Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Signs

 There ARE aliens invading Earth, but they're stupid aliens. Why? In their infinite wisdom, they decided to conquer a planet comprised of the one weakness they have: water. Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, and kids defeat one of the aliens with a glass of water. Oh, and then Phoenix, a failed baseball player, beats the alien to death with his baseball bat. Who needs germs when you have baseball bats?

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Knowing

Drive Happy with the Summer's Last Video Daily Double!

 Good day to all of my favorite Educationeers! Welcome back to the Video Daily Double. Today is our final installment of the Summer Sales Film series, and I thought it was only fair to go back to where we started and look at some vintage auto sales films. There are more car sales films than just about anything else out there, so I found two of my favorites to share with you today.

 Oh, who can wait? Make with the car buying!!!


 Our first film, Ingenuity in Action, is a film designed to sell the appeal of Hot Rods and the people who race them. Those whacky Hotrodders!

Our second film, Achievement U.S.A., is a film about how great General Motors is doing in 1955. They're doing so well, they'll have a parade in Flint, Michigan! Don't you want to be part of the parade? Yes, you do!

 Thanks for watching the Summer Sales Film series! We'll be back next week with some behavioral modificat- er, educational films. Yeah, that's the ticket...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Retro Review: The Blair Witch Project and Book of Shadows - Blair Witch 2

 At this point, it's been so long since The Blair Witch Project came out that people have by and large forgotten all about the film. Considering that we're still feeling the impact of "found footage" movies, including no less than three that I can name released in the U.S. this year (The Troll Hunter, [REC]2, and the upcoming Apollo 18). That's not including [REC], Quarantine, Diary of the Dead, Paranormal Activity 1 and 2, The Last Exorcism, Cloverfield, The Zombie Diaries and The Poughkeepsie Tapes. These are, in one form or another, the offspring of The Blair Witch's Projects success; a low-budget horror film passed along like an urban legend until it was time to explode in the mainstream. It captured the zeitgeist at a time when horror was winding down from self-referential Scream knockoffs, and scared the hell out of a lot of people.

 And then there was that second film. Yeah, I don't blame you for not remembering Book of Shadows.

 Back to the success story - The Blair Witch Project was a movie I'd hear about long before I saw it. In 1999, the internet was agog about this "found footage" of three film students making a documentary in Burkittsville, Maryland about the "Blair Witch" legend. Something went horribly wrong and they were never heard from again. In fact, I bet you remember the tagline:

 In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary...A year later their footage was found.

  Very few people knew who Daniel Myrick and Eduardo S├ínchez were, and since The Blair Witch Project ended without credits, there was good reason to perpetuate the myth that this WAS "found footage" and not a horror movie designed to make you think it was real. By the time it opened wide in the U.S. (in the summer of 1999), internet savvy geeks already knew it wasn't (online critics love to be the people who have the "scoop" that shows the seams of an illusion), but there were plenty of "John and Jane Moviegoer"'s who didn't know. I was taking some summer classes at N.C. State, and there was a guy in one of the poetry classes that I overheard talking about having a bootlegged copy of the film. A clerk at Schoolkids Music claimed it had already been in "secret" screenings in Raleigh when I purchased the soundtrack (containing footage from the film as part of a CD-ROM feature). I always seemed to be one step behind The Blair Witch Project.

 And then it opened at The Rialto, and the next part is not going to endear the Cap'n to theatre owners. I can only say that it's something I did once and never again, and not something I would do again. Some friends were in town to see The Blair Witch Project with the Cap'n and friends, and the midnight showing was SOLD OUT. But we needed to see that showing of the film, so while standing in front of the vacant box office, we noticed that instead of using special tickets, The Rialto (at the time) had the kind of tickets one could purchase at, say, an Office Max. So we maybe kind of bought a roll of tickets from Office Max, tore five off, and got in line early. And it worked. It was a shitty thing to do, but it's the kind of thing you'll do at twenty to see the movie everyone wants to see. Our ruse wasn't a total success, as before the film started the manager came out to say that he knew some people got in when they weren't supposed to, and we shrunk in our seats a little. The moral of the story is don't do this, kids - you'll feel shitty about it twelve years later.

 The movie? Well, if you were old enough to see it in 1999, then you already know what The Blair Witch Project is like. It's a nice setup, a whole lot of pointless bickering, some carnival tricks to rattle you, and a baffling ending that's really only effective with an audience willing to be scared shitless already. The reason that nobody remembers The Blair Witch Project is that when people know it's a film and are watching it at home with no suspension of disbelief or desire to really let the adrenaline take over, the film is a total bore. There's virtually no rewatchability to The Blair Witch Project, and other films have taken the crude elements and refined them with less believable but more effective narratives and gimmickry. The success of Paranormal Activity is in large part a reflection of how much it borrowed from The Blair Witch Project in publicity and execution (appropriately ten years later, following an excessive cycle of gory horror films often lumped together under the moniker "torture porn").

 By the time that Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 came out, nobody was that interested in the film anymore. The curtain had been lifted, the actors done the publicity rounds, and the directors moved on to make... well, not much for seven years. They didn't even want to make Book of Shadows, and instead acted as executive producers for new director Joe Berlinger, a documentary filmmaker best known for the Paradise Lost films about the West Memphis Three. Book of Shadows was Berlinger's first (and, as far as I can tell, last) narrative feature, which he co-wrote with Dick Beebe (the House on Haunted Hill remake). It attempted to look at the Blair Witch phenomenon, but quickly devolved into a terrible movie about possession, murder, and surveillance footage wrapped up in a pale Rashomon "multiple perspective story" mold.

 It took quite a while for me to muster up any memories about Book of Shadows, which should give you some idea how forgettable the film is. Until I looked it up, I'd completely forgotten that it involved two different "Blair Witch" tours in Burkittsville or that one ended up butchered and everyone else went to a house with excessive closed circuit cameras. I vaguely remembered people being picked off and someone being accused of being the witch, as well as stock stereotypes of Wiccans, Goth Chicks, hippies (?), and mentally unstable characters.

 Looking at the film from a distance, it's kind of funny how many people I recognize for roles they took after Book of Shadows: Jeffrey Donovan is now better known for being the lead on Burn Notice, Kim Director worked with Spike Lee before and after the film, and Erica Leerhsen played virtually the same role in the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Only Tristen Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner haven't done anything I noticed since 2000. Oh, and there's that Kurt Loder guy; wasn't he in Get Him to the Greek or something?

 While it should come as no surprise to people that I saw a movie with Cranpire where he fell asleep, I can't honestly fault him for nodding off during a late showing of Book of Shadows. There's nothing in the movie worth staying awake for, and I think he got more out of the nap than I did the movie. The only other fun tidbit is that when the DVD came out, Artisan was desperate for a gimmick, so they tried a variation on the "flipper" disc: on one side, the movie; the other had the soundtrack. The problem was that the disc was often too heavy for CD players and when it wasn't, the film portion scratched easily, meaning you could never sell the damned thing when you got bored of having it around. And yet, I suspect if you go anywhere with used DVDs, you'll find a copy of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 in the "three for $1" bin. It's still not worth it.

Spoiler of the Day:The Forgotten

 Julianne Moore's son was abducted by aliens, who are conducting an experiment on human bonding. That's the reason only everyone else thinks her son never existed. Aliens. The title is appropriate because it's exactly what you'll do after you've seen the film, until someone (like the Cap'n) says "aliens did it." Because aliens did it, just like in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

 Speaking of which...

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Signs

Monday, August 29, 2011

Blogorium Review: Fast Five

 Will wonders never cease? It turns out that Fast Five is even better than Fast & Furious, a movie I was pleasantly surprised with. The racing shenanigans are further toned down, mostly replaced with some clever (if absurd) chase scenes, more action, and the structure of a heist film. Oh, and there's the ace up Fast Five's sleeve: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who injects an adrenaline rush into an already testosterone laden explosion fest.

 After breaking Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of prison, Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) are on the run from the law. They meet up with Dom and old partner in crime Vince (Matt Schulze) in Rio de Janeiro, where Vince has an offer from some quick cash on a car heist. Things go wrong when Zizi (Michael Irby), an associate of Rio crime lord Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) betrays them and kills federal agents aboard the train being robbed. Now Brian, Dom, and Mia have Reyes' men on their tail, as well as Rio officer Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky) and DSS Special Agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson). The clock is ticking, and they need to settle the score in Rio before Hobbs tracks them down - but they can't do it alone. To steal $100 million from Reyes, they'll need a team...

