Friday, September 30, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: s. Darko - A Donnie Darko Tale

 After dying twice, Samantha Darko is saved by Iraq Jack (the one who looks like Jake Gyllenhaal) who puts on his homemade "Frank" mask and sacrifices himself so that no one will die during a meteor shower. Not remembering any of this, Samantha decides to go back home while her friend (who also died) continues on to California.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Donnie Darko

Thursday, September 29, 2011

So You Won't Have To: Red State

 This might sound strange, but I really prefer not writing So You Won't Have To reviews. It saves me the time of sitting through some unendurable piece of crap, and generally speaking you wouldn't be seeing it anyway (e.g. Evil Bong 3: The Wrath of Bong and Monsterwolf). However, enough people at work have been asking about Kevin Smith's Red State, a movie I had the misfortune of seeing the other day. Not only is it bad for a film; it's barely coherent as a Kevin Smith movie (one must accordingly lower one's standards for a director who openly admits he won't film action sequences* because it's too hard). Well, I'll save you the trouble of dropping any money on this waste of 88 minutes. If you paid upwards of $60 to see the film earlier this year with Smith in attendance, then I hope it was worth it for you.

 I'm going to try to keep this brief, because just telling you a little bit should go a long way. What starts out as a stupid sex comedy, complete with unlikable protagonists and a teacher that couldn't possibly keep her job for more than a month**, followed by the introduction of a protagonist getting a blowjob on the side of the road (by a guy, because he's shamefully gay. How do we know this? Because when he arrives at the Sheriff's office because he IS the Sheriff, he lies about where he was and cries in front of a picture of his wife). So it's not enough to have to sit through Randy (Ronnie Connell), Jarod (Kyle Gallner), and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) trolling around a Craigslist-esque site in the hopes of having a four-way with a Sarah Cooper (Melissa Leo); they also have to crash into Sheriff Wynan (Stephen Root)'s car before being drugged and hauled away.

 To where, you ask? Thankfully, there's no real question about it after a ham-handed introduction to the Five Points Church, which is unmistakably a proxy for the Westboro Baptist Church (who protest military funerals and proudly carry around signs that say "God Hates Fags." Yeah.) Like most of the heavy-handed commentary in the film (more on that in a bit), Smith wastes no time trashing the Church in order to make the fact that they trap Randy, Jarod, and Billy-Ray in order to kill them for their sins. This is the stage of the film that briefly apes Hostel, down to the execution of a separate character while the others scream. It's the only thing that comes close to the "horror" that people have been misled into believing that Red State might be (constant coverage on horror sites like Bloody Disgusting hasn't helped, nor did Smith's initial suggestions it was his "horror film").

 But worry not, because Red State is more of a clumsy mishmash of fundamentalist criticism, sex comedy, and siege film. As though it weren't enough to spend fifteen minutes on Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) delivering a sermon - and I mean fifteen minutes of nothing but said sermon - Smith then turns his critical gaze towards a Waco-like storming of the compound, led by ATF Agent Keenan (John Goodman). Keenan is given orders to wipe out Five Points, and struggles with the excessive use of force. See? It isn't just the hateful church to blame - the government is also reactionary and violent.

 Ugh. Okay, let's be quick about the rest of this. Much ado has been made about how this doesn't "look" like a Kevin Smith film because he shot it mostly handheld on a RED Camera. It's true that it doesn't look like a Kevin Smith film, but that doesn't make the visual style any better. Instead, I get the impression that Smith is very enamored of the handheld style of television, and he tries to ape it to the best of his ability, resulting in arbitrary camera angles, jagged, pointless edits, and his usual framing subverted by the ability to quickly swerve around. The visually unappealing nature compliments the forced, insipid monologues, and that's not a good thing.

 I'm going to go ahead and spoil the end of the film, because it ALMOST went in a direction audacious enough to salvage the garbage preceding it: after Keenan and his men gun down the last of our heroes, a blaring trumpet fills the air. Cooper and his "family" take it as a sign of the Rapture and drop their weapons, preparing to ascend to Heaven. And for a second there, it seemed like Smith was going to go that way, taking Red State in an entirely different direction***. But he doesn't - instead we get a long debriefing of what happened after Cooper tells Keenan to kill him, which he didn't. The three agents turn off the camera documenting the debriefing and get "real" about their excitement to lock up Cooper and subject him to "coke can dick" prison rape. To really underscore his position, Smith closes the film with another mini-monologue from Abin Cooper, followed by an off-screen voice (Smith's) yelling "Shut up!"

 Thank goodness I didn't have to see this film with Kevin Smith fielding questions afterward, because that's exactly what I would say to him.

* See the SModCast Network live interview with Edgar Wright.
** In addition to cursing and cracking homophobic jokes at the expense of her students, she openly denigrates the Westboro Baptist Church proxy in the classroom. Since the film takes place in our litigious present, you find me a teacher that gets away with what she does in the first ten minutes of the movie that isn't Cameron Diaz.
*** At one point, that WAS the ending, but Smith opted to go with a less interesting denouement.

Spoiler of the Day: The Box

 So the people who die when you press the button are the last recipients of the box. It's like a "pay it forward" of death, but with some unnecessary nonsense about aliens that may or may not have anything to do with why everybody who presses the button needs to die (and therefore not really get to enjoy their million dollars).

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: s. Darko - A Donnie Darko Tale

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Southland Tales

 Well... hmm... Two Stifflers are actually one person, and the Rock travels through time to ensure his own death... I don't know. You have to read the graphic novels or some crap like that to "understand" this movie. Movies that require homework - no wonder people don't talk about this like they do with Donnie Darko.

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: The Box

Cleanse That Brain with the Video Daily Double!

 Oh, my Educationeers, have I got a great Video Daily Brainwashing Double for you today! Our educational films for today will help wipe all thoughts of rebellion from your noggin and help ease you into a life of emotionless routine. First we break you down, then we extoll the virtues of your new subservient lifestyle. But enough talk!

 Rinse those craniums!


 Our first film, Facing Reality, helps identify people who are "out of it" and why they should be shamed. For once, it isn't strictly the fault of drugs, but of behavior. Do you project your failings on to others? FOR SHAME! Prepare to Face Reality!

 Our second film, The Relaxed Wife, gives plenty of tips for ways that we can relax around the house, mostly by suppressing our desires and not saying anything stupid. You aren't stupid, are you?

Join us next week as we transition into Halloweentown for a whole new set of edutational adventures!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Retro Five Movies: Did I See That?

 Every now and then, a movie will hover by, causing me to think "wait a minute - I saw that!" I had forgotten that I saw the film, and will in all likelihood forget about it shortly thereafter. It happened all the time when I worked as a projectionist, when I had the opportunity to see (and promptly forget) The In Crowd, The Replacements, The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps, or... see, this is when I draw a blank. Until recently I'd simply forgotten about Spy Kids 3D, a movie I saw and enjoyed.

 Today we'll take a look back at movies I not only saw, but owned on DVD and did not commit to memory. Some are good, some bad, but all of them vanished into the haze of my memory over the last decade.

  1. 3000 Miles to Graceland - There was this movie, way back in the early aughts, about a gang of criminals who decide to rob a casino during an Elvis convention in Las Vegas. You may have heard of it, or like me even seen it; 3000 Miles to Graceland stars Kurt Russell (Escape from New York), Kevin Costner (The Postman), Christian Slater (Pump Up the Volume), Kevin Pollak (The Usual Suspects), and Courtney Cox (Scream). Also, Jon Lovitz, Howie Long, Ice-T, Thomas Haden Church, and Bokeem Woodbine.

 What Does the Cap'n Remember: Well, I think there was a suggestion that Kurt Russell's character might be Elvis' illegitimate son. I think that was a subplot.

 2. Blow - I forgot about Blow for a reason: I didn't like the movie. Over the years, I'd see the cover and simply tune it out. The existence of Blow became white noise to me, and the film itself disappeared for the Cap'n. I watched the film because I liked Johnny Depp. I liked Ted Demme. I liked Penelope Cruz, Paul Reubens, Ray Liotta, and even Ethan Suplee (then of Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). I did not like Blow - it's a wholly unlikable "true story" that apes the structure of Scarface without the bite or compelling characters. People yell at Depp's George Jung and he just takes it. Wow, what an enticing film to watch for two hours. It's no wonder I struggle to recall seeing it.

 What Does the Cap'n Remember: Penelope Cruz being grating to the point that you wonder why anyone would stay with her. That's it.

 3. One Night at McCool's - Funny thing about One Night at McCool's; I remember really liking the film when I saw it. I may have seen it twice, and certainly told friends about the film. Ten years later? I can't conjure up ANYTHING about the movie. I think it has overlapping flashbacks, or at least some twists and turns. It was funny, and I know that John Goodman, Matt Dillon, Liv Tyler, Paul Reiser, and Michael Douglas are in it. Beyond that? I guess I should watch it again, because I couldn't even tell you what the film is about.

