Friday, February 27, 2009

Double Feature Friday!

Today your Cap'n will be looking at two different movies: one starring a cult actor and the other the third part of a trilogy. While neither of them got close to a projector's bulb, both were entertaining in small doses.

#1 : Terminal Invasion

Cranpire's love of this film used to vex me. Admittedly, I'd only seen it in pieces on the Sci-Fi Channel and it looked like their run of the mill crap, just with Bruce Campbell. Now that I've watched the whole thing, I can understand why he enjoys it so much. Kind of.

I'll give credit where credit's due: director Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th) is a more competent director than most of the "Sci-Fi Original" stable of no-names. Terminal Invasion is a cross between Pitch Black and John Carpenter's The Thing, with a small dose of Assault on Precinct 13 thrown in for good measure, and Cunningham rises to the occasion. For what's essentially a ripoff of other sci-fi / horror movies, it's pretty good. There's certainly no fat on this movie, so every scene exists to set up something later.

The story takes place on a snowy night while a small band of travellers are trapped in a charter plane lobby. Campbell is a criminal being transferred who ends up in their midst, along with some nasty alien invaders disguised as humans. You can figure out where it goes from there if you've seen any of the movies above.

What I appreciated about Terminal Invasion is the way it sets up twists in the story based on things you assume to be true at the beginning. While I was pretty sure I knew who was an alien and who wasn't (and was mostly right), there's at least one genuine surprise halfway into the movie. Cunningham uses the limited geography of the terminal to telegraph plot points later, which I find to be rare of Sci-Fi Originals*.

That being said, this is still a made for TV movie, and it shows. Most sets are overlit so that shooting can commence from any angle, so even the dark scenes are pretty bright. The cgi, while used sparingly, is still five or six steps below the early Nasonex commercials. At least twice during Terminal Invasion, the movie "Fades to Commercial", and it looks silly without actual commercials.

However, most of these are acceptable if considered in the context of how Terminal Invasion came to be. The unfortunate cost cutting exercise comes during "attack" scenes involving the aliens. The camera is normally pretty stable, but when the aliens attack there's a postproduction "herky-jerky" effect that just looks dirt cheap.

Still, with expectations set properly, Terminal Invasion is pretty good for what it is, and I'd probably watch it again. Bruce is pretty good despite having to play the "stoic" type for most of the movie. Not many wisecracks to be seen here, but there is some decent gore and Terminal Invasion would be good times with a six pack and your buddies.


#2 Feast III: The Happy Finish

First things first: this is anything but a happy finish. Even in John Gulager's twisted world of ironic horror-comedy, Feast III doesn't quite get where its going after 80 minutes. Anyone who didn't like Feast II might as well skip Happy Finish, because most of what you didn't like is still present. Most of the outlandish monster sex has been replaced by pointless scatalogical humor (there's plenty of farting and at least one character shits himself).

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'm going to present my case for Feast III, which more or less picks up immediately after Sloppy Seconds. Gulager wisely tries to restore the claustrophobic feeling of Feast by moving the survivors of part II into smaller spaces and keeping them there. He also introduces new characters, including a survivalist, a mentally retarded "prophet", and a kung fu master. Needless to say, new characters don't fare well in a Feast movie, especially competent ones.

I mean, if I was a character named Shitkicker of Jean-Claude Seagal in a Feast movie, my name might as well be Dogmeat. The kills are still extremely violent and Gulager finds new and horrible ways to punish the idiots that populate this film. The ending makes no sense whatsoever but it's clear that Gulager and writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Duston just needed to end the movie.

The song that follows a giant robot attack (you heard me) hints that maybe Feast IV will explain what's going on, or maybe we're just shit out of luck. Either way, it's an audacious "fuck you" to people expecting a conclusion.

Feast III has one serious problem. Like Terminal Invasion, it employs a particular effect during a major action setpiece that almost ruins everything. In Terminal Invasion's case, it was a matter of budget, but in Happy Finish it must've been a stylistic choice. Gulager introduces a new variation of monsters - people who survived being vomited on - in the sewers, and they live in a chamber lit by strobe lights.

The entire fight scene is lit like this, but instead of motion, Gulager takes frozen images punctuated by darkness for far too long. More than once during the scene I completely lost sense of the geography in the fight or what exactly what was happening. Since a major character from Sloppy Seconds is affected by the outcome of the fight, it gets frustrating trying to work out what happened to her.

The Happy Finish doesn't really live up to the promise of the first film, and while it makes steps to address problems from Part II, the Cap'n is hard pressed to recommend it. At 80 minutes, it's not a huge time investment, but if you're in any way lukewarm about the first sequel, this won't win you over. I'm torn between calling the ending retarded or inspired. Some of the developments in the sewer were cool, but handled poorly in transition. It's a maybe renter, but largely a skip for most of you.


The Cap'n never thought he'd say this, but if you're torn between the two for some reason, go with the dvd that says "Sci-Fi Essential**" on the cover. Bruce is usually the safer path to go anyway.

* No offense to Cranpire, who loves them, but almost every SF Channel Original sucks donkey balls.
** sigh.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

2008 Belated Recap: Bum Rap Movies

When we left off last night, the Cap'n promised to pick up with more movies that I feel didn't get a fair shake. Chances are you were more familiar with these movies than Appaloosa, Man on Wire, Redbelt, or In Bruges. That doesn't mean you saw them, or even planned on seeing them. While I totally understand, as I rendered similar judgments early on, the Cap'n is here to stand up for some more gems from 2008.

Since we're dealing with more than five movies, I'm going to keep it short. I ran long last night and don't expect you to listen to me ramble. Without further ado, on with the show.