 If you somehow haven't heard anything about Fast Five, the most critically well received and highest grossing of the series to date, Dwayne Johnson isn't the only attraction for audiences. The team that Dom and Brian assemble includes cast members from every previous film in the series: Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) from 2 Fast 2 Furious; Han Lue (Sung Kang) from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift; Gisele Harabo (Gal Gadot), Tego Leo (Tejo Calderon) and Don Omar (Don Omar) from Fast & Furious, and the aforementioned Vince (Schulze) from The Fast and the Furious. Each member of the team has a specific function in the heist, and their interaction provides a much needed comic relief between car chases and fight scenes. Brewster and Gadot, in particular, have more to do than be concerned window dressing for the manly men than they did in Fast & Furious.

  While Fast & Furious was very much Vin Diesel's show, rightfully so considering he was returning to the series, Fast Five's appeal belongs as much to Dwayne Johnson as it does to the original bad boy. Johnson has the better entrance, the better lines, and the better chase scene. His team is more lethal, better organized, and nearly take down the "heroes" on more than one occasion during the film, and they handle a late ambush without hesitation.

 Johnson is almost cartoonishly muscular in the film, just barely squeezing into the five-sizes-too-small t-shirts, a contrast to Diesel's loosely fitting t-shirts and wife-beaters. Their fight scene doesn't disappoint: from the moment that Hobbs destroys Dom's car and then slams his head into what's left of it, it's clear they're evenly matched and the ensuing brawl does justice to both larger-than-life action stars. It makes sense, considering that Diesel and Johnson of them have been away from the genre for a while (both, at times, with Disney, in The Pacifier and The Tooth Fairy respectively).

 As heists go, I'll give Fast Five credit for not trying to reinvent the wheel or out-think themselves. There's only one piece of misdirection, and I have to admit that because of where it happens in the climactic chase scene, I didn't catch it immediately. Most of the film is setting up a heist that never happens, as the heat comes down on our heroes too soon and they have no choice but to resort to brute force, leading to a wild (and probably impossible) pursuit between Reyes' crooked cops, Dom, Brian, and a bank safe through downtown Rio. The property damage and implied fatalities go by so quickly that all you can do is laugh at how ridiculous and audacious the set-piece is, one the closes with a bridge chase that puts Bad Boys 2 to shame.

 Returning director Justin Lin has another factor working for him: the ability to convey geography, spatial relationships, and a logical flow to action sequences. That shouldn't be so much to ask for, but so many "action" films are obsessed with rapid cuts and disjointed edits that make the flow of chases and fights impossible to keep up with. Even The Expendables wasted what should have been a great fight between Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li with incomprehensible cuts and tight closeups. While Lin's Fast Five showdown between Hobbs and Toretto has some of these problems, he handles all of the vehicular action with great aplomb, giving a sense of momentum while never sacrificing coherency to look "cool."

 The Cap'n may have been exaggerating the lack of racing in the film, although it's limited to one street racing scene involving stolen police cars and the final moment in the film, a Rocky III-ending-like culmination of Brian's obsession with beating Toretto in a one-on-one race. The cars themselves move into the background, less as objects of fascination for the guys (and gals), and become tools to pull of the kind of robbery no one should be able to organize. Combined with Fast & Furious, this appears to be the direction the series is headed in, where cars are the secondary factor in action set-pieces, which is fine with me. The post-credits setup for Fast Six (or whatever they call it) implies that Johnson will be back, along with a surprise cameo and another returning cast member. If Fast Five is any indication, I might actually enjoy where the series goes, if not where it originated.

Spoiler of the Day: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

  Aliens (oh, I'm sorry Mr. Lucas, "extra-dimensional beings") have been waiting for someone to bring back the last crystal skull to their ship somewhere in the Amazon. When Indiana Jones, et al, return the skull, one of the "aliens" ceases to be a crystal skeleton (or something like that, I really don't remember), and the ship flies off. Our heroes sit down at the top of a mountain near where the ship was and Henry Jones, Jr. explains that the translation of "treasure" could also mean "knowledge," at which point everybody in the audience starts laughing.

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Forgotten

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Up Too Early Trailer Sunday

An American Tail

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

The Fox and the Hound

Kill Bill


Star Crystal

Bullets Over Broadway

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blogorium Review: Fast & Furious

 Well, color me surprised. For the last ten years, I'd given at best a disinterested gaze in the direction of The Fast and the Furious and its sequels; they seemed like stupid "street racing" movies with fast cars that had (as Clint Eastwood so eloquently put it in Gran Torino) "faggy spoilers" and stupid paint jobs. I was a Vin Diesel fan from Pitch Black (and later, xXx), but that wasn't enough to overcome the charisma vacuum that was Paul Walker, and I really could care less about neon green, nitro-injected, tricked out cars tearing down city streets.

 See, while I do play video games, racing games are my least favorite. I never play them - not even Spy Hunter. I don't like Gran Turismo, I don't like Need for Speed or Midnight Club, and I'm not even that big into Mario Kart. Burnout was the first racing game I could get into, and only until it stopped being important that you could be bad at racing. When I ran out of demolition derby challenges, I lost interest quickly.

 Street racing never really appealed to me in any form or fashion, and generally reminded me of the mouth breathers in high school that needed everybody to know how cool they were with their loud muffler kits and off the line peeling out. So yeah, you could say I didn't want to have anything to do with The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, or The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Hell, I didn't really care about Diesel's return to the series in Fast & Furious - so what?

 I mean, look at that poster: see the tagline? New Model. Original Parts? Are you kidding me with that garbage? Why would I want to watch these movies if it's all about macho car racing and jargon about kits and injection systems and everything else I just don't care about? Couldn't I just watch Bullitt or The French Connection, movies with actual stories? Or hell, if not, why not one of the Transporter films? Those have Jason Statham in them, and we all know that's a plus.

 But then something crazy happened: Fast Five. Normally, I wouldn't care about the fifth movie in a series I already wasn't going to see, but returning director Justin Lin and Universal had an ace up their sleeve: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. If you know Cap'n Howdy, then you know I've seen almost every Dwayne Johnson movie not aimed at children: The Scorpion King, The Rundown, Walking Tall, Doom, Gridiron Gang, Southland Tales, and his cameos in Reno 911!: Miami and The Other Guys. Hell, I even saw Faster, and hated it, but was happy to see Johnson in a movie not released by Walt Disney.

 When someone adds The Rock as Vin Diesel's adversary, I'll pay attention. It didn't hurt that Fast Five was getting better than I thought was possible word of mouth from critics, and that it was being likened less to a racing movie than to a testosterone laden Ocean's Eleven. So I decided that it would be a good idea to check it out. That just meant deciding whether I needed to watch the other four movies first.

 I settled on watching Fast & Furious instead, as it directly leads into Fast Five, and because I'd picked up enough from the internet to understand who the characters were and their relationships. Brian O'Conner (Walker) is an FBI agent on the trail of a mysterious drug lord named Braga. Dominic Toretto (Diesel) is a muscle car enthusiast and thief who has too much heat on him and needs to lay low. When Dom's girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is killed by Braga's sidekick Fenix (Laz Alonso), he comes looking for revenge, and crosses paths with O'Conner, who infiltrated his gang years ago but didn't arrest him. O'Conner also hooked up with Mia (Jordana Brewster), Toretto's sister, so that's a sore spot between the two. Brian's FBI team, led by Penning (Jack Conley), Trinh (Liza Lapira), and Stasiak (Shea Whigham) are trying to bring down Braga, but also want Toretto, and Brian is torn between his loyalty to the agency and his respect for Dom.

 There's only one "street racing" scene in Fast & Furious, and it actually serves the plot in such a way that I can't really complain about it. Dom and Brian are called in by Braga's right hand man Campos (John Ortiz) for a race to test their skills as drug runners, along with a few other soon-to-be dead guys with quickly sketched out personalities. The race, along with most of the other car chases and stunts in the film, are well shot and structured by Lin and editors Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner, and for the most part are practical instead of heavy on cgi trickery. The exception to that are a series of tunnel shots that I'm not sure would be possible practically, so I'll give that a pass. Overall I have to say I was much more impressed than I thought I would be - Fast & Furious may not be Bullitt or The French Connection as car chases go, but it's certainly up there with The Italian Job and probably better than the Transporter films.

