Saturday, July 31, 2010

From the Vaults: Blogorium Review - Sweeney Todd

There are a lot of things I really like about Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. I think the production design is fantastic, and the "look" of the film is reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow, right down to the way the blood is handled. Speaking of which, the gore is awesome in Sweeney Todd: remember the first round of kills in High Tension, particularly the closet scene? It’s like that level of arterial spray, but with the distinct combination of Hammer blood and Herschell Gordon Lewis blood.

I love the way that Todd and Mrs. Lovett don’t look like anyone else in the film: it’s like they’re this unique little goth couple with skin three shades to pale and eyes much too dark. They almost look like Conrad Viedt in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, which it turns out is intentional. Helena Bonham Carter is great, and Johnny Depp physical manifestation of Todd when he isn’t killing had me chuckling, particularly during "Down by the Seaside". Sacha Baron Cohen makes the best of what amounts to a cameo and really stands out among the already impressive supporting cast. What Burton replicates of London digitally isn’t always distracting and by and large I felt like Sweeney Todd has a lot going for it.

And one thing going against it, but it’s such a serious strike against that I can’t decide how I feel about the end result.

Every time Johnny Depp sings, I cringe. It’s not so bad when Todd and Mrs. Lovett are singing, like in "Little Priest", but when Depp has to carry the song all by himself or is paired with someone who isn’t up to the material ("Pretty Women" is a really good example) then the film grinds to a halt.

This Sweeney Todd, referred to in a lot of reviews as the "rock star" version, sounds a little bit like Depp is trying to replicate David Bowie, and it just doesn’t fit for some reason. Not for me it didn’t. I had no problem with Helena Bonham Carter, who is no Angela Lansbury but for the world of this film suits the music just fine. Sacha Baron Cohen, it turns out, has quite the singing voice. Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall, not so much. The two young lovers were pretty good, as was the boy that Todd and Lovett adopt, but when the lead character of the film, who needs to carry the music by himself at crucial points, doesn’t deliver then the movie fails on some fundamental level.

Like I said, Depp is otherwise well suited in this Burton-esque variation on Sweeney Todd, and when he isn’t singing, I bought it completely. He’s alternately funny, frightening, and sad throughout the film and even though the voice isn’t dissimilar, there’s not a trace of any Captain Jack or other Depp characters in his Todd.

But that singing issue really makes it hard to say the movie succeeds. So much hinges on the songs, and when the really important ones are nearly unlistenable, it really undermines all that is great about this Sweeney Todd. If the question is "does it do Sondheim justice?" the answer is most definitely no. For fans of Tim Burton, if you can get over this critical hurdle, you can find much to admire in his take on the story.

I would recommend it, and dare say some of you might even not have the same reaction I did; those not as close to the play as Adam was may find as much if not more to love about the movie, but I fear I can’t give anything better than a "mixed" review. This is certainly a renter.

An Important Note from the Cap'n: I feel it is fair to disclose that generally speaking, I’m mixed on recent Tim Burton output. As a big fan of his films through Sleepy Hollow, I did not like Planet of the Apes at all, was not a fan of Corpse Bride, but generally like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Big Fish, for what it’s worth.

Friday, July 30, 2010

From the Vaults: Memoirs of a Geeky Cap'n

Greetings. The Cap'n is going to be a little busy today working on applications for money paying jobs (no disrespect to the Blogorium, but as it pays nothing, I cannot survive on blogging alone), so enjoy a flashback from the vaults.

My parents can’t quite seem to remember what the first movie they ever took me to was, but they narrowed it down to two possibilities: The Muppet Movie or The Empire Strikes Back.

Either one of them goes a long way in explaining why I’m the type of geek I am. The Empire Strikes Back, if that’s the case, is coupled with the first movie I remember going to see, a midnight showing of Return of the Jedi (mom won tickets through some radio promotion), which was the first time I ever saw a true fanboy (in this case, a woman dressed like Princess Leia).

The potential subliminal impact of seeing The Muppet Movie, however, takes us in an entirely different direction. I would’ve only been a few months old when they went to see it (as opposed to a little over a year for Empire), so most of it would’ve been noise and "Frog!", but I can’t help but think that some of Jim Henson’s bizarre and sometimes subversive humor embedded itself into my infant brain. It would certainly explain why I’ve always gravitated towards Muppets, either watching reruns of The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, or later a longstanding fascination with Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.

Dad was a sci-fi geek, so in the mix with all the Disney movies mom would take us to see (I still remember seeing The Black Cauldron in theatres and wondering why it didn’t come out on video until I was in high school), dad liked to use the growing VHS market to introduce us to things like Tron, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and at a certain point, Blade Runner.

I’m pretty sure we were too young to understand Blade Runner when we saw it for the first time, but the fact that he’d mix it in with more "all ages" fare like Forbidden Planet made a real impression on me. Sure, we wore out our Star Wars tapes and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Blade Runner was so dense, so sophisticated for a young kid that I never really shook it, and it continues to interest me with every successive viewing.

We would also see really random things, like Downtown and Disorganized Crime. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of either of them, but they’re sort of typical eighties comedies: Downtown is a sort of reverse Beverly Hills Cop starring (conveniently) Judge Reinhold, and Disorganized Crime, if I remember it well enough, is a little bit like The Ref or Trapped in Paradise but with the sensibility of Bad Santa and set in the midwest. I haven’t watched either in years but I remember thinking they were funny when I was 12.

Because of the local video stores (and this was back before Blockbuster and Hollywood Video ran everyone out of town), Carbonated Video and The Video Bar, there was always an opportunity to check something different out, like Murder by Death and Real Genius, both of which became fixtures in the house. There were also kids movies, but my brother and I had surprisingly leniency until the age of 14 or 15 to watch pretty much anything that looked interesting (which is how I saw Time Bandits), and because of the invention of Mick Martin and Marsha Porter’s Video Movie Guide, I had no shortage of possibilities.

They still make those guides, but I can’t help but think with the sheer increase in number of movies to review that they can’t possibily be as entertaining as the old guides were. Reading about Shock Treatment long before I ever knew what The Rocky Horror Picture Show was or understanding that Evil Dead 2 was "more of a remake than a sequel" armed me with information that wouldn’t pay off for years, but within all that was the making of someone seriously curious about movies.

And that hasn’t changed much since.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

News and Notes (or the Cap'n eats some crow...)

At this point, many people have noticed (or pointed out to the Cap'n) that my previous News and Notes Column about Amazon listings of yet-to-be-announced Criterion Blu-Rays is almost totally moot now. At this point, The Thin Red Line, Seven Samurai, and The Darjeeling Limited are all listed on Criterion's website, and I have no reason to doubt that Videodrome and Antichrist will be far behind. I could say that I was simply warning people against pre-ordering until an official announcement came, or I could weakly suggest that I discussed this briefly a month ago, but there's no getting around the fact that Amazon was correct in listing the discs and the Cap'n shouldn't have questioned it. Not that they were reading this blog in the first place, but a valuable lesson was learned about opening my big mouth.

