Sunday, July 31, 2011

None of these things is much like the other Trailer Sunday

Drive-In Massacre

Because They're Young

Dark of the Sun

Conan the Destroyer

Beauty and the Beast

Robocop 2

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Netflix Dilemma.

 While deleting and re-installing Netflix on the Blogorium PS3 last night (it had something to do with being "unable to connect"), I had a moment of two to mull over the whole "price raising" (some call it gouging) situation the company announced earlier this month. It wasn't popular, and I'm sure they're catching hell for it, and I suspect many Netflix subscribers will leave when the hike takes effect in September.

 Me? I'm on the fence. Truly I am, and while my knee-jerk reaction was "raise your prices? to hell with you jerks!" I did settle down and consider that I was paying $12 a month for unlimited streaming and one DVD or Blu-Ray at a time. If I tried to buy any of the movies or TV shows I was taking full advantage of, I'd be spending a lot more than that a month. That's a fact, even if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of hunting like a madman online for the best possible price and then tacking on free Two Day Shipping (which is, by the way, actually a 68 dollar yearly fee on Amazon) or dropping another three to seven dollars for next-day delivery. Netflix offers a certain convenience with instant viewing and deliverable discs. Their movies also don't go "dead" twenty-four hours after you rent them, like Playstation Network's rental system, and you don't have to download them, so that's another perk. You can stop watching something and pick up where you left off - also nice.

 The flipside(s) are also totally valid, and I can't do a much better job than this piece, entitled Dear Netflix: Drop Dead. You're going to find out a few things you probably didn't know about the streaming service in there, the least of which is that Showtime's currently airing series aren't coming back to "Watch It Now." HBO series probably never will. Netflix arbitrarily pulls movies from the Instant Queues, often with little warning, which sucks, but I always viewed the "watch it now" part of the service as an added bonus - it was something I could use in addition to my DVD rentals.

 Now that I need to consider paying for both, I'm torn. It's not the random dropping of movies or the lack of some TV shows, which I guess sucks. It's not the movies that end up "pan-and-scan" in an era when "Full Screen" finally means something very different, although that also sucks. It's not even the considerable disparity between what Neftlix offers in their disc-based and streaming-based plans, with the 28 day holdover on new releases which are also now barebones discs, which sometimes really sucks. I can get past most of that. The question becomes "do I use both of them enough to merit paying 60% more?"

 That's the catch; the streaming allows me to watch televisions shows, which I am habitually unable to keep up with as they air (the exception is Doctor Who). I've been able to slowly but surely make it almost to the end of Battlestar Galactica thanks to Neftlix Instant Queue. I will finish the series by the end of the summer, something I was unable to do picking up seasons while working at a used book store as the show aired. Then I can start on Luther and Sherlock, two BBC series I've wanted to look into. Netflix just added Mad Men, a show I've been wanting to watch but haven't yet, and now I have a year to catch up on the four seasons before the fifth starts. And there's The League, and Louie, and Archer, FX shows I've caught in fits and bursts. Being able to watch The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Futurama, Arrested Development, Better of Ted, Top Gear, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a host of other shows at any time is also a perk, since I no longer have any of those DVDs and can't afford the Blu-Rays.

 I also was able to watch Exit Through the Gift Shop, Double Take, ThanksKilling, and (sigh) Monsturd through the streaming option, movies I might not be aware of otherwise or might simply have forgotten about. I understand that Rubber is currently available, so can imagine The Troll Hunter won't be far behind. Netflix is very good about picking up smaller, independent films and putting them on their Instant Queue before the discs are available. They're very good with new releases from Criterion, which saves all kinds of money.

 On the other hand, I can't watch all of the excellent Doctor Who DVDs on Netflix. I can watch some of the episodes, but not all of them. I can't watch any features, and as many of you know, the Cap'n is something of a supplement junkie. Classic Doctor Who DVDs go above and beyond the call of duty for every story when it comes to extras, so I like to rent the discs for that. Also, they rarely "pull" movies from my DVD queue, something I can't say about their Instant. I don't need three discs at a time, but I don't really want to drop the Instant service. I use both of them, and while the cost isn't excessive, Netflix has a ways to go before it's justifiable to pay for each one as its own entity.

 So I'm on the fence right now, as I suspect many of you are. The other options aren't thrilling, unless I just give up and risk being sued for illegally downloading all of the things I want to watch. That's not cheaper by a long shot. If you have suggestions, I'm all ears, gang.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blogorium Review: The Ward

 After leaving Tuesday's Retro Review of Vampires and Ghosts of Mars on a sour note, it was something of a relief to finish The Ward, John Carpenter's first feature-length film in nearly a decade, and to find it was pretty good. Not great, not very original, or even as scary as it could have been, but it's miles and miles away from the last three projects Carpenter was involved in. Ghosts of Mars is garbage, Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life (both from Showtime's Masters of Horror series) were borderline unwatchable. I don't mean to set the bar too low for The Ward, because I think there's enough going for the film that if it didn't have the words "John Carpenter's" before the title, people might not be expecting an instant classic. It's not an instant classic, but I enjoyed most of the film (more on that later).

 Kristen (Amber Heard), a teenage girl in 1966, is discovered by police after burning down a remote farmhouse dressed in nothing more than a nightgown. She is taken to North Bend psychiatric hospital and put under the care of Doctor Stringer (Jared Harris), who places her in a special ward for troubled girls. She meets Emily (Mamie Gummer), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Zoey (Laura-Lee), and Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), who each suffer from their own trauma. The girls are haunted by the ghost of Alice Hudson (Mika Boorem), a patient they murdered and who is exacting her revenge. Can Kristen escape before Alice kills the girls off, or is she the next victim of the ward?

 My first inclination when looking at the synopsis of The Ward was to think of the obvious parallels to Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch (which might explain why The Ward has yet to see an American release date), but to be honest it falls away quickly. The parallels are superficial at best: yes, there are a group of girls in the 1960s trying to escape a mental asylum, but that's where the comparisons stop. I was pleasantly surprised that Carpenter and screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rassmussen hold back from the stereotypical "asylum" staff: Nurse Lundt (Susanna Burney) is less Nurse Ratched than I expected and there's no excessive physical abuse or rape-y guards. In fact, during one my favorite small moments, Sarah is hitting on Roy (D.R. Anderson), an overworked orderly, and he turns her down flatly and tells her to go away because he has too much to do.

 Touches like this help off-set the fact that during Kristen's escape attempts, everyone standing in her way just seems to stand up and walk off when she needs to get past them, or other convenient plot elements that build towards the inevitable "twist" ending. The Ward is a film that does many things right: Carpenter's camerawork and shot selection are clever (there's a particular shot in a dumb-waiter that I'm not sure I've seen in a horror film before), so it makes up for some obvious "jump" scares. The cast is all very good, with the very busy Amber Heard leading the pack, but also very nice turns from Jared Harris, Laura-Lee, and particularly Mamie Gummer, who transitions from obnoxious to sympathetic so naturally I was pleasantly surprised. There's also a nice effect done on Alice's arms and face to make it look like worms are wriggling underneath the skin. It has to be digital but felt organic in the context of the scene.

 (Borderline SPOILER ahead) I think the element of The Ward I had the hardest time with involved the "twist" at the end, one that borrows - in plot structure and execution - the ending of a movie I really don't like. I say "borderline" with the "spoiler" warning because it all depends on whether you've seen Identity or not. If you have, you immediately know how The Ward ends, and yeah, it's pretty much beat for beat the same explanation and last second shock (although Carpenter's is a clever play on the trailer for Prince of Darkness). Would it matter if I hadn't hated Identity so much? I'm not sure, but if you've seen Identity, there's no surprise in The Ward. There's nothing particularly new that Carpenter's camerawork or the cast can overcome, so it becomes a sort of exercise in futility as soon as you realize what purpose Alice Hudson's ghost serves, why the staff regards Kristen the way they do, or what the flashbacks signify.( End of the "kind-of" SPOILER)

 Based on the reviews I've seen around the internet, The Ward is getting mixed ratings because it is a John Carpenter film. Had anyone else directed The Ward, I suspect the level of disappointment might be muted, but because his track record accentuates the great films over the okay ones, anything less than Halloween is deemed to be a failure. The Ward is by no means a failure, even if I was underwhelmed by the "twist" and some of the plot contrivances. Most of the film is engrossing, well acted, and suspensful, even if you know where it's going*. I think that even if I wasn't so disappointed in what Carpenter had been doing between 2000 and 2010, I would find enough in The Ward to recommend the film. It doesn't re-invent the horror wheel, but it's definitely worth checking out the latest from this "master of horror."

