Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Retro Review: The Siege, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Rush Hour

 This is a little bit different take on the Retro Review, less about the specific films listed in the title and more about the reason WHY I sat through two movies I'll never watch again and a movie I haven't seen in nearly a twelve years and vaguely remember. The connective tissue between these three disparate, otherwise wholly unrelated films, has everything to do with George Lucas and May of 1999*.

 Although Star Wars doesn't receive the level of attention at the Blogorium that it might have ten years ago, I was once a fanatic of George Lucas' sci-fi / fantasy series. These days, in the wake of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars movie and subsequent series (which I have not and do not plan on seeing), and the impending Blu-Ray release / 3-D re-release of the "saga," I just don't feel the need to write about Star Wars that much anymore. I'm not one of those hyperbolic "Lucas raped my childhood" idiots**, and I do sometimes smile or chuckle at a well placed SW reference, but most of the time I just don't think about the movies. Any of them, even if I'm more inclined to watch A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back than the other four.

 That was not always the case; from the announcement of the Star Wars prequels (some time after the 1997 Special Editions) until the release of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, I was a rabid fanatic. You can ask anyone I knew in college freshman year, when I undoubtedly drove them nuts with taped trailers from Entertainment Tonight or the latest rumors from TheForce.net.More to the point, I was insufferable when it came to seeing the teaser trailer, and I had a habit of dragging very reasonable friends to movies we wouldn't see otherwise because the teaser was "rumored" to be attached. I was home from school on three occasions, and I think you can figure out what the first two movies were.


I'm sure you've all seen Rush Hour at this point; you've probably seen Rush Hour 2 and not Rush Hour 3 (at least, that's my level of interaction with the series). I heard that The Phantom Menace's teaser ran before the film, and that Rush Hour might be funny. I suppose we enjoyed it, although I'd be pressed to tell you much about Rush Hour. Thinking back, it seems like I remember as much about Rush Hour as I do Shanghai Noon (anybody see that movie?). It's an amiable comedy, notable (at the time) for featuring Tom Wilkinson, who I had seen in The Full Monty the year before. I can't honestly remember if the trailer was attached or not, but it seems like it wasn't.



  Skip two months later to Thanksgiving break of 1998, when a similar situation unfolded for The Siege.
Driving to the theatre, I swore up and down we wouldn't be as "let down" this time, and by "we," I meant "me" because compared to The Siege, Rush Hour was a walk in the park. Other than hating the movie, here are the things I remember about The Siege: Bruce Willis, Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, and Tony Shalhoub were in the film. It had something to do with a terrorist attack or the threat of terrorism or something, and Willis declared marshal law in New York. That's it. I never saw The Siege again, don't recall enjoying it, and have no plans to revisit the film. Considering that we (I) only went to see The Siege to watch that trailer, and the trailer wasn't there, I was doubly disappointed.

 How I eventually saw the teaser trailer or what it was playing in front of is lost to the ages, so I'm just going to assume I saw it online over and over in some horrible quality QuickTime on a loop, obsessing over the minutiae until the next trailer came along. Maybe it's even on a cd-r or a floppy disc somewhere, lost in the shuffle of the following decade.

  Star Trek: Insurrection is more of an appendix to the story, a movie I saw with my Dad for Christmas or possibly even early in 1999 for his birthday. The film itself is a elongated, mostly pointless episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I'd largely forgotten until watching Mr. Plinkett's review of the film***. It's only really worth noting because I do know that the Episode 1 trailer played before Insurrection, and was arguably the highlight of the afternoon.

 This is not a Retro Review for The Phantom Menace (although I might do one of those down the line), so there's no need to get into whether the film lived up to the teaser or not. I just thought you might chuckled at the lengths to which a young and silly Star Wars fan would go to see a trailer. Not the movie, a trailer. Laugh it up, fuzzballs.





* You could also consider The Mummy to fit into this rubric, although its release was much closer to Episode 1. For whatever reason, I gave The Mummy's crappy visual effects a pass because, as I reasoned, "ILM put most of their effort towards Star Wars."
** If you don't understand why using a rape metaphor to describe your reaction to three shitty movies, you are an idiot. Period.
*** Appropriately, the reason I knew Mr. Plinkett existed was because of his now famous Episode 1 review.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Blogorium *ahem* Review: The Hangover Part II

I fully admit that I'm borrowing this concept verbatim from Outlaw Vern's review of The Stepfather remake, but for there were a few people who heard me say "The Hangover Part II is the same movie" and thought that was a good thing. I guess it could be if you want to pay $10 to see something you can get from Redbox for a dollar, plus popcorn and all the other accouterments, but to prove my point, here's my original review of The Hangover, amended to reflect the same movie The Hangover Part II.

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The Hangover The Hangover Part II won't cure diseases, or bolster world peace. It's not likely to make many "top" lists, when "serious" and the "meaningful" films are to be had, but so what? The Hangover The Hangover Part II is a comedy that sets out to entertain, offend, and periodically shock you. And that it does very pretty well, in addition to being quite slightly less funny.

Forgive me if the Cap'n is late to the party. It is a well known fact that as much as I'd like to get out and see films during their actual release, I rarely do. To remedy this, I do attempt whenever possible to watch them on the fancy tv with the fancy picture and sound hookups. This part is mostly irrelevant as I obviously saw the movie yesterday and everything the follows is pretty much accurate. I even leave my phone on for that "authentic" movie theatre atmosphere. Normally speaking, it makes up for not seeing it with others in a darkened auditorium*, but I do feel I cheated myself out by not seeing The Hangover The Hangover Part II with others.


  If anyone at this point doesn't already know the plot of The Hangover The Hangover Part II, I will detail it in brief: this time, Doug (Justin Bartha) Stu (Ed Helms) is getting married, but before he does so his friends are taking flying with him to Vegas Bangkok for a blow out reserved bachelor party (that actually happens in an IHOP in the U.S.). The friends in question are school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), dentist Stu (Ed Helms) Doug (Justin Bartha) and soon-to-be brother-in-law invited against Stu's wishes Alan (Zach Galifianakis). Rather than seeing the bachelor party, the audience is introduced to the aftermath, as the very hung over and completely confused Stu, Phil, and Alan try to retrace their party trajectory. See, they lost Doug Teddy, Stu's soon-to-be-brother-in-law, and Teddy's dad already hates Stu who is getting married very soon.

Along the way, they run into escort / stripper Jade (Heather Graham) Kimmy (Yasmin Lee), who Stu married at some point had sex with / is a transsexual, a very not quite as naked  Chow (Ken Jeong), another Doug (Mike Epps) a tattoo artist (Nick Cassavetes), and Mike Tyson. What any of these people may have to do with a stolen police car a missing finger, a tiger drug dealing monkey, a baby Buddhist Monks, and roofies is up for you to figure out. Also, Stu seems to be missing a tooth have Mike Tyson's tattoo on his face. These, and other debaucheries come to light over the 108(ish) minute unR-rated Theatrical cut of The Hangover.

