Monday, November 30, 2009

Not Funny People, but Maybe Funny Ha-Ha*

I'm still working on the Funny People review, so in the mean time the Cap'n would like to let you cool kids in on a special development. Unbeknownst to many of us, Dr. Uwe Boll was hard at work making a new movie based on a recent video game: Far Cry.

As is to be expected, it looks right up your alley. See for yourself:



I can't be 100% certain (okay, I can), but the music in the beginning sure sounds like it's from The Dark Knight. The music at the end sounds like every action movie I've ever seen Wesley Snipes in (but specifically Blade), but if someone would be so kind as to identify it, you'll win a special prize.

Without having seen Far Cry (or, for that matter, ever seeing Far Cry), I notice that Dr. Boll managed to snag Udo Kier and Hugo Stiglitz from Inglorious Basterds. Good for him. Enjoy, you masochists.

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Speaking of masochism I'm very willing to partake in, there's a new Universal Soldier movie coming out. This one doesn't necessarily eschew the Burt Reynolds and Gary Busey chapters of the U.S. saga, but is a sequel to Universal Soldier: The Return.

Instead of getting Bill Goldberg to come back to fight JCVD, the producers aimed high and plucked Dolph Lundgren out of the cloud known as The Expendables. I don't actually know how they plan on explaining the "death by corn tiller" ending from Universal Soldier, but you can't really complain about getting a much older Van Damme and a less-older looking but it's still 17 years later guys Dolph Lundgren together to fight each other, and possibly UFC guy I'd never heard of Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski.

Again, I'll let the evidence speak on its behalf:



My guess why this looks classier (albeit filmed in one location) than Far Cry is the director. See, he's the son of the director of 2010: The Odyssey Continues, which is a favorite film of Major Tom's.

All snarking aside, I already added this to my Netflix queue. I'm kind of sorry to see that the movie JCVD didn't open more doors for the man JCVD, but at least he's making direct to video sequels to movies I kinda liked now. Hopefully he can be retconned into TimeCop 3...



* but not that piece of shit indie movie Funny Ha Ha. Fuck that movie.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Trailer Sunday: From My Living Room to Yours


Norman, is That You?


The Bride


Howards End


Cahill: United States Marshal


Gomorrah


Fight Club

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Odds and Sods

Remake update:

The following remakes have been added to the "must be made before people wise up to this" queue - Maniac, I Spit on Your Grave, The Amityville Horror (again), Maniac Cop, and Child's Play.

Unfortunately, the Cap'n used up all of his tirade for the year regarding remakes, so you're on your own to manufacture faux surprise and rage. In the wake of The Last House on the Left, can anybody say they're surprised some sleazeball producer wants to remake I Spit on Your Grave? Have they even seen the original? Would they want to?

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Some time soon, maybe Monday, I'll put up a Blogorium review of Funny People, which I watched during a break from studying for the GRE. In short: I liked it, although it's less accessible than Judd Apatow's other directorial efforts (The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up) or most of his producing gigs. The film is largely about unlikeable people doing rotten things to each other as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Nevertheless, I thought Adam Sandler was quite good, as were Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Bana, and Leslie Mann.

It still boggles my mind that the same Eric Bana was in Star Trek and Funny People. It's really like two completely different people. I guess that's a compliment to Bana as an actor, and in some weird way to Apatow and JJ Abrams.

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Thirst is still in the "to watch" pile, along with Up.

I didn't really have anything to add to that, other than to give you the mental picture of those two movies coexisting on some plane of existence.

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As I do from time to time, the Cap'n threw in some Blu-Ray discs late last night to check out the quality. While I can't honestly say I've seen more than the first fifteen minutes of Howards End, The Robe, or Monsoon Wedding, they all looked great and I'm honestly looking forward to finishing them over the holiday break.

Monsoon Wedding may be the antidote to Slumdog Millionaire I've been looking for. Howards End is already more engaging than I once thought it would be. The Robe, the first Cinemascope release, looks better than some of the newer films I've put on. Criterion's Gomorrah should be arriving soon on Blu-Ray, and apparently it's quite good. They have a lot of quality coming out, much of which is from last year or early this year, including Revanche, A Christmas Tale, Hunger, and Steven Soderbergh's four hour epic Che.

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I also put on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and even with its improbable opening sequence, I still say the movie is pretty good until Indy and Mutt leave the United States. From there on, I can't really strongly argue against detractors, but I still don't hate the movie.

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The year is winding down, gang, so if you have requests for movies the Cap'n should look into in preparation for the Year End Recaps, please drop me a line.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blogorium Review: Whatever Works

I'm very surprised to hit two movies in one week that I enjoyed this much. It's not often the Cap'n watches two films in two days and both of them are equally enjoyable. However, I got lucky with the very funny Men Who Stare at Goats and Woody Allen's overlooked (in my eyes) Whatever Works.

Again, I blame this partially on trailer misrepresentation. I really thought, based on the ad, that Whatever Works was about making fun of Southern Religious Fundamentalists. That's the set up: Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) - the Woody Allen surrogate for 2009 - is a misanthropic New Yorker atheist who takes in hay seed hillbilly Melodie Saint Anne Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood) and tolerates her incessant cluelessness. Eventually, Melodie's parents arrive (Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley, Jr.), and more "North meets South" hilarity ensues. See for yourself:



But that's not Whatever Works. Sure, that's a part of it, and mostly in little cyclical moments immediately after Wood, Clarkson, and Begley individually arrive. But they adapt. In fact, Boris adapts in weird ways, and the movie is less about stereotypes bouncing against each other than people finding out they can change depending on the situation. It sounds hokey, but Woody Allen pulls it off in such a way that Whatever Works may be his most upbeat film in a long time.

And maybe that's why people had so much trouble with Whatever Works. When you hear that Larry David is going to play the Woody Allen role in a Woody Allen film, you expect only greatness. You expect the most neurotic, misanthropic, self-referential movie since Annie Hall, minus any of the off-kilter optimism that Diane Keaton offered Alvie. Sometimes you get it.

Early in the film, for example, when Allen is consciously playing with the fourth wall, and Boris addresses the audience directly, to the point of informing his friends that they're all being watched, Larry David is exactly what you'd expect in the marrying of Woody Allen and Curb Your Enthusiasm. There are a few moments in the middle of the movie that return to that, mostly built around Boris asking the camera to step aside with him, but for the bulk of the narrative, that goes away.

David is also not playing Larry David as Woody Allen as Boris Yelnikoff, even if that's what you're expecting. For a while, that's what you get, but Boris is an actual character that, in all fairness, may be parts of Allen and David, but is not reflective of our stereotypical expectations of them, so I can see how Curb Your Enthusiasm fans might feel duped.

Everyone else is quite good, including Evan Rachel Wood. She's not playing the type of character the trailer makes her out to be, and it's endearing how she tries to adapt to the fact that Boris is an actual genius (something the trailer also doesn't make clear) by developing his theories for herself. Clarkson goes through the biggest change in the shortest amount of time, but it suits her character and Allen has the good sense to play down her role as a plot mechanism in splitting up Boris and Melodie (spoiler - as if you hadn't figured out that a. they get together or b. they'd split up).