In part I bring this up because accountability means almost nothing online, especially in blogs. People say wildly incorrect things or make assertions and then when it turns out not to be true, they simply go along with the correct version and pretend what they said never happened. I mean, who's really going to remember that I said that Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was "visually arresting" if I now tell them I have no interest in ever watching it again? Because I did say that, and I don't really want to watch it again.

The Cap'n makes a lot of claims online that I don't always stick to. I always told you I wouldn't see Shit Coffin or Shit Coffin 2, and yet those are clearly links to reviews of Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). I also said I wouldn't watch Rob Zombie's Halloween and that I had a marginal interest in Halloween 2 but I also watched both of them. Now, I could provide the caveat that I waited until I could watch each of them with no cost to the Cap'n, but let's face it, I said I didn't want to see them and I did. It doesn't even matter that I hated the first three because I saw them anyway. So I can't really argue when people expect me to go watch horrible movies I genuinely don't want to see. Well, that and I dragged many of the people who say that to their share of awful films / Horror Fests.

So I'm not perfect, but the Cap'n will try whenever possible to own up to semi-hypocritical statements made on this blog. And I won't watch a Twilight movie. Trust me, I've had plenty of opportunities where no cost would be incurred on my part and I still said "no thanks." There's absolutely no curiosity on my part towards those films. So look forward to me eating those words in six months*.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Video Daily Double: Mirror Universe Edition

Over the last week or so, the Cap'n has been hearing quite a bit about Joel and Etan Cohen. No, not the Coen brothers (named Joel and Ethan) but two wholly unrelated Cohens - even to each other - that are active enough in Hollywood to have fooled fans and, sadly, actors.

In a recent GQ interview, Bill Murray admitted the reason he signed on to Garfield in the first place was because he thought that Joel Cohen (one of the screenwriters) was Joel Coen (of "The Coen Brothers" fame). But alas, it was not, as you can read for yourself (or merely surmise). Rather, it was the Joel Cohen who had a hand in writing Toy Story, and also wrote Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (which Bill Murray was also involved in... interesting...). He is also credited with script duties or "story" for Cheaper By the Dozen, Daddy Day Camp, Evan Almighty, Money Talks, and Walter the Farting Dog (info available at IMDB pro).

Etan Cohen was brought to my attention by vigilant reader Doctor Tom, who noticed his name as a co-writer on Tropic Thunder. I had been seeing his name recently as a result of my roommate's fascination with King of the Hill, of which Etan Cohen is a producer. A little digging made it clear that this is not some pseudonym cooked up by the Coen brothers (like their longtime, nonexistent editor Roderick Jaymes), but in fact an Etan Cohen that's twenty years younger and has his roots in early Mike Judge animation.

For example, in addition to producing and writing for King of the Hill, Etan Cohen also wrote two episodes of Beavis and Butt-Head, in addition to co-writing the screenplay for Idiocracy. He also had a hand in writing Recess, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, an episode of American Dad, Men in Black III, and something called My Wife is Retarded.

Now, it's not uncommon to make this mistake. I know half a dozen people who regularly write "The Cohen Brothers" or Joel and Ethan Cohen, so I get that the confusion is there. What I find interesting, on the other hand, is this idea (admittedly concocted by the Cap'n) that these are Mirror Universe Coen brothers, trading on the confusion in order to perpetuate evil on the world. Okay, I like Tropic Thunder, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Idiocracy, but I think it's more than evened out by Men in Black III, American Dad, and whatever My Wife is Retarded is. If only Joel Cohen had a goatee and Etan Cohen did not...

On to the Mirror-Verse videos!


Our first video is a Priceline commercial I'd never seen, but is wholly appropriate to today's theme:

Our second video, because it amused me following page after page of Star Trek Mirror Universe clips, was the Mirror Universe footage from Red Dwarf's season 8 finale:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogorium Review: The Informant!

According to a recent comment, the Cap'n has been a bit of a Negative Nancy with the last two reviews. I find this a little odd since the Crazy Heart review was basically positive, focusing on Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell, although I did need to qualify that a) I didn't think the movie was a "great" film and b) that I don't agree with the post-Oscar backlash that it was "beneath Jeff Bridges." I was pretty harsh on An Education, but that happens from time to time when a movie patently fails to rise above the bare minimum required for it to be watchable. It could have been a better film, but it wasn't, so I admit to being a little rough.

(I will note that reviews for Predators and Inception were largely positive, and having seen Predators a second time, I'm willing to concede that it was even more effective in being a direct sequel to Predator than I first admitted.)

Anyway, I thought I'd step aside from the perceived "scathing" nature of recent reviews and focus on a movie I genuinely like, Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, a movie that I think got a bum rap because of the assumed "one independent Soderbergh film / one major studio film to pay for the next independent film" pattern he's adhered to in recent years. I could get into a serious debate on that argument alone, considering that even when he's "slumming" and making Ocean's films (which I happen to enjoy) that it doesn't automatically make Che or The Girlfriend Experience superior films on principle (although I also enjoyed both of those films too), but instead I'll focus on The Informant!, which is a clever "true story" film that showcases Soderbergh's affinities for spy films, sitcoms, and has one of his more interesting "gimmicks."

The Informant! is also a fine showcase for everything that Matt Damon does well as an actor. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a mid-level executive at Archer Daniels Midland, a company that makes lysine for most of the foods sold in the US. Whitacre is smart, successful, and has a loving wife (Melanie Lynskey) and two kids. He also happens to be at best bipolar, and at worst, a pathological liar.

Whitacre, for reasons unknown to the audience, decides that while FBI agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) is over to tap his line for another corporate espionage case - involving a Japanese rival - now is the time to clue in the FBI about a price fixing scheme involving all of the major food additive companies world wide. This is but the beginning of a labyrinth of lies, half truths, and revelations tied directly to Whitacre, who insists that he's being the hero, and eventually the martyr, of a story of his making.

In case you're thinking "wow, that sounds ridiculous," now's the time to point out that screenwriter Scott Z. Burns adapted this from Kurt Eichenwald's book of the same name, which is the true story of Mark Whitacre and the first major criminal case centered around price fixing in the U.S. This American Life has a podcast involving the actual participants, available here, and it's every bit as fascinating*.

For the film, Soderbergh aims for a slightly heightened tone, a world where the sun is a little too bright and washes out most of the cast (appropriate in a film where most of the players have something to hide). The tone is a cross between l70s thrillers like All the President's Men or The Conversation, spy films, and sitcoms of the 70s and 80s (reflected in Marvin Hamlisch's score to a T). Despite the seeming disparity of these elements, the film works from beginning to end, in part because of Damon's Whitacre.