Burn After Reading - I know three people who saw this movie and liked it. I know many people who a) didn't like it, or b) didn't see it because they heard bad things. While this is not Lebowski-caliber Coen Brothers, it is every bit as clever as any of their "takes" on genre: in this case the Spy Thriller. Brad Pitt's Chad is like nothing you've seen him do, and he's the tip of the iceberg.

Sukiyaki Western Django - Takeshi Miike's ode to the Spaghetti Western, cut down from 2+ hours in Japan to a lean 90 minutes. To say it's his most accesible film is still a daunting test for viewers, but this movie is just weird enough on all levels to keep you watching.

Kung Fu Panda - Fact: This movie is not Wall-E. Fact: This movie deserved to be nominated. Don't take "it's not as good as Wall-E" to mean "it's not good". Kung Fu Panda is a movie designed to get kids into chop sockey films, and while they're learning fighting styles, fans of the Shaw Brothers are grinning from ear to ear. Seriously, Wall-E's transcendence shouldn't keep you from watching the first really good Dreamworks animated movie.

Youth Without Youth - Francis Ford Coppola returns from a long drought with a challenging, experimental film based on a Mircea Eliade novel. This is not a movie you can tune out and expect to follow, and it really merits a second viewing. Some took that as damning, but Youth Without Youth is worth the time of anyone looking for grown up filmmaking.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno - Kevin Smith's best movie since Clerks. There, I said it. Smith finally balances his dialogue with the story and keeps it funny. Is it the obvious Apatow influence? I don't know, but he's got me interested for the first time in years for his next movie.

Rambo - Gore Fest. Idiotic. Cheeseball. I understand how and why Rambo gets slapped with these labels. I can't disagree necessarily. What they miss is the fact that the violence in Rambo is disturbing and the moral of the film is ambiguous at most. Like Rocky Balboa, Sly Stallone returns to his series and makes a sequel worthy of their respective namesakes.

Son of Rambow - Technically, this is a 2007 movie, but it only opened here in limited release last year. The connection to First Blood and John Rambo is really just the catalyst for the story, but Hammer & Tongs come back from Hitch-Hiker's with a much better followup. Not without its problems, but since you could only find it at Best Buy, almost everyone missed it.

Leatherheads - George Clooney got it hard for this movie, but it's nothing like you've heard. Leatherheads is a movie of the screwball era, one that dares to play it straight without a trace of irony. And it was killed by critics for doing so, unfairly from where I'm sitting. If you like the sensibility of O Brother Where Art Thou, then Leatherheads will be right up your alley.

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer - Now it's my turn to apologize for doubting a movie. I get suspicious when horror directors make it clear they want a franchise. The artwork bothered me, seemed to be lifting shamelessly from the Evil Dead series, and I held out. When I finally watched Jack Brooks, two things were apparent: 1) this movie isn't as wild as you'd think it would be, 2) the next movie will probably be even better. Awkward pacing aside, it's fun. And kudos for giving Robert Englund an actual ROLE and not just a cameo.

The Bank Job - I know Cranpire got bored, and The Bank Job isn't the movie Lion's Gate advertised it to be. The heist is a small portion of the film, the action is really limited to two scenes, and Jason Statham is here to act and not kick ass. If you get past this and watch the whole film, it is a throwback to films of the seventies where the real tension happens after the action set piece. I found it anything but boring.

Be Kind, Rewind - Another movie that was advertised as something it wasn't. I really think people were expecting an entire movie of Jack Black and Mos Def "swede-ing" films with Michel Gondry behind the camera. But that's not how Be Kind, Rewind rolls. It's a love letter to small neighborhoods. The video store is a component to it, but community is the center of Be Kind, Rewind. If you know this going in, it might not be so frustrating. The "swedes" are a very small, if quite funny, component.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall / Role Models / Semi-Pro / Pineapple Express / Step Brothers - Finally, I'm going to lump all of these R rated comedies together because you must have turned away from at least one of them or heard bad things about another.

For the most part, Will Ferrel got the brunt of this, and Semi-Pro and Step Brothers are much better than the rep they got. Both are unrepentantly filthy movies, so if you're easily offended this is not the path to follow. If you don't mind the raunch, these are consistently warped and frequently hilarious movies.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is male wish fufillment, to say the least (particularly for writier / star Jason Segel), but it is pretty funny. It taught me to give Russell Brand the benefit of the doubt after those terrible VMA's, too. He's actually quite appropriate in the movie, and plays a more nuanced character than you'd expect.

Role Models is a hybrid of Apatow-style with the sensibility of David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer), so it deals with more twisted characters than any of the other films above. I'd nearly written it off after Drillbit Taylor, but it was the right decision to see this on Christmas night. I'll own this if for nothing other than the "Beyonce Pouring Sugar on my Dick" drawing.

Pineapple Express divides readers right down the middle. I know many of you who HATE this movie, and just as many who love it. Strangely, it doesn't fall into the "stoner / non-stoner" category you'd expect. I will concede that the pacing and excessive violence really test your capacity to stay with the movie, but it worked for me. I don't think you need to be stoned or love 80s action movies to enjoy Pineapple Express and a healthy understanding of both didn't help a number of you. Shrug.

For me, all of the movies listed above were worth watching (some more than once) despite their bad raps. Are we going to agree on all of them? I doubt it. As stated above, I disagree with several of you on some of these movies, and that's okay. We're not supposed to agree on everything. I mean seriously, how many of you are actually going to watch Death Race? Be honest.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

2008 Belated Recap: 5 Movies You Should See But Haven't.

The Cap'n, despite a hectic schedule involving way too much reading and blackboard-ing, does continue to watch movies. Not as much or as frequently as I'd like to, but I had been putting off this column in the instance I saw something that really stood out. But as I'm still only halfway through City of Ember and I started watching it, like, Saturday, holding off on this column could take forever.

