Thursday, December 28, 2017

Whoreson Welles

Chimes at Midnight (1965) seems like a good movie to ring out 2017 on. It is Orson Welles’ take on Falstaff,  combining a bunch of Shakespeare’s History plays. It appears to have been made on a shoestring, with Spanish hills masquerading as England, and a bare stone cathedral standing in for a castle - but beautiful.

Basically, the rascal Falstaff entertains Prince Hal, along with a disreputable crew at Mistress Quickly’s (Margaret Rutherford) tavern. When Hal’s father, John Gielgud, dies, Hal repudiates Falstaff. He dies and is mourned by his low companions, including the prostitute Dolly Tearsheet (Jeanne Moreau - not very English). In between there is a great battle scene, filmed with the most minimal number of extras and horses, but made great by skillful editing.

The whole thing is all tied together with a great condensation of Shakespeare’s writing. HOWEVER, and this is the movie’s fatal flaw, the sound recording is a bit muddy (probably recorded on location). It has a nice “presence” and atmosphere, but you can’t always hear the lines. Of course, it can be challenging to understand Shakespeare with modern ears, but this doesn’t help.

What I did understand were some of the great insults from the play. In particular, Falstaff is called “whoreson” any number of times. I can only assume that Welles understood it as a pun on his name.

King Sunny Saves the Day

The latest film quiz had a question about O.C. and Stiggs (1985), and we hadn’t seen it yet. Now we have, but we’re still not sure about it. The easiest explanation is that it is an 80s teen comedy directed by Robert Altman.

O.C. And Stiggs are two high school boys who are dedicating their summer to annoying their Phoenix neighbors. They break into his yard when he (Paul Dooley) gathers his family around the TV to watch the commercial for his insurance company. They call up the president of Gabon to rack up his phone bill, and because they like his name, President Bongo. They then precede to tell him the story of their summer.

They start by building the ugliest, most annoying monster truck they can devise. Then they crash a wedding - the daughter of their enemy, the insurance guy, is marrying an Asian stereotype, Victor Ho. There, Stiggs meets and begins to woo bookish Cynthia Nixon (whose boyfriend is insurance guy’s son, Jon Cryer - so maybe this is part of the plan?). They also float down to Mexico to see a King Sunny Ade concert, and invite him back to Phoenix, and...

There is a lot of other stuff, most of it random. Some of it is funny, but the fatal flaw is probably that the two kids are so obnoxious that it’s hard to root for them. They are loud, rude, future frat jerks. At least they love King Sunny.

I’ve left out a bunch of great bits, like:
  • Jane Curtin as insurance guys drunk wife
  • Ray Walston as O.C.’s Gramps, full of inappropriate stories
  • Dennis Hopper as a Vietnam vet, who grows pot and supplies the kids with weapons and air support
  • Martin Mull as the swinging next door neighbor with the tiki themed backyard
There’s a lot of Altman onscreen - sometimes Stiggs even sounds a little like Donald Sutherland from MASH - mostly in his cadences. Altman’s story is that this was supposed to be a parody of a stupid teen comedy, not but I’m not sure I see it.

In conclusion, at least King Sunny got a payday.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Great Atomic Power

Atomic Blonde (2017) has a lot of problems - its plot, for example. I still thought  it was a lot of fun.

It is set in Berlin, just before the wall comes down. We see an English spy being killed by a Russian agent, who takes his MacGuffin. Cut to “ten days later” - Charlize Theron is being aggressively debriefed by MI6’s Toby Jones and CIA John Goodman. Most of the movie will be played out in flashback.

Theron arrives in Berlin, and is picked up - by what turns out the be East Germans. She beats everyone up and meets her actual handler, James MacAvoy. He drives too fast and trades American booze for info, but he’s no Willy Garvin. Him and Theron are at odds right away.

But the scene where Theron tends her wounds after the first fight is what makes the movie great to me. She strips down and drops face first into a tub of ice cubes to bring the swelling down. Her body is beautifully muscled, even beyond the hard use it’s been put to.

Then there’s the house fight set piece. It’s a ten minute plus scene that seems to be shot in a single take. You see Theron give and take athletic beatings, roll down stairs, etc. and then see her face so you know that it wasn’t a stuntperson. BUT - 1. It’s faked, with at least 40 cuts hidden by camera whip takes and CGI. Theron didn’t do her own stunts. 2. It kind of comes out of nowhere - it’s the only long take (real or fake) in the movie.

Still, Theron is great in this, muscular and kickass. Sofia Boutella (The Mummy) shows up as a naive French agent who has an unnecessary but agreeable love scene with Theron. I think part of the idea of this movie was that all of the agents were unprofessional and emotional, not calculated geniuses. But it didn’t really come through, and also, it turns out that some were pretty clever.

In conclusion, the soundtrack of mostly 80s electro-pop was fun, but not really outstanding. Mostly just the hits.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Snow Red

Lady Snowblood (1973) is a classic revenge movie. I don’t think it was the first one, but it looks really modern.

It starts in a Tokyo women’s prison. A prisoner is giving birth and dying. As she dies, she asks her baby to get revenge for her. She and her husband and young son come to a town to teach school, and the crooks in town kill them and rape her. She goes to a monk for martial arts training and he declares that she must be no longer a woman, but a demon of revenge. However, she is arrested after she kills the first of her tormentors. So now her daughter must take over.

The style includes some over-the-top lighting and stylized violence - sprays of blood in the snow. There are other tricks, like introducing the list of Lady Snowblood’s targets in wanted poster style. No surprise that Quentin Tarantino stole a ton of it for Kill Bill.

For example, he used the theme song, which is an incongruously bouncy jazz-pop number. It shows up at odd times and suddenly cuts out to silence. It’s an odd effect, but it works.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Burn Down the Fillmore

Fillmore: The Last Days (1971) sounds cool, but it's kind of a dud. It's about Bill Graham closing down his San Francisco rock palace, the Fillmore, and semi-retiring from show biz. It includes several numbers from top SF bands and a lot of behind the scenes nonsense.

The problems: The behind the scenes nonsense is either boring or annoying. Graham could be quite a dick - maybe because people are dicks to him. One band is begging for a slot to play the last week, and Graham won't put him on. The guy from the band finally says, "Fuck you and thanks for the memories," and Bill goes off on him. C'mon, Bill, he meant that in a nice way.

Then the musical acts. They aren't that scintillating either. Maybe it's because it's all greatest hits, with no room to stretch out. We get Hot Fucking Tuna with Papa John Creach on fiddle, and it's kind of OK. Jefferson Airplane. Grateful Dead, Santana, all kind of "eh". It was fun to hear Lydia Pence and Cold Sweat - a blues shouter like Janis Joplin with a hot horn section.

About the only act I really enjoyed was Quicksilver Messenger Service - because "Fresh Air" is always hot.

Graham did tell a good story about Elvin Bishhop. Bishop's mom came to a show, and wanted Bill to tell him she was in the audience. He kind of forgot and only told him when he was going up the stairs to get on stage. Bishop panicked and said, "Tell her I'm not here!"

Monday, December 18, 2017

Towering Darkness

The Dark Tower (2017) was something we were looking forward to, but almost entirely to see Idris Elba being bad-ass. We got what we wanted.

I understand that the mythology of the Dark Tower series of stories by Stephen King is long and complicated, and some of that comes through here. But it's mostly pretty simple. Tom Taylor is a kid with problems. He has nightmares and draws pictures of his visions - a man in black, a gunslinger, a dark tower. Also, when he gets upset, earthquakes hit New York. His mother and evil step-father want to send him to an institution, but the people who come to pick him up are monsters from his nightmares, and he bolts.

He finds a way into another world and meets the Gunslinger there: Idris Elba. He is fighting against the Matthew McConaughey, evil Man in Black (not the good one, Johnny Cash), who has a cool super-power - people do whatever he tells them, including "stop breathing". Only Elba is immune. MiB wants Taylor so that he can harness his brainpower to destroy the Tower, which holds up the mulitverse (or something).

There are touches of humor and horror here, but a lot of it is pretty standard action/fantasy. It's done quite well - it's a joy to see Elba reload his six-shooter by spinning the cylinder and thumbing the bullets in as fast as it spins. We were entertained. But not much more. I guess we would have either liked it better or hated it entirely if we had read some of the books. Guess we'll never know.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

First Time Out

I can't believe we hadn't seen Drunken Angel (1948) until now. It was Kurosawa's first film with Toshiro Mifune - and one of Mifune's best performances. And he isn't even the star.

The star, the titular angel, is Takashi Shimura (Seven Samurai), an outspoken, hard-drinking doctor. His office is in a poor neighborhood, centered around a stinking open sewer that the kids like to play in.

He meets Mifune when he comes in with a wound from a fight with some other gangsters. He is rough with Mifune, disgusted with his bravado, telling him he doesn't need a painkiller, because gangsters are supposed to be able to take it. But he notices that Mifune has a bad cough, and tells him he should get an X-ray, to check for tuberculosis.

There is a bit of cat-and-mouse between doctor and gangster, with gangster refusing to get checked, and the doctor accusing him of being a coward. He finally caves when a young girl the doctor has been treating shows up to report on her good progress - Mifune has to be at least as brave and strong as a schoolgirl. But the gangster lifestyle will make it hard for him to heal.

Through this all, Mifune is amazing - feral, cat-like, dressed in gaudy Western clothes. His expressions, from smile to sneer to grimace, reminded me a lot of Humphrey Bogart, to the point where I wonder if it was deliberate. We also get to see him cutting a rug with a taxi dancer, and he looks good. Shimura is also great, and I at least loved seeing his classic headrub.

Kurosawa also adds more than a touch of stylization to the direction. There is a guitar player who strums a little tune by the side of the sewer, and some of the characters move in rhythm with it, a subliminal dance.