 I guess it's easy to poke fun at overly macho films and say that two guys who respect each other are actually looking for a shot to jump the other one's bone, but I didn't get that vibe from Fast & Furious. If I understand it correctly, 2 Fast 2 Furious is ludicrously homoerotic, but Fast & Furious seems more about Brian and Dom trying to navigate their status as "cop and criminal" and which is which at times. I didn't ever get the impression that just because Brian is obsessed with beating Toretto in a race that he wanted to kiss him or anything, but I'm sure somebody will be happy to correct me for missing that subtext. Riggs and Murtaugh were hot for each other too, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot I guess. Guys can't be friends any more, since Freudian analysis slithered its way out of classrooms and into "guy movie" breakdowns.

 Anyway, so Vin Diesel was the Vin Diesel I remember from Pitch Black - the stoic guy who doesn't need help and comes through in the clutch, and while I don't think I've ever seen a Paul Walker movie before*, I didn't find him to be a personality-less bore like the Sam Worthingtons or the Channing Tatum's of current action movie. He didn't exactly stand out or anything, but he's good at the "serious face while driving" kind of acting that this movie required, so that's cool. Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez don't really get to do a lot in this movie, but I guess they were fine for not having seen the first movie. I guess I should mention Sung Kang, who appears at the beginning of the film as Han, a character that died in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, making this a prequel. I mention this because he figures prominently into Fast Five, along with Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson (from 2 Fast 2 Furious).

 So I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Fast & Furious and am looking forward to seeing Fast Five now. I can't promise that I'm going to watch the first three movies (that's asking a little much if you ask me), but then again I didn't really picture myself seeing, let alone enjoying, Fast & Furious two years ago. I guess you can teach and old dog new tricks, unless the trick insists on interpreting every case of male bonding through a homoerotic lens - I'm looking at you, Frodo and Samwise. You're not fooling anybody...

Post-Script: For the point of clarification, I'm not trying to imply that there's no such thing as male bonding in film that does include sexual overtones, or that I really care when that is the case. By including a semi-anti-gay slur at the outset of the review (which is actually what Clint Eastwood uses to describe the spoilers he hates on cars) and voicing my frustration at this "if two guys are friends in a movie, they must be gay" trend that started out as a subversion of "guy movies," for reasons I'm not really sure need to exist (is it supposed to rattle the security of hyper-aggressive, macho guys? To push them out of their "comfort zone" and imply that their movies have an agenda contradictory to their own?). It's not that the notion isn't worth exploring, but to apply it to everything, including Back to the Future, doesn't actually help make the case - it undermines the concept by stretching the analysis to fit when it makes no sense. At a certain point it becomes almost as much fun as digging for Freudian overtones in every single horror movie, even when the evidence is flimsy at best. I do think that you can actually just be two guys (or two girls) that respect each other and work together to find a common goal without secretly being into each other, and ignoring that for the sake of making a point about "macho" movies undermines when it actually is the subtext. So yeah, that's about it. Please correct the Cap'n if you need to.

 * Strike that - I've seen Joy Ride, which I liked, and Pleasantville, which I guess I forgot he was in.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Four Reasons for "Spoiler of the Day"

 If you've never seen a Four Reasons before, it's because I don't have a chance to do them that often. The Cap'n is usually so focused on doing a review that I rarely opt instead to focus on any four aspects of a film that build one case (the most recent entry was about how silly Tron Legacy was), and of all of the specialty columns, it gets the least coverage. Ironically, I've chosen to bring it back tonight to discuss something most of you can't see (yet).

 Over on my non-Cap'n Howdy social media site (which is not linked for various reasons), I've started doing what I call a "Spoiler of the Day*" a feature devoted to giving away the ending (or twist) of one movie every day. At first this might seem cruel, particularly when I try not to spoil endings of newer movies on the Blogorium. In fact, despite not answering the question of how John Carpenter's The Ward ended - and instead hinting it was similar to another movie (Identity) I knew people hadn't seen - The Ward and Identity were two of the first SotD.

 I do have four very good reasons why I'm doing this, and I thought I'd share them here before I integrate the Spoiler of the Day to the Blogorium as a supplemental post next week.

 1. Chances are, You Won't be Seeing These Movies Anyway - While it won't always be the case, you can look at SotD as an extension of the "So You Won't Have To" reviews. I'm going to try to spoil all different kinds of movies, but the bulk of them will be ones I know people didn't see but might enjoy knowing what happened at the end. How do I know this? Because Blogorium favorite The Happening generated all kinds of disbelief when I explained what's killing people. Sometimes all you need to know is the premise of a movie you didn't see to appreciate how stupid it gets, and I guess most of the world didn't know that (SPOILER) plants conspiring to wipe out the northeastern U.S. was what The Happening was about. If that's a service I can provide, then I'll happily share the dumbest twists to the dumbest movies.

 2. The Obvious Choices Aren't on My List - Look, spoiling Psycho or Citizen Kane or Soylent Green or Planet of the Apes isn't any fun. Even if you haven't seen them, you know what happens. I'd much rather throw a curveball and spoil Murder By Death completely out of context in the hope that it sends someone to the movie with a desire to figure out how what happens, well, happens. Because they won't always be "bad" movies, I might leave out certain plot details and just cover the ending in order to generate interest in the film itself. The spoilers won't always be in context, in part because of my next reason...

 3. I'm going to have fun with it - This isn't just another Moviepooper situation where I simply recap the film for people who don't know whether they want to invest time in it or not. There will be cases of misdirection or occasionally misleading facts. For example, when I spoiled The Boogens, I went a step further and implied the movie was somehow tied to C.H.U.D.? Why? Slight resemblance in the monsters. And it made me chuckle. I don't want this to be a dry recap of what happened in a movie - I want it to be as entertaining as anything else on the Blogorium.

 4. Down the Line, It's Going to Be Interactive - After I've been doing this for a while, both with movies I've seen and ones I happen to know the ending of, I'm going to bring back the poll on the right hand of the screen. I'll ask you what you want to see Spoiled, what you've always wanted to know the ending of but can't be bothered to watch or find yourself online (and Moviepooper, while handy, is far from comprehensive). For example, want to know what happened at the end of Blues Brothers 2000? Me neither, but someone out there might! I'll find out for you (I think I know, actually) and post it. If you have one that you'd like to share, I can arrange that too.

So there are my reasons for arbitrarily spoiling the endings, twists, and unexpected turns in a movie every day. It started as a lark, but when you've sat through as many movies as I have that nobody is ever going to watch, it's best to find some way to put that trivia to use. Look for the feature on Monday, when I'll be spoiling... let's save that as a surprise.

* I'm seriously debating switching it to Spoiler FOR the Day, just because there's something grammatically troubling about Spoiler Of the Day that I can't quite put my finger on.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spend Wisely with Your Video Daily Double

 Welcome back, educationeers! It's time for the next-to-last installment in our sales film summer series of Video Daily Doubles. Believe it or not, this is a good thing for the Cap'n, because of all the short films from yesteryear, sales films are actually the hardest to find. There's no way to do a generic search for them, and many of the ones collected on DVDs aren't available online. While looking for them, I've found a dozen or so great "social engineering" shorts for this fall, but until I can locate a better resource for sales films, we may have hit out limit just in time.

 Both of today's films are about buying... well, anything. That's right, I found sales films that encourage buying... period. Spend that money!


 Our first film, It's Everbody's Business, uses anthropomorphized money (among other things) to explain why spending as much as humanly possible is a good thing, especially for avoiding the Tax Monster.

Our second film, The Wise Use of Credit, wants you to curtail some of that reckless activity, but not that much. I mean, it is hosted by a guy named "Mr. Money" after all.

 Tune in next week when we return to the sales films that got this summer started: cars!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Retro Review: The Sixth Sense

 editor's note: if, for some reason, you actually don't know anything about The Sixth Sense, this is absolutely the wrong review for you. However, if you found this review by Google-ing "Sixth Sense Spoiler," you're going to get it. Consider that your warning.

Long before people hated (or had forgotten about) M. Night Shyamalan, he was the "hot new up-and-comer" with his debut film* The Sixth Sense. If you were somehow drunk for the entirety of the summer of 1999, it's possible that you didn't hear about this suspenseful ghost story with a wicked twist**, and have somehow never seen or heard of the movie where Haley Joel Osment (remember him?) "sees dead people."