Besides, I have five movies already that I know not enough of you have seen. Many haven't seen them at all, and so I'll propose a trade: you watch ALL FIVE of these movies and I will make a concerted effort to watch films that won Oscars still in theatres. Sound fair?

Don't be surprised if this entire list of comprised of movies I've gushed over in the past. I rarely give up on something I think you REALLY should see, and it's criminal how at least four of these movies just slid under the radar.

Oh, and #5: I mean it. I'll qualify why when we get there, but I was pleasantly surprised, both times I saw it.

1. Redbelt - How this vanished from everyone's radar is a crime. It's a damn shame that only the David Mamet faithful caught wind of this exceptional neo-noir. I don't even know when / if it played here, but when it arrived on dvd I brought it home and instantly wished I'd seen it sooner.

David Mamet makes movies in fits and bursts, kind of like Jim Jarmusch. For a while there, he was going back to back with The Spanish Prisoner, The Winslow Boy, Heist, and State and Main. Then he took some downtime and came back with a story I can only closely approximate my saying "what if David Mamet made his version of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai?" Take the warrior's code, insert it into a intricately designed neo-noir that zigs when you expect zags.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity) is fantastic as Mike Terry, a jujitsu instructor slowly drawn into the world of mixed martial arts fighting against his will. Mike, like Ghost Dog, adheres to his code of conduct and refuses to compromise his principles, no matter how rough it gets. And this is David Mamet, so it gets pretty heavy. Ricky Jay, David Paymer, Randy Couture, Emily Mortimer, and Alice Braga also do some great work, but the big surprise is Tim Allen's small role as a catalyst for Mike's entrance to MMA.

Even if you think you know where Redbelt is going, the movie is likely to surprise you, and why more people haven't seen this baffles me. This is Mamet in top form, surprisingly vulgarity-lite, but entirely appropriate for the subject manner. See it.

2. Man on Wire - Now that the film has an Oscar for Best Documentary, I imagine many of you are queue-ing it up, and well you should.

One of the things that fascinates me about Man on Wire, aside from the way it just lets the participants tell the story, is how the weight of history hangs on this film. The story of Phillipe Petit sneaking into the World Trade Center, setting up a wire between the two buildings, and then walking it one August morning in 1975 is amazing enough. And yet, it's impossible to watch this movie and not have 9/11 in the backdrop, even though the film never mentions it.

Watching the construction of the Towers, the footage of the new buildings, especially from the roof is occasionally disarming. There's a shot in the beginning of the foundation of the Towers that could be mistaken for footage from 2001-02. And yet, Man on Wire is strong enough that the whimsy of Petit and his all consuming desire to pull off this impossible feat overcome the strangeness of seeing the Twin Towers again.

Man on Wire incorporates some shaky "re-enactment" footage in the narrative, but before long, it shifts to actual film footage Petit and his friends made while wire walking Notre Dame, in Sydney, Australia, and tests preparing for New York. It really is something to see come together, and it's a story that isn't terribly well known, somehow.

3. In Bruges - The Oscars undersold all of the films nominated for writing with those terrible clips, but In Bruges is a film that's very difficult to see out of context. It's not wrong to assume it's a crime comedy, because in many ways it is, but what I love about the film is how is transitions seamlessly from comedy to caper to thriller and even drama. And it never feels inauthentic.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell own this movie, which is something else you don't get from the trailers. Yes, Ralph Fiennes figures prominently into the film, and his appearance in the third act is memorable for a number of reasons, but it isn't his movie. In Bruges is a movie about two criminals sent to "cool off" after something simple goes very, very wrong. One of them is relatively new, and the other is old hat in the game, but both of them recognize the gravity of what happened.

Gleeson anchors most of the movie, but Farrell has to sell a character arc you don't see coming until a mid-film flashback. Part of why I love this film so much is that when it shifts, Farrell never makes it feel inauthentic. He's better in this movie than I can remember, maybe ever. Do check it out.

4. Appaloosa - Ed Harris reunites with Viggo Mortenson after A History of Violence and directs a different kind of western. The town of Appaloosa has a problem: Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), a man who claims to have connections to President Chester A. Arthur, and uses that clout to do whatever he wants with his gang. When Bragg kills the Sherriff and his deputies in cold blood, the city officials agree to turn Appaloosa over to Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Mortenson), hired guns who bring order to chaos.

That's the set up, the first fifteen minutes or so. Most Westerns would be content simply to build up to the inevitable showdown, but Harris has more in mind. Appaloosa has a number of interesting developments and twists that keeps an already interesting movie fresh. You'd also expect more violence in a film about hired guns and rowdy gangs, but Ed Harris is more interested in exploring the relationship between Virgil and Everett with Bragg hovering outside.

Appaloosa is nothing like 3:10 to Yuma, nor is it like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. What Appaloosa is, though, turns out to be a distillation of western conventions told in a leisurely, unique manner. If you're a fan of any names you've seen above, or Timothy Spall, Lance Henriksen, or Renee Zelwegger, please check this out.

5. Death Race - I know. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. It would take a LOT for me to speak kindly of a Paul W.S. Anderson movie, but I'll be damned if Death Race isn't entertaining. This movie doesn't really bother to remake Death Race 2000 (in fact, if you pay attention, it might be a sequel) or have any clever moments of social commentary. Instead, Anderson strips everything away, removes pretense, and settles on incomprehensible exploitation.

Here's the thing with incomprehensible exploitation for me: If you can do it in a way that entertains, I'm going to be much kinder. Death Race does so many inexplicably stupid things: suggesting a character is gay for no reason relevant to the story, ripping off every bad "prison movie" convention, an introduction that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, flagrantly breaking the fourth wall. Yet, somehow this stupid little movie, comprised of one bad idea after the other, manages to make you chuckle and get over things that should never get a pass.