 What Does the Cap'n Remember: ...

 4. 15 Minutes - Edward Burns and Robert DeNiro are cops (?) trailing two Russian / Eastern European bad guys who commit crimes and then film them to be famous. One of them is Oleg Taktarov (Predators). I had this on DVD, watched it once, and it wasn't very memorable. So much so that I'm about to share the only thing I think I took away from it.

 What Does the Cap'n Remember: The bad guys kidnap DeNiro and torture him while filming. What happens after that? Beats me. I'm not positive that part happened anymore.

 5. The Avengers - You'd think I'd remember a movie as stupid as The Avengers. Sean Connery wears a bear suit at one point! In fact, we laughed a lot in the theatre and spoke about it for months after, and then I just sort of lost track of it. To this day I know I did see it, and moments pop out, but it sometimes catches me by surprise that a) the film exists and b) I watched it less than 15 years ago.

 What Does the Cap'n Remember: Well, the bear suit sticks out. The evil plan involved weather, right? And there was Good Uma Thurman and Bad Uma Thurman. Pretty much all there is here.

Honorable Mention to The Libertine, The House of Mirth, Keeping the Faith, Bridget Jones's Diary, The Last Castle, The Mexican, Saved!, Shanghai Noon, Sugar and Spice, The Matador, The Tailor of Panama, The Cider House Rules, Timecode, The Way of the Gun, Red Planet, Valentine, Down from the Mountain, Phish: Bittersweet Motel, Detroit Rock City, Finding Forrester, and Life as a House. I guess I did see you after all...

Spoiler of the Day: The Tooth Fairy

 Does the Rock play a hockey player who was kind of a jerk that is forced to become a tooth fairy and learn his lesson about being a jerk?

 Let's all guess. If you guessed "no," then you're absolutely wrong. This is Disney we're talking about.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Southland Tales

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Darkness Falls

 The Tooth Fairy did it.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: The Tooth Fairy

Blogorium Review (kinda): Blackenstein

 So maybe this weekend wasn't the best time to watch Blackenstein - I wasn't exactly paying attention (at all) during the second half. Hell, I wasn't even indoors after 45 minutes, but time is not on my side with this new schedule, so you have to take your lemons and make some lemonade. Besides, it's not like I couldn't figure out exactly where it was going (a prediction affirmed by seeing the last two or three minutes).

 So Vietnam veteran Eddie Turner (John De Sue) returned from the war missing his limbs, the result of a run in with a landmine. Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone), his fiance, is seeking a way to help Eddie when she comes across Dr. Stein (John Hart), who is working on experimental DNA therapies to help graft limbs on to para and quadriplegics. Since he won the Nobel Prize for "solving DNA," surely nothing can go wrong, right?

 Things are actually going just fine until Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson), Dr. Stein's assistant, develops a crush on Dr. Walker. Of course, she declines his advances, so he decides to switch the "DNA solution" that Eddie is being injected with, and Turner's condition begins to deteriorate, and before you know it, he looks exactly like Frankenstein's monster. But black. See what they did there? Blackenstein? But this time the title character isn't the doctor, but the monster. Why is he Blackenstein? Well, if you're going to make a blaxploitation film based on Frankenstein because Blacula was successful, things like logic in titles aren't going to bother you. Right William A. Levey, director of Blackenstein (and Skatetown, U.S.A., Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman, and The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington)? Don't think I'm letting you off the hook, writer Frank R. Saletri - you're just as responsible for this extremely slow exploitation film. That said, if you actually did direct a movie called Black the Ripper, I'll give it a shot...

 Well, Blackenstein took what felt like forever to get to the actual monster action, dwelling instead in amateurish camerawork, clumsy editing, and some really bad acting. I did chuckle at the superimposed fog on top of the "day for night" shots of Dr. Stein's hospital. It didn't look real in any way, but it was funny. Also funny? The ending. Since you're probably never going to see Blackenstein, I suppose it's only fair to mention that while I did miss most of the Blackenstein action, I did catch the end where the police corner the monster with dogs. And then the dogs EAT Blackenstein.

 So yeah, I'm not really recommending Blackenstein - it's neither as bad or as funny as something like Scream, Blacula, Scream, or Abby - but I thought it would be worth sharing that. As blaxploitation goes, it doesn't really fail enough to be worth watching, nor does it succeed in pretty much anything. From what I saw, anyway. But then again I wasn't exactly operating under the ideal conditions for Blackenstein. Something tells me that watching it in a cabin in the middle of nowhere wasn't the best bet. But I didn't want to bring The Evil Dead or Cabin Fever. Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. You best bet is to just go bearing.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Pre-Shocktober Trailer Sunday!

Shock Waves

The Earth Dies Screaming



Hell Night

The Abomination

Mother's Day

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Hellworld

 Pinhead is not actually killing the Hellworld game players during a massive party; they have been hallucinating based on a drug the unknowingly took. The real perpetrator is the father of their dead friend, who blames them. The Host kills all of them but two and escapes. While going through his son's belongings, he finds the Lament Configuration and summons the Cenobites. They kill him, and use his body to taunt the survivors. That's it until Hellraiser: Revelations comes out.

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Darkness Falls

Thursday, September 22, 2011

News and Notes: Vampire Nicolas Cage Edition

 Let's get this out of the way before moving to something more interesting: it's not that they're calling it Qwikster, which is admittedly stupid - I'm really entertaining the thought of dumping Netflix entirely. Not only am I not enamored of their streaming service, which sounds like it's going to get worse before it gets better, but if I wasn't interested in Gamefly after a free trial, Qwikster adding games also won't light my fire. I don't rent DVDs enough any more to justify the price (which will certainly rise very soon), and I'm having trouble justifying keeping either service. I'm certainly open to entertaining other options, including Hulu or GreenCine.


 Blogorium reader and author of Gin and Candy Liz Fitz asked me to discuss the photo circulating the internet last week of someone in the 1870s that looks like Nicolas Cage. It was listed on eBay and the sale is closed  Luckily, all you have to do to have your own copy is to right click the picture, which is all over the place, and save one for yourself. Then you can share it on the Blogorium, like so:

 The description makes the following claim, which has perpetuated - well, let's just look at the ingenious way someone sold this:

 Original c.1870 carte de visite showing a man who looks exactly like Nick Cage. Personally, I believe it's him and that he is some sort of walking undead / vampire, et cetera, who quickens / reinvents himself once every 75 years or so. 150 years from now, he might be a politician, the leader of a cult, or a talk show host.

 So this is clever; I'll give it that. Capitalizing on the inherent "weirdness" of Nicolas Cage (he of MEGA ACTING), people are of course going to be amused by the suggestion he might be a vampire. It's the same kind of garbage as the picture. Yeah, I said it. I don't believe for a second that it's real. At all. I'm sure that some incredibly devoted geek is out there hunting down the original photo where the subject is looking to his right (not head on) and isn't the face of Nicolas Cage awkwardly pasted on. Not for a second did I entertain this being genuine (as claimed), but I applaud the seller for attaching a comparably ridiculous theory to distract visitors. I'm sure they made some money, had some yuks, and will still claim the picture is "real." If that's what works for you, but remember that vampires don't photograph well. Just a thought.


Finally, I am slowly but surely shoring up the titles for Horror Fest 6, including a few films that aren't on the poster (which I'm still not in love with, so if you're the type who likes tinkering with design, I'll be happy to provide you with the text free version). Please keep voting using the options on your right - anything ought to be fun and the titles provide me with no end of amusement.

 Programming Note: The Cap'n will be out of town for the weekend, so while you can expect spoilers for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as well as the customary trailers to close out the week, there will be no reviews tomorrow or the day after. Have an enjoyable weekend watching movies, or whatever it is you do when I'm not here...

Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Deader

 Reporter Amy Klein is following up on a story of a cult called Deaders who can bring the dead back to life. The Deaders leader, Winter, ends up being killed by the Cenobites because he is infringing on their territory (Hell), and Amy opts to kill herself instead of become one of their victims. However, the Lament Configuration is still intact and waiting new victims...

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Hellworld

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Drugs, War, and Video Daily Doubles

 Hello again, Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy is back with another fantabulous Video Daily Double. Today I thought I'd return to two of our favorite kinds of propaganda films: War and Drugs. There's nothing like being told about what marijuana does to impressionable squares in the 1950s or being schooled on "German History" by the American War Department. How would you know what drugs not to do and who to hate without these films?

 Set your phasers to Learn!


 Our first film, The Terrible Truth, is another one of those "gateway drug" propaganda films to keep kids off of the grass. You see, not only does pot lead to other drugs, but it's also "jive talk" for marijuana. Oh, just watch it. You'll laugh, and don't even have to be stoned to enjoy it.

