Sunday, August 20, 2017

Scary Monster, Super Creeps

Colossal (2017) is a different kind of movie - it's not really a drama or a comedy, although it has a lot of both. It isn't a monster movie or a horror film, except kind of. The closest thing I can think of is Get Out (but that isn't very close either).

It stars Anne Hathaway as a drunk party girl in New York. She comes home one morning drunk and her British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) throws her out. The next scene finds her in some suburb, getting out of a taxi with a few boxes and going into her parent's house. They are away somewhere unspecified, and the whole place is empty and unfurnished.

When she's walking back from a store with an air mattress, she runs into an grade school friend, Jason Sudeikis, who gives her a ride to the bar he inherited from his father. Sudeikis seems pretty different from the New York crowd she used to hang with - he's a beard and flannel shirt type. But his bar is kind of a cozy little dump, so she has a few beers with him and his friends, and stumbles home in the morning to pass out on the floor.

She wakes up to a phone call from a friend about a disaster in Korea. A giant monster appeared in Seoul, stomped around crushing buildings and people and disappeared. To skip ahead a bit, Hathaway finally realizes that the monster appears when she drunkenly stumbles through a particular playground at a particular time. The monster is her.

Later, a giant robot appears as well, and -SPOILER- it is Sudeikis.

The odd thing about this is how it plays out - it is kind of like a dark comedy, except it isn't at all funny. It is kind of a horror movie, but everyone is numb from booze, and it is all happening so far away. Maybe it's a surrealist drama?

In fact, maybe it's just a plain addiction drama with a single substitution. Say that Hathaway had discovered that she had driven home drunk and killed someone. Same exact story, but normal, banal even. So they just took a common story and turned it a little sideways. They do this in a couple of ways. For example, you know those rom-coms where the girl has to return to her small town from the big city, and falls in love with the simple, honest, pickup-driving guy from her past? Yeah, not here. Sudeikis is a genuine small-town loser and creep. Maybe that's why this movie isn't funny - it's an anti-rom-com.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

You Drive Me Ape You Big Gorilla

I don't know what we expected from Kong: Skull Island (2017). All giant ape movies are crap, except the original King Kong, right? I guess I can't say, we've never seen any. This one was great, though.

First, it shows you the monster right away. Two pilots crash on the island in WWII, one American, one Japanese. As they carry on fighting at the edge of a cliff, Kong rises up - and he's huuuge! The soldiers could fit into his nostrils. Great opening.

Fast forward to 1973. John Goodman and Corey Hawkins are begging for funding to explore a previously unknown skull-shaped island. They get the funding, and a military escort, a helicopter squadron being demobilized from Vietnam, lead by Samuel L. Jackson. He's just glad they don't have to go home and get to keep playing with the boom toys.

They also pick up Tom Hiddleston as a jungle guide (we love Mr. Loki, but this is not his best role - a bit too generic) and Brie Larson as an award-winning photojournalist and pacifist. then they head to the island.

Along with a lot of cool modern action, there is a lot of beautiful (CGI?) scenery with helicopters floating through the air like dragonflies, sometimes with huge explosions, and/or a classic rock soundtrack. Yes, this is King Kong meets Apocalypse Now. When I watched it, I thought John Goodman was playing his showman character from Matinee - but he didn't bring the ape back to Broadway. Instead, I now realize that he was "doing" John Milius, writer and muse for Apocalypse Now. A quick check on the Google reveals that he has been doing Milius at least since Walter Sobchek in the Big Lebowski. Also, Hiddleston's character is named Conrad (not Joseph, though).

I'm skipping all the spoilery stuff - I think it's enough to say that this is both exciting and gorgeous, as well as full of sly references to other movies (not just Apocalypse Now). There's also a great role for John C. Reilly, comic relief but also the movie's heart and soul. Some of his stuff is clearly ad-libbed, and you wonder how the rest of the cast kept straight faces. There's also a tremendous body count, including some gruesome and funny kills.

What more do you want?

Added: I seem to have forgotten the great monster battles in this movie: Megarilla vs. Tentaculon! Apeapotamus vs. Gatorsaurus! Good stuff.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Manic Red-Haired Dream Girl

Paprika (2006) is a pretty kooky anime. It's got a complicated story and psychedelic visual style. Wait, that's a normal anime.