Death Race is the kind of movie that tells you what's going to happen and then does it, but it does it in such a ridiculous manner that I can't hate it. I tried, both times. Maybe it's Jason Statham, who takes the most retarded plot twists seriously, or Joan Allen (clearly looking for a paycheck) chewing scenery as the MOST EVIL WARDEN EVER, or the inexplicable quality of the plot twists (if you can call them that). By the time Ian McShane addresses the audience directly, it's hard not to appreciate the shamelessly sleazy nature of Death Race.

And I'm not alone in this assertion. Ask Davis. Ask Cranpire. There's no reason for this movie to work, but if it stubbornly does anyway. Check it out if you want some free time for the cranium, but in a good way.

If I had two more weeks, I'm betting I'd add Transsiberian and Let the Right One In to this list, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Tomorrow, I'm going to extend this with an growing list of movies that weren't necessarily overlooked, but were perhaps maligned unjustly.

Until then, I remain the Cap'n.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Blogorium Quick Hits: Stuck and Brides of Dracula

Stuart Gordon's Stuck has one thing going for it, and that's the gore. Otherwise, the movie is riddled with idiotic characters doing things that conveniently serve the story but don't make sense. It was, at times, like watching an episode of Heroes. Stuck isn't a very long movie, either, so this was a serious problem.

The movie uses the "Based on True Events" conceit to excuse lapses in logic and decisions made that consistently insult common sense. Stuck is "based" on the story of a Texas woman who ran into a homeless man. Instead of taking him to the hospital, she left him stuck in her car until he bled to death three days later in her garage. That is, admittedly, fucked up.

However, I sincerely doubt she brought her drug dealer friend over to try to kill the man trapped in her car or that more than one of her neighbors had the chance to save the guy but instead decide that they shouldn't for no reason. I also seriously doubt that said drug dealer was killed by the victim in the car with a pen and then he used the car to pin her to the garage wall and burn it down. Oh, that's AFTER he got away, she knocked him out with a hammer, and dragged him back into the garage.

Decisions like the ones above are far from the most egregious parts of Stuck, but they demonstrate just how preposterous the writer thought he could make things if it was "based on a true story". People routinely act ways that are oppositional to their best interests and no one, including the victim, seem to behave in a way that's less than moronic. I get that it should be reflecting the reality that didn't make sense, but Stuck pushes it too far. You'll find yourself saying "really?" too many times in this movie.

As I said, the gore was excellent. Stuart Gordon, likely best known for Re-Animator and From Beyond, knows his way around effective prosthetics work, and the myriad of injuries to Tom Bardo (Stephen Rea) are impressive, if cringe inducing. The aformentioned "pen" kill is also well done, and if you want to count it as an effect, Mena Suvari's cornrows are a feat unto themselves.

Nevertheless, this is not something worth spending your time on, even if you're a fan of Stuart Gordon.


Brides of Dracula was a mostly predictable, if fun, Hammer vampire film until the very end when it hit two very clever plot turns I didn't see coming at all. One involved the location the climax takes place in (a variation on the Frankenstein film but done in a very different way) and another solution to Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) being bitten that was borrowed much later by John Carpenter in his film Vampires. For those alone, Brides of Dracula is worth checking out, Christopher Lee or no Christopher Lee.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Warning: Some Blu-Ray Talk Ahead (HD-phobes need not apply)

The Cap'n has always wanted to dive into the "Region Free Player" world, but between buying yet another dvd player (not counting the PS3 or my computer, I already have three) and the price of importing dvds / monitoring the PAL vs NTSC headaches, I never did. The farthest I ever got was buying some Canadian-only editions of dvds: Ginger Snaps is actually widescreen and has extra features up north, and eXistenZ gives a Criterion-like treatment to a largely overlooked Cronenberg film*.

It can be a bummer, because studios regularly put out films in other markets or other editions the U.S. will never see. Not only can you get Battle Royale by itself, decked out with a decent picture (technically speaking, you can't get it in the US officially), but Japan has a four-disc edition of Grindhouse. In addition to the whole movie (as seen in theatres), you get both "extended" cuts, and an extra disc that we may never see here in the states. Of course, you'll pay for it if you really want it.

Enter Blu-Ray, where the territory is a little more murky. Instead of Regions One (US and Canada), Two (UK and Australia), Three (Uh... Russia? India? I don't know), and Four (Japan), Blu-Ray has regions A and B so far.

Region A discs work in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, so anything coming out in Germany, France, England, or Spain will play over here. Even if it's PAL, because the films themselves tend to be mastered NTSC. The extras might be dodgy, but it's a way to see films the U.S. is dragging their feet on.

For example, while digging through and, I found the following movies are already available: In Bruges, The Machinst, Taken, Fido, Slither, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Batman films of Burton and Schumacer, Danny the Dog (Unleashed), Downfall, Freddy vs. Jason, Escape from New York, Friday the 13th parts 2 and 3, Sin City, Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Til Dawn, Amelie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and 12 Monkeys.

Presently, I could order any of them and they'd play right away on my PS3. Since they're imports, you have minor headaches like switching audio tracks or subtitles, but the reviews point to otherwise spiffy discs. Some of the Canadian ones are barebones (A Nightmare on Elm Street, From Dusk Til Dawn), but personally I'm interested in Slither. Fido too, and possibly 12 Monkeys.

Considering the prices of BD's in stores right now, the "import" discs are comparable in price and it's now possible to watch High Def movies on your own pace, not the studios'. Actually, if my conversion tables are correct, the Canadian discs might even be cheaper. Sure, eventually Universal will get around to releasing Slither. The question is: what Slither will we get?

