Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Video Daily Double: Now with 200% More Machismo!

Greetings all. As promised, I bring you another installment of the Video Daily Double, a name the Cap'n may or may not have stolen appropriated from Jeopardy.

For some reason, Sherlock Holmes opted not to come tomorrow via Netflix (I'm going to go out on a limb and guess because it's more popular than what is coming), so I can't give you a full-on Blu-Ray review yet of Guy Ritchie's Maximum Movie Mode (as seen - not by me, mind you - in Watchmen and ummm, Harry Potter maybe?). It's a shame, because Sherlock Holmes is practically dripping in the combined male macho-ness of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, but all is not lost.

You see, in their infinite wisdom, Netflix sensed I needed something with a bit more testosterone than An Education (not to say anything bad about An Education, which I'll probably watch first), so they're sending me both discs of Steven Seagal: Lawman, a show that I missed out on entirely thanks to not having cable. I know that it's almost certainly more sedate than Marked for Death, Hard to Kill, or Exit Wounds, but I'll take it. That would make a fine weekend coupled with Universal Soldier: Regeneration.

Speaking of weekends, I might as well get this out right now so that nobody planning ahead feels gypped: There Will Be NO Bad Movie Night This Year. Sorry.

On to the "Video Daily Double" part of today's proceedings.

The first of today's Video Daily Double is... well, disturbing. Not in execution, but in conception. It drips with a quaint but unsettling machismo. It's either a colossally bad idea or the work of a genius drama teacher.

Scarface, performed by Elementary School Students.

The other is also dripping with machismo, although I leave it up to you to decide which of the two is truly more disturbing.

The Expendables

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review Break (and some house-cleaning stuff)

Greetings readers. As you've no doubt noticed, there have been a steady stream of Blogorium Reviews over the last few days. There will be more to come, for two reasons:

1) I had the chance to watch several movies in a relatively short period of time and I'm trying to review all of them for you.

2) Because the electricity at Blogorium HQ remains shaky at best, I wrote many of them last week, including a handful of others you've yet to see. In the coming days, you can expect proper reviews for The Man Who Wasn't There, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Shutter Island, and possibly The Road.

I did also see Sherlock Holmes for the second time on Thursday, but as I've written about it twice previously (see here and here - no wait, here), and intend to give the Blu-Ray a proper write up when it arrives via Netflix, I will say that the film certainly holds up. I could pretend that I paid more careful attention to the clues (and I kinda did), but the character work from Downey and Law really do carry the film.

For those wondering if the Cap'n has yet or not: I have not seen Hot Tub Time Machine, nor do I know when I will. Issues at HQ are at times all-encompassing, and I frequently find myself staying home in order to explain something again to the newest repairman. If nothing else, the recent investment in an Uninterrupted Power Supply should prevent the computer from being fried permanently, which is of some relief to the Cap'n.

Onward and upwards, or what you can expect for the rest of the week: As I've settled on Wednesday for Video Daily Doubles, I think you shall be entertained with tomorrow's selections. Thursday brings a review that I daresay will surprise many of you, considering a position I have long upheld but may have recently caved to. Friday will either bring you Fantastic Mr. Fox or Shutter Island, with The Road or The Man Who Wasn't There on Saturday, followed by our usual Trailer Sunday hijinks.

In the meantime, as I have power and desperately need to catch up on some German homework, I must take leave of you good readers. Enjoy your evenings and the reviews to come, as I feel they should reflect what the Blogorium is about, rather than the ramblings of late.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blogorium Review: Leaves of Grass

If I'm correct in reading IMDB, Tim Blake Nelson's Leaves of Grass should be playing this Friday at a theatre near you. I would recommend you go check it out; in addition to having the conceit of Edward Norton playing twin brothers - one a Professor of Philosophy and the other an awfully clever Pot Farmer - the film itself (which is also written by Nelson) takes a well worn genre and gives it some clever tweaks.

Norton plays Bill Kincaid, a Brown Professor of Philosophy who spent the better part of his life trying to disassociate himself from his mother Daisy (Susan Sarandon) and brother Brady (also Norton) and his background in Oklahoma. Despite some hiccups with a student making passes and writing suggestive love poems (in Latin), Bill is on track to have his own department at the Harvard Law School. That is, until he gets a call from Brady's friend Bolger (Tim Blake Nelson).

Brady's deep in debt to Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss) for the cost of building his state-of-the-art hydroponic grow house, and in addition of Rothbaum's thugs hounding him for the money, he also has pressure from Jimmy and Buddy Fuller (Ken Cheesman and Steve Earle), whose dealing business he ran out of town. So Brady fakes his own death to trick Bill into coming back to Oklahoma. Brady thinks that if he can use Bill to convince people he's still in town, he can go to Tulsa and take care of Pug without consequences, then get back to being a husband and father to Colleen (Melanie Lynskey) and their unborn child.

Meanwhile, a rather confused Bill is talked into smoking up with Brady and meeting Janet (Keri Russell), a high school teacher and poet, as well as dealing with his hippie mother and coming to terms with the family he left behind.

Oh, I know. At a certain point, I was really worried that despite the philosophical backdrop and the great cast, I was just watching a variation on the "city person who left their family behind but then is drawn back in by the folksy good nature" movie. You know, the Sweet Home Alabama / Doc Hollywood kind of film. And while it is kind of that movie, Tim Blake Nelson has the good sense to take Brady's story in some unexpected directions, which Bill then has to deal with in very serious ways.

Leaves of Grass reminds me, in a lot of ways, of a much better version of Junebug. I like Junebug quite a bit, but Leaves of Grass is willing to go to darker places and constructs a better narrative, anchored by a really impressive dual role by Edward Norton. At no point did I not buy that Brady and Bill were different people. Yes, they both look like Edward Norton, and when Brady cuts his hair so that they kinda-sorta look alike, it's even clearer it's the same actor, but Bill Kincaid and Brady Kincaid are two very different people. Bill can only physically pass for Brady in the story, because Norton is that good at convincing you that they have lived different lives and that they do fundamentally see the world differently, even if they're both really intelligent about what they do.

Nelson doesn't re-invent the wheel with split screen technology here, and despite being cognitively aware of how the effects were being achieved, I still believed that two Edward Nortons were occupying the same space at times. There's a great shot involving a mirror with the two of them that really sells the physical proximity, even though it's technically impossible that Norton could be tapping himself on the shoulder.

Anyway, I don't mean to get bogged down on the technical stuff. The story keeps you going through the predictable beats and then heads down less worn roads, and the cast is all uniformly great. There are a handful of characters and plot points I'm not mentioning just to preserve some sense of discovery, but I think you'll find Leaves of Grass to be a movie worth visiting. And yes, Walt Whitman figures into the story, as though I needed to tell you that.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Trailer Sundays Last All Summer Long

We Live in Public

Evil Toons

Caesar and Cleopatra

Blast-Off Girls



All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Blogorium Review - The Descent: Part 2

Folks, I have good news and bad news. Let's get the bad news out of the way first.

By definition, The Descent: Part 2 is an unnecessary sequel. There is no reason for the film to exist, because the story is predicated on an assumption that director Neil Marshall's original ending to The Descent didn't happen. For you to even buy into The Descent: Part 2, viewers need to go with the truncated "American" ending, where Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) does escape and drives off for that last minute jump scare. The movie tries to play off her escape from the caves in a different way, but it still undermines the original ending, where it's clear she's bonkers and never leaving. But let's say we buy into that for the sake of watching this film - which is not directed or written by Marshall - and simply move forward.

Okay, so two days after the cast of The Descent go missing, a police search is underway with media coverage. It turns out that Juno (Natalie Mendoza) is the daughter of a Senator, so there's a pressing urge to find her. When Sheriff Vaines (Gavin O'Herlihy) finds out Sarah made it out and is in a nearby hospital, he drags her - along with his deputy Ellen Rios (Krysten Cummings), a spelunking instructor (Douglas Hodge) and his assistants/students (Joshua Dallas and Anna Skellern) - back into the cave system to find Juno and the other girls. Vaines assumes that Sarah killed Juno on account of all of the blood on her clothes and her semi-catatonic state.

