Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Worm! Enemy be thy name!!!

Greeting, blogorium readers. The Cap'n would love to sit here and chat with you about all the wonderful developments from the last four days (including Troll / Troll 2, The Driller Killer, Cat in the Brain*, and a brand spanking new 5.1 surround sound system which augments the fancy schmancy tv in all kinds of ways), but unless this Con-whatever virus is a massive April Fool's Day prank, I desperately need to navigate this four year old copy of Norton Antivirus before midnight.

If my computer is not dead tomorrow I will try to have seen almost all of Religulous and share that with you. Also, Slumdog Millionaire inexplicably showed up via Netflix so I guess I'll check that out.

Also, tomorrow I'm going to have to go on a bit of a tear about Netflix's new Blu-Ray policy, no doubt in part to the less than honest renters who "lose" their discs or swap them with dvds... but tomorrow is another day.

Since I'm going to have to duck out here shortly, I thought I'd bring out "One from the Vault" that may have been overlooked. It's hard to read a post every single day and I expect more than a few of you have missed them. This will be a nice way for me to be lazy share gems from the past.

Yeah... that's the ticket.

From the Fall of 2008:

I now see why so many dvd commentaries are so awful. It was an experiment, sort of: Dr. Adams wasn't all that interested in just another discussion of Sunset Boulevard, especially since half the class never says anything as it is.

So he cued up Sunset Boulevard on the dvd player and said "let's do our own commentary". Mercifully, it wasn't recorded, because when the room gets dark, even the chatty students seem to shut up. Some of them fell asleep (I think).

There were fits and bursts of analysis, particularly regarding the way Billy Wilder was playing with expectations for his second fore into film noir. Sunset Boulevard could, in fact, be considered a proto-neo-noir; much like Ace in the Hole (or The Big Carnival, whatever you've heard it called), Sunset Boulevard is Billy Wilder playing with the conventions of noir in very different circumstances. He subverts and in many cases reverses shots, themes, and motifs established in Double Indemnity (six years separate Indemnity from Boulevard), so it's hard to say it fits cleanly into "classic" noir*

But that's getting away from the discussion of our group "commentary", which ended up being mostly Dr. Adams pointing something out, one of three of us occasionally piping in noticing something strange (like the connection between Mabel Norman and Norma Desmond in a biographical sense) or pausing to appreciate the deep focus during the coffin scene. Most of the time we just watched the movie. For long stretches I'd want to say something but instead got caught up watching what was happening on-screen and not wanting to narrate the action.

To be honest, I don't know how many of you listen to commentaries, but they frequently fall into one of the two traps I just listed. The other big one is the actor commentary which is generall anecdotal stuff about pranks on the set or "how great it was to work with blah blah blah". Very rarely do you get a commentary track that provides solid technical information, decent analysis of subtext, narrative, or intertextuality.

One of the reasons I enjoy Steven Soderbergh's films so much is that when he records commentaries (for his films or others like Point Blank, The Third Man, and The Graduate), they're frequently very informative beyond "it was really sunny that day". For as bad of a movie as it is, the commentary on his remake of Solaris is endlessly fascinating. Soderbergh is teamed up with director James Cameron (who produced the film), and they have very different styles of direction which leads to a good discussion of the process of adapting existing material and approaches to shooting it.

There are some good commentaries out there, but often they're a lot like the Film Noir class was this afternoon: lots of dead air, sporadic bursts of qualitative content, and two hours better spent watching the film itself. Next time I'll try harder, or maybe MST3K had the right idea all along: riff til you see the credits rolling.

* Yes, that's really the title of the movie.

Monday, March 30, 2009

There's no such thing as a bad movie... right?

Ladies and Germs, it's official!

Bad Movie Night will take place on April the 18th, 2009.

Festivities begin thereabouts 7pm, with the possibility of a field trip to see Crank 2: High Voltage under strong consideration.

I can promise you the following films: Troll 2 (the "Best Worst Movie"), Batman & Robin (worse than you remember!), and Mac and Me (sponsored by McDonald's and Coca Cola!).

In addition, there will be at least one "surprise" movie, a selection of trailers hand picked by the Cap'n, a "holiday special" of some sort, and goodies* for all attending.

Stay for all of the movies... if you dare!!!!

Don't make Terence Stamp Angry! Attend!!!!


Otherwise, there's not much to report. I've been watching Vertigo on and off for the past few days and in perusing some articles about the film, I've yet to find any discussion of a theory that occurred to me almost immediately.

After Scottie (James Stewart) has his expressionistic nightmare, he is sent (almost immediately) to a psychiatric facility. Considering the conversation Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) has with the Doctor, it's pretty clear Scottie went catatonic and isn't likely to come out of his state any time soon.

Immediately following that sequence, Hitchcock cuts to a panoramic view of San Francisco, forming an ellipsis of sorts, and dissolves to Scottie out and about like nothing ever happened. There's no causal link between the previous scene and the second half of the film, so I would think it fair to say Scottie never left the facility. Rather, what we're seeing is an extension of his "dream" state; one he lives out the relationship with Judy / Madeline (Kim Novak) until it too collapses.

What's so interesting about this theory is that in the discourse of cinema, Vertigo now anticipates a film like David Lynch's Lost Highway. Vertigo can (and seems to be) read as "this happens because the story presents it as so", but in this alternate reading, the film is suddenly the template Lynch follows in more ambiguous ways. Lynch is more explicit: his literal transformation happens to the male protagonist (Bill Pullman becomes Balthazar Getty) whereas the female protagonist (Patricia Arquette) merely pulls a "Judy" and changes superficial aesthetic appearances.