* Full disclosure, I knew the "twist" going in because the first review I read mentioned Identity.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Hard Cup of Video Daily Double

 Greetings, readers! The Cap'n welcomes you back to another edition of our summer sales fun Video Daily Double! Today we're looking at two short films designed to influence people into buying things they probably don't need. Our first film uses the proverbial "cup of joe" as a way to trick John and Jane Q. Public into hearing an insurance pitch (trust no one!), and the second is selling you something you never knew you needed... because you didn't.

 Buy... or sell?


 Our first film, Another Cup of Coffee, is designed for Prudential salesmen to find ways to trick us into hearing their spiel about insurance. If it sounds boring, don't worry: the way they opt to tell our protagonist is up there with A Case of Spring Fever...

 Our second film, Soft as a Cloud, is designed to sell Soft Water filters to families that already have them. No, really - watch for yourself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Retro Review: John Carpenter Edition

  In today's Retro Review, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the last two John Carpenter films released in theatres before taking a look at his newest project, The Ward, later this week. As it happens, I saw Vampires and Ghosts of Mars on the big screen during their initial releases, and have vaguely entertaining anecdotes to accompany the very different reactions the Cap'n and friends had to them.

 Once upon a time, John Carpenter could do no wrong as far as the Cap'n was concerned. The reason? His track record speaks for itself: Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, Elvis, Assault on Precinct 13, Dark Star, Christine, Prince of Darkness and of course Big Trouble in Little China. Hell, while I don't really like Starman, Village of the Damned, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, or particularly The Fog, I will admit that they have their relative merits and supporters. Is Escape from LA a good movie? Well, no, but it is fun in a stupid way.

 So when I found out Carpenter was adapting John Steakley's Vampire$ with screenwriter Don Jakoby, starring James Woods as a vampire hunter, I was on board. In fact, in order to see it with the usual gang, I took a train ride from Greensboro to Cary just to make the 9:30 showing. It was October of 1998, Carpenter was making a horror western, and we were pumped. The film did not disappoint.

 Well, it didn't disappoint us; if I understand correctly, Vampires is generally reviled by Carpenter fans and has been the point of contention about when exactly the director "went south" quality-wise (the other side argues that In the Mouth of Madness isn't actually any good and that the drop-off started with Memoirs of an Invisible Man). The film's misogyny is widely cited and derided, and it's crude, casual vulgarity offends almost everybody. I can't debate the presence of any of this in the film, because it's there in spades. I guess the reason that it didn't bother us was that those elements were exactly what we expected to see in Vampires.

 During the build up to Vampires, an atypical "October" horror film to be sure, the trailers and TV spots made it clear that this was not the kind of horror-western hybrid (all Carpenter films are essentially western/something hybrids) designed to appeal to all audiences - even John Carpenter audiences. I often joked that Vampires would have a long life on TNT's "Movies for Guys Who Like Movies," a weekly feature the network ran designed for "guy flicks" like Predator and Lethal Weapon. Vampires dripped with machismo, was laced with tough guy banter, and wasn't designed in any way to appeal to people interested in political correctness.

 And it doesn't - there's nothing in Vampires that really caters to anyone but guys who like movies about tough guys that solve their problems with fists (and in this case stakes). I get why people are offended by the way that Woods and Daniel Baldwin's characters treat Sheryl Lee's prostitute turned vampire-to-be, but what about the advertising of this film led you to expect anything else. It's like going after From Dusk Till Dawn for reducing 99% of its female characters to sex objects and / or monsters. These films weren't designed for all audiences, but apparently Vampires also offended John Carpenter fans, so if I speak fondly of the film, I almost always have to do so under the auspices of a "guilty pleasure," lest I enter an extended argument / lecture about what a horrible person I am for admitting I've seen it more than once.

 Thankfully, I never have those arguments about Ghosts of Mars, the last movie John Carpenter made for nearly ten years, because I've never met anyone who defended that waste of 100 minutes. If you ask me, that's where Carpenter went south, followed by an exile from film-making and two terrible episodes of Showtime's "Masters of Horror." I didn't go into Ghosts of Mars with any idea how awful, how sloppily paced, acted, and written the film would be; in fact, we went to see the film in the summer of 2001 fondly recalling the testosterone-laden Vampires. I was excited to see Ice Cube (Anaconda) alongside Natasha Henstridge (Species), Clea DuVall (The Faculty), Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), and that guy from Snatch. What was his name? Oh right: Jason Statham. Sure, he wasn't the Jason Statham he is now, but I'd seen his Guy Ritchie collaborations, and the rest of the cast had been in films I'd enjoyed recently to 2001. Carpenter was at the helm, the film was about an outpost on Mars possessed by murderous killers? What wasn't to like?

 It turns out, almost everything: the cast is totally wasted, the film looks like crap, and the "flashbacks within flashbacks" gimmick gets old quickly. The ghosts that possess the colonists look like second-rate Marilyn Manson fans, the story of how their spirits get loose is executed laughably, and Carpenter's science fiction variation on the "Indians attack the Outpost" western trope is a bore almost immediately. Oh, and there's the train.

 Normally, something as crappy looking as the model train in Ghosts of Mars would drift from my memory, but Professor Murder took particular umbrage to the lousy effects photography that made a central plot mechanism look like what it was: a miniature locomotive on a badly lit miniature Martian landscape set. As the film when on, I'd hear laughter mixed with sighs, punctuated by the phrase "that fucking train..." as he trailed off in disappointment. It became symbolic for everything wrong with the film, from the pointless flashbacks to explain where every character was to the truly unfortunate character name for Ice Cube: Desolation Williams. I mean, really?

 I've tried to watch Ghosts of Mars again once or twice over the last decade, and I can't even make it as far as the halfway mark. To put it in perspective, I've at least FINISHED re-watching House of 1000 Corpses once, and I hate that movie. I understand why we didn't walk out of Ghosts of Mars, but I can't say I'll ever watch the whole thing a second time. That's asking a lot. The film that shattered my confidence in John Carpenter and turned dread into relief when he eventually retreated from making movies afterward. I hear The Ward is at least pretty good, but even the high of Carpenter's better films (including Vampires, for me), has been tempered by how much of a mess Ghosts of Mars is.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Blogorium Review: X-Men - First Class

 I get why people like X-Men: First Class; it's a better movie than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it's a more consistently entertaining film than the first or third X-film, and compared to many comic book movies designed to launch a franchise, it manages to tell a self contained story without leaving a ton of loose ends it only intends to deal with in another movie (and another movie after that, etc - call it Tron Legacy syndrome if you like).

 On the other hand, I understand why people don't like X-Men: First Class; it's a movie without a reason for being, one that, generally speaking, lacks tension for certain characters. While the acting is good in some roles, it's awful in others, matched by what seem to be hastily rendered cgi effects at times. The film attempts to piggyback off of the public's fascination with Mad Men, sometimes successfully but often distractingly. The biggest problem with the film is that one can't help but feel like we're seeing a B-roll X-Men because the producers, writers, and director were unable to use actual members of the "first class" of Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Mutants and still retain the canon of the series (not that this stops them in one case).

 Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), who has the ability to manipulate metal objects, is a survivor of Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and has devoted his young adult life to hunting down German war criminals, using his powers to gain an edge over them. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who can read minds and influence the thoughts of others, has been breezing his way through Oxford University, working on a thesis about genetic mutations and picking up women with his abilities. His adopted sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) is always by his side, and feels uncomfortable in her natural blue skin, taking solace in her ability to shape-shift. Xavier and Raven are recruited by Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne), a CIA agent, to help stop The Hellfire Club, a sinister organization operated by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) devoted to fostering war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Lehnsherr's path collides with Xavier's when Erik discovers Shaw, the man who tortured him in Poland, is still alive. Unable to defeat The Hellfire Club, Charles and Erik recruit a group of young mutants to help, creating the "first class" of X-Men.