Early reviews indicated that the film was lacking on consistent laughs almost exactly the same movie, to the degree that the cast keeps saying things like "I can't believe we did this AGAIN!" - a point I disagree with - but compensated for very big gags jokes about trannies and boners strategically placed throughout the film. While most of the reveals as to how or why such strange things happened during the bachelor party are the source of the biggest laughs, I'm going to side with a more consistent mostly the same comic approach to the film, largely from character moments. Director Todd Phillips (Old School) hit the jackpot with the combination of Cooper, Helms, and Galifianakis. You could not put three more different people together, but they have a chemistry that sells the rampant absurdity of the story.


Cooper manages to make Phil, a complete asshole who starts the film stealing money from field trip funds a prescription pad from Stu's office, a reasonably likable dude by the end of the film. Ed Helms begins The Hangover as a henpecked loser dominated by Melissa (Rachael Harris) pretty much the same milquetoast dude as in the last film, and grows out of that "type" in a believable way to embrace his "dark side" for reasons that aren't really believable. You can actually buy his final scene with Heather Graham the guy who plays his fiance's Dad as something nothing that could happen between those characters.

Galifianakis runs away with the movie, partially because Alan is a walking non sequitur transformed into a total sociopath. Half of what Alan says doesn't make sense, and the way he makes connections or expresses whatever dementia going on inside that brain carries the humor past big joke set pieces. I was personally fond of the way that the film addresses some of his off hand comments but not others (like why he's not allowed near schools or Chuck E Cheeses). There's also a ridiculous payoff for a Rain Man joke earlier in the film that works because Galifianakis sells it so well. Well okay, Alan is actually more obnoxious at the beginning of the film which doesn't help things.

In the interest of keeping this review short, I won't mention all of the great supporting parts from Jeffrey Tambor, Rob Riggle, Matt Walsh, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Callen, Mike Epps, and particularly I guess Mike Tyson, who has a much better scene than just that is like the Phil Collins moment in the trailer, except this time he sings "One Night in Bangkok" at Stu's wedding. I'm not at all surprised that a sequel is in the works inevitable for The Hangover The Hangover Part II, because the combination of Cooper, Helms, Galifianakis (and, to a lesser extent without spoiling anything Bartha**), is too good to pass up revisiting the line for the midnight show was ridiculous when I was leaving Bridesmaids and people are going to pay a ton of money for something they already saw. I wouldn't mind seeing didn't see more of Heather Graham in a this sequel, as her character is criminally underused in the film, aside from a third-act con game in the casino she either asked for more money or was busy or something.

There is one complaint I must register with The Hangover The Hangover Part II, and it is a matter of personal disagreement. The Dan Band, who Phillips also used in Old School, show up near the very end of the film, and are featured in such a way that it nearly derailed my enjoyment of the entire film. I just don't like that group, and having them singing a lounge version of 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" isn't going to change that. the fact that it's really just The Hangover all over again, except in Bangkok. You can figure out almost immediately where Teddy is and everything else that happens is clearly misdirection.Why? Because you ALREADY SAW THIS MOVIE! Otherwise, The soundtrack the music alternates between bachelor party appropriate and inspired (like the use of Danzig's "Thirteen Black Hell" to open the film play over the opening credits).

If you're like the Cap'n and somehow slow to pick up on the universally positive buzz generally "meh" buzz that nevertheless has people turning out for The Hangover The Hangover Part II, now's as good a time as any to catch yourself up. I doubt you'll regret it, unless you offend easily or really like babies monkeys that smoke cigarettes.



* Please don't fail to note that I've been sharing excerpts of a paper I wrote extolling the virtues of seeing films theatrically. The irony is not lost on me, I assure you.
** It was not until writing this that I checked IMDB to figure out why Justin Bartha looked so familiar. Turns out he was the "nerdy" character in National Treasure. His part in The Hangover The Hangover Part II is enough of a departure that I never made the connection.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Little Something for Everyone Trailer Sunday


The Final Programme


America's Sweethearts


Mysterious Skin


The Silence


Postcards from the Edge


Terror in the Haunted House


The Eiger Sanction

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blogorium Review: Thor

I'm of two minds when it comes to reviewing Thor, because as much as I want to convey to readers that the movie is not only watchable, but eminently better than the garbage passing itself off as "summer entertainment" year after year, I also feel a responsibility to point out that half of the film is much better than the other. I feel this is directly attributable to Thor's director, Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh, whose output varies from the likes of Dead Again to a remake of Sleuth, is best known for his Shakespearean films - Henry V, Hamlet, Love's Labours Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It (as well as appearing in Othello) - and the influence of the Bard on his adaptation of the Nordic-God-Turned-Marvel-Comic-Hero is apparent throughout the film.At least, part of the film.
 
  In the realm of Asgard (one of the nine cosmic realms), Odin (Anthony Hopkins), King of the Gods, is preparing to step down and enter Odinsleep - his period of hibernation - but first must decide which of his sons to hand the throne of Asgard to. His oldest son, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is brave, if stubborn, whose rule may be undermined by a sense of entitlement. His youngest son, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) spent his life living in the shadow of Thor, and while his mischievous nature is recognized, his desire to win Odin's approval is evident. When the Frost Giants invade Asgard and try to steal back the Casket of Ancient Winters (their power supply), Thor disregards Odin's wishes and travels to Jotunheim with Loki, Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and The Warriors Three - Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Joshua Dallas), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) - in tow to destroy the King of the Frost Giants (Colm Feore). Furious, Odin strips Thor of his powers and orders Heimdall (Idris Elba) to banish his son to Earth.

 And that's the first half hour or so of Thor. That doesn't take into account astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her advisor Dr.Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), and assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings), who discover Thor while searching the deserts in New Mexico for wormholes (or, as the film insists on calling them, "Einstein-Rosen bridges*"). No sooner have they found the brash, unruly son of Odin than Mjolnir, Thor's hammer, also falls to Earth and is discovered by S.H.I.E.L.D., headed up by Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who continues to appear in all Avengers-related Marvel films.

 The New Mexico part of the story, including a well-staged action sequence involving Thor, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team (including an extended cameo by Jeremy Renner, who will play Hawkeye in The Avengers**), is unfortunately the half of the film that doesn't really work. It's clear that Branagh is more interested in the Shakespearean power play at hand in Asgard, where Loki assumes power as Odin collapses after banishing Thor and proceeds to manipulate events in order to keep his older brother from ever returning. What happens on Earth, the place where Thor learns humility and earns his "God of Thunder" powers - which should be the most important part of the film - takes a back seat to Asgardian politics.