 Specifically Bruce Willis (SPOILER), who plays a child psychologist killed in the opening scene by one of his former patients (Donnie Wahlberg). Of course, he doesn't know that until the end of the film, even if eagle-eyed viewers can see that Dr. Malcolm Crowe never physically interacts with anyone during the film and nobody talks to him other than Cole Sear, the kid who sees ghosts. The ghosts, by the way, are spooky and sometimes quite gory (like the accidental gunshot victim kid), but aren't actually dangerous to Cole. Most of them are sad or lonely or need to pass something on. This doesn't stop Shyamalan from milking every ghostly encounter for the maximum creepy factor, but you have to remember that I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who's already seen the film.

 When The Sixth Sense came out, all we really knew about the movie was the "ghost" angle, and that there was a twist. The ghosts are played for scares, and it's quite effective, in the same way that The Haunting (not the one that came out in 1999) or The Others are. It's a clever move not to make the ghosts actually menacing, until you watch the movie again, and then it's just a lot of building tension to mess with the audience in order to pull a switcheroo. The same problem exists with the twist, because a) if you know there's a twist, chances are you're looking for it (I was), and b) the best twists make you want to watch the movie again. If you figure out the twist early (say, when Crowe is "having dinner" with his wife at a restaurant), then there is no rediscovery in watching the film again - you did it the first time. All of the color coding is easy to figure out and The Sixth Sense becomes an elaborate game of "follow the rules" twist filmmaking.

 Maybe I'm being meaner than I ought to be, because I bought the Shyamalan promise - that he was a spiritual successor to Steven Spielberg - through Unbreakable, a movie I also used to really like (and probably still enjoy more than The Sixth Sense) but it all fell apart during Signs. I gave up after he started lifting narrative beats wholesale, and have only seen one of his films sense - The Happening. Most of you know that The Happening is a colossal failure in almost every respect, and is hilarious because of it; I either subjected you to the film or you've heard about it from me. In the interest of fairness, The Sixth Sense is still highly regarded by just about everywhere in the critical community, and people still seem to love the movie. Don't take that old Grumpy Gus Cap'n Howdy to speak for the consensus opinion here.

 After Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender, Shyamalan is pretty much a joke - audiences reported laughter when his name appeared on trailers for Devil - and even his die-hard fans have given up making excuses for the lousy writing, awkward editing, bad performances, and the pompous, thin-skinned auteur / actor himself (Lady in the Water features Shyamalan as a writer who is destined to "change the world," while the least likable character is a film critic). Nobody knows what he's doing next, and I'd go so far as to say they don't care, either.

 The reason I really wanted to bring up The Sixth Sense, which was for 1999 a highlight of an already packed summer of great movies (and The Phantom Menace) was because I have, as usual, a story related to events surrounding the film. The air conditioning was out in the auditorium we saw the film in, so the staff propped a door facing the back of the theatre open, and crickets got in. We knew this because the whole audience could hear them chirping. A colleague of mine (Professor Murder) eventually got up from his seat, crawled under the screen, and we heard "THUMP THUMP THUMP" and the chirping stopped. The packed auditorium gave him an ovation, and he cut the back of his head on a curtain staple. Forgive me if I look back at that night and consider this moment to be the highlight of seeing The Sixth Sense.

* Which was not actually his debut film - he made this and this beforehand, and he wrote Stuart Little. Seriously.
** My own fake poster quote, but here's what the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris wrote at the time: "An effectively understated and moodily engrossing ghost film with a surprisingly satisfying jolt at the end."

Monday, August 22, 2011

TV Talk: Treehouse of Horror XI-XXI

 When last we left off, the Cap'n had finished watching the first ten episodes of The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror series, which covers seasons two through eleven. Even though I decried an evident case of diminishing returns as the series went on (in effect stopping nearly when I stopped watching the show), I noticed that I seemed to be missing "Night of the Dolphins," and I figured why not sit down and catch up with eleven years' worth of horror-related anthologies that I hadn't seen (some at all).

 I was left with a "good news, bad news" scenario: the good news was there were flashes of my favorite Treehouse of Horror's, but the bad news was they were often fleeting, and a rarely did one of them lasted for an entire segment of its episode.

 Things get off to a shaky start in Treehouse of Horror XI with a parody of the Bill Cosby movie Ghost Dad, but evens out with the final segment, the aforementioned "Night of the Dolphin," which manages to fit in nods to Jaws and The Birds and has a fitfully dark ending. The middle segment, "Scary Tales Do Come True," is symptomatic of a problem that plagues the latter eleven Treehouse entries: many of the parodies are tangentially (at best) tied to horror.

 A Hansel and Gretl meet other fairy tales would make sense in the context of other Simpsons anthology episodes (which have covered works of literature, myths, or Biblical stories), but it begins a trend of moving away from Twilight Zone stories and horror films to other parodies - some of which don't even make sense. But Transformers? Mr. and Mrs. Smith? The Harry Potter spoof doesn't even get a pass because if you took that, "Scary Tales Can Come True," and "Four Beheadings and a Funeral", a Sherlock Holmes / Jack the Ripper story, and put them into their own anthology.

 I'm more willing to give the Mad Men-esque spoof "How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising" because it at least continues the trend of zombie celebrities, even if it is just a variation on the Homer the Grim Reaper segment from XIV. However, "Bartificial Intelligence" doesn't make any sense in a Treehouse of Horror, and a Golem story (like "Hex in the City") eventually shifts from possibly horror related to cheap ethnic jokes. A Fantastic Voyage (really?) spoof turns it self around into a variation on Treehouse of Horror II's "Homer and Burns share a body" joke, followed by a song-and-dance vaguely reminiscent of the "Bart Simpson's Dracula". "The Ned Zone" never really goes anywhere, and "Married to the Blob" starts great but falls apart long before Dr. Phil appears as himself. A Tales from the Crypt-style opening sequence falls apart as soon as Smithers appears, which is a shame.

 The nadir of the latter Treehouses is"The Day the Earth Stood Stupid," a segment that seems to be a take on Orson Welles' infamous "War of the Worlds" hoax, but then devolves into a boneheaded (and woefully unfunny) critique of the War in Iraq, with Kodos and Kang arguing about who said they would be "greeted as liberators" and ends with an awful "hearts and minds" gag. Of course, if you like Kodos and Kang, then stay away from "E.T.: Go Home" which seems promising but quickly goes south.

While there are some serious lowlights, it is fair to mention that there are some sporadically clever segments: there's the spot-on Hitchcock homage "Dial 'M' for Murder or Press # to Return to Main Menu," a pretty good take on Dead Calm (although I can't imagine most fans getting that reference) marred only by a pointless A Clockwork Orange reference ("Simpsons did it!"), the Twilight parody actually has a few good jokes, as does Pierce Brosnan's evil house in XII. While I don't love "Frinkenstein", it was amusing to hear Jerry Lewis as Professor Frink's father gleefully collecting organs at the Nobel Prize ceremony. "The Island of Doctor Hibbert" and "Survival of the Fattest" are pretty good, and the 28 Days Later "tainted Krusty Burger" segment is great but drops the ball at the end.

 The closest thing other than the Hitchcock segment is an almost perfect send-up of Charlie Brown cartoons called "It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse." For a while, it sustains the animation style, but overuses a few obvious gags (Marge's trombone, for example) and breaks the tone with Nelson and the bullies before halfway redeeming itself with a racist pumpkin ("all pumpkins are racist; the difference is I admit it!"). The Grand Pumpkin and Tom Turkey's screams of "Revenge!" still make me chuckle.
Watching the second half of the Treehouse of Horror episodes (plus one), I can see many of the things I've noticed while popping in on The Simpsons over the years after no longer being a regular viewer - jokes are periodically funny, but often are followed by something that reminds me of a better Simpsons episode. The "jerkass" phase of Homer Simpson is abundant in many of these episodes, and it's more grating than hilarious. The pop culture references become more obvious and get lazier as time goes on, and much of the sharp writing of earlier years is undermined by lazy shortcuts or, worse, an inability to stick the landing. While I don't plan on watching the show regularly again (and the episode "The Real Housewives of Fat Tony" really guaranteed that), it was nice to catch up on what used to be a Halloween institution, even if several Treehouse of Horror episodes joke about airing in November.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When Trailer Sundays Stop Being Polite and Start Getting Real

The Drummond Will


Daydream Nation

The Whistleblower

Everything Must Go


Bhindi Bazaar

Blogorium Review: Fright Night (2011)

 Tonight I'll be taking a look at the 2011 remake of Fright Night, a film I've been looking forward too. That's odd, because I don't usually look forward to remakes, but the combination of an intriguing cast and a vampire-versed screenwriter had me on board. Was it a story worth revisiting? Let's see...

 Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is a geeky teenager in the outskirts of Las Vegas trying to maintain a relationship with Amy (Imogen Poots), a girl he'd have had no shot with a year prior. It comes at the expense of his life-long friendship with "Evil" Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has been desperately trying to get Charley's attention. Students have been going missing, and Ed is convinced that Brewster's next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) is actually a vampire. Charley is eventually convinced, but it comes too late to help his friends, his mother Jane (Toni Collette), or even Amy. He turns to illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant) for help, but it may be too late to stop Jerry from destroying everything important to Charley...

 In the interest of full disclosure, I did not sit down and rewatch Fright Night in preparation for this remake. I have seen Fright Night several times (boy, that sounds defensive, right?), starting in high school and periodically on TV, and I really wanted to show it during a few Summer Fests but could never fit it in. However, I didn't feel like it was necessary to come in to the new Fright Night with the original fresh in my mind. There are a number of changes made between the 1985 version and the 2011 version - some superficial, some significant - and I was intrigued enough by the cast, as well as screenwriter Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) that it seemed like a leap of faith worth taking.

 Strangely, the superficial changes are the ones that aren't so much of a problem: changing Peter Vincent from a horror show host to a Criss Angel-esque illusionist doesn't impact his role in the third act, although it complicates it in the same way a major change to the narrative does. Evil Ed's role in the film is basically the same, although Noxon adds an interesting narrative shift where Charley has outgrown Ed's obsessive nature, to the point that he now has to blackmail Brewster into investigating Jerry. The transplanting of the film to Las Vegas (actually Albuquerque, New Mexico) helps overcome some logistical issues - the neighborhood is sparsely populated with people who often sleep all day and work all night, cell phone reception is terrible, and a vampire like Jerry could easily sustain himself without drawing attention.

 While most of the changes to this version of Fright Night work pretty well, some of them hamper the story with respect to pacing. For example, there's no good reason for Charley to seek out Peter Vincent the magician - his website makes some superficial claims about Vincent being a "vampire expert," but it's not as though Brewster couldn't do most of the work on his own. In fact, he has, as a scene in the school library with Amy makes clear - Vincent only confirms his research. Beyond that, Peter Vincent's motivation for helping Charley and Amy comes waaaaay too late in the film and seems to exist to give Jerry and Peter something to talk about in the basement. Even the reason Vincent's show is called "Fright Night" seems perfunctory.

 It's a similar problem that Fright Night suffers from early in the film - everybody knows Jerry is a vampire, and Colin Farrell is playing him as the slightly creepy guy who toys with his prey, so getting Charley on board takes longer than it needs to. To illustrate the point, both films have a scene where Charley and Amy are about to have sex, but Charley is more interested in Jerry than his girlfriend. In the original, this happens at the beginning of the film, setting up that Brewster is already suspicious. In the remake, it happens at least half an hour into the film, after we've seen Jerry turn Ed into a vampire.

 Pacing and motivation issues didn't actually affect my enjoyment of the film, though; there's still plenty that Fright Night has going for it. The cast is uniformly ideal for their roles, with Colin Farrell being the standout as Jerry Dandridge, a vampire who clearly doesn't feel threatened by Brewster, Ed, Charley's mother, Amy, or Peter Vincent. He's cocky, dangerous, and slightly off-putting - there are weird touches with Jerry that elicited uncomfortable laughter from the audience. Anton Yelchin has an interesting line to walk as a geek who is trying not to be geeky, and Imogen Poots' Amy is a character that shifts from mostly inconsequential to very important as the story progresses.Toni Collette's Jane Brewster doesn't have much to do outside of the chase sequence which is, for all intents and purposes, the centerpiece of this Fright Night.

 Much has been made of David Tennant's Peter Vincent; I've heard people say he's making fun of Russell Brand, that he's too "over the top," and that this Vincent isn't as compelling as Roddy McDowall's. To the last complaint, it is true that Peter Vincent's role in the story feels less significant because he doesn't mean the same thing to Charley that host Peter Vincent did. To those who throw the Russel Brand comparison out there, aside from a British accent, lack of shirt, and what turns out to be a wig, the argument is superficial. He's playing a variation of the "David Tennant" tenth Doctor from Doctor Who. If you haven't ever seen the show, I guess it might be easy not to catch that, but he's much closer to the Doctor in Fright Night than to Criss Angel or Russell Brand. I actually enjoyed Tennant's profane, guarded Vincent - he's not trying to outdo McDowall, or even draw comparisons, and whether he needs to be in Jerry's house with Charley or not, Tennant is a welcome presence at the end of the film.

 A note on the 3-D: I opted to see Fright Night in 2 dimensions, in part for cost but also because an already dark movie made dimmer by glasses didn't seem that enticing to me. There are a handful of silly "at the camera" shots, and it seems clear that the car chase, where the camera circles around inside of the car (similar to Spielberg's War of the Worlds) is meant to be seen with "depth." That said, it really didn't make much of a difference, so I recommend seeing the film without the gimmickry, otherwise you might not be able to make out important sections of the story.

 In summary, Fright Night is an entertaining, if imperfect, re-telling of the other Fright Night, which I have not seen very recently. It's different enough not to bother purists and certainly has enough going for it that I easily recommend the film to anyone looking for a horror movie in the dog days of summer. When I get around to Horror Fest: The Remake (and it is going to happen in the next three years), Fright Night is going to play, and not on the "shitty but kind of funny" night like, well, Shit Coffin. It's somewhere between Piranha and The Hills Have Eyes as remakes go, but let's be honest here, that's not bad company to be in, is it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing

 I don't know if any of you caught this news today, but Ridley Scott has decided that after Prometheus is finished and ready to show, he's going back to the world of Blade Runner. The initial reaction across the internet seems to be jubilant - not only are we getting Scott's return to the Alien series, but he's following it up with another adventure in the world of Replicants. Whether Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard is involved or not is unclear, but it seems to wed earlier news of a sequel or prequel to Blade Runner being "in the works" and solidifies its status as a "must see." I guess.

 Please don't misinterpret my hesitation - I'd rather have Ridley Scott revisit that universe than someone trying to mimic him or to see a pale imitation. I'm just not sure that I really want or need another Blade Runner movie; especially a Blade Runner movie that follows a new Alien film. It's been made clear by people close to the production and critics who saw the presentation at Comic Con that Prometheus is not simply a "science fiction film with some Alien DNA" but is, in fact, a prequel to Alien. Not maybe, not in an obscure way, but that it simply is, and 20th Century Fox is playing coy with that fact. As an outside observer, I need only look at the costumes, set design, or officially released photo to tell you this isn't just a movie "similar" to Alien. And that's not a bad thing - Ridley Scott and James Cameron often talked about returning to the series, so it's nice to see that one of them did. It's in 3-D too, which might sound studio mandated (and hell, it might have been) but one only need look at Scott's cinematography to see why a sense of depth could be result in something very special.

 I'm looking forward to Prometheus, make no mistake; but following a return to one triumph with the return to another triumph - albeit a long fought, hard to win one - seems unnecessary to me. What I enjoy about Ridley Scott is his willingness to try all sorts of different types of films, successful or not. Despite superficial comparisons, Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator aren't at all alike, and he made Black Hawk Down, Hannibal, and Matchstick Men in between. None of those movies are historical epics or science fiction classics, or even necessary all very good (I'm on the record hating Hannibal). I don't want to speculate too much here, but Scott is wrapping up Prometheus after a string of moderately successful films (Body of Lies, American Gangster) and a few out right flops (A Good Year, Robin Hood). Could it be that working on another Alien film, something well celebrated and hotly anticipated, has given way to wanting to continue working in territory he's lauded for?

 Because I would know. Because any of us would know other than Ridley Scott, but I don't imagine that's actually why he's interested in Blade Runner nearly thirty years later. He hasn't really made anything vaguely sci-fi or fantasy since Legend, so two in a row is a bit surprising. The Alien films have always opened themselves up to other avenues of exploration, but I don't even know where another Blade Runner film would go, or would need to go. I'm satisfied not knowing what happened to Deckard and Rachel, and as much as Battlestar Galactica has moved to give me something else to associate Edward James Olmos, I can imagine how he might figure into a new Replicant hunter's story. Or something.