  Things get off to a bit of a shaky start during the opening scene, which retells the prologue to the first X-Men involving a young Erik Lehnsherr manifesting his powers for the first time in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland*. People have speculated that director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass) reused the opening of Bryan Singer's X-Men, which is half true; it's a mix of footage from the first film intercut with new footage of the actor playing young Erik (Bill Milner) and his mother (Éva Magyar). Many of the cut-aways that don't rely on Milner or Magyar's faces are simply reused wholesale from X-Men, including all of the "fence bending," and Nazi reactions. It's been condensed considerably, and a shot of Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw has been added to wed the old film to the new, but in some respects, one already feels like we've been down this road before.

 It's alternately refreshing and frustrating to X-Men fans to watch First Class, in part because the first three (four?) films introduced many of the characters that actually comprise the "first class" of X-Men (which, for the record, is Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast, and Angel). Because all of them have been used and cannot, therefore, appear as younger versions of themselves nearly 40 years before the first X-Men is set, Vaughn and the screenwriters (Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Jane Goldman) have to use a different set of mutants, and while it's nice to see Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Havok (Lucas Till), and a younger Hank McCoy / Beast (Nicholas Hoult), I felt like I was always watching a bit of the "B" team. To be honest with you, I'd never heard of Darwin (Edi Gathegi) or Angel Salvatore / Tempest (Zoë Kravitz) before this movie, and while I haven't been reading any X-Men comics in years, it felt like their presence was superfluous at best (for one of them, it really is). Since "Tempest" is never uttered, the assumed nickname for Kravitz's character is "Angel," which only serves to remind fans that she's merely a surrogate for another character.

 The Hellfire Club is used as a surrogate "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" for First Class, and instead of dealing with their complicated (to say the least) power structure, Shaw's inner circle consists of Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and Riptide (Álex González), although I'd swear to you no one ever says Riptide's name in the entirety of the film. Shaw and Frost are part of the original Hellfire Club, so that makes sense, but the only reason I can see Azazel is in the film is because he has similar powers to Nightcrawler (and physically resembles him, appropriate since Azazel and Mystique are his parents) and since you know what side Mystique and Magneto end up on, you know where Nightcrawler comes from. Riptide? I guess they really needed those whirlwinds and nothing else from González - he never utters a word in the film.

 Okay, so I hate to be nit-picky here, but we know where all of the characters are going to end up, and so do the writers which means we have to put up with Charles Xavier making jokes about losing his hair. There's the tension-less subplot lifted from X-Men: The Last Stand about being "normal" which is an excuse to transition Hank McCoy from normal looking dude to guy in horrible makeup / cg-mouth that makes me long for Kelsey Grammer. Is it vaguely interesting to link mutants to the Cuban Missile Crisis? Yeah, I guess, but we also know how the Cuban Missile Crisis ended, so it's really about waiting for Magneto to turn bad and Charles Xavier to a) go bald, b) end up in a wheelchair, or c) both. One of the three happens, by the way. Everything tries to be roughly consistent with the other X-films. Well, most of them, anyway...

 I don't actually know that there are any fans of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but if there are you'll be sad to hear that the film has been erased from the canon that makes up X-Men movie "history." For Emma Frost to be January Jones in the 1960s, it's impossible for her also to be a teenager a decade later when Logan saves her from Stryker. Of course, since Marvel has every intention of relaunching Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, it should come to no surprise that Wolverine is conveniently being swept under the rug. (SPOILERS AHEAD) The only hint of a connection to Hugh Jackman's ill-fated solo venture is a cameo by Logan in First Class, which occurs while Charles and Erik are recruiting mutants. It cleverly takes advantage of the PG13 ratings one allotted "F" bomb and is arguably the funniest scene in the entire film. It's not the only cameo by a cast member who appeared in earlier X-films: Rebecca Romijn has a brief appearance when Mystique attempts to seduce Erik, but it's far less successful (END SPOILERS).

 So you'd think that I really hated the movie, or was at least bored, but not really. It's very entertaining for all of the "does this movie need to exist"-ness on display: McAvoy and particularly Fassbender are great as Xavier and Lehnsherr, and they if nothing else are worth seeing the film. Rose Byrne is very good in a thankless role, Nicholas Hoult, Caleb Landry Jones, and Lucas Till are all pretty good, and Kevin Bacon imbues Sebastian Shaw with an evil curiosity for all things mutant. His philosophy, which ironically (or appropriately, if you prefer) is adopted by Magneto, is consistent with his background, and Shaw and Lehnsherr are ultimately correct in predicting how humanity will regard mutant-kind.

 Unfortunately, the cast kind of drops off after that. I've already mentioned that González and Flemyng aren't really a factor at all, and that Kravitz and Gathegi have painfully underwritten roles, but the biggest problem(s) are X-Men: First Class' female leads: Jennifer Lawrence and January Jones. Lawrence isn't bad so much as just not very interesting. I didn't care about Mystique at all, and her character arc really seemed to be a bad copy of Rogue's story from the first three X-Men films, except that I know Mystique eventually becomes the much more interesting Rebecca Romijn. January Jones is just terrible: it's as though before every scene, she thought "what's the worst possible line reading I can give of this dialogue" and then did it. I could say more, but this clip really does it all for me:

 She isn't helped by the really lousy looking "diamond" skin digital effects, which look almost as bad as Riptide's typhoons or Beast's lips, which is shocking considering how much money Fox put together to make this film. I don't know whether to blame Vaughn or the visual effects team, but for this film to look as cheap (if not cheaper) than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was shocking.

 Yeesh. You know, I think I'm talking myself into hating this film more than I thought I did. I had fun watching it, wasn't really bored at any point, and when it's good, I can overlook the awkward and stupid parts. Or I thought I could. Wow, maybe I did hate this movie. In which case, kudos to Matthew Vaughn, a director who I don't usually enjoy (Layer Cake is the exception) for fooling me into being entertained by a movie that doesn't hold up whatsoever under the mildest of scrutiny. Kudos to McAvoy, Bacon and Fassbender too, I guess, for being compelling enough to make me overlook the piles of inanity surrounding you. It's very rare that I sit down to review a movie I thought I liked, only to realize there's no good reason I should. The last time that happened was.... well, I'll be damned: Tron Legacy.

 * There is some linguistic imprecision here that is troubling: I changed the language, but didn't mean to imply the that the concentration camp was of Polish design, merely location. Both X-Men and X-Men: First Class make a point of identifying where the camp is, and the reference was to where it was, not who ran it. Apologizes to anyone offended.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Geek Friendly Trailer Sunday!

 You know, for ComiCon. Right?

Juan of the Dead




Fright Night (2011)

Knights of Badassdom


Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Funny Meme Happened on the Way to the Blogorium...

 Okay, so when I mentioned a handful of directors that didn't make the cut in Thursday's post about the director meme? Where I also mentioned that someone would be providing me with more directors? Yeah, funny how that worked out...

 I believe that I mentioned Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman didn't make the initial run, along with a host of others I gave to other people. For reasons known only to me, I decided to pass on John Huston, David Lynch, Ridley Scott, and Terrence Malick. Silly Cap'n... The results came in for my next challenge, and here's the text verbatim:

Alright here we go. Ingmar Bergman, Terrence Malick, Ridley Scott, John Huston, Jean-Luc Godard, David Lynch, Charlie Kaufman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski, Jacques Tati. Some are personal favorites, some...not so much. All pique my interest, however.

Well, looks like I'm doing them anyway, so here comes the part where I admit that some of them I left out because there aren't really any movies I "hate" by several of these directors, which makes this tricky. But oh well, let's give it a shot anyway...

 Ingmar Bergman
 A Movie I Like: Hour of the Wolf.
 A Movie I Love: The Virgin Spring.
 A Movie I Hate: I guess The Magic Flute? I don't really love or like it... The Serpent's Egg isn't one of my favorites, either.

 Terrence Malick
 A Movie I Like: The New World.
 A Movie I Love: Days of Heaven.
 A Movie I Hate: See, here's the problem. I guess maybe it was assumed I'd put The Thin Red Line or The New World here, but I don't hate either of them. In fact, I really like both of them. And I love Badlands almost as much as Days of Heaven. I haven't seen The Tree of Life yet so I can't really say anything in that regard, and that's it. That's all there is.

  Ridley Scott
 I'm giving myself the caveat that I'm not allowed to use Alien, Blade Runner, or Thelma & Louise.
 A Movie I Like: The Duellists, or Matchstick Men.
 A Movie I Love: Believe it or not, I love the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven.
 A Movie I Hate: Hannibal. Yeah, Legend would be an easy choice, but it's at least an interesting failure. Hannibal is just terrible, and I didn't see Robin Hood or A Good Year.

