist and her two sons, teen Jason Patric and pre-teen Corey Haim have come to live with their hippy grampa, Bernard Hughes. It's a mixed bag - a new town with a fun beach scene and a lot of murders, lots of kids, but no friends, and not much money. Patric soon spots Jami Gertz and follows her. It turns out that she has some sketchy friends, lead by Keifer Sutherland.

Meanwhile, Haim meets some kids in the comicbook store - Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander, Edgar and Allen Frog, the Frog brothers. They want him to read some vampire comics to learn self-defense. This, you will notice, is the first of the Two Coreys movies. Since the actors were underaged, they spent a lot of time together instead of partying like the older actors.

Somewhere in here, I realized that this is more of a horror-comedy than straight horror. The Frog Bros. are particularly silly - also, every bit of comic book vampire lore they know more or less turns out to be true. Another movie where only the kids know what's going on.

I wasn't as fond of Patric - he had a lopsided smirk for most of the first half of the movie that made him look like Rick Moranis. Keifer Sutherland was pretty impressive, though. He looks debauched and cruel, and that's before he vamps out. I did expect him to bark like Oddball from Kelley's Heroes, though. His gang was equally creepy, except Ms. Spenser had trouble figuring out what kind of gang they were: Were they bikers, new-wavers, street punks? Hair-metal heads is the closest I could figure. Fits with the soundtrack, which was painfully 80's-teen-friendly.

I really enjoyed this, probably because it wasn't as scary or as cheesy as I thought it would be. It was cool that it so clearly took place in Santa Cruz - the geography was right, the trees and bushes were right, even when you weren't at the Boardwalk. Ms. Spenser enjoyed it too, but says it doesn't count as horror, and so I still owe her.