A red-headed girl called Paprika is inside police detective Konakawa's dreams, helping him with his anxiety dreams. It transpires (although it is never quite explained) that Paprika is the dream avatar of Dr. Chiba, a dark-haired, severe, Nagel-type beauty. Along with fat man-boy Tokita and gnomish Dr. Shima, she invented the device that lets them enter people's dreams. Two problems: it's use is illegal (so her therapy sessions with the detective aren't sanctioned) and 2. The device has been stolen.

As Dr. Shima explains it, this miniaturized device, the "DC Mini" can control the dreams of anyone, anywhere at anytime, and then ice cream dolls, the refrigerators and microwaves join the parade, and ... He goes a little mad in the middle of the discussion and jumps out a window. It seems that he has been DC Mini-ed.

The story is about how this team finds who stole the DC Mini and gets it back before the whole world goes mad in their dreams. But what it's really about is crazy dream sequences of Japanese dolls, kitchen appliances, schoolgirls with cellphone heads, frogs and more in wild profusion.

The story in the "real world" (which can be a little vague) is a bit confused, or just plain weak. The detective's dream plot doesn't really get resolved. Dr. Chiba is alternately scornful and loving to "I eat everything" Tokita-san, for reasons that aren't clear to me (although Japanese anime fans might get it). In the finale, Dr. Chiba/Paprika conquers with a technique that clearly should have been Tokita's. Oh well, you don't watch anime for the story. At least we don't.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

It's the Worst

Now that a little time has passed, I think we can all agree that La La Land (2016) is a quite a good movie, even if not the resurrection of the Hollywood musical that some were hyping it as. We went in with very modest expections, and they were handily exceeded.

It starts with a lovely little dance number - in an LA traffic jam. i had expected Marcello Mastroianni to float up out of one of the cars, but no. However, Ryan Gosling does flip off Emma Stone when traffic starts moving.

Stone is an aspiring actress - a good one if her auditions are any thing to go by. Not a very lucky one, though - she messes up her blouse, someone walks into the room just when she's getting going, etc.
Gosling is a jazz pianist - also very good, but no one will let him play it like it is. Hired to play hokey Christmas tunes at a restaurant, he starts improvising just as Stone walks in. He gets fired, so when she tries to compliment him, he flips her off again, This meet-cute thing isn't really working out.

Finally, at a "typical Hollywood party", she sees him playing keytar with a dire 80s cover band. So they spend a few quiet minutes watching the lights of LA, on the same street that party in The Nice Guys took place. They joke around, disparage the scenery ("I've seen better") and have a little dance number. Before long they are living together.

But this is Hollywood, so there's no happy ending in the middle of the movie. Gosling feels he needs to bring in some money, so he puts his dreams of opening a jazz club on hold to play in his friend John Legend's funk-fusion band. This makes Stone happy at first, because she likes good music more than jazz, but she can see that it is eating at his soul. Because he plays his solo with one hand in his pocket and a wry half-smile on his face. Meanwhile, he convinces her to pursue her dream of writing and starring in a one-woman show, but then he misses her opening night. Oh, these crazy kids.

You're probably thinking, skip the spoilers, who cares about the story, how's the music? The dancing? In my opinion, the music is great. Gosling's jazz is kind of soft bop, not threatening but not pablum. I guess they were trying for Michel Legrand, and they got it. The songs are good, although only Stone's Fools Who Dream really moved me.

The dancing isn't great, I won't lie, especially when compared to Kelly, Astaire, Charisse, Rogers, etc. But take the Griffin Observatory scene - they go to the Planetarium and dance up into the stars. Astaire and Vera Ellen have a similar number in Belle of New York, and, in my opinion, it wasn't that great. So you could say the dance numbers were no worse than some of Astaire's worst. I guess that's not too shabby.

I had a little problem with Gosling's character - he's a snob. I can see hating to play Christmas carols and 80s hits, but John Legend's band was hot. He comes off as sullen and whiny, even though he tries to take it with a joke and (wry half-) smile. Also, Gosling has the face of a sharpie - he looks shifty to me. Hard to take him seriously (even though the jazz is good).

Stone is another story - she seems to be a serious, dedicated actress, giving her all in commercials and terrible "message" TV movies. Also, she is gorgeous, in a somehow French New Wave way - very Jacques Demy.

In the end, there is a fantasy ballet, and dreams come true for both of them - but separately. This is supposed to be very adult and somewhat fresh, but we've seen it before. Let me think: Oh yeah, Crazy Heart, another "musical".

In conclusion, neither as bad nor as good as the hype. Pretty solid, but I've seen better.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wheels of Fury

Because it's a John Carpenter, and because it's a horror movie, we watched Christine (1983) - Also, because Ms. Spenser is a muscle car nut.