Ed Begley, Jr. gets the short end of the stick with very little time to make an impression, and his character shift is probably the hardest to buy, even if Allen again manages to keep it organic. The bar scene in the trailer is actually much better than the "God is a decorator" line would lead you to believe.

Maybe I was just caught up in the way Whatever Works refuses to let cynicism rule the day, or that Woody Allen took the film we were expecting away from us and made a better movie out of it, but it worked for me. And as Boris says, that's what really counts.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks?

So it's Thanksgiving, and I've just wrapped up a fine meal and am feeling pretty stuffed. Soon to be extended family is coming over soon, so we have to get ready for that, and my time is short. I'd hoped to have seen Up at this point (that was why I brought it with me), but that doesn't look like it's in the cards.

As I have a little time, I thought I might begin discussing something I hope to give considerable attention to in the next few weeks. I've been thinking a lot about the future of film theory and criticism. Much of the material we study in classes comes from the literature of the sixties and seventies, of the Cahiers du Cinema French Criticism or the Film School Movement in the U.S. (like Paul Schrader's Notes on Film Noir), with a dash of more recent work from the eighties and periodically the nineties.

In twenty years, though, the critical market it going to be flooded with mostly disregarded but nevertheless occasionally insightful work from web sites, forums, and blogs. The irony does not escape me that Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium will no doubt be one of these casualties of the critical community, but what are we to make of the democratization of film criticism.


Simply because more voices are allowed to speak at equal volume with broader reach does not necessarily negate all of them, does it? Are we to throw the baby out with the bath water for no reason better than "well, most of them have nothing to say or do it very badly"? I cannot argue with that point, because let's be honest - most of online criticism is handled with the maturity of a playground spat, but that doesn't mean all internet writing is inherently worthless.

On the other hand, I don't know how much of the work being done by people in their basements or attics or bedrooms would be welcome in institutions of higher learning, since the ivory tower perception is that "if they can't be published by someone with credentials, they have no valid point". Sometimes that's true. I'd like to think that much of what I do here, whether influenced by what I read or did not read, has merit and is insightful.

Even that it adds to the discourse about cinema, but I recognize that I have neither the authority nor the credentials to back it up. Does that mean writing a blog about film is a fool's errand? I'd certainly like to believe not, otherwise the last five years have been a waste of my time, and yours.

At any rate, I'll return to this at some other time. Happy Thanksgiving, folks. Don't get up early and go into murderous rages for the latest do-hickey or shiny thing. It's not worth it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blogorium Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Aside from telling you that The Men Who Stare at Goats is quite funny and that you ought to see it (rather than 2012, New Moon, or any of the other movies people were watching at Mission Valley tonight), I'm not certain what to say. However, I will try.

The Men Who Stare at Goats begins by saying "More of this is true than you'd like to believe", and as it's based on a book by Jon Ronson, I'd say much of the movie is entirely possible, albeit confounding.

The trailers don't necessarily misrepresent Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats, but it does hint at a movie that's wall to wall laughs, which isn't necessarily the case. Goats is the kind of movie that keeps you chuckling for stretches of time after a particularly clever joke, but there are long stretches not intended to keep you guffawing.

What the trailer does (fairly) indicate is that the story crisscrosses between the development of "Psychic Spies" in the New Earth Army program - located at Fort Bragg for North Carolinian's in the audience - headed by Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), and the current adventures of Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), one of Django's recruits. Cassady is in Iraq shortly after the invasion on a "top secret mission", followed by would-be investigative reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor).

Kudos for casting McGregor, who's been sort of floating around in movies since the Star Wars films wrapped up, which is a real shame. He's great in The Men Who Stare at Goats, both as a foil for Clooney but also because he good-humor-edly carries a LOT of Jedi jokes. The trailer indicates, but does not accurately represent, how many times you hear Clooney and other New Earth Army soldiers refer to themselves as "Jedis" or "Jedi Warriors". McGregor, at one point, even gets to say that "The force was strong" with Clooney.

The film is silly, yes, but it takes some steps to comment on American activity in post-invasion Iraq, particularly with a great cameo by Robert Patrick as an independent contractor who sees the country as his playground. However, just when you think you know where Goats is heading, the film throws you a curveball, and I honestly could not have predicted it would end up where it did.

As to the whole "Psychic Spy" or "remote viewer" plot points, Goats has some good natured fun poking at the skeptical reading Bob takes to Lyn's claims. After all, the New Earth Army has some very loose standards about invisibility and other "Jedi" tricks. But then they'll swerve in the other direction, like the cloud bursting scene, or some of Lyn's other on-point powers.

In addition to McGregor and Clooney being in rare form, Kevin Spacey is a scene-stealer as Larry Hooper, the serpent who enters New Earth's garden, and he gets some of the best lines later in the film. Jeff Bridges Bill Django is effectively Jeff Lebowski in the Army, and there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever. He has a nice shift later on, but I don't mean to spoil anything for you.


You should see this movie, because it won't be in theatres too much longer. There weren't many people there with us, but Mission Valley had pretty good business that night. It's a pity, because while I think The Men Who Stare at Goats will play at home just fine, it's harder to get movies like this in theatres when everyone goes for the tidal wave or the faux-vampires.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Digression: Digital Media re-Revisited

While preparing to hit the road, the thought occurred to me: "Why don't you throw a movie onto the iPod, just in case there's nothing to do?"

My initial reaction - which, incidentally, is why I'm writing this - was to say "Nah. Do I really need to watch another movie on my iPod? It's a bit silly, this whole digital media business."

The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that the whole "digital revolution" is really going to kill out dvds and (as some are already proclaiming) Blu-Rays. It's not an illogical position; digital media doesn't eat up physical space, you can take it anywhere on a drive of varying sizes, and they look pretty good. The problem is that it lacks tangibility.

Maybe the Cap'n is a Luddite - folks have accused me of being far worse - but even when transferring my music over to digital files, I still kept most of the cds. I bring the along from time to time, but for the most part I don't mind having the digital equivalent.

Movies, on the other hand, I'm far more inclined to carry the dvd, Blu-Ray, or occasionally VHS copy with me. Rather than saying "hey, I've got _____ movie(s) on my portable drive", I can bring one or two movies and say "look what I brought!" Sometimes, careful selection of just the right movie for just the right group of people can be more important than bringing everything over and asking them to choose.

I don't know about the rest of you, but there are innumerable hours wasted in this apartment trying to find a movie to watch. There is such a thing as "too many good options", and I'll waste the equivalent of one or two films just trying to pick the one I want to watch. Then I don't watch any of them. It's silly. It's why I'm glad Netflix has a queue limit, and why I imposed a much tighter one for myself. Otherwise, the amount of fine material would be debilitating.

That, in many ways, is how I feel about the "hard drive full of movies" that digital media represents. Try getting a room full of people to decide on one movie and see how long it takes, particularly if the options increase dramatically. Sometimes it's a good thing to just bring one along with you, to pop open the case, and let the disc do its magic.