Now, one of my favorite Kurosawa's.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cool Breeze

Keanu (2016) is a silly Key and Peele movie - not deep or scary like Peele's Get Out.

It starts with a couple of scuzzy characters taking out a drug operation (scuzzy characters played by Key and Peele in heavy makeup and wigs). The entire operation is taken out, except their kittie, who escapes - and is taken in by Jordan Peele.

Peele is a bit of a loser, who is watching bad TV and smoking dope because his girlfriend left him. But this kitten that he names Keanu, changes his life and lifts his spirits. After a wild night out with his strait-laced friend (a Liam Neeson movie), he comes home and finds his apartment trashed and his kitten stolen.

A visit to his wigger pot dealer next door (Will Forte) gives them the idea that a local bad actor, played by Method Man, may have been responsible. Peele is determined to do whatever it takes, brave any danger, to get Keanu back. So they go to Meth's club and act as gangster as possible.

The trope of milquetoasts acting tough is not an original one (it wasn't when Bob Hope did, either - who knows how old it is?). But their take is fun. They have to make deliveries of the new drug Holy Shit to get back Keanu - remember Holy Fucking Shit from 21 Jump Street? Any way, this winds up in a hilarious segment involving a drug party where they kill Anna Faris, as herself. And as Peele is falling for cute gang-banger Tiffany Haddish, Key is using his team-building training to help the rest of the gang communicate (and love George Michael).

In conclusion, I couldn't help but think of Keegan-Michael Key as an un-buff Dwayne Johnson, with his bullet head and mild mannered speaking style, while Jordan Peele seemed to be played by Craig Charles (Lister from Red Dwarf). Shows that I need to watch more Key and Peele.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Friendly Neighborhood

Well, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) was a surprise - a Spider-Man movie that we liked! The Sam Raimi trilogy was probably good (I didn't even mind the last one more than usual), but I just never liked Spidey as a character, so they weren't really my thing. The Andrew Garfield duology was a bit of a fizzle, although I liked him in the first, not so much in the second. I'm glad we kept trying.

It starts with some "found footage": some cellphone movies Spider-Man (Tom Holland) took when Tony Stark and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) took him for the big melee at the end of Capt. America: Civil War. Then, it's over, and he's back in high school. He tells some people that he was interning for Tony Stark, which is cool, but they never call again. He's bugging Happy every day, leaving pathetic voice mails, but they think he's just a kid (and they are kind of busy). So he hangs out with his chubby friend (Jacob Batalon) and sighs over cute fellow debater, Zendaya.

Meanwhile, Michael Keaton and his team have the contract to clean up the alien trash left over from the Event, when the government comes in and puts him out of a job. So he keeps a little here and there, and gets ahold of a little more, and starts building alien tech weapons.

Spidey notices something is up when some punks in Avengers masks use one the weapons to push over an ATM across the street from his favorite bodega. He doesn't have Stark's high-tech suit, so he makes due with PJs and a ski mask, more or less. Then his buddy Batalon finds his secret identity.

So there's a cute mix of superhero action and John-Hughes-style high school drama (seriously - the cast watched a bunch of Hughes to get in the mood). But mostly, it's just fun. This seems to be one of the things that Marvel has been getting right - not just the quips and the webslinging, but an overall sense of joy and exhilaration.

Lots of fun little things in the movie, like the recorded messages from Captain America the kids have to watch in school. When the (black) gym teacher turns it on he mutters, "Whatever. He's probably a war criminal now or something." This all pays off after the credits in a way that is totally worth waiting for. And waiting...

Semi-SPOILER: the capper in the last act is when Peter Parker picks up Zendaya to take her to the Prom, and her dad is Michael Keaton. So it's that uncomfortable kid-meets-date's-father thing, and the father is a super-villian who immediately figures out your secret identity. I won't say Keaton is the only actor who could pull this off, but he sure pulls it off.

In conclusion - no origin story for this Spidey!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Just the Blues, Ma'am

Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) isn't quite what I expected. I am a lover of old-time radio, so I've heard Jack Webb's radio show of the same name. I was expecting something black and white and gritty. It was actually pretty colorful, and kind of romantic. But, because Webb is an old jazz-head, there are some pretty happening numbers.

It takes place in Prohibition era Kansas City. Webb plays cornet and is band leader with a hot little combo. When gangster Edmond O'Brien wants 20%, Webb tries to hold out. It works for a while, but the drummer gets shot and clarinetist Lee Marvin quits the band - he saw enough killing in Europe.

So now Webb is working for O'Brien. He is also being aggressively courted by Janet Leigh, a rich party girl who he snubs in his deadpan, monotone Jack Webb way. But now O'Brien wants to put his girlfriend in the show, Peggy Lee playing a drunk chantoosy. So we've got Leigh and Lee, dueling platinum blondes in this movie.

Meanwhile, Police Officer Andy Devine wants Webb to help get evidence to put away O'Brien. Maybe Ella Fitzgerald, who runs the gin joint on the colored side of town can help out, or at least sing a few numbers (Hard-Hearted Hannah and the title song).

The movie is full of Webb's colorful patter - like saying that an amputee "ran out of legs". It's got a lot of hot jazz, although it could have more. There's not as much tough stuff as you might think, though, as Webb just wants to get along and play. Also, the color palette and sets (no locations, of course) make this seem like a more prestigious movie than the crime B-movie we were expecting.

All in all, I think I like his early radio show, Pat Novak for Hire, better.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Strange Movie

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2014) is an odd, abstract giallo. If you don't know what that is, it is an Italian genre from the 70s-80s of stylized crime films. They feature sexualized violence, lurid colors, and usually knife murderers or stranglers wearing black gloves. They have odd titles, like "Five Flies in a Dead Doll's Eye" (I might have made that up).  Strangely, we watched this after seeing exactly zero gialli.

Business man Klaus Tange comes home from a trip to his Belgian apartment, and finds his wife, Edwige, is gone. He does the obvious thing, and gets drunk, then calls the police, then keeps drinkin. He starts pounding on the neighbors' doors in the middle of the night, pissing everyone off. Then the old lady on the top floor invites him in and shows him a flashback about how her husband disappeared.

One night when they were making love, he heard a noise in the ceiling. When he climbed up to investigate, he found there was a lot of space in the walls, left over from when they cut the house into apartments. He reported back to his wife that he could see the neighbors doing ... things. And he was never seen again.

I guess. It was all kind of vague and elliptical. Another neighbor is a sexpot; she tells him confusing stories and they have sex while covered in broken glass. I had to look away for that. There's a lot of blood in this movie, and our hero wears a bloody shirt when interviewed by the police about his missing wife. "I cut myself."

There are little pieces of plot and narrative in the first half or so, but they get pretty tenuous, and by the end, they are abandoned entirely (SPOILER). What this is really about is mood and style. The apartment is old Belgian art nouveau or de Stijl building, looking very chic and a little ominous. The music is borrowed from old gialli, with a Morricone feel. Some sections are in black and white or silent. And it gets weird.

So if you are interested in seeing wild, weird imagery and/or are interested in an abstract giallo, give this a watch. If you want a plot, not so much.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Don't Make Me Do It Without My Fez On

After the classic mummy fest recently, I felt like we should watch The Mummy (2017), the one with Tom Cruise. Let's just say that I did not break out my fez for this one.

It starts with Cruise and buddy Jake Johnson as soldiers banging around Iraq, looking for antiquities to loot - in an Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones way. When an airstrike uncovers an ancient tomb, archaeologist Annabelle Wallis comes in to take over, and they extract the mummy (from Iraq - not Egypt. Because reasons). On the flight home, over England, the plane starts to go down (due to swarm of bats?). Cruise gives Wallis the last parachute and augers in.

And he somehow survives. It seems that he is the beloved of the mummy, played by Sofia Boutella (Kingsmen, Star Trek Beyond), and she is going to possess and/or sacrifice him.

But Cruise and friends have an ally, in the secret monster-fighting organization run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Let me just say, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen did it better. Heck, Van Helsing did it better.

There's some nonsense with the Knights Templar. Also, Jake Johnson is now a ghost, used mainly for comic relief. And there is essentially no Egypt in this movie, no tanna leaves, hardly any mummy for that matter.

My recommendation, skip this and listen to Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu, and Carolina Hidalgo  cap on it in their Movie Sign with the Mads podcast.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Love that Witch

I learned about The Love Witch (2016) listening to a Projection Booth podcast where director Anna Biller was interviewed. Since I hadn't watched yet (and was driving through some unknown highways), I didn't get much out of it, but it sounded cool. For one thing, Biller didn't just direct - she also wrote, art directed, and sewed most of the wardrobe herself.

It stars Samantha Robinson in the title role. She is leaving LA to go hang in Arcata CA. Since her husband died ("and everyone thinks she killed him" is left to your imagination), she needs to get away. She has a friend in Arcata who rents her a room in a charming Victorian, decorated with mystical paintings. Her friend's friend takes her to a ladies' tea room, all frills and lace. You see, Robinson is a witch.

She performs a spell and meets an English professor, full of Kerouacian cool. They go to his place in the hills, she slips him some drugs, they fool around, he freaks and dies. So sad. She sets her sights on the realtors husband, a decent, righteous man. He kills himself when she gets tired of him. A macho police detective starts investigating her. She takes him to a Ren-Faire-like coven gathering in the woods, where her Wiccan friends hand-fast them. The scene reminds me of the nude grape-stomping scene in Seconds, and the detective is hooked, just like Hudson was. It doesn't work out much better for him.

This movie was made in the style of a 60s-70s technicolor thriller, full of bright colors. The costumes Biller designed are full of polyesters and day-glo paisleys, and Robinson wears the heavy eye makeup and piled up hair of the period - but it isn't a period piece. People drive modern cars and have cell phones. So it's a retro feel. It was even shot on 35-mm negative film.