The biggest problems I have with The Descent: Part 2 are in the opening. There's a big hurry to get back into the caves, so Vaines brings Sarah back out to the Appalachians hours after she's taken to the hospital. In fact, there's a pretty good reason to believe she's still sedated considering how choppy the narrative is up front. The other serious issue is Vaines' insistence that instead of re-directing the search in light of this discovery, he instead keeps it hush-hush and brings along an ill-equipped search team. Two police officers with no experience underground (one of whom appears to be the department's psychiatrist), a trauma victim, two students, and only one person who seems to know what he's doing. It doesn't make any sense.

But there is good news. Once the six of them get into the caves again, things get better. While the sense of claustrophobia isn't quite as pervasive as it was in The Descent, when things get tight later in the film, it does finally get unnerving. The unmemorable characters are dispensed with quickly by the Crawlers, and there is a reasonably good sense of tension in the second half of the film, particularly after (SPOILER) Juno turns out to be alive. (one minor point of contention - the opening is pretty clear that they've only been missing two days, one of which is theoretically the day in which the first film takes place, so it's a little odd that Juno goes quite as "feral" as she does when Vaines catches up with her).

Once the teams are split up and Sarah snaps of her "Barbara in Night of the Living Dead" state, it's actually a pretty good movie. Director Jon Harris finds interesting ways to keep the caves fresh, and has the good sense not to mess with what works. The Crawlers aren't really any different than they were in the first film, and that's probably for the best. It's harder to scare viewers when all the really good reveals were used in the first film, but Part 2 finds other ways to keep things moving.

The big one, I have to say, is that the gore in this film is a) all practical, and b) really gross. It's not often that you can have one really good disgusting gore moment, but Part 2 has several. A handful of them build off of deaths from the first film, but there's one moment in particular that I both give the writers and director credit for and found alternately pretty tasteless.

I imagine that most of you remember the "blood pool" scene in The Descent, so you're expecting something like that to happen in the second film. And it does. But it's not blood this time. In fact, it isn't really clear what Sarah and Rios are swimming in until a Crawler wanders over to the edge of the pool, turns around, and shits. Yes, they've been fighting in the toilet. Gross. As stupid as it sounds, the way it's revealed is more revolting than stupid, but it should give you some idea of where Part 2 is willing to go.

The acting is kinda all over the map, but Shauna MacDonald and Natalie Mendoza are still good, and when they finally cross paths again there's a nice moment of grudging respect that either one of them survived. Krysten Cummings emerges from Part 2 as the most memorable character, which is all the better considering a much better surprise ending in this film. I'm not going to spoil it, because I honestly didn't see what ends up happening coming ahead of time. That also bumps the movie into "better than I expected" territory.

Overall, while it's nowhere in the same ball park as The Descent, I have to say that Part 2 is a reasonably fun horror movie, and much better than I was expecting it to be. I thought I'd be getting into another s. Darko "so you won't have to", but this is worth checking out. Since it's going direct to DVD, I don't need to recommend you wait to rent it, because that's really your option. It's quite watchable after a bumpy beginning, and despite the fact that there is no reason for it to exist, The Descent: Part 2 is one of the better unnecessary sequels I've seen.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blogorium Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I'm still trying to properly digest The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and the Cap'n has the feeling that I will probably be reviewing it again when I've had another viewing under my belt. What I can tell you is that I really liked Terry Gilliam's latest, and any concerns about the surrounding Heath Ledger business disappear quickly for two reasons:

1) Perhaps precipitously, the film addresses many issues audiences might have about Ledger's presence in the film. The character of Tony, while introduced hanging and near-dead, is essentially tied up in a moral quandry about life and death as it is, and his desire to escape into the Imaginarium is handled well enough that the substitutive performances by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell make perfect sense in the story.

2) The movie isn't really about Tony. He plays an instrumental role in the story, but Tony is more of a pawn in the ongoing struggle between Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) and Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), or The Devil. Parnassus lives eternally - perhaps a result of Nick's doing - and the two of them are constantly making bets in order to prove the other one wrong, almost all of which seem to be about who can claim more souls.

Parnassus begins the film in a bit of a mess, because he made a deal with Nick that if he ever had a child, he would give them over to Nick at age 16. His daughter Valentia (Lily Cole) doesn't know this, and despite being told she's 12 by Parnassus, his assistant Anton (Andrew Garfield) and ringmaster Percy (Verne Troyer), she knows something bad is looming on the horizon. But Nick is willing to make one more deal with the Doctor: the first person to claim five souls wins.

Herein enters Tony (Heath Ledger), and more importantly, The Imaginarium. Parnassus creates the Imaginarium by meditating, and by traveling through a mirror any person that enters is taking into their own imagination. Of course, they have to choose whether to follow Doctor Parnassus on a hard journey to spiritual enlightenment, or a quick fix with Mr. Nick that ends in flames. Many opt to take Nick's way out until Tony arrives.

Tony, it seems, has a flair for keeping people in the Imaginarium on the right path, even though he is desperately hiding from something in his own past. Terry Gilliam sets up early on that appearances can change in the Imaginarium to reflect your state of mind, and the transitions from Ledger (who seemed to have filmed almost exactly the right amount of footage) to his surrogates is seamless. If you didn't know better, you'd swear that's how the story was all along.

I'm not going to get too much further into the story until I watch it again, because I really want to spend more time with the second half of the film (particularly the Jude Law and Colin Farrell sequences), but I will say that the film does look amazing. Gilliam has finally hit upon the perfect balance between his vision and what digital effects can do, and what didn't work in The Brothers Grimm fits like a glove here.

Before I go, I really do want to mention the cast of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. And not just Ledger, who is actually pitch perfect as Tony - another reminder of just what audiences lost when he died two years ago. Christopher Plummer manages to balance Parnassus somewhere between a shambling mess and world weary enlightenment.

I'd never seen Lily Cole before, and didn't recognize Andrew Garfield from a few episodes of Doctor Who I'd seen, but they're both very good. Garfield has the tough task of being a roughly unlikable character - particularly compared to Tony - but he still keeps Anton sympathetic. Verne Troyer has never been better than he is as Percy; I was really quite impressed with how well he holds all of the characters and plot machinations together so effortlessly.

Johnny Depp actually has the least to do of the Imaginarium Tony's, but he's quite good. Jude Law takes a little longer to register, mostly because his Tony says very little at first (and is running most of the time), but his scene with Anton makes up for it. Colin Farrell gets the lion's share of Tony time and makes the most of it, splitting the difference between himself and Ledger as Tony's story comes full circle at the end. All three fit into the atmosphere quite well and they never make you think anything but "well, of course that's Tony!"

Special recognition has to go to Tom Waits, who is endlessly watchable as Mr. Nick. His devil is a dapper fellow in a bowler cap with bright red hair and a pencil thin moustache. Waits and Plummer are so enjoyable together that I would readily watch another movie about Parnassus and Nick if Gilliam were so inclined. Waits gives Mr. Nick an impish tone, but one that makes it clear at all times just how dangerous he really is, and while he's not underused in the film, I'd gladly take more Tom Waits.

I'm giving The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus a big recommendation for all of you, and insisting that Gilliam fans go ahead and buy a copy when it comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray next month. Personally speaking, I not only need to but very much want to see it again, because this is the sort of film that requires multiple viewings to really let it all sink in.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Coen Brothers Midterm - Day Three: Social Commentary

3. The Coen films are sometimes considered "ahistorical" or out of touch with contemporary social reality, more interested in providing "entertainment" rather than serious commentary on political and social problems. On closer investigation, however, a case can be made that there is social commentary in their films, but presented in a way that is inconspicuous, hidden among the layers of detail in their filmic worlds. Expand on this idea.