  John Huston
 A Movie I Like: The African Queen, or Wise Blood. You know what? Wise Blood.
 A Movie I Love: The Man Who Would Be King.
 A Movie I Hate: This is a cop out, especially since I don't really love The Asphalt Jungle, but since Huston directed parts of Casino Royale, and since I HATE Casino Royale, there's your winner.

 Jean-Luc Godard
 A Movie I Like: Pierrot le Fou.
 A Movie I Love: Vivre Sa Vie.
 A Movie I Hate: I don't really enjoy Made in U.S.A., if only because I am a fan of the Richard Stark "Parker" novels and their adaptations (Point Blank, The Outfit, Payback), and since this one is kinda based on The Jugger but is also making fun of it, I'm not such a huge fan.

 David Lynch
 A Movie I Like: The Elephant Man. Or Lost Highway.
 A Movie I Love: Wild at Heart.
 A Movie I Hate: The easy answer would be Dune, I guess, which is kind of a mess, but in all honesty I have a hard time sitting through all of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me when I put it on. It's not a bad movie, but thoroughly unpleasant, unseemly in a way that makes Blue Velvet seem family friendly.

 Charlie Kaufman
 He only directed one movie, so this is kinda tricky. If we're expanding it to films he wrote, then that's a different story, but not by much.
 A Movie I Like: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
 A Movie I Love: Synechdoce, New York.
 A Movie I Hate: I don't hate any of them, by either measure (writer or director). If we're just going "weakest link," then it's Human Nature by process of elimination. Nothing personal, Human Nature; I like you all right.

 Bernardo Bertolucci
 A Movie I Like: 1900. Or The Dreamers.
 A Movie I Love: The Last Emperor.
 A Movie I Hate: Is Little Buddha too obvious? Because if it is, I'm not really a Last Tango in Paris fan either.

 Roman Polanski 
 Like Ridley Scott, I am purposefully removing the best known, i.e. Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Repulsion, and The Tenant.
 A Movie I Like: I am alone on this island, but The Fearless Vampire Killers.
 A Movie I Love: Knife in the Water, since I left out all of my other favorites.
 A Movie I Hate: I have more "meh's" than "hate's" here - I'm not a huge fan of Frantic, Pirates, or Bitter Moon. I have a love / hate relationship with The Ninth Gate, because it's such a great movie as it builds and builds and then just kind of peters out. There's not so much an ending as an "okay, we're done here; movie's over," which ruins the film every time I watch it.

 Jacques Tati
 A Movie I Like: Trafic.
 A Movie I Love: Play Time.
 A Movie I Hate: Again, I don't really hate any of the Monsieur Hulot films, which is the bulk of Tati's filmography. I guess of them, Mon Oncle is my least favorite, but that shouldn't reflect poorly on the film. It's like asking me which Buster Keaton film I like the least.

 Okay, so Monday we'll get back to reviews. I did see a movie about some super powered kids that wasn't "second class," per se, but could have been better than everybody seems to think it is. Not that I didn't like it, but I mean it wasn't all that, even with a cameo from the star of Baz Luhrmann's Australia (aw, who am I kidding, nobody saw that movie. I mean Australian Broadway's Oklahoma!). But I don't know if I'm going to review that yet. Nah, I don't feel like piling on the "January Jones is a terrible actress" critiques just yet. That can wait for some other time. Hrm... that means I have to find something else to review.... damn.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Very Auteurial Meme for Your Amusement.

 So there's this "movie director" meme thingy out there, making the rounds on social network sites (particularly ones with "like" buttons). The rules are actually pretty simple: someone gives you a director, and you list three movies by them: one you like, one you love, and one you hate. You can simply list the films, or provide and explanation. So far, the people I'm aware that do it have a mix of both, usually because film fans that are willing to subject a director's body of work to a like/love/hate spectrum often feel the need to clarify their choices. I know I did when trying to explain that there isn't really a Woody Allen film I hate*.

  I thought it might be fun to continue this in a non-meme format, so I asked the person who pulled the Cap'n into this to provide me with a few more directors. The Cap'n will also throw in a few, just in case nobody thinks of them. It's a fun and harmless meme, and this time I'm not going to ask anybody to do their own. You're welcome to simply enjoy and carry on doing whatever it is you do when you aren't at the Blogorium.

 We'll begin with an easy example: Robert Wise

 A Movie I Like: West Side Story.
 A Movie I Love: The Haunting (although The Day the Earth Stood Still is a close second).
 A Movie I Hate: Star Trek - The Motion Picture. The part of the title that distinguishes the film from the show is also totally inaccurate.

 Makes sense, right? Let's continue with one of the most difficult possible, a challenge I jokingly posed to Doctor Tom: Michael Bay

 A Movie I Like: Heh, in the interest of fairness, not hating The Island counts a "like," right? I also didn't hate Bad Boys 2 (but was kinda bored), so that counts, right?
 A Movie I Love: Okay, love might be overstating the case, but I can watch The Rock pretty much any time, which is more than I can say about any of Bay's other films. I do really like it, and not just as a guilty pleasure.
 A Movie I Hate: Armageddon.

Moving right along, let's try Charles Chaplin.

 A Movie I Like: I like, but don't love, A King in New York. It's fine until the very end, for similar reasons that keep me from loving The Great Dictator. I really like Monsieur Verdoux.
 A Movie I Love: Modern Times.
 A Movie I Hate: A Countess from Hong Kong.

Spike Lee

 A Movie I Like: Bamboozled, or Summer of Sam.
 A Movie I Love: Do the Right Thing.
 A Movie I Hate: I'm not a fan of Girl 6.

Werner Herzog

 A Movie I Like: Little Dieter Needs to Fly.
 A Movie I Love: Aguirre: The Wrath of God.
 A Movie I Hate: Even Dwarves Started Small. Sorry.

Terry Gilliam

 A Movie I Like: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus or Jabbewocky.
 A Movie I Love: Tough, but let's go with the outside choice - Time Bandits.
 A Movie I Hate: Nothing about The Brothers Grimm works. Nothing. Tideland is very difficult to watch, but even then I wasn't bored.

John Carpenter

 A Movie I Like: Prince of Darkness.
 A Movie I Love: Geez... The Thing. Possibly sets the bar for remakes.
 A Movie I Hate: Hands down, Ghosts of Mars, but because that's universally hated, here's a curveball - The Fog.

Mike Nichols

 A Movie I Like: Closer.
 A Movie I Love: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
 A Movie I Hate: I really dislike What Planet Are You From?

Jim Jarmusch
 A Movie I Like: Permanent Vacation.
 A Movie I Love: Ghost Dog - The Way of the Samurai.
 A Movie I Hate: The Limits of Control.

George A. Romero
 A Movie I Like: Martin.
 A Movie I Love: Night of the Living Dead.
 A Movie I Hate: The Dark Half.

Richard Linklater
 A Movie I Like: A Scanner Darkly.
 A Movie I Love: I know you're expecting Dazed, but Before Sunset.
 A Movie I Hate: Waking Life, for the same reasons I hate Slacker.

 There's not a lot of foreign representation on here, I realize, but I already used up Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luis Buñuel, and gave others Akira Kurosawa, Michel Gondry, and Takeshi Miike elsewhere. I thought about Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but I'll leave space open to expand later. Until then...

* There are Woody Allen films I don't like, but it takes a lot for me to hate something. I also try to skip out on the universally panned Allen films, so I've never seen The Curse of the Jade Scorpion or Small Time Crooks.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer Fun, Summer Pests, and the Video Daily Double!

Welcome back to another fun-filled, edu-tastic edition of the Video Daily Double. As we're in the middle of July, I thought it would be fun to share two sales films about summer related activities: fighting off insects and consuming alcohol. If only people could figure out a way to combine the two - cookouts would be perfect!

Anyway, without further ado, our short sales films for this week!


 I don't know about you guys, but our first film, Doomsday for Pests, is really enticing right now. Mosquitoes are everywhere and there's a tiny fly in Blogorium headquarters that's too small to catch. What's that you say? Oh, right. That whole DDT thing.... damn.