In the end, the substitutive fantasies of Scottie Ferguson and Fred Madison still collapse in on themselves, not due to fate but instead to a flawed understanding of agency from damaged identites. I'm not saying this is the only way to read Vertigo (or Lost Highway), however I find it a most intriguing connection that was heretofore unexplored.

* I use the term "goodies" very loosely.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Welcome Back, Trailer Sunday!

For any new readers, the Cap'n uses Sunday as his day of doing nothing rest. In order to continue entertaining you fine folks, I do select trailers from all genres, ages, and countries and post them. Enjoy.


Stranger Than Paradise

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner


After the Thin Man

Fist of Legend


Where the Wild Things Are

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Two Q's

Aside from a rather unexpected surprise party this afternoon, the Cap'n had a pretty quiet Saturday. I've finally seen 30 Rock, Dollhouse, Testees, and The Simpsons in HD, the latter two thanks to Hulu, the former two thanks to Adam.

However, I'm a bit more interested in sharing my thoughts about two movies that begin with Q, both of which I viewed in the last twenty-four hours: Quarantine and The Quantum of Solace.

Let's begin with Bond, shall we?

I was a fan of Casino Royale; it was a refreshing break from the outlandish-for-all-the-wrong-reasons The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day. Daniel Craig's James Bond was a blunt instrument in need of refining and the gadgets were limited and (somewhat) believable.

Quantum of Solace continues both positive traits from Royale. The gadgets are nonexistent, unless you call MI:6's fancy "wall phone displays" a gadget. Bond never uses anything fancier than a gun, and even then it's sparingly. Craig plays Bond as even more of a brute than in Casino Royale. He's something of a wounded animal, lashing out at anyone and anything in his way. Rather than be coy and smooth talk his way into information, Bond frequently kills the potential informant and is left grasping at straws. This is certainly not the James Bond we knew from decades past.

That may be the reason so many people didn't like Quantum of Solace. The film is more Bourne than Bond, right down to the villain who is stealing water to sell it back to the poor. Pretty far from world domination, but there is promise in the new SPECTRE "evil" organization, Quantum. The inevitable third movie will tell if the Bond team wants to take the series back in the direction of Connery, Moore, and Brosnan, or if we're going to see Daniel Craig in more rooftop chases.

My biggest complaint about Quantum of Solace is that it could easily be about someone other than Bond. The film only loosely connects Dominic Greene (the big bad) to the death of Vesper Lynde from Casino Royale, and any promise of moving further in that storyline is tertiary at best. This could be a Jason Bourne movie, and as much as I enjoy Daniel Craig's take on Bond, it wouldn't hurt to split the difference between Fleming and Ludlum.

Otherwise it's enjoyable and looks great in HD.


Quarantine was better than I was expecting, if inconsequential. Having not seen [REC], it is difficult to do an "original" to "remake" comparison. That does not imply I can't judge Quarantine on its own merits.

The Cap'n was mistaken in calling the film a "zombie" movie, although I suppose you could make that argument. Technically speaking, Quarantine presents itself as a film about Super-Rabies unleashed in an apartment building. Like Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and The Blair Witch Project, it presents itself as "videotaped" evidence, no doubt to help bolster the "this is really happening" tone.

In that regard, I'd say Quarantine is pretty successful. Unlike Cloverfield which was edited too well to be an amateur filmmaker, or Diary of the Dead which had access to far to many angles to be believable, Quarantine presents itself in long, seemingly unbroken shots. It does add some elements of cinema verite to the proceedings that the other films lack, but the film is not without its problems.

Central among them is the cast. I'd have an easier time believing [REC] over Quarantine because of a lack of familiarity with Spanish actors and actresses. Unfortunately, most of the characters in Quarantine have faces or voices you're going to recognize almost instantly. They include:

Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan on Dexter)
Jay Hernandez (Paxton in Hostel)
Dania Ramirez (Maya on Heroes)
Bernard White (from The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions)
Greg Germann (Ally McBeal, Talladega Nights)
Columbus Short (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip)
Johnathan Schaech (The Doom Generation, That Thing You Do)
Rade Serbedzija (Snatch, Eyes Wide Shut, 24)

It would be much easier to take Quarantine seriously if every thirty seconds you were saying "hey look, it's that guy/girl!" Even Doug Jones from Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth is listed in the credits, so when the creepy thing at the very end appears, you've already narrowed down all the other possibilities. That really makes it hard to stick with the story, regardless of how it unfolds*.

Which is a shame because Quarantine could be a neat little horror movie otherwise. The writer / director uses the camera very well and plays some nice tricks with the darkness. Most of the "jump" scares are predictable but tension builds up nicely and occasionally brings a surprise. I was almost into the movie, which is a lot more than I can say for Diary of the Dead.

One point of contention: the marketing of this film is counterproductive as it gives away what is literally the last shot of the movie. Since it's on the cover, on the disc itself, and all over the trailers, you spend most of the movie waiting for the camera to switch to "night vision" and for all intents and purposes, it ends. There must be a better way to sell this movie without giving away how it ends.


All in all, not a bad run of movie watching. I've seen better, but to be fair I have (and will) see much worse. Quantum of Solace is not a step back for Bond, I'm just not sure if it's a step forward yet. Quarantine was entertaining enough but constantly distracting for anyone remotely connected to pop culture.