It stars Keith Gordon as a nerdy high-school senior, and his friend, John Stockwell, a popular jock. Stockwell sets his sights on Alexandra Paul, but Gordon falls in love with Christine, a 58 Plymouth Fury with a frightful history. We see it first on the assembly line, where it rips one man's arm off and kills another, while it's radio played songs from the 50s (because it was the 50s).

When Gordon gets it, it barely runs. He drives it over to crusty old Robert Prosky's garage to get it into shape. First he replaces the windshield wipers. Then he shows up to school with Christine in cherry (red) condition. Also, now he is dating Paul, and Stockwell is clobbered on the football field, winding up nearly paralyzed. Also, the guys that bullied Gordon are being killed by a car - Christine with blacked out windows maybe driven by psycho-Gordon, maybe not.

Police detective Harry Dean Stanton checks up on Gordon and Christine, but he can't find the kind of scrapes and dents on her that the murders must have caused. That's because Christine is self-repairing when in Demon Car mode. We get to see some of this in some truly special effects Cheepnis - mainly scenes of body panels crumpling run backwards.

All in all, I kind of liked this. Like a lot of Carpenter's movies, it kind of seems like a teen comedy for a lot of the run. Christine was kind of cool - the 58 Fury is a nice car. The scene where -SPOILER- it attacks while totally engulfed in flames is pretty cool. But you have to wonder, why don't the bullies getting chased by Christine just step off the road? No, they have to run away straight down the center line - oh well.

Ms. Spenser agrees about the car and the flames, but basically couldn't take the Cheepnis and like of likable characters. In fact, she may be done with John Carpenter. It's too bad, but I think we've watched pretty much all of his movies, so that's that.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Other Creed

What does it say about us that we loved Assassin's Creed (2016)? I mean, Warcraft is one thing, but this? Sure, and I'll tell you why.

It starts in Spain, 1492, the Reconquista. A new Assassin gets his finger chopped off so that he can use a special blade (this seems inconvenient, but I'm not a master assassin). His job will be to protect the Sultan of Granada from the Templars, who want the MacGuffin that he has. Yes, in this movie, the Muslim (originally) Assassins are the good guys, the Christians are the bad guys. Plus, it's got Assassins - real old-fashioned "Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted", Old-Man-of-the-Mountain Assassins. Cool.

In present day Mexico (?), a boy finds his mother dead, while Patsy Cline sings "Crazy" on the radio. His father appears, wearing a hood and tells him to "live in the shadows". Years later, we meet him again in prison (Michael Fassbender), being executed by lethal injection - a tense and terrifying scene. But beautiful Marion Cotillard wakes him up in a lovely medical facility. "Is this heaven?", he asks?

This is an old Assassin trick - drug a follower with hashish, take him to a beautiful spot full of food, women, and booze, tell him he's in heaven and he can get back if he dies in their service. At least that's the story Marco Polo told about them. But that isn't the game Cotillard is up to.

She and her father (Jeremy Irons) are Templars, and Fassbender is the descendant of the Assassin from 1492. They have a gizmo that will regress him back in time - he will find out what his ancestor did with the MacGuffin, and then they can - dare we say it? Rule the world!

That's a lot of set up, but it is a 2-hour movie. It isn't all exposition either - there's lots of running, jumping, and fighting. I know nothing about the game this movie is (loosely?) based on, but I understand that leaps from high places have some importance. So we get several of those.

Plus the whole thing is beautifully photographed. It looks like everything was shot at Golden Hour, through clouds of dust, haze, or smoke. It was almost a failing: you know how some movies are shot so dark, you can't tell what's going on? This one's so hazy you sometimes get the same effect.

On some level, I guess I can admit this isn't a great movie - it's a silly action movie based on a computer game. But it's so much better than it needed to be. It's got an oddball story line, some great actors, and fine cinematography along with some exciting action. It's got everything we like.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Up to Scratch

Do I need to justify watching Undisputed (2002) - the prison boxing movie directed by Walter Hill?

It stars Wesley Snipes, as the undefeated boxing champion of the California prison system. Then World Heavyweight Champion Ving "Iceman" Rhames is convicted of sexual assault and sent to the same prison. At some point they will have to fight. That turns out to be Peter Falk's job. He's a crusty mobster (he's introduced with that title on screen) who has been working with Snipes. He arranges a fight under "London Prize Ring" rules - bare-knuckles, with no rounds, just a 60-second rest period when anyone is knocked down (unless they stay down, then they lose).