 Honestly, I can't decide whether I'm less interested than most because there doesn't seem to be a purpose for more Blade Runner or because Ridley Scott is so keen to do it on the heels of making Prometheus. It's like he's reliving his early filmmaking days, but with stories we already know and treasure. One sounds promising, but two might be too much of a good thing...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Today's Video Daily Double is the Bomb, and You can Print That!

 Good day, Educationeers! As always, your Cap'n brings another Wednesday-tastic edition of the Video Daily Double. Our summer series of sales films is winding down, but I've found two more films trying to sell you something while pretending to be educational. The second film is shameless in their trickery by invoking a nuclear attack in order to scare up sales.

 Make with the fear monger purchases!


 Our first film, Printing, explains how important printing is. Or, was. Not to bag on printing or anything, but the whole "digital revolution" sure did make things trickier for everything explained in this film...

 Our second film, The House in the Middle, makes what I would call a HUGE leap in order to sell paint for your home. I mean, okay, maybe an unkempt house would probably be more susceptible to weapons, but bear in mind that this film was sponsored by the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association. They're not just warning you about nuclear blasts; they're trying to scare you into buying their product...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Retro Review: The Big Lebowski

 It's true, gang - the Cap'n has never reviewed The Big Lebowski in any incarnation of the Blogorium. I mention it all of the time, and have talked about seeing the film and its impact on teenage Cap'n (seven years of trouble!), but it's never had a proper review here. Since the film arrives on Blu-Ray today, it seems only fair that I finally assess the movie that went from being the Coen brother's follow-up to Fargo into a genuine cult phenomenon in its own right.

 Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is better known as The Dude, a free spirit bumming around in Los Angeles circa 1991. The Dude likes to smoke a little pot, drink White Russians, and bowl with league partners Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Donny Kerabatsos (Steve Buscemi). Their only concern is advancing during round robin tournaments until two thugs (Phillip Moon and Mark Pellegrino) break into The Dude's apartment and pee on his rug. They work for Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), and Lebowski's wife Bunny (Tara Reid) owes Treehorn money. The only problem for The Dude is that he's not married. Bunny is married to Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston) - the "Big Lebowski" from the title - and when The Dude tries to replace his rug, he's drawn into a kidnapping plot involving nihilists (Peter Stormare, Flea, Torsten Voges, and Aimee Mann), rival private detectives (Jon Polito), Lebowski's daughter Maude (Julianne Moore) and missing toes. Can The Dude abide all of this?

 Die-hard Lebowski fans already know I left two key components out of the film: The Stranger (Sam Elliot), and Jesus (John Turturro). I also didn't mention Saddam Hussein, the Busby Berkeley-inspired dream sequences, Lebowski's butler Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Smokey (Jimmie Dale Gilmore), Walter's show dog, Maude's friend Knox Harrington (David Thewlis), Autobahn, Logjammin', Larry Sellers (Jesse Flanagan), The Dude's landlord Marty (Jack Kehler) or his performance art. Or half a dozen other memorable moments from The Big Lebowski.

 I also haven't covered how imminently quotable The Big Lebowski is, from "8 year olds, Dude" to "that, and a pair of testicles" to "shut the fuck up, Donny" or  "this is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass" or "you are entering a world of pain" to "you don't fuck with the Jesus man!" I'm sure I left out your favorite quote, but that's okay. The Big Lebowski has something for everyone - it's a distillation of Raymond Chandler concepts dropped into a laid back comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen. The funny thing is that The Big Lebowski wasn't always The Big Lebowski.

 The first time I saw The Big Lebowski, it was nearly as an afterthought - I had seen the trailer, which gives you no idea whatsoever the movie was about:

 See what I mean? The spots running on television didn't exactly inspire confidence, either:

 Critical responses were mixed, from the amiable but slightly dismissive Roger Ebert to conflicted pans from Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Todd McCarthy. The general impression I had as The Big Lebowski made it to theatres was "well, it's no 'Fargo'" and foolishly I waited. It took a good friend of mine to talk me into seeing The Big Lebowski ("you MUST see this movie") as it was winding down a run at the $1.50 theatre. In 1998, it wasn't the movie it is now; The Big Lebowski was a film seem by a small audience of devoted fans who went gaga for the off-kilter tone and loopy characters. The Dude was a hero to many, and over the next ten years, the cult grew.

 So too did the film's reputation - on VHS and DVD, The Big Lebowski became the film to share with friends, the great part movie. Before long there were Lebowski Fests, and eventually it wasn't odd to see t-shirts, bumper stickers, and posters devoted to The Dude. Hell, I have a "The Dude Abides" bumper magnet that's slowly fading from legibility on my car, and if you've seen any of the "photo" posts I do from time to time, you know I love to use that picture of Jeff Bridges dressed as The Dude while wearing his Tron helmet. I am unabashedly a fan of The Big Lebowski, but have never felt like a part of the Lebowski "cult" - I just loved the movie and so did everybody I knew. It never occurred to me to think of Lebowski like people regard The Rocky Horror Picture show, but that is kind of what happened. It's almost inconceivable now that people didn't want to see The Big Lebowski, so I'm glad that's flipped almost all the way around.

Monday, August 15, 2011

So You Won't Have To: The Change-Up

 After my Horrible Bosses review, it was suggested that the Cap'n was maybe too hard on The Change-Up, a film that I hadn't seen but felt had "chosen wisely" in ignoring for the other Jason Bateman-centric R-rated comedy. So, in the interest of fairness, I watched The Change-Up. Guess what? I was 100% correct in my earlier assertion.

 I'm going to forgo the typical synopsis because there's nothing you can't learn about The Change-Up from the trailer: Jason Bateman is the put-upon husband Dave and Ryan Reynolds is single pot head Mitch. They get drunk, pee in a fountain, and exchange bodies. Mitch is suddenly in Dave's body, just in time for a major deal in Dave's law firm, and Dave is... well, single. Just so we have to sit through the whole movie of watching unfunny gross out humor transition into a by-the-numbers "gee, I learned so much about what I really want" dramedy, the magic fountain is moved. Gee, will Dave succumb to temptation and bone his assistant Sabrina (Olivia Wilde) while in Mitch's body? Will Mitch regret the mundane world of life with kids and Dave's wife Jamie (Leslie Mann)? Will I give a shit by the end of the movie?

 Speaking of shit, The Change-Up opens with Jason Bateman on the receiving end of projectile baby crap. Just in case we didn't laugh the first time, the second squirt goes into his open mouth. That's how the movie starts. It never gets better. Instead, we're subjected to 112 more minutes of laugh-free shenanigans, objectification of women*, racism, homophobia, and computer enhanced child endangerment.

 In fact, here are a few things that happen in The Change-Up that I think were supposed to be funny:

 - Dave as Mitch is going to hook up with Tatiana, who turns out to be pregnant which disgusts Dave, and if it wasn't enough that she's naked throughout the whole scene, the baby "kicks" inside her stomach so we can see it on camera and laugh.

- You've already seen the Leslie Mann bathroom scene in the trailer, but what you didn't see was the set-up, which involves her stripping down while Warrant's "Cherry Pie" is playing. It's really just an excuse for more gratuitous nudity.

 - Dave as Mitch has to go to the set of Mitch's acting gig, which turns out to be a "Lorno" (light porno, or Skinemax flick), where he sticks his finger up some lady's ass and makes out with a guy in a thong (uncomfortably, of course, because it's a comedy).

 - Mitch as Dave ruins the big merger by making a series of jokes about Asian stereotypes and says "fuck" a lot.

 - When Dave and Mitch finally find the fountain, it's in a crowded mall, so they whip it out and start peeing anyway. There are no less than three jokes made about Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds exposing themselves to children.

 The Change-Up gets even worse when it stops being an offensive, gross-out comedy about balls and shit jokes and turns into a movie about appreciating what you have in life. It's a hard left turn that shifts the film into strictly predictable territory, right down to two separate montages of Mitch and Dave making the best of their new lives in different bodies. After a while, I stopped not laughing and started getting bored, and when everything ends up okay in the end, I was finally happy the movie was over. There's nothing to say about the acting because every single character is unlikeable, so if that was the goal, I guess good job?

I'm all for a movie with dirty jokes, harsh language, even gross-out gags. Read my review of Bridesmaids, or Horrible Bosses. The Change-Up isn't funny at all. I don't know why anyone would waste their time watching the film when so many better options are out there, and the only reason I'm glad I saw it was So You Won't Have To.