Other, minor, quibbles like the lack of extra material or compatibility issues with certain players also hampers the experience, but I think my big reason for choosing the disc format over the intangible format is simply that I like holding dvds, like I like holding books. Perhaps one day the Cap'n will come around to seeing things like you "normals", but in the meantime I'll stick with my shelves of flicks, even if it is hard to narrow down that "perfect" movie.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Warning: Slacking Ahead

It's very nearly Turkey Time here at the Blogorium, which means the posts will be a little sporadic between Tuesday and Friday. I'll try to get things up normally but it's always hard to say when in another town using other people's equipment. I'm hoping to finagle some friends into seeing The Men Who Stare at Goats with me, since visiting is always a good excuse to see something I've been meaning to.

And by The Men Who Stare at Goats I obviously mean New Moon. 140 million dollars just isn't enough, you guys. It needs to be the best movie ever... oh who am I kidding. I can't even lie and tell you I'm going to see it when I know I won't.

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Listening to the Star Trek commentary (yes, meaning I watched the movie a third time over the weekend), JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof counter my "coincidences" argument by pulling the Lost trump card:

They aren't coincidences. It's fate.

So if you want to take their side on it, be my guess. Abrams also cops to loving the lens flares, using a similar argument to "the future's so bright, I gotta wear shades". They also considered doing a post-credits teaser with the Botany Bay, but decided against it since Star Trek II: The Pre-Wrath of Khan doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

I realize it sounds like I'm bagging on the movie, but I do still enjoy it, even though there's not much "there" there. Of course, that's coming from someone who watched the movie three times this year. I'm not sure there are any other movies I've seen three times this year, but I'll dig deep and come up with something for you.

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If you continued reading this far assuming there was some Richard Linklater action to be had at the end of this blog, I apologize. Slacker is nowhere near my list of "movies I'll ever watch again even on a dare", but I will watch Dazed and Confused, A Scanner Darkly, and the Before movies again. Likely very soon. It's been a bit since I last watched Scanner, so maybe I'll pop that in when I get back.

And now it's time to sleep. Not all classes were canceled tomorrow...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thankful for Trailer Sunday!


Killer of Sheep


Clerks


The Exiles


The Shark Hunter


Thirst


Downhill Racer


Time After Time


Thankskilling

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blogorium Review: The Ladykillers (2004) reconsidered.

I must admit to being slightly puzzled while re-watching the Coen Brothers remake of The Ladykillers. It's been several years since I late viewed the film (possibly the first time in its entirety since the theatrical release), and while I can't reverse my opinion that it's my least favorite Coen Brothers movie, it's not on account of The Ladykillers being an awful movie. It's not even necessarily a bad movie.

The Ladykillers is, however, a mess; it is a jumbled concoction of good ideas, bad execution, and outright baffling decisions.

For example, I like much of the camerawork early in the film. In fact, the camera movement is one of the strengths of The Ladykillers. The Brothers Coen set up visual motifs quickly, and it's not hard to see where the film is going in the first fifteen minutes, whether or not you've seen the original.

Both versions are about a group of criminals setting up their operation in the home of an kindly old lady. When the inevitable tension arises, disposing of the old woman becomes much more difficult than they imagined. In the original version, Alec Guinness played the role of Professor Marcus, the leader of hooligans disguised as musicians. In the 2004 remake, Tom Hanks takes over as Professor G.H. Dorr, PHD.

But Hanks isn't really the problem in The Ladykillers. Despite that fact that he chews scenery as thought it were covered in honey, Tom Hanks fits very well into the Coen Brothers universe. Like George Clooney and Nicolas Cage before him, Hanks isn't afraid to get silly. There's an underplayed hint of menace about Dorr early in the film that never really plays out, but this is more on the side of the auteur writer/directors than the star.

In fact, much of what doesn't work in The Ladykillers rests on the shoulders of Joel and Ethan Coen. The film can be maddeningly schizophrenic with its tone and characters, particularly the rest of Dorr's crew. J.K. Simmons finds himself working out of a tough spot early in the film after his character is introduced killing a dog (much to the chagrin of commercial-within-a-movie director Greg Grunberg and ASPCA Rep. Bruce Campbell). That none of his subsequent character work or the Mountain Girl subplot never registers is in part because of the awkward first impression. Oh, the Irritable Bowel Syndrome introduced later doesn't help either.

Believe me, I understand that The Ladykillers is trying to juxtapose the world of the sacred and the world of the profane, and while the Coens get the sacred spot on, the profane is wildly inconsistent, giving the movie an almost anachronistic tone. Scenes that are merely between Hanks and Hall are great, but when Marlon Wayans is dragged in playing a far too out of place "lost soul", the slapstick wears thin quickly.

Part of it is that The Ladykillers feels like a remake that tries too hard to keep the spirit (and the black comedy) of the original but that isn't a "period" film. It makes sense, considering that O Brother Where Art Thou and The Man Who Wasn't There are "period" films, and while Intolerable Cruelty is set in 2003, it feels like a screwball comedy in tone. The Ladykillers does not find that balance so easily. It often feels like an uncomfortable mishmash of the 1950s and 2004.

This is not to say there aren't small touches I still enjoy. Irma P. Hall is uniformly excellent as Marva Munson, and I love her obsession with the one "hippity hop" song she can identify, A Tribe Called Quest's "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo". Had the film tried less to incorporate "modern" influences and simply focused on Munson and Dorr, it might be more palatable. Other little things amuse me, like the way Lump (Ryan Hurst) calls the Professor "coach", or Munson's cat constantly staring at the criminals with anthropomorphized disdain. And the recurring portrait of Munson's late husband, Othar, is chuckle inducing in its mere presence.

At the same time, I can't say that it holds up any better than it did five years ago, and I can't see myself rushing to see it again (although I suspect it will make a cursory appearance in the Coen auteur class next spring), but it's not bad. Just very curiously put together, and not in ways I think are defensible. Thoughts, anyone?

Friday, November 20, 2009

And yet, I can't bring myself to thank Stephanie Meyer...

The Cap'n discovered the only upside to "vampire mania" tonight. After unsuccessfully shopping for Chan-wook Park's Thirst at Best Buy and Borders, I managed to find a not-sold-out copy at, of all places, Target.

Now Target is not somewhere I usually expect to find Chan-wook Park movies. While I've never actively sought them out there, I'm pretty sure that you won't find Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Lady Vengeance on their shelves. Therefore, it was perfectly reasonable for me to think the better of seeing a copy of Thirst sitting next to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, and beneath Star Trek. But that is, in fact, where you'll find the other two copies.

Why? Because Thirst is about a vampire. That can be the only possible reason, even though the cover (title aside) gives you no clear indication of that. Allow me to share it with you:


It doesn't exactly scream out: this is a movie in the vein - pun intended - of Martin and Let the Right One In, now does it? One could even make the argument it exclaims "erotic thriller", and not "horror film".