 Our second video, A Case for Beer (A Major Minor Dilemma), is posing as an instructional film for stores about how not to sell to underage hooligans, but let's be serious here: this is a promotional video for beer, including statistics about how important it is in households. It claims to be from the National Association of Convenience Stores, but right underneath there's a big "Under a Grant from The Falstaff Brewing Corporation." I'm not saying, I'm just saying...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Retro Review: The Crow

 I've mentioned every now and then in Retro Reviews about films that grow with you, films that you develop a relationship with over time. Some films change because of the way you see them at a particular point in life, and as you mature or experience life differently, so too does the way that film affect you. I use Dazed and Confused as a key example, because what appeals to me about Richard Linklater's film shifted over eighteen years: when I was in high school, it seemed like the ideal alternative to the boring, suburban existence the young Cap'n felt "trapped" in. I didn't appreciate that the characters felt very much the same way, because the free spirit duo of Wooderson and Slater seemed so much cooler. I wanted that experience and didn't have it like Mitch did. Over time, I came to sympathize with other characters, to the universal experience that Linklater tapped into of adolescence, and I adamantly defend Dazed and Confused from people who dismiss the film as just a "drug movie."

 It's appropriate that I bring up Dazed and Confused (instead of Blade Runner or Apocalypse Now or Citizen Kane, films that have a similar growing curve) because it was one of two VHS tapes I ended up with halfway into my freshmen year of high school. The other tape was just as important to the young Cap'n, for very different reasons, and because I loaned it to someone who I never saw again, many years passed between watching The Crow for the first, second, third, and fourth times and when I finally watched it again for the first time on DVD. They will always be linked for me because they had very distinct trajectories - Dazed and Confused I grew with; The Crow I grew out of.

  (for those of you who haven't seen it): Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) live in an apartment building where some hooligans are stirring up trouble. Their complaints bring about a personal visit from T-Bird (David Patrick Kelley), Skank (Angel David), Tin Tin (Lawrence Mason) and Funboy (Michael Massee), who break into their apartment, rape and murder Shelly, shoot Eric, and throw him out of the window. But it turns out that sometimes when a terrible event occurs, the crow who carries souls to the other side will bring that soul back to make the wrong things right (paraphrased from the film). Eric comes back as an invincible killing machine and takes the thugs on one by one, raising the ire of their boss, Big Top (Michael Wincott), and his witch girlfriend Myca (Bai Ling). With the help of Police Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) and young girl Sarah (Rochelle Davis), can Eric right the wrongs before Big Top discovers the key to his immortality?

 A very quick recap: as I mentioned in my Army of Darkness Retro Review, I wasn't allowed to see The Crow because of the "rape" part of "they raped and murdered Eric Draven's girlfriend before they shot him." When it came out on video, I watched it with my Dad, who didn't really like the movie but gave me the "ok" to rent it again if I wanted to. So while hanging out with some ne'er do-wells (one of whom was, appropriately, very much like Dazed's Slater), we went to a nearby Carbonated Video and rented Dazed and Confused and The Crow. We watched them both, howled with laughter and brooded with teenage angst, and I went home the next morning. The mistake I made was not taking the tapes with me, because the guy whose house I was at never took them back.

 The video store called us, I tried in vain to get him to return them or give them to me, and it took the better part of two months to finally wrestle the tapes away from his pot-hazed person. The clerk at the store took pity on me (and my very irritated mother) and instead of charging us the justifiably high late fees, she offered to let us buy them as "previously viewed" for $9.99 apiece. Deal. Now I had Dazed and Confused AND The Crow on VHS! Lucky me! Later on, I loaned The Crow to a kid I rode the bus with in middle school because he asked my brother if he could borrow it.

 I never saw or heard from that kid again (but I remember your name, buddy!), and The Crow receded into memory. I had the J. O'Barr graphic novel, which I would tote around school and read (although I was secretly disappointed it was different from the movie - oh, how we change...) but I don't know that I watched it again in its entirety for years. Instead, I fixated on Brandon Lee's accidental death, even printing out an article about it from microfilm in the school library (I am not making this up. To be fair, I was comparably obsessed with Kurt Cobain's suicide for roughly the same period of time). I also had a black light version of the poster. I wore a long black trench coat, listened to The Crow soundtrack (and a LOT of grunge and mope-core), and had long hair.Yeah, I was Hot Topic before Hot Topic existed.  Sigh... to be fifteen in the mid-nineties.

 When the two-disc "special edition" DVD came out, I remember I hurried out to buy it for the deleted scenes and any hint of making of's or commentaries about this enigma of a film. I'd already seen Alex Proyas' next film, Dark City which I loved (and still do, for different reasons), and I think slept through half of The Crow: City of Angels before forcing myself to finish it. It's awful. After devouring the underwhelming extras, which totally avoided talking about what anyone is interested in the film for (the adaptation or the tragedy), I decided it was time to watch The Crow again.

 Almost immediately I wished I had let the memory remain: it's not just the cliched narration with all the subtlety of a Cliff's Notes, or the "oh, we're so EEEEEEVVVVILLLLLL" bad guys, or the fact that as charismatic as Brandon Lee was, even he couldn't sell the lines "Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children. Do you understand? Morphine is bad for you. Your daughter is out there on the streets waiting for you."The only thing that didn't make me cringe was Ernie Hudson's line "well, at least he didn't do that walking against the wind shit, I hate that" and Draven's Jesus joke. The shotgun full of wedding rings? The knife fight? Bai Ling? Yikes. Even Blogorium favorite Michael Wincott doesn't walk out without stinking.

 Since The Crow is now pressing forward with a remake (or re-adaptation, if you will) starring Bradley Cooper (Limitless, The Hangover) in the title role, it feels appropriate to revisit the film, but I still have trouble getting far into the movie. I don't feel one way or the other about it being remade, because I've moved so far away from the angst that connected me to O'Barr's graphic novel and Proyas' film. I was embarrassed that I embraced such a brooding, ridiculous film that frequently borders on parodic, a film that in retrospect is fitting of such terrible sequels as City of Angels, Salvation, and Wicked Prayer.

 What's funny is that this clarity reminds me of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a book (and movie) that seems to be universally loathed by female friends of mine, but that I loved. It perfectly captures the mentality of a fifteen year old boy, one who feels the whole world is out to get him and wants to lash out in any way he can. Harry Potter would read The Crow in Order of the Phoenix and love it. It offers isolation, rage, feelings of being wronged, and the violence to retaliate towards those who wronged you. It's perfect for that age, and if you haven't been a fifteen year old boy, I can see why Order of the Phoenix might rub you the wrong way. I can also totally understand why I was attracted to (and grew away from) The Crow, and I don't know if I want or need to go back any more. Sometimes you grow with the movie. Sometimes you grow apart. The Crow and I grew apart. We're not angry at each other or anything, it's just a mutual "yeah, that didn't really pan out, did it?" It happens.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blogorium Review: The Adjustment Bureau

 It hasn't been the best movie year on record, gang: oh sure, there have been some bright spots (Bridesmaids, Super) with a few pretty good-but-not-great movies (Thor, Paul, Drive Angry) and a bunch of movies that looked promising and then weren't (Hobo with a Shotgun, The Mechanic). The Cap'n avoided loud clunkers like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Green Lantern, both of which seem to be not-that-well-regarded but still made plenty of money with their 3-D gimmickery. It's nice when you find a movie that had a reasonably large budget from a major studio that happens to actually be pretty damn good. It's even better when that film falls into the classification of Science Fiction, and if you're lucky enough to find one that's a Philip K. Dick adaptation that doesn't suck, you've hit the jackpot. Thankfully, George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau is well written, well acted, and almost not goofy. In fact, it's only goofy in one regard that I'm willing to overlook because it was so nice to see a film that takes its premise seriously.

 David Norris (Matt Damon) is a New York Congressman on the rise, and on the night his Senatorial run fails, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a dancer and generally free-spirit. Their chance encounter paves the way for another chance encounter on a bus several months later, which draws the attention of The Adjustment Bureau. You see, David was never supposed to see Elise again, and because Harry (Anthony Mackie), one of the members of the Bureau, failed to redirect Norris, the young political player is going off of his plan. The Bureau, under the leadership of the Chairman, has a plan for humanity and works behind the scenes to ensure that things stay according to plan. When David accidentally walks in on one of their "adjustments," Richardson (John Slattery) levels with Norris and lets him go on two conditions: he never tells anyone about the Bureau and he ceases to have any contact with Elise. When David ignores the second condition, Richardson is forced to turn over the case to Thompson (Terence Stamp), nicknamed "The Hammer" for his blunt approaches to disruptions.