 Our second film, Your Job in Germany, may have been directed by Frank Capra and written by Dr. Seuss, but it's the title card over the Liberty Bell I want you to pay special attention to. Maybe it's just me, but it sure seems like they want you to remember the phrase "Liberty of the Ass." Could just be me, but you take a look.

Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Hellseeker

 Trevor is married to Kirsty from Hellraiser and Hellraiser II, but thinks he killed her in a car accident. At the end we learn that Trevor tried to kill Kirsty by forcing her to open the Lament Configuration. She struck a deal with Pinhead to deliver five souls instead of her own - Trevor's soul is the fifth. Kirsty killed Trevor and made the car crash look like an accident. She walks off with the Lament Configuration.

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Deader.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Retro Review: Virtuosity

 This is going to be the shortest Retro Review in the history of the Blogorium, because I have but one and only one memory to impart about the film Virtuosity. Forget The Towering Inferno. Forget The Poseidon Adventure. Forget Earthquake. There is but one movie of dubious merit that is, pound-for-pound, the most stacked with people who SHOULD KNOW BETTER: Academy Award Winners Denzel Washington (Training Day), Russell Crowe (Gladiator), and Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) join UFC and WWF Champion Ken Shamrock (Scarecrow Gone Wild) in what was the second sci-fi bomb of 1995 (after Johnny Mnemonic).

 I remember almost nothing about Virtuosity. It's easily been ten years since I last saw it, and other than knowing that Denzel is the good guy and Russell Crowe is the virtual reality serial killer who gets loose, I couldn't tell you anything about the movie. Nothing. Instead, I pulled up the cast list on IMDB and discovered that Virtuosity is a treasure trove of "that guy"'s, many of whom I would clearly recognize if I saw the film again today*. Let's have a look, shall we?

 A quick glimpse shows me William Fichtner (Drive Angry), William Forsythe (Dick Tracy), Kelly Lynch (Cocktail), Cotas Mandylor (Saw VII), Kevin J. O'Connor (Lord of Illusions), Christopher Murray (Smokin' Aces), Traci Lords (Cry Baby), Dustin Ngyuen (Rapid Fire), Anthony Winters (Sneakers), and last but not least Michael "Let's Get Ready to RUMMMMMMBLLLLLLE!" Buffer (Rocky V).

 All this talent in one movie, along with three people (and Ken Shamrock) who ought to have known better. I guess I could give Russel Crowe a pass, but Denzel Washington was in Malcolm X. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Malcolm X, for crying out loud. The man didn't need to slum - that's what Ricochet was for, and Ricochet is GREAT!

 Since I can't tell you much more about the movie, or even how we saw it (it must have been on VHS), let's take a look at the creative team, shall we? Director Brett Leonard cut his teeth with The Dead Pit, The Lanwmower Man, and Hideaway (with Jeff Goldlum) before moving on to make Virtuosity. After that, he made Man-Thing, Highlander: The Source, and Sigfried & Roy: The Magic Box. Writer Eric Bernt wrote Surviving the Game (good job!), Romeo Must Die, Highlander: Endgame (bad job!), Bachelor Party Vegas, and the remake of The Hitcher for Platinum Dunes. Now I suppose you could argue that each peaked before Virtuosity, but I like to pretend it was their "high water mark" before an inexorable decline.

 So, uh, what have we learned? That if I wanted to Spoil this movie, I'd have to look it up? Yep. That sometimes you really can totally forget about a movie you see until it pops up somewhere? Check. That maybe you should put a trailer at the bottom of a Retro Review to help convince yourself the film exists? Why, look at that!


* At the time, Crowe would be in that list too, as I hadn't seen Romper Stomper or The Quick and the Dead to that point.

Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Inferno

 Joseph Thorne is a detective chasing "The Engineer," but it turns out he is The Engineer, and has been in Hell - one of his own construction. Pinhead gives him a speech about demons and choices and blah blah blah, and we realize most of the movie we just saw was in Thorne's imagination. Yee-ha.

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Hellseeker

Monday, September 19, 2011

Blogorium Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two

 Forgive me, but I'm late to the party. By now, anybody who was going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two has already seen it or will be buying the film on DVD / Blu-Ray when it comes out... Christmas? I just checked and there's still no announcement, so let's go with that for now. I've heard two opinions with respect to the film: the film faithfully represents the second half of the novel, or that it narrows its focus in such a way that the final battle lacks the scope it should. Many characters get what amount to cameos (including a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" Emma Thompson shot), and characters that were set up (like Grawp) are totally left out. On the other hand, the film is often astonishingly bleak, in keeping with where Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves at the end of the last film.

 There doesn't seem to be much point in writing a plot recap, so I'll skip straight to my reaction. Lest ye wonder further, I really liked the film. I do understand the criticism of director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves' decision to focus solely on the trio of young wizards at the expense of a battle we've been waiting for these last four years. It was, in part, why fans were relieved when Warner Brothers split The Deathly Hallows into two films (a canny marketing strategy) - there was a sense that nothing crucial would be missing from the story, a problem that plagued various entries in different ways. The film begins, appropriately, to a grim and mournful march for students into Hogwarts. Escorted by Death Eaters, guarded by Dementors and overseen by the haunted visage of Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), this will not be the light hearted adventure that hid somewhere behind even the darkest entries into the series before. It opens The Deathly Hallows on a somber note of desperation - Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has The Elder Wand and is consolidating all of this power to the single purpose of killing Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe).

 In the interest of keeping the film vaguely adventurous, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) are still hunting for Horcruxes scattered by Voldemort, including a trip back into Gringotts bank with Griphook (Warwick Davis). The moment is amusing if for nothing else than seeing Helena Bonham Carter playing Bellatrix Lestrange as Hermione might imagine her, a performance that allows Carter to have some fun. My guess is that the extended magical mine cart ride existed largely to justify the 3-D, and it works well enough with out it but takes longer than it needs to. I'm inclined to give it a pass because when it's time to have actual stakes, people actually die and a dragon does what dragons ought to do, even in a "children's" movie*. From here on out, it's a direct line to Hogwarts and the final showdown between good and evil.

 Before addressing the how's and why's of criticisms of The Battle of Hogwarts, allow me to take a moment to mention things I was very taken by in translation from novel to film: I really liked Abeforth Dumbledore (CiarĂ¡n Hinds), the jaded, resigned brother of Hogwarts' former headmaster. He was exactly the voice of reason the story lacked up to this point, even if his position is short-lived. The final revelation of Severus Snape was handled pitch-perfectly, and integrates itself into earlier films in such a way that explain lingering mysteries while wrapping up his narrative arc. Many characters get smaller moments to shine, including Molly Weasley (Julie Walters), Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), Ollivander (John Hurt), Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), and especially the Malfoy family (Tom Felton, Jason Isaacs, and Helen McCrory) who have the opportunity to display a level of depth absent from the first five Harry Potter films.

 The film belongs by and large to Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes, which is as it should be, but it does mean that there's a lot of Harry sneaking around while the battle rages around him. It leaves characters like Lupin, Tonks, the Weasley family, Flitwick, Professor Sprout, Fleur Delacour, Professor Trelawney, Madame Pomfrey, Luna Lovegood, and Kinglsey Shacklebolt reduced to fleeting glimpses as the violence intensifies, while Harry has a face-to-ghost moment with Helena Ravenclaw (Kelly MacDonald), a character heretofore unseen. While I'm not surprised to see James and Lily Potter in very small roles, there's scarcely a good reason to bring Gary Oldman back to play Sirius Black for what amounts to three minutes. The same can be said for Robbie Coltrane, who is absent for almost all of the film as Hagrid.

 Part of the justifiable complaint about The Battle of Hogwarts is that Yates sets up an epic showdown, staying with Voldemort and the Death Eaters as they assault the school, cutting back to concerned professors, members of the Order of the Phoenix, and students as they prepare what meager defenses they have. The films have been building to this point, where two opposing forces must clash, and nearly all of it happens on the other side of a doorway from the main action. Yes, it is important to follow Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Yes, they need to destroy the final Horcrux (well, next to final), but Yates doesn't give audiences who have been waiting for this moment since Voldemort killed Cedric Diggory in cold blood much more than a "oh, that's going on over there." Yet we're supposed to feel the loss from cursory cut-away's to fallen characters. If you haven't read the book, have fun trying to figure out which Weasley brother is supposed to be dead, by the way.

 Still, the final showdown between Potter and Voldemort is exactly as it should be, and is preceded by the second moment for Neville Longbottom that justifies his otherwise insignificant role in the film adaptations**, as well as the long payoff to the Malfoy subservience to the dark lord. On the other hand, if you haven't been paying close attention (or haven't seen The Half Blood Prince in a while), you might not grasp how Harry was able to defeat Voldemort, at least until he explains it at the end. The moment between Harry and Dumbledore in an in-between realm is touching, and the coda is strangely effective, even if the "older-age" makeup isn't wholly convincing.