Of course, the fight is the best part of the movie. Snipes and Rhames are in great shape and seem to know how to box - and Hill knows how to film it. For the rest, Snipes and Rhames are interesting characters, but by being boring: stoical, controlled and closed off. Rhames shows no remorse for his crime and claims he was set up. The movie doesn't try to convince you one way or another. Snipes gets sent to solitary and does his time there building toothpick models. They are strong men with nothing to prove, except that they will step up to the line when the bell rings and do his best.

Snipes and Rhames get some good support from, among others, Wes Studi (our favorite Native American actor) and Fisher Stevens, as Snipes' toady, Ratbag. Falk could have walked away with the movie, but doesn't get the screen time, so that's ok. All in all, a fun tough-guy action movie.

This probably wouldn't be enough to get us to watch, but it's the first in a series - Undisputed 2 stars Black Dynamite himself, Michael Jai White. The director is Israel Florentine and co-stars Scott Adkins, a pair who are famous for direct-to-video actioners. So we're just watching this to get to the sequels.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Double Bill Travesty

If you've never heard of Charles Busch, he's a transvestite actor and playwright. I heard about him a long time ago (on NPR of course), and thought he sounded fabulous. Too bad none of his plays were on film.

Then Netflix recommended Psycho Beach Party (2000). It's a Gidget take-off, based on a Busch play. It stars Lauren Ambrose as a teenage girl who just isn't finding romance like her classmates. We meet her at a drive-in movie, watching Attack of the Three-Headed Pizza Waitress with a nerdy girlfriend. Danni Wheeler. She's fascinated by the psychological tale of female empowerment, by Ambrose is just bummed that she doesn't have a boyfriend. Then... one of the teens is brutally murdered!

The girls go to the beach with their slutty friend so she can meet surfers, and that's where Ambrose finds her passion - surfing. She is determined to be the first chick surfer on Malibu - she becomes "Chicklet".

Yes, it's a play on "Gidget". Ms. Spenser had to explain "Star Cat" (Moondoggie), but I got that "Kanaka" was the Big Kahuna. So, it's a play on Gidget. But this Chicklet has another side, another personality that's harsh, brutal, and profane. And people are getting murdered, so you have to wonder. Even police officerette Charles Busch is concerned. When the star of Three-Headed Pizza Waitress shows up on the beach incognito, anything could happen.

Not only is this a hilarious parody, it is weirdly affecting - we found ourselves caring for the characters, not just laughing at them. It's also just a fun film, with bad back-projection surfing, go-go dancing, and a musical appearance by Los Straitjackets.

It was so much fun that we had to queue up Die, Mommie, Die! (2003), Busch's version of Mommie Dearest. He stars as retired chanteuse Angela Arden, first seen putting flowers on the grave of her sister, accompanied by her gigolo companion, Jason Priestly. She returns to her Hollywood mansion, to her stuck-up, daddy-loving daughter, her gorgeous, druggy, long-haired son, and her fat, old, Jewish, constipated (but I repeat myself) agent and producer husband (Philip Baker Hall). Oh, and I forgot their mousy maid, Bootsy.

That's the setup, now the crime, as Busch slips something into her husband's hot milk. When he won't drink that, she applies it to his suppository, and makes sure he takes that.

I actually don't know how much Mommie Dearest there is in this one (haven't seen it). There's a bit of Valley of the Dolls, some of Aeschylus' Agamemnon,  even a touch of Sunset Blvd. It all ends with a glorious acid trip, and the answer to a mystery that you either guessed right away, or never noticed in the first place.

In summarizing the plots, I've left out most of the outrageous double entendres, tropes, and jokes. But there's a ton of them. I don't know how many more of his plays will be made into movies, but it should be all of them.

In conclusion, isn't it just German for "The, Mommie, The"?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Samurai Double Bill

Back in the late 70s, we watched a LOT of Japanese films, mostly samurai movies. Roughly 2-3 double bills a week, for 2-3 years. But there are still a lot of samurai films we haven't seen. We caught up with Harakiri (1962), directed by Masaki Kobayashi (best known here for Kwaidan). It was so good that we queued up Samurai Rebellion (1967) right away.

Harakiri starts with an older masterless samurai (ronin) approaching a mansion. He requests the use of their front entrance so that he can commit honorable seppuku. When the clan leader is informed of this, he says, "Again?"