Mark Whitacre is constantly talking via narration throughout The Informant!, despite the fact that he appears to be saying nothing of consequence most of the time. The trick here is that Whitacre is filling us with semi-relevant information in order to keep the audience from figuring out what he's really up to; in essence, we're as behind the curve as Agents Shepard and Herndon (Joel McHale). It's a clever move, because when it becomes clear why Whitacre is constantly talking and how it differs from what he really means (played out in a crushing scene near the end), the audience realizes how duped we were from moment one.

The Informant! plays out like a spy film in that we're given the information in small doses but aren't sure what it is we're supposed to do with it until the master plan becomes clear. The cheery atmosphere compounds our sense of confusion and the highly technical nature of food additives and price fixing keep viewers off guard just long enough for The Informant! to entertain and engage. And then there's the other thing...

Steven Soderbergh usually has some kind of "gimmick" for each of his films: a particular film trick he's fascinated with and wants to use as the backdrop for latest project. For example, Ocean's Twelve is littered with traces of French New Wave editing and camera tricks. The Good German was made using only equipment available before 1946; Traffic separated its locations by color filters; Full Frontal involved actors who brought their own makeup and wardrobe; The Limey used footage from an earlier Terence Stamp film as "flashbacks." You get the idea.

The hook or "gimmick" for The Informant! for Soderbergh is to use comedians or recognizable comic actors in serious roles, and the film is jam packed with them. Joel McHale (Community, The Soup) is the tip of the iceberg, playing straight but hilarious in part because of his exasperation with Whitacre's smoke and mirrors. You can also see Patton Oswalt, Tony Hale, Allan Havey, Tom Papa, Andrew Daly, Bob Zany, Larry Clarke, Jimmy Brogan, Richard Horvitz (voice of ZIM!), Ann Cusack, Joshua Funk, Rick Overton, Paul F. Tompkins, and both Smothers brothers. This is not including the rest of the supporting cast, which includes Clancy Brown, Eddie Jemison, and Frank Welker. If the names don't sound familiar, I assure you the faces do. Everybody is playing it straight, and at times it is hard to figure out if you should expect a joke from anyone but Damon.

Despite knowing the history of ADM and the Federal investigation into price fixing, I was enormously entertained by The Informant!. I know that people like to beat up on Matt Damon for various reasons (Team America seems to pop up most frequently), but without Damon's innocuous subterfuge, the film doesn't work. Period. You have to buy that this guy is nothing to write home about, and Damon really works all of the facets of Whitacre simultaneously and does it so well that you don't notice him "acting." That's high praise from where the Cap'n is sitting, and Soderbergh is no slouch either. I've been down on him before for purely technical exercises (The Good German springs to mind), but the cheery presentation of such a dry story does The Informant! justice. Definitely worth checking out.

* I actually suggest you listen to the show after you've seen the movie, unless you want to know exactly what Whitacre is hiding during the film.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Movies I Found at Hastings Trailer Sunday

Kingdom of the Spiders


Nightmare Castle


Galaxy of Terror

Forbidden World

Negative Happy Chain Saw Edge

Weasels Rip My Flesh

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Quick Review: An Education

One of the downsides to expanding the list of Academy Awards nominees from five films to ten is that it gives a movie like An Education the opportunity to sneak in when it really doesn't deserve to be there. I've considered spending more time and energy explaining why An Education is lackluster entertainment at its most pedestrian, but it's not worth wasting an entire review on. Therefore, I shall be brief.

Technically speaking, An Education is a competent film with a nice cast. The script is exactly what you'd expect this film to be: young girl in a slightly repressive family / society meets older stranger who awakens her to the world outside of schoolwork and middle class life, only to turn out to be "dangerous" or, at least deceptive about his real story. She rebels against the forces of rigid standards and medium expectations, gets hurt, learns something about what life is really like, then grows up. Cut to credits.

And that's it. That's exactly what happens in An Education without the slightest deviation. Throw in a little casual racism and antisemitism, set it in London in the early sixties, and you have a pretty boring movie. Seriously, if you've seen the kind of movie I mentioned in the previous paragraph once, you've seen An Education. Nick Hornby (adapting the screenplay from Lynn Barber's memoirs) wrote a screenplay that is utterly predictable from beginning to end. Lone Scherfig's direction is right down the middle, save for a terrible montage involving a lovers' trip to France halfway into the film.

The cast is really the only thing saving this film from the Cap'n turning An Education off before it ends, and even that's hit and miss. In my Crazy Heart review, I suggested that most of the actors work hard to overcome the lack of character they're dealt, but in An Education, it's even harder.

Carey Mulligan's Jenny gets the lion's share of screen time, but it doesn't help her that the script places her in the moral high ground no matter what, so that Jenny can even escape the events of the film and simply pretend they never happened when she finally gets to Oxford. Peter Sarsgaard's David is in the film long enough to reveal his secret, then he vanishes from the end of the movie entirely, as though he never existed. He's pleasant with a British accent but thoroughly untrustworthy from moment one, so it becomes a waiting game of "how naive is Jenny?"

Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson have thankless roles where, despite being proven correct in their suspicions of Jenny's relationship with David (and subsequent dropping out of school) have to be the villain who refuses to admit her back (Thompson) or the "oh, poor Jenny. You insulted me for having a terrible life and now you want me to help you get to Oxford" (Williams). Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour have nothing to do other than be duped by David, and Matthew Beard and Rosamund Pike serve no purpose other than to make you suspicious of Sargaard while Jenny defiantly throws her life away.

If you're about to say "well, she's learning something, stupid. That's why it's called AN EDUCATION," then allow me to swiftly rebuke your comment. Jenny starts the film planning to go to Oxford, and ends the film at Oxford. In fact, despite the fact that she spends several months with a thief who preys on racist old women to buy up their property when they move and who has a wife and child (and has done this very same cradle-robbing exercise before... oh, did I not mention that Jenny is 16 going on 17 in the film?), she simply returns to her studies after he ceases to be in the movie and based on the narration that closes the film, she simply behaves as though the affair never happened. She learned nothing based on the film we're presented.

At some point, I was hoping that An Education would do something - anything - interesting, but instead it plays the same notes you've heard over and over again without bringing something new to the table. Since the script, direction, and acting are all okay, I suppose that it's not surprising it ranks well on IMDB, but even for comfort food An Education is too blase. Alas, one little nomination will do wonders for a movie that doesn't deserve the attention...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blogorium Review: Crazy Heart

Jeff Bridges first Oscar nomination was in 1972, for The Last Picture Show, but I think when discussing Crazy Heart, we ought to look at 1975's Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, his second nomination. In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Clint Eastwood played a past-his-prime bank robber that scraped out a living conning people until he meets young ne'er do-well Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), who reinvigorates him to "get the gang back together" and give it another go. Things don't work out so well for Lightfoot, but Thunderbolt (Eastwood) learns a thing or two about appreciating life and moves on.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a good movie, but not a great one. It's a little too long and relies heavily on the cast to carry a story that's not sturdy enough on its own. Fortunately, the film has Clint Eastwood, arguably in his prime (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot lands between The High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales), and a young and hungry Jeff Bridges, who lights up every scene he's in, as he continues to do almost without exception (King Kong, I'm looking at you...) So when I watched Crazy Heart, lots of little things reminded me of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, even if the films aren't thematically similar.