 But I quibble too much. Are the some issues with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two? One could argue there are. Do they ultimately undermine the movie that is? I don't think so. I sense there's a longer cut out there somewhere, one that fills in many of the gaps in the second half of the film. As for the 3-D, I can't say that it would have helped the Room of Requirement of Gringotts any more than not having it hurt them, and the film works just fine in 2-D. I don't see the need to add gimmickry. The film is a fitting closing to the series, and considering that I nearly didn't come back after hating the first film, that says a lot to the Cap'n.

 * Which Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One and Two are not. If you take young children to this film, you're an idiot. Good luck with those nightmares, geniuses. Audiences are meant to age WITH the books / films, not be plopped down in front of the most adult films of the series because you assume they're for children.
** Stripped from the films entirely was the suggestion in Order of the Phoenix that the prophecy may have been in reference to Neville and not Harry.

Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Bloodlines

 Okay, so let's just focus on the crap in the future. Yes, future - Paul Merchant, a distant descendant of the creator of the Lament Configuration, is aboard a spaceship with a robot that is designed do solve the puzzle box and open a portal to Hell. Paul is captured and imprisoned, but the Cenobites arrive and kill everyone, so Paul frees himself, tricks Pinhead with a hologram, and leaves the ship. He activates the Elysium Configuration, which surrounds the ship in a box of eternal light (using mirrors and lasers), which... kills the Cenobites? Well, it was a crap movie anyway. On to the next one...

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Inferno

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser III - Hell on Earth

 Pinhead is trapped inside of the Pillar of Souls (it appeared at the end of Hellraiser II) and is trying to get out. He tries to trick a girl named Joey into freeing her, but Pinhead's soul split and formed Captain Eliot Spencer, a World War I of the British Army. After drawing Joey into the dimension where he's trapped, Pinhead is once again merged with Spencer and Joey is able to solve the Lament Configuration and banish them to hell. She escapes, but foolishy dispenses with the puzzle box in the foundation of a building, one that takes on its appearance as the film ends...

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser - Bloodlines

Trailer Sundays? Where we're going, we don't need Trailer Sundays...

Hearts of the West

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

The Bad Sleep Well

The Colossus of New York

Road to Nowhere

The Funhouse

Brighton Rock

Five Movies: Alternate Cuts That Helped

 Yeah, I thought I might be talking about Star Wars this evening, too. But I'm not nearly far enough into the Blu-Ray set to do that, so you're just going to have to wait a little bit.In case that wasn't clear, yes I did get the Blu-Ray of the complete series for the extra three discs, which I've been poking through when I have time. I never said I wasn't going to; I just said I'd think about it. Go back and look for yourself. But I digress, let's take a look at Five Movies that benefited from revisionist directors, writers, producers, or actors.

I have, in the past, bagged on THX 1138, Aliens, Terminator 2, Donnie Darko, and The Exorcist for alternate versions (usually called "Director's Cuts") that remove ambiguity or clutter up the film with unnecessary subplots or sequences. This past week the cyclical outrage over changes to Star Wars again brought up the debate about whether the creative force behind a film has the right to alter their movie, or if the movie belongs to the audience.

 In some cases, these alternate versions are effective or even improve upon the film, with or without the participation of the original cast and crew. This was actually a harder list to put together than the "Theatrical Cuts I Prefer" counterpart. I ended up leaving out a lot of alternate versions; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly has an interesting "extended" cut, as do Apocalypse Now and Touch of Evil. I've decided to leave them off not because I don't like them or, in some cases, prefer the alternate cuts. The "workprint" version of Alien 3 is the only alternate cut we're likely to see since David Fincher has no desire to revisit the film, so I'm leaving that out of the five, although it materially changes the experience of watching the film. Not having seen the theatrical cut of The New World, I don't want to compare the two necessarily, although the differences are by all accounts atmospheric in nature (as I understand it, Blood Simple is a similar situation). I opted to leave out The Lord of the Rings and Leon: The Professional, but freely admit I prefer the Extended Editions.

 To keep to the rules, these are five films that have been changed dramatically by revisiting footage, inserting or deleting material. One or two have subtle changes in visual effects, but all of them are as or more interesting because of the alterations.

 1. Brazil - What is frequently forgotten when looking at the battle over Brazil is that between the two extremes of Gilliam's cut and Universal's "Love Conquers All" cut is that they reached a compromise before the film was released in December of 1985. The theatrical cut of Brazil was twelve minutes shorter than Gilliam's original cut (details covered here, which also mention a fourth version of the film), and it wasn't until the Gilliam approved Criterion release of the film that fans were able to see his complete cut of Brazil. Taken in its full scope, I tend to appreciate the abrupt opening and better sense of absurdity in the world than in the American theatrical release.

 2. Payback - This is a point of contention between friends, because I am partial toward Brian Helgeland's "Director's Cut - Straight Up" Payback, many of them hate it. Payback was a film we were tremendously fond of in 1999, and it's no-nonsense, smart ass attitude was a huge component in seeing it three times in the theatres and many more times on video. I wasn't aware that Helgeland walked away from the film when he couldn't cut the film in a way palatable to Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Icon Productions (Mel Gibson's company). I had no idea that the explosions, the narration, and Kris Kristofferson weren't a part of his original conception of the film. That the ending was much bleaker.

 After Helgeland left, Gibson shot much of the new material himself and that's the Payback audiences saw in theatres. And I really like that Payback. In 2004, Gibson and Warner Brothers reached out to Helgeland to see if he wanted to put together his version of the film - a leaner, darker experience - and he took them up on it. The resulting film is a dialectical Rashomon to the theatrical cut: they tell roughly the same story in a similar way, but the execution is different. Helgeland's cut is more mean-spirited, more direct, and isn't as interested in moments beyond Porter getting his money back. Gibson is more ferocious, and a violent exchange with Deborah Kara Unger shifts their relationship into a more volatile state. Porter is less likable, less identifiable, and his situation ends the way it probably would have, the way he thought it would. I realize that I'm in the minority even liking the director's cut, but I think it's a fascinating contrast to the "audience friendly" version I was first enamored of.

 3. Kingdom of Heaven - Longer is not always better. Ridley Scott's extended cuts of Gladiator and Robin Hood, for example, don't improve anything (in the latter case, they just muddle things more). Kingdom of Heaven, on the other hand, benefits significantly from expanding from two-and-a-half hours to a little over three hours as a Director's Cut. The theatrical cut briskly moved along, undercutting the scope and depth of the Crusades. However, by reincorporating nearly 45 minutes of footage, Scott eases the choppy nature of the film and lets it breathe as a full-fledged epic. (See differences here, and they're significant changes) When I mention Kingdom of Heaven, I make a point to recommend the Director's Cut, because while the running time may shy people off of the film, the shorter cut isn't worth bothering with.

 4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - As far as I know, the only way to see the alternate (referred to as Unrated) cut of Conquest is on Blu-Ray, but two changes shift the tone of the film significantly. Only the opening and closing were changed in 1972 (to secure a PG rating), and of the two the ending is more important. The brutal beating of a gorilla in the original opening sets the tone, but Caesar's post-riot speech at the end has been removed entirely. Instead of appealing for mercy, Caesar allows the humans to be beaten to death, and the bloodied apes are shown stacking the bodies of riot police officers. Gone is the implication that apes and humans could or should live side by side, which makes Battle for the Planet of the Apes (which also has an alternate Blu-Ray cut) a little more tenuous. The shift, however, is in keeping with the militant tone of the film.

 5. Blade Runner - I couldn't not put Blade Runner on this list. I really thought about leaving it off, because nearly everyone agrees that there's a stratospheric leap in quality from the Theatrical Cut to the "Final Cut" (named so because Scott was not actively involved in the already exisitng "Director's Cut"). Many of us grew up with the narration laden, expository heavy Theatrical Cut on VHS, and while it is what drew most to the world of Blade Runner, the 1992 "Director's Cut" really sparked a renewed interest in Ridley Scott's follow-up to Alien.

 Personally, I prefer the Final Cut, because it reflects changes Scott wanted to make but couldn't (he was working on Thelma and Louise). The differences between the DC and FC are not always evident, but are minor adjustments (the dove flying away, Zhora's death scene, the shift in one of Batty's demands to Tyrell) designed to make Blade Runner more cohesive. The most significant change is Deckard is no longer dreaming about the unicorn; he is shown to be awake the entire time. The Final Cut retains much of the ambiguity of the Director's Cut but has the polish and attention to detail Scott was unable to provide at the time. If I'm going to watch the film, nine times out of ten it's the Final Cut.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Hellbound - Hellraiser II

 Well, Frank is in Hell, and the evil resurrected Julia kills him again, but loses her skin. Kirsty finds it, disguises herself as Julia, and saves the new girl Tiffany. Tiffany manages to solve the Lament Configuration before the warden of the mental institution / Cenobite can kill her, and everything is okay. Only, it's not, because there are still six more Hellraisers to go (not counting the new one that's coming out or the remake in the works.)

