Wednesday, May 22, 2024

What a Tangled Web

My plan was to watch Madame Web (2024) unironically. You may know that I tend to like comic book movies, even the ones that are objectively (?) bad. Let's see how well this works here.

It starts in the Amazon, where Madame Web's mother is studying spiders while pregnant with etc. Her guide is Tahar Rahim, a slimy sort, whose lines and their delivery are hilarioulsy inept. Fortunately for Rahim, they are also dubbed by someone else. Anyway, when she finds the rare whozis, he kills her and steals it, while an Amazonian tribe of spider-people whisk her away to give her a spider bite and deliver her baby. 

We cut to the present, 2003 for some reason. The baby has grown up to be Dakota Johnson, a hotshot EMT and ambulance driver, working with Adam Scott (who is supposed to be "Uncle" Ben Parker, but the movie can't really say that, due to rights). Helping someone out of a car crash, she gets dumped into the river, and experiences weird hallucinations - including the death of a co-worker. When said co-worker dies as she has forseen, she realizes that she has powers.

The next set of visions happen on a train, where Johnson sees Rahim attack and kill three young women. We know that he now has web powers himself, and believes that these girls will grow up to be Spider-Women and kill him. But Johnson hustles these girls off the train before Rahim can get them. She steals a taxi and takes them into the woods - and leaves them there.

The girls are Sydney Sweeney, a nerd with big glasses, Isabela Merced, a pretty Latina, and Celeste O'Connor, a rough black girl from a rich family. They hang out awkwardly for a while, because they were told to stay put by a crazy lady, and they are being chased, maybe, by a crazy guy. But they get hungry and head to a diner. 

There, they decide to pick up some guys and dance on the tables, you know, diner stuff, but Rahim shows up again, and so does Johnson. They get away, and Johnson heads to the Amazon to seek answers.

And so it goes. Johnson's precog powers mostly work like resets - something terrible happens, then there is a blink and she's back before it happens and she can prevent it. But she after the first few garbled visions, she doesn't even realize that she is in a vision until the reset. I guess this makes sense to the gamer generation - save points or whatever. It also makes interesting cinema. But does it make sense as a superpower? Also, the three major visions she has are all underwater, while she is nominally drowning. Are spiders known for their underwater activities?

The script is a mess, full of loose ends, non-sequiturs,  and obvious ADR lines. The three girls get almost nothing, even in the woods/diner scene where they are the focus. Poor Sydney Sweeney, but at least she has some name recognition. 

But oddly, everything else is pretty much OK. The cinematography is great or at least pretty good. The action, except maybe the last big fight in the fireworks factory, is up to modern standards. Johnson and pretty much everyone does a lot with what they are given. 

So I was actually able to unironically enjoy a lot of this. But also, it is so blatantly bad that it is easier to enjoy it ironically - just go ahead and jeer.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Palm Springs Eternal

Palm Springs (2020) is another time loop story - a great one. 

It starts an earthquake in the desert. Then Andy Samberg wakes up in a motel in Palm Springs. He tries to have sex with his girlfriend Meredith Hagner, but she's too distracted getting ready for the wedding of her friend Camila Mendes. He hangs out in the pool in his Hawaiian shirt, drinking and talking about how one day is pretty much like any other.

At the wedding, we meet Cristin Milioti, sister of the bride. She is trying to get drunk when she is called upon to give a speech as the maid of honor. Samberg sees her discomfort, and jumps up to grab the mike. He gives a lovely speech and declares the floor open for dancing. When Milioti thanks him for saving her, she asks if he really believes all that stuff, and he tells her, nah, life is meaningless. She likes this answer so much, they go somewhere to neck, and start getting undressed among the rocks in the desert. 

Here the movie takes its first big curve - J.K. Simmons jumps out and shoots Samberg with a crossbow. He takes off running, and reaches a strangely glowing cave. He tells Milioti to stay back, run away, but she follows him. And...

Samberg wakes up again, same morning as last time. But this time, when he's in the pool, Milioti comes screaming at him. She wants to know what he's done to her. The answer is simple: She's in a time loop, the same one he's been in for countless days. Each time you die or go to sleep, you wake up on the day of the wedding. You know the rules of time loop movies, I don't have to explain it to you.

It's really a matter of how it plays out. Samberg has been in the loop so long he has forgotten his previous life. He has accepted nihilism, and enjoys knowing that anything he does will be undone - no hangovers, no consequences for social or sexual peccadillos, all damage undone. Milioti, who had been depressed, possibly alcoholic, before the loop, can embrace this attitude. But she can't live like this forever, partly due to a need to atone for things she has done before. She thinks this might break her out, but the "karmic trick" doesn't work. But she can't just accept being stuck. 

It's a little like Groundhog's Day, but with Andy MacDowell in the loop too. Except, Milioti is a lot more rough-edged than MacDowell. But what I mean is that the charm of the actors is what makes it all fun. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

Cracking the Spine

The Spine of Night (2021) seemed like a big thing in Heavy Metal style animation a couple of years ago. I finally got to se it. It was all right.