But it is the story that is so unnerving. Robinson is a femme fatale, a black widow, but she only wants a man to pamper and fulfill. So she's in some ways anti-feminist. But her female-centric earth religion empowers her - she wants to pamper and fulfill a man so she can control him and bend him to her will.

Now, I have Wiccan friends. I have been to a hand-fasting. In some ways, this movie seemed like, not blasphemy, but religious bigotry. The Wiccans in Arcata have friends in high places, are feared by the townspeople. And they look pretty goofy, especially the male side of the leading couple, a chubby bearded fellow with a slimy leer. You can tell why he practices sex magic. Suppose these were Jews, not witches.

But, hey, they aren't Jews, and witches I've known have a pretty good sense of humor (although still a little sore about the Burning Times). The rituals can be pretty goofy. And no one can deny Biller sense of style.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ashes to Ashes

Just a quick note on our TV viewing. We don't just use Netflix to watch movies - we use it to watch TV series, generally one a day over dinner. Sometimes we don't wait until they are streaming. If it is good enough, we go for the disc. Like Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015).

If you aren't familiar with the movies, the first Evil Dead was a low budget horror movie, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead II was pretty much a straight remake, and Evil Dead: Army of Darkness takes Campbell to the past. They get goofier as the the series progresses, with over-the-top gore. Also, Campbell loses a hand and replaces it with a chainsaw. The last movie has Campbell back at his job as stock boy, but ready to fight evil if the need arises.

The TV series starts 30 years later, with Campbell still a stock boy. He lives a sleazy life in an Airstream trailer (like in My Name is Bruce). When it looks like Evil is back, he teams up with co-workers Ray Santiago and Dana DeLorenzo to fight it. Lucy Lawless also appears to be working either with or against.

As you might expect from a movie where the hero replaces his hand with a chainsaw, this is a really gory series. We sometimes regretted watching during dinner. There's also a bit of nudity, some quite disturbing, like the corpse with the pierced penis. See, Campbell gets his head stuck in the corpse's butthole and has to wear it for a mask... Never mind, you've got to watch it. But only if you aren't squeamish.

It also has a great soundtrack, by our friend from Leverage, Joe LoDuca. He uses a bunch of 70s hard rock - even if you don't watch this series (it's pretty gross and stupid), check out the playlist on Spotify.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Devil and Son House

Even though it's after Thanksgiving, I'm still catching up on the Halloween horror. We had a nice run one weekend, starting with The Devil Commands (1941).

TDC is an almost perfect mad scientist movie. It stars Boris Karloff as the absent minded professor who has invented a way to record brainwaves. He demonstrates on his wife Shirley Ward. It is a sweet scene, as she bustles in to remind him they are picking up their daughter at the train for her birthday. They have the easy, loving feel of a long-term couple. However, before they can pick up their daughter, the wife is killed in traffic.

Now, Karloff becomes withdrawn. His daughter, Amanda Duff, can't get him out of the laboratory, where he works with his assistant Cy Schindell, a janitor or handyman (but not a hunchback). However, an experiment goes wrong, and Schindell's brain is damaged and - YES! - he develops a hunchback! So we have a mad scientist, his beautiful daughter, and a hunchbacked assistant. A phony psychic, Anne Revere, completes the team, as they try to use science to contact the spirit of Karloff's wife.

There's even grave robbing, a creepy old house, and a seance of space-suited corpses. Karloff is magnetic throughout - his love for his wife cutting through everything.

Son of Dracula/House of Dracula (1943/1945) are a nice pair. Son is directed by B-movie master Robert Siodmak, written by his brother Curt. It takes place in Louisiana, probably near where the mummy Kharis was last seen. Louise Allbritton is hosting a party at her father's mansion, where she hopes Count Alucard, who she met in Europe, will appear. He doesn't, but her father turns up dead - and then the count shows up. Her boyfriend, Robert Paige, doesn't like this at all. He goes a bit nuts and shoots the count several times, with Allbritton standing behind him. What really freaks Paige out is that the bullets pass through Alucard, killing Allbritton.

Paige is locked up for the murder, but Allbritton appears in his cell as a bat and tells him to kill Alucard, who we all know is Dracula. Then Allbritton will bite Paige and they will become immortal together.

There's a lot to like about this entry in the Universal Monsterverse. The bayou setting with the touch of voodoo, Allbritton's morbid gothiness, the shooting scene, even the bat transformation. One problem, though - Alucard/Dracula is played by Lon Chaney, Jr. This gives him all four monsters (Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster, Mummy, Dracula), but he is not a great Dracula. He has a brutal look and Midwestern accent, not the suave European at all.

House, on the other hand, is very different. First, Dracula is played by John Carradine, suitably suave and sinister. Second, the story is all over the map, with three big monsters. Dr. Onslow Stevens is practicing mad medicine in a castle in Europe, with a beautiful assistant and a hunchback - no beatiful daughter, but the hunchback is a woman, Jane Adams. Carradine shows up, looking for a cure, and the doc gets to work. Then Lon Chaney, Jr. shows up, looking for a cure for lycanthropy, only to be told to come back later. When he tries to kill himself, he winds up in a cave where Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange) has been stuck since House of Frankenstein. This is all a big muddle, but it does have a mad scientist plus beautiful assistant and female hunchback.

In conclusion, all mad scientists should have a beautiful daughter as well as a hunchbacked assistant. It's just the way it works.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mr. Blobby

The Blob (1958) kind of surprised me. For a B-movie, it had a lot more gloss than I expected.

It starts with Steve McQueen (in his first feature) parking with Aneta Coursault. He comes across as a sensitive teen delinquent (although he looks at least as old as his actual 28 years). They see a meteor land and go to look at it, but it has already been found by old codger Howlin' Olin Howland. When they find him, it has already blobbed onto his arm, so they race him to the doctor's.

We meet Dr. Stephen Chase just as he's leaving town for a convention. He sends the nurse home, locks up and is almost gone when the kids bring in old Howland. Pretty soon, the blob has eaten him completely, along with the doctor. The kids go to get the police, but when they get back, there's no sign of the blob. One of the cops thinks the whole thing is a prank, but the other thinks McQueen is a good kid. Still, with no proof, there's nothing they can do.

So our young couple gather up a posse of other teens from the midnight horror movie show. This is a cute bit of meta - even in 1958, horror B-movies are a thing. It's also a little pointless, because they don't actually find the monster. But the monster finds the midnight movie.

I did not know this movie was in color. I think that made it look a lot less cheap then good old black 'n' white. Also, the goofy surf-cha-cha-cha theme song (co-written by Burt Bacharach!) made me realize that this movie was a little more self-aware than I expected, if not exactly a parody. I liked the whole "the adults don't believe the kids, because the evidence keeps getting eaten" story, especially when the monster shows up and all the adults have to buy in.

In conclusion, Howland's dog survives. I know it's a spoiler, but I don't want anyone to stress.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Quiz time!

Oh dear, it's film quiz time again over at Dennis Cozzalio's place. And it's a really hard one.

1) Most obnoxious movie you’ve ever seen
Not counting Mystery Science Theater 3000, I'd have to say Gone with the Wind. "I don't know nothing about birthing no babies," my ass.

2) Favorite oddball pairing of actors
I wish I could think of some really incongruous pair, like John Denver and George Burns, but the best I can come up with is Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. And they really are my favorites.

3) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Ken Russell?
How about Iron Man? Make Tony Stark a real playboy, show us another side of Pepper "Sex" Pott?

4) Emma Stone or Margot Robbie?
Emma Stone for body of work. Margot Robbie for Ms. Q. Now I've got one: C.C.H. Pounder or Viola Davis?

5) Which member of Monty Python are you?
The tall one.

6) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Vincent Minnelli?
I was never a fan of his glossy, saturated technicolor, but in Suicide Squad, it might have worked.

7) Franco Nero or Gian Maria Volonte?
Nero is unstoppable.

8) Your favorite Japanese monster movie
Agian, outside of MST3K, I don't watch these. Although I'm intrigued by the new Monster Island franchise. Can I say Latitude Zero?

9) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Stanley Kubrick?
His clean, clear, possibly sterile style might have saved Batman v. Superman.

10) Hanna Schygulla or Barbara Sukowa?
I don't believe I've seen either in anything significant. But I've heard of Hannah.

11) Name a critically admired movie that you hate
There are a lot of critically admired movies that I've never bothered to watch, because they don't seem like my thing (Godfather), so I can't say I hate them. But someone did make me watch Taxi Driver and I didn't care for it. When she fell asleep, I turned it off.

12) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Elia Kazan?
I haven't seen many of his movies, but he's known for message movies, right? Captain America: Civil War.

13) Better or worse: Disney comedies (1955-1975) or Elvis musicals?
I'm not a big fan of Disney animation (except Fantasia), but I suspect you mean the live-action, Dean Jones or Fred MacMurray, That Darn Cat type comedies. Which I kind of like, especially if Haley Mills is in it. But Elvis must win.

14) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Alfred Hitchcock?
I think he could have done a lot to tighten up Ant Man, and maybe add some suspense, while keeping the humor.

15) Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum?
Gosling seems to have some strong acting chops, but he looks like a "sharpie" - cast him for a conman or maybe a shady cop. Tatum has a more generic look, although he looks good in "slab o' meat" roles. Tatum, for flexibility and likeableness.

16) Bad performance in a movie you otherwise like/love
I feel like "Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's" should be the key that unlocks many more, but that's the only one I can think of.

17) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Howard Hawks?
If he remade Captain America, he'd probably punch up the humor.

18) Tippi Hedren or Kim Novak?
OK, I've got a pair of platinum blondes for you: Janet Leigh or Peggy Lee? (Yes, I just saw Pete Kelly's Blues.)