You see, masterless samurai have been pulling this scam where they ask for a place to kill themselves, but they really just want a handout to move along. So they invite this ronin (Tetsuya Nakadai) to hear how they made sure the last guy who tried this really did commit harakiri. It is not a pretty story. Since they have a little time, he tells them his story.

This is a ~2 hour movie, and a lot of it is told in flashbacks, the story of the two ronin and how they are related, and why they want to die. It has to do with Nakadai's son, his daughter-in-law, and their baby daughter. And it is a tale of vengeance, honor, and violence. The kind of honor that makes a samurai, even without a master, value his sword more than his life, and maybe more than his family.

Note that "seppuku" and "harakiri" refer to the same kind of ritual self-disemboweling. But "harakiri" means "belly-cutting", and sounds low and vulgar, not elevated and noble.

Samurai Rebellion stars Toshiro Mifune, with Nakadai-san in a much smaller (though critical) role. Mifune is samurai with a shrewish wife and a good son. One day, the clan steward comes to say that the lord is getting rid of his mistress after she bore him a son, and Mifune's son has to marry her. This is very humiliating, but they have to follow orders. She turns out to be very sweet, and gives birth to a daughter that is much beloved. So, once more, it is the story of a man, his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

But then the lord decides he wants his mistress back. Will Mifune bow to the demands of the samurai code and obey? Or will he rebel? Let's check the title...

These movies have a strong family feel. They are both slow and stately, but build to an exciting climax, They have that father-daughter-in-law-granddaughter theme, used for the same purpose: to stand for the tension between masculine honor and feminine love. They both do exposition having a character narrate a flashback, or even a flashback within a flashback. They share that exquisite sense of the proper with so many other Japanese period pieces - raked gravel courtyards, men in formal kimono stepping through halls lined with paper doors, and the particular way that men make a crease behind their right knee in their hakama pants when they kneel.

If that's the kind of thing you like, you'll love these.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Elevated Discourse

Elevator to the Gallows (1957) is a nice French noir from Louis Malle. It goes like this:

Maurice Ronet is setting something up over the phone with Jeanne Moreau. He is an ex-paratrooper who works for Moreau's husband Jean Wall, and they have a plan to kill him. Later that day, when everyone in the business has gone home except boss, the receptionist, and a security guard, he tells them he is not to be disturbed, goes out on his balcony, climbs up a storey, and kills wall, setting it up as a suicide. He then climbs down to his office, and heads home with the last few workers as his alibi.

But when he gets back to his car, he notices that he forgot the rope he used to climb up. But while he's taking the elevator up to his office, the security guard cuts the power and locks up. He's stuck in the elevator.

Meanwhile, a girl and her hood boyfriend steal his car, go for a joy ride, and find the gun in the glovebox. Also meanwhile, Moreau is waiting for Ronet at their rendezvous and beginning to get desperate. She leaves the cafe and begins searching Paris for her lover.

Although this is a tense thriller, it has a lot of odd digressions - the juvenile delinquents joy-riding, and Moreau haunting late-night Paris. The Moreau sections seem especially peculiar to me, in that they add basically nothing to the story. She goes from bar to pool hall. looking in windows, getting rained on, getting propositioned, despairing more and more. Since it is Jeanne Moreau, it is easy to understand why Malle wants to film her: She is beautiful. Some of the other threads take a little time to pay off.

In conclusion, Miles Davis does a sweet improvised soundtrack, with a nice band including drummer Kenny Clarke, who solos over a few scenes.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bucks

A while ago, I got the urge to see some Goldie Hawn movies - and one of them, $ (Dollars) (1971), sort of surfaced in the queue, so...

Warren Beatty is a security consultant in Hamburg Germany, upgrading a bank there to make it burglar-proof. Goldie Hawn is a fancy call-girl, with several bad men as her client. Goldie and several of her men all bank at the same bank, using the safety deposit boxes - people with illegal revenue streams may not want to use regular deposit accounts.

So, guess what? Hawn and Beatty are working together, with a plan to rob the bank, transferring the money in the bad guys' boxes to Hawn's. The crooks can't complain to the police, so the bank won't even realize they've been robbed. But the crooks figure it out, and the last 20 minutes of the movie are a long, gruelling chase scene.

This is a comedy heist film, but it isn't entirely funny. Hawn gets to act a little goofy, and then has a sweet monologue about what a loser she feels like. Beatty, on the other hand, is super-serious, the kin of guy you'd trust to secure your bank, or rob one. I feel like a lot of this movie just gets by with putting the charismatic leads in front of the camera.