 Typically, in a high concept movie like this, writers fall prey to one of two mistakes: they over-explain the machinations of the plot to the audience, or they feel the need for the "Everyman" protagonist to ridicule the concept of the film. Thankfully, Nolfi (who adapted the screenplay from Dick's short story "Adjustment Team") avoids both traps and treats the ambiguous nature of the Bureau with respect. Aside from a minor series of implications that link the Bureau to a religious understanding of fate (one of which is similar in nature to Wim Wender's Wings of Desire), Nolfi doesn't demean the mysterious nature of the group or undermine it by making jokes. While we never see the Chairman, there is a clear hierarchy within the Bureau and part of Richardson's failure to contain Norris comes from the fact that he doesn't have the answers that might stop the whole mess.

 Beyond the concept of the Bureau itself, the only other overtly "sci-fi" concept in the film (which could otherwise be classified as a thriller) is the agents' ability to use doorways to create shortcuts through New York (where the film takes place), and when the time comes for David to try this out, other than a brief explanation of how to do it (and that you need a Bureau member's hat), Nolfi (who wrote Ocean's Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum) resists the urge to tell. Instead, he shows. The audience needs only to keep up to understand the film, which is refreshing. If, for some reason, you're worried that The Adjustment Bureau is another multi-layered maze like Inception, John and Jane Q. Public, fear not - the film is smart, but not too demanding of your precious brain cells.

 Sorry. That was rude. I want to convey that The Adjustment Bureau is neither overly complicated nor needlessly simplified. It exists somewhere in that space between, where both sides of the spectrum can avoid being insulted or confused. You will be entertained, and hopefully feel relieved that a film about a mysterious organization who controls the destiny of mankind doesn't need to have a kung-fu fight every twenty minutes. Since I can count on one hand the number of Philip K. Dick adaptations that take his work seriously and don't become, oh, Impostor, or Total Recall*, it was nice to see something with a "based on" that didn't make me sad. To be fair, I haven't read "Adjustment Team," so Nolfi may have actually screwed the pooch, and the Cap'n may have to reassess the film down the line. In the meantime, I rather enjoyed it.

 As a final note, while I don't have anything particularly noteworthy to add about Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, or John Slattery's performances (they're all fine and do the story justice), it was nice to see Terence Stamp actually be an imposing presence again. Not since The Limey has Stamp really carried much authority in his characters, and Thompson provides him a character with which to be both menacing but also subtle. He doesn't have to do much to demonstrate to David that he's a serious threat, and that was refreshing since I've only been able to think of him in The Haunted Mansion lately for some reason.

 Oh, by the way, what does the "Q" stand for, Mr. and Mrs. (or is is Ms.?) Public? Inquiring me's want to know.

 * Not that I don't like Total Recall, but the movie and "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" are two very different things.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Eh, it's appropriate Trailer Sunday

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blogorium Review: Land of the Lost

 Was it just me, or did people not really want to see Land of the Lost when it came out in 2009? The ads looked terrible, it came at a time when TV shows were being cannibalized left and right for PG-13 movies I didn't see (falling between Bewitched and The A-Team, chronologically*), and I promptly forgot that it existed. Despite generally enjoying Will Ferrell and Danny McBride, I guess it just seemed like a toothless, "safe" comedy designed to be kid friendly enough to appeal to everybody. How wrong I was, on every count.

 Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is a paleontologist experimenting with the possibility of exploring other dimensions by accelerating tachyon fields when the scientific community (and Today Show host Matt Lauer) soundly reject his theories. After three years of toiling in obscurity, Cambridge PhD candidate Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) approaches Marshall about his invention, designed to create bridges between realities, and the beleaguered scientist reluctantly agrees to a "field test" at a roadside attraction called Devil's Cave. Their guide, Will Stanton (Danny McBride) finds himself dragged along to another dimension where all times exist concurrently, a land of the lost, and without Marshall's invention, they appear to be trapped. Can Marshall, Will, and Holly find a way back home? Will a tenacious T-Rex make a meal out of Rick? And what about Chaka (Jorma Taccone), a primate that seems to run when anything gets dangerous? Or those Sleestaks, whose leader Enik (John Boylan) promises to help them escape? 

 I'm not really sure what I was expecting when putting on Brad Silberling's big-screen version of Land of the Lost, a cult 70s show from Sid and Marty Krofft (who also produced the film). To be honest with you, I was never a regular viewer of the Krofft output: H.R. Puf 'n Stuff was a little before my time, and I can't honestly tell you that I've ever seen Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. If Land of the Lost ever aired on USA, there's an off chance I watched it sandwiched in between Lost in Space and that show about scientists in a land of giants (called, appropriately, Land of the Giants). Other than knowing what a Sleestak was, that Chaka was something's name, and a joke in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back about Will Ferrell's character name (U.S. Marshal Willenholly), I wouldn't call myself knowledgeable about Land of the Lost.

 It turns out that this isn't really important, since the show is basically a back drop for jokes that constantly push the boundaries of a PG-13 rating. Perhaps because I wasn't attached to the original show, goofy references like the theme song didn't bother me so much, and instead I focused on the character interaction, which made the movie for me. If the film is funny, I tend to overlook silly or obvious moments and enjoy the actors. Land of the Lost has plenty to enjoy. it turns out, and the actors are a big component.

 Will Ferrell is somewhere between his over-the-top parts in Talladega Nights and his really-low-key roles in Stranger Than Fiction or Winter Passing, and as a result Rick Marshall seems to be both goofy and credible as a scientist. I've never seen Pushing Daisies, but apparently Anna Friel was on the show and has quite a following, and she was a very endearing Holly, a character you need to believe is smart enough to hold her own but young enough to look up to Rick Marshall. Danny McBride is a dialed-back version of his "likable asshole" character type, but his everyman Will has many of the best lines, particularly a running gag about how nonchalant Rick and Holly are about seeing dinosaurs, giant bugs, and Chaka.

 Oh, and then there's Chaka, a make or break "comic relief" character played by an unrecognizable Jorma Taccone (The Lonely Island / director of MacGruber). I had no idea who Chaka was until the end of the film, but I somehow doubt the character was this sleazy on the show. Chaka fixates on Holly's breasts, and most of the running gags that don't involve him betraying Rick at a critical juncture seem to involve finding ways for Taccone to grope Friel in inappropriate ways. Even a "characters accidentally get high" scene that seems to be par the course for comedies these days works because Ferrell, McBride, and Taccone sell a cliche until you're laughing along with them.

 Maybe Land of the Lost caught me in just the right way, but there's filthy fun to be had in this movie that I wasn't prepared for. Other than one enthusiastic recommendation from a friend, I'd heard almost no one mention Land of the Lost in any capacity, so the movie's decidedly kid un-friendly tone caught me off guard in a very good way. This is absolutely not the kind of flick you want to show around the little ones, unless you like saying "never repeat that" or "cover your eyes" for large chunks of the movie. They manage to get as close to an "R" rating as you possibly can without going all the way over, which is to the film's benefit.

 This may also be why Land of the Lost failed to connect with an audience, though. It was sold as family friendly, accentuating the Matt Lauer cameo and creating a sensation that Will Ferrell was playing his "idiot blowhard" persona, typecasting the film as something it really isn't on any account. Families would be turned off, Ferrell fans probably didn't tune in because of the PG-13 (which likely also turned off Eastbound and Down McBride fans), so nobody turned up. Fans of the show probably didn't see much that interested them, so who was left to see Land of the Lost? Director Brad Silberling doesn't exactly inspire confidence, considering that Casper and City of Angels are on his resume. The only film I've seen of his I even liked was Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I appear to be in the minority in that category. Land of the Lost never really had a chance...

 Two years later, it doesn't appear to be well liked on the Tomatometer and has middling reviews on IMDB. It's a shame, because I feel like Land of the Lost missed its audience, and people who would enjoy the film are going to be hard pressed to believe something that looks so stupid is actually very funny. Maybe this review is a helpful first step, but I sense it's an uphill battle to turn around the perception that Land of the Lost is anything other than lousy. Give it a shot, especially if you like Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Pushing Daisies**, or The Lonely Island. It's smarter than it looks, funnier than it appears, and more enjoyable than you'll want to admit.