* To be honest, the biggest problem was Greg Germann. I was okay with everybody else (and honestly didn't realize it was Jay Hernandez from Hostel until after the movie) but every time I saw him I thought "you shouldn't be there!"


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button...

The Criterion Collection?

Personally speaking, the Cap'n hasn't seen the film yet. I just couldn't bring myself to spend three hours with something that divided my friends so. I was going to check it out when it arrived on dvd / Blu Ray, but I had no idea it would affect my Spine Number consumption.

Wow, this is going to drive Neil crazy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Blogorium Review: Transporter 3

It was bound to happen. The Transporter films couldn't sustain momentum forever.

The first Transporter film was breezy with moments of outlandish action (the oil fight, parachuting onto a moving truck), and it moved Jason Statham from supporting parts in Guy Ritchie films to the "Action Star" spot that was largely vacant*. Transporter 2 took everything from the first film and pushed into ludicrous extremes, turning some fans off but ushering others into the next level of action films: Cartoon Action.

Cartoon action films follow a similar violence ratio to mid-eighties Schwarzenegger films but throw logic and physics out the window. Films like Transporter 2, Shoot 'Em Up, and Crank pushed the action film into the world of Looney Tunes physics, increasing the improbability of each sequence until the film was impossible to take seriously. Viewers are generally divided on this trend in action films but the Cap'n finds himself on the "for it" side.

Which is why I was so disappointed with Transporter 3. I would expect a film directed by someone with the last name of Megaton to be more exciting, if not outright ridiculous. Instead, Oliver Megaton, Luc Besson, and Robert Mark Kamen scale back the outlandish signature "style" of the first two films. The end result is, at best, lackluster.

Jason Statham movies, whether starring or supporting, are rarely what you'd call "good" movies (this would include Death Race, Ghosts of Mars, and In the Name of the King), but at least he's generally entertaining in them. In Transporter 3, he has nothing to do and nobody to work with. Aside from returning cast member Francois Berleand, none of the supporting case is interesting at all. The plot is pretty pedestrian: a kidnapping attempt to force the Ukranian Minister to allow toxic waste into his ports.

Frank Martin (Statham) is knocked out and attached to a bracelet that explodes if he gets more than 75 feet away from his car. Also in his car is a mysterious passenger (Natalya Rudakova) and a GPS system telling him where to drive. What should be an interesting gimmick turns bad at two junctures:

1. Valentina (Rudakova) isn't a character so much as she is a set of annoying habits hinging on what the writers need Frank to do next. Sometimes she's grouchy, sometimes obnoxious, sometimes they don't have anything for her to do so she sleeps. The dynamic between Frank and Valentina gets old pretty fast.

2. More importantly, Besson and Kamen (who co-wrote the film) can't figure out many interesting ways to play with the bracelet gimmick. When they do, the results are far from the giddy stunts of the first two film. There's a short bicycle chase when Frank is separated from the car, a way less interesting than it sounds car-on-train sequence, and a moderately interesting way to keep Frank's car from sinking to the bottom of a lake.

The action sequences are few and far between but generally okay. Statham gets to have some fun in a scene where he strips off layers of clothing and uses them defensively against armed attackers. It lacks the thrill of Frank's "Mansion" set-piece in the first film or the oil fight, but certainly beats anything in War. Some of the car chases are fun, but nothing as exciting as the sleazy content of Death Race. Part of the problem is that if you've already seen Death Race and then watch the trailer for Crank 2 that opens the disc, Transporter 3 pales in comparison.

If you liked the first Transporter and hated the second, this might be for you. I warn you that it's trying a little too hard to split the difference between action movie and thriller with less than desireable results, but as a generic action film (rather than a cartoon), Transporter 3 is middle of the road: not too bad but not that great. It's just there.

Fortunately, Crank 2 looks to be an extension of the rather ludicrous Crank, and maybe even further than that. I wait eagerly for the return of Cartoon Statham.

* The Bourne Identity, released the same year, propelled the unlikely choice of Matt Damon into a similar role.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Welcome Back for the First Time.

Greetings, blogorium readers! I, your humble Cap'n, have defected from the world of Rupert Murdoch and Myspace in order to keep my intellectual property "in house", so to speak. Otherwise, you can expect very much the same content: all things film and film related ephemera, with a dash of tv mixed in*.

From here on out, this will be the home of all blogorium operations. Non-Myspacers will not be able to join in on the conversation and to peruse entries, including older ones if I can find a way to import them.


When we last met, the Cap'n was digging under the surface of film adaptations, trying to understand the complicated ways that transferring one medium to another changes the way we perceive both versions.

The side effect with the greatest impact, I feel, is how a successful adaptation can not only undermine the source material, but it can at times totally replace it. During a conversation with a professor today, it became abundantly clear that reading is not something students are putting stock into. Unless information is displayed in a strictly visual sense (powerpoint, film, or the curious shift from book to computer screen), many college freshmen and sophomores simply tune out. I've been noticing it quite a bit lately, and within the film department this becomes increasingly evident.

Hearing classmates groan audibly when they learned that reading Patrick Suskind's Perfume was a prerequisite in order to study Tom Tykwer's adaptation was disappointing. The reason you might not hear much about Tykwer's version of the story is because the film is a disaster; not merely in adapting the source material but as a film itself. However, among students who never read the book, the film is described as "artful", "unconventional", and "brilliant", among other hyperbole.