19) Best crime movie remake
Ooh, can I say Maltese Falcon?

20) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Preston Sturges?
Maybe he could be the one to finally do The Incredible Hulk properly. Bring out the horror, keep the pace brisk.

21) West Side Story (the movie), yes or no?
Yes, I kind of like it.

22) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Luchino Visconti?
Again, I haven't seen many of his movies, but I do think he could do something with the X-Men - maybe X-Men: First Class. I think he could handle the swinging 60s/70s milieu in an interesting way.

23) What was the last movie you saw, theatrically and/or on DVD/Blu-ray/streaming?
Theatrically, we saw the RiffTrax presentation of Night of the Living Dead. It was interesting to get back to a theater. On disc, we watched Vincent Price's Last Man on Earth. Without riffing, this brought us down so bad, we didn't try to watch the flipside of the disc - Panic in the Year Zero. Instead we rewatched Animal Crackers.

24) Brewster McCloud or O.C. and Stiggs?
Haven't seen BMcC since ~1976, and OC+S is on my Netflix queue, so I can't really answer now.

25) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Luis Bunuel?
Can he do Dr. Strange? We'd need to add a perverse love affair to seal the deal, I guess. Or should we save it for Jodorowski?

26) Best nature-in-revolt movie
Does The Day the Earth Froze count?

27) Best Rene Auberjoinois performance (film or TV)
I am only really aware of him as Odo, and I never really watched ST:DS9. I know I've seen him in other things, and recognized him, but nothing really stands out.

28) Which movie would you have paid to see remade by Ingmar Bergman?
That's easy: Logan.

29) Best movie with a bird or referencing a bird in its title?
I was thinking Eastwood's Bird (which I haven't seen), but of course, the true answer is Maltese Falcon again.

30) Burt Lancaster or Michael Keaton?
I'm not a big Lancaster fan, but Mr. Mom? Our second silliest Batman? I love Keaton's Dogberry from Much Ado, but it has to be Burt.

31) In what way have the recent avalanche of allegations unearthed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal changed the way you look at movies and the artists who make them?
I've been overlooking artists personalities for a long while. But it's getting harder. I'm less inclined to watch Polanski or Woody Allen now. But I still watched Baby Driver, even after hearing about Kevin Spacey.

32) In 2017 which is “better,” TV or the movies?
I'd say movies, but they are definitely converging, while diverging from the old customary ways. For one thing, both have gotten into telling long, serial stories, as TV gets less episodic, more "continuity-like", and movies come in 4-5 part trilogies and expanded universes.

Whew, done! The "paid to see remade" questions were especially tough. I had to use a simple trick to get through them. Can you spot it?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Red Shoes Diary

I might have mentioned that I have never watched The Red Shoes (1948), but I'm now getting into the Powell/Pressburger oeuvre, and it is time. Since it includes a curse and the devil, I guess it's an October horror movie, right?

It starts with a ballet performance, but not a genteel stuffy performance. The music students and other fans waiting in line for the cheap seats nearly trample the guards to get in. Marius Goring is attending because his professor wrote the score - or did he? Because it sounds like he stole it from one of Goring's student projects. But he isn't really the protagonist.

The next day, Goring goes to the ballet's impressario, Anton  Walbrook, to get back a letter he sent about the plagiarism of his work. Walbrook understands what is going on, but convince Goring to keep quiet, and also offers him work as rehearsal director. (Also, he looks very Barrymore.)

Walbrook goes to a society party to mingle, but it's actually because Moira Shearer's mother is trying to get him to see her daughter dance. He doesn't like this, and it looks like Shearer won't be the protagonist. But finally, he sees Shearer in a performance, and decides to make her his star. He gets Goring to work on a ballet based on the fairy tale, The Red Shoes. Of course, Shearer and Goring fall in love, and of course, Walbrook wants Shearer for his own. That's the romantic triangle and now we see the picture.

The story is simple enough - girl must decide between sleazy but powerful impresario or noble but poor composer. To amp it up, the sleazy guy actually brings out her best art, while the composer wants her to quit working (of course). And, as in so many Powell/Pressburger movies, it ends with a fall from a great height.

But even if the story is simple, it is not told that way. It is full of interest and incident. Walbrook, as the devil-surrogate, is of course the most interesting. Goring is a bit of a zero, but Shearer is rather affecting, possibly because she was a real ballerina, more than an actor.

The music and dance are the best part, but there's less of both than you might expect.

In conclusion, I don't think that, if I had seen this as a young girl, it would have inspired me to become a ballerina.

Friday, November 24, 2017

At the Octoplex

Even though it's closer to Thanksgiving, I'm still catching up on our Halloween movies. We watched a great batch of old classics, four double bills. Here goes:

Son of Frankenstein/Ghost of Frankenstein (1939/1942) are up first. These sequels both feature Bela Lugosi as Ygor, deformed when he survived a hanging. He looks very dashing in a wolfman-esque beard - it squares off his heart-shaped face. In Son, when Basil Rathbone as Baron von Frankenstein's heir shows up at the castle, Ygor is always nearby, tootling his oxhorn flute.

When the young doctor revives the corpse of the monster (Boris Karloff), he discovers that it only responds to Ygor's flute. The monster then begins murdering the jurors who judged Ygor, and it's time for the old torch-carrying mob. Ygor is shot and the monster is pushed into a pit of molten sulfur. That's the last we'll see of them!

Until Ghost. When the villagers blow up Castle Frankenstein, it releases the monster (Lon Chaney, Jr., this time) from the pit, which has preserved it. Ygor takes him to see Cedric Hardwicke, the old Baron's other son, to get him a tune-up. Before he can do much, the monster kills Dr. Frankenstein's co-worker, Dr. Lionel Atwill. The old Baron's ghost appears to the doctor. and suggests putting Atwill's brain in the monster, so it won't be evil. Ygor, however, wants them to use his brain - he has been hanged and shot and is pretty banged up. Guess what happens?

Note that both Son and Ghost have, respectively, a son and a ghost as advertised. They also have great casts and are a lot of fun.

Hollywood's Legends of Horror Collection: Mark of the Vampire/The Mask of Fu Manchu (1935/1932) is up next. These two are a bit different, each notorious in their own way. Mark takes place in some Eastern European town with gypsies, etc. Elizabeth Allan is daughter of the lord of the manor, who winds up dead - with two small puncture wounds in his throat. Police inspector Lionel Atwill doesn't believe it is vampires, but when specialist Lionel Barrymore shows up, he confirms: vampires. Notice that creepy strangers Bela Lugosi and Caroll Borland have just moved in, scaring the locals.

Before I get to the spoiler ending, I should mention that the commentary track featured horror and SF author Kim Newman, one of our faves. So, although we don't listen to a lot of these tracks, we had to listen to this one, and were glad we did. For one thing, they talked about how Mark was more or less a remake of Todd Browning's London After Midnight, a lost film. The gimmick in both films is that the vampires are fake, used by the police to expose the real murderer. I sure didn't see that twist coming.

I'm afraid I don't have much to say about Mask of Fu Manchu. It's possible I fell asleep a little. I do want to say that Boris Karloff makes a great Dr. Fu, if you don't mind the yellowface. Even better (worse) is Myrna Loy as his daughter Fa Lo See. For some reason, many of Loy's early roles had her playing Asian. I'll admit she has an exotic look, but I don't really see Asian. However, when she is given Sir Nayland Smith as a plaything, she has him whipped by a large African man, and it is pretty kinky. Oh, Mrs. Thin Man! So, if you are politically insensitive, this precode might be worth a watch.

The next double double comes courtesy of Rod Heath, of Ferdy On Films. He masterfully dissects the four Mummy sequels, available on 2 discs, The Mummy's Hand/The Mummy's Tomb (1940/1942) and The Mummy's Ghost/The Mummy's Curse (1944). Hand sets up the premise for the series as the retiring priest tells new priest George Zucco about how Kharis stole a bunch of tanna leaves (they look like eucalyptus to us) to try to revive his dead love Ananka. As punishment, he is entombed alive with a big supply of leaves, and the priests keep him alive with a few drops of tanna potion.

Note: Kharis is presumably based on the Greek word for devotion (root of charm, charisma) and Ananka comes from the word for necessity or destiny.

Hand features a roguish archeologist Dick Foran and his Brooklyn buddy Wallace Ford scouring Egypt for ancient treasure. They get funding from a cabaret magician (Cecil Kellaway), to the dismay of his beautiful daughter Peggy Moran. Of course, she becomes the target of both the mummy (Tom Tyler) and Zucco. It ends with the mummy heading back to America with our heroes.

There is no particular "hand" on hand.

In Tomb, we go to Foran's home in Massachusetts, where, as an old man, he tells his friends and family the story again. In Egypt, Zucco is telling the same story to his disciple, Turhan Bey. Soon, Bey is in Mass. too, setting up as gravedigger in the local cemetery, with the undead mummy - Lon Chaney, Jr, now a three-monster player (Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, Kharis). After some killing, Ford shows up (Moran has gone to her reward, it seems), but the younger generation, John Hubbard ad Elyse Knox are taking the main duties, including Knox's duty as re-incarnated Ananka substitute.

Kharis hangs out in a tomb in the cemetery, so the title checks out.

In Ghost, Zucco hands over the high priest duties to cadaverous John Carradine, who heads to Mass. to get the mummy back to Egypt. There, archeology student Robert Lowery is studying Kharis, but his main interest is otherworldy, Egyptian orphan Ramsay Ames. Surprise! She is Ananka reincarnated. Kharis catches her, and they both sink into a Massachusetts swamp. Ghosts are not in evidence.