While it is true that of the Coen brothers fourteen films (to date), nine of them are not contemporaneous with the year they were shot. In fact, even ones that can easily be mistaken – like Fargo and The Big Lebowski – are actually “period” films. This does not mean, however, that they reflect an “ahistorical” perspective. In fact, it could be argued that Blood Simple and Raising Arizona (two of the five non-“period” films which also include Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers, and Burn After Reading) have less overt social commentary than does O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? could easily be excused as providing escapist “entertainment” over serious social commentary; the film is essentially an “old timey” musical, and on the surface appears to be Homer’s The Odyssey filtered through a nostalgic look at a bygone era of chain gangs, bank robbers, and slapstick violence. What one misses, in part because Joel and Ethan Coen are adept at hiding their messages, is a continued fascination and cynicism for politicians and religious figures, coupled with the dueling power of mysticism and technological advancement in the early stages of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Although it is never clearly stated why he felt the need to do so, Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is not a common criminal, but instead a man illegally practicing law during the Great Depression. His gift of gab is matched only by the oratory trickery of Big Dan Teague (John Goodman), who tricks Everett and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) out of their money. Like Goodman’s Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink, Big Dan is a violent psychopath who presents himself as a salesman, a voice for the common man. But instead of selling insurance, the Coen’s present Teague as a Bible Salesman, peddling hope to the hopeless. Alternately, he robs the hopeful – in this case Delmar and Everett – of their funds and possibly of Pete (John Turturro), who they believe to be a literal “horny toad.” That this supposedly religious paragon is also a member of the Ku Klux Klan is an indicator of the level of trust Joel and Ethan have in religion as “non-practicing Jews.”

If Big Dan Teague is corruption in disguise, Pappy O’Daniel (Charles Durning) is the crooked politician personified. Not only are his opponent, Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall)’s claims of “nepotism” and “crony-ism” true, but every appearance of Pappy onscreen is involves scheming to win the Governor’s election by hook or by crook, even if it means stealing away Stokes’ campaign manager. Like David Huddleston’s “Big” Lebowski, the Coen’s display with Pappy O’Daniel a fondness for overweight, corrupt officials who speak out of both sides of their mouths without fear of the consequences. When Stokes is revealed to be the leader of the local Klan – a jab at so-called “reform” candidates – Pappy is quick to capitalize on the popularity of the Soggy Bottom Boys. The Coens cement the irony of political opportunism when Pappy offers Peter, Delmar, Tommy, and Everett positions in his cabinet, holding the camera on Delmar’s face, who clearly does not understand the concept of “power behind the throne, so to speak.”

At the same time, the brothers Coen juxtapose the mystical elements of The Odyssey with a light-hearted take on the “social realism” John Lloyd Sullivan is hoping to capture in Preston Sturges Sullivan’s Travels. His proposed film-within-a-film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? was co-opted by the Coen brothers and could be read as their take on the film Sullivan might have ended up with. While the looming poverty is always in the background of O Brother, so too is an optimism for the future. The cavalier attitude of George “Babyface” Nelson, like that of the openly corrupt local politicians, is only a precursor of true advancement. Everett’s faith that flooding the valley to create hydroelectric energy – part of FDR’s Tennessee Valley Authority – stands in stark contrast to Pete and Delmar’s quick fix baptisms and the blind prophet’s visions. However, the two invariably collide at the end of the film when progress meets prophecy: Everett, explaining that their apparent salvation from death was practical and not spiritual is nevertheless surprised to see a “cow on roof of a cotton house,” as the blind seer predicted. Despite their cynicism for spiritual figures and politicians, the Coen brothers nevertheless do not dismiss both out of hat in their social commentary.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coen Brothers Midterm - Day Two: Incongruities

4. Discuss the use of incongruity in the Coen Brothers' films - for example (in Barton Palmer's words), the "incongruity between revelation and reaction" in Fargo, or the opposition of the depraved and stupid crimes committed by the thugs and the bewildered reaction of the "normal" folks. Film scholar Douglas MacFarland suggests that there is a "generic incongruity" in the Coen films - for example, the frequent juxtaposition of horror and comedy... There are numerous examples in the films we have viewed so far. Choose several and explicate them.

The incongruity of characters, plots, and locations are a consistent motif in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. Much of the humor in their films is derived from the juxtaposition of a conventional narrative and unorthodox locations or characters that seem inconsistent with the “reality” that governs other films.

Take, for example, the fascination of juxtaposing “genre” pictures – notably film noir – into locales for which they appear wholly unsuited. Miller’s Crossing, like The Man Who Wasn’t There after it, takes film noir to the suburbs, where the conventions audiences are accustomed to come under closer scrutiny. On top of this, the film is also punctuated with violence more at home in “gangster” pictures of the 1930s, which further compounds the black humor of the film. During on an assault at Leo’s suburban home, Albert Finney fires an impossibly high amount of ammunition as his would-be assailants without ever reloading. At a certain point, the coupling of the story’s overly serious tone with cartoonish violence in a typically “quiet” setting serves as a point of release for the audience. The ludicrous nature of this incongruity is cause for laughter at exactly the point Miller’s Crossing needs it.

Raising Arizona, on the other hand, creates an incongruity of character type with story: H.I. McDunnough and Ed are basically good people who go out of their way not to harm anyone, and yet the Coen brothers place them at the center of a kidnapping scheme. While they fail to reflect the ideals of a greed-driven 1980s culture, the “apocalyptic biker” Leonard Smalls represents a different kind of incongruity. A Leone-esque warrior of the wastelands, the Coen brothers present Smalls as an articulate and knowledgeable reflection of the “Free Market” capitalist. Despite his appearance, Smalls is better at negotiating the terms of Nathan Arizona’s ransom than Arizona is.

The Big Lebowski is constructed of incongruities, each designed to comment in one way or another on the “plot” (if there is one to speak of). The Chandler-esque narrative is transposed to the Los Angeles of 1991, carrying on a revisionist shift made by Robert Altman in The Long Goodbye, but none of the characters reflect a post-Reagan mentality. The Dude is a relic of the counter-culture movement of the 1960s; Walter Sobchak is his hawkish counterpart, a Vietnam enthusiast. The “Big” Lebowski is a throwback to the morally bankrupt “millionaires” Phillip Marlowe dealt with; his daughter Maude seems stuck in the avant-garde 1970s and his wife Bunny a precursor for the Valley Girl revival of the late 1990s. Donny is a man out of time and context; the Nihilists don’t quite seem to know when they came from; and our narrator seems to be a cowboy plucked out of a John Ford film. And yet, Sam Elliot insists that “Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there,” even though The Dude – and for that matter any other character – does not.

Admittedly, it is not merely the characters that are incongruous with the story in The Big Lebowski; the Los Angeles of 1991 that Joel and Ethan Coen fixate upon is not the same Los Angeles of Barton Fink. The mansions are somehow always just out of reach for most of the characters, and when visited are somehow always filled with the scurrilous and untrustworthy. While The Dude seems perfectly at home bowling or driving around in his perpetually damaged Gran Torino, he sticks out like a sore thumb in the back of a limousine or spread out on Jackie Treehorn’s couch. The appeal of the film is built around the anachronistic qualities of a character like The Dude ever being involved in a Chandler-esque kidnapping scheme. The film therefore becomes a perfect storm of incongruities.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Coen Brothers Midterm - Day One: Doppelgangers

Greetings, Blogorium readers. As the Cap'n decides exactly how he wants to move forward with life, film, and the blogorium in general, I'm going to share my freshly written answers for a midterm exam in the Coen Brothers class. Since the Blogorium's been lacking in "Critical Essays" for a while, I figure this is apropos.

6. The contemporary figure of the doppelganger (double, alter-ego, shadow self) derives from both literary and cinematic models. Give brief examples of previous models, then compare them with the various manifestations of the doppelganger in the Coens' films. What particular meaning do the Coens attach to these figures?