It starts with a naked woman warrior (voiced by Lucy Lawless), wearing only a leafy collar, climbs to a giant skull cave and confronts the gaurdian living within (vocied by Richard E. Grant). He is guarding a sacred flower, but lawless has one too. She tells him what brought her to him. She was living peacefully in a swamp, when they are invaded by the neighboring kingdom. Her people is slaughtered and she is taken to the king (voice of Patton Oswald). In the dungeon she meets a young scholar, who recognizes the flowers she wears as a collar. At his instigation, she uses their powers to blast their way out of prison. But the scholar steals the flower and leaves her behind. 

The rest of the movie is variations on the theme - the evil scholar being evil, or the guardian telling tales of the early days of the bloom. It's all very swords-and-sorcery/barbarian-style, with a lot of bloodshed and some nudity. It was fun but I have two major issues:

  1. The animation was pretty crude. The motion was largely rotoscoped, so that wasn't the problem. It's just that the basic drawing style was... basic. You wouldn't want most of this on the side of your van, or tattooed on your chest. Just not that epic.
  2. The score is just basic cinema music. There clearly should have been a full heavy metal screaming guitars score. I'm sure that thousands of knuckleheads in their garages could have taken care of that no problem. 

Still, it was a fun story, with lots of lore and gore. The story was worthy of the Heavy Metal movie mantel, but not the execution.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Aren't You Glad You Saw Dial?

We knew we were going to watch it eventually, so we bit the bullet and put on Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023). SPOILER - Harrison Ford de-aged pretty well.

It starts out on a Nazi train at the end of WWII. They are gathering up all the priceless artifacts, including Hitler's obsession, the Lance of Longinus. When Indy (de-aged Ford) and Toby Jones have infiltrated the train and find that the lance is a fake. Nazi Mads Mikkelsen figures this out as well - in fact, the whole trainload is fake, except for one artifact: a part of the Antikythera device, the eponymous Dial. Ford and Joes manage to get away with it, just before the train gets blown up (on a bridge, as is customary these movies).

In the present day, 1969, Ford is retiring from his professorship. Also, Marion is divorcing him and Mutt (Shia Lebeouf) has died offscreen (on his way back to his home planet, we assume). He's feeling very low, but his god-daughter, Toby Jones' daughter, Fleabag herself, Phoebe Waller-Bridge shows up, looking for info on the device. Ford had promised Jones he would destroy it because of its power, but he actually just filed it like the Ark, except in the school library. 

When they go to give it a look, they are attacked by Mikkelsen and his men. When the dust settles, Ford looks like he killed the librarians, and Waller-Bridge got away with the device. It turns out that she is not nice.

So, with the help of good old Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), Ford heads off to the stolen artifacts auction in Morocco. And so on and so on. The rest of the movie is a chase for the device, the other part of the device, the instructions for using the device, etc. Antonio Banderas gets a small part as an old friend of Indy's, but I don't think he's in the other movies like Rhys-Davies. 

The whole thing is fine - we get the usual fights, chases, and derring-do. Waller-Bridge makes a much better sparring partner/sidekick than poor Labeouf, and is served quite a bit better by the script. Ford is maybe better than ever, with the weight of age upon him. There's a cute scene of his last class before retirement where the pretty co-eds are ignoring his lecture instead of flirting with him. 

There isn't too much nostalgia and call-backery here, but I don't think this could really stand alone as a self-contained movie. But it doesn't really lean into the Last Movie in the Series feel. It pretty much has to be, given Ford's age. 

But I wish they had brought back Short Round, even for a cameo.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Korea Opportunity

The Night of the Assassin (2023) was intended as a bagatelle, a generic martial arts movie for me to watch while Ms. Spenser worked. It was exactly that and a darn good one.

It stars Shin Hyun-Joon, as the greatest assassin in the Joseon kingdom. But after a big fight, he becomes weak. His doctor tells him he has heart problems, and advises him to limit his martial arts activity, and maybe also his bedroom activities. But when a beautiful waitress in a gauzy dress serves him a private meal, he breaks the second piece of advice. When she turns out to be an assassin sent to kill him, he breaks the first. But it becomes known that he is weakened, and now everyone is after him.

He flees incognito, and is resting outside a village when a gang of kids swipe his bindle - including all his money. He finds a teahouse run by a widow with a young son (probably one of the guys who stole his stuff). She feeds him, and when he doesn't have any money, gives him a tray of noodles to deliver to a table. He keeps trying to leave (promising to pay later), and she keeps giving him tasks. She even gives him a place to stay at the end of the day. And so he becomes a waiter and scullery boy.

But the village has problems with bandits. Shin tries to keep out of it until...

Semi-spoiler: Around the end of the second act, the kid gets killed by the bandits. Like in The King's Man, this is a more-or-less welcome development, because the kid was kind of annoying. It also shifts the story away from family drama to straight action. 

It turns out that we have seen Shin Hyun-Joon before, in Shadowless Sword. I think I liked that one better, but this was perfectly servicable. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

It Truly Was a Great War

I'm not sure why, but we watched The King's Man (2021). I guess it was for Matthew Vaughan's masterful blend of comic violence and conservative fashion.