Finally, in Curse, Massachusetts has moved to Louisiana (now the swamp makes sense). Some engineers are draining the swamp, but people keep turning up dead - maybe a mummy or two have been dug up? Beautiful exotic Virginia Christine (Mrs. Olson for Folgers) is wandering around without her memory, and there are some Egyptians (Peter Coe and Martin Koslek) skulking around the ruined chapel on the hill (noted ornament to any Louisiana town). The curse in question is probably when the Mummy shouts "Fuck this!" at the end.

Wow, what a great collection of b-horror movies! And (even though it is Thanksgiving by the calendar), I'm not done with spooky October yet.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sick Out

The Big Sick (2017) was one of the "it" movies that everyone talks about, and presumably goes to see. We watched it on DVD as soon as we got the chance. It is based on relationship between the writers, an Americanized Pakistani standup comic and an American woman who gets very very sick.

Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is a Chicago standup with a decent routine, some friends in the biz, and a tiny apartment he shares with another (much worse) comic. One night, he is heckled by a young woman (Zoe Kazan based on co-writer Emily Gordon). Although they just insult each other, they quickly wind up in bed. She doesn't want a relationship, and his family wants to arrange a marriage for him with a nice Pakistani girl, so they try to keep it casual. But they keep coming back to each other. He doesn't tell his family he has a shiksa girlfriend, and they keep trying to set him up - with very nice young Islamic women, I should say. When Helen finds out about this, she feels like he is keeping his options open, and finally breaks up with him.

Then she gets sick - like medically induced coma sick. Kumail gets her to the hospital and calls her parents (Ray Romano! and Beth Gardner). They aren't too thrilled by him - not because they are racist (more than usual) but because he broke their little girl's heart. But they are forced together by the medical emergency and learn to get along.

A couple of things: You might be thinking that this doesn't sound like a very original plot. You're right, the outline is nothing new. The goodness comes from the honesty not the originality. Also, the humor is mostly on the subtle side. There are many family dinners where Kumail's family berates him for all sorts of things - like his bearded brother wants him to grow a beard, and his father, who has a mustache, suggests that at least a mustache would look good. I was thinking that his family were such jerks I would avoid them altogether. But I saw Nanjiami mention that he wanted to show the humor in his family and realized that they were all just straight-faced kidders. But I still can't tell whether the little bits of his stand-up routine are supposed to be funny, mediocre, or somehow meta.

Actually, I didn't find this terribly funny, not like, say, Get Out. Like Get Out, though, it's strength is in its honesty. It's a real story about real people, and people you don't always hear about.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sword Fish

Sword Master (2016) is an odd one. I put it on because it was streaming and Ms. Spenser had some work to catch up on. She doesn't care much for kung fu movies, and it doesn't disturb her if I watch them if the dialog is in Chinese. Also, it was directed by Derek Yee, but produced by Tsui Hark.

It starts with a fight on a bridge above a frozen river. A sword master fights an assassin (Peter Ho) with the skull of a snake tattooed over his face. The assassin wins - I guess that isn't the sword master of the title.

That would be Lin Gengxin, who wants to hide his identity. He spends all his money in a house of dancing girls, and winds up working there as a lowly janitor. When Snake-face comes to fight him, his clan tells him he is dead. Now Snake-face has no one left to beat - his life is hollow and empty, and he is dying of a fatal illness (?).

Of course, they meet unknowing, and the master/janitor teaches the assassin/Snake-face all his tricks and philosophy - before either knows that they will have to fight to the death in the last act.

There are also some stories about the dancing girls. One is an aristocrat with martial arts skills. Another is a country girl, keeping her family fed on the wages of sin. At least I think that's the case. There may have been a few more. Once the women are in dancing girl make-up, it's pretty hard to tell who's who.

In fact, I wasn't sure about a lot of what was going on. These martial arts films are always a little puzzling to me. But I don't mind if the spectacle is wild enough.

And this one certainly is spectacular. Wild and fun.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Every Frame an Airbrushed Painting on the Side of a Van

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) has what I like in movies: fun. Ever since Deadpool, or maybe Guardians of the Galaxy (oh, and Ant-Man), we've been getting some lighter, funnier Marvel comic book movies. Sure, Logan was plenty grim, but that's not all the Marvelverse has to offer, unlike on the DC side, where it's all grim and gritty.

As well as being funny, this movie is gorgeous - any frame could be airbrushed on the side of a van and it would be awesome. Or a black light poster or album cover. The opening scene is set on Earth in the 80s, so that makes sense. Then we meet our heroes on a CGI set that would look great as the scoreboard of a pinball machine. This scene sets up the dynamic well. Star Lord is talking trash, Gamora has a plan, Drax jumps down the monsters throat and tries to slash his way out. Rocket is trying to set up a boombox so that baby Groot has tunes. So we have a nice little battle scene set to baby Groot boogying down to ELO.

This isn't a big part of the main plot, but it does serve to introduce the uptight Art Deco aliens, the Sovereign, lead by Elizabeth Debicki (looking rather Tilda Swinton), who gives the Guardians Gamora's sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). The main plot starts when Star Lord finds out that his father is Kurt Russell, playing Ego, the Living Planet.

The story is a good one, with a lot going on but more focused than the previous film (or a lot of the big Marvel movies). But it is the old Daddy Issues plot, the only one most writers seem to know.

But all that hardly matters. What matters is awesome fights, chases, and battles. Drax the Destroyer is really the MVP in the movie. He attacks with such pure innocent gusto, laughing his fool head off just for the joy of the fight. It was incredibly infectious, as well - so pretty soon you're laughing along, going "wow" and "whoa" at all the right places. Plus, Drax has some great lines, like mispronouncing "anulax" as "harbulary", because they sound just the same to him.

Let's see, I'm leaving out Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego's psychic pet/slave. She's a great character, especially interacting with Drax, who insists that she's hideously ugly - which is good, because when people love her, it is for what is inside. There was Michael Rooker as Yondu, with his whistle-controlled rocket arrow. He plays another side of Star Lord's Daddy issues. There's Gamora and Nebula's feud, also a Daddy issues story. And a cameo from Howard the Duck.

My only quibble would be with the use for imitation 80's typography for the opening. It kind of smacks of Stranger Things. But I guess it is period-appropriate. The music wasn't as anthemic, with a couple of clunkers - although I agree that "Brandy" may be the greatest song ever written. And the end credits, done in the style of a, 80s cop show, were fabulous.

And in the end, we meet teen-aged Groot. What a jerk!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Foley Artist

The Wrong Guy (1997) was for Ms. Spenser - she's a big Kids in the Hall fan. If you don't like the Kids, and especially Dave Foley, you might want to skip this, because he is in almost every frame.

He plays a nebbishy executive who thinks he's going to be promoted to president, mainly because he is engaged to the current president's daughter. When he is passed over (someone else is engaged to the daughter the president likes better), he flips out and threatens to kill the president. Then a super-assassin sneaks in and kills the president, just before he storms into the office. When he comes out holding the knife, all covered in gore, it looks like he will be taking the blame!

Except not - because there was a security camera in the office and it's all on tape. The police completely ignore Foley and go after the real killer (Colm Feore). But since both guys are heading to Mexico, they keep crossing paths.

The cops chasing them are lead by fat and corrupt David Anthony Higgins (Higgins Boys and Gruber), who co-wrote with Foley. He keeps staking out strip clubs and expensive restaurants to run up the expense account. I didn't like this bit much until I realized how unrealistic it was - the movie's tone is carefully calibrated between realism and slapstick fantasy, and he was a reminder of the unreality of it all.

Foley eventually gets picked up by Jennifer Tilly, a shy girl who sometimes falls asleep at the wheel, due to narcolepsy. Her dad is Joe Flaherty (SCTV), a banker being driven out of business by the rapacious farmers of the town. He is one of my favorite things about the movie - showing off the renovations the bank made in the 70s, taking out the inkwells and putting in pens on chains. Never could get comfortable in the new chair, though.

The thing this movie does best is find the right tone. Foley is smug, dense, self-deluded, clumsy in the exact right proportions. The people around him are normal, but equally clueless, in the exact right measure. Plus, it's got some cute Hitchcock references. This kind of flew under the radar, so if you haven't heard of it, you may want to check it out.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wonderful Gal

I don't really have much to say about Wonder Woman (2017). We loved it, of course. It was a welcome relief to the Man of Steel, B v S downers coming from the DC-verse. But the main things is: Gal Gadot - What a Wonder Woman!

We meet the young Diana frolicking on the hidden island of Themiscyra with her mother Connie Neilsen and woman-at-arms Robin Wright. Yes, Princess Buttercup all buffed up and leathery, training little Diana to use weapons. Years later, when Diana is grown into Gal Gadot, a lifeboat containing Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) pierces the storm wall that hides the island. Yes, it appears that Themiscyra is Monster Island, or at least is protected the same way.

When the German gunboat that is chasing Pine shows up, there's a nice little battle scene: Amazons with swords, spears and bows vs. Germans with guns. It's not as one-sided as it sounds, given the out-gunned Amazons' skills. When Pine explains about the War (WWI) and the fiendish plan he has discovered, Gadot agrees to go to the outside world and help him fight.

There's a nice scene in London - the old fish-out-of-water scene, with Gadot trying to find clothes suited to a warrior and still fit into pre-Sufferage London. We also get to meet Etta Candy (Lucy Davis), Pine's chubby secretary. She acts a bit ditzy, but solid - always one of my favorite characters. Then Pine rounds up his misfit band to go undercover in Germany. Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), the Algerian conman, Charlie (Ewen Bremner), the drunken marksman, and Eugene Brave Rock as Chief, native American tracker and smuggler. They are actually pretty ineffectual - the conman never does much, the sharpshooter is too PTSD to kill, and the Chief is just a little embarrassed of his nickname. Still, a fun crew, especially Bremner.