What bugs me about Universal is that they'll take away most of the extras (e.g., King Kong, The Thing) and incorporate them into their "U-Control". I happen to like "The Thing: Fear Takes Shape" as a documentary, so having it chopped up and playing during the movie is cool, but it's not the same. I can easily see them doing the same with Slither, and if I have the option of not doing that, I'll take it.

Is the Cap'n vicariously living through BD's in lieu of diving into the actual world of "Region Free"? Probably. The flexibility of next-gen discs does make enjoying movies from across the regions possible. When the incentive to do this starts dropping, don't think these "Region A's" won't vanish. In the meantime, I say dig in!


That's it. Sorry. No "b"-plot today. I was writing a paper last night and slowly watching Brides of Dracula from Hammer. It's fun, even without Christopher Lee**.

* I also bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to legitimately complete the series. It's the only way you can get the film with its actual title in a Region One format.
** By Brides of Dracula the series has established that Dracula himself is dead and now it's up to his "descendants" (understood as people he bit) to pass on vampirism.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blogorium Review: Permanent Vacation

Last night I watched Permanent Vacation, the first film by Jim Jarmusch included on Criterion's Stranger Than Paradise disc. The date on the film says copyright 1980 but you'd be hard pressed to tell that by watching. People tend to forget those transitional periods in decades but Permanent Vacation looks like a product of the 1970s through and through.

For a while I mistakenly conflated the running time (75 minutes) with the year it was made, and you could make a pretty good case that this was a movie that reflected 1975 Manhattan. It wouldn't have shocked me at all if student filmmaker Jarmusch had caught some footage of Robert DeNiro driving around prepping for Taxi Driver. It feels like the same city and not some "new wave" influenced hybrid. In fact there are no punk kids or stupid hairdos or anything like that in this movie. Just some kid who's way too into Charlie Parker and the Beat writers.

Chris Parker plays Aloysius Christopher Parker, the proto-hipster beatnik guy who yammers half cocked philosophy via narration and spends 99% of the running time wandering around New York City, occasionally sitting down with people, talking some more, then getting up and leaving. Also, he steals a car at one point and sells it for $800*.

Normally I'd expect something that was a first feature from someone who (I'm guessing) recently graduated from film school (in this case, NYU) to be pretty pretentious and annoying, and I guess if you wanted to make that case for Permanent Vacation, you could. If I had to describe the movie it's a little bit like putting Slacker, Catcher in the Rye, and parts of Alice in Wonderland in a blender and pressing the button. It has the aimlessness of Slacker, the angst of Rye, and the strange encounters of Alice in equal parts.

Before visiting his mother in an institution, Allie goes to an abadoned building where he was born. He claims the "Chinese" bombed it in "the war", and first you think he's just being an ass but there's some crazy dude in the building that comes out and warns him about the airplanes. Jarmusch cleverly mixes in the sounds of bomber planes flying over and then Allie/Chris/Holden talks the dude down by telling him it's not bombers but American helicopters. Then he leaves and the guy goes back into the building.

There's a similarly strange moment where our hero is walking around a neighborhood I could've sworn was used in The Exterminator and finds a woman singing in spanish on a fire escape. When he asks her what she's saying, she screams at him to leave and she goes back to singing. Later he sits in the lobby of a movie theatre and hears a joke called "The Doppler Effect". It wouldn't make sense to tell it here so maybe you'll just have to rent it.

What's weird about that scene is the guy telling the joke is Frankie Faison, whose name I knew but I couldn't figure out why. Turns out he's done tons of stuff, including The Wire, My Blueberry Nights, Oz, Mother Night, Do The Right Thing, and C.H.U.D. He was also in all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, including Manhunter. You'd probably remember him as Barney, the dude that Clarice meets in Lecter's cell block and then again in Hannibal**. Anyway, when I saw the name during the opening credits, I recognized it immediately, which was strange***.

Usually I only recognize John Lurie's name in early Jarmusch movies. Of course, Lurie is in Permanent Vacation, just as he is in Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law. He plays "sax player". Mostly Permanent Vacation is a Chris "I couldn't find anything else you'd recognize" Parker movie. Honestly it can get a little old just watching this dude wander around because I didn't find him that interesting in the first place, but Jim Jarmusch finds plenty of ways to keep a virtually plotless story interesting with his eccentric flourishes.

Permanent Vacation is pretty well made for a first film. It's no Hedwig and the Angry Inch, although it does sometimes remind me of Erasherhead (part of that may be the music by Lurie and Jarmusch). I'm not going to rush to watch it again any time soon, but I certainly appreciate being able to see a talented director's first go at it. The film is an indication of what's to come for him, and you'll see elements of even his later films (Broken Flowers, Ghost Dog) in embryonic forms here.

Thanks, Criterion. That was a supplement well worth exploring, and something I might not have sought out on my own accord. Keep up the good work.

* The way it happens is pretty clever and if I ever found myself standing next to a mailbox with a running car nearby I'd be tempted to try it. Actually, it's the sort of thing that probably would only work in the bridge from 1970-1980 and the modern GPS would call the cops on me or kill the engine or something. Too bad.
** Okay, he's not in Hannibal Rising, so mabye I should qualify that with "Hannibal Lecter movies that count."
*** How's this for strange: Frankie Faison is also in The Exterminator 2.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

2008 in Review: It Wasn't All Good...

Thanks to HBO's almost non-stop re-airing, I know have seen what must amount to half of Meet the Spartans. Since the movie is seventy-something minutes long, that's a lot of shitty movie. I know I must've seen a healthy chunk of the beginning, swaths of the middle, and more of the ending than I care to admit to.

Listen, I talk some serious shit about bad movies here, but since Meet the Spartans is representative of the kind of "movies" the "shithead twins" make (I won't dignify their names here), I can say with total certainty I'll never watch Disaster Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, the rest of Meet the Spartans, or any other turd sandwich they crank out into theatres.