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser

 Frank is successfully resurrected, and even steals Kirsty's father, Larry's, skin. Unfortunately, cenobites are always around that pesky puzzle box, and Pinhead and company find and even more horrible way to punish Frank. Kirsty closes the puzzle before Pinhead gets her, but there's always the sequel...

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellbound - Hellraiser II

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blogorium Review: Paths of Glory

 An important note: I watched Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory the same night that Bin Laden was executed, and the subsequent reaction from crowds across the country (particularly in New York and Washington, D.C.) couldn't help but resonate with me to the end of the film. By necessity, I might have to spoil the narrative a bit, but I think you'll understand why when we get there.

 During the trench warfare of 1916, General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) asks General Mireau (George MacReady) to send a division of troops on an impossible mission: storming the heavily fortified "Anthill," where the Germans have successfully pinned down French forces. Mireau knows it can't be done, but Broulard is hinting at a promotion for the effort, so he heads down to the nearest trench and orders Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) to carry out the raid. The Colonel is well aware that the 701st Regiment is in no condition to charge alone, and is promised a modicum of artillery support, so he reluctantly agrees to follow his bombastic General's orders. When things go awry, the Officers demand a court martial for cowardice, and petty squabbles within the 701st send three soldiers to their deaths, with only Dax ( a criminal lawyer in civilian life) standing in between them and the firing squad.

 It seems to me that Paths of Glory is often categorized as a "stark, unflinching anti-war film from Stanley Kubrick," which is true, but leaves out one important element of the construction of the movie - it's humor. I suppose people like to overlook the fact that the film begins as a comedy of sorts; at first as an outright parodic take on the formality of war from the perspective of the upper brass. Then Kubrick takes a deliberate turn towards the end of the film, stripping away the foibles of soldiers and gallows humor of execution in order to sober up audiences before they can go home.

 The officers are portrayed as blissfully unaware (or simply uninterested) in the realities of war, and Broulard and Mireau's early conversation has an arch, formalized component that makes the most sense if read as comedic. The opening scenes are funny, as are the introductions to the soldiers - many of whom are shellshocked, undesirable, lazy, drunk, or simply beaten down by trench warfare. When Mireau arrives, his chipper attitude and total ignorance towards their plight further compounds the humor. It's not unlike watching Chaplin's Shoulder Arms with less physical comedy. Corporal Paris (Ralph Meeker) has to put up with his drunken, cowardly superior Lieutenant Roget (Wayne Morris), who in a fit of stupidity kills one of his own men during a patrol and refuses to acknowledge that it happened, despite the fact that Paris saw him throw the fatal grenade.

 After the failure to raid the "Anthill," which includes the division being split up and 1/3 of the battalion refusing to leave the trench position, Mireau orders the artillery to fire on his own men, much to the shock of the Captain Rousseau (John Stein). Mireau orders everyone to lie and attempts to have 100 men executed for cowardice (the logical Broulard talks him down to 3, for a "morale boost") and the film takes a bit of a turn. The laughs come less from the disconnect between officer and soldier and side more with the futility of justice. Roget is assigned to choose one man for execution and immediately chooses Corporal Paris. Private Ferol (Timothy Carey) is chosen because his Lieutenant doesn't like him, and Private Arnaud (Joe Turkel) just has the dumb luck of being chosen. It doesn't matter he was cited twice for bravery; he's a coward now.

 Colonel Dax is thwarted at every turn by the court-martial, who is only interested in putting on a show for the upper brass and shipping these men off to their deaths. The frustration of the three condemned men and their commander is bleakly funny, as are a few moments following Arnaud, Paris, and Ferol as they await death. Dax gets his dig in by forcing Roget to carry out the firing squad, and when he discovers that Mireau killed his own men in a rage, the Colonel sees to it that promotion is the last thing on the General's plate - even though the delusional Mireau protests loudly to Broulard when faced with the truth.

 The final moments of the film strip away the black comedy and focus on the concept of war as a morale raiser for other troops. Dax, who refuses Mireau's promotion, prepares to return to the trenches, but first stops outside of the commissary. A young German girl (Susanne Christian, later Christiane Kubrick) has been captured by the French and is forced to sing in front of the rowdy, drunken soldiers. Their high from watching "cowards" being executed turns into catcalls, whistles, and lewd gestures as she tearfully sings "Der Treue Husar." Slowly, their jingoism fades away as the fragile, terrified girl in front of them tries to finish her song, and humanity wins out, however briefly.

 It was a coincidence that watching Paths of Glory coincided with Bin Laden's assassination, and while I can't say I mourn his passing, there was something oddly fitting about that evening. The reaction around the country, captured live on the news, to a military killing of an undesirable had the same morale boost in this era of instant communication that it does in Kubrick's fourth film (adapted from Humphrey Cobb's novel). The final moments of the film, which undercut the celebration, linger with me, and make me wonder when (or if) the fundamental humanity lost to "the Other" will hit us. To that effect, Paths of Glory is as potent today as it was in 1957. The stilted comedy is also as effective as it is cruel later in the film, an often forgotten but necessary component in its success.

Spoiler of the Day: Blade Runner

 So, depending on which version you watch, there are two ways this can go:

 In either version, Deckard nearly falls to his death and is saved by Roy Batty. Batty explains his appreciation of life before dying, and Deckard goes back to his apartment. Here's where it gets fuzzy.

 Original Theatrical Version: Deckard provides narration while he and Rachel drive off down a highway in the woods and it implies the ending is unknown, but hopeful.

 Director's Cut / Final Cut: Deckard goes home, grabs Rachel, and they leave. The film goes to credits. It's important to note that the Director's and Final cuts strongly imply that Deckard is also a Replicant, necessitating their haste.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hellraiser

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

If you have to ask, the answer is probably no (a very special Video Daily Double)

 Good day to all Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy returns with another fantastic edition of the Video Daily Double, designed to wash those brains clean of any rebellious notions. Today we're going to deal with two very important questions; questions you may have asked yourself before and not been sure how to answer. The bad news is that if you had to wonder, chances are you were totally wrong. The good news is that Coronet Films knows what the right answer is, and they're going to help change your mind so that you know it too!

 Make with that good old educating!


 Our first film, Am I Trustworthy?, is designed to help scumbags like you understand why no one wants to have anything to do with you. Look, you asked the question; I'm just keeping it real with you. I guess if you stick around long enough you might learn how not to be a scumbag, but chances are you won't.

 Our second film, How Do You Know It's Love?, is really about how it isn't love, and you should stop thinking it is until you understand that emotional connections are totally irrelevant in securing a long term relationship for the 1950s. What are you, some kind of communist?

Spoiler of the Day: Insomnia

  Original: Crime novelist is the killer, but so is the cop (who shot a fellow officer by accident). One is ambiguously set free, the other is not.

 Remake: Thirty minutes longer, but basically the same first sentence. Both die, but the cop finally gets to sleep.

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Blade Runner

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Retro Review: The Star Wars Trilogy (Special Edition)

 I hadn't really planned on revisiting Star Wars again after last week's epic The Phantom Menace / Prequel Trilogy retrospective, but a valid question came up as a result of the review and the general discussion of Lucas' digital tinkering with nearly every iteration of his films since 1997: what did you think about the first major changes when the films were released for A New Hope's 20th Anniversary?

 Let's keep this shorter than last week: the funny thing is that I really didn't mind it in 1997. Chalk part of that up to age (18) and to enthusiasm to see Star Wars on the big screen. I responded strongly to the trailer:

 I was part of that "entire generation" that grew up watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on VHS. I still have all of those tapes (one of which has From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga as a bonus), and watching pan-and-scanned Star Wars was how I knew them. Yes, I saw Return of the Jedi in the theatre, but I was four. I have memories associated with the film, but it's not like I can reflect on it with crystal clarity. I certainly couldn't provide a nuanced discussion of what seeing the film on the wide screen was for a child - I didn't know the difference for a long time.

 The first time I saw the trailer was in front of Mars Attacks (a movie I really should do next week for the Retro Review) and alongside a fellow Star Wars geek, I was frothing at the mouth at the chance. The fact that there were "a few new surprises" were icing on the cake as far as I was concerned - I still had the original trilogy on VHS so it wasn't like they were going away forever, y'know? It was just another way to watch the films.

 But yeah, even a couple of years later the Mos Eisley extension seemed crowded and unnecessary. The Jabba sequence in A New Hope was redundant information after the Greedo scene. Oh, and the whole "Greedo Shoots First" thing. That was a big point of contention, even in 1997. That I do remember, because it fundamentally changes the kind of character Han Solo is before we really get to know him. He's a smuggler, untrustworthy, and not afraid of shooting his way out of a bad spot. Greedo doesn't need to shoot first to justify Solo's cold blooded murder. That's just how Han Solo rolls.