 Portman and Skarsgård are wasted in roles that serve no purpose: Jane Foster's developing romance with Thor never really makes sense because there's no story arc to support it. Selvig seems to exist in order to bridge Norse mythology to the story at hand (as is evidenced by the many times Skarsgård is forced to mention or read tales of the Viking Gods during the film), and for one good scene where he (badly) lies about Thor's identity to free him from S.H.I.E.L.D. captivity. There's also the after credits tease, but I'll get to that in a minute. I have no idea why Kat Dennings is in the film at all, as Darcy contributes nothing to the story unless the three screenwriters (plus two credited "story" writers) felt the pressing need to have three people discover Thor.

 Gregg is, as usual, fine as the "been there, seen that" second hand man of S.H.I.E.L.D. This time, he's on his own (Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury doesn't show up until later), and makes a credible Earth-bound foil for Thor, I guess. Since Thor pretty much gives up on beating goons after failing to raise Mjolnir, it's hard to really say. Again, the Earth-bound business feels perfunctory, second to the far more interesting Asgard story.

 Branagh seems to be more comfortable with Hopkins, Hiddleston, Hemsworth, Elba, and Renee Russo (who I didn't even recognize as Odin's wife Frigg) and the power struggle between father and sons. It's as though he's reveling in a pulp fiction twist on King Lear, and the film comes to life during throne room conversations. That's not to say that the Asgard half of the film isn't without its problems, though - another Branagh idiosyncrasy pops up that further confuses the narrative.

 Audiences have some idea when they are introduced to Loki that he's supposed to be the villain: his posture is slightly stooped, his hair is slicked back and his sullen, sunken eyes just scream "bad guy waiting in the wings!" But when the time comes for Hiddleston to shift from younger brother with an inferiority complex to full on baddie, Branagh doesn't convey that. This shouldn't be surprising: Branagh also devoted as much of his Hamlet as possible to give nuance to Claudius, typically portrayed as the moustache twirling villain. And there's something to be said for nuance, for giving a villain dimensions, or even to make him sympathetic, but Loki is such a muddled antagonist that he's never a genuine threat for Thor.

 In fact, Loki doesn't actually behave in a villainous manner until the after-credits sequence (directed by Joss Whedon, it turns out), where Selvig is summoned by Nick Fury to examine the Cosmic Cube. This brings me to another problem that isn't Branagh's fault, per se, but more attributable to Marvel Executive Producer Kevin Feige: the "set-up" effect.

 To be fair, Thor integrates Marvel characters (specifically Avenger-related) in a less intrusive way than say, Iron Man 2: there are small asides that indirectly mention Tony Stark and Bruce Banner; there's the aforementioned "Hawkeye" scene, and The Cosmic Cube is their way of anticipating the Captain America film to come. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect is that Thor on Earth isn't really about Thor among humans, but as laying the groundwork for The Avengers, right down to the last thing he says to Agent Coulson before leaving for Asgard.

 Okay, so I've nitpicked Thor as a way of addressing why there's a small (but vocal) backlash against the film online, so why do I think it's better than most summer entertainment? Well, the Asgard sections of the film are very good, as is the battle with the Frost Giants. Hemsworth and Elba are both great; Hopkins hasn't been this watchable in a while, and while they don't make much of an impact in the story, Sif and The Warriors Three have a natural chemistry with Thor that hints at a stronger relationship than we see in the film.

 The film is also funnier than this recap might suggest, and the laughs are much needed considering how much "fish out of water" plot is glossed over. The effects are impressive, particularly the Bifröst and bridge of Asgard. More to the point I feel the need to stress that there actually IS a story in Thor, which is more than I can say for a lot of "summer movies." It may not be the perfect comic book movie, but if you don't mind the imbalance of interest on Branagh's part, there's a lot to enjoy in Thor.





* I mention this because Ain't It Cool News, of all places, has an actual astrophysicist that breaks down the science of Thor here, and it seems like while the name is appropriate, it's really just a fancy way of saying "wormhole."
** I mention this because Coulson never actually uses his Avengers moniker, so either you know about the casting or are enough of a Marvel fan to know why he chooses a compound bow over sniper rifle. Or both, I suppose. Otherwise, it's just "hey, why is Jeremy Renner in this movie?"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blogorium Review: Bridesmaids

For the record, I was not forced to see Bridesmaids. I chose to see it. Believe it or not - and based on my track record, I'm probably going to surprise some of you - but the Cap'n does actually watch the occasional "chick flick / romantic comedy." In fact, of my own volition I've seen Bridget Jones' Diary, The Banger Sisters, Keeping the Faith, Say Anything, It's Complicated, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, America's Sweethearts, Amelie, Juno, and Sleepless in Seattle. I even liked some of them!

With that qualifier in mind, Bridesmaids is an unusual entry to the well worn genre: on one hand, I can't call a movie that includes a "girl talk" scene, two baking montages, and a surprise appearance by Wilson Phillips at the big wedding scene, just in time to sing the bride's favorite song, anything other than a "chick flick." The structure is pure "rom-com" - girl meets boy, girl pushes boy away, girl has meltdown, and boy comes back at the very end to drive away happily ever after.

Annie Walker (Wiig) is going through a rough patch when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she's getting married. When Lillian asks Annie to be her maid of honor, she takes on the responsibility of managing the bridal party: Rita (Wendy McLendon-Covey), Lillian's cousin tired of her husband and three children; Becca (Ellie Kemper), a newlywed with no life experience whatsoever; Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the groom's sister, a rude, crude, and socially unacceptable firebrand. Competing for Lillian's affection (and maid of honor title) is Helen (Rose Byrne), a wealthy homemaker who plans to lavish the bride in every possible way to upstage the lower-middle class Annie. Through her trials and tribulations of keeping everything afloat, Annie meets Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), possibly the only policeman in Milwaukee, a kind-hearted neighbor that takes a liking to our troubled heroine. Will Annie hang on as maid of honor? Will she realize that Rhodes is the right fella for her, and will they live heavily ever after?

Okay, the "happily ever after" is where we deviate, because Bridesmaids (written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and directed by Paul Feig) may be the most depressing "comedy" you're ever going to see, heaping soul crushing, life debilitating events on Annie Walker (Wiig), including but not limited to losing her bakery and all of her savings, being kicked out by her roommate (Matt Lucas) and his sister (Rebel Wilson), moving back in with her mother (Jill Clayburgh), and being labeled "number 3" *ahem* buddy by perpetually horny Ted (an uncredited Jon Hamm). There are moments in the film where I genuinely wondered where the comedy was supposed to be coming from, or if Bridesmaids was still supposed to be a comedy at all and not an Alexander Payne-esque exploration of middle-aged misery.