Meet the Spartans is not a movie. A movie has a plot. Even Airplane, which this so badly wants to ape, has a plot. Jesus, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult has a fucking plot. Meet the Spartans is a collection of bad scenes strung together with even worse narration. I thought reviewers were kidding when they said that these "movies" literally explained a joke, but they weren't.

To give you an example, there's a scene with Carmen Electra where she gets angry or something and is clearly wearing the black Spider-Man suit, right down to the mask and the Spider-Man logo. It's abundantly clear who she is, but some ass-clown still feels the need to say:

"She became angry like Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 3."

That's EXACTLY what he says. Because the target audience for Meet the Spartans is apparently mentally retarded. Every single reference in this movie is spelled out ad nauseum. They seem to think this is an acceptable substitute for jokes, and the sheer lousiness of this "movie" tends to suck you in. Then you realize what it is you're watching, look away disgustedly, and change the channel.

All of this brings me to the first phase of the long delayed 2008 Year End Recap (in February). We're going to start with


Since I covered some of these before, I'm going to be brief. No sense wasting even more of my life on this tripe, but you need fair warning so that the same mistake isn't made in your living room. I saw a LOT of shitty movies last year, but these are the five movies I hope to never suffer through in 2009 and beyond.

1. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale - The first Uwe Boll film I ever saw will also be the last. Look, I'm a staunch defender of Jason Statham and his terrible taste in roles, but even he couldn't save this stale fart of a Lord of the Rings ripoff. When Burt Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and Matthew Lilliard hamming it up can't salvage this crap, there's no hope for Dr. Boll. Consider yourselves lucky I went a whole year without uttering this film's name.

2. Diary of the Dead - George Romero, what the fuck were you thinking? Look, maybe your social commentary wasn't exactly ("they're us!") subtle in the past, but between the lack of zombies, hamfisted narration, and general unlikability of the cast, Diary of the Dead has nothing going for it. You abandon interesting characters (the Amish man, the guys in the warehouse) to continue following these d-bag film school students, and on top of that you give the worst character in the movie carte blanche to spell out the themes! It's bad enough the reason to "keep filming" is flimsier than Cloverfield's, but do you need to hammer us over the head with this horrible script? Make me a zombie already and get this over with. How the mighty have fallen.

3. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - It sucks. Even when the other Mummy movies were retarded, they were entertainingly retarded. This is not, for a lot of reasons. Don't think a football joke involving yeti saves it, either. It doesn't.

4. Righteous Kill - Speaking of how the mighty have fallen. Jesus. When Street Kings is a better movie about crooked cops, you know this has to be bad. And it is. Forget about the gratuitous death of 50 Cent. Don't even bother glancing at the cover. That's how much of a waste Righteous Kill is.

5. Lost Boys 2: The Tribe - Save the worst for last. Hey, this could've theoretically not sucked - pun intended- but the people behind The Tribe tried extra hard to ripoff the story from the first movie and somehow make Corey Feldman look bad in a role that was a no brainer for him. He doesn't have to dress like Edgar Frog for us to remember who he is: we fucking watched The Lost Boys, idiots! That's how we know this sequel is THE SAME MOVIE! The tease at the end, involving Corey Haim promises more mediocrity in Lost Boys 3: Because It's Friday, We Ain't Got No Jobs, and We Ain't Got Shit to Do. Oh boy. Please hold me back.

Everyone do yourselves a favor and avoid these embarassments of cinemas like the plague. Don't let morbid curiousity or fallacious word of mouth trick you into renting them. You're just wasting ten hours of your life (at least).

special (dis)honors also go to: The Ruins, Mother of Tears, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, Death at a Funeral, Drillbit Taylor, The Wizard of Gore, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Trapped Ashes, and The X-Files: I Want to Believe, all of which sucked in various ways and are generally not welcome in this apartment again.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How dare the Cap'n not love My Name is Bruce?

With a premise like "a small town accidentally unleashes a Chinese demon, so they kidnap actor Bruce Campbell to help them fight the demon with disastrous consequences", you'd think My Name is Bruce would be a lot better than it is. Or maybe longer. But it's neither better nor longer. What it is, however, is better than a lot of movies mentioned in My Name is Bruce.

or this:

or this:

or even this:

But believe me, My Name is Bruce has an uphill battle to climb, even to be marginally better than those Sci-Fi Channel Originals. It boasts one of the worst supporting casts available. I don't mean name-wise, I mean these people make Casper Van Dien look like Lawrence Olivier. Aside from Ted Raimi and Ellen "Evil Dead" Sandweiss, you're not going to know anybody in this movie. Unless you're Cranpire, I'm guessing.

Yes, Mr. Cranpire, I said it: My Name is Bruce, had it starred anyone other than Bruce Campbell, would be total shit*. It's not just that the townspeople are terrible or that the story struggles to fill eighty-four minutes or that the actual scenes with Bruce and the Demon Gwan-Ji are underwhelming (at best), but there's no way a movie that sounds this awesome on paper could just barely keep it together.

Of course, this movie has Bruce Campbell, and he single handedly (no pun intended) keeps it entertaining, both in front and behind the camera. The film is so low budget that the sequences for "Cave Alien 2", the film Campbell is making, look like they cost more than all of My Name is Bruce. It's riddled with silly references to Bruce films and, when they couldn't get the rights, ones that look suspiciously like them. Keep an eye out for the "Death of the Dead" poster that looks very reminiscent of a certain Evil Dead sequel.

But Bruce isn't just making a movie about how awesome he is. No sir, this might be the only low budget wonder since Cannibal! The Musical to incorporate as many ridiculous sound effects that stand in for expensive foley artists. And it'll make you laugh when you hear them (repeatedly). There's a certain "homemade" quality to My Name is Bruce that makes the awfulness acceptable, and to be honest, it's as good as Campbell has had a chance to be in a while.