They get some strong support, especially from Gert Frobe, retired from THRUSH and now the bank president. He plays his part very sweetly, like Cuddles Sakall. Arthur Brauss as a stone-cold killer and drug dealer, on the other hand, is quite chilling. Surprisingly, the champagne bottle full of pure LSD he has plays almost no part in the film - Chekov's acid is just a misfire.

I can't say we loved this, but it was fun (a little long at 2 hours plus). It also has a jaunty little soundtrack, courtesy of Quincy Jones, including a late period funky Little Richard number.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dead and Buried

Our horror double feature for this week was Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death/The Premature Burial (1964/1962).

Masque starts with Prince Vincent Price riding into a village, making trouble for the villagers. He is about to beat or kill peasant girl Jane Asher's fiance and father, and maybe toy with her a little. When he discovers that the Red Death has just killed someone in the town, he changes his plans: He drags the girl, her boyfriend, and her dad to the castle and declares a plague party. He invites all the local dignitaries to hide out in the castle until the plague blows over.

Things at the castle are pretty kinky: Asher is bathed in the Price's wife's bedroom (Hazel Court). There is a dwarf and his midget ballerina wife, who people keep drooling over (since she's played by a child, this is extra skeezy). There is a good deal of wallowing, and some Satan worship.

This is a pretty great Corman/Price combo. Price is at the top of his game, reciting the Poe-inspired dialog with gusto. Jane Asher (Paul McCartney's girlfriend and Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon's sister) does a good job as the innocent ingenue - although she doesn't really come across as "peasant" - maybe she's petty bourgeoisie.

But the best part is the movie's atmosphere - the decadence and rot, the colors and the sickness. It proves that Corman wasn't a terrible director (just cheap) - it doesn't hurt that Nic Roeg was his cinematographer.

Burial is a bit different. For one thing, it stars Ray Milland instead of Vincent Price. He plays a wealthy painter with a morbid fear of being buried alive. He has catatonia, you see, and appears to be dead when a fit is upon him (see also Isle of the Dead). His ex-fiancee, Hazel Court again, shows up at the mansion to try to win him back - he broke up with her because he didn't want to subject her to his neuroses. But while she is coaxing him back to the world of the living, he is building an amazing easy-out crypt, with at least ten ways to escape.

But what if they go on a honeymoon? Somewhere away from the crypt? And he has a catatonic episode? Will his bride be able to save him from... Title of Film!?!? Of course, Milland's firendship with a grave robbing doctor (Alan Napier, Alfred the Butler) keeps him a little on edge - a little recreational grave robbing is fine, but you should let the comic/sinister grave diggers get to you. Even if one of them is Dick Miller.

This one rests mostly on Milland's desperation and sweaty panic. Boy is he good at it. The story is a good one too, but I wasn't entirely pulled in by the sets. The "sticks on a soundstage with dry ice" standing in for a spooky forest was right out of The Undead. Come to think of it, the grave diggers kind of reminded me of mad Digger Smolken.

But, hey, The Undead is actually a pretty good movie, and so are these.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

So Help Me Hanna

I watched Hanna (2011) on a plane the first time, and thought Ms. Spenser might enjoy it. I was wrong, but...

It starts with Saoirse Ronan out in the snow, hunting a reindeer with a homemade bow. It turns out that her father (Eric Bana) has been raising her alone in the Finnish outback to become a super-soldier assassin. When she is ready, she can let the CIA know where she is, and kill the agent that killed her mother and wants her dead (Cate Blanchett).

So, Ronan is soon picked up and brought into the belly of the intelligence beast, an underground high-security cell. In a spasm of ultra-violence and cool filming, she escapes. To give you an idea of the coolness, there are people running through a wind tunnel, because it makes a great geometric background. I think this is the point where we get a close-up of Ronan's face spinning around, Batman style. I like this kind of film stylization - or craziness, depending on how you think of it.

Any way, she breaks out and finds that she's in the middle of the Moroccan desert. She scoops up a caftan from a laundry line and meets up with some British tourists, and is introduced to the world of ordinary kids. But it can't last because the CIA is still on her tail.

Ronan is amazing in this role - her hair and eyebrows bleached out like a ghost, her mix of mature strength and viciousness and Caspar-Hauser-like innocence of the world, and of course, the way she rocks the caftan. Blanchett is suitably creepy as a buttoned-down CIA agent, with her stiletto heels and perfect make up. We see her at least twice doing her teeth, scrubbing them until they bleed.