Bridges plays "Bad" Blake, a country rebel in the Waylon Jennings / Merle Haggard / Kris Kristofferson mold, a survivor of "old" country music. He peaked some time in the seventies (maybe eighties) and has been going downhill ever since. Blake plays bowling alleys and (if he's lucky) run-down honky tonk bars, while his protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell) adapted Blake's music to the pop-country aesthetic and is selling out arenas across the U.S. Despite Sweet's success, he continues to reach out to Blake and is rebuffed via their mutual manager, Bill Wilson (Tom Bower). Blake's not ready to take second fiddle, even if it beats driving around the midwest in a truck and resorting to trading his waning fame for free liquor.

Blake still has a way with the ladies, so when a club owner's niece in Santa Fe asks to do a profile on him, Blake wins her over in small steps. Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is younger than Blake, but already has a divorce and a young son in her life, and she doesn't trust the perennially drunk, irresponsible, wandering crooner. But there's a charm to "Bad" (who refuses to reveal his real first name to Jean), and somewhere inside that wreck of a man is the chance to turn it all around. Or is there?

I'll give Crazy Heart's writer / director credit for going the Up in the Air route towards redemption; the film settles on small victories rather than the generic "change your life in two hours" that movies like Crazy Heart would do otherwise. Blake wants to start over, or thinks he does, but he's still irresponsible and he still makes some big mistakes. Mistakes that some movies would let slide for the happy ending. Crazy Heart settles for a happy ending, but not the one you're expecting from the trailers.

At 111 minutes, Crazy Heart is a little too long, and more than once in the last third of the film I felt like "that's just padding. It doesn't need to be here." Like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, it's a good movie, but not a great one. Jeff Bridges is great as Bad Blake, and despite the post-awards season backlash that this was an "Oscar grab" or "not his best work", I disagree. Bridges deserved the Academy Award for Crazy Heart, because it's not quite the same Jeff Bridges role you usually see. There's a weight to Bad Blake, a heavy heartedness that you only catch glimpses of in other movies - like the end of The Men Who Stare at Goats, a film where he otherwise plays an entertaining variation on The Dude. Bridges is imminently watchable in Crazy Heart, even when he has to tow the weaker plot points about AA and asking for forgiveness when he doesn't deserve it.

That Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Duvall (who plays Blake's father, Wayne) register at all is a testament to their acting, because there's not a lot of role for either of them to play. Jean Craddock is around mostly to facilitate Blake playing with Jack Nation's Buddy, and while she gets a moment here and there, even by the end of the film it's hard to really attribute much of a character to her. Robert Duvall (who played a similar role to Blake in Tender Mercies) floats in and out of the second half of the film and just barely makes an impression. Admittedly, this is Bridges' film, although one other actor gives him a run for the money.

I have to admit that I was never much of a Colin Farrell fan before In Bruges. To that point I'd seen him in Alexander, Miami Vice, and Minority Report, and while I didn't dislike him, Farrell wasn't really someone I was paying any attention to. However, after watching In Bruges, The New World, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Crazy Heart, I find myself increasingly being won over.

Tommy Sweet could have, in other hands, been a one-note role: the young up and comer that learns from the best and becomes bigger than his mentor, only to throw him a bone now and then. It's a thankless role, one that easily registers as "villain" in this type of movie, but not the way Farrell plays Sweet. He seems genuinely awed by Blake, even in the twilight of his career, and when he tries to honor it by asking Blake to open for him (and sneaking on-stage to be with his hero), Bad takes it as upstaging.

The men have a genuine disagreement over a collaboration that didn't happen before the story takes place, but Tommy Sweet is no one-note villain. Farrell plays Tommy as a man grateful for the success he's had, indebted to Blake for it, but frustrated that his mentor resents his success. Farrell and Bridges (who also do their own singing) are fantastic, yet you'd barely know the former was in the based on the ads, the posters, and press material, which I'm not sure comes from Farrell, Cooper, or 20th Century Fox. Either way, the movie is worth checking out for the two country singers, if nothing else.

Like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, I have no regrets about seeing Crazy Heart, although I'm unlikely to rush out and watch it again. It's a solid, if unspectacular, movie that adheres to certain formulas and eschews others. The film is well acted, even if the script doesn't always seem to be there for the cast, but I'd certainly recommend checking it out. There are better movies out there, yes, but Crazy Heart - like Bad Blake - has its own amiable charm.

Oh, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is fun too, especially if you like Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, or Gary Busey.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Video Daily Double

Greetings one and all! The Cap'n is reporting from out west, which means that I'm still getting the hang of posting before the day ends on the east coast. Since we're two hours back in New Mexico, the Inception review made it up too late for most of you to catch it yesterday, but it's happily occupying a spot in the Blogorium for your reading enjoyment. Let me know when more of you have seen it, as I'd like to go a bit more in depth in the analysis.

While poking around Santa Fe, I found the closest thing to an Edward McKay in New Mexico, Hastings. What really amused me about this is that I'd been ordering from the GoHastings seller on Amazon marketplace for a while now, as they consistently have a great selection of rare and obscure movies. The store is no exception; in addition to the 7,000 or so movies for rent, they sell quite a nice selection of new and used DVDs, Blu-Rays, and games.

What jumped out to me immediately was the depth of their horror selection. The "International" section was no slouch either, but I found horror films at Hastings yesterday that I've only read reviews of online. Not only did they have the Blu-Ray for Class of Nuke 'em High, but they're the only store in town carrying the newly released special editions of Roger Corman's Forbidden World and Galaxy of Terror. But that's just scratching the surface. I found copies of Frankenhooker, Nightmare Castle, It Lives Again / Island of the Alive, and half a dozen other titles I've never actually seen on shelves.

I also picked up this, which should entice almost all of you to come out to NM for Horror Fest V:

That's right: killer weasels. We're reasonably convinced that the director was listening to Frank Zappa and decided he needed to make that album a cheap-o horror movie, and he may well be right. We'll know in three months.

Anyway, this is a Video Daily Double, so let's make with the videos!


Our first video is an ad for some of the Real Ghostbusters action figures, which I suppose some of our younger readers won't remember. Pity...