The funny thing is that Bridesmaids is often uproariously funny, and not in a cutesy, "chick" friendly way - the film alternates between vulgarity and gross-out jokes, and has a number of laugh-out-loud moments: a dress fitting that turns into a vomit and shit-fest, culminating with Maya Rudolph kneeling in the middle of a busy street, soiling a sample wedding gown; the airplane ride to Las Vegas tops that by cutting between a drunken Annie crashing first class, much to the chagrin of a beleaguered flight attendant (Mitch Silpa) and the back and forth between Megan and a man who may or may not be an Air Marshall (Ben Falcone). It also opens with a goofy sex scene between Wiig and Hamm that quickly spells out their relationship while generating laughs. The film doesn't quite go as far as the "glory hole" scene in The Sweetest Thing, but Wiig and Mumolo's script doesn't hold back on the profanity. This is unquestionably an "R" rated comedy.

Kristen Wiig carries the film effortlessly, only showing brief flashes of Saturday Night Live characters (mostly during the airplane sequence), and does more with just a look than most comedians are capable of. I'm not sure why Hamm went uncredited, but he plays a no-nonsense sleazeball as someone who doesn't seem to care that he just asked you to "take a nap in my lap" while driving you home from an accident. O'Dowd has an affable quality to him that reminds me of John Cusack or Dylan Moran*, and early scenes between O'Dowd and Wiig have a real spark. Maya Rudolph has the thankless role of being the bride fought over by the ladies, and has to react to most of the mayhem (dress ruining scene aside), and I'd rather not spoil a handful of smaller roles.

All of the bridesmaids have great moments, but the VIP actually goes to Melissa McCarthy, who at first seems to be the "comic relief" character, designated to be the butt of every joke (and at times, I mean that literally considering how many fart jokes are in the middle of the film). Instead, she emerges as the unsung hero of the film, without abandoning any of the off-kilter humor of the character "type" - Megan and Annie have a late heart-to-heart that's more genuine than most of the romantic comedy "turn-around" moments, and by the way also gives depth to McCarthy's character that Kemper, McLendon-Covey, and Byrne never get.

Speaking of which, I was worried about the escalation and one-up-smanship (sic?) between Annie and Helen was going to dominate the film - it certainly felt strained early on during the engagement party, and for a while felt like one of Wiig's Penelope sketches on SNL, but it eventually moves into an open hostility between the two, one that Annie seems to perpetually lose. The inevitable comeuppance at the end was crueler than I expected it to be, and introduces a neurotic side of Helen so late in the film it almost doesn't register.

I don't mean to harp on the film, but part of the dark, depressing side of Bridesmaids (and I have to imagine this was how Wiig and Mumolo wrote it) is the way the relationship with Officer Rhodes and Annie develops. In order to avoid a silly contrivance to break up their budding relationship, Wiig's Annie instead turns an innocent gesture on Nathan's part into an attempt to "fix" her, and she blows him off in a way that, well, you wouldn't blame him for backing off completely. Maybe this is just the guy in me talking, but the way she tears him down says "no seriously, this is not reverse psychology, you ruined this forever go away" and the ways she goes about trying to win him back while still completely ignoring simple things like fixing her brake lights (which causes a hit and run midway through the film), don't really justify the way the film ends.

(It does, I must say, set up a funny visual gag involving an apology cake he ignores and raccoons.)

Bridesmaids has been (understandably) confusing audiences - most of the people in the audience I saw the film with were female, with the scattered boyfriend along for the ride - but much of the movie generated laughs, if sometimes in different points. I don't want to suggest anyone thinking of seeing Bridesmaids not to see it; I think you'll find many things to like, if not love, about the film. If you're predisposed to atypical romantic comedies, particularly of the Judd Apatow variety (he produced the film and director Paul Feig is a Freaks and Geeks veteran), then Bridesmaids is more than a match for the just-released The Hangover Part II. My only caveat is that when Bridesmaids gets dark, it gets very dark, and if you're expecting bright and funny and feel good, it might be edgier than what you had in mind. But you will laugh, and laugh a lot, so that counts for something.

And now I've seen my prerequisite "chick flick" for the year. We'll get back to your expected gore-filled science fiction action slasher cult exploitation films tomorrow...


Postscript: Watching Bridesmaids gave the Cap'n the opportunity to see trailers I probably wouldn't see otherwise - What's Your Number with Anna Faris and Chris Evans, Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, and The Change-Up with Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, possibly the most "guy friendly" movie of the three.
* Yes, I appreciate that Dylan Moran reminds most people, including me, of John Cusack.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Good Video Daily Double Promotes Good Family Values

Welcome back to another fam-tastic edition of Cap'n Howdy's Video Daily Double. Today we're turning the educational lens towards the parental units and kids, otherwise known as the nuclear family. With summer rapidly approaching, parents know their kids are going to be around a lot more (unless they're shifted off to summer camp - look for that VDD some time next month!), so how do adults diminish the generational divide with their children?

Today we'll look at two films designed to help identify problems and propose a solution amicable to all!

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Our first film, Age 13: The Inner Life of an "At Risk" Teenager, deals with a child pushed to the limit by the death of a family member. How does the rest of the family deal with this potential problem child? Watch and see...
(warning, this is a pretty rough, if surreal, educational film)


Our second film, A Date with Your Family, is a little less severe than our last film, and it promotes good family relations in order to prevent those "At Risk" teenagers from ever happening. (as a courtesy to those traumatized by the last film, here's a bonus MST3k version of A Date with Your Family).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Retro (TV) Review: The X-Files

Originally, I had considered doing a Retro Review for The X-Files: Fight the Future, with a little bit of follow up on The X-Files: I Want to Believe, but it really only makes sense in the overall context of the show itself. For 9 years, creator Chris Carter kept his supernatural investigation series on the air, found time to stick a movie between seasons five and six, and then brought Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) back for another theatrical go-round in 2008. Whether that return was a wise one or not is a fair question, but even the Cap'n won't deny that I went to see it with high hopes. But let's step back first, to the year 1993...

I will openly admit that I didn't watch The X-Files from its inception. The ads on Fox didn't inspire any interest in the middle school iteration of the Cap'n, and to make matters worse the one person who did like the show in our class was a gentleman I would politely refer to as a super nerd. The oversized glasses, mussed hair, perpetually runny nosed kid who always wore sweatshirts and for whom puberty would never crack that high pitched nasal whine. He also loved Red Dwarf, and I chose to dislike both shows by association - a mistake on both parts.