Plus this is a cool one-man army story, with the added benefit that the one man is a beautiful young woman. The action isn't non-stop, but it is top notch. Add in some arty filming, and I think you've got a movie.

But Ms. Spenser felt differently. For one thing, the dead reindeer grossed her out right at the start. Then there's the whole super-soldier serum thing - it turns out SPOILER that Hannah is the result of Forbidden Genetic Experiments to make her stronger and more ruthless. In other words, Jason Bourne's little sister. Once this is revealed, the whole thing becomes a comicbook - it's no longer serious, just fantasy. It's pretty much unnecessary as well - she was raised by an unmodified superspy, and he seems to be as badass as her. Before the revelation, she found the movie excessively nasty, after, just a cheat.

I didn't have quite that reaction, but I did notice on closer inspection that the plot had way more holes than necessary. Fortunately that doesn't bother me.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Black Comedy

Get Out (2017) starts with a black man walking through a leafy suburb, worrying about getting Trayvoned. Before he knows it, a man in an iron helmet has grabbed him and stuffed him into a car. Then the real horror starts.

Jordan Peele is a black man living in New York with a white girlfriend (Allison Williams), and they are getting ready to visit her parents in a leafy suburb. He's nervous, his friend LilRel Howery is nervous for him, but Allison just laughs it off. Her parents are cool about race, even though they can be dorks. And the dorkiness is the real scary thing here. Not just potential in-laws, but white, liberal in-laws.

So after a horror start, this quickly becomes a comedy of manners - although I was cringing and hiding my eyes through a lot of it. But don't worry horror fans, it gets plenty scary before the end.

I don't really have much to say about this movie, and not just because I'm not spoilering. (It's Stepford Wives times Black.) In a lot of ways, it's a perfect movie, every detail in place. Peele is black Everyman, neither street nor bougie. Williams seems just right for the white GF, not a siren, not a wannabe, just regular folks. Kind of post-racial. I kind of wanted her to be more of a vamp - or a Jean Seberg gamine, irresistable to the African-American male. But I think casting a "girl next door" was a better choice. Of course, I haven't seen her in Girls, so I may be missing some subtext.

In conclusion, I guess this means we should watch Keanu?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

No Country for Old Man Logan

When we started watching Logan (2017), we flashed on No Country - all that west Texas desert, but also Dusk to Dawn, especially the TV series. When Logan is crossing the border into Mexico, I was wondering if he was heading for the Twister.

It starts with Logan (Hugh Jackman) passed out drunk in the back of a limo - one that he is driving. It's parked behind a highway filling station, and some gangbangers are stealing the tires. When he complains that they are chipping the chrome off the lugnuts, they start to stomp him. You may be thinking, only 3 or 4 thugs vs the Wolverine - they are in for a world of hurt. And they are, but so is Logan. He is hurting, one of his claws won't extend, and it just isn't fun anymore.

So Logan is driving a hack, hustling money for medicine for Prof X, and dreaming about buying a boat to just sail away from it all. He has Prof X (Patrick Stewart) stashed in Mexico, being looked after by Brain Guy Observer Caliban (Stephen Merchant). Prof is old, and his mind is going. When he has a brainwave, everyone around is paralyzed, unable to breath until he comes out of it. The movie doesn't quite spell it out, but an "incident in Westchester" killed at least 7, probably his mutant students. Also, we keep hearing that there aren't any more mutants around. It's dark days.

A Hispanic woman (Elizabeth Rodriguez) tries to hire Logan to drive her and a little girl to North Dakota. He doesn't like the job, but the money would go to the boat, so... When he goes to pick them up, she's killed by a paramilitary force, and the kid is gone. Back in Mexico, he discovers that the kid has stowed away and the paras are on the trail. That's when we find out about the kid's special Wolveroid powers.

So Logan, Prof X and the kid go on a road trip. This part reminded me a little bit of Midnight Special, a recent indie - two adults who need to get a child with special powers to a place by a date. They stay in a casino hotel and the kid watches Shane with Prof X. They meet up with a decent, salt-of-the-earth black family, and Prof X gets to sleep in a nice bed, and, well, you know how this works out. Not as well as in Shane.

A word about the kid, played by Dafne Keen. She is awesome. Keen, the actress, was actually 11 years old when this was made, and full of everything awesome - attitude, badness, and kickassitivity. She is silent for much of the movie, which just adds to her mystique. If she is the future of the X-Men, good for them.