It starts in Africa during the Boer War. Ralph Fiennes, with his wife and young son, is delivering Red Cross supplies to Kitchener (Charles Dance). An assassin takes aim at Kitchener, but hits Fiennes' wife. Then their aide, Djimon Hansou, dispatches the assassin.

The son (now played by Harris Dickinson) grows up in luxury, as Fiennes is the Duke of Oxford. He is trained well, even in fighting skills, tutored by Hansou and no-nonsense nanny Gemma Arterton. But the loss of his mother has made Fiennes overprotective. When Fiennes and Dickinson go to Sarajevo to help the Arch-Duke Ferdinand in his diplomacy, they avert his assassination. And just like in real-life, they let him stumble into the assassin again, and he is killed. This only confirms Fiennes fears for his son.

But he doesn't yet realize that the assassin was part of a secret plot to pit the cousins King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas against each other. Other members in the conspiracy include Rasputin, Mata Hari, and Lenin. 

When the Great War starts Dickinson is just of age, and his father can't prevent him from joining up. But his father can put out the word that he is to be kept safe in a desk job. So he swaps identities with another soldier, and heads to the front. He performs an amazing feat of heroism, and, due to the identity swap, is shot in the head by a Scottish soldier.

It's pretty shocking to have what looked like the main character killed at this point, but, well, he was kind of drag. What the British call "wet". And this means that we get a lot more Ralph Fiennes. In fact, we get to see him try to seduce Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), then poison, shot, stab and drown him. 

In fact, there's at least a third of the movie to go after Dickinson gets killed, mostly revolving around the Zimmerman telegram and getting the US into the war. But there are all kinds of fun fights and goings on.

So, while this isn't a particularly good movie (even compared to the previous two), it does star a lot more Ralph Fiennes than you'd expect from an action movie. Funny, we got great older actors slumming in action trash in Operation Fortune as well.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Weirdly Enough

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022) was a real breath of fresh air. A warts-and-all true story of the greatest or at least most famous accordian player in a very narrow genre. Or a total goof, one or the other. 

Al starts out as a normal kid, with a normal abusive father who lost a hand at the factory. A travelling salesman (Thomas Lennon) tries to get him to buy an accordian, and gets beaten to a pulp by his dad. But his mom buys it for him and he secretly learns to play. It all goes well until some friends get him to sneak out to a teen polka party, where he is goaded into playing his accordian. But the party is busted, and he is disgraced before his parents again.

When he moved out and went to school, he was played by Daniel Radcliffe. He lived with three nice young fellows who believe in doing whatever you want. When Al says he wants to perform existing songs with new, made-up parody lyrics, they encourage him to go for it. So positive and empowering, guys. 

While making a sandwich with his balogna, he is inspired to write "My Balogna". They record it quickly in a bathroom (good acoustics) and send the tape to the local kooky radio station (note: This really happened). Of course, they don't expect overnight success - but they get it. The tape is on the air before Al gets home, and is soon the most requested song. He takes the tape to the Scotti Brothers record company (played by Will Forte and Al Yankovic himself), and is humiliated and scorned.

But his roomies don't let him despair and make sure he doesn't back out from a punk gig. When they see the tough crowd, they decide to be his backing band. They might have mentioned that they were all musicians, but it never seemed relevant. And they slay the punk crowd, including Patton Oswald with "I Love Rocky Road".

It is at this show that Al meets Dr. Demento (played Rainn Wilson, never without his tophat). The good Dr. takes Al to a celebrity pool party where he meets all the big names: Pee Wee Herman, Tiny Tim, Alice Cooper, Gallagher, Divine, Andy Warhol, etc. Then Wolfman Jack (Jack Black) turns up and challenges him to make an impromptu parody of "Another One Bites the Dust". And you know how that turned out.

But even at his peak, Al wanted to go further. The answer came when Dr. Demento gives him some LSD-laced guacamole and he decides to do only originals, no more parodies. This results in his greatest hit, the original "Eat It". But when Michael Jackson does his parody, "Beat It", Al begins to spiral.

Madonna (Evan Rachel Woods) becomes his girlfriend and a bad influence. He starts drinking heavily and it's affecting his performance. After a car crash, he comes back with "Like a Surgeon". But when Madonna is kidnapped by Pablo Escobar, he has to go Rambo.

And we all know how it ends, with Al being shot on stage by a cartel hitman. This came as a big surprise to everyone, especially Weird Al himself, who wrote and produced this.

I can't believe I just summarized 80% of this movie. 

It's always funny and never in the way you expect. Al is always in doubt, but is surrounded by positive, helpful people. He gets success overnight and Madonna for a girlfriend. He overcomes obstacles, and even his father opens up to him, telling about growing up Amish and being shunned for playing accordian. Guess what song that inspired. 

And with all the talk about originals, they only do "Eat It", and everything else is parody until the song over the credits "Now You Know". I woudn't have minded "One More Minute" or "Dare to be Stupid".

The portrayals are amazing - Al and Dr. Demento, Madonna. Al's band, just like you thought thy'd be. The pool party is brimming with cameos, which I'll let you spot or look up. And if nothing else, there are at least five great songs performed. Worth it for that alone.