Eagle-eyed viewers (or perhaps just attentive ones) will also notice that Thirst is a movie about a Priest who becomes a vampire. If you've read anything about the film, you already knew that, but I'm writing this from the theoretical perspective of a Twilight fan who could, under the right circumstances, buy two highly regarded vampire films entirely by accident. Actual vampire films, to boot - Near Dark and Thirst.

I've seen the former but not the latter; if Thirst opened in Greensboro, I never saw hide nor hair of it, and any potential screening disappeared as quickly as it materialized. The quick dump on dvd by Focus Features / Universal allows me to rectify this. (There is, at present time, no indication that Thirst will be released on Blu Ray in the United States, something that seems to be the M.O. with Focus Films releases, a subsidiary also responsible for In Bruges and The Big Lebowski's 2006 re-release).

To return to the "seeing this at Target of all places", may I note that it's odd how vampire mania made it possible to find a Korean film about the moral quagmire of being a bloodthirsty priest on the shelves alongside widely available Hollywood fare? I will concede that Target periodically makes some effort to stock what it calls "IFC Films", but the section grows smaller and smaller every month and is generally a repository of Anvil! The Story of Anvil and My Name is Bruce dvds that don't fit anywhere else. Still, while I profess befuddlement at this development, it does save my Neftlix queue a slot and means that this placeholder of an entry will pave the way for a proper review of Thirst sometime soon.

Speaking of which, I never did get around to writing up the Vengeance Trilogy, an essay I half-promised a year or so ago. Ah well, back to work then...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pass

I propose an experiment for the Cap'n. I will never watch Twilight or any of its sequels.

This experiment shouldn't be that hard, since I've gone twelve years (almost) without ever having seen Titanic, and there's no sign of breaking that embargo on the horizon. Lest ye think these are merely knee-jerk reactions, I will openly admit that I had little to no interest in seeing any of the above films / films-to-be in the first place. There was a push, some time after the early reviews of Twilight the first to get me to watch something that was, by all accounts, woefully inept. I do make concessions for the woefully inept in something I call "Bad Movie Night", but Twilight rings hollow from my high and mighty perch of Trash Savant snobbery.

To prove to you that this isn't simply wasting buckshot, fired repeatedly into a barrel of rotting mackerel, allow me to add one more movie coming out this year. One that many of you are certain to haul me in the general direction of:

Avatar

Just as I so deftly avoided the exploits of Twilight the "vampire" last year, and so too the werewolf equivalent this year, I will likewise opt to ignore the James Cameron equivalent, plus or minus a decade. It isn't that I have no desire to have my "eyes fucked", as sundry corners of the internet would have you believe, nor is it some lingering disinterest in Cameron's filmography, a topic I breached on more than one occasion in this very blogorium.

No, my decision to not watch Avatar (in all likelihood ever) stems from an overwhelming sense of ennui when I watch the trailer. Nothing about the film strikes me as interesting or marvelous, and the "awe" I understand I am to have just isn't there. It's as though I'm in the presence of a woman voted "most beautiful" by consensus of the world, but my immediate response is "thanks for coming over, but I have something better I could be doing right now."

Many of you, no doubt, will be revisiting this particular piece and patiently waiting for me to eat crow, or to elicit a response from me by promising said "eyeball fucking" is a true and everlasting promise from Cameron the Mediator. Justification of Cinematic Faith by 3-D Grace, if you will. But I'm not buying it. Intuition rarely steers me off course when movies are concerned. My initial hesitance to watch the Watchmen turned out to be quite justified one-and-a-half times later. The concerns over Juno's hyper-precocious dialogue and paper thin characters were, alas, not unfounded.

Avatar looks like a very expensive, very expansive, very loud, very digital movie. It also looks like a chore to sit through, whiz bang advances in computer technology aside. Your Cap'n is also quite fond of his eyeballs, for what it's worth.

If I can avoid getting sparkle on me, I think I can sit out another blockbuster for the holiday season. Curmudgeons like me are scarcely missed as it is.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three-fer

Wherein the Cap'n briefly touches upon three movies that don't need another full write-up, but bear some revisiting.

Movie The First - Lens Flare: The Motion Picture, er Star Trek (2009)

I'm going to say this again, because despite standing by my earlier review, I am astonished how well Star Trek works without having a plot. It doesn't have a plot! At all! The movie is a greatest hits of Trek novels and ephemera strung together by a GIGANTIC PLOT MECHANISM that exists solely to set the "Reset" button on the series.

Don't get me wrong, Star Trek does two things very well (and neither is Lens Flares):

1. It's one of the few remake-ish movies in the last three years or so that doesn't really abandon canon or tell the old fans to go buzz off ("This isn't your father's Star Trek" aside). It really does embrace the best things about the original series, puts a cast together that somehow manages to evoke the original actors but also put their own stamp on things, and it's trying very hard not to say "we're better and here's why". Putting Leonard Nimoy in the film and setting him up as a recurring character down the line is a good sign that JJ Abrams and company do, in fact, want this to be like your "father's Star Trek". Just with more goddamned lens flares.

2. Like many other Abrams-related projects, Star Trek effortlessly draws you in and sets the stakes up quickly. Despite knowing exactly what happens to the Kelvin the second time I watched the film, I'll be damned if Star Trek didn't suck me in AGAIN! Part of it is the breathless pacing of the film, part of it is that Abrams is really trying to avoid the self-parodic nature of later Original Series movies and anything having to do with Data in the Next Generation movies. It's funny, but not at its own expense. The Red Shirt death is spot on, for example. You laugh, but you also say "holy shit", because no Red Shirt ever got it that bad before. For two hours the movie manages to breeze by and I was still on board.

But there IS NO PLOT! Any movie where it's a requirement to read the prequel graphic novel in order to actually understand why the main villain does anything he's doing or to fill in any of the unanswered questions (many of which are raised in my old review) is fundamentally problematic. If you bother to stop and think about things like "why doesn't Nero say anything to the Captain of the Kelvin?", and there is actually an answer, as long as you listen to the commentary on the deleted scenes, then there's something funky about the movie.

What's funky is that there's no "there" there. The movie has less of a plot than The Phantom Menace, and much larger gaps in logic and credibility. So much of Star Trek happens by sheer coincidence that I can't understand why I liked it as much the second time as the first. This is a testament to the ability of JJ Abrams to overcome basic moviemaking techniques and still craft an entertaining film. Kudos, sir.

But for God's sakes, man: can we lose the lens flares? I mean in every single shot of a starship, there's at least one, and once we're on the Enterprise, yeesh! It's distracting, for crying out loud, and not in the good way that the rest of the movie is.

Movie the Second - Clerks

Sometimes, you raise the right movie at just the right time. Just as I mentioned last night, Clerks is now the same age I was when I first saw the movie. Back when it was the MOST VULGAR COMEDY EVER, or something ridiculous like that. I think John Waters would disagree, and there's been much, much worse since, but in 1994 the big stink was that Clerks almost had an NC17. For talking. That's it.