Our second video is a three-minute trailer for the new season of Weeds. As someone who felt the fourth season stumbled a little bit but liked the fifth season, I'm looking forward to season six, and the trailer looks promising:

Oh, and I've started watching Breaking Bad. It seemed rather appropriate, seeing as Albuquerque is only an hour's drive away from here. When I've seen more, I'll do a proper write-up...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blogorium Review: Inception

The trick one runs into when reviewing a movie like Christopher Nolan's Inception is how not to spoil the film for people who haven't seen it yet. Trust me when I say it's better not knowing much about Inception heading into the theatre, because even if someone gives you a rough outline of the film, it's still not going to adequately prepare you for the meticulously constructed narrative and its many twists and turns.

So I've decided instead to simply share a few thoughts I had about Inception after watching the film and sampling other reviews online. Personally speaking, I really enjoyed Inception and was quite pleased that despite all appearances, Nolan's screenplay avoids most of the obvious "twists" inherent to every heist / con-artist film.

And make no mistake, that's exactly what Inception is; while it's true that the film plays in the realm of science fiction and skirts around neo-noir frequently, the film is structured around a Michael Mann / David Mamet-esque "one last job" backbone. Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a specialist in breaking into other people's minds and stealing their ideas. When a con involving businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) goes wrong, Cobb is given an offer he can't refuse: do one job for Saito, and his "most wanted" status in the U.S. will be cleared away, allowing him to return to his children.

Nolan wisely places a film that involves dreams within dreams, shifting time continuum's, unreliable subconscious tics, and flexible rules of physics into a basic structure. Even if you aren't following the rules of how someone enters dreams, cons the "mark", or steals information (or plants information), you still have a basic idea of what's at stake. Cobb assembles his team: a forger (Bronson's Tom Hardy), a chemist (Drag Me to Hell's Dileep Rao), an architect (Whip It's Ellen Page), and his right hand man (Brick's Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to help break into Robert Fischer, Jr (Sunshine's Cillian Murphy)'s mind. If you're paying attention, all of the rules are in place to explain what role each person plays and how they fit into the con / heist, but I think what's keeping audiences in seats is that you can follow the story without the tech speak.

In order to preserve as much of the mystery of the film as possible, I'm not going to say anything about Mal (Marion Cotillard). Plenty of reviews will give you a bare bones explanation of who she is and what role in Cobb's life she plays, but the less you know about Mal, the better. I will say there's a sneaky bit of intertextuality on the part of Nolan involving a music cue and La vie en rose, but that's not really a spoiler. It's just sly.

At this point I'm going to deviate away from the film until I know more of you have seen it, because there's no point discussing the beginning and the end (and the ramifications of both on the story) if you haven't seen the film. I will instead focus on a few thoughts that can be shared without blowing any of the major plot points:

- It's very hard to watch Inception and not think of Shutter Island, and not just because of Leonardo DiCaprio. Both films begin with a very similar music cue, have an attachment to water, feature an unreliable protagonist (okay, that might be a spoiler for both films), and toy with the audience's notion of what is a dream and what isn't. That Nolan and Scorsese do so in a way that one film is reminiscent of the other (I dare you to watch the opening of Inception and not think of the first five minutes of Shutter Island) is not a knock on Inception, it is merely a strange synchronicity between two films I greatly enjoyed this year.

- I've been trying hard to find faults or something that doesn't quite sit right about Inception, and because so much of the film works, it's tricky. I don't really want to discuss Mal much, which is the only points of resistance I really came up against, so I'll focus on critiques I found elsewhere...

The bulk of the negative reviews online have to do with the fact that while Inception is about dreams, the film itself is very mechanical and logical, and hence not "dreamlike" enough. To this I must say that the critique is fair: Inception is not reflective of a "dreamlike" state in the way that Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire or Linklater's Waking Life are. That's fair. Characters don't shift in appearance or are magically substituted for another (save for one carefully explained bit of trickery on the part of Hardy's Eames), and for a movie about levels of the subconscious, Inception maintains a logic structure that is inconsistent with dreams.

So yes, to that degree, the film is more of a labyrinth or a puzzle box than a reflection of an illogical dreamworld. For that, I suggest you look elsewhere. What I will say is that Inception is so well constructed as a heist / con movie that the dream infiltration and rules surrounding it are almost incidental. Yes, it will make you debate what was a dream and what wasn't, but you're not going to come away from the dreams thinking about A Nightmare on Elm Street. You will see things in the film that haven't been tried on the scale or scope of other "dream" movies, and despite the fact that I know most of them had to be CG in one way or the other, the Cap'n was successfully tricked into believing what I was seeing.

The mistake is, I think, assuming that this is actually a movie about dreams. Go in expecting that and it's entirely possible to feel cheated, to think that Inception (like Memento) is more about the technique than the story. Yes, that's the "hook" for Inception, the gimmick it rests its hat on, and it allows for some pretty amazing set pieces (the hotel sequence with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Arthur stands out), but in spite of that Inception is a character-based film about doing anything possible to hold on to the past. In that respect, you're going to hear a lot in classrooms about how Inception is neo-noir, and it's not an unfair point to make. The film does have many of the basic tropes: a fear of the future / obsession with the past, a femme-fatale, smoke (though not nearly to the degree of some noirs), and a reliance on water imagery.

That being said, the tropes being used are all taken in different directions at one point or the other, just as the tropes of the con / heist film (and really, if you want modern precursors to Inception, take a look at Heat or Heist) are turned on their ear. I was pleased that certain things I expected to happen didn't involving characters that almost always serve the same purpose, and part of my appreciation for Inception comes from that fact that Christopher Nolan took one of the most reliable types of genre pictures and consistently found ways to keep it interesting and fresh.

I'm looking forward to watching Inception again, as the film really begs for a second or third viewing - not because of any particular twist, but because there are layers to the plot that are only clear once you've seen it play out. Seemingly incidental elements merit closer inspection, and I'm slightly amazed two and a half hours go by so quickly. Inception's box office success this weekend does mean that every now and then the average moviegoer will flock to see something even if they don't follow it completely. That may be the best thing I can say about the film without spoiling anything.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blogorium Review: Predators

Serious film fans are going to laugh at me for even suggesting you go see Predators, and they have every right to; the Nimrod Antal directed, Robert Rodriguez produced sequel to Predator (there is no Danny Glover or Alien on Predator fistfights in this continuity sphere) is antithetical to what just about anyone would call a "good" film. But then again, people say that about the original Predator and the largely derided sub-genre of 80s action films, which would include movies like Lethal Weapon, Commando, and The Running Man (only Die Hard seems to escape this sweeping categorization, although you'll find that while well constructed, many of the oft-criticized tropes of 80s action films are present in the film).