Within a year I was eating crow for ignoring The X-Files (and Red Dwarf, but that is another subject for another day), and during the second season I was hooked. In addition to the "monster of the week" episodes, I have to say that The X-Files had some of the most disturbing moments I can remember on network television. For many fans, all you have to do is point to a moment, or even just the title:

Die Hand Die Verlezt - an episode where Mulder and Scully investigate a black magic ritual and subsequent murders, including what may or may not be the Devil cleaning up for crimes done in its name.

Our Town - better known as the "Chaco Chicken" episode, involving a town that eats more than chicken in order to prolong their lives.

War of the Coprophages - A slightly goofy episode about cockroach related deaths that nevertheless manages to conjure some horrifying images (the roaches in the arm is particularly memorable).

Home - How do I describe this other than as the "inbreeding" episode? If you've seen it, you don't need me to tell you why you can't un-see it.

I could keep listing episodes until my fingers hurt, the creepy, the strange, the "mythology" episodes; I could go on and on about Skinner, Krycek, Mr. X, The Cigarette Smoking Man, The Lone Gunmen, Deep Throat, The Well Manicured Man, or the unfortunate John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) from seasons 8 and 9. I could even get into the X-Files / Millenium crossover episode with Lance Henriksen, but instead, let's focus on anticipation leading up to, during, and after Fight the Future.

The X-Files: Fight the Future was hyped as the "BIG" event between seasons five and six, the movie that would FINALLY answer questions about the overarching series "mythology" - specifically about a pending alien invasion, what it had to do with a cabal of Government insiders, and its relation to the disappearance of Fox Mulder's sister. Of course, what we got was more teasing, more hinting, and the only payoff was seeing an actual alien ship that Mulder rescues Scully from (but that she conveniently forgets). Unless you count seeing Terry O'Quinn appearing in a different role than he had previously in the series (or in Millenium), in retrospect the movie is just a higher budgeted season finale, one that strung audiences along for another four years.

Of course, I only know this in retrospect; at the time, it seemed like a huge revelation that Mulder wasn't crazy and that the black oil was alien blood, etc. As the series lapsed into self-parody (see the series when filming moved from Canada to Los Angeles) and then into desperation (after Duchovny left) to that final, half-interesting year when Anderson could barely be bothered to film a cameo every three episodes, and the limp, pathetic insult of a "series finale" that revealed once and for all that the emperor had no clothes. The series, so built up and maintained for years with the promise of some coherent answers, closes with Mulder and Scully making out in a hotel room. Lost fans felt the sting a second time when that show collapsed, having previously suffered through the last gasp of The X-Files.

Except that it wasn't the "last gasp," not by a long shot. In 2007, Chris Carter managed to drum up enough interest at 20th Century Fox to let him resurrect The X-Files for another movie, one he promised the fans would enjoy, one that would make up for the series finale. The following summer, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, dropped like the proverbial turd into the porcelain throne of multiplexes.

And yes, I wanted to believe. I desperately wanted to take Carter at his word that there was a good reason to bring Mulder and Scully back, that there was a genuinely captivating X-File outside of the bogus "mythology" of the series, and that he could make a stand-alone movie worth going back to that tainted well. After all, six years had passed, and it would be fun to see the gang get back together. Only, it wasn't. The "x-file" case was based on a sort-of obscure story about Russian organ grafting, centered around the "two headed dog" story from the annals of "bad science." The film was neither interesting, suspenseful, nostalgic, or even worth coming back for. At the end, three X-Files fans left the theatre, disappointed.

To give you some context, the three of us also went to see Hellboy II: The Golden Army (also disappointing) and The Happening (well before I dragged anyone else out to see it), as well as The Dark Knight and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was arguably my busiest "movie" summer, and nearly every sequel was a let-down. I continue to hear that Carter, Duchovny, and Anderson are in talks for another X-Files movie, but I can't bring myself to feel anything other than ennui for the prospect of another underwhelming trip down memory lane. It's a shame, because for a while there, the show was must-watch television...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blogorium Review: The Mechanic (2011)

The Mechanic falls into that unfortunate category of "mid-grade" Jason Statham films, where the movie is neither good enough to heartily recommend but also not bad enough to steer people away. It falls into the same category as War, The Transporter 3, Chaos, and Cellular - movies not good enough to be dumb fun like Death Race or Crank: High Voltage, but not as terrible as Ghosts of Mars or In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. It's not even an interesting side-step, like The Bank Job (a film I happen to think is much better than the rap it gets), or as inconsequential-yet-entertaining like The Italian Job. The Mechanic is watchable, if a bit dull, action oriented if awkwardly staggered, and predictable to a fault, but not necessarily dull.

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a "mechanic," a specialty hit man hired to make assassinations look like accidents. When his boss, Dean (Tony Goldwyn) orders Bishop to kill Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), his mentor, because the elder mechanic apparently betrayed a mission in Capetown, Arthur reluctantly does the job. Much to Bishop's chagrin, Harry's son, Steve (Ben Foster), a human wrecking ball of rage, comes to New Orleans seeking revenge against the unknown assailant. The mechanic reluctantly takes Steve under his wing, training him to kill without a trace (something the younger McKenna is reticent to follow). When it becomes clear that Dean lied to Bishop, the duo plan to take the boss out, but hiding the secret of who killed Harry McKenna grows more difficult the further they push.

Right off the bat, the fatal flaw of The Mechanic - the remake of a film people didn't seem to know existed - is Ben Foster's Steve McKenna. When I say a "human wrecking ball of rage," I mean that McKenna ignores everything that Bishop teaches him every single time they take a "job" and either makes a huge mess out of the hit or nearly gets himself killed. For no reason other than the film mandates master and apprentice stick together, Bishop keeps Steve around: after he ignores instructions on how to kill another "mechanic," after his carelessness turns a successful hit into a public shootout, and even when Steve finally discovers who killed his father, when Bishop has the option to dump and run. Instead, Steve is already living in the mechanic's secluded bayou home, and Bishop can't muster more than an "eh" that his pupil is single-handedly destroying his livelihood.

It would make sense if there was any way that Steve could figure out that Bishop killed his father, but the only reason it happens is a direct result of keeping him in the story. It's fair to point out that the film doesn't set up rules that Bishop should follow and then breaks them; it's the direct involvement of McKenna that sours the kills. At certain points, one has to wonder aloud why Bishop would keep him around at all.

Then again, this is a 90 minute movie that takes a long time to get where everyone knows it's going: after an assassination of a Colombian drug lord and voiceover explanation of what a "mechanic" does, everything moves nicely until Steve McKenna arrives in New Orleans. Then things slow to a molasses while the protagonists dance around each other, toying with something anyone who saw the trailer already knows is going to happen. Hell, what anyone who is following the story knows is going to happen because there's no other direction this film would take.