That future is pretty questionable, because we've seen in Days of Future Past and elsewhere, the future's not what it used to be. But this does seem to be the end of the road for Patrick Stewart as Xavier and Jackman as Wolverine.

This entry in the Marvel Universe was different - full of pain and sadness, aging and finality. There aren't a lot of heroes and villains, since most of the mutants are dead. Nobody wears costumes (except the bad guys, who are in full military drag). It's a serious movie, as well as a comic-book action movie. I don't want this in all of my comic-book movies, but we liked it in this one.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Do You Like Good Music?

Sure, we all do! So check out Stax/Volt Revue: Live in Norway 1967 (1967). This is a great little concert film showing what happens when you get a bunch of great R&B singers together with the greatest backup band and horn section around, and send them to Norway.

It starts with a set for backup band Booker T. and the MGs - Al Jackson on drums, Duck Dunn on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar, Booker T. Jones on Hammon B3, including a super tight "Green Onions". Then, the Mar-Keys come out - two tenors and a trumpet - and treat us to a couple, including "Last Night" - you'd recognize it if you heard it.

The first singer is Arthur Conley, who sings "Sweet Soul Music" - shout outs to the five greatest soul acts in "America" (therefore, the whole world), and two of the five are on the tour. Eddie Floyd is up next, with "Raise Your Hand", not his more famous "Knock on Wood".

Then Sam and Dave come out and tear the place up, from the inexpressibly funky "You Don't Know Like I Know" to "Hold On, I'm Coming". They sweat, shout, growl, dance (we get one shot of the Mar-Keys footwork along with Sam and Dave), and banter with Al Jackson.

Nobody wants to follow Sam and Dave, but if anyone could, it's Otis Redding. He does five numbers, including "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and a cover of the Stones' "Satisfaction".

A must for all music lovers.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Truly, a Great Wall

I watched The Great Wall (2017) because Ms. Spenser was out of town and this was something she didn't care to watch. It worked a lot better than the last time.

It starts with a small band of Europeans trekking to China in the 11th Century, hoping to bring back the explosive black powder. They are attacked by both bandits and monsters, until only two are left, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal. The next day, they come upon the Great Wall, and are taken captive.

The Wall, in this story, was built to keep out armies and raiders, but also monsters. There is a Nameless Order (great name!) that protects it from these monsters, who attack in swarms. The NO has all kinds of cool tricks, like women with spears rope-dancing down the walls. Although the monsters are CGI, they aren't terrible CGI as I had feared - maybe not great...

So our European heroes are accepted by the NO, mostly because Damon is an expert archer. Now, I believe that it is required in these East-meets-West movies for the Westerner to be a bowman (see The Black Rose with Tyrone Power - my god, Orson Wells was in that!), so this is good. He has also fallen in love with the Jin Tian, the leader of the rope dancers. Meanwhile, his buddy and a westerner who has been stuck in China for a while (Willem Dafoe) are still plotting to get the black powder.

This movie didn't become the blockbuster that the producers hoped for, but I liked it. Director Zhang Yimou didn't get as much of his wild, colorful eye candy in here as I might have liked, but he kept it fun. Now I'm thinking I'll make Ms. Spenser watch it with me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Snow Wet

Continuing the "wife's away" filmfest, I watched The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016). I didn't really hate Snow White and the Huntsman, though mostly I liked the look, not so much the story. Still, the "sequel" (prequel? shared universe story?) looked like visual fun, and I knew Ms. Spenser would never stand for it, so I queued it up.

This one focuses on the sister of the Evil Queen Charlize Theron from the last movie (doing a better job of being sinister than last time, I thought). Queen Emily Blunt was disappointed in love, and discovered that she had ice powers. Goaded by evil sister, she founds her own kingdom in the North, where Love is forbidden and all children are orphaned and raised as warriors.

Two of these children, Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain, fall in love and secretly plan to run away from this cold and sterile land. Blunt stops them and convinces each that the other has been untrue (or dead). Then, after the events of the first movie, with Theron dead, Blunt decides to go after the Magic Mirror. Of course, Hemsworth has to stop her.

He's aided by a couple of dwarves (or dwarfs, as my spllechecker prefers), Nick Frost and Rob Drydon, and some she-dwarves, Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith help out and provide comic relief - not badly, I thought.

But, really, it wasn't very good. It had a new director, first-timer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, and lacked the visual charm of the first movie. It was mostly forgettable and soggy, even with all the ice imagery. Not planning to rewatch with Ms. Spenser. Her judgment here was correct.

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.