* I guess if you've been patiently sitting through Judd Apatow movies hoping you'd see Leslie Mann naked, The Change-Up will check that off of your bucket list. Of course, if that's on your bucket list, go ahead and kick that bucket. There's no good reason for anything that happens in The Change-Up, including all of the nudity.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Movies I thought you might want to know existed Trailer Sunday


Con Artist


Meek's Cutoff

Small Town Murder Songs

Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

Tactical Force

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Geek Tuesday... for some reason.

 New release Tuesdays are usually a grab bag of fun new titles, back catalog releases / upgrades, and every now and then a out-of-left-field cult curveball. For a film geek, it's fun to scour "new release" lists to see what's coming out, so I can only imagine heads were exploding (Scanners style) this past Tuesday. Three extremely "geek friendly" DVDs / Blu-Rays dropped, each of which had a mixed reaction and not amazing box office numbers along for the ride. I've seen two of them, but not the other one (yet): Paul, Your Highness, and Super.

 If you haven't been following the Blogorium for long (and the Cap'n welcomes new arrivals), each film comes from a particular pedigree of nerd fandom: Paul is the "two geeks pick up an alien in the desert" film written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), is directed by Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland), and also features Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express), Jo Lo Truglio (The State), Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader (both SNL). The film begins at the San Diego Comic Con and is packed with references to other geeky alien movies. I generally enjoyed Paul, but the film doesn't really pick up until Wiig's arrival in the film, mostly because Paul isn't so much of a character as he is Seth Rogen before she enters the narrative.

 Your Highness is David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, George Washington)'s much anticipated follow-up to Pineapple Express, the film that moved Green from "indie filmmaker" to "mainstream sellout" in some eyes, but to many of us was a logical preamble to Eastbound and Down. Your Highness re-teamed Green with Danny McBride and James Franco along with Natalie Portman (Leon: The Professional), Justin Theroux (Mulholland Dr), Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer), and was an ode to the sword and sorcery fantasy genre that was omnipresent in the 1980s. I must admit that other than Conan the Barbarian, I was never that into the whole movement, and only one website really seemed very excited about Your Highness when the film actually came out, so I skipped out on it. It's not highly regarded by critics or audiences, and when I couldn't make a $1.50 Theatre showing, it seemed best to let the film slide. I will give it a shot some time soon, because I do trust the creative team.

 Super splits critics right down the middle: James Gunn (who wrote Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake and directed the amazing Slither) took a very Troma-esque approach to the "super hero in the real world" subgenre (see: Kick-Ass, Defendor, Special, Paper Man, and a few others I'm forgetting), starring Rainn Wilson (The Office), Ellen Page (Juno), Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man), Michael Rooker (Slither), Nathan Fillion (Serenity) and very briefly, Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks). It's a twisted, at times extremely violent and crude film, and as many people hate it as love it. I have the feeling that some of that comes from the influence of Lloyd Kaufman's Troma Films, where Gunn cut his teeth - there are parts of Super that feel like they've been directly lifted from The Toxic Avenger, and if Troma team releases aren't your thing, Super might not be either. However, if you even liked Slither, you should check out Super.

 It was odd to see all of them coming out on the same day, draining the wallets of geeks who can't be bothered to sit in a movie theatre anymore, because they share roughly the same history: lots of buzz preceding their release, mixed reviews, and moderate to tepid audience attendance. I don't know about Your Highness, but Super and Paul will probably have a long life on video because they appeal to the shut-in's and cast-out's that do, well, what I'm doing right now. Gee, I wonder if I have Paul and Super sitting on the table across the room? Maybe, but what are they sitting under? Bet you won't guess that one!

 (Hint: It's not Your Highness.)

  It is fair to point out that despite their lack of box office busting prowess, none of the discs appear to be bare-bones. This may be a sign that studios are aware that the geek demographic is willing to pay a little bit more for a high quality, high definition experience as long as the movie is packed to the gills with bonus content (Universal is very good at this, and while Paul isn't as loaded as, say, Scott Pilgrim with extra features, it's a better lineup than say, Paramount's True Grit Blu-Ray).

 Why all three on the same day? I don't really know, but maybe we ought not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Maybe it's an opportunity to kick back with some friends, some brewskis, and enjoy a laid back August weekend.

Hollow Man is what you guys think of when you hear "Kevin Bacon", right? Or maybe Death Sentence? Oh, and Michael Rooker has been in a lot more than just Slither, but Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer ate up too much space and I'm sure as hell not going to use Mallrats.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blogorium Review: Horrible Bosses

 Well, I didn't see The Change-Up, but I did watch another R-rated comedy featuring one Jason Bateman in it, and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Horrible Bosses was the wiser choice. From everything I've heard about The Change-Up, another entry in the "body switching" comedy subgenre, I'll take a movie about three losers trying to kill their bosses any day. Nobody ends up with baby shit in their mouths in Horrible Bosses. That's not to say other, comparably awful things happen to our protagonists.

 Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) each have a serious problem: their bosses are pure evil. Dale, a dental assistant, is constantly sexually harassed by Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a raging horndog that takes advantage of her patients and Arbus' unique situation as a "sex offender" to keep him in her employ. Since Dale is engaged, this is a problem. Kurt had it made at a chemical company until his boss Jack Pellit (Donald Sutherland) died suddenly, leaving his cokehead lothario son Bobby (Colin Farrell) in charge. Bobby wants to drain the company dry and skip town, ruining everything Kurt worked for. Nick has been toiling away under the tyrannical and sadistic Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) for eight years, hoping for a promotion that Harken ends up giving himself. They can't quit, and they can't stay. The only option that remains is to kill their bosses, but can they really pull it off?

 As essential to the story as Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day are, Horrible Bosses would be nothing without antagonists that lived up to the title, and it's really the bad guys who steal the show. Aniston is predatory, shameless, and works perfectly against Day's perpetually uncomfortable Dale*. Colin Farrell, hiding underneath a lousy combover, pot-belly, and goatee, doesn't get to do much as Bobby, but the artwork in his house more than makes up for the limited character. The star of the show, as it should be, is Kevin Spacey, playing the kind of sarcastic asshole that made him famous in films like The Ref, Swimming with Sharks and American Beauty. It's funny - I used to think that he was going to play that same type over and over again until I couldn't stand watching him, but after Horrible Bosses, I wondered why it was he stayed away from it for so long during the 2000s. He plays this kind of role better than anyone, bossing around spineless underlings, regarding them as something he'd find under his shoe in a dog park.

 Notable in a smaller role is Jamie Foxx as "Motherfucker" Jones, a shady character the guys hire as a "murder consultant." The revelations about who Jones is (and why he doesn't go by his first name), why he was in jail, and why he's willing to work so cheap are a consistent source of laughter during the second half of the film. Sudeikis is also hilarious as a guy who will sleep with almost anybody (including two major characters in the narrative) and has a habit of sticking things well, where the sun doesn't shine.

 Horrible Bosses doesn't aim to be high art; it's a crass, foul, borderline gross-out comedy along the lines of Bridesmaids. Director Seth Gordon (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters) makes the jump from documentary to narrative features with relative ease, and screenwriters Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein keep things moving at a brisk pace. The stakes are set up clearly, the characters behave irrationally, and things go horribly wrong. I think you could guess that coming in, but the important part is that, like Bridesmaids, the film is very funny. The jokes are clever, the actors are all game to behave foolishly, and the R-rating isn't stretched to any point beyond letting you know this is a comedy for adults. In the case of Horrible Bosses, it's better to suggest what a person advertising "Wet works" does than go the extra mile and show it, and I'd argue that it's funnier for it. I've yet to hear the same for The Change-Up, which apparently didn't get that memo. Like I said, I think I chose wisely.

 * I don't mean to under-represent Charlie Day here, but if you've seen It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, you have a really good idea of what kind of person Dale is. Like Spacey, he's very good at playing this type of lovable schmuck, and Dale Arbus is no exception.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Veg Out with the Video Daily Double Tube!

 Ah, my little Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy has a very special Video Daily Double for you today; a TV-tastic entry into our Summer of Sales. I know that all of you good boys and girls love to watch Television, almost as much as you love texting or tweeting or whatever the new thing is that I'm hopelessly out of touch with. Since you can control your TV with an iPhone now, I thought it might be fun to take you back to the days when TV had a loooooonnnng way to go. Sit back and enjoy what your grandparents keep referring to as "the good old days"

 Be glad someone bought these, because otherwise you'd be listening to tweets on the radio!