That being said, I'm not going to recommend this movie to anyone that's not a die-hard Bruce Campbell fan. There's just not point in subjecting yourself to something so lousy if you don't already own both of the man's books (If Chins Could Kill and Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way) or an autographed copy of Crimewave (on VHS**). This is really truly for people predisposed to love this movie, no matter how underwhelming it is.

And now I will await the brow beating from Mr. Cranpire, who will chastise me and my incorrect ways for making fun of a) Terminal Invasion, b) Alien Apocalypse, c) The Man With the Screaming Brain, and d) My Name is Bruce. God forbid I point out their flaws when they have none. You may commence the verbal lashings, sir, after I point out one key factor:

I bought My Name is Bruce sight unseen, despite the bad reviews online, and still plan to keep it, unless the Blu Ray ever becomes cheaper. I also found every single Easter Egg, including the screen of nothing BUT easter eggs.

Flame on.

* unless, for some reason, it was still called My Name is Bruce. Then it might be conceptually funny but still terrible.
** actually, Cranpire owns the signed vhs. didn't mean to mislead you. Bruce did sign my book and Cranpire took a picture. see it up there? that's my book he's signing and there's crimewave.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Blogorium Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno (plus clearing up some misconceptions)

There is a misunderstanding out there that the Cap'n "turned his back" on Kevin Smith. Okay, I can't remember exactly how it was phrased, but word got back to me that some of you were lamenting my separation from the View Askew-ites. That I strayed from the flock or something like that, which is not entirely accurate.

Let me clear the air a little bit here: I would not consider myself a blind Kevin Smith acolyte anymore. That is fair to say. And it wasn't actually Jersey Girl; I just realized that I didn't find Mallrats very funny anymore. Or Chasing Amy, or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I think Dogma is a total mess of a movie*.

I don't think anyone would argue that these films represent a "writer's" movie. Clerks works because it's not trying to impress you in any other way than how it's written. When Smith tried to add concept to the films (a John Hughes homage, a Religious-Comedy, a proto-Meet the Spartans reference movie), it fell apart. I'll leave Chasing Amy out of this, because it just doesn't work for me.

When many of you hated Clerks 2 and said it was Kevin Smith getting defensive about Jersey Girl tanking, I disagreed. I think that while his initial instincts were to go "back to the well", he ended up making a movie that's less about licking your wounds and more about getting on with life. It was different from Clerks but had the same characters, and the story was a little more important than the snarky people saying things you wished you'd thought of.

Look, I think Juno is a lot like Clerks: both are films from a writer who saved up their best material and put it all together in case there was no "next movie". Had I seen Juno at the age I saw Clerks, maybe I would've loved it. But I didn't, and I don't. But this is not about Kevin Smith fifteen years ago. This is about Kevin Smith now, having grown up a bit and moving on. Strangely, it's also about Judd Apatow.

Apatow's name is nowhere near Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but you're going to be hard pressed not to draw comparisons in your mind. Since it stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, it's really going to be hard, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. This is not the Kevin Smith movie you're used to, but it may be the best thing he's done in years, even if he borrows from the Judd-supporting cast roster**.

If you have access to the internet, you know what Zack and Miri is about. If you didn't, the film was probably very confusing since the MPAA made it quite difficult to discern without the "Make a Porno" part of the title. I saw many a confused middle-aged couple buy tickets at the multi-plex not realizing what they were getting into.

Speaking of which, don't get tricked by the "Star Whores" conceit, as it's more of a bait-and-switch on the part of the Weinstein Company. It doesn't figure into the movie nearly as much as you'd think.

What works for me about the movie is not that it's an Apatow-type movie made by the dude from Jersey who loves Star Wars and comics. Or the fact that it's not in Jersey and only has two Smith regulars (Jason Mewes and Jeff "Randall" Anderson). Those are all nice breaks from the Askew-niverse and help with the "not going back to the well", but Zack and Miri actually find balance between story and writing.

Kevin Smith always struck me as a very personable guy who told great stories, had good one liners, and clever references. Unfortunately, all of that tended to dominate his films instead of the plot. Plot was incidental as long as someone had a really good joke every five minutes. Or just a reference for the audience. Zack and Miri incorporates those into the story in a way that you're not being spoon fed clever pop culture witticisms for their own sake.

For example: the film takes place in Pittsburgh and Monroeville. Monroeville as in where Dawn of the Dead takes place Monroeville. The hockey team that Zack plays for is called the Monroeville Zombies, but it's not the subject of some big joke. It's just what's on his jersey and if you don't notice it, no big deal. Tom Savini has a brief cameo but not in some "hey look, it's Tom Savini who did the makeup in Dawn of the Dead!" way. He just rents them the garage so they can shoot the movie. If you didn't know who it was, it would go right over your head, no harm no foul.

In Mallrats or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back those would merit their own freeze frames to make sure you got the shout out. In Zack and Miri they just happen and the movie continues. He's integrated his ability to make clever references with the ability to tell a story cinematically. It's a welcome shift for a more discerning audience.

But is it funny? Yes, and not just in a "if you like Seth Rogen" way. He sells Smith dialogue in a natural way, so that you could believe it was something Zack would say not not the writer of the movie, but Rogen and Banks aren't the only good parts. Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express) almost steals the show, were it not for Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes, who are playing completely different characters than Randall or Jay. Smith also figured out how to utilize Katie Morgan's non-porn charm in a movie and gives Traci Lords the best supporting role she's had since Cry Baby.

Oh, and a great cameo from Tisha Campbell. Believe me, if you only remember her from Martin, you're in for a nice surprise. Justin Long and Brandon Routh also get a nice, if overlong, scene during the "high school reuinion" that sets up the movie.