Speaking of which, I suppose I should do due diligence and mention that aside from the ending and some shifts in how the mechanic and protege bond, this version of The Mechanic isn't that different from the 1972 original starring Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent. Statham doesn't really draw any unfavorable comparisons to Bronson because he's really just playing another variation on the "Jason Statham Action Hero" part he usually plays, which is really only different from usual in that he's less snarky. Oh, and there's a moment where I said out loud "are we supposed to be rooting for these guys?" when Bishop permanently scars an innocent teenage girl by threatening to stick her hand down the garbage disposal. Why? To force a character we've just met into telling him where Dean works.

As much as Ben Foster is a vacuum that sucks the entertaining out of The Mechanic, I guess he's a step up from Jan-Michael Vincent. The original was directed by Michael Winner, who went on to make the first three Death Wish films; the remake by Simon West, who directed Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Believe it or not, it's kind of a wash; The Mechanic is competently shot, without any ridiculous editing flourishes that I noticed. I didn't regret watching The Mechanic, nor was I bored (my patience was tested a few times), and when it was over the general reaction was "it was pretty good."

I would like to mention one amusing moment, something that screams "deleted scene." That's really the only way to explain an otherwise superfluous moment: when Bishop goes to meet Dean about killing Harry, one of the thugs is wearing a "World Champion" ring, and there's a little back and forth while Statham and the bodyguard size each other up:

"Nice ring. How do I get one of those?"

"You can't, unless you're a world champion."

And then Bishop goes off with Dean to talk shop, but the seed has been planted: eventually, the "World Champion" and Bishop will square off and then he's going to take that ring. I mean, we've all seen The Rundown. That's how things work in action movies. Sure enough, just in case we forgot about it, later in the movie Bishop is sitting at his laptop, looking at a picture of the "World Champion" ring online, just before he and Steve head out to take on the bad guys. So where's the payoff? That's the last time we ever see or hear about that ring or Bishop's interest in it. What are you hiding, deleted scenes? What, I say???


 EDIT: For readers who have been checking in to find out what "World Champion" ring appears in The Mechanic, here's a handy visual guide to the scenes from the film:

 So here's the ring . It's a 1992 "World Champion" ring. A Google image search for NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL championship rings doesn't pull up anything that looks like the image in the middle (it looks like an "R").

  Later, Bishop pulls up Ask.com and a quasi-Google search engine and is looking at a Superbowl World Champion Ring (not the same one from earlier in the film). For comparison's sake, here's a "Miami" Superbowl World Championship ring as featured in The Rundown.

 
  So what can we say definitively? I'm not sure, but considering how the ring changes (and its significance in the film) something was cut from The Mechanic.

There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than with The Mechanic. I realize that doesn't do wonders as recommendations go, but other than telling you it's not a bad movie, I'm not sure what you'd want to know. It delivers exactly what the trailers promised, with a little padding to fill out the run time. It's neither worth writing home about nor worth avoiding. If you're looking for an action movie you haven't seen yet, and want a middle of the road movie with Jason Statham, The Mechanic is as good as a bet as any of his other movies. You'll get exactly what you pay for, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's just a thing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trailer Sunday - Auf Deutsch, bitte!


Tanz der Teufel


Bad Lieutenant - Cop ohne Gewissen


Armee der Finsternis


Hellraiser - Das Tor zur Hölle


Haus der 1000 Leichen


Harry Potter und die Heiligtümer des Todes


From Dusk Till Dawn

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Blogorium Review: Drive Angry

(editor's note: thanks to some of the pictures below, this review is probably NOT SAFE FOR WORK.)
(supplemental note: thanks to all of the google searches for "Drive Angry naked chick," the Cap'n has opted to digitally alter one of the pictures below. Sorry, but you'll have to perv out somewhere else.)

Drive Angry
is the trashiest movie I've seen in a long time. Were it not for John Waters, one might argue that Drive Angry is the trashiest film I've ever seen, and even with that caveat, it's still impressive watching a film that just doesn't care whether you identify with (or even care about) anybody in the film. I could write about Drive Angry without SPOILERS, but then I would remove all incentive for you to see the film. Seeing as nobody went to see Drive Angry in the first place, I feel I owe it to the people involved making the film to send a few of you in the right direction, so SPOIL I shall.

John Milton (Nicolas Cage) is a man on a mission - specifically a mission to stop Jonah King (Billy Burke), a Satanic Cult Leader, from sacrificing his granddaughter during a full moon and unleashing Hell on Earth. Milton already has a bone to pick with King for murdering his daughter (a member of the cult) while the not-so-good-father was in "prison," so there's no way he's going to stop chasing the Satanists all the way from Colorado to Louisiana. The problem is that Milton keeps destroying / abandoning his muscle cars, so he picks up a ride from Piper (Amber Heard), the kind of girl that puts the "trash" in "trailer trash." Unfortunately for Milton, The Accountant (William Fichtner) has been sent to return him to "prison," and he's not going to take "no" for an answer...

This first SPOILER isn't necessarily one depending on how easily you can pick up on an obvious image of John Milton's car speeding out of Hell. Yes, Hell; there's some quick exposition about how members of the cult could have sworn he was dead, and Milton seems to the ability to survive being shot in the eye at point blank range. That said, director / co-screenwriter Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D) and writer Todd Farmer (Jason X) find every way possible to avoid directly mentioning the central conceit of the film.

Nearly every person I mentioned Drive Angry to didn't know that Nicolas Cage's John Milton escapes from Hell to save the baby, and all of them were more interested in the film when they found out. It seems to me that if you want to market a "grindhouse"-style movie, you might want to include that critical component in the marketing. Otherwise, it looks like another silly movie starring Nicolas Cage, like Season of the Witch (which preceded Drive Angry by only a month).

It's a shame, because Drive Angry is a lot more fun than Season of the Witch, and for that matter many Nicolas Cage films people have been avoiding since Ghost Rider*. I sense that more people would tune in if they knew that Drive Angry had a more ludicrous hook. Mind you, the hook, while never directly spelled out, is crystal clear for anyone paying attention. The Accountant's ability to manufacture phony FBI badges by flipping a coin, or the fact that he tells nearly everybody he meets when he'll "see" them again should be a dead giveaway. If, for some reason, it isn't, hopefully the "God Killer," a giant handgun that Milton steals during his escape, will give you the hint this isn't your average "chase" film.

Fichtner steals the show as the unflappable Accountant, and is easily the preferred antagonist to Burke's Jonah King. It isn't just that Fichtner easily owns every scene he's in; Jonah King is such an ill-defined villain that you a) never know what he's really trying to do, and b) never feel threatened by him. Other than having coke fingernails and shooting his revolver like a cowboy, all King does is talk about his "new world order" and watch his followers kill (or get killed).