 What else? Oh, the giant sand vagina dentata now had a little phallic monster that popped out? Why? Because they could. Digital Dewbacks, Vader's shuttle, more Wampa, and that silly song and dance replacement in Jabba's Palace that tries to mask criminals reveling in someone being eaten alive. And no more Ewok song. Yeah, can't say I really missed "Yub Nub" that much. Luke screaming when he chooses falling over joining Vader was stupid, but it wasn't really enough to turn me against Star Wars. Again, that was largely The Phantom Menace. It's weird that the revisionism and digital trickery didn't feel indicative of what was to come, but those were more innocent times... 

 There's an interesting side note to Return of the Jedi that may point to an early example of George Lucas tinkering: from the theatrical version to the VHS release, Lucas cut a brief sequence in the Rancor pit where Luke jumps up and hangs from the bottom of the "trap" Jabba and company watch the mayhem through. His hands are smashed by Jabba's minions and Luke falls, hitting the Rancor on the way down. The linked photo above has been floating around the internet for years and many believe it was in the theatrical release but had been cut by the time of home video release. It's not a memory I can say is genuine or manufactured, but it seems like that moment is familiar from 28 years ago.

 So there you go - I'm not giving the Special Editions a pass, per se, but a younger Cap'n was less heavy with the scrutiny back then. Remember, that's when I used to like Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. Take that for what it's worth...

Spoiler of the Day: Hannibal

 Who has one thumb and likes eating people?

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Insomnia

Monday, September 12, 2011

Democracy is back.... and so is HORROR FEST

 Well gang, I've been sitting on this announcement for the last week or so, but now that things have opened up in such a way that I feel comfortable in declaring there will be a Horror Fest at the end of Shocktober. But not just any Horror Fest:


 Coming October 28th-30th, 2011

 Now here's where the Democracy in Action kicks in:

 See that note on the right side? 80s Slasher Night? The Cap'n has a backlog of 80s slasher flicks from this summer that he wants to showcase - many of which have simply been forgotten in the sands of time. I have so many, in fact, that I don't even know what to show.

 So here's what I'm going to do - Starting tonight, I'll set a poll up every week from now until October 21st listing five different slasher titles. Choose one title that strikes your fancy, and the finalists with the most votes will play on Sunday night. I haven't had time to watch all of them, so I don't have preferences here. All of them look cheese-tastic and I'm sure they'll all be tons of fun.

 I'll have more details in the weeks to come, but I wanted folks to know that while Summer Fest was a bust this year, Horror Fest will be back and better than ever just in time for Halloween!!!

Spoiler of the Day: The Passion of the Christ

 According to the credits:

 "The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental"

 Okay, that was the easy joke. So by now you know how the silly looking Satan and the sillier looking Satan Baby show up to tease Jesus, but do you know how the actual movie ends? Not how the story ends, but the last shot?

 Extreme close up of light shining through stigmata. Yep.

 Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hannibal

Sunday, September 11, 2011

To Take Your Mind Off Of It Trailer Sunday: The Movies of September 2001



Rock Star

The Musketeer

The Glass House

Hearts in Atlantis


Spoiler of the Day: Braveheart

 William Wallace doesn't defeat England. He is a) vivisected, or b) drawn and quartered, but I guess his half screamed, half choked "Freeeeeeeeeedoooooommmmmm!" inspired somebody, right?

Speaking of which...

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: The Passion of the Christ

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Basic

 In one of the stupider twists I've ever seen (and I've only seen the "twist" of this movie), no one on Samuel L. Jackson's elite team were killed, nor is John Travolta (who is involved in the "investigation"). At the very end, they reveal it was all a ruse to end drug smuggling, and they offer the investigator a spot on the team. Seriously.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Braveheart

Blogorium Review: Megamind

 Megamind was the second "villain who goes good but doesn't really know how to do that well" movie that came out in 2010 - Despicable Me was the first, and as I'm constantly being told by children or friends who have children, the more popular of the two. However, people my age without kids were on the sidelines whispering, "you know, Megamind is actually pretty good." While I haven't seen Despicable Me, I did watch Megamind, and I can totally understand why kids wouldn't really be into it. I can also understand why geeks would be, and not just because Guillermo Del Toro and Justin Theroux were story consultants (listed in the credits, by the way).

 The story isn't necessarily original - in fact, it's Superman but told from the perspective of Lex Luthor, if Lex Luthor were also General Zod or something to that effect. Two babies were launched from two different planets facing oblivion. One landed in a wealthy, well-to-do family's living room and the other landed in a prison for the criminally gifted. Accordingly, one discovered he had super powers and the other realized he was very good at constructing devices of mayhem. They grew up to be Metro Man (Brad Pitt) and Megamind (Will Ferrell), and along with his minion, well, Minion (David Cross), the latter attempts to destroy the former and fails miserably every time. That doesn't stop Megamind from kidnapping reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) and tricking Metro Man into flying into the fake Metro City Observatory, but when Megamind accidentally kills his nemesis, he's left not knowing quite what to do in victory.

 From there the film takes a few choices than I expected - one in particular about the inevitable return of Metro Man - as Megamind settles into what he's supposed to do with Metro City (which he has the habit of pronouncing like atrocity). I wasn't really expecting his plan to construct a new superhero named Titan (well, Tighten) using Roxanne's cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill), or a prolonged flirtation with the reporter while disguised as a guy named Bernard (Ben Stiller), but I think you can guess how things turn out. Well, maybe. The Metro Man subplot has a nice twist, anyway.

 It's not really the familiarity with comic book tropes that's going to throw off kids, though. More likely it's going to be the moral quandary Megamind finds himself in throughout the film - he wants to be evil, but he's not very good at it. On the other hand, when he tries to do the right thing, he's not very good at that either. His huge cranium and blue skin tend to scare off people, and Minion isn't very comforting either: he's a giant fish inside of a robot suit. Megamind has what I've come to refer as the "little cute anthropomorphs that don't talk" that all kiddie movies seem to have these days (in Despicable Me, for example, they're called minions) - but somehow I don't see many cuddly toys being made from the Brainbots.

 There's also the issue of the music which, save for the exception of Michael Jackson's "Bad" and ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky", tends to lean on the heavier side. There's some AC/DC, some Guns 'n Roses, some George Thorogood (guess which song?) and the general attitude of the film reflects that rowdy, unruly attitude. When Titan invariably turns evil and starts destroying Metro City, I can imagine children wiggling in their seats uncomfortably. Of course, adults are probably doing that during the "everything's okay" dance number at the end, but for most of the film they'll be happy not to be pandered to. Megamind may be rated PG and sit comfortably in the shelf next to children's movies, but it is not of children's movies. It's a movie made in stylistically and narratively to be a companion piece to The Incredibles, and while I don't feel Megamind quite makes it that high, the end result is still pleasantly surprising. If you're inclined to check in on what the kids are watching these days (or have friends with children over) this is one of the rare Dreamworks Animation films I've seen not immediately bogged down in pop culture references. Okay, there's one that might be totally irrelevant after 2012, but it made me chuckle. Check Megamind out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Surviving the Game

 Ice-T walks away from Rutger Hauer, but not before jamming the barrel of his gun. The gun explodes and Hauer's life slips away like tears in the rain. The moral of the story: Replicants can't beat Cop Killers.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Basic

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blogorium Review: No Escape

 Today I thought I'd take a look at a movie that the Cap'n thinks of from time to time: No Escape. It's a movie that I've never seen, nor has anyone I know ever seen*. No Escape is the kind of movie that I remember seeing the trailers for in 1994, thinking "wow, Ray Liotta really didn't capitalize on that bounce from Goodfellas, did he?" It's always in the back of my mind for reasons I can't explain; it's not like I ever wanted to watch No Escape, or that (until today) I've even entertained the idea, but it's always hovering on the outskirts of my cinematic radar.

 No Escape comes from the days when studios would give it a go with movies we would today assume were "direct to video" releases. It's not as though there wasn't DTV back in the mid-nineties, but for some reason there was just as good of a chance of seeing a movie like Surviving the Game playing in an actual movie theatre instead of inconspicuously appearing on shelves at video stores. That's not to bag on Surviving the Game, which is an entertaining action movie loosely based on The Most Dangerous Game starring Ice-T and Predator 2's Gary Busey. Actually, Surviving the Game has a pretty good cast, although if it were released today you'd swear I was talking DTV: Rutger Hauer, Charles S. Dutton, John C. McGinley, and F. Murray Abraham. It was released the day after my fifteenth birthday, and I didn't see it in theatres, but I watched the hell out of it on video.