The movie is dirty, yes, but in a way that reflects what Smith fans would enjoy and taking a few chances beyond that. The "lay it all out" scene is also more believable than Chasing Amy, but to say more might spoil parts of the movie. It has some shaky patches but nothing that derails the movie.

Anway, I don't want you thinking I reject all Kevin Smith. I still enjoy Clerks and his "Evening with.." series. I just don't like the movies that come in-between Clerks and Clerks 2. Being a fan (like us) and making a movie (unlike us) are two different things, but it seems like the two are coalescing for Smith. This is a plus. If Zack and Miri Make a Porno is any indication of what Smith is capable of outside of Jay and Bob, then I'll check out his next movie. Just not blindly.

* I didn't know quite where to put this footnote, but it's also not because people thought I looked like Smith when I wasn't trying to. There are enough people who try to, so it was really weird just being me and having 20-somethings say "Hey, weren't you in Jay and Silent Bob's Adventure?" True story. Seriously.
** speaking of which, would it be too much to ask to get Paul Rudd in a Kevin Smith movie? watch Rudd's coffee shop scene in Role Models and tell me he shouldn't have Smith dialogue in his maw.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Five Movies: Peter Sellers

I thought it would be fun to pick up on something I mentioned on Monday: there are other great movies with Peter Sellers in them that don't have the words "pink" or "panther" in them. In fact, there are a lot more than five, so I'll include other movies at the bottom just in case you're familiar with my "Fave Five".

A caveat: While I acknowledge that A Shot in the Dark does not have the words "pink" or "panther" in the title and is also excellent, I am consciously avoiding Clouseau movies tonight. As always, they are presented in no particular order, because I loves them all.

Without further ado: Five Peter Sellers Movies You Should See

1. Lolita - I begin and end with movies that feature Sellers in supporting roles, but ones which he makes quite an impact. It's not necessary for you to have read Nabokov's Lolita to enjoy the movie (which he adapted) directed by Stanley Kubrick. Technically, Lolita is about Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and Lolita (Sue Lyon), but any movie book ended with a scene involving Mason and Sellers' Clare Quilty should clue you in that his relatively minor screen time ripples throughout the film. Sellers pops in and out of the already excellent Lolita, but his sleazy, charming Quilty is every bit the antithesis of Humbert's distinguished pervert. This is not the last time you'll see Sellers and Kubrick together, even on this list. A Must See.

2. Murder By Death - I've professed ad nauseum of my love for this film, a Neil Simon send-up of Detective Fiction adapted from his own play. Sellers plays the Charlie Chan parody, Sidney Wang, and he hams it up from beginning to end. Sellers' horrible grammar is the cause for Lionel Twain (Truman Capote)'s best line in the film, which occurs in the following exchange:

Milo Perrier (James Coco): What do you make of all this, Wang?
Wang: Is confusing.
Twain: IT! IT is confusing! SAY YOUR GODDAMN PRONOUNS!

Murder by Death is a movie I return to over and over again just to giggle from beginning to end. Sellers joins a hell of a cast: in addition to the aforementioned Capote and Coco, the film also features Maggie Smith, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Falk, Eileen Brennan, Nancy Walker, James Cromwell, and Alec Guinness. I know the movie has its detractors, but I find it consistently funny and never tire of it.

3. Dr. Strangelove (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) - Kubrick and Sellers, together again, in what may be the best comedy of an already prolific decade. I only put Strangelove on here in the off-chance some of you haven't seen it and have merely heard of it. Believe me: it lives up to the hype. Not just Sellers (playing three unique characters), but George C. Scott, Keenan Wynn, Sterling Hayden, and wait.. is that James Earl Jones I see? Why, yes it is! This is more than a "Must See"'; Dr. Strangelove should be mandatory for all film fans.

4. Being There - If you're a Hal Ashby fan from Harold and Maude and for some reason you haven't caught Being There yet, now is the time. It was just rereleased on dvd and Blu Ray, and extras aside, this movie is totally worth your time. The next to last film Sellers made earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. As Chance "Chauncey" Gardner, Sellers is totally unlike you've seen him before, a blank slate in the world set loose after the death of the man he was taking care of. Gardner enters Washington, DC knowing nothing of the world outside of what he saw on TV, and what follows is funny, sweet, and most of all clever. Take Ashby's sense of humor, combine it with Sellers' dedication to character work, and let them go. Do yourself a favor and pick this up.

5. The Ladykillers - For our last film I jump alllll the way back to a very early stage in Peter Sellers' film career. While the film is technically an Alec Guinness vehicle, Sellers makes quite the impression as on of Professor Marcus (Guinness)'s henchmen, Harry (aka "Mr. Robinson"). He also goes uncredited was the voice of Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson)'s bird. The movie isn't a big role for Sellers, but he makes the most of what screen time he has. Also featuring Herbert Lom (Inspector Dreyfuss in those movies we're steering you away from). If you're only familiar with the Coen Brothers' not-so-great remake, this will be a pleasant surprise.

I don't want to give the impression that all of the Pink Panther films are bad (although some of them are); this is more to give you an idea of how much more there is to Peter Sellers than a bumbling French detective. What interesting about all five of these films is that he plays different types of characters and is sometimes unrecognizeable from role to role. In the case of Dr. Strangelove, sometimes in the same movie.

For further interest, I suggest you check out: The Party, The Mouse That Roared, What's New Pussycat, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Magic Christian, and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!

Of special note, I would also recommend The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, directed by Stephen Hopkins and starring Geoffrey Rush as Sellers. Unlike the normal biopic, this HBO film presents the story of Sellers' life as Sellers might choose to tell it. If you want a whirlwind tour of the highs and lows of his life with some clever twists thrown in, this is a nice companion piece to the five films listed tonight.