I watched a vhs copy of the movie, and it began the long on-again / off-again odyssey of my interest in Kevin Smith films, which I've covered so many times that it's not worth getting into again. What's funny is that the day after I mentioned the 15th Anniversary of Clerks, the Blu Ray arrived in my mailbox from Netflix.

Ready for a shocker? It doesn't look any different than it did 15 years ago. Smith makes a joke about it on a new introduction (where he apologizes for making fans buy Clerks yet again and suggests its very existence on Blu Ray is an insult to the medium), but I honestly couldn't tell you Clerks looked any better or worse in High Definition. It looked like it always looks: grainy, kinda soft picture - in essence, an independent movie made for next to nothing in 1994.

That's not damning the film in any way. Clerks is still a funny slice of mid-nineties slacker comedy, and I think it holds up better than any of the other movies he made between 94 and 99. You're just not buying the movie because it's going to knock your socks off or anything. Because tech junkies will be pissing and moaning about this for a while. I get it; you hear "Blu Ray", you expect top of the line, and the price tag is pretty steep ($30).

On top of that, the only really new material you get on the disc is the apology from Smith and an 87 minute making of documentary - for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back*. That's right. All they could find for this new edition of the movie is a standard definition doc for another movie. Is it pretty good? Yeah, I guess so. It's comprehensive and has lots of interview footage with the cast and crew, along with more-interesting-than-you'd-expect behind the scenes stuff.

But I must stress, it's the making of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Not Clerks. So will I buy a copy of Clerks on Blu Ray? Eh. I'm glad I rented it from Netflix, because there's almost no reason to sell the 3-Disc 10th Anniversary set. Aside from putting the First Cut and the Theatrical Cut on one disc, I couldn't tell much of a difference between them. So unless I find it used, probably not, but it is out there for you fanatics with $30 burning a hole in your pocket.


Movie the Third - That Remake of The Third Man with Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio that may or may not happen.

I don't know, you guys. I just don't even know.



* the great irony is that Miramax is using the Clerks and Chasing Amy Blu Rays as an excuse to repackage Jay and Silent Bob in a boxed set, and the J&SBSB BD still has none of the original dvd extras.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And Now I Miss The Janus Again...

Somehow, until this afternoon I'd forgotten that Fight Club was ten years old. In fact, a little over a month ago in 1999, a number of us (including some current Blogorium readers) went to the Janus Theatre to see David Fincher's anarchic vision of Chuck Palahniuk. Back when the flashes of Tyler Durden early in the movie were literally flickering frames, so you weren't sure what you saw, back when Brad Pitt was still in movies like Seven Years in Tibet. More importantly, back when we were all angsty 19 and 20 year olds who wanted to see the system taken down a peg or two.

And now it's ten years later. I'm not as angst-y - maybe grumpy - and we've taken a few shots at the system only to realize its design is pretty solid. Well damn. At least Fight Club remains entertaining as black comedies go.

I have a bit of a difference of opinion with one of the PHD students on campus about which film is more "dated" as late-nineties social critiques go. I say it's American Beauty, which I cannot watch anymore because it of how fixed in time it is. He disagrees, and believes that Fight Club is a product of the late nineties, and that it doesn't hold up anymore. I'm not going to decide for you folks, but if you have any other suggestions (*coughChasingAmycough*), let me know.

What I do know is that the chunk of Fight Club I watched on Blu Ray this afternoon still held up pretty well a decade later. If you remember correctly, the dvd opened with the normal "Warning / Attention" red screens, followed by a "Warning" from Tyler Durden, one that broke away to the dvd title screen. Fincher and company haven't forgotten the simple joys of messing with our expectations, so the Blu Ray has a new trick: when you put the disc in, the normal "Warning" ad pops up, then a "The interviews blah blah blah do not represent..." screen, and then something fun happens.

The menu for Never Been Kissed, another ten year old 20th Century Fox movie, starts up. Sappy music, static picture of Drew Barrymore, lipstick cursor selection. For just a second, you wonder what's going on here. Then I chuckled. It's a good one, and before long it skips like a scratched dvd to reveal a rotating screen with furniture descriptions, ones that get more interesting as you move from the narrator's apartment to Tyler's house. So yes, Fight Club is still toying with your brain, particularly the addled minds of people who caught the film many years after its theatrical run.

For me, that's kind of weird. I don't know why, since that's how I experienced many movies people much older than me saw the first time on big screens, but the audience for Fight Club now consists of people who would not have possibly been old enough to see it at the Janus with us in October of 1999. Like the Cap'n did with so many "cult" films, many of the Space Monkeys buying this Blu Ray were introduced to Fight Club in dorm rooms hazy with bong smoke, probably on a double bill with *shudder* The Boondock Saints.

That may be, for me at least, why Fight Club still holds up. There's an audience for the movie that doesn't see why being a Space Monkey is a Bad Thing, and why nobody should really want to be like Tyler Durden (or Patrick Bateman, although that is another discussion for another time), and so quite unintentionally, the movie perpetuated its own misguided followers. While some might be inclined to blame Fight Club for the presence of the mooks, I would point instead to the central message of The Life of Brian: "It's not Jesus' fault you idiots misinterpreted the message!"

So happy 10th anniversary, Fight Club. And, since it's only a week away for their dual release (also at the Janus), Happy 10th anniversary Being John Malkovich and Dogma. That was a strange double feature...

Oh, and Happy 15th Clerks. What the fuck, Clerks? I was fifteen when you came out the first time, so now I feel really old. Stupid movies from my teenage years becoming teenagers themselves...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fun for all ages... for about two turns.

Have you ever played "The Movie Game"? It was ubiquitous when I was at university the first time around, and I was quite pleased to discover that it exists outside of the world of college film dorks. I am going to do you a huge favor if you've ever tried the game and stalled out, but first let's catch up everybody else.

For those of you who have not or aren't sure, the game is remarkably simple. At a party or social gathering, take any circle of people (the larger the better), and start the game by naming a movie. The person to your left will then name an actor / actress from that movie, and moving clockwise, you will continue to name another movie they were in, someone in that movie, and so on.

Some folks play for points, and if you get to a certain number of "pass"es, you're out. Others will do an indefinite movement to keep the game going as long as possible, because it can be fun.

There are, invariably, two exceptions to the "fun" rule:

1) Someone who is moderately to very drunk will always insist that they're going to "kick your ass", only to complain about how hard the game is and wander off halfway through. Happens every time.

2) Two or three people will emerge as being very good at the game, and eventually as alcohol and party interests remove all other players, it will shrink to a very sad state indeed.

As a way to prevent the second from happening and to provide the drunken fool from the first point a fair shot, I'm going to provide you with the Rosetta Stone of "Movie Game" movies. It also happens to be the easiest way in or out of a "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game you'll ever play, but that is another story.

Normally, I would tell you to study up on the filmographies of Wallace Shawn, Paul Giamatti, Bud Cort, Bob Balaban, or any number of terribly useful supporting actors that appear in just about everything, but for the novice, may I present a film so packed with actors and actresses that it's almost impossible not to immediately find another movie to go to.