 Wait - shit, what was I talking about? Oh, right - No Escape. See how hard it is to pay attention to this movie for very long?

 Ray Liotta plays Captain J.T. Robbins, an insubordinate military type who shot one of his superiors and is sent to Leviticus Level 6 Maximum Security Prison, where "death is the only way out." The movie opens with a Death Race 2000-esque text screen explaining that in the year 2022, "the international prison system is operated by private corporations" and that "criminals from all over the world are exploited at a profit." The Warden is played by Michael Lerner, who I immediately recognized from Barton Fink, but was apparently also in Newsies and Maniac Cop 2, if you're more familiar with those**. At first we just see The Warden (listed in the credits as "The Warden" as a giant holographic head, which fits into this stupid looking post-apocalyptic(?) world where a prison that looks like an oil rig in the middle of the desert is only accessible via monorail and everybody carries cheesy looking rifles.

 The Warden takes an interest in Prisoner 2675 (our boy Ray), who was, incidentally, court marstialled some time this year in Libya (what are the odds?) and he has a "pathological aversion to authority" and is constantly escaping from prisons. I'll give No Escape credit for cutting right through most of the futuristic prison crap early on (like in the first ten minutes), including the "don't mess with me because I'm the warden" and the "learning the rules of the prison," because if I'm going to watch a "badass in prison movie," it's going to be Escape from Alcatraz or The Great Escape or something that's not this movie. I remember two things from the trailer: a cliff and Ray Liotta with what I now understand is probably a stupid-looking future rifle.

 The cliff is on Absolom, an island owned by the international prison system where the worst of the worst live, fight each other, and lead primitive societies. Why? Because they haven't heard of the Battle Royale program yet, I guess. It's funny, because the computer images of the island sure look like the ones from BR, and it's divided into sectors in the same way. But no explosive collars; definitely and oversight on The Warden's part - he could televise everything and make big bank, like The Running Man. But oh well, Captain Robbins is unceremoniously dumped into a pile of rats and the helicopter takes off. Let's guess whether a tribe of savages who used to be prisoners capture him!

 If you guessed no, then apparently you also haven't seen No Escape or the part of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when he meets the kids in the jungle. Except that instead of kids, these prisoners have completely reverted to ridiculous "primitive" stereotypes complete with half-jumpsuit / half-loincloth outfits and face tattoos. This "Road Warrior" knockoff is run by Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson), who wears a washboard and has piercings through the bridge of his nose but brags about his camp like it's a hotel. Instead of Thunderdome, it's Thunderpool, but thankfully Liotta isn't having any of this crap and the fight scene is comically shortened. Again, this is one of the small favors No Escape gives us - setting up something stupid and then quickly dispensing with it.

 There's nothing in this movie that I haven't seen done before (or better) somewhere else, but at least the people in No Escape and the people who made it are aware of this and inject it with a certain goofy charm. When Robbins rejects Marek's offer to stay, the tribal leader says "now that was a very silly thing to do." To be fair, it was silly to push a man into his own pool, but the asshole had been talking about this dump like it was a luxury hotel, so he at least can appreciate being made fun of in turn. If No Escape was meant to be a comedy, I missed that in the advertising, but some of the shenanigans Roberts gets into are edited like joke "setup / payoff" moments. Like when Liotta is supposed to be falling off of that cliff I mentioned, but it's clearly someone being lowered by wires that's just barely flapping his arms around. That's some funny shit right there.

 Of course, there is another tribe, like the one with Ernie Hudson in it that's run by Lance Henriksen. They decided to rip-off Asian culture in the vaguest sense possible, so they wear armor that looks a little bit like Sherpa clothing and robes. Henriksen is the "Father" of the Insiders tribe, and the other jerks we met were the Outsiders; one group is the prisoners and the other are the enlightened prisoners who want to create a society free of... whatever. You get the dynamic. Despite being a rebel and general malcontent, Robbins almost immediately offers to help the Insiders fix the weapon he brought with him. Then he meets some more crazy characters (including Kevin Dillon***), learns about how he can't escape, deals with the inevitable showdown between Outsiders and Insiders, and then proves the title incorrect. But that was to be expected, right?

 To be honest, it all got to be a bit of a blur after the movie turned into The Road Warrior meets The Postman (but before The Postman came out, so take that Kevin Costner!) on a prison island, and I found myself wishing that I was watching Surviving the Game. Because Ice-T with dreadlocks really was something to see. That movie was also really derivative, but it didn't get really boring and wasn't two hours long like No Escape is. Why is No Escape two hours long? I have no idea. Martin Campbell (who would go on to make Goldeneye and Casino Royale) does a good enough job with the action and if I'd read Richard Herley's The Penal Colony, maybe I could say that Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross did a good job adapting it. Not really sure how to weigh in on that one.

 The truth is that No Escape just isn't that memorable. It's just enough of a movie to keep reminding you that it exists, but not good enough to make you remember anything about it you couldn't see in the trailer. I chuckled a few times, but I think I'm comfortable enough in saying that I won't be feeling compelled to watch No Escape again. Once was enough, thank you very much; I think I'd rather watch movies that are better knock-offs from before and after 1994 after all.

* If this is untrue, Cranpire, Professor Murder, or others, I apologize. You've never mentioned it.
** He's also in a movie called Wax On, Fuck Off that I suddenly have the urge to see.
*** Ha ha, get it? Because Matt Dillon was in The Outsiders!

Spoiler of the Day: Hobo with a Shotgun

 The Hobo kills The Drake and then dies in a hail of gunfire because the police all work for The Drake. Just when it looks like the Hobo is actually dead, he's whisked off in a time machine to help hunt Ice-T in the 1990s.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Surviving the Game.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Spoiler of the Day: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

 Paul Reubens dies, but very, veerrrrry slowly - not even the credits can kill him. Buffy takes a few years off, regenerates into Sarah Michelle Gellar, and begins life anew on the WB. Rutger Hauer, wounded, but not dead, begins riding the rails in hopes that he can buy a lawnmower. Instead, he finds a different path...

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Hobo with a Shotgun.

Back to School with the Video Daily Double!

 Welcome back, Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy is back with another fabtacular Video Daily Double. We've moved away from the slackadasical summer sales films, and it's time to pull your own as a student. I know, school can be boring and there's not much to buy (except from the nasty cafeteria and that guy who looks way older but is still in your grade behind the gym), but it's important that you understand that social programming isn't just about buying crap - it's about becoming a brainwashed model citizen.

 On with the noggin cleansing!


 Our first film, How to Maintain Classroom Discipline, is designed to help teachers run their classes. If you misbehave, should you get a whuppin'? Let's find out:

 Our second film, Act Your Age, explains why teachers might need to administer the whuppin's. Don't think it's all on your educator, Johnny and Jane. You'd better act right, or sit with pain!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Retro Review: Star Wars Episode One - The Phantom Menace

 While talking about Star Wars last week, it occurred to me that like many movies I hold near and dear I've never given them a proper write-up. This still won't really be a proper write-up for The Phantom Menace, but I do want to continue the thread I began in the triple feature review of Rush Hour 2, The Siege, and Star Trek: Insurrection. In that I laid out the pattern of an obsessive Star Wars fan (one who'd gone batty at seeing the Special Editions but was old enough to have seen at least one film the first time around) and this is the payoff. This was what it all boiled down to: no more teasers, trailers, leaked audio from ADR sessions or pictures or crazy rumors / script reviews*; it was time for the real thing, at midnight.

  May 18th, 1999 came too soon - I didn't have tickets for the midnight showing because I'd just returned from school an hour-and-a-half away and hadn't been able to procure any. Even working for a local theatre proved futile in getting to see The Phantom Menace on opening day. I was convinced it would be sold out by the day before (and I say the 18th because most of this takes place before midnight, May 19th, 1999) and was scrambling to find anybody who had an extra ticked. A friend of my brother's had one at the appropriately named Imperial Cinemas (now it's the Galaxy), and I got there around... 9:30?

 Young, delusional, and buying into the hype, I was convinced that the massive line would already be happening in short order, so two-and-a-half hours early seemed like a good idea**. I was probably the seventh or eighth person in line, which gives you some idea of the level of fandom for The Phantom Menace and the futility of my fears. By the time 11:45 rolled around (when they opened the doors), there was a line wrapped around the front and side of the building, although it was nothing compared to the one I was in for Revenge of the Sith, where we were in a parking lot for the grocery store next to the theatre two hours before the film started.

 We all piled in, got our popcorn and drinks, had a seat (third row) and waited for new Star Wars. Holy shit, can you believe it? NEW Star Wars! The sensory overload, the crowd's adrenaline, and the glow of lightsabers sustained two hours of wooden, stilted line delivery, personality-less characters, dumb jokes, and soulless fight scenes. We were too overwhelmed by the event to care that the movie didn't live up to its tremendous hype, let alone to the minimum expectations of a competently made film. For days, I would continue to delude myself into thinking that The Phantom Menace was a film that needed to be, one that I was better for having seen.