The Coen brothers have a tendency to use the idea of doubling, or the doppelganger, in subversive ways. Even when they create a set of doubles who must clash – as is the case in Raising Arizona – the doppelganger must always deviate from the classic definition. While steeped in literary and theoretical history, the impish Joel and Ethan Coen cannot resist twisting our expectations of recognizable psychological tropes.

In his essay “The Uncanny”, Sigmund Freud describes the doppelganger as “originally an insurance against destruction of the ego,” in the primitive mind, but manifests itself in the developed ego as “the ghastly harbinger of death” (387). The doppelganger is littered throughout film history, appearing in its most explicit – and possibly literal – form in the expressionistic classic The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, where Cesare the somnambulist carries out the murderous wishes of the title character after dark. Fritz Lang uses a metaphoric representation of the doppelganger in M, where mirrors and reflections stand in for a direct double of Peter Lorre. When the child murderer’s madness takes over, a reflection – or shadow – is never far behind, the manifestation of his “dark self.”

The doppelganger also appears in “the language of dreams, which it is fond of representing castration by a doubling or multiplication of the genital symbol” (387). It should come as no surprise then that in Raising Arizona, H.I. McDunnough’s doppelganger, the apocalyptic rider Leonard Smalls, first appears in a dream. Smalls is the hyper-masculine expression of manhood that H.I. lacks, as a father and husband. His proclivity for destruction of “little things” expresses Thanatos, the death drive that H.I. lacks (all H.I.M’s guns are unloaded), and he wields dual shotguns, a doubling of the phallic image. Smalls is anything but. H.I. must, in order to prove his manhood, destroy his doppelganger – with literally explosive force – and assert himself as potent.

A more interesting form of “doubling” – a word that frequently appears instead of doppelganger in “The Uncanny” – occurs in The Big Lebowski. To be sure, there are many instances of characters doubling for each other: the two Jeffrey Lebowski’s, the Dude, Walter, and Donny and the Nihilists, amateur detectives The Dude and Da Fino, and the polar opposite Lebowski women (Bunny and Maude). However, the most interesting case of doppelganger comes from two characters that never actually meet.

Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) and Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) form a curious set of doppelgangers in The Big Lebowski. Both make their trade in the objectification of sexuality: Jackie is a purveyor of “smut”, and Maude’s art is described as “vaginal”. Treehorn and Lebowski both send goons to The Dude’s apartment, appropriately mixed in ethnic variety.

Were it not for Treehorn, The Dude’s relationship with the “other” Jeffrey Lebowski would not be possible; without Maude, he would be a patsy for a non-existent kidnapping scheme. The doubles each invite The Dude to their homes under false pretenses, and his visits invariably begin with nudity and end with violence. It should hardly be considered a coincidence that the doppelganger’s worlds collapse when The Dude is drugged; his Busby-Berkley influenced dream sequence is at once a parody of Treehorn’s porn films and wish fulfillment involving Maude.

Without these dueling alter-egos driving The Dude’s search for a rug that “really ties the room together,” The Big Lebowski would have no catalyst for its story – such as it is.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pain in the Wallet

I know you spent most of your hard earned pennies on New Moon last Friday, kiddos, but tomorrow is a kinda/sorta ridiculous day for cinematically inclined nutzoid geeks. Allow me to elaborate:

We'll start with movies coming out on Digital Versatility Disc and Blu-Ray, then move to BD exclusives....

The African Queen - Tuesday marks the first time The African Queen has ever been available on DVD in the U.S. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and pick this up, sight unseen. Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, a rickety old steamboat, and John Huston directing a C.S. Forester adaptation. Just watch it, then read Hepburn's book about going to the jungle to film The African Queen and nearly losing her mind. Great stuff.

Bigger Than Life - Criterion releases another previously unavailable product of the 1950s, this one starring James Mason in a film about the dangers of medication. Also starring Walter Matthau and directed by Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Johnny Guitar, King of Kings), and like The African Queen, on DVD and BD.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox - I've yet to hear anyone breathe an unkind word in the direction of Wes Anderson's newest, and despite my hesitation to see it in theatres, I think I might be sold on giving it a go.

Mad Men: Season Three - the Cap'n can't honestly say he's watched the show, but I've heard great things from those who have, and if I ever get around to it, seasons one and two are in the "to watch" pile.

The Men Who Stare at Goats - You've read my review, now see the film for yourself. I do not believe you'll regret it one bit.

Now, moving on to some Blu-Ray only releases:

Days of Heaven - have you seen the Criterion Collection DVD? Remember how good that looked? Let's try to imagine Days of Heaven in 1080p, shall we? (If it helps, put in the Blu-Ray of the Malick-fied cut of The New World and let that soak in...)

Yojimbo / Sanjuro - While Criterion is putting the finishing touches on Seven Samurai, they're releasing Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune's rogue samurai films. If you consider yourself a fan of the Eastwood / Leone Spaghetti Westerns, there's no reason you shouldn't see where A Fistful of Dollars came from.

Toy Story / Toy Story 2 - Look, I already have A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up on Blu-Ray (sorry, no Cars, and The Incredibles somehow hasn't made the leap yet). I even have the Pixar Short films BD, so there's really no question as to how on-board I am with Toy Story and Toy Story 2. As much as I love the first film, the second one really does it for me in some way, so I'm looking forward to watching it again.

Oh, and I guess The Blind Side and Brothers are coming out tomorrow, if that's your bag. I shan't leave them out in the off-chance you were waiting to hear officially. And New Moon, if for some reason you forgot about the midnight sales, or (worse) you were so busy putting together your, uh, sparkly vampire guy costume that you got there too late.

Yeah, I bet he has a name. And I dare you to be the one who posts it in a comment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Total Troma Trailer Sunday!

Tromeo and Juliet

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger 4

Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD

Redneck Zombies

Terror Firmer

Class of Nuke 'Em High

Surf Nazis Must Die

Chopper Chicks in Zombietown

Troma's War

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quick Review: UnConventional

I've decided that it's best to keep this review short; otherwise, I'm going to feel like the Cap'n is kicking a dog when it's down. See, UnConventional may be the most unflattering document of any event I've seen on DVD.

Somewhere on the cover artwork, there's a statement along the lines of "Like Trekkies for Horror Fans", which I guess is technically true if you watched Trekkies the same way I did: as a collection of increasingly goofy people that make that one super-dork you know look cool by comparison. Which is what that movie is. Trekkies is a freak show disguised as a documentary about fandom, as is Ringers: The Lord of the Fans or whatever its called. You watch because you can't help but guffaw at these poor people, but you feel awful afterwards.

UnConventional is like that, but not entirely because of the subject matter. The film attempts to be about the 13th Annual Chiller Theater Convention in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Chiller Theater is, if you've read my review of American Scary, hosted by Zacherely the Cool Ghoul, one (if not) the first Horror Hosts on television.

While Zacherely appears in UnConventional periodically, the documentary focuses primarily on one person you've heard of, one you might kinda recognize the name of, and somebody the Cap'n had to look up to figure out what she'd been in. They are (in order): Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen, 42nd Street Pete, and Tiffany Shepis.

This is not to say that there weren't many more recognizable names at the Chiller Theater Convention. Appearing briefly on camera are Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Linda Blair, David Carradine, Kane Hodder, Michael Jai White, Linda Blair, Cybill Danning, and Tom Savini. If you take the credits' word for it, apparently Bruce Campbell, Clint Howard, and Elvira, among others who don't appear on camera for one reason or the other.

Instead, we spend the lion's share of our time with Tiffany Shepis, who I had to look up on IMDB, and found was in Abominable and a number of Troma movies, plus LOTS of movies I've never heard of. Considering how much narration by 42nd Street Pete (who also appears in the film and, as far as I can tell, is responsible for this) and fan interaction revolves around how hot Shepis is, I'm gathering she's the sex appeal for the documentary. Mostly she drinks, complains about fans, and later in the film appears in various states of undress.

This all seems somehow tame compared to the lesser billed "star", Bob Gonzo. The producer, writer, director, and pimp employer of "Gonzo's Gorgeous Girls", Gonzo makes movies that would barely classify as "horror." Think of Fred Olen Ray crossed with the film Snuff and you have some idea. Bob Gonzo has a table at the convention to sell his sexploitation films (of which he's also the star) and to let attendees oogle his girls, who also show up. Sleazy doesn't begin to cover it.

Only Gunnar Hansen comes off looking good, mostly because he's such a genuinely likable guy in UnConventional. He's not really that attached to being Leatherface, but appreciates the fans and stays for the three day convention in order to make them happy. He doesn't get involved in the drunken parties that make up the Chiller Theater after-hours portion(s) of the doc, and is happy to sit down and talk about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and horror fandom during the movie.

In fact, I gather that the Chiller Theater Convention is actually a reasonably cool place to be. I don't know, because UnConventional is a documentary which seems to point the camera in all the least interesting directions - like 42nd Street Pete pretending to vomit in a trash can or the world's lamest Horror Auction - for 90 minutes.

It also doesn't help that the documentary feels so low rent. At times it feels more like a collection of home movies than an actual film, and none of it seems all that intriguing to people not directly involved in the convention. The Cap'n will admit that he turned UnConventional off a few times out of boredom, particularly when they seem to run out of things to do and send Shepis down to the laundry room of the hotel in a skimpy dress.

See? This is just getting mean. I don't know any of the people involved in UnConventional, and I don't have any reason to believe they'd ever read a review of their documentary from 2004, but I feel bad beating up on them. They were doing the best they could, and I guess they thought all of this footage was pretty cool. The problem is that it makes them look silly, the fans look idiotic, and the convention look cheap and uninteresting. All of that may not be the case, but UnConventional doesn't leave me with any other verdict.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blogorium Book Review: The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made

The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies NEVER Made

by David Hughes

2001, A Capella Books

Reviewed by the Cap'n


David Hughes chronicles a number of high profile Science Fiction (and to be honest, Comic Book and television) properties that failed to materialize despite considerable efforts on the part of artists, writers, designers, directors, and producers. Oh, and H.R. Giger, who appears in almost every chapter as a key figure in pre-production for The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies NEVER Made. What works is that Hughes does a very good job of putting together the stories from as many sources as possible, but the book suffers from a handful of problems, the largest of which is that the bold claim in the title is frequently undermined by the reality that many of these films WERE made.

I'm going to try very hard not to beat up on straw men here, because it's really not fair to hold a book from 2001 accountable for suggesting a number of movies would not be made that were subsequently produced and released. And believe me, I'm really having a hard time not calling out Ain't It Zoul's Harry Knowles for saying "It's a melancholy examination of that which will never come to pass..." (242) in the Afterword, because he of all people should know that in Hollywood all films are in a constant state of flux until the last penny is squeezed out of "Unrated Director's Cut" DVDs and Blu-Rays. But instead of criticizing the book for periodically unfortunate timing, I'll stick with some amusing ironies:

Had Hughes waited, let's say four years, several of the films listed under a "NEVER" moniker would at least be in active production, and quite a few of them would be already be out. For example, there are breakdowns of Spider-Man, Terminator 3, Aliens vs Predator, Superman Returns (nee Lives), I Am Legend, Watchmen, The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Thunderbirds, and the unlikelihood that James Cameron would ever make Avatar.

What you're noticing (and what struck me) is that all of these came out not long after the book was published. While not Science Fiction, it's entirely possible that had Freddy vs. Jason found its way into the book, that also would have been a "never" going to happen movie, and yet it sits on many a shelf. But getting back to the proximity of release, I was continually reminded in the middle chapters of just how close Hughes coverage of the films was from the final version; usually no more than a script draft or directorial swap. The suggestion that a Will Smith version of I Am Legend is brought up in its chapter, although the focus is on the Ridley Scott take that didn't come to pass.

To be fair, Hughes has updated the book for a 2008 version, which I have not seen, but the point remains that "Never" unfortunately became "yeah, I saw that" for a lot of you.

What I will grant you is that none of the films were made as described in Hughes book; The I Am Legend film with Ridley Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger did never did materialize, and probably won't since the Will Smith one did. Whether that's good or bad is a matter of debate. Like Science Fiction in general, what's outdated about the book becomes a game of speculative "what if"s.

However, not all of the book covers films that did eventually happen. The early chapters, devoted to Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End, The Tourist, and two stillborn David Lynch projects (Ronnie Rocket and One Saliva Bubble) do thoroughly cover films that have not and may not ever appear. Other chapters deal with unrealized visions of Star Trek and Alien sequels, plus various takes on Dune.

I was also quite fond of the chapter on how Steven Spielberg's Night Skies idea split off and became E.T. and Poltergeist, or the strange saga of how Supernova came to be, but was the most interested in a blow-by-blow account of how The Island of Dr. Moreau became the disaster it is*. For that, I certainly felt like the book was worth reading. (I had no idea that Richard Stanley, director of Hardware and Dust Devil, was initially directing the film and subsequently fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer)

Not all of the stories are new to the book; in fact, I'd venture to guess that since Hughes lifts most of the quotes from other magazines, books, or newspapers that there's only a bit of original research, but his ability to collect it all in one volume is quite valuable. I was troubled by minor but consistent typos throughout the text, particularly when it's a case of misspelling someone's name when the correct spelling is less than half the page up.

My only other quibble was that the chapter on The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy tries very hard to replicate Douglas Adams' style, and it doesn't really work. I had hoped it would only last a paragraph of two, but it appears sporadically throughout the chapter and is more annoying than clever. I get why Hughes tried to do it (I myself have attempted to co-opt Adams' style once or twice), but even in 2001 it had been done to death.

Overall, I'd have to say I give The Greatest Sci-Fi Films NEVER Made a "check it out" recommendation. If you happen to find it used somewhere (or the 2008 edition, which no doubt addresses many of the drawbacks), I will admit that at no point was I particularly bored. The caveat is that I spread out reading the chapters over visits to the bathroom, and I find it works quite well broken up into smaller portions. I'm not sure that sitting down and reading the book beginning to end would be the same experience.

"Never" might have been too strong of a word, but as a collection of collapsed productions and good ideas that never took off, it's definitely worth looking into.

* The film is famous for being one of the few movies a regular Blogorium reader ever walked out of.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Growl, Argh!

Welcome to another truncated visit to the Blogorium! I knew that I was spoiling you good readers by being up early and posting while I was waiting for people to do things with the power, but you'll just have to get used to later postings again, because the Cap'n was really only up so early because he's sick and prone to waking up at 5 a.m. and not being able to get back to sleep.

Now that I'm, uh, slightly less sick, I'll probably get back to my regimen of posting later at night and trying to sleep like a human being, or bear disguised as a human being that's been shot by a tranquilizer dart at close range by people who think that's a funny thing to do to a human-looking bear that's sleeping in bed. Or something like that.

Luckily for you, the electrician is coming back tomorrow to put in new outlets (or something to that effect), theoretically ensuring that no more power hiccups plague Blogorium Central. Then I can get back to my regimen of watching something from beginning to end without the TV, PS3, PC, and lights inexplicably cutting out and then right back on.

I actually have a few things in the works:

- I started watching MST3k's The Final Sacrifice, which I do admit is pretty damned funny in its first half hour (although disappointingly Rowsdower-free). I'll try to wrap that up by Saturday and give you my thoughts, along with a recap of the "Crow vs. Crow" extra on The Beatniks.

- the Cap'n is also 3/4's of the way through UnConventional, which might also be called "the lamest convention ever": focusing on the 13th Annual Chiller Theatre Horror Convention in New Jersey from... geez, at least five years ago but probably longer (they keep making reference to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake not being in theatres but also not on "home video" yet). I'll get into the specifics when the full review comes up, but so far the focus has been... maybe I could say "off."

- A book called The Greatest Sci-Fi Films NEVER Made, which (and I mean this in the best way possible) has made for good bathroom reading. Again, I'll get into the specifics soon, but the funny thing I've noticed is that if David Hughes had waited oh, two years, half of the book's chapters would end with the "NEVER" being removed. (I notice there's a "revised" version on Amazon from 2008, but the one I'm almost done with is from 2002 or so and is devoted to a number of movies that happened shortly after publication, like Superman Returns , Aliens vs. Predator, and The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. More amusing are assertions that Watchmen and Avatar "will probably never happen").

Okay, I need to be up early tomorrow morning so we can restore power to HQ, and the tranquilizer dart is finally penetrating my thick layers of bear-fur. Sleeeepy...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Video Daily Double

Good morning, honored guests and returning visitors. I'm going to keep my opening remarks short today because (theoretically) an electrician should be here in 30 minutes to start working on the power cut offs that make live at Blogorium Central almost impossible to work around*.

This means, of course, I'm going to have to turn the computer off so that he can do whatever kind of wizardry an electrician can do to a hundred year old house that has an actual Fuse Box upstairs but also a breaker box outside.

Needless to say, since the TV is something on the circuit that keeps blacking out, I haven't been watching much lately. It was a minor miracle to get through Dinosaur Island without the living room cutting off last night.

On to the fun!


Our first video is a compilation of Alfred Hitchcock cameos from his films. I thought you'd enjoy having them all in one handy video:

Speaking of handy videos, here's a compilation of Mr. Freeze puns from Batman and Robin, so you can drive your co-workers insane with Ah-nuld's quality "ice" jokes:

Finally, since the Cap'n wants to keep you happy today, enjoy the following page:

MST3k Haiku

It's pretty damned entertaining, if I may say so.

* To give you some idea of how "impossible" impossible is, I've lost two and a half papers entirely in the last three weeks. I did save them, but the power cut outs have been adversely affecting my computer, and it's been losing data saved anywhere in the proximity of a power outage.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Don't think the Cap'n doesn't know you were all out picking up New Moon at midnight last night. I may not have been conscious, but my psychotic psychic projection was, and it saw you.


A Few Scattered Thoughts

The Cap'n has a pretty good "Video Daily Double" for you tomorrow, but until then here are some odds and sods.

Two things I forgot to mention about Black Dynamite:

- I didn't bring up the music at all (which is fantastic), in part because almost every review has a section devoted to it. To be fair, the soundtrack - which is a combination of catalog music from the era and newly recorded songs / score which blend in so well that I daresay it's difficult to choose what's what - is at the heart of keeping Black Dynamite so entertaining. The songs in particular really sell some of the ridiculous plot developments, including the description of Black Dynamite finding Jimmy's apartment broken into as he's walking in. It's reminiscent of the Hard 'N Phirm songs from The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, but more appropriate to the plot and in a much better movie.

Also, you're going to have the "Dy-No-Mite!" refrain stuck in your head for days after you watch Black Dynamite. You've been warned.

- The more I think about it, the best comparison to the kind of parody/satire in Black Dynamite may be Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story. Black Dynamite really does for Blaxploitation films what Walk Hard does for Music Biopics, which is cleverly spoof the cliches and over-exaggerate the overused tropes to the point that it's clear no one should take them seriously any more. The fact the both movies use the "I'm going to have a great life" speech right before a character dies horribly should give you some idea of what I'm saying.


"The Big Lebowski is one of those rare movies that rewards repeat viewings. Every time you come back to the film it's possible to notice something that you didn't before." - Herr Doktor

What did I notice this time that I hadn't caught in the many, MANY times I've seen The Big Lebowski since 1998?

Mark Pellegrino, of Dexter and - more recently - of Lost fame (he's Jacob), is the thug Jackie Treehorn sends to The Dude's apartment that doesn't pee on the rug. He's the one dunking the Dude's head into the toilet and saying "where's the money, Lebowski? Bunny says you're good for it!"

Despite the fact that I've clearly seen him in Mullholland Dr, The X-Files, Ellie Parker, Lethal Weapon 3, Twisted, Capote, and National Treasure, for some reason Pellegrino never registered on my radar until last year, and accordingly, I never noticed that he was also in The Big Lebowski. Weird.

Oh, and David Thewlis, which I swear that I had to have known, but also keep forgetting. He's Knox Harrington, the giggly guy in Maude Lebowski's apartment with the shaved head and John Waters moustache.

But I did know that Aimee Mann was the nihilist that lost her toe for the kidnapping scheme.

One of these days I'm going to write up a proper piece on The Big Lebowski that collects all of the reviews from 1998, well before it was the cultural touchstone it is now. Once upon a time the consensus was that The Big Lebowski was "okay, but it's no Fargo..." I swear it.


Some things I neglected to mention about Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII last week:

- The Crawling Eye is episode 101, which means it was the first episode to air outside of KTMA, on what I'm guessing was (at the time) The Comedy Channel, later to become Comedy Central. I have it on a tape somewhere, and while primitive, it is a worthy addition for series fanatics like myself.

- The Final Sacrifice is apparently for Sci-Fi Channel / Mike era Mistie fans what Mitchell is to Comedy Central / Joel era fans. I confess that after a while, I simply lost track of MST3k on the Sci-Fi Channel, and as a result never really "got" the whole Rowsdower phenomenon. I missed most of the 9th and 10th seasons, and while I'm familiar with the shirt, volume XVII will be my first encounter with The Final Sacrifice and Zap Rowsdower. While I consider myself a "Joel" kinda guy, I'm welcome to see what it is the younger generation of fans are so buzzed about.

- One of the extras for this set is a panel discussion with "The Two Crows", Trace Beaulieu and Bill Corbett, which to my knowledge is a first on-camera (unless I'm forgetting some interaction from the 20th anniversary panel). I'm quite looking forward to that, as it marks for me one of the only divides in eras of the show that remains untapped.


And so we end another day. Back tomorrow with two cracking good videos and some more nonsense.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blogorium Review: Black Dynamite

The Cap'n has to openly admit something: I'm not as versed in Blaxploitation Films as I ought to be. Oh, I've seen the major "canon" films: Shaft, Dolemite, The Mack, Foxy Brown, Blacula, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Boss *ahem*, and Detroit 9000, but I'm far from versed in the genre the way I am with, say, slasher films. I really wish I'd seen Black Belt Jones, for example, before watching Black Dynamite.

That being said, even if you aren't steeped in Blaxploitation history or just happen to really enjoy I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, you're going to really enjoy Black Dynamite. It's a different kind of parody than the Wayans / Zucker model of the mid-to-late 80s, mostly because of how hard it works to feel like a product of the era.

While this is going to sound strange, I’m going to draw a comparison to The House of the Devil, because both films manage to feel evocative of their respective time frames (Black Dynamite of the early-to-mid-seventies and The House of the Devil to the very early eighties) with a combination of camerawork, film stock, and set design. As with The House of the Devil, Black Dynamite could fool people into thinking they aren’t watching a parody… well, I won’t go that far. Stylistically, maybe, but if you’re paying attention to the story (and you’ve ever seen I’m Gonna Git You Sucka), then it’d be hard to mistake this for the genuine article.

As stories go, Black Dynamite has… a bit going on. Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White)’s brother Jimmy is gunned down by, um… drug dealers? Mobsters? The man?, causing the Cool Brother Who’s Out of Sight to put aside his Kung Fu practicing and Love Making in order to clean up the streets and get revenge. He’s helped out by “The Man” (in this instance, the CIA, with whom he served after being left behind in Vietnam), his main man Bullhorn (Byron Minns) and informant Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson).

Here’s where it gets a little more complicated, because Black Dynamite does manage to fit almost every cliché into one film: Black Dynamite teams up with the local Black Panther party to help overthrow the corrupt Congressman Monroe James, as well as local hood Chicago Wind (Mykelti Williamson). Then things get even more complicated as a vast conspiracy involving Anaconda Malt Liquor, The Fiendish Dr. Wu, and the President of the United States raises the stakes for Black Dynamite.

The level to which Black Dynamite is a parody (or just satire) of the genre is up to you. See, from what I do know of most Blaxploitation films, they are pretty ridiculous. Many of them were made on the cheap, so camera work can be a little shoddy, plots can go all over the place, and characters are painted in the broadest strokes possible. For example, Shaft is such a badass that most of the plot doesn’t need to tie together; he can pretty much wander around starting shit and seducing ladies at a moment’s notice. Alternately, it’s pretty hard not to say that Bullhorn is directly modeled after Rudy Ray Moore.

So when Black Dynamite abruptly shifts from being a “getting the drugs out of the community” to a showdown on “Kung Fu Island”, the level of parody is up for debate. Of course, when you’re watching a movie with a character named “The Fiendish Dr. Wu”, a “master of Kung Fu Treachery,” don’t take things too seriously. By the time that Black Dynamite switches directions for the fourth of fifth time (somewhere around the introduction of the orphanage), it’s easier to just enjoy the ride.

Helping to ease your enjoyment is Michael Jai White as Black Dynamite. I knew he was a charismatic guy from Exit Wounds, and that he was a martial arts master (okay, from the same movie, but also Universal Soldier). I guess that he might have been funny in Jerry Springer: Ringmaster, but honestly I don’t remember because of how bad that movie was. Here, however, he’s the ultimate package.

Jai White understands how inherently silly the genre is, and finds the balance between underplayed Richard Roundtree and over the top Fred Williamson. Even his kung fu, which is solid, is punctuated with ridiculous Bruce Lee-esque squeals and mannerisms. If you’ve seen the “Damoe” deleted scene from Kill Bill part 2, where Jai White has an outlandishly bad Australian accent, then you’ll have some idea of how funny he can be while kicking ass. But he’s also unmistakably a Bad Ass Mo-Fo in Black Dynamite. You don’t doubt that he could, say, defeat a nun chuck wielding Richard Nixon (spoiler).

While the targets are wide ranging and the acting is, at times, deliberately over the top, my favorite moments are the little ones. For example, early in the movie Black Dynamite is visiting Honey Bee (Kym Whitely) and sits down at his desk. The camera, at a low angle, swings up awkwardly as Jai White stands up, revealing the boom microphone at the top of the frame. This, as Adam was quick to remind me, is directly lifted from Dolemite, but what makes it even funnier is that Jai White quickly looks up at the boom mic not once but twice.

Other little things, like the fact that stock footage never seems to match the action sequences (particularly at the end of the Chicago Wind chase), awkward cuts to mask stunt accidents, or delaying a split-screen because Black Dynamite is having trouble hanging up the phone really sold me on the movie. In fact, I'm a little fuzzy on why people don't like Black Dynamite. A handful of reviews I saw indicated the film was all style and no substance, which I don't totally agree with.

Admittedly, the story is all over the map, but there is an actual through line from beginning to end. The unnecessarily over-complicated explanation of the Anaconda Malt Liquor conspiracy should make that clear. To be fair, the sequence with the pimps (which includes cameos by Bokeem Woodbine, Cedric Yarbrough, Miguel Nunez, Brian McKnight, and Arsenio Hall) doesn’t really go anywhere, but you do get to hear the following exchange:

Black Dynamite – “I’m declaring war on anyone who sells drugs to the community!”

Chocolate Giddy-Up – “But Black Dynamite, I sell drugs to the community!”

I highly recommend Black Dynamite to anybody sick of seeing crap like Epic Movie or Recent Movie 3 or whatever they pass themselves off as these days. While you don’t need to be a scholar on Blaxploitation films, it wouldn’t hurt your appreciation of what director / writer Scott Sanders and co-writers Michael Jai White and Byron Minns have accomplished. In fact, it may send you in the direction of the films Black Dynamite is satirizing. I, for one, am going to try to locate Black Belt Jones and see how much I missed in the first viewing of Black Dynamite.


Just for good measure, a sampling of other great lines from the movie:

“Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrification is only outmatched by your zest for kung-fu treachery!”

“Take your filthy black hands off the presidential dinnerware, you moon-cricket!”

“First Lady, I'm sorry I pimp slapped you into that china cabinet.”

“You diabolical dick shrinkin' mother fuckers!”

“Now Aunt Billy, how many times have I told you not to call here and interrupt my Kung Fu!”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

And to all a good Trailer Sunday...


The Man from Planet X

Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine

Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College

Cold Souls

Hell Up in Harlem

Broken Embraces

Saturday, March 13, 2010

(Far from) The Last Time I'll Mention The Happening This Year

So, did you figure out which review of The Happening was the real deal? Oh sure, one apologizes for the other, but do you really put trickery past the Cap'n at this point in time? Maybe I want you to think that I hate the movie so that you'll avoid seeing something that would fascinate and tickle your movie-going senses.

Or it could be one of the worst movies since Plan 9 from Outer Space, a film so awkward and ill-conceived that one stares, jaw agape, for ninety minutes as careers slowly come to an end. That could be it.

I will say that since I saw The Happening for the second time (I've seen it at least four times, if you're wondering), I have talked to at least one person who said it was better than Lady in the Water and The Village and spoken to at least other person that honestly liked it. For their sakes, I'm not going to name names, but that is true.

A handful of regular Blogorium readers have sworn that if they ever see the title screen for The Happening reflected into their eyebrains, they will loudly and assertively exit the Apartment That Dripped Blood, never to return. This reflects more on their sourpuss attitudes than the quality (or lack thereof) of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening.

By now, I should hope that readers know my taste in films enough to be able to suss out where I sit on Night's epic tale of nature gone amok, which admittedly has some of the worst line delivery I've ever been privy to. Actually, some of the worst acting, period. I don't feel that I'm being untoward when comparing it to Plan 9 from Outer Space, which had similar aspirations of being taken seriously and failed miserably, landing laughably off course.

Plan 9 from Outer Space was, after all, the first thing I programmed after The Happening at the Summer Fest it premiered at, and attendees immediately noticed the similarities. The following October, I snuck The Happening in as a surprise between The Paul Lynde Halloween Special and the remake of The Wicker Man, if that gives you some idea where it falls in a Horror Fest.

And yet, despite how awful I'm making it out to sound, one cannot help but watch the disaster unfold before your very eyes. Try as they might to leave while watching, everybody stayed BOTH times for The Happening. It's a testament to how compelling garbage can be when all of the pieces fall into place. Admittedly, the picture they form is a ghastly parody of its intended shape, but one akin to a clown car crashing head-on into a truck of creme pies; hilarious, tragic, but somehow appropriate in its stupidity.

So yes, Virginia, both reviews have a kernel of truth to them. I did not simply play a nasty prank on my friends the day after watching The Happening. I told them a half-truth, one that needed proper context to be clear, which they received the next day. In all honesty, The Happening is a terrible, embarrassing movie to sit through and talk about, but I wouldn't trade it for a dozen less crappy movies. Secretly, I think many of my friends feel the same way, even if they pretend to prefer Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, which commits the cardinal sin of being bad AND boring.

Friday, March 12, 2010

From the Vaults: Blogorium Review - The Happening (part two)

To start: I apologize for lying to all of you so brazenly last night.

Well, I stuck to it for a little while anyway. The agreement we made after leaving The Grande last night was that we would tell you all how awesome The Happening was so that as many people as possible could go see it.

Then you could share our pain. Oh yes, dear reader, I was lying my ass off last night. In order to understand exactly how I feel about M. Night's latest, reread what I wrote yesterday and know I mean the opposite about almost everything. I was telling the truth about one thing, though: I was riveted by the film and could not stop watching because it amazed me that a film this astoundingly awful ever made it to theatres.

It boggles my mind that 20th Century Fox actually released this. Surely someone must've watched the film after Night finished this, if they weren't sending producers to check up on him during filming. Did no one notice the lousy camera work? Maybe the insipid dialogue that repeats the same questions over and over and over but never considers addressing them? I know I said the acting was uniformly awful, and it is, but it's not purposeful. Anyone who would intentionally subject this on an audience is a true sadist.

Leckie did try to sell us the "Communist Scare" film angle, but I don't buy it. The Happening is too heavy handed and so stunningly bad that had Shyamalan been doing this on purpose, his career would be over. There would be no "next" film for him. I told you to think of movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers last night, and that was also a complete and total lie.

You should probably think of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Except that Plan 9 is more entertaining.

This isn't hyperbole, folks. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, two people who I consder to be pretty good in other movies, are SO BAD in The Happening that within fifteen minutes, I asked aloud "is this a joke?". I felt like the three of us were part of some kind of massive prank, because The Happening should be rotting on a shelf somewhere.

I urge you to go see it, and maybe I'll go with you. When I told Leckie and Daniel that I was considering taking everyone coming to Horror Fest to see it, they told me they'd catch up with the fest later. The Happening must be seen to be believed, because the reviews from yesterday and today are so diametrically opposed that a lot of you aren't going to be sure which one is the real one.

This is the real one, because I can talk about something there's no way to spin positive: the chase scene. In the middle of this already retarded movie, where Mark Wahlberg (playing a SCIENCE TEACHER!!!) keeps flip flopping about whether plants are killing people or not, is in the middle of the field with other similarly worthless characters. Half of their group splits off and starts dying, and Wahlberg says "we must be ahead of the wind. Oh no! Here comes the wind! Run!!! We have to stay ahead of the wind!"

That's not an exaggeration. Then we see them running, and Night cuts away to well, wind. Wind that's blowing the grass in a not-really-menacing way. You see, there's nothing really frightening about the endless cutaways to trees and grass blowing that makes up most of the movie. I guess Shyamalan thought it did, but it's just silly. The scene where a girl is swinging and the camera tilts up to show the branch two or three times gets really funny.

A lot of The Happening is very, VERY funny, and not intentionally. Often the camera plops down right in front of an actor and they stare blankly at us, then deliver the dumbest thing you've ever heard. Like, "I'm talking to a plastic tree. I'm still doing it."

I mentioned the "You Deserve It" sign last night, but not the clumsily placed Nuclear Power Plant behind a plant nursery, because I couldn't figure out a way to make that not sound as subtle as a brick wall. I left out the myriad of pointless subplots that don't enrich the characters or have anything to do with the film, including Night's cameo. Or the way that every ten minutes or so someone uses the word "happening", all the way through the film. Or the news broadcast where the anchor cites an "anonymous source" to suggest a government conspiracy. Because that would ever occur on the news.

We had a long conversation after the movie trying to digest what exactly we'd seen after the movie. I made the comment that if you'd told me Michael Jackson directed this, I might believe you. It's like The Happening came from a person who had no idea what human beings acted like or spoke like. Fifteen hours later, I still can't believe I actually saw something so terrible. Not because I don't see terrible movies but because this was a major studio film from a director people already have serious doubts about. Surely everyone at Fox involved noticed that this was a disaster long before I paid 6.75 for a ticket.

The only real way I can explain this to you that I mean what I say today is to tell you it's worse than The Time Machine. The Happening may be the worst film I've ever seen. It's astoundingly bad, and I urge you to find out for yourself, because I went in with someone who was a die hard fan and he couldn't understand how this movie came to be. In that regard, it's most entertaining, from the bloodless deaths to the retarded ending and everything in between.

Sneak a few beers in your tummy; it'll help with the experience. Don't wait and rent this, because it may inexplicably vanish in the interim. Go see it in theatres. Feel better about your own shitty student films. I promise you will. And call me, because I need to make sure I didn't imagine the whole thing...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Robots and Plants, Oh My!

Things have not progressed well in finding our mystery science-fiction film. I tried to search the "plot" section of IMDB, to no avail. I've pored through a dozen or so sci-fi related websites that claim to list "every movie with robots ever!", to find nothing. I even plugged the following sentence into Google:

"low budget space movie with robot that turns astronauts into space zombies"

Alas, the Cap'n found nothing. No trace of this movie anywhere. If I had not seen it with my own eyes and did not have documentation (photos by Major Tom, to give belated credit where it's due) one could reasonably convince me that no such film ever existed. But it does. I know it does, and it's alternately comforting and baffling that it's so hard to identify a movie in the age of information.

But seriously, how could you not want to find out the movie responsible for these images?

Please help. I'd love to share the video, but it's so hard to follow the movie without our inane commentary, but if it comes to that, I will put that up if it helps you identify the film.


My brain and throat are unpleasant, so it's just about time for the best "From the Vault" you could ever hope for...

See, last year I promised not to mention M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening on the Blogorium for a year, and that year is up. For those of you who are intimately familiar with my coverage of The Happening, I hope you enjoyed the sabbatical.

For those of you who aren't aware of my unique relationship to Night's first "R" rated film, I happily re-present the first of two reviews for The Happening. Tomorrow I'll post the second review. One of them is the absolute truth, and the other is a total lie. I'll leave it up to you to figure it out.

Blogorium Review: The Happening

There's a common expression on the interweb for a person who posts a positive review of a movie almost everyone else is panning: PLANT!

Typically, this is to imply that the person who gives the thumbs up to something universally reviled is actually an employee of the studio releasing the movie; hence, their review is "planted" on sites like CHUD or Aint It Cool in order to swing the negative trend.

It's particularly fitting that I'm likely to be hit with "plant!" for what I'm about to write, considering that the menace of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening may or may not also be leafy and green. Moreover, I do not work for or know anyone at 20th Century Fox, and while it's going to be an uphill battle convincing you, I really feel like The Happening is the victim of "piling on".

As you probably noticed in the last few days, I was in no way interested in seeing The Happening: as a person who was not a fan of Signs and didn't bother seeing Lady in the Water or The Village, I had pretty much given up on M. Night and was buying into the sea of negative press his new movie was getting. Could an R rating actually make the difference for a guy who had apparently lost all sense of storytelling?

Well, I don't know about the R rating, but The Happening is waaaaaaayyyyy better than you've been hearing. I might go so far as to say it was amazing, but then you'd think I was drinking the Kool Aid or something. The catch is that this movie is being advertised as this sort of Hitchcockian thriller, ala The Birds or something like that, and The Happening isn't that at all.

Going in to this The Happening, you should probably have movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the brain, because that's what Night is doing here. The Happening is a hyper-stylized film, and it seems like most of the reviews are missing that. Yes, everyone stands around like a deer in the headlights and delivers lines like they weren't just in the scene preceding this one, but it's uniformly corny. It's not like one person is acting like people normally do in this movie; everyone is acting like they're out of a 1950s "Red Scare" science fiction film. You might also want to consider Soylent Green.

I can honestly say I sat riveted through the whole film, as did Daniel and Leckie. Even though there's no M. Night "twist", he finds ways to keep the menace creepy and (largely) unseen. The plant angle is pretty much where the film goes, but they keep other possibilities floating around so that you have options to follow. I also dug little moments and, no pun intended, signs like the one that reads "You Deserve This" on a real estate billboard.

The mass suicides are effective mostly because Night drops you right in on them. The world is pretty much exactly like the one we recognize, and right off the bat crazy shit starts happening. It would be like if Steven Spielberg cut the awkward opening off of War of the Worlds and just got to business wiping out people. The R rating may be less for the stuff you've seen in the trailer and more about the two brutal shotgun killings (of kids, no less) and the "lion" scene.

Well, I know you aren't going to believe me, because everyone else is hating on the film. That's fair: if they want to beat up on Shyamalan because that's the path of least resistance, so be it. I'll stand up proudly and recommend all of you see it and judge for yourselves. It's the only way you'll know for sure. Feel free to ask for more information. I promise you I did see it and I could not turn away.