I present to you, Michael Mann's Heat.

Watching it again this afternoon, as I seem to do every two or three years, I'm struck not only by how well it still holds up, but also at the almost ridiculous amount of "name" talent who appear in small roles. Starting with the leads, I'm just going to work my way through the cast - periodically identifying movies of names that don't seem familiar- and I guarantee your movie game has an ace up its sleeve from the get-go:

Al Pacino
Robert DeNiro
Val Kilmer
Jon Voight
Tom Sizemore
Ashley Judd
Natalie Portman
Jeremy Piven
Danny Trejo
Henry Rollins
William Finchter (Contact, The Chumscrubber)
Dennis Haysbert (24, Jarhead, Far from Heaven)
Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, Grosse Point Blank, Shattered Glass)
Ted Levine (Evolution, Birth, The Fast and the Furious)
Tom Noonan (Last Action Hero, The Pledge, Heaven's Gate)
Kevin Gage (Space Camp, The 'burbs, May)
Wes Studi (Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans)
Xander Berkeley (The Grifters, Taken, Candyman)
Bud Cort (Harold and Maude, Pollock, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump, Con Air)
Diane Venora (Bird, The Substitute)
Amy Brenneman (Your Friends & Neighbors, City of Angels)
Tone Loc (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest)


You can get in and out of Heat in any number of conceivable ways, and believe me when I say I'm scraping the tip of the iceberg with the likes of William Finchter and Xander Berkeley's film work. The same goes for Hank Azaria, Danny Trejo, Kevin Gage, and Henry Rollins. Or hell, play it safe and work from the top of the list. And what did I say about Bud Cort? See how he pops up in the oddest places?

Watching Heat is a who's who of "hey, that guy!", and movies like this keep "The Movie Game" interesting precisely because they open up more opportunities for others. It can get you out of a sticky situation when someone drops a really random movie that only one big "name" is in. Suddenly you can whip out Heat and save the day!

For you trivia junkies out there, I imagine you'll be studying the bottom of the list, and you'll have a lot to work with. I look forward to locking horns with you in the future...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Back in Business

The great internet drought of aught nine is over, good readers. I hope you haven't all drifted away while the Cap'n stared at a solitary blinking light on his cable modem.

With good news, inevitably, there is bad: by fixing the internet, there is no more free cable. Since I wasn't paying for it, I can't really complain about that, but it does mean I won't be keeping up with tv shows on cable (or the redo of The Prisoner that begins tonight). Instead, I will use the extra time idly spent flipping channels to focus on the piles of movies and tv shows in Blogorium Central HQ (aka The Apartment that Dripped Blood).

The missing two entries will appear chronologically where they ought to, based roughly on when I wrote them using Word on Friday and Saturday. To ensure you see this first, I'll timestamp Trailer Sunday so that it ends up below this entry.

Enjoy the return of my daily shenanigans, now with less distraction.

Not Quite Trailer Sunday


Danger Freaks


Sky Pirates


Pacific Banana


Dark Age


The Man from Hong Kong


Eliza Fraser


Thirst


Razorback


The Adventures of Barry McKenzie


Fair Game




Turkey Shoot


Long Weekend


The Return of Captain Invincible

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blogorium Review: Not Quite Hollywood

There are some documentaries that you want to have a piece of paper and a pen handy for. Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Cinema and My Voyage to Italy. Hell, I've watched the 42nd Street Forever discs making a note of movies that bear further investigation. Not Quite Hollywood is just such a documentary, although like Z Channel, the stories that link the Ozploitation movement is as fascinating as the clips themselves.

Australian Cinema is something I know very little about. Not Quite Hollywood is the story of films many of us have never heard of from the land down under. Bawdy sex comedies. Twisted horror pictures. A "nature gone wild" movie I MUST see. Action films with stuntmen who miraculously didn't die. Oh, and Mad Max.

Mad Max gets its own small piece of Not Quite Hollywood, but it's far from the most important movement in Australian cinema. No one mentions The Road Warrior or Beyond Thunderdome. In fact, what's amazing is that very few Australian directors tried copying George Miller's Mad Max formula. The Italians ripped it off instead just as they did with comatose ESP horror film Patrick, one of the handful of other movies I'd heard of before.

In fact, for a documentary loaded with movies, I'd only heard of (or seen) maybe seven: Mad Max, Patrick, Dead End Drive-In, Stunt Rock, Stone, Road Games, and The Cars That Ate Paris. If you count their discussion of Picnic at Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, and Walkabout, then it goes up to ten.

If Not Quite Hollywood were boiled down merely to the stories of producer John D. Lamond, director Brian Trenchard-Smith, and stuntman Grant Page, it would still be a fascinating documentary, but director Mark Hartley gives the full scope of Australian genre films, or Ozploitation. Quentin Tarantino is a sort-of guide into this Dante's Inferno of bizarre cinema, popping up to tell you about this movie or that film or "how fucked up is that?!" And he's not exaggerating. I've seen some wild stuff before, but I regret spending most of my exploitation interest in New Zealand. It does contextualize Peter Jackson's early work a bit more.

What I love is that most of the people involved are totally honest about their intentions, whether it was to make a quick buck, to titillate audiences, or just to make fucked up movies. To hear Stunt Rock described as "basically a ninety-minute trailer" with "the kind of band you'd find on one day's notice" explains a lot. The stories Grant Page tells about various horrible accidents he lived from on almost all of these movies, or Brian Trenchard-Smith setting himself on fire to prove to George Lazenby is was safe in The Man from Hong Kong, it's just amazing stuff.

I can't recommend this documentary enough. I now have a long list of films to seek out, and I'll be sharing as many trailers as I can find tomorrow for your viewing excitement. Just telling you about Pacific Banana, Turkey Shoot, Frog Dreaming, Plugg, Deathcheaters, and The Return of Captain Invincible doesn't do the trick. Or Lamond's Indiana Jones ripoff, Sky Pirates, which is about the secret power of Easter Island.

Rent this. Right now. If you can find it, buy it. Not Quite Hollywood, like Z Channel, is essential viewing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Four Reasons: Friday the 13th Edition

It's been a while since the Cap'n did a "Four Reasons", and we certainly learned a bit during our mini-Friday the 13th marathon, so I thought I'd share a few of them with you, under the auspices of "Four Reasons You Should Consider Watching the Jason Films Again":

1. Misdirection - We tend to think of the Friday the 13th films as fitting the "slasher" mold perfectly: character types are set up who are easily predictable as "oh, they'll die. he'll die. she's totally dead" and then play out accordingly. However, by the second Friday the 13th film (and the first we watched), director Steve Miner is already fucking with those rules.

There are a bunch of counselors introduced in Friday part 2, and only a handful of them die. Many of the ones Jason kills probably don't even deserve it - the dude in the wheelchair, his would-be girlfriend, the crazy old man. Okay, the skinny dipper and her jerky, clothes stealing, boyfriend probably deserved it, but the hippie kids didn't do much worse than wandering over to Camp Crystal Lake. They weren't even having sex there, because a cop made them go back to their camp! For his trouble, what does the cop get? Killed! And he was on Jason's side of the argument: close the camp down.

The most egregious break in "slasher movie" rules is that the "Prankster" type lives by virtue of the fact that he NEVER GOES BACK TO THE CAMPSITE! He stays at the bar when Ginny and Paul go back. We never see him again, but I suspect that fucker lived a long and productive life of playing stupid pranks on people, like having their cars towed or providing Jason with spears to murder people. This, I strongly suspect, is why Shelly gets it the way he does in Friday part 3 - it's justice being visited upon him for something he had nothing to do with, which brings us to reason number 2...

2. For Critical Analysts, there might be a hint of Antisemitism in the first four films - I'd have to watch the first one again to be perfectly sure about this, but certainly for parts 2-4, you do yourself no favors by being Jewish in a Friday the 13th film. Every character who looks vaguely of Abrahamic descent in these films is destined to an undeserved punishment from Jason. Worse still, they're often the ones who aren't doing anything that breaks slasher movie "rules". Only Shelly really does anything wrong by being the prankster, but the girl in Part 2 dies for having a crush on Wheelchair dude, and the girl in part 4 should, by all counts, be the "Final Girl', down to the fact that I can't account for what happens to her in the film.

I'm not necessarily saying Jason is pro-Nazi in the Friday the 13th films, but it's the only really consistent thread we noticed through the early films about who does and does not die. If you wanted to go way out into the realm of speculation, one could argue that based on his last name, Corey Feldman's character goes insane at the end of part 4, but even I admit that's pushing it a bit...


3. Shameless Product Placement Undermined by Tiggling Jitties - This pertains specifically to the hippie couple in part 2. For some reason, every time there's a prominently placed corporate sign (Exxon, Coca Cola) in the background, the foreground is consumed by the bra-less antics of hippie girl, who is almost always jiggling. It doesn't matter if she's running or just standing still - it's like the living embodiment of an Aqua Teen Hunger Force line, "Commence the jiggling!"

In some ways, it undermines the shameless product placement philosophy of the early 80s. Not to mention that despite the fact that she's constantly bra-less or just wearing a bikini top, hippie girl never joins the ranks of slasher movie "gratudity". Friday the 13th part 2 manages to undermine both cliches of the 80s in this regard, and it's pretty funny.


4. The early Fridays look much better than Jason X - Until we put Jason X on at the end of the night, I never would have argued that a grainy, beat up, low-budgeted product of 1981-84 could look better than a film from 2002. Alas, it is so. The one thing that's consistent from the beginning of Jason X to the end of Jason X is how cheap it looks. How we never noticed this, I don't know, but in retrospect I can now understand why there was no Jason XI. Shot on what looks like cheap digital on sets that look like they were borrowed from television, X wears its very low budget on its sleeve.

That being said, it's still a fun movie. Not a great movie, and you definitely don't want to compare it to the early Friday the 13ths - as we discovered - because despite the "meta" nature of most of the film, the pacing isn't as good, there's very little surprising about suspense, and not one of the characters really deserves to live to the end. Jason doesn't even kill two of them directly, although he does (by proxy) kill thousands of people in a space station.

At any rate, while I do recommend Jason X, it's probably better to watch it in the context of Jason Goes to Hell as part of the New Line era of Vorhees films, before Freddy vs Jason and Platinum Dunes got a hold of the character. The earlier films, by comparison, do manage to look pretty good by utilizing actual locations and considerably better camerawork. I really never thought I'd say that, but these are the things you learn during these mini-thons.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday the 12th, part 3

I hope this is actually going out to you fine folks in Blogorium-land, because Roadrunner is awfully spotty tonight. It hasn't worked at all for the last five hours, and the Cap'n had a hell of a time getting this page to load at all when it came back. As such, I'll keep this short.

Tomorrow night, in honor of the last Friday the 13th of 2009, the Cap'n is going to watch three (or so) of the series of the same name. It's not an official get-together, but anybody who wants to come over is invited. I'll be watching personal favorites, like:

Friday the 13th Part 2 - wherein Jason Vorhees takes over for his decapitated mother as killer, complete with one-eyed sack head. Also starring Amy Steel (April Fool's Day).

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter - wherein makeup effects maestro Tom Savini returns to kill Jason, with the help of Corey Feldman. Also featuring Crispin "dead fuck" Glover and his mad dancing skills.

And we'll close with either:

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives - wherein Jason officially becomes undead.

or

Jason X - wherein Jason goes to space, fights an android, and becomes half mechanical. seriously.

Come over if you like. It's nothing fancy, and I'll recap on the movies if internet is still available. Ta-ta.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All About Warners!

Good evening, reader-inos!

Let's begin by looking at the trailer for a non-horror remake, one that Warner Brothers appears to have sunk quite a bit of money into, Clash of the Titans.

I've seen the original; it was a semi-regular fixture for a tape we didn't have at home, and I remember having watched it several times as a youth and being generally entertained with it. The stop motion on Medusa and the Kraken was pretty cool, and the movie seemed dumb but entertaining.

The remake, on the other hand, really raises the question "This is what you wanted to make? Why bother calling it Clash of the Titans"? See for yourself.



Maybe it's the 80% yelling and fighting footage. Maybe it's the hilariously matched metal-to-footage combo. Maybe it's the scorpion. Somehow, the only thing I could do with that trailer was laugh. It's like Warner Brothers decided to take the original film and "turn it up to 11" in every possible way, and the end result is embarrassing for everyone involved.

Oh, and that tagline.... "Titans. Will. Clash." That's pretty clever, especially when followed by the title of the movie.

The best part is that you could make the argument that this is any movie other than a remake of Clash of the Titans and win. Avoid making nostalgic geeks angry and just call it something else, because to be honest, it probably is.

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Since I gave Warner Brothers so much grief over Clash of the Titans, let me make it up to them by suggesting all of you go pick up North By Northwest on Blu Ray. Before I laud the disc, allow me to remind you that nobody is paying me to do this (or anything else on this blog, although I am not opposed to being paid to write), so the solicitation is a genuine one based on watching parts of the movie earlier today.

Unlike Near Dark, which it turns out many of you have not seen, I feel more comfortable in presuming most of you have seen Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest. If you haven't, go rent it now. While I hesitate to ever choose one favorite Hitchcock film over another, I've probably seen North By Northwest as many times as Psycho and Vertigo, and maybe more times than Notorious, Lifeboat, and Rear Window. And that's still leaving out several other faves.

The Blu Ray for this movie was impressive. I put it on after the Near Dark Blu Ray (which is no slouch itself, to my surprise) and immediately felt validated in my purchase. After watching the opening again, I skipped around to the "crop duster" scene, and the clarity is a little astounding. While The Wizard of Oz has twenty years on it, North By Northwest looks pretty new for a fifty year old movie. If this is indicative of the way Hitchcock is going to look in High Definition, sign me up.

The big question here is how Universal answers the gauntlet Warners dropped with this disc. Warner Brothers has a handful of well known Hitchcock movies - Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, The Wrong Man - but Universal has the "big guns" - Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, The Birds, and Rope. If I'm not mistaken, North By Northwest is the first salvo fired in the HD Hitch battle, and if we're lucky that means the rest will come soon and just as striking.

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Finally, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this works. It's from a Russian troupe and gives you a glimpse of The Matrix as a Charlie Chaplin short. I've seen most (if not all) of Chaplin's films, and this doesn't stray too far.



Honestly I was expecting not to like this. The only things that don't really work are the "laugh" track and the structure of the boxing gag. Chaplin would actually be the one doing the kicking, but I understand what they're trying to do. It's more impressive than I had hoped.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Near Duped

I know that I've mentioned this before, but I really hate the new artwork for Near Dark. Kathryn Bigelow's vampire western deserves better than to be photoshopped into a Twilight clone, especially when the movie is about as far as you could get from the Sparkly world of Robert Pattinson.

But, because mopey blues and dopey looking romantic longing is suddenly what "vampire" movies mean, when I went to pick up the Blu Ray of one of my favorite genre entries, it was disheartening to see this:



That's the new cover slapped together to dupe Twilight fans into thinking that Near Dark is anything like those books. It's not.



If you've ever seen Near Dark, you know that. Here, for comparison's sake, are the trailers for Near Dark and Twilight.





I mean, I can see the superficial similarities, but the major difference is that instead of being solemn loners who wine about "she doesn't belong", the vampires in Near Dark are actually dangerous and pose a real threat to just about everyone they meet. Go all the way back to Nosferatu if you need to; vampires in cinema are not supposed to be safe. Alluring, sure, but always dangerous. If you pine for a vampire, things end badly.

Now, I haven't (and don't plan on) reading / watching Twilight, so if I'm missing some critical insight, fill me in. In the meantime, allow me to share the old dvd artwork for Near Dark, which while a bit spoileriffic, is much more appropriate to the tone of the film (which is essentially a western):



I suppose it's fair to say "so what? it's just a dvd cover!", and more adventurous readers might even suggest this is a great development for Near Dark, which has for a long time hovered in the fringes of vampire films (along with Martin). Maybe a wildly misleading dvd cover will bring a new audience to the film that never would have discovered it before. Maybe, but when they realize that this is not the film they've been promised, then what?

Oh well, I can always print a new cover out for the Blu Ray and enjoy the film for what it is. But I'm not going to pretend it's not terrible artwork in the meantime...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Now Craig, I know you don't go to Camp Crystal Lake...

Whilst looking at a calendar today, I realized that this week ends on a Friday the 13th. This is appropriate, as the one movie I wanted to watch for Horror Fest but didn't - Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter - fits quite well on the "day to movie hookup" board.

The Cap'n can't honestly say he's really interested in watching all 10 Friday the 13th movies on Friday or over the weekend, but I wouldn't mind throwing on two or three of my favorites if anybody is interested in rocking some Vorhees action. It is only fair that Jason get his due, since his dead hockey mask adorns the H-Fest poster:




So that thought is out there in the universe. I'm certainly open to the idea, or I wouldn't bring it up.
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Speaking of "come along", I'm pretty damned well determined to watch The Men Who Stare at Goats this week, A Serious Man or no A Serious Man.

And since I (once again) brought up the Coens, albeit incidentally, do any of the regular readers who don't comment (or who I simply don't know who you are) know if the German Blu-Ray of The Man Who Wasn't There is worth picking up? I'm pretty sure none of the local Blogorium readers have a copy, but maybe some of you other folks who don't say much have.

If not, maybe you'd just like to say hey, because without being creepy, I do keep track of people visiting the site, and I don't know who some of you are. The Cap'n appreciates readers, and I'm glad you keep reading, but it wouldn't hurt to have some idea what it is you enjoy about the Blogorium...

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Finally, a bit of trailer parody from Saturday Night Live. Since I've never seen Twilight, I guess I shouldn't find this funny (or at least accurate), but I do anyway. Eat it, fake vampires.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Best Little Trailer Sunday in Texas


The Alamo


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre


Bottle Rocket


The Last Picture Show


Paris, Texas


Giant


Rio Bravo


No Country for Old Men

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Re-quels

It happened during Horror Fest: upon hearing the news that Child's Play and Hellraiser were joining the ranks of remakes, one attendee exclaimed "why do they have to keep remaking these movies? what's so wrong with just making sequels?"

That's an interesting question to ponder, and I think I have a few good answers. Let's take a look at the sequel vs remake chart, shall we?



* One of the things that the modern remakes are getting away with is being able to say "hey, I'm not a part of those movies. I'm a fresh start on the series with a new cast and a fresh attitude." In many ways, producers, writers, and directors can have their cake and eat it too with a remake; they frequently trade only on the audiences' vague recognition of the title, but can disavow any comparisons to the actual film by dropping phrases like "re-imagining" or "reboot".

To explain further the "vague recognition", allow me to use a personal anecdote: for years prior to seeing the film, I was aware of a movie called The Hills Have Eyes. I'd seen the title in a movie guide and no doubt on the shelf of the local video store, and even though I had not ever experience The Hills Have Eyes, I "knew" what it was, insofar as I recognized it existed.

Producers are trading on this recognition of a film's existence and banking on the fact that most people who go see it never actually saw the original. The vocal minority who did see the original are therefore canceled out by the masses who are looking to experience something familiar for the first time.

Yes, stop for a moment and wrap you heads around that.

The sequel can, with very few exceptions, never do that. Almost all sequels tie something, be it plot element, character, or visual reference, back to the original. Barring that, many sequels build on each other. A Nightmare on Elm Street parts 3-5 tell one broader story, even if the films are self contained. The same can be said of Friday the 13th parts 4-6. All of the Hellraiser movies are linked in one way or the other, and the Child's Play films are broken up into the "Alex vs Chucky" stories and the "Chucky and Tiffany" movies. In a sense, you have to see one of them for a sequel to make sense, regardless of where the new movie goes.

Remakes don't have to do that. Remakes can kill of Pamela Vorhees in the first five minutes and flash forward to Jason killing people using various kills from sequels. They can fill in the gaps of Michael Myers childhood to include Laurie Strode as part of the exposition instead of a mid-sequel twist.

I would like to mention that so far (we're pretty early into the game, to be fair), that sequels to remakes don't seem to fare so well. The Hills Have Eyes 2, The Grudge 2, The Ring 2 and Halloween 2 have been in one way or another failures, in part because they begin to set up the expectations of sequels that remakes can eschew. This is also part of the old "law of diminishing returns", where as the sequels press on they tend to get worse and worse. Interestingly, the box office failure of Halloween 2 seems to be linked to Rob Zombie's desire to move away from strict Halloween canon and create a new continuity within this alternate universe. This time the vocal minority was the audience, and despite the promise of a Halloween 3, the excitement is muted. Curious indeed.