At one point, without having done anything to demonstrate it, King boldly proclaims that he is "armored with a power that you will never know" and that "nothing of this Earth can kill me." However, other than having a bit of a fight with Piper in an RV, the only other information we have about Jonah King is that people keep stabbing him with his Satanic Pendant and that Milton's daughter bit his penis off.

Did I mention this was a trashy movie? The kind of movie where Piper knocks out the girl her boyfriend Frank (Todd Farmer) is cheating with in the middle of a trailer park, and then some fat guy walks up, smirking, and snaps a picture of the naked girl. The kind of movie where a guy is, for no apparent reason, wearing a wig that looks like... you know what? Why don't I show you. A picture is worth far more than any description I could give you (and also mostly NSFW):



Lussier shot Drive Angry in 3D, and it shows early on, even if I saw it in 2D; there are quite a few "coming at the camera" gags but things seem to settle down quickly, which may or may not have improved watching it without the gimmick**. Lussier and Farmer explore similar subplots to their remake of My Bloody Valentine (a film I must admit I didn't enjoy much); Drive Angry is their not only does Farmer once again play a mostly naked guy chasing a totally naked girl through a parking lot, but Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps, The Fog) appears as a police chief that is largely ineffectual in his pursuit of Milton.

Drive Angry is less of a remake than an homage (of sorts) to films like Race with the Devil, although that's not the only place it borrows from. A sex scene with Milton and Candy (Charlotte Ross) quickly turns into a gunfight, and the fact that Milton doesn't stop having sex would be more impressive if I hadn't already seen Shoot 'Em Up, which is already more of a cartoon than anything in Drive Angry.

That said, I have one more image from Drive Angry, from a promise made by Milton too silly not to pay off at the end of the film. Someone asks him if he wants a beer, and Milton says "not unless I drink it out of King's skull." So after he sends his granddaughter off to be raised by Piper (a horrible idea, as anyone who watched the movie should know), we get his promise fulfilled.

The best part about this is how nonchalant Cage, Fichtner, and Lussier treat the "skull drinking," as though we shouldn't be surprised this is happening at this point. Then again, Drive Angry is exactly the kind of movie not to make much ado of skull drinking. And that, my friends, is trashy in all the right ways.

* Including the actually, not-being-ironic-when-I-say-this-no-really-I-mean-it, really good Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which is trashy in a different way but again let me stress that it's a WERNER HERZOG film so maybe you should rethink your whole "that movie has to suck" prejudgment. ** I can't imagine it made anyone who paid an extra $5 for the glasses happier, since there are huge chunks of the movie where 3D would have been negligible a best.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

More News, More Notes

Good day to you, Blogorium readers! I was all set to do some reviewing, but a few things have come to my attention that are worth at least mentioning, and least one is a follow-up from Saturday's news and notes.

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Let's start with this Lars von Trier "Nazi" business, since I have some suspicion that it may seriously impact the announcement last week of his collaboration with Martin Scorsese. If you haven't already heard, von Trier was at a press conference for Melancholia, and he made some unfortunate comparisons between himself and Hitler. Well, you know what? I'm not going to paraphrase what Lars von Trier said. Here's the video:



Today, he was banned from the Cannes Film Festival, and gave an interview attempting to clarify the gaffe, which has the Danish provocateur in a more precarious than usual situation. This is quite a bit further than Antichrist being booed at 2009's festival, as his comments have garnered negative publicity from around the film community. Von Trier, for his part, seems reticent to do anything other than go home and direct pornography (see the interview linked atop this paragraph), and reactions are... mixed. I don't really want to say much more than that, because somehow arguments about French hypocrisy (involving Roman Polanski) and Mel Gibson started showing up here. Honestly, I don't want to wade any further into that, but felt it was worth directing you towards in order to give you some idea of the fallout from von Trier's comments.

What I did want to speculate on is that "remake" of The Five Obstructions story that was everywhere last weekend. This is a bit of a stretch, but in light of Arnold Schwarzenegger's tabloid troubles putting his return to acting on hold indefinitely, and the nature of really toxic publicity killing projects, I'd say the likelihood of this team-up between Lars von Trier and Martin Scorsese just hit the rocks. I'm not a prognosticator, but it seems like Melancholia is either going to be the hot ticket movie when it comes out, or it's going to be The Beaver and vanish from sight until Criterion releases it (as they did with Antichrist).

At this point, the actual quality of Melancholia (or The Beaver, for that matter) is irrelevant; this is about public perception, and the people who already hate Lars von Trier hit the jackpot, as "Nazi" is really not something you want to identify yourself with, even in jest. His fans will probably retreat quietly, and no American distributor is going to want to touch a Scorsese / von Trier joint. That's my guess, anyway. Bad publicity has killed many a "dream" project, and this one looks to be headed in the wrong direction.

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Okay, to lighten the mood, let's talk about two things you don't have to weigh heavily, either intellectually or emotionally: movies online. Not the illegal ones (the Cap'n wouldn't know anything about that), but streaming video of films in their entirety from reputable sites. Free ones, at that: while Netflix and Amazon Prime customers already have access to streaming movies and television, YouTube also decided to get in on the game and now offer a "Movies" section on their main page.

What you've probably noticed is that they are charging for many of these movies, but what you may have missed is their selection of "Free" films. I was expecting to find mostly public domain, easy to locate anywhere fare, but I was impressed to see that YouTube has a solid lineup of higher profile features at no cost. Titles like Ghostbusters, The Buena Vista Social Club, Bad Taste, The Third Man, Bringing Up Baby, Bob le Flambeur, His Girl Friday, "M", The Man with the Golden Arm, The Intruder, Scarlet Street, Chaplin's The Kid, The Squid and the Whale, Super Size Me, Peeping Tom, American Scary, and DiG!.

It's actually pretty impressive, and that's just a cross section of movies you can watch (in their entirety) instead of the latest clip of some stupid thing a cat did, or whatever the hell "planking" is. The quality isn't amazing, but I'd say it is perfectly watchable, considering. This, coupled with IMDB's available free movies, you're in pretty good shape if rental prices are too steep.

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Finally, I don't know why I haven't mentioned this sooner, as I'm a full-on addict to this site, but cinephiles need to run, not walk, to Trailers from Hell. Spearheaded by director Joe Dante (The Howling, Matinee, Gremlins), the site is a collection of all kinds of trailers for all sorts of classic (and not-so-classic) films, presented by themselves or with commentary from the Trailers from Hell gurus. The gurus include geek fan favorites like Edgar Wright and Guillermo Del Toro, as well as Roger Corman, Neil LaBute, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Lloyd Kaufman, Bill Duke, John Landis, Allison Anders, and Rick Baker.