There are also some villains: Dr. Poison, a poison gas scientist with a facial scar, played by Elena Anaya and her commanding officer Danny Huston. They feature in party for the Germans that Pine infiltrates and Gadot just blows through. Then we go to the trenches, where Wonder Woman isn't going to sit around while a little Belgian town gets massacred. She goes over the top and we get some nice bullets and bracelet work.

The final villain is Ares, god of war - SPOILER - it's scrawny balding David Thewlis. That was cute, but under-motivated. Then there's a superhero fight that's somewhat routine.

But so what? Throughout this whole thing, Gadot as Wonder Woman has been fierce as heck, just really leaning into it. She's a striking looking woman, with a suitable Mediterranean accent, but she just radiates strength and determination. It's white-hot and the best thing in the movie. Patty Jenkins did a great job in letting her do her thing.

However, one thing Ms. Spenser pointed out - someone once said, "Every war movie is a pro-war movie." The action, the excitement, they make war look fun, somehow. The horror of the trenches gets short shrift here. Even though Bremner plays a man damaged by killing, you don't feel it that much. That is a problem in a movie where the big bad is literally the god of War.

Still. that's just a weakness in the movie's story - or maybe just the subtext. Just watch Gadot do her thing and be happy.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Are You Not Entertained?

We put Gladiator (2000) on the queue because of Ridley Scott: We enjoyed Alien: Covenant so much we wanted more Ridley. But I guess it could fit in with Dragon Blade, the Jackie Chan/John Cusak movie.

It stars Russell Crowe as a Roman general, on campaign with Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). It starts with a very nice battle scene, one of many. Harris tells Crowe that his son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) is not a fit successor, and that he wants Crowe to act as regent and restore the Roman Senate to power. This leads Commodus to kill his father, and tries to kill Crowe, who escapes. He heads for his home in Spain, but Commodus got there first, and killed his family. He collapses and is taken by slavers.

He winds up as a gladiator, working for Oliver Reed, along with Nubian Djimon Hounsou. As a general, he has some novel ideas about strategy and teamwork, and is soon a star, heading for Rome. There, he hopes to meet up with Phoenix for revenge.

This is a great, old-fashioned sword and sandals epic. There's a ton of talk about the noble Roman virtues (Strength and Virtue!), stoicism, and  love of patria. There's also some great fights. Scott films this beautifully, every fight a story. There was even a testudo - the famous Roman infantry formation where the men stand close together and raise their shields to form walls and a roof (a personal fave).

We were entertained (to answer Crowe's question), but in retrospect, I feel like it might have been a touch too generic. It has all a batch of classic actors - even Claudius himself, Derek Jacobi. It was of a high quality, but not really groundbreaking. But if you like those old movies like Spartacus and Ben Hur, you'll love this.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Jour de Fete

We decided to watch The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) because we saw it contrasted to Umbrellas of Cherbourg - where the theme of Umbrellas is sadness and regret, the theme of Girls is joy. Also, it has Gene Kelly in it.

It all takes place in the provincial town of Rochefort. The festival is coming - we see the trucks of gear and performers taking the "transporter" - a huge basket on wires that carries traffic over the river, a kind of suspended ferry. In town, we meet the twins, Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac, real-life sisters in their only movie together (Dorléac died soon after). They are a musician and dancer, just dying to get out of Rochefort and into the big world.

We also meet their mama, Danielle Darrieux (RIP at age 100, this week). She runs the cafe in the town square, where the festival will be held. It is a kind of meeting place for the town. For instance, she meets two boys from the festival, George Chakiris and Grover Dale. (Aside - it was this movie that made me aware that George Chakiris - West Side Story - and George Maharis - Route 66 - are different people, not one guy with a lot of range.) Right away, she asks Chakiris to pick up here young son Boo-Boo from school. Because she doesn't want him walking home alone, and who wouldn't trust a carnie who just breezed into town?

Another visitor to the cafe is Jacques Perrin, a sailor for now, but soon to be demobbed to follow his dream of being a painter and poet. He is searching for a dream girl, who he has painted to look just like Deneuve. Will they ever meet?

Dorleac, in the meantime, has asked the owner of the music store in town for an introduction to the big producer in Paris, Gene Kelly. Then she actually bumps into Kelly, but doesn't know who he is, so she brushes him off. Will they ever find each other?

In addition, there is a bit of business with a brutal murder, but nobody seems to pay it much mind. Also, mama Darrieux tells a bit about her history, how she left her lover because his name was "Dame" - and she couldn't see herself marrying "Mr. Woman". Oh, did I mention that the music store owner is named Dame?

The girls join the festival circuit, being booth girls for Chakaris and Dale, who are selling motorboats at the festival. They will follow the circuit to Paris. The sailor poet-artist is going home to Marseilles. Kelly will go back to Paris alone. Or will these friends and lovers finally get together?

 This is all set to a jaunty Michel Grande score, with a few songs - it isn't "through-sung" like Umbrellas. It's a lovely bit of fluff that seems to be a tribute to the towns of France. Rochefort may not be exciting like Paris, but it is not exactly sleepy. It looks prosperous and civilized, comfortable, settled, but not old-fashioned. The cafe on the town square is a modern glass-walled box, but manages to be cozy nonetheless.

In conclusion, SPOILER, the answer to all of the rhetorical questions above is yes.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Towering Inferno

I want to thank the Ferdy on Films blog for introducing me to High-Rise (2016). It’s a funny dystopian horror film based on a J.G. Ballard story. Ms. Spenser liked it because it stars Tom Hiddlestone.

Hiddleston lives in a just-built apartment tower in 1970s England. It is quite brutalist - all raw concrete - and rather suits him, a somewhat severe, withdrawn young man. His upstairs neighbor, Siena Miller, sees him sunbathing and invites him to a party, where he meets some of the dwellers on the other floors. There are a lot of women and children, who live on the lower floors, for convenience. There's an insecure older movie star. There’s laddish, Alan Bayesian Luke Evans, who tries to seduce every woman he comes close to. Hiddleston offers a bottle of wine to the hostess, and murmurs: "I'm not good at fitting in in these kinds of things." But he seems to be fitting in quite well, getting to bed Miller a little later.

He also gets to meet the architect of the building, Royal (Jeremy Irons). He is taken up to the penthouse by a thuggish underling. There's a garden up there, and a little English cottage, and the missus keeps a horse. Later, he attends their party, and everyone is inexplicably dressed in Louis XIV finery. Although Royal talks about the mixture of classes living in the tower, it's clear who belongs to which level.

As the building's shoddy construction becomes apparent, lifts stop working, lights go off, and the stores aren't being stocked anymore. Fights break out over little things, and Hiddleston kind of likes it - it brings something out in him. And even as the microcosm of the tower is breaking down, Hiddleston still goes to work everyday - they are not cut off from the outside world. There are parties in the halls now, lit by fires or torches. The parties on the lower floors are earthier, the ones higher up more decadent, but there is the feeling that this is the way we live now.

This is all done with the lightest touch of 70s period setting. Hiddleston seems very at home in the milieu - I feel like there is a little Jeremy Irons in his choices, but maybe I'm just suggestive. I haven't read the J.G. Ballard story this is based on, but it seems very Ballardian.

In conclusion, it was directed by Ben Wheatley, a newish director who seems to specialize in low-budget, high-gloss, high-concept violent movies. I wonder if I would like any of the others.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Post Prometheus

I’m not sure what I expected of Alien: Covenant (2017): something sad and low-rent like the later sequels, or something shiny and incoherent like Prometheus. We’d be happy either way. I think we actually got the best of both.

It starts with the birth of David (Michael Fassbender), the android from Prometheus. Mr. Weyland, still a young man, wakes him up in a circular white room containing several works of art (including Michaelangelo’s David), with a striking view. It may not add much to the story, but it is visually striking.

The next scene is on a colony ship, with crew and colonists all asleep, except android Walter (again, Fassbender). There is an emergency power surge and he wakes the crew - except the captain, James Franco, who dies. They also pick up a strange signal from another planet, and their new captain, Billy Crudup, decides to head there instead of their original target. He doesn’t seem very stable or well-liked, and Franco’s widow, Katherine Waterston, logs an objection. But he’s the captain.

The planet they arrive on seems “to good to be true”, but there’s no animal life. Just like in Prom, they immediately start wandering around without suits, poking things and throwing their cigarette butts around. You know where that leads.

They are saved by David - he came to the planet after the end of Prom, along with Noomi Rapace, now deceased. He will have some interesting philosophical discussions with Walter, but how much help will he be with the dangerous wildlife? You know how tricky these androids can be.

In fact, although we get more information about the Engineers, and plenty of new and classic Xenomorphs, this movie is mostly about the androids and how they fit into the Alienverse.

The crew is a little bigger to start out, but the focus is mainly on Waterston and Crudup. The captain is a bit paranoid, and thinks his religious fundamentalism is what prevented him from getting his promoted. It’s actually that he makes a terrible leader. Waterston, on the other hand, is extremely cute, resourceful and resolute. She’s an alternative take on Ripley - more vulnerable, with an open, child-like face (and haircut), but still strong.

Ridley Scott has promised more of these, concentrating on the androids. Ms. Spenser is on board - she wanted to rewatch this as soon as it was done.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Magical Negro

I wasn't sure what kind of a movie Sleight (2017) was - gritty urban realism or superhero fantasy. That's fine, it doesn't want you to know either.

It stars Jacob Latimore, a black kid who was going to get a great scholarship after high school, but his mother's death put that on hold. Now he is raising his little sister on the proceeds of some street magic and dealing coke and molly. He's a charismatic young man, and his magic act is pretty impressive. As a dealer, his specialty seems to be white college kids who want to seem cooler than they are. Things aren't great, but he's doing all right. He even met a girl while busking and she likes him.

But his boss, Dule Hill (Psych), turns out to be a lot less chill than Latimore thinks. A new dealer is working his territory, and Hill gets tough - and makes Latimore his enforcer.