 The fundamental flaw of Episode One isn't any of the litany of illogical plot developments or the "kiddie" tone (for that, I direct you to the notorious Mr. Plinkett reviews of the prequels, which are hilarious, brutal, and often illuminating). The problem is one inherent in any prequel: you already know where the story is going. New characters introduced are going to be killed off or shoved to the margins in order for the characters the audience already knows ARE in the original films to step forward. So unless you really want to know HOW Obi-Wan Kenobi came to train Anakin Skywalker or WHY Yoda decided to go into exile on Dagobah, there's not a lot for you in these films. But we were willfully ignorant of this, and I did ruin at least one person's experience by casually mentioning that Qui-Gon Jinn was going to die before the movie ended.

 I watched The Phantom Menace in its entirety four times that summer: the midnight screening, twice with friends, and once with my Dad, who was unimpressed. I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn't the disappointment that everyone said it was (and that I knew deep down was true) by sneaking off during breaks at the movie theatre I worked at to watch the Obi-Wan / Darth Maul lightsaber fight. I'd time breaks so I could walk in just in time to see it. All this time, this interest, invested for naught? It couldn't be. Twenty year old Cap'n Howdy couldn't believe that. It can't be true; it's impossible.

 But search my feelings I did, and I knew it was true. You could hear it drop like the proverbial turd when The Phantom Menace dropped on VHS. Already Lucas had made changes - extending the Pod Race and including a longer sequence where our heroes fly through Coruscant. Why? Because he felt they "improved" the experience. The really just made the film longer, and without the big screen and crowd enthusiasm, The Phantom Menace was as bad as I knew it was. I just couldn't pretend otherwise.

 I tend to think of that experience as the point at which I became more cynical about the hype surrounding films - I'd been burned, and so had many other geeks my age. Sure, we went to see Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (sometimes at midnight), but more out of a grudging sense of completion, a "let's get this over with." The excitement turned to caution, then dread, then relief. The scratch had been itched, and I was no longer outraged by Lucas' incessant tinkering with his films on DVD (and now Blu-Ray); this was the man who brought us the Prequels, his undiluted vision of the Star Wars universe, and they were not good. They were barely watchable, and I don't own them any more. It grouses me a bit knowing that if I want to see the bounty of extra material Lucasfilm has been ferreting away for decades that I'll have to own them again. I tried watching the end of Revenge of the Sith on TV yesterday and howled with laughter at how bad the writing was.

 At this point, I don't really feel like it's worth piling on to George Lucas for his rotten prequels, but they are the reason that I have to temper expectations for movies I really like. Yesterday's Attack the Block review is a great example - I really enjoyed the movie, but don't want the film to get bogged down by people who think it's going to fix their car or something. Somehow we got on this kick that any movie that's better than "pretty good" has to be elevated to transcendent levels, and a lot of that has to do with the built-in cynicism that came for geeks in a post-The Phantom Menace world. Half of the geeks automatically assume something is going to suck because "they" will "mess it up," so the other half pushes too hard to counter that attitude and movies suddenly have to be the second coming to be worth seeing. I remember going to see just about everything pre-Godzilla and The Phantom Menace with a blissful ignorance of whether it would be good or not - The Big Hit? Lost in Space? Suicide Kings? The Faculty? We were there. Hate it, love it, going was fun. I think that The Phantom Menace took some of that away, or at least changed the way I looked forward to movies.

* Like this one, for example. I can't find the one on Ain't It Cool that goes over-the-top about a SPOILER that can't be revealed - and I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what people coming into this movie could have been "spoiled" by. On the other hand, I don't think Jeffrey Wells feels too bad about his column now, or even six months after the release of The Phantom Menace.
** True story: on a whim, two friends drove by Mission Valley and Park Place 16 to look at the lines for The Phantom Menace only to find empty parking lots.

Spoiler of the Day: Teenage Mother

 The miracle of life. Also, a prudish teenager gets her comeuppance, and a Swedish Sex-Ed teacher gets molested and kind of likes it. Future David Hyde-Pierce does not approve. Fred Willard doesn't seem to mind.

Tomorrow's Spoiler of the Day: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Blogorium Review: Attack the Block

 Attack the Block is a movie I'd been interested in, but cautiously optimistic about. Films that seem to come out of nowhere and get heavy praise from "geek" friendly websites tend to reach a fever pitch of hyperbole about how "awesome" it is. By the time the average moviegoer gets to see an Attack the Block or Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (or even Stardust), the end result is underwhelming. These movies aren't usually the second coming, and even if they are really good (and Attack the Block is better than really good), they get beaten up for not living up to exaggerated hype. Opportunistic bloggers and critics sick of hearing how "amazing" something is will use this disconnect to "take the film down a peg" and the general public is left with the impression that the latter opinion is more trustworthy.

 The film is sort of a mirror universe version of Harry Brown, where the kids are the heroes and instead of a cantankerous old man, visitors from outer space threaten their way of being.  I noticed that the first wave of really negative reviews of Attack the Block focused on the fact that the "heroes" of the film are not only anti-heroes, they're downright unlikable for long stretches of the film. Windham Tower in South London is the home of Moses (John Boyega), Pest (Alex Esmail), Jerome (Leeon Jones), Biggz (Simon Howard) and Dennis (Franz Drameh). The first thing you see them do is rob Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a nurse who lives in the same building (though they don't know that yet).

 The gang of teenagers are interrupted when a creature falls from the sky and destroys the car near them, and while investigating, Moses is attacked by the alien. The boys decide to chase the alien down and kill it, and instead of being afraid, they parade its body around the neighborhood, bragging about how they run the block. Eventually deciding it might be worth money, they take it to the top floor where Ron (Nick Frost) sells weed, and Moses hides the alien corpse in his grow room with the permission of Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). From the window they see more creatures falling (overlooked by most of London because of the fireworks) and head out to kill more aliens. Unfortunately, the new arrivals are a lot more dangerous, and they seem very interested in Moses and his friends.

 I can understand why some critics don't enjoy the fact that audiences are asked to cheer for characters who are (at best) petty criminals. They continue to threaten Sam after an arrest goes wrong thanks to alien attacks and force her to help Pest when one of the creatures bites his leg. They seem to think that it's okay that they robbed her and that things are evened out because she was in the police van when they escaped, so they "saved her life." When things calm down and she mentions that she was thinking of moving because she "didn't like the neighborhood," the boys berate her and Biggz tries to leave her to the aliens when they abandon her first floor apartment. The best apology Moses can offer is that they wouldn't have robbed her if they knew she lived on the block. It's a tough sell for audiences, even if the film ends in a more realistic way than most science fiction films would. It's an odd balance between racial, class, and gender tensions with an alien invasion movie, and I can see why some people react negatively.

 That said, the film is really a lot of fun. Director and writer Joe Cornish keeps things moving at a brisk pace and never over-explains anything. There's no fat in the film: Brewis (Luke Treadway), a Zoology student / pot head that provides what may be the only exposition in the film, and while there are subplots that involve Hi-Hatz (the boys crash into his car and incur the wrath of an underwritten character) and two younger kids - Probs (Sammy Williams) and Mayhem (Michael Ajao) - who look up to the gang, Attack the Block is mostly focused on the boys, Sam, and the "big alien-gorilla-wolf motherfuckers."

 The aliens are sort of like the monsters from Critters, except with longer arms and legs like apes. They're fur and glowing blue teeth, and seemed to the Cap'n to be a mix of practical puppets and CGI. As nemeses, they're a palpable threat, and unlike many "young people vs. mystical something," there are casualties within the gang - usually in vicious ways. Cornish wisely doesn't over-use them, and the logic behind why they might be on Earth is solid enough. Really they just need to be dangerous, which they are, and to keep the tension high and the pace elevated. Cornish uses smoke from Pest's firecrackers to create suspense at critical junctures in the film, and the narrow walls of the apartment complex keep the boys with few options but to fight.

 Whether you like the characters or not (and it's hard not to at least appreciate the Boyega's charismatic Moses), Attack the Block is a very well made film that is getting all kinds of attention because Edgar Wright is an executive producer (Cornish is a friend of Wright's and appeared directed Fuzzball Rally, which followed the press tour for Hot Fuzz). I don't know that I'd say that Wright appears to have influenced Attack the Block in any noticeable way (other than possibly casting Frost in a smaller role than the poster indicates), and the film is more John Carpenter-esque than anything else. I really think that people will enjoy Attack the Block as long as they ignore over-the-top praise. Yes, it is funny. Yes, it is unabashedly R-rated (violence and language), and yes, it's a nice take on the "alien invasion" genre. It's not going to make you breakfast the next morning or walk your dog. Sorry; Attack the Block is just a movie. A damn good movie, which is more than enough for me.