Predators admirably tries to recreate the vibe of Predator - men (and woman) on a mission, in a jungle, hunting / being hunted by a mostly invisible threat, and dying off one by one in spectacularly gruesome fashion. Machismo abounds, there's a twist involving one of the characters that should be transparently obvious from the first moment you see Carl Weathers / Topher Grace, and finally the hero (Arnold / Adrien Brody) has a man-a-mano showdown with "one ugly motherfucker." Predators both succeeds and fails miserably in its aims, but what's surprising is how entertaining the film is, when one factors in its many faults.

I like the idea of opening the film with Adrien Brody in free-fall; it's disorienting, kinetic, and honestly pretty stupid. A Predator-designed parachute opens, he lands, title card: PREDATORS. Then the movie turns into Lost for about 20 minutes, partly because of the Hawaiian location shooting, partly because of Antal's choice of shots and editing, but mostly thanks to John Debney's score, which eventually settles into a Predator-like groove. There's a moment after the cast members (which include Danny Trejo, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Louis Ozawa Changchien, and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) are wandering around identifying their background that one can literally say "Okay, there's Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Jin, Mr. Eko, and what the hell, Danny Trejo is Hurley."

The stupid just ramps up from there: I will redirect you to Roger Ebert's review for two glaring examples of "wait, that doesn't make sense", and add that despite the fact that the sun never moves (pointed out by Brody's Royce early in the film), the second half of the movie nevertheless takes place between dusk and dawn on Predator game world. Predators is the kind of movie where a cast member specifically refers to the first Predator and the fact that "during his debriefing," Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger - not in the film or mentioned by name) mentioned that he covered himself in mud to hide from the heat sensitive Predator-vision, and then it takes another THIRTY minutes for any character to take that advice.

But what did I really expect here? This is a movie where a Yakuza member has a samurai duel with a Predator and (SPOILER) wins! A film that flagrantly lifts the iconography of Aliens' "Game Over, man!" scene in order to show a prisoner-type stabbing a Predator with a shiv. The kind of movie that introduces a Predator that wears a jawbone on his mask or that shows the audience a Falconer Predator that NEVER USES HIS FALCON AGAIN! I'm not actually sure what purpose it served in the first place, except for a good excuse to use aerial photography for one sequence.

The coup de grace of ridiculous in Predators is Laurence Fishburne's part as a survivor of a previous hunting expedition on the Predator "Game Preserve" planet. Regardless of the fact that his story is undercut by the fact that the chronology of hunting "seasons" means he could have been there for three weeks tops, Fishburne plays Noland as a scenery chewing nutjob in what has to be the funniest twenty minutes of an already hilarious movie. At no point is he every anything more than foolish talking to his invisible friend or giving googly-eyed stares at the surviving cast members, and while it grinds the momentum of the film to a halt completely, his role is so arbitrary that I can only think it may have once served another purpose.

Imagine, if you will, that when Fishburne lifts off his pilfered Predator helmet (with invisibility cloak), it was instead Arnold Schwarzenegger or Danny Glover. Let's say that this mysterious new character was instead one of the survivors from Predator or Predator 2. If kept a secret, the audience would flip out, but more importantly, they'd trust that character unquestionably. I mean, Dutch and Mike Harrigan both beat a Predator, so if they've survived this place, no harm can come to the cast, right? If that's the case, then the Noland character's betrayal of our heroes is more of a shock. I get the impression that Schwarzenegger couldn't do it and Glover passed, so Fishburne comes in as a character the audience doesn't know and who is immediately suspicious of, dulling his "twist."

So we've come to the kicker, where I've told you about some of the non-stop idiotic plot points, logic gaffes, and holes you could drive a truck through, and yet I liked Predators. It's inexplicable; I do not know how it is I came out of the movie saying that I enjoyed the film. Almost nothing works, especially when you consider that Predators seriously expects you to buy that Adrien Brody is more of a bad-ass than Arnold Schwarzenegger was in 1987. Nevertheless, the film is consistently entertaining, the violence and gore are on par with Predator, and half of the characters make an impression before they die in horrible ways.

Sure, none of it makes sense, and I should really be taking the film to task for that (especially since that's one of the reasons Inception works as well as it does - review tomorrow), but I have a soft spot for those ludicrous 80s action films. Things like physics, logic, and narrative coherence weren't paramount. What mattered was that the hero stuck to his guns and that the villain was almost unbeatable. If the action set pieces were good (and most of them are in Predators) and the macho oozed out of the screen, then it wasn't always necessary that a film like Predator had to be thought provoking.

Predators also gets points for knowing where and when to throw in references to the original. There's no "one ugly motherfucker" line, and while they do repeat the "fall into the river" scene and "everybody shoots into the jungle" mini-gun scene, Predators parses it out in such a way that it fits into what little story there is in this sequel. Even the Aliens homage / rip-off scene went largely unnoticed by the audience. I give serious credit to Debney to saving the actual music from Predator (and a clever song tie-in) until the credits. There's a reasonably interesting idea in the film that Predators also hunt each other, and it's fair to say that while none of the characters could wipe the ass of Jesse Ventura's Blain, they all stand out in their own way and have more identifiable traits in the film (particularly Goggins's Stans, who has one of the more memorable speeches in the film - you'll never think of 5 o'clock the same way again).

And so, despite every instinct in me as a film scholar, critic, and fan, I have to say that for some of you Predators is absolutely worth seeing. You won't like it - I'd go so far as to say you'll be intellectually offended by just about everything - but you will enjoy it and, more importantly, not feel ripped off in the same way AvP and AvP:R did. This is a movie designed specifically for people who like Predator, so if that's not you, or if you turned your nose up at the fact the Cap'n reviewed this in the first place, go see Inception instead. Then I'll meet with you tomorrow to discuss that.

For the rest of you, have fun with the first actually good sequel to Predator*.

* I have a soft spot for Predator 2, but let's not pretend it's anything better than a shitty movie, okay gang?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Way Out West Trailer Sunday


Raising Arizona

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

How the West was Won

Let Me In (set in New Mexico)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blogorium Review: Hot Tub Time Machine

Hey gang! Remember all that business about new reviews? Well, I hate to be a buzzkill, but moving got the better of me and I'm plum out of time. The good news? I'll be in New Mexico sometime Sunday, so a Trailer Sunday will be up then, and the Cap'n will get you that new Predators review up as soon as I'm settled.

But I did promise to finally give you some brief thoughts on Hot Tub Time Machine, which I saw waaaaaaayyy back in April, and here they are:

After much stewing and considering (and re-considering), I can't really say that I like Hot Tub Time Machine. I laughed in the theatre, and it has an amusingly vulgar charm, but there's no "there" there. It's a good "one time" movie with a great cast and one pretty clever running gag involving the always watchable Crispin Glover, but the problem is that it's a lousy time travel movie.