Now I hope you are not reading this before you see Sleight - which I recommend that you do - because spoilers. Some of Latimore's tricks seem inexplicable, but of course, that's what magic is about. Then you see him changing batteries for some gizmo, and he levitates the old batteries into the trash - He's Magneto! For real! Or is it part of another elaborate effect?

I'm not going to spoiler the answer, but it's both real and fantasy, awesome and silly. And in some ways, unnecessary. This could have been a simple story about a good kid who made bad choices, got the consequences for being a black man in America and so forth. It would have been a fine movie. But I probably wouldn't watch it, because that's not my genre. SF/Fantasy/Superhero is right up my alley, though, so I'm glad I watched. I can't say I was tricked into it, because it was just what I expected, even though I didn't really know what to expect.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

April in Paris

I control the Netflix queue here at Casa Beveridge, so I'm always happy when Ms. Spenser enjoys one of my more risky picks. Like April and the Extraordinary World (2015). We don't always take to animation, and this one had mixed reviews, but it looked steampunk enough to check out.

April starts in the reign of Napolean III. He is visiting the secret lab of Dr. Franklin, who is working on a serum to make invincible soldiers. So far, all he has are some talking animals, and two slithery somethings that escape. When Nappy's guard tries to shoot them, there's an explosion, and everyone is killed. This sets off an alternate timeline where the Franco-Prussian War didn't happen. Also, great scientists are being captured mysteriously, so science never develops past steam power.

A generation later, one of Dr. Franklin's grandsons, his wife, and his little daughter April are continuing the work in secret. The government has become oppressive as natural resources dwindle, and all scientists who haven't vanished are shanghaied to work for the government. They are being spied on by goofy police detective Pizoni, but it isn't the government that gets them - it's a mysterious cloud shooting very accurate lightning. The adults are all stolen away, leaving only little April and her uplifted talking cat Darwin.

Ten years later, April lives alone in a secret laboratory inside a colossal monument to Napolean III. Her only companion is Darwin, now ancient and dying. Although she doesn't know it, Pizoni still pursues her, now using young petty thief, Julius as a stalking horse. But all April cares about it the ultimate serum, which, among other things, will restore Darwin to health.

This is just the setup, the adventures are just starting. There's a lot to like in this movie. The art style is rather Belgian - very Tin Tin, but more dark and dystopian. April is a great character, a scientist first, daughter and granddaughter second, and as for love, well... She does have a romance, but it's a subplot. Her mom is a scientist too, as well as her father, and they fight over medical and scientific ethics. It's like science is important to this movie. (Even though the actual science gets a little silly.)

And you get a talking cat and cameos by Einstein and Fermi. What more could you want

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Flag Day

I remember watching Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958) on tv when I was a kid, at home sick. So I queued it up.

It stars Paul Newman as harried Connecticut suburbanite who can’t get a drink on the club car on the way home. Then his wife, Joanne Woodward, is too busy to pick him up at the station, so his predatory neighbor, Joan Collins, gives him a ride. He gets home and wants a little romance with Woodward, but between the kids and her committee work, she doesn't have any time for him. Just when he has gotten her to agree to take a little time, she gets roped into a new cause - the Army is building a Top Secret installation in their town. So she volunteers to lead the opposition to the installation, and volunteers him to go to Washington to fight the Army.

That's the setup. Busybody housewives on social improvement committees, sexpot neighbors, and the peacetime army. The Army is represented by General Gale Gordon and the captain in charge of the top secret project, Jack Carson (who I always get mixed up with Jack Haley) - two very funny character actors. Directed by classic screwball director Leo McCarey, it should be funny - and there are some great scenes. Newman and Collins having a little get-together that ends with him literally swinging from the chandelier, for instance. Who knew Joan Collins was so good at physical comedy?

But Paul Newman really isn't, at least as far as I can tell. Or maybe it's the mismatch of screwball, 60s sex comedy and comedy of suburban manners that makes it less than completely satisfying.

However, on a personal note, Ms. Spenser (Dr. Spenser, in fact) is a part-time college lecturer, and of course winds up working on it more than full time, to the point where she rarely gets to knock off early on a weekend even. So I got to rib her a lot about her being too busy for romance. But I did not joke about finding my own Joan Collins.

In conclusion, it turns out the movie that I saw on tv when I was a kid was Follow Me, Boys, a Fred MacMurray Disney film, which is more kid appropriate.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Kiss Snatcher

Here's a hardboiled double bill for you: Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Picture Snatcher (1933).

This was Ms. Beveridge's first look at Kiss. It stars Ralph Meeker, and directed with noir panache by Robert Aldrich. The opening is a real grabber - a bare-foot woman wearing a trenchcoat and probably nothing else (Cloris Leachman) is running down a road at night, trying to flag down cars. She jumps out in front of Mike Hammer's (Meeker) Jaguar, nearly causing a crash. He picks her up, but isn't happy about it. They quarrel, and he drops her off at the bus station. Of course, she turns up dead.

Then everyone else turns up, looking for something she had - Mike's secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) calls it the Great Whatsit. He searches for it mainly by bumbling around and sometimes beating people up. At some point I was convinced that the whole mystery thing thing didn’t make any sense, but that might just be me. Maybe I was just to busy wallowing in the great LA scenery - especially the scenes set in Bunker Hill, including Angel’s Flight. But the greatest shot in the movie is Meeker in his apartment, next to his modernistic wall-mounted reel-to-reel answering machine, looking out the window at the cars on the freeway. Really says it all.

Then it becomes a sci-fi horror flick, and you know the rest. Wild movie, Aldrich’s best.

As a palate cleanser, let’s go back to the days of the Depression for a James Cagney film, Picture Snatcher (pronounced pitcher-snatcher). Will it be a musical, a comedy, a gangster film? The jaunty music over the credits hints at the first two, but it lies.  Cagney is a gangster who wants to go straight when he gets out of jail. He wants to be a reporter, working for Ralph Bellamy, the drunk city editor of a trashy tabloid. Since he has no scruples, he does pretty well. He gets into and out of scrapes with girls, the law, and the managing editor. He is the only reporter to get a picture of a woman getting the electric chair - while the other observers are throwing up, he’s snapping a picture with a camera on his shoe. (This part was based on a true ripped-from-the-headlines story.)

Both movies feature charming, utterly amoral, and self-centered men. It only comes out well in Picture Snatcher. I guess it might have been a comedy after all.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Two Blades

Got an Asian martial arts double-bill for you. First up: Dragon Blade (2015), an East-meets-West drama, with John Cusack as West and Jackie Chan as East. Chan plays a protector of the peace on the Silk Road. He is first seen breaking up a fight between Huns (?) and Indians (?) - which involves him fighting an angry Hun woman, and accidentally grabbing her tits and ripping off her veil. That means they are married - Oh, Jackie!

But his squad is framed for corruption, and they are exiled as slave labor to repair the walls of a city. One day, a Roman legion lead by John Cusack shows up, exhausted, with a blond, blind boy-prince. So Jackie Chan goes out to fight - or to not fight, since he's a peacemaker. After some desultory fighting, Jackie convinces Cusack to drop his sword and they enter the city.

This has to remind you of The Great Wall. It has a number of similar scenes - the sword dropping surrender, the "dance-offs" where each group does a little display of their martial skills. My guess is that this is just China wanting to make international hits, and this is their formula.

Anyway, this gets pretty dark, especially when we're talking about Adrian Brody, who blinded the boy to secure his claim to the Imperial throne. But do you really get from Rome to the kingdom of the Parthians through China?

Once again, this isn't really a great film (too serious?), but I did love the Buddhist message of peace, hope, and friendship.

The Sword Identity (2011) is a different, odder beast. It is about a Chinese coastal city that had a problem with Japanese pirates a generation ago. Things have quieted down now, and the leading five martial arts schools have gotten sloppy and complacent. The town's guards have to use papier-mache armor, because metal is for the Imperial Army. A stranger (Song Yang) comes to town with a new fighting style, a new weapon. By tradition, he has to fight his way past all four schools so that he can set up his own school. But it isn't that simple.

His weapon is kind of cool - a samurai sword about 8-feet long, but - here's the kicker - it only has an edge on the last 2-3 feet, so you can hold it by the middle of the blade and work it like a quarterstaff. Yang's mentor intuited that the samurai technique was based on polework, and set out to combat it.

Once our hero gets chased off by the schools, he hides out with a Romany (Indian?) dancing girl on a houseboat in the canal. He decides to teach her to fight, so he gives her his sword sheath, sits her by the curtained door with the end sticking out and tells her to swing up when she hears someone approach. Then he sneaks out the back. For most of the rest of the movie she demolishes every challenger - and everyone thins it's Yang. They've started calling him the Japanese Pirate, because of his sword.

So, in some senses this is a serious martial arts film. The director, Xiu Haofeng, is a serious martial artist, who was reportedly trying to make his fights more realistic. It is also a "art house" movie, where the camera may drift from the fight to the dead lotus leaves in the canal, and only show you a few of the feet. But it is also very silly - our Japanese Pirate (who is neither) next captures the whole town guard and makes them wade through the canals all night, basically just to tire them out. But he also attacks them with his "Japanese" sword to see if their old tactic of close shield and spear work can defend against the Japanese (if they ever show up). He is happy to find that it is successful, even when used by idiots.

So. there's a little something here for everyone - some realistic (not too flashy) fights, some comedy, some romance.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Station to Station

We have been watching The Middleman (2008) when we have an open space in our queue. It's a short-lived sitcom about an ordinary (but cute) artist who takes a temp job that turns out to be sidekick to secret agent superhero - the Middleman. It's funny and stupid and the characters are kind of sweet and lovable. The Middleman himself (Matt Keesler) is a straight-shooter who drinks nothing stronger than milk and loves Budd Boetticher films.