 * I chose those two at random, but in terms of when they were made as shows and as movies, Land of the Lost falls between both of them. Weird.
** That's really a guess on my part, but I didn't want to leave Anna Friel out. She's a big component of why the film works.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blogorium Review: Crimewave

 Crimewave is not what one would call a "good" movie. It lacks consistency in tone, the lead protagonists are milquetoast (at best), and many of what I presume to be jokes fall flat, especially in the beginning. Generally speaking, there's a reason that Sam Raimi fans aren't aware of (or haven't seen) his follow-up to The Evil Dead, and not just because it isn't readily available in the U.S.: it's a tough nut to crack, and only the most devoted fans of  Raimi and the Coen brothers - who co-wrote the script - are going to want to give it a go. That said, the film has some quirks that I rather enjoyed; small touches that at least place Crimewave in the fairer category of "interesting failure."

 Okay, bear with me here - the synopsis sounds more complicated than it is, something that should be familiar to most fans of Joel and Ethan Coen: Victor Ajax (Reed Birney) is on death row for his involvement in a crime spree in a one-block area of Detroit, Michigan, along with some highway chicanery and murder. Except that Vic didn't do any of it: his bosses, Ernest Trend (Edward R. Pressman) and Donald Odegard (Hamid Dana) are feuding over the control of their security company, and when Odegard makes a deal to sell the property to Renaldo "The Heel" (Bruce Campbell), Trend decides its in his wife's best interest to kill Odegard. He hires Faron Crush (Paul Smith) and Arthur Coddish (Brion James), exterminators who work "in all sizes" to take out Odegard, but ends up their victim as well, and Helene Trend (Louise Lasser), who saw the whole thing from her apartment across the street, becomes their next target. Meanwhile, Vic is trying to win over Nancy (Sheree J. Wilson), the girl of his dreams, but she happens to be with Renaldo. Madness ensues.

 What I told you amounts to maybe the first ten minutes of this 83 minute movie, which rushes to put every piece of the mousetrap in place, and then hits the switch to see what happens next. The madcap tone of the film, likely inspired by Raimi and the Coen's love of Preston Sturges films, really doesn't gel early on, even if everyone behaves as though it does. Paul Smith's voice is clearly dubbed, and whether Brion James dubbed his over later or not, they have an intentionally cartoony sound that is, at best, a little jarring for the first few scenes. The film is too cartoonish at times and morbidly comedic in others. Meanwhile, Reed Birney is playing Vic as the straight and narrow schlub while Sheree Wilson seems disinterested for the first half of the movie. Only Louise Lasser and Bruce Campbell really give it 110% for the entirety of the film, which is good for Helene Trend but bad for Renaldo, who is at best an extended cameo*. More of a problem is the uneven sense of setting in the film.

 Crimewave seems to occupy a time stranded between the 1940s and the 1980s, so much so that until one gets one's bearings, the movie can be awfully confusing. At first, the dialogue, costumes, and tone seem to indicate a period film - to be specific, a screwball comedy of the mid-forties. Then we find out that Vic's job at Trend & Odegard security is to install security cameras, which he is happily putzing about doing in the apartment building where the Trends live (conveniently across the hall from Nancy. The cameras are late 70s, early 80s models (I have one that looks a lot like the kind Vic is installing), and when he wanders down into the street, he's nearly run over by a 40s-style pesticide truck, but across the street are a very modern (for 1985) tow truck and "the classic," Raimi's Oldsmobile Delta 88, seen in all of his films somewhere. It's hard to call it anachronistic, because the streets look like Detroit in the 1980s while the characters speak and dress like post-war artifacts but seem comfortable in the never-never-land of the film.

 With that in mind, there are a number of small touches in the film that stick with you, in a good way. There's a wonderful chase down "The Parade of Protection: the Safest Hallway in the World" between Helene and Faron that's visually dynamic and isn't likely an image you'll forget soon. The exterminators, once you get past the artificiality of their voices, infuse the film with a number of silly moments: the setting for their rat electrocution device includes "Men" and "Heroes," there's a moment where Faron pulls up the carpet in the Trend apartment and literally drags it (and Helene) towards him, and the back-and-forth between the killers and the landlord Mr. Yarman (John Hardy) is a highlight. Brion James (Blade Runner) has some time to shine during a third act car chase, and again, I'm going to mention Campbell's Renaldo, who is so proud of being a heel that he wonders why people think it's a bad thing.

 Watching Crimewave in conjunction with The Hudsucker Proxy - which the Coens and Raimi all wrote around the same time - explains both films' idiosyncrasies; both are products of young filmmakers, working through a laundry list of disparate influences**, synthesized into movies that did little for audiences and only really appeal to their most ardent supporters. Hudsucker is easily the more successful of the two, but Joel and Ethan Coen had an additional nine years (and four films) to hone their skills while Raimi was coming off of The Evil Dead four years prior. Raimi famously disowned Crimewave after producers Edward R. Pressman and Irvin Shapiro removed his editor Kaye Davis and composer Joe LoDuca, and the film has wallowed in a sort of limbo ever since. There are touches of Sam Raimi in the film, although one could argue there's almost as much in Crimewave that would remind you of Raising Arizona as there is the man who would eventually direct Spider-Man.

 Ultimately, Crimewave is something of a curio, a film that never quite finds its footing, that never connects the way it wants to. Moments of ingenuity sneak through, and in small touches, there's probably enough there to recommend the film to the Raimi and Coen camps, but don't expect a hidden gem. At best, it's a nice piece of cubic zirconium, sitting at the bottom of a dusty drawer. Sometimes, there's a reason you haven't heard about it.

 * Raimi originally wrote the film with Campbell as Vic Ajax, which honestly makes much more sense. Birney lacks charisma, reminding me as his best of a pale Joe Pantoliano replica, and has no chemistry whatsoever with Wilson.
** By the way, Vic is sentenced to be executed at Hudsucker State Penitentiary.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Wonderful World of Video Daily Doubles!

 Welcome back, my happy cats and kittens, to another ad-tacular edition of the Video Daily Double. We're continuing our sales and industrial films summer with two movies I just had to share with you, one of which was the reason I transitioned from viral clips to vintage educational films in the first place. The other one is, well, a product of its time, and I can't imagine what they really thought viewers would get out of it. It is fun to watch, so there's that.

 On to the selling, buying, and sell-in's!


 Our first film, Freeze-In, is a bit of a cheat. It wasn't shown to sell people Kenmore freezers, but to educate employees of Sears how to sell the freezer to you (hence the warning at the beginning). Let's see how well that worked for employees, customers, or well, anyone.

 Our second film, The Wonderful World of Tupperware, is something I've been looking for since I first saw the short (along with Keep Off the Grass) on Turner Classic Movies Underground. Now we all know how great Tupperware is, but let's check it out before we go buy some more, eh?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Retro Review: Dude, Where's My Car?

  I've seen Dude, Where's My Car? once. That's it. Every time I see Ashton Kutcher and Sean William Scott together on television, I change the channel. I have no desire to ever watch Dude, Where's My Car again, no matter how many people of the marijuana-friendly persuasion suggest that I give it another chance. The story of how I came to loathe Dude, Where's My Car? is not a new one in the Blogorium, but perhaps this will be the complete story that allows me to put it to bed.

  At the time that Dude, Where's My Car? opened (December of 2000), I had already left the movie theatre I worked at and was working for a shipping company (if it helps, it's the competitor to the one Tom Hanks works for in Cast Away), and it was routinely kicking my ass five days a week after the relatively cushy projectionist job I was used to*. During the week, I really didn't want to do much of anything before going into work at 9 and after leaving at 3 a.m. However, I still had an "in" with the assistant managers at the old movie theatre, and this is where the Cranpire enters the story.

 I bring him up because he's not going to care much, and he's central to why I went to said movie theatre before work one night to see a movie I didn't want to see. Cranpire wanted to see Dude, Where's My Car?, and he doggedly pursued talking me into going with him so that he didn't see it alone. Why? I'm not sure. Odds are he can fill in that detail in the comments, but I went along with him (in his car, and that's important), got us in for free, and we plopped down in the auditorium to watch two stoners who lose their car and repeat lines ad nauseum.

 There were two other people in the auditorium: a pair of giggling teenage girls who thought Kutcher was "totally cute" or something like that. Really, they just giggled a lot - in fact, they giggled at everything in the movie, which probably would have driven the Cranpire to make some horribly offensive comment, had he ever heard them giggling. But he didn't, because Cranpire fell asleep.