Informative and enjoyable, I get a kick out of watching the trailers with thoughts from long-time fans and filmmakers who give historical context (just look at the mini-lesson from Bill Duke on Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song) to what are normally considered "exploitation" trailers. Seriously, go there now!

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Okay, that's plenty for you to look into heading into your weekend. I'll be back tomorrow or Saturday with a new review, so until then stay classy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Video Daily Double You Can Trust!

Welcome back to another edition of Cap'n Howdy's Video Daily Double. Usually, I load up on the snark under the guise of whatever level of propaganda this week's films cover (or, in the case of last week, just give you an introduction about two shorts that are actually informative about a subject). This week, however, I found two movies that do all the work for themselves. Both are social engineering shorts, one designed to shame students into not being "left out" (okay, maybe that's fair), and another film that extols the virtues of propaganda. No, seriously.

On with the movies!

(by the way, I apologize for the commercial in front of the second film, although I appreciate the unintentional irony of YouTube trying to sell products in front of "educational" films)

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Our first film, Am I Trustworthy? is about some sad sack that people don't trust to do anything. Why don't they trust him? Not because he doesn't bother telling people anything; it's because they doubt his ability to be a model citizen. Just being well behaved isn't enough, you see.


Our second film, Propaganda Techniques, is exactly what it sounds like. For fun, suss out what message this "exploration of propaganda" is trying to sell you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Retro Review: Commando

Once upon a time, the Cap'n and friends thought we'd indoctrinate a mutual female friend in the world of "Guy Movies": you know the kind, the cinema of unrestrained male Id, often ignored by "polite society." Morals are boiled down to the bare essentials: our heroes win, the villains lose. The bad guy is never captured, he (and it's almost always a "he") dies in some horrible fashion, followed by the hero's catchphrase, or some terrible pun.

The original plan was to include Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon, Predator... and I don't remember what else. Things stalled out after Predator, which is a movie dripping with machismo - it is, after all, a "men on a mission" movie that included Carl Weathers, Sonny Ladham, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm not trying to take anything away from Predator, because I think highly of the film.

That said, it's the wrong Schwarzenegger movie for a "Guy Movie" night. Its fundamental flaw is that Predator is actually well constructed in revealing the plot, creates characters the audience is invested in, and has a villain that gives Arnold a serious fight. While it is "Guy Movie" material, the ultimate Arnold Schwarzenegger testosterone flick, the alpha male of films that cause people to role their eyes, is and always has been Commando*.

Commando is, to the eyes of any sensible viewer, an incoherent mess. There are plot holes, flubs, and story machinations that are totally unjustifiable. They don't make any sense, and this is before Arnold and Rae Dawn Chong steal a plane and fly to the vaguely South American island where deposed dictator Arius (Dan Hedaya) is holding his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano). While looking at IMDB, I noticed their one sentence synopsis, which covers everything anyone would need to know with respect to Commando's plot:

A retired elite commando has only a few hours to find and rescue his daughter from an exiled dictator.

And that's pretty much it: the film efficiently sets up that some mysterious killers (led by Bill Duke) is wiping out members of John Matrix (Schwarzenegger)'s old team in order to flush Matrix out. When they found out where he is, they kidnap Jenny and Bennett (Vernon Wells), a member of Matrix's team who faked his death, tells the commando he has to kill the new President so Arius can blah blah blah...

We all know what happens next: Matrix promises to kill everyone, and he does - including an island full of armed soldiers - rescues his daughter, and then fights Bennett to the finish, complete with a closing pun. But not just any pun - Arnold fans know that you can expect only the cheesiest from the Governator:



Speaking of which, how about Bennett's last line, "I'm going to shoot you between the balls!" What does that even mean?

It's indicative of how ruthlessly efficient Commando is: there isn't even enough time to come up with good threats to throw down between sweaty meatheads, one of whom just happens to be the bad guy from The Road Warrior AND Weird Science! The kind of movie where Arnold and moon-faced David Patrick Kelly exchange tough guy pleasantries, and then this happens:



Actually, let's go one step further, because you can see the smashed car door at the very end of that video. But when the car drives away, this happens:



See what I mean? Ruthless efficiency. Commando is full of it, and to many this would be inexcusable. Hell, as a sensible cinephile, as someone who likes to suspend my disbelief as often as possible, a person for whom continuity errors can be maddening, I should bristle at the mere thought of some of the shenanigans on display in Commando. But I don't.

I give Commando a pass I rarely give movies so sloppily executed, because it has no aspirations to be anything more than a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a one-man army that no collection of tough guys can stop. I can't even be bothered to throw in a sex scene between Martix and Cindy (Chong) because there isn't time. Honestly, it's dubious at best to suggest there's any kind of relationship between the two of them, other than she somehow gradually forgives Matrix for kidnapping her and ripping the passenger seat out of her car. The father / daughter dynamic is, I suppose, more "important" in that director Mark Lester (Class of 1984) and screenwriter Steven E. de Souza (Die Hard) fit in a montage of "bonding" between the two. It includes eating ice cream, horseplay in the pool, feeding a deer, and Arnold carrying most of a tree on his shoulder to chop up for firewood.

Of course, we know Jenny isn't in trouble (ever) because John Matrix can't be stopped. There is no suspense in Commando whatsoever, which should also seriously diminish my interest in the film, based on other reviews where I took films to task for that very problem. Yet, I do not hold it against Commando. I openly admit to you that the film is stupid, sloppy, loud, violent, and does nothing to enrich society.

The film appeals to the adolescent buried deep inside the Cap'n, which is why this is a "Retro Review." I cannot say with certainty when I first saw Commando, although it was certainly on VHS and very likely at a friend's house. My brother owns (owned?) a copy of the tape, but I know I saw it before he had one. I'd seen it many times before that, probably once on cable (although that doesn't do this movie any justice**), and I still watch Commando every now and then. Despite its many deficiencies, Commando is entertaining. It's not political in the same pro-fascist way that Dirty Harry is (nor does it have as satisfying a conclusion); it doesn't bother with establishing character dynamics in the way Predator or Lethal Weapon do; hell, it's not even in the same area code as Die Hard. And all of those films, relative merits aside, are cheesy.

Commando is cheesy for Arnold Schwarzenegger, and we're talking about a man who made The Running Man, Red Heat, Conan the Destroyer, Total Recall and Kindergarten Cop. If you see a list of "Mindless Action Films" and Commando isn't at the top, then the person who wrote that list doesn't know what they're talking about. Rambo: First Blood Part II wishes it was as ridiculous as Commando. When Chuck Norris looks at his Bucket List, "Travel back in time to be in Commando" is still at the top. Steven Seagal came close a few times; Van Damme needed Dolph to get Universal Soldier near that level of dumb, but Commando stands head