Which is funny, because we had Comanche Station (1960) all queued up. Directed by Boetticher, this entry has Randolph Scott travelling into Comanche territory to redeem a white woman they are holding hostage. Now this setup is fraught with unspoken psychological depth (see The Searchers). We imagine the woman suffering the Fate Worse than Death at the hands of savages, and wonder if she can live in society after being defiled. Scott mounts the woman, Nancy Gates, on a mule when they ride away - the sterile beast of burden traditionally ridden by celibate priests. But I noticed that she was riding astride, not side-saddle, so maybe I'm making this symbology up. Yeah, probably overthinking.

So they get to Comanche Station to wait for the coach to send Gates home to her husband, when three men come thundering in, pursued by Comanches. With Scott, they run the Comanches off, but Scott recognizes the leader, Claude Akins - he kicked him out of the army for involvement with an Indian massacre. But they are stuck together. Akins has heard of Gates, and knows there is a large reward to bring her home - in fact, he tells Gates that Scott is just after the reward (and impugns the manhood of her husband). But he doesn't tell anyone but his henchmen that the husband will pay for her dead as well as alive, and that will make things easier all around.

The henchmen, by the way, are the fun part of this grim drama. Richard Rust is older and half-wiser. Skip Homeier is the kid who kind of wonders if maybe they are the bad guys.

This was the last of the seven Boetticher/Scott westerns. We still haven't seen a few, including Ride Lonesome, the movie the Middleman wanted to see. But we will.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Detroit Muscle

I remember going to see Doctor Detroit (1983) at a bar or maybe Chinese restaurant in some small NH/VT city after a long hike, or maybe just because chances for entertainment were few and this bar or restaurant showed movies! But I don't think the timeline works, because our days of hanging out in the Great North Woods were pretty much over by 1983. So where did I see it?

No matter. When the Projection Booth podcast did their take on it, I was intrigued enough to go back to it. Would we get the good or sucky Dan Akroyd?

Akroyd plays Cliff Skridlow, a nerdy Chicago professor. We meet him out for a power walk - a limo full of escorts and their pimp gives him a hard time in passing. The pimp, Smooth Walker (Howard Hesseman) turns out to be in trouble with Mom (Kate Murtagh), the town's crime boss. He comes up with a scheme to blame it all on this uber-tough guy, Dr. Detroit. When he runs into Akroyd again in an Indian restaurant, he has his scapegoat.

The plan is to befriend Akroyd, ply him with booze, women, pot, women, cash, women, then turn the girls over to him and get out of Dodge. And this Hesseman proceeds to do. This is my favorite part - the corruption of the innocent. Like the bar scene in Mad Wednesday, when Harold Lloyd takes his first drink and comes out of his cocoon. He is a nerd, and he stays a nerd even when plied with booze and marijuana, but he gets very goofy and lets his romantic side show. He is, after all, a professor of heroic literature.

Plus, there's the girls:
  • Blonde Donna Dixon
  • Asian Lydia Lee
  • Black Lynn Litfield
  • Jewish Fran Drescher
Yes, Drescher is sexy Jewish-American Princess. I don't know why that tickles me so much, but it does.

When Hesseman takes off for Pago Pago, leaving Akroyd to look after the girls, he steps up to the plate. A quick trip to the theater dept costume room, and he is Doctor Detroit, complete with fright wig and metal hand. And we're off to the races.

The last act has Akroyd attending two parties at once: a gala being held by his father, George Furth, the president of Akroyd's college, and the Players Ball, where the Doctor is being made Pimp of the Year. Of course, this situation is a farce classic, and it's played very well.

I had remembered this as second-class Akroyd, and I still feel that way. But after this watch, I'd put it at the top of the second class. It's not often sidesplittingly funny, but it holds together. In some ways, it's like an old Danny Kaye comedy, updated, if that's your thing.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Kaneda! Tetsuo!

I was inspired to watch Akira (1988) by the Projection Booth podcast. Their thesis was, basically, the Japanese had too much money in the 80s, so they made this ridiculously expensive and well-crafted anime. Because there was no way to make their money back in Japan, they sold it internationally. People were blown away by the quality, and that started the international anime craze.

Also, we felt bad about watching live-action Ghost in the Shell without much anime background.

It is set in Neo-Tokyo, some years after something blow a huge crater in the center of town, igniting world war. Then, it's 17 years later and we are hanging out with a teen motorcycle gang - in particular, Kaneda, a leader-type with a very futuristic bike and his kid brother, Tetsuo. You will remember these names, because they get shouted about 1,000 times in the movie.

In the middle of their highway rumble with the clown gang, a gnomish child shows up, pursued by the government. The movie is pretty stingy with the info, but the kid is one of a small group of high-powered espers, being held in government custody because one of them, Akira, caused that explosion at the start of the movie. And it turns out that Tetsuo is one of them.

Kaneda meets a cute girl who is part of the anti-government resistance, and joins up with their cause. Meanwhile, Tetsuo is getting mad, and when he gets mad, rocks start to fall upward, buildings come apart, etc.

This was a great looking anime, although not so different from other, cheaper productions. Sure, there weren't as zoom shots on a static picture with speed lines, but there might have been some. The story was pretty intense, and surprisingly few (if any) likable characters.

In conclusion, we aren't really sold on anime in general (still have our faves, of course). But we will watch the Ghost in the Shell anime.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Fool Me Once

King Arthur: Excalibur Rising (2017) is not the new Guy Ritchie King Arthur movie. It's a stupid copy, with a title designed to trick you. Well it tricked me. And since the Ritchie movie (KA: Legend of the Sword) is supposed to be bad, I didn't notice the deception until it was over.

There isn't even any King Arthur in this movie! They call him Arth-Yr, and he gets killed right off. The rest of the movie is about his bastard son (Adam Byard) who didn't know who his father was - and I don't think we find out who his mother was. But when some watery tart starts distributing cutlery, you know who gets picked.

His opponents are Mordred and Morgana (Nicola Stuart-Hill), who have some sort of virgin sacrifice running gag. Just to be fair, I kind of liked Stuart-Hill's look as the witch - a no-makeup Goth look, very plain and sort of practical-scary.

So, crappy movie, and not in fun way. Now I don't even want to see the Guy Ritchie.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Shell Game

Even though we lived in Japan for 2-3 years, I'll admit we aren't as up on manga/anime as some. So, we wound up watching the live Ghost in the Shell (2017) without having read the manga, seen the anime or even the TV show. So, sue us.

It famously stars Scarlett Johansson as Major, a cyborg with no memory of her life before she had her body replaced by mechanics. She lives in a futuristic city of skyscrapers and giant holographic billboards (often huge grandmother types, giving the city a homey feel). She works in a militarized police unit under Beat Takeshi (Zatoichi, Johnny Mnemonic). Her fighting style is to strip to her shell (no skin, she's a cyborg) and leap off the nearest tall building. She lands fully camouflaged and firing.

In the first fight, she is up against robot geishas who have had their minds taken over by hackers - cyberterrorists. This will be the major conflict in the story, but it's really about Major's past. Who was she before her body, and even her brain, were rebuilt?

Of course, there was a bit of a scandal (kerfuffle, really) about casting Johansson in an Asian role. Now, since all SF movies are required to star Scarlett Johansson, this is just silly. Besides, we always felt that manga character designs tend to look vaguely Euro, and Johansson seems to pull off a very anime style of movement, somehow. Besides, she is a complete rebuild. Who knows what she looked like before she got her shell.

When the movie reveals that, it does it with a good deal more sensitivity then we expected. The whole cyborg-human identity crisis story line is done well - it doesn't hit you over the head, but isn't obscure or hard to follow. But that's not the best part.

The best part is visual. This is pure eye candy. It pays homage to Bladerunner, or at least shares influences. Very cyberpunk, very lovely.

Monday, August 28, 2017

K.C. Moan

I had never heard of Kansas City (1996) until Rod Heath mentioned it in relation to Malick's Song to Song. Late-period Malick doesn't seem too interesting to me, but the idea of Robert Altman doing a movie set in Jazz-era KC does.

It starts with tough cookie Jennifer Jason Leigh kidnapping laudanum-addicted Miranda Richardson. Although this movie isn't as dense and elliptical as some Altman films, it takes a while to get to the reason: Leigh's punk boyfriend Dermot Mulroney tried to rob a gambler friend of top black gangster and nightclub owner Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte). Leigh needs Richardson's politician husband (Michael Murphy) to use his connections to get her Johnny (Dermot) free.

Adding flavor is Leigh's sister, Brooke Smith, also married to a Johnny, Steve Buscimi as a corrupt Democratic ward heeler. Then there's the pregnant black girl that the KC Women's Club is supposed to be sponsoring. But she falls in with a jazz-mad boy (Albert J. Burnes as a young Charlie Parker), who takes her to Seldom Seen's club to hear some hot jazz.

And that's the big draw in the movie - the live jazz soundtrack, performed live by the real deal: Joshua Redman, Fathead Newman, Don Byron, Cyrus Chestnut, Ron Carter, and a bunch of others. It ends with a lovely bass duet, Ron Carter and Christian McBride, who backed up Diana Krall in the Elvis Costello Spectacle series. Great for jazz fans.

The non-jazz parts are fun too - Belafonte's gangster boss seems to be drawn from Brando's godfather - all whispery and menacing. He's even got the mustache. Leigh's tough cookie is very period. She's called Blondie, even though she's a brunette with very short hair - turns out she burned her hair off trying to bleach it out like Jean Harlow's (another K.C. alumna).

But Miranda Richardson's very stoned society wife, nipping on the laudanum bottle, is the real star. I don't know if that's a hard role to play (even with accents), but it was effective and funny. Fun for fans of jazz, laudanum, and/or Altman.