 Memory tends to work in funny ways, so it retroactively makes sense this would happen - he subsequently slept through The Man Who Wasn't There and... something else. There were three movies that he went out to the theatre for and simply nodded off, but to me Dude, Where's My Car? was the most infamous.

 He may have made it through the trailers, he may not; it's hard to say because I didn't notice he'd nodded off until I was trying to salvage my disinterest in Danny Leiner and Phillip Stark's lame alien abduction / implied pot head comedy. I don't even remember IF there were jokes about getting high because as the inanity piled up, so too did my rage level at being talked into coming to see a movie I didn't want to see with someone who wasn't even awake to watch it. Worse still, I couldn't leave the auditorium with the giggling girls and the sleeping Cranpire because he drove and he drove a manual, which I couldn't drive. I was stuck there, trying to find any way to make a movie I already didn't like bearable before going to work and getting the hell beaten out of me.

 The kicker is that as the ending credits started rolling, like clockwork, Cranpire woke up. He missed the entire movie but had the impeccable timing to wake up just as the narrative itself was over and done with. Needless to say, I broke my usual rule of staying through the credits (a holdover from film classes in college) and he dropped me off at home so I could head to work.

 I've had no desire to watch the film since, and as the years pass, I remember less and less about the film. There was something about giant alien women and necklaces that grow their girlfriends' breasts, but what really sticks is the repeating of lines over and over again. "What does mine say?" "Dude. What does mine say?" "Sweet, what does MINE SAY?!" etc. As I understand it, Cranpire saw the film again sometime later with some other friends, and they loved it. It has been posited to me that I, in fact, saw the film with friends in Greensboro when I know that could not be the case. I saw Dude, Where's My Car? once. That's it, and that's what it's going to be. I give a lot of movies second (and third and fourth) chances, but not this one. It's not up for revisiting any time soon, and probably never.

 * Yes, this may sound contradictory to a prior Adventure in Projectioneering, but believe me when I say that as busy as I was juggling sixteen screens, it was nothing compared to five hours of non-stop boxes hurling into a truck from Monday to Friday. I wrecked both of my ankles, my left knee, and my back during the year-and-a-half I worked at said shipping company.

Monday, July 11, 2011

News and Notes (and a Little Spillover from Saturday's Rambling Rant)

 - Well, if somebody was going to remake Oldboy - and that's an inevitability given the quality of the film and the hesitancy of Americans to watch films with subtitles - I, for one, am glad to hear that Spike Lee is the man behind the camera. Not to speak ill of Steven Spielberg, but the only movie he's been involved with in the last twenty years even close to the grittiness of Oldboy was Munich, and I have no idea how he would have handled the, ahem, twists and turns of the film.

 Spike Lee, on the other hand, is going to bring something to an American version of Oldboy that is going to be fresh and unexpected. That's one of the things I love about Spike Lee films, which are criminally under-represented here in the Blogorium. I'll have to fix that. In the hands of anyone else, a movie like Inside Man could be just another generic heist / cops and robbers film, but Lee infuses it with personality, keeps the stakes up, makes the film interesting. And that's arguably as "mainstream" or "slick" as a Spike Lee Joint ever got. I'm actually very excited to see what he does with the material, and in the meanwhile Park Chan-Wook's first English language film is also on its way. Next year could be very intriguing indeed.

- Speaking of remakes, I really don't understand this next one. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a genuinely compelling documentary about a subject you'd never think would be worth spending 90 minutes with - the high score of Donkey Kong. Watch it on Netflix right now - it's available for instant viewing. I'll wait right here.

 See? I was surprised too, and I went into it with more than a passing interest in arcade games. The director of the film, Seth Gordon, who is out promoting his new film Horrible Bosses, mentioned to Playlist that New Line is planning on remaking The King of Kong, but as a mockumentary, ala The Office or Christopher Guest's films.

 This doesn't make sense at all; if you're going into The King of Kong looking to laugh at the awkwardness of two guys jockeying for the position of "all time high score in Donkey Kong," it's not like you won't find that in the movie itself. There's no need to remake the film in order to further mock Donkey Kong enthusiasts, and it overlooks what The King of Kong does so well in the first place: it takes Billy Mitchell (the champion) and Steve Wiebe (the challenger) and over the course of the film creates a "David vs. Goliath" struggle over something as trivial as an arcade game. And you're swept up in it, because it's important to them and Gordon conveys that clearly.

 If you make it a mockumentary, then Billy Mitchell might as well be played like Ben Stiller in Dodgeball. And that's probably how they're going to approach it. But why? Is New Line convinced that if they put out a movie that people can easily find, but sell the same premise as a "look at these losers" comedy instead of a documentary, that this is somehow preferable? That it's somehow going to bring out people who didn't see The King of Kong in the first place?

- This is probably the most trivial thing I've never understood about geekdom, but I left it off of Saturday's piece because it isn't just geeks that do this. When the time comes for the newest sequel or entry into a franchise (Harry Potter, Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Bourne films), people come flooding into used stores looking for the other films. Now, I understand this - it makes sense to want to re-watch the last chapter before jumping in. If that were strictly the case, I could totally overlook how silly it is to wait until the week before the movie comes out to come rushing in (when we are invariably sold out because people who have the foresight to plan ahead have beaten them to the punch). But that's actually less of the case than one would think.

 I worked at a used book store from 2006-2009, and when, let's say, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince came out, people came rushing in not only for copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but for ALL five movies that preceded Half Blood Prince. Because they wanted to start the series (for themselves or with their kids) three days before the next film opened. The books, I totally understood, because you have plenty of time to sit down with them, so when The Deathly Hallows arrived (the only book our store ever ordered new), it made sense we'd run out of previous chapters. Trying to cram the first five Potter movies into three days in order to not feel "left out" of the pop culture phenomenon of this weekend is asinine. Getting angry because you lack the sense to consider finding these movies when they were readily available and not waiting until everyone else on Earth is also looking for them is not my fault. People would freak out at us because we were sold out, as was every big box retail store, all because they waited and waited and waited and now it's too late.

 The same thing happened with The Bourne Ultimatum, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Spider-Man 3, Ocean's Thirteen, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Dark Knight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and perhaps the greatest exercise in futility with a week to go - The X-Files: I Want to Believe. No, really; someone tried to find every season of The X-Files in order to "catch up" in time for the movie.

 I haven't ever understood this mentality and I can't imagine I ever will. It's true that the Cap'n has been known to wait to close to the last minute to finish projects, but when it comes to getting "caught up," especially in pop culture, if I don't have the time to do it or haven't planned ahead to do so, I'm not going to try to cram it in at the last second to be a part of the herd in theatres. I can wait, which is admittedly a rarity in this instance, but it beats the aggravation of knowing I waited too long.

 - I'm not sure when the world became so sick of pre-movie trailers on DVD and Blu-Ray. That includes me, by the way; when I see anything other than the menu for the movie I want to watch come up, the Cap'n instinctively hits the "skip" button, and grouses when the disc is encoded to prevent skipping. I can't remember the last time I watched the previews before a DVD or BD. I attribute this to two main causes: 1) most of the time people watching a disc at home are watching a movie they've seen before, or are at least keen on getting to before the distractions kick in, and 2) many of the trailers are for movies we've already seen advertised dozens of time, or are for movies that have been out almost as long as the disc we're watching.

 Universal tried to do something novel and prompts online streaming of new trailers before your film (and the dozens of legal mumbo jumbo) begins, but I usually skip that too. I want to watch the movie, and even the novelty of Anchor Bay's trailer programming - which focuses on catalog titles that someone might enjoy if they like this movie - is seen as an impediment.

 I bring this up because it's something very different (at least for me) when it comes to VHS. While fast-forwarding through the trailers is something I'll sometimes consider doing, the trailers in front of movies I've looked at recently on video have been more like an archeological expedition, full of fun discoveries, than a nuisance. A tape I was looking at for a film called Drive-In Massacre begins with a trailer for Another State of Mind, a punk documentary along the lines of The Decline of Western Civilization. I didn't know Another State of Mind existed, so it was a pleasant discovery and now I have another movie to look into. That a punk doc appeared before a schlock-o-rama horror movie is one of the charms of VHS that didn't seem to carry over into the digital realm. However, it's not the "retro" quality that drives this cognitive dissonance; after all, I own several DVDs that are nothing BUT trailers. I just can't quite decide why so many of us are impatient with the oldest form of exposing ourselves to other movies.