I know what you're about to say, which is "what did you expect from a movie called HOT TUB TIME MACHINE?" but the truth is that both sets of writers did try to make the movie more ambitious in its time travel story than just throw things together. The problem is that it still doesn't add up, even if you lower your expectations. For example - and this is a pretty glaring one - if Rob Corddry's character changes everything, he cannot also be the impetus for the four of them going to the ski lodge in the first place. Even if it splits off into an alternate future where our heroes magically replace better versions of themselves at the end, the fact that Crispin Glover's Chip knows who they are when they return to the present means they went back in the first place and all of that happened, so how did they go back?

Anyway, I've considered watching it again but I'm not sure that I'm terribly interested in doing so. Knowing where most of the good jokes are is likely to dull their impact, since things like the "soap on the mouth" gag works because you know as much as Craig Robinson does when he wakes up in the bathroom. I sense that I'd be less impressed with the film in another go-round, but maybe I should try. Time has not been kind to my opinion, so perhaps a second viewing is necessary.


Okay folks, I'll see you on the other side of the country in a few days...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Video Daily Double

Ah, folks. You caught the Cap'n. I've been super mega ultra behind on just about everything, so it's a minor miracle I got this out on time. There will be a Hot Tub Time Machine review tomorrow, followed by a review on Friday that I'll reveal below, so I'm trying to keep up and give everybody something to look forward to.

It's actually pretty tricky without a TV, DVD player, or even a game system of any kind in the house. Since I don't have any chairs, I'm sitting on an old storage bin, and for whatever reason I just can't get into watching videos on the computer screen. It's maddening when film is your Raison d'ĂȘtre and you can't actually do any of that for a while, but I'm working on it. For now, let's check out today's video double-up!


Our first clip came courtesy of a trailer I saw last night before Predators (yes, review to come on Friday). Certainly, you've seen the Winnebago Salesman clip on YouTube, but somebody decided to find Jack Rebney, the man in question, and made a documentary about it:

(For the record, the trailer was uncensored at The Carousel, which was sort of amazing.)

Our second clip is a compilation of things Bruce Willis does over and over in his films, set to some kind of hippity-hop song. The Cap'n is so with the times...

I'm Bruce Willis from wreckandsalvage on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

From the Vaults: Quick Review - Better off Dead

I glad I forgot to put this in last night's post, because it gives me some more space to ruminate on the twisted genius that is Better Off Dead.

Savage Steve Holland hasn't really done much else since Better Off Dead (well, a lot of tv, so like I said) but when you do it so well the first time around, why bother?

Better Off Dead is the kind of movie that arrived too early in the "80's Teen Movie" wave to be really effective in 1985, but watch it now and see just how badly movies like Not Another Teen Movie got it. Holland managed to make a movie that fits within the confines of the "underdog who comes out on top" but is simultaneously filled with elements too absurd to be accidental.

(future Cap'n needs to interject here and mention this poster. I mean, wow. That is a TERRIBLE poster for a movie this gleefully weird. It looks like someone took the Meatballs poster and decided to marry it with On Golden Pond*. I'm amazed anyone went to see this when Better off Dead was released.)

For example, two brothers who do nothing but drive around racing people. One speaks no english, and the other one learned how speak it from watching Howard Cosell's Wild World of Sports, and they both dress like Cosell. And they've installed a speaker on top of the car in order to give play by play during the races.

Or maybe the subplots tied into Lane Meyer (John Cusack)'s family: Mom's cooking "experiments" that may be more dangerous cooked than raw. Or his brother's proclivity for mail order junk that ends up working, like lasers, a home made rocket, or a "Pick Up Trashy Women" book that delivers.
Better Off Dead is the kind of movie that would introduce a Frankenstein homage just to have a claymation hamburger sing David Lee Roth. To treat a paper delivery boy like Jason Vorhees, or let Curtis "Booger" Armstrong snort jello in the cafeteria.

South Park spoofed the overlying plot of Better Off Dead a few years ago (the skiiing episode) but what they missed about why the movie works is that it knows how stupid the skiing story is, and Holland goes out of his way to pack non-sequiturs in places you'd never expect them. And, as a result, the movie is funny when it should be trite, clever when it should be obvious, and pays off running jokes in unexpected ways.

Had it come out at the tail end of the 80's, instead of the middle of the teen movie era, I think it could've been a real dagger in the heart of the "Brat Pack" era, instead of the cult hit it is. Of course, if everyone knew about Better Off Dead, I'd have to find something else to surprise people with.

Like Real Genius.

On the other side of Wednesday's Video Daily Double, the Cap'n will finally give you his thoughts on Hot Tub Time Machine, closing the circle of "John Cusack skiing movies."

*The trailer, which feels like it played on a loop at Carbonated Video, is only a little bit better, to be honest. Neither give the film its due.

Monday, July 12, 2010

From the Vaults: Cap'n Howdy and the 80s Nostalgia of Doom!

I see the advertising from 300 is now gone and replaced with Transformers. I could go on a rant about Michael Bay ruining my childhood memories, but that's actually not going to happen in this instance. Why, none of you ask?

Well, I never watched Transformers. To be honest, I've never seen the movie, nor do I believe I've watched a single episode of the half hour *coughcommercialcough*, ahem, show. The truth is that I have very few memories of television shows from the 1980's, period, despite being born in 1979 and being a child during what is considered the "peak" era of kid cartoons.

I wasn't allowed to watch GI Joe, didn't find He-Man very interesting, having fleeting memories of Voltron and Thundercats, and no memory whatsoever of Transformers. Accordingly, unlike many people my age obsessed with the eighties, I also have never seen Dallas, The Golden Girls, Who's the Boss, Charles in Charge, What's Happening, Growing Pains, or Silver Spoons. In fact, I really don't know much about eighties tv programming. Again, things like The A-Team, Alf, Punky Brewster, Moonlighting, and Family Ties are lost on me. Never watched them. Don't have an overwhelming urge to go back and find out what the deal was.

To me, Mr. T is Clubber Lang, the guy who killed Mickey in Rocky III. Bruce Willis is John McClane, the guy who blew up the Nakatomi building in Die Hard. Names like Scott Baio, Soleil Moon-Frye, and Tony Danza mean nothing to me. I think it's pretty clear that the name Marty McFly means more to me than Alex Keaton.

But I wasn't just soaking up movies at a young age. Yes, I was very much aware of things like The Goonies and Tron or Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones as a youngster, but I did see some tv. Just not what everyone else was watching. I have fond memories of watching Lost in Space on USA, and the old game shows that followed it, like Press Your Luck. I watched Danger Mouse and You Can't Do That On Television, and when Nickelodeon stopped going off the air at 8:30, I watched Nick at Night. Well, except for Donna Reed. But Dennis the Menace, Mr. Ed, The Patty Duke Show, My Three Sons, Bewitched, and Green Acres? Sure.