On the other hand, ask the average cinephile about Blade Runner and they'll chat your ear off about the symbolism, its artistic merit, and how the film was simply "misunderstood" when released in 1982. Fair enough. Chances are they've also never read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

I'm getting into very tricky territory here, because I'm about to use the same argument to the opposite effect. I don't like the film of Perfume at all. I do love Blade Runner. That being said, neither of them are particularly "good" adaptations. Both make serious changes, deletions, insertions, and at times reflect a tone different from the source material. (For one thing, you're going to have some trouble finding the term "Blade Runner" in the novel.) I would be surprised if Perfume ends up with the kind of following that developed around Blade Runner, but I can't rule it out however much I might disagree.

For the moment, Blade Runner has effectively replaced Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in discourse. The film is more "essential" than the book it was based on, however loosely. I used a similar anecdote yesterday about The Lord of the Rings books although it may take more time to determine how strongly the films come to replace the novels in popular imagination.

This applies, as I suggested yesterday, to remakes as well. We may be more acutely aware of it today as more recognizable titles are being re-created for new audiences, but that doesn't mean we notice it all the time. After all, in addition to the novel The Maltese Falcon, there were two other versions of the film before John Huston's. The version with Bogart just happens to be the one that everyone remembers.

Remaking The Last House on the Left provided an interesting space in discourse for some writers to wax philosophic about the latest iterations connection to the original and to Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. Not everyone who went to see this version of The Last House on the Left read those musings but they do represent some degree of reclaiming the power of "new" to replace "old", even if The Virgin Spring remains (criminally) underseen.

Is the value of comparative studies in adaptation and remakes limited to academia and film criticism? Does the average filmgoer - even the noveau-cinephile - care about the relationship between versions of the same story? Should intertextuality be important to them in any way?


* The Cap'n reserves the right to include or exclude snark as it applies.

"How Could They Leave That Out?!"

I've been thinking a lot lately about source material vs adaptation. The issue is much more complicated that I (or others) would like to make it, so let's see if we can tease out some of the nuances.

Part of me wonders what fans of Twilight think about the adaptation from book to film. Another part of me says "Who gives a shit? It's Twilight!" Maybe they don't care or it doesn't even occur to them on that level. Since I don't think I know anyone who read any of the books it's probably not something I care enough to even address.

Harry Potter fans can be the same way, I've noticed. I seemed to be the only person who really had issues with Prisoner of Azkaban (the movie) because of how haphazardly elements of the book were chopped up and dropped into the film. It's not merely a matter of adapting and the necessity to drop some things and not others; Prisoner of Azkaban puts in half developed plot points and never addresses the significance of them.

Unlike many people, I didn't mind Goblet of Fire's condensing of a rather large book into the shortest movie of the series so far. The reason is that when they made removals, the removals were wholesale. I didn't mind that there were no Blast-Ended Skrewts in the hedge maze because that whole subplot had been removed. If you're never introduced to the issue it's easy to forget they were there in the book. If, on the other hand, you go out of your way to set up who wrote the Marauder's Map but never payoff its significance for Harry understanding his family history, it can be frustrating.

Adaptations are a tricky thing, particularly for people who follow the story in both mediums. Many internet reviews of Watchmen come from avid readers of the comic and they play out less like a movie review and more like a dissection of "what was changed and why that doesn't work". Meanwhile, Adam went to see the movie, not knowing a thing about the source material, and kind of liked it.

He doesn't care about no squid. He doesn't know what Tales of the Black Freighter is. In a sense, he only knows what is projected in front of him. Some people might find that sad, others admirable. It is on some level a "pure" experience of adapted work.

This is an interesting place to find onseself. Would you rather have the knowledge of what's to come in an adaptation? It would give you the tools with which to enjoy alterations made in translating it from one media to another, and in some cases a greater appreciation of the ingenuity on the part of those responsible for making those changes. On the other hand, you come in with certain expectations about the "perfect" version you envisioned and are now holding a film you didn't make responsible for living up to that version.

I can scarcely imagine how I would react to Planet of the Apes if I read the Pierre Boulle novel first (or was aware of it the first time I saw the film). Being able to appreciate them as separate entities, along with many other examples, is not always as easy as we would like it.

That's the argument that appears in the discourse about remakes so frequently, but never seems to get the traction it should: "It's not as though the original will disappear!" I agree with this in principle. Technically speaking, a remake of Friday the 13th does not render the original film nonexistent. What gets overlooked here is the discursive understanding of "Friday the 13th".

For a large group of viewers, when they speak about the film and Jason Vorhees, the remake is what they're talking about. If you've ever accidentally stumbled into a conversation like this then you know how awkward it can be. You assumed their knowledge extends further back than the most recent iteration of such and such a film but in reality you're the odd one out. Everything old becomes new again not because the old is elevated but because it is replaced.

Similarly (and because I don't want to take us too fard down the Remake Rabbit Hole), for a number of pre-teens and teenagers today, The Lord of the Rings are a film series first, books later (maybe). The media is more easily consumed and it may never occur to them that they could read these adventures. Technically both exist side by side, one unpeturbed by the other, but in reality the more recent one trumps the other.

Of course, this only hold up if the film adaptation is a successful one. It is highly unlikely that anyone will turn to Eragon or The Golden Compass on dvd. At the same time, the Universal Studios versions of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster have become THE versions people associate with the books, even though neither reflects the source material (sometimes at all). No amount of Bram Stoker's Dracula-ing has reversed that interpretation.

Is it unfair to address this problem without a solution? Perhaps. I admit that the only real use of writing about this is to draw attention to the complicated relationship between source material and adaptation. To say one or the other is unfair or to place value judgments on one version over the other is not my intention. The study is helpful even if an acceptable solution is not (and may never be) apparent.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Happy Quantum of Sausage Day!

I guess that rumor about Borders cutting their dvd stock back wasn't a rumor after all. The entire section is marked with red stickers to indicate 30% Off on every type of disc they sell. If you're paying careful attention or spend a lot of time in Borders, it's easy to notice discs that don't "move" frequently are marked down over big sellers.

This is not without its perks, all things considered. I was able to pick up The General, Darkman, Commando, Cat O' Nine Tails, and the original House of Wax and The Mummy for greatly reduced prices. It helps if you stick to the cheaper stuff anyway, but it is a good chance to get boxed sets and discs that might be just a little too pricey for cheaper.

Like Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf Too. Or, say, View to a Kill. For example.


How would all attendees of "Bad Movie Night" like to leave with their own copy of a trash classic that didn't make the cut? You wouldn't? Too bad!

If this sale keeps going, you might all get something different and equally craptacular to take home for your own "Bad Movie Night".


"Say, Cap'n..."

Yes, blogorium audience?

"Could you maybe scrounge up a little-seen tv special to really demonstrate how bad it can get on your so-called Bad Movie Night?"

You mean, one not starring Paul Lynde?

"Preferrably not that one. I mean something that really makes us hate our lives."

Can do, reader-inos!


Short Circuit has no right to look as good as it does on Blu Ray. It only confounds me even more, because clearly somebody spent time cleaning the print up and making this movie look as good - probably better - than it ever has.

The disc looks so good you can even make out the bad makeup job on Fisher Stevens to pretend he's playing an Indian.

And yet, The African Queen still isn't even on dvd. There is no justice in this world.


If you'll excuse me, I need to watch Vertigo. It's possible I'm only supposed to watch Vertigo but everyone needs to watch Vertigo, the movie so nice I mentioned it thrice. In two sentences.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Must Never Eat at Taco Bell Again.

Those six-month layovers from Taco Bell really can make a person forget just how much it sucks to eat there. When a whim turns into a three hour replay of Grendel cursing God, you should stay away from that fast food joint forever. Someone please remind me of this in six months. I will be eternally grateful.


Somewhere between losing count of the number of people brutally murdered in five minutes and laughing because it's the only way to process that much carnage, I knew Punisher: War Zone was something special. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the Punisher kills more people than he utters lines of dialogue (or even words).

This is not spoiling the movie. I need to stress that. In the first fifteen minutes of the movie, without saying a word, the Punisher:

1. Cuts a man's head off with one slice of a knife.
2. Takes the same knife and slits at least three throats
3. Drives the same knife into someone's skull (ala the end of The Chronicles of Riddick)
4. Pulls the knife back out and throws it at someone.
5. Begins shooting people at a rate you can't keep up with.
6. Hangs upside down from a chandelier and fires two machine guns indiscriminately.
7. Rams a chair leg through someone's eye.
8. Blows someone's leg off with a 9mm pistol.
9. Kills some guy with a mini-crossbow
10. Grinds up some dude in a vat(?) of broken glass.

I never thought I'd call a movie excessively violent, but Punisher: War Zone goes above and beyond the call of duty. At a certain point you have to laugh, so overwhelmed by the wanton destruction of everything. Imagine if you took the extreme violence of Dolph Lundgren's Punisher and made it enjoyable on some sick level.

That's Punisher: War Zone. A movie that explains away no police responding to gunfire by having a detective say

"I called in to tell the city a construction crew would be using dynamite all night."

Ladies and gentlemen, this movie was pulled from 99% of theatres after one week not because of poor box office numbers but because American couldn't handle this movie. They were not and may never be able to handle this movie. It takes the gratuitous brutality of early Schwarzenegger action films and removes all of the puns. Faced with such unencumbered gore, your only choice is to laugh for 103 minutes.

Punisher: War Zone is a very special film. A film I suspect many of you may be watching in the coming weeks.


Speaking of which, I have some very good news.

Mac and Me is on dvd.


I'm going to close out with this trailer for a movie that may or may not exist. Okay, it doesn't exist. The "Funny or Die" component to the embedding pretty much gives that away.

So disregard the idiot who keeps talking about his junk and wait for Christopher Lloyd. That's why this is worth sharing.

Good night, and never eat Taco Bell. You're better off letting the Punisher punch your face in. Or blowing it clean off with a shotgun. You'll see.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Will Wonders Never Cease?

Well I'll be damned. It turns out that "cult" films can happen all by themselves and you can totally miss out on it.

Case in point: I had no idea that Troll 2 had a cult following, one based purely on how horrible it is. That at least is the purpose of this new documentary, Best Worst Movie, made by one of the stars of the film and featuring the director and most of the cast. It turns out they didn't know that piece of crap was a cult film either.

Sure enough, it runs at midnight in the same places that show The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and that amazes me. Never in a million years did I think that of all "in name only sequels to already midgrade-mediocre horror movies", Troll 2 would be the one with a rabid following.

For those who don't know, Troll 2 has nothing to do with Troll. In fact, there aren't even trolls in Troll 2. There are goblins. If you read that "How to Survive a Horror Movie" excerpt I posted last fall, you might have noticed one rule about staying away from a town named "Nilbog", with a note from the contributor sharing amazement you caught the reference. That would be the town that Troll 2 takes place in.

If by some chance you aren't dyslexic or tend to gloss over words like Nilbog, that would be Goblin backwards*. That's about as clever as Troll 2 ever gets. I'll give it this: the movie is woefully inept, poorly acted, and full of non sequiturs that will cause you to laugh uncontrollably.

To give you some idea of the kind of quality Troll 2 represents, here's one of those ubitquitous YouTube compilations:


Wow.... it's worse than I remembered. It's reasonable to see why this movie has a cult following, albeit one I wouldn't have expected. Like, why Troll 2 and not Ghoulies 2? Why not Megalodon: Shark Attack 3**? Since I put it on last night for the first time in years, why not Batman & Robin?

No, really. Batman & Robin is even worse than you remember it was. It's embarrasing how hard that movie fails in just about every way, or why anyone thought it was a good idea. The hockey fights with Mr. Freeze's henchmen? The gratuitous butt shots of Batman and Robin at the beginning? Letting every other line out of Arnold's mouth be a pun? We're not even getting to the nipples on their suits... Yeesh.

But here we are, a documentary celebrating a movie I'd almost forgotten existed which is inexplicably a cult phenomenon. Good for you, Troll 2, maybe this will help drum up interest for the Troll remake coming later this year***. Cult films work in mysterious ways, I suppose.

Here's the trailer for Best Worst Movie, now showing at South by Southwest.


* Technically I suppose it would be gobliN.
** Seriously, why not? Do I need to repost the most awkward hook up line ever?
*** No joke.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Buyer's Choice: Region Ambiguity

After 12 Monkeys finally arrived this afternoon*, I realized the Cap'n never followed up on the whole "discs from elsewhere" story. Since I actually did try a few of them out, I can dish a little bit.

I ended up trying out 12 Monkeys from Germany, plus Fido and Slither from Canada. The prices were comparable, if maybe a little higher, than buying these things new, and I've had time to watch or sample all three. So let's take a look and suss out whether this is a great thing or a "buyer beware" situation.

12 Monkeys - of the three, this one poses the most "adjusting" problems. The film plays immediately, in German and (for some reason) with German subtitles turned on. You can change this easily by pressing the "audio" and "subtitles" buttons, or if you want to learn a little German, hit the menu button and work out which one is which. It's not actually that hard.

The movie itself looks great. I saw 12 Monkeys at the Imperial when it first ran, and while it's been thirteen years, this is probably the closest I've seen the film look to that experience. Improved clarity is quite handy with a film like 12 Monkeys; as anyone who watched "The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys" can attest, Terry Gilliam is big on detail in his films. Being able to make out the faces of the "scientists" interrogating Cole or what's written on the chalkboards during his "interview" at the asylum were marked changes from previous dvd versions. I was surprised at the level of detail both in the underground section and when Cole goes on his "expedition", or little things like the fibers on his robe in the madhouse.

So the movie looks great, it doesn't take much to switch simple language and subtitle shifts (or you can learn German! Plus!), so what are the downsides? For one, don't expect "The Hamster Factor" or the commentary track from the dvd, because you won't get them. This is just the movie, which in and of itself is really what you're looking for, but supplement junkies might grumble a bit and hope Universal doesn't chop up "Hamster" into U-Control when it comes out stateside.

Honestly, the big complaint I had was how long it took to get here. It took them three weeks to process the order and they finally shipped it last Monday. The disc arrived today, but this is the trade-off I suppose. Otherwise, if you're looking for 12 Monkeys in High Def and don't mind no extras, it's up to you if the price is right.


Slither - a movie from the first Horror Fest that I'm rather fond of. Unlike 12 Monkeys, it does have everything on the dvd included, the Canadian rate exchange is roughly the same as prices here, and the disc itself is well put together. So where's the catch?

Cranford, you're perfectly welcome to say "I told you so", but the picture quality is not a radical leap from the dvd. Don't get me wrong: when I did the "play one scene from the BD and the DVD" I could tell the difference, but this isn't going to be the disc you pull out to show off your fancy tv. This may have more to do with the budget of the film or how it was shot, but Slither tends to go on the "soft" side in some scenes and doesn't exactly leap off the screen.

On the other hand, it does take away some of the smudginess I saw on the dvd, and I'm not regretting the upgrade. It's still Slither, and it looks as good and probably a little better. It's certainly a toss up and hinges entirely on your setup and preferences for upconverted vs BD.


Fido - here's where things get a bit problematic. If there's any one disc where I wish I hadn't dropped the money, it'd be Fido. I still love the movie and there are upsides to this disc, the mastering of the disc is just awful.

To tease that out a little bit, I'll say that every now and then you'll see a dvd where the movie is going along pretty well and then you see something that just pulls you right out of the movie. Sometimes it's jagged edges on the screen or "combing" (horizontal lines that cut across the picture**, or sometimes the color bleeds or you get "halos" around characters.

Fido has... well I guess it might be what's called "ghosting". A character will be walking (usually in brightly lit scenes) and there's this digital blob behind the motion that lingers all the way through the scene. It's most evident when Timmy takes Fido to the park early in the film, when any and everything moving leaves this temporary smudge while it's onscreen. It's really distracting and makes it almost impossible to watch the movie.

That's a shame, because when that's not happening, the movie looks much better than it did on dvd. At times I was quite surprised how much detail you could make out on the zombies and the production design. The makeup job on Billy Connolly shines in brightly lit scenes, and since he's mostly stationary you can enjoy him without those infuriating smudges.

Still, this is a "Buyer Beware", and if Lionsgate doesn't address this, then there's no point buying it when the Blu Ray comes out here either. This kind of sloppy encoding to disc is inexcusable, especially with the added space of Blu Ray discs. Watch the movie, skip the BD.


And there you have it: three cases of discs from outside the borders, each of which have ups and downs (some more than others). It was an interesting experiment but I think that before making any more investments like these I'll read as many reviews as humanly possible. That way I can avoid problems like Fido happening again.

To their credit, Fido and Slither arrived together less than a week after I ordered them. 12 Monkeys took a lot longer, but it was worth the wait in my opinion.

Oh well, live and learn. Now I'm off to start (and maybe finish) Punisher: War Zone. Any movie that inspires a comparison to The Story of Ricky because of violent content is a movie for me. Peace.

* I bought it shortly after the blog mentioning the Region loophole for Blu Rays.
** This was a BIG problem when Monty Python's Meaning of Life came out on dvd. I went through two returns of the disc before giving up and getting a refund until Universal fixed the mastering

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I'm having curious notions lately. Because of how very cheap the player add-on is for the X-Box 360 and how even cheaper the discs are, taking advantage of the dog days of HD-DVD sounds more and more like a reasonable investment, price-wise.

One of the reasons that Universal has been so slow to release older catalogue titles on Blu Ray is because they backed HD-DVD and lost. Accordingly, most of their releases are "day-and-date" new movies or occasional films from three or four years ago. Every once in a while they'll throw you a bone with Casino or The Thing, but compared to their HD-DVD output, it's a feast of scraps.

Meanwhile, the increasingly cheap HD-DVD catalog includes all sorts of movies from Universal and Paramount, early backers of the Betamax of hi-def. Just browsing some of the reviews online, I found Dune, The Elephant Man, The Sting, Army of Darkness, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Being John Malkovich, The Big Lebowski, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Feast, An American Werewolf in London, Forbidden Planet, Elizabeth, Cat People, Darkman, The Game, The Breakfast Club, Out of Sight, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Midnight Run, Apollo 13, and The Frighteners.

Since Toshiba announced there would be no more HD-DVD players manufactured, the price has dropped like a lead balloon for the discs themselves, many of which are "combo-discs", playable in regular dvd players and HD systems. Something like Hot Fuzz, which once retailed for 39.98 is now selling on Amazon for less than $5. The player add-on for the 360 is $30 at Ed McKay's.

On the other hand (i.e. making your logical argument for you), this is a dead format. There will be no more new ones, and when the player stops working nobody's going to fix it. Firmware updates will require some hunting to locate, and I understand that HD-DVD players take a lot longer to load than the PS3 does. Eventually all of those movies will come out on Blu Ray, albeit reflecting their higher prices with neglible difference in picture quality from their HD-DVD counterparts.

I'm not saying that I'm going to do it (for one thing, I don't even have an X-Box 360, which is a huge impediment), but in terms of cost vs benefit, the risk is pretty low. So it's a curiousity, albeit a probably "stupid" one. I can hear you formulating counter-arguments right now, and I agree. Just a thought.

To show you I don't always follow the ridiculous lead, please read the section below.


Sometimes technology goes too far, even for the Cap'n. I know I evangelize an awful lot about Blu-this and Hi Def-that but when it comes to brass tacks, I realize do feel there's a noticeable difference in picture quality. As someone who studies film, that is a benefit in instances. However, even I feel that sometimes the "next-gen" pushes it too far.

Case in point: the 21:9 television. Yes, readers, this is a tv so wide that a film shot 2.35:1 will have no bars at the top and bottom. Instead, anything less than 2.35 will now have bars on the side, including even bigger bars for full frame programs on tv or pre-scope films. That is just a little ridiculous.

16:9 tvs (what most of you know of as "widescreen" tvs or HDTVs, the rectangular ones) have admittedly redefined the "Widescreen" vs "Full Frame" dvd argument. People who didn't want those black bars at the top and bottom of their frame (because it's "cutting the picture off") are now putting in those 4:3 reformatted dvds into their fancy new tvs and realizing that "full frame" means something totally different when the screen is wider*.

Meanwhile, the uber-geeks, in their quest to continually replicate the "Cinematic" experience are looking at a truly niche tv that serves one purpose well and only exaggerates existing ratio issues. I would be stunned if this actually catches on.

The highway of entertainment innovation is littered with "cool" ideas that didn't make it because they weren't feasible: Betamax, VHD, Mini-Discs, Laserdiscs, DivX Rentals**, HD-DVD. The 21:9 TV may not fall that hard, although I have serious doubts it ever takes off outside of a very small audience.

So there you go. It turns out even the Cap'n has his limits.

* except for people who stretch full frame to widescreen, which cuts out even more of the picture. I've done some tests, and it does.
** One could argue with the current HD Rental system that this does, in fact, still exist. Just not in a useless disc format.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Last Time I'll Mention The Happening This Year.

After watching Let the Right One In last night, I really do wonder why it was ineligible for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. That at least is my assumption, other than the other reason: it's a horror film.

The easy (and probably correct) reason is that Let the Right One In is a vampire movie, and even if it is a really goddamn excellent movie (which it is), it's not about war torn countries or the holocaust or whatever it is that makes a Great Foreign Film. I don't know, but Let the Right One In leapfrogged its way up my list of "Best Movies of 2008"*.

It's really hard to make a good vampire movie. A fun vampire movie? Sure, there are tons of those: The Horror of Dracula, Return of the Vampire, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Count Yorga: Vampire Killer, Blacula, Vampire Hunter D, The Last Man on Earth, and Vampire's Kiss, to name a few. On the other hand, I can only think of four REALLY good vampire movies, ones that go beyond just being a good romp:

Near Dark, Nosferatu, Shadow of the Vampire, and Martin.

You can add Let the Right One In to that list. I bring up Romero's Martin because for long stretches of the film, you could conceivably make the argument that Eli, the strange little girl, is not actually a vampire. Only in the third act is it apparent that she is a supernatural being. Until that point there are "blink and you'll miss" indicators (i.e. the scene in Oskar's school basement).

More than anything, Let the Right One In is a story about a boy who doesn't realize how mundane his life is, how hopeless and pointless. Then Oskar (the boy) meets Eli (the girl) and their worlds open up. Eli's been relying on the help of humans to keep her alive (like Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire, she's trapped in the body of a twelve year old and won't ever age), not just by feeding on them but using them to find her places to sleep. When she meets Oskar, things change.

All of this works because of the casting. Director Tomas Alfredson chose two very young people, Kare Hedebrant (Oskar) and Lena Leandersson (Eli) and they have to do some very complex work to keep things moving. Both keep the film grounded, but Leandersson is particularly interesting because she never makes the switch from "vampire" to "human". She's always distant, always removed, so when she begins warming to Oskar it's strange, but you believe it.

Still, this is in essence a horror movie. Let the Right One In is accordingly quite bloody, even if the violence happens in brief fits and spurts (pun intended). To my surprise, the frequency of scenes involving people covered in blood doesn't take away from the tenderness of Oskar and Eli's story. In fact, one of the best moments between the two of them features someone covered in blood.

Let the Right One In employs one of the most forgotten vampire myths there is: a vampire cannot enter someone's home unless the owner invites them. I can only really remember The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer addressing this directly, but until Let the Right One In I've never seen what happened if that rule is broken. And it's pretty graphic, but it also functions as a key hurdle in the relationship between the two "kids".

I wish Matt Reeves all the luck in the world remaking this movie. The fact that it was in Swedish never bothered me but I realize the Cap'n is in the minority re: subtitles. Casting is going to be critical, especially for the leads. If you don't buy them as real, nothing that happens in the film is going to work. Let the Right One In is something of a minor miracle, and duplicating that is a mighty feat.

* For the record, they consist of (in truthfully any order you like): In Bruges, Let the Right One In, Redbelt, The Dark Knight, Wall-E, Appaloosa, Man on Wire, Tropic Thunder, and yes, The Happening. That is, for the record, the last time you'll see the words "the" and "happening" together until march of 2010. You're welcome.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Movies at Midnight? What a Concept!

Weird neck pains irritate me. Stop it, neck.


Not even a score by Daft Punk can deter my interest in Tron 2. Nothing against Daft Punk, and certainly it's a step up from Journey, but it's not like this movie needs a big "name" attached in the score column. I'm down anyway.


I watched The Foot Fist Way last night. While I did enjoy it, the film reminds me of Bottle Rocket in some ways, in that it's a dry run of better things to come. In Bottle Rocket's case, Wes Anderson went on to make Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums; in The Foot Fist Way's case, Danny McBride really went on to showcase the unbridled form of his comedy.

Don't get me wrong: McBride is playing the cruel, rude, sociopathic bastard you'll recognize from East Bound and Down or Tropic Thunder, it's just that he and director Jody Hill don't push the character as far as he has since. I could almost sense them pulling their punches to keep Fred Simmons from being totally unlikeable, so the film goes far but then holds back.

It's still funny as hell most of the time and if you like McBride, Foot Fist Way is most definitely worth checking out. If you've seen any of the Conan O'Brien "king of the demo" material, you'll know what to expect from Foot Fist Way, only more cruel and profane.


I've also been watching Midnight Movies, which is so far a fun documentary about the birth of the "midnight" cult film phenomenon. It begins with Jodorowsky's El Topo (the first "midnight movie"), and also covers Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Eraserhead, with shout outs to Reefer Madness and Bambi Meets Godzilla, among other movies that played at the Elgin in New York and the Orson Welles theatre in L.A.


The directors are all involved and it's half about how the films came to be and half interviews with theatre owners, distributors, critics, and fans. Interesting tidbit: Roger Ebert gave Night of the Living Dead a harsh review because he watched it with parents who brought their children to the show. Just let that simmer a little bit, and imagine the review you might write after seeing the reactions he did.

I'm not done yet but they've just transitioned from Rocky Horror to Eraserhead, and it's particularly interesting to hear the overlap with people involved. Richard O'Brien talking about watching Eraserhead is almost as interesting as John Waters talking about seeing NotLD first run at a drive-in in Baltimore. For that, this is a definite "must see".


Finally, there's a new Jim Jarmusch movie coming. Here's the trailer, since I don't want you to have to wait for Sunday.


Good night.