 Our first film, from 1939, is called Television. Presented by RCA, this was designed to introduce a brand new form of home entertainment to audiences everywhere, years before most of them could afford to own one. Still, it's a neat introduction to something we take for granted these days.

Our second short film doesn't have a title that I could find, but appears to be from a longer film the Cap'n also can't locate. Still, it's worth sharing for two reasons: we've updated from the earliest television sets to color TV, and this short features an early version of the remote control. Trust me, it's worth watching this just to see that remote.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Retro Review: Dungeons & Dragons (an imagined conversation)

 Cap'n Howdy: Hey, do you guys remember when we went to see Dungeons & Dragons?

 Professor Murder: Yeah, of course I do.

 Cranpire: Nope.

Professor Murder: What do you mean "Nope"? How do you not remember an evening from eleven years ago?

Cranpire: All I remember is that I didn't like the movie.

 Cap'n Howdy: None of us liked the movie; in fact, I bet I remember only a little more about the movie than you do.

 Cranpire: Probably.

 Cap'n Howdy: Well, there was Jeremy Irons as a... wizard? Mage? That's what they're called, right, Mages?

Professor Murder: Don't look at me. I have no idea.

 Cap'n Howdy: Well, anyway, then there's his sidekick -

Professor Murder: The dude with blue lip gloss.

 Cap'n Howdy: Exactly. The bald guy that was in Highlander: Endgame: Bruce Payne.

 Cranpire: Oh, he was on Keen Eddie.

 Professor Murder: Keen Eddie? Did you watch that show?

 Cranpire: Yeah, I like to watch shows that were canceled early.

 Cap'n Howdy: You remember that, but not Dungeons & Dragons?

 Cranpire: Well, I make a point of following obscure supporting actors.

 Cap'n Howdy: Anyway, so the movie also had that guy who looks like Wil Wheaton, but isn't -

 Cranpire: Justin Whalin, from Child's Play 3 and Serial Mom.

 Professor Murder: Wait, Andy from Child's Play 3? Impressive, Cranpire.

 Cranpire: Thanks.

 Cap'n Howdy: As I was saying, he goes on some quest with his friend (?), Marlon Wayans. They're thieves and Jeremy Irons is trying to raise a dragon or something and Thora Birch is in the film, and so is Richard O'Brien.

 Professor Murder: Who, if I remember correctly, was one of your selling points.

 Cap'n Howdy: Yes, he was. If I was more of a Doctor Who fan in 2000, I might have pointed out that Tom Baker was in the movie.

 Cranpire: Huh.

 Professor Murder: Yeah, that's really more than I remembered about that movie. What was more fun was how we got Cranpire to see it with us.

 Cap'n Howdy: That's why I wanted to have a review of the film in the first place. The story behind the movie is more interesting to me.

 Cranpire: I have no idea what you're talking about. Seriously.

 Cap'n Howdy: Do you not remember that you were working at the Rathskeller*, and we came by to talk you into seeing Dungeons & Dragons with us?

 Cranpire: Nope

 Professor Murder: You were cleaning up and we talked your manager into letting you off an hour early to come along. We paid for your missed hour, your ticket, and snacks - we bought you!

 Cranpire: Drawing a blank.

 Cap'n Howdy: I think that Professor Murder even drove us from your work to the theatre and then brought you back to the Rathskeller to pick up your car, and even though we laughed through the whole movie, you complained about how we "ripped you off" by dragging you to Dungeons & Dragons.

 Cranpire: That makes sense, but I don't remember that at all. I remember not liking the movie, and I saw the sequel at the video store.

 Professor Murder: Wait... you hated the first one but watched the sequel? Did you?

 Cap'n Howdy: No, I've never seen it. I don't even know what it's called.

 Cranpire: Yeah you do, I called in to the radio show you did to tell you it was Wrath of the Dragon God. It wasn't any better.

 Cap'n Howdy: It amazes me what you can and can't remember.

 Cranpire: I don't really remember seeing Dude, Where's My Car? with you. And I didn't fall asleep for all of The Man Who Wasn't There, for the record.

 Professor Murder: But you did sleep through part of it.

 Cap'n Howdy: Anyway, whether that jogged your memory or not, that happened. It was funny to me, and it's also kinda funny you don't remember that at all.

 Professor Murder: Good times.

 Cranpire: Well, if you guys are all done, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette and finish watching River of Darkness. It has Kurt Angle vs. zombie Kevin Nash.

* I feel no concern about mentioning this because the Rathskeller no longer exists and it's very unlikely anyone would figure out what employee is being mentioned here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blogorium Review: Attack of the Crab Monsters

 Greetings, gang - the Cap'n has quite a bit to do for tomorrow, but I didn't want to leave you high and dry after a long weekend of not being around, so here's a quick review of an early Roger Corman joint, Attack of the Crab Monsters. It may be low budget, but the film packs a few punches when it counts and is head and shoulders more interesting than a lot of cheapies from the 1950s and 60s.

 A remote island in the Pacific Ocean near atomic bomb tests was the base of a scientific expedition, but when the entire team disappears, the Navy sends a team of scientists and seamen out to discover what happened. Included in the team are nuclear physicist Dr. Karl Weigand (Leslie Bradley), botanist Dr. Jules Deveroux (Mel Welles), geologist Dr. James Carson (Richard Cutting), biologists Dale Drewer (Richard Garland) and Martha Hunter (Pamela Duncan), along with Naval technician Hank Chapman (Russel Johnson), and seamen Ron Fellows (Beach Dickerson) and Jack Summers (Tony Miller). The team arrive to find the island deserted, save for birds and a few (SPOILER) land crabs. The seismic activity is causing the island to collapse, but more concerning to our heroes are mysterious noises in the night, coupled with what sounds like the voices of dead colleagues...

 I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised with Attack of the Crab Monsters, even if it barely scraped the hour mark. It's a compulsively watchable low budget sci-fi / horror hybrid from the late 1950s, one that overcomes its limitations with good ideas and tactful execution.

 Sure, the dialogue is often silly (an example: "Dr. Weigand, you are a great nuclear physicist, while I am a simple provincial botanist, but there are things I do not understand" "There are many things I do not understand also, Jules. You had better climb."), and continuity is touch and go. And let's not forget the "Day for, well, Everything," but Attack of the Crab Monsters exemplifies everything that would become the "Corman Technique." Yes, the budget is limited and shortcuts are taken, but the story makes up for its shortcomings, silly accents, and limited effects.

 Speaking of which, I have to say that Corman wisely holds off the crab monster (technically there are two, making the plural title accurate), instead suggesting with sound and creature POV shots something terrifying in the dark. Believe it or not, the monster itself doesn't look all that bad; the legs perhaps don't move as they ought to, but it's much larger than I was expecting and Corman avoids the old "normal creature on miniature set" trick that hampers so many films from the 50s and 60s.

 Attack of the Crab Monsters is also a more bleak movie than the beginning would lead you to believe, with its joke-y seamen and goofy French botanist (played, of course, by an American). The central gimmick (that an irradiated crab is capable of ingesting its victims and assimilate their memories and voices) is used effectively to keep you guessing, even if the title leaves nothing to the imagination. The constantly shrinking island (a result of nuclear tests that left the area unstable, coupled with strategically placed dynamite) adds some tension, and one is able to mostly overlook the "from the house to the cave and back again" structure of the middle of the film.

 The film also doesn't skimp on some gore, in particular a major character losing their right hand in a graphic fashion, especially for 1957. The ending is abrupt, appropriate, and when considered in the context of everything that came before, actually rather bleak for the survivors. It makes sense when coupled with the opening voice-over, a quotation of Genesis 6:7 ("And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them"). I've given credit to Corman for the trappings and construction of the film, but writer Charles B. Griffith deserves as many kudos for setting the stage for the director / producer.

 I'd always caught pieces of the film on television - it was a fixture on Joe Bob Briggs' Monstervision - but had never actually watched the film from beginning to end until today. It's certainly a "lazy afternoon" kind of movie, or one you can put on in the background at a party, with enough lurid imagery to catch the eye of a wandering guest, and I'd certainly consider programming it during a Horror or Summer Fest afternoon session. While not the best cinema has to offer, Attack of the Crab Monsters is never dull and well worth checking out if you see it on TV.