I also know I watched Fraggle Rock for a brief period, and The Muppet Show is embedded in my memory from an early age (the first two movies my parents took me to as a baby were The Muppet Movie and The Empire Strikes Back, if that helps clarify why I am like I am). Scooby Doo was in the cards, too, but even at a young age I remember preferring episodes without Scrappy.

I was very late in the game when it came to the Disney Channel, so I was behind on things like Ducktales, Gummi Bears, Darkwing Duck, and Talespin. Rescue Rangers never did it for me. Actually, neither did Gummi Bears. I could go look, but I'm putting Tiny Toons in the later bracket of 1980's cartoons, which exempts it from discussion, much like shows like Twin Peaks (which I was aware of but didn't really see.)

A really, really vague memory is floating around in my head of The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy mini-series and some episodes of the Tom Baker Dr. Who on PBS. I clearly recall being disgusted at them eating the talking cow in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

There were also things like Mr. Wizard and sort of randomly assorted Nickelodeon programming floating (Double Dare) around, but by and large I didn't know characters on what folks consider the big 80's cartoons, and I certainly had no idea whether the toys were good or evil. I was really into Star Wars at that age, and watched a lot of Disney movies.

Speaking of which, I realized recently while talking to people who were born in the mid eighties why something like The Black Cauldron has no meaning to them whatsoever. I saw The Black Cauldron when I was six, and every time we went to the video store I asked if it had come out yet, and it hadn't. I saw the movie once, and then not again for another ten years, when it finally came out on VHS while I was in high school. Whereas many of these movies were around for people to see, Cauldron simply vanished, and if you didn't see it in theatres, it meant absolutely nothing in the interim.

Who knows? I know that certainly movies were not the most impacting influence on my young life (I didn't mention this before but I read a lot too), and yet the Sacred Cows of the 1980's mean almost nothing to me. Michael Bay turning Transformers into some crappy action movie doesn't bother me the way it might bother some. Or does, I should say. But if he decided to go after The Goonies or Back to the Future, there'd be hell to pay.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

From the Vaults: Blogorium Review - Phantasm

editors' note: The Cap'n originally wrote this during a period decrying the persistent remakes of horror films, well known and obscure, which should provide some context for the opening paragraph.

To step off of the high horse soap box I constructed and spend most of my time on, there is one film in that realm of "remakes" that I have to say I wouldn't be angry if it was slotted for a redo. Don Coscarelli (he of Bubba Ho Tep and Beastmaster fame) mused aloud last year that he was thinking about remaking his breakthrough film Phantasm, and using it as a
springboard for more Phantasm films.

Here's where you'd expect me to get all tangent-y about how that's a terrible idea and blah blah blah, except that in the case of Phantasm, that's not such a bad decision. Phantasm is a neat little horror movie with some really good ideas, and as a slice of late seventies cheapie movies, it's pretty good.
The problem with Phantasm is that frequently its imagination outweighs its budget. The effects range from pretty cool (the sphere, the glimpse of another dimension) to pretty embarassing (the bug thing, the funeral parlor near the end) and it's clear that Coscarelli had a lot of trouble shooting and editing the film. There are sections where he relies on characters talking while the next scene begins in order to convey what's going on, or to literally explain what's happening in certain sequences. There are all kinds of strange logic and temporal leaps where characters are there one minute, and then we jump to the same place several minutes later and they're gone (I'm thinking specifically of when Reggie comes over and fights the bug and then vanishes) that really hamper what could be a hell of a movie. This isn't unique to the first Phantasm, but the other three seem to develop more smoothly as Coscarelli gets more comfortable behind the camera.

I really do believe that if he were able to go back and take the things that work about Phantasm without the constraints he had the first time around Don Coscarelli could really make the movie a cult classic. All the pieces are in place, they just need a little finesse. The news, however, is that a remake is less likely than the prospect of a fifth Phantasm, which is also cool, since in the wake of Bubba Ho Tep (and the forthcoming Bubba Nosferatu*) it sounds like Bruce Campbell would be part of any future installments of the Tall Man horror franchise.

*make that the still forthcoming Bubba Nosferatu, which also doesn't have Bruce Campbell, narrowing the possibility of a Campbell / Phantasm crossover...

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Slacktastical Slackventures of Cap'n Howdy!

Greetings, folks. Sorry for the intermittent lack of updates here at the Blogorium. Things have really been ramping up on the moving front, so the Cap'n hasn't had much time to sit down and do updates. I am trying to write a handful of reviews (there are around 12) so that there's something to read while I'm on the road next week.

If time permits, there's a strong chance I'm going to be dragged to see Predators (whether I want to or not) tonight, so if that happens, the Cap'n will put up a review. Otherwise, it might get periodically quiet over the next day or three until I can get all my ducks in a row and put up new reviews. In the meantime, I'll see if I can rustle up some long forgotten reviews from the Vaults for you.

Thanks for reading and I hope to have plenty to share with you in the near future!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Video Daily Double

Good evening, kiddos! The Cap'n is taking a break from packing to share some brief thoughts and then drop another pair of videos for your viewing enjoyment.

Lately I've noticed that people have been complaining this is the WORST summer for movies that they can remember. Now I can't argue with much of that, since one after the other mediocre to garbage films have been passing for entertainment all summer, but I'd also like to point out that I did recommend you all look in the direction of MacGruber and Get Him to the Greek and very few people took the Cap'n up on that. Instead you went to see Prince of Persia, Robin Hood, Sex and the City 2, Splice, and Shrek Forever After. I'm guessing some people even went to see The A-Team, Eclipse, and Jonah Hex, so it's no wonder you're complaining. Do you really think that Predators is going to turn the tide? Really?

While I wasn't in love with Iron Man 2 or Toy Story 3, neither of them are as bad as I've been hearing out of folks, so I'm not sure if it's just a matter of being underwhelmed by the summer in general. The good news is that you don't have to keep wandering out to theatres every week and watching whatever they put in front of you; stay home and watch something else. There are at least a dozen very good to great movies that just hit DVD and Blu-Ray in the last six months that most people haven't checked out.

Don't believe me? Let's go to the list:

The Road, The Book of Eli, Sherlock Holmes, 44 Inch Chest, Daybreakers, Black Dynamite, A Single Man, Ponyo, The Informant!, Broken Embraces, Crazy Heart, The Crazies (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Shutter Island, The Messenger, The Last Station, The White Ribbon, and (some folks would argue) Hot Tub Time Machine.

That's to get you started, and that doesn't include back catalog titles worth your time. So if you're fed up with being served subpar cinema, don't watch it. Stay in and watch something worth your time. And now I'm stepping off of my soapbox to return you to video fun.


Our first video has been around for a while, but it played during Summerfest and I felt like putting it back here. You've seen The Shining as a comedy, so what other genre benders are out there?

Our second video for the day is The 100 Greatest Movie Insults of All Time. There's a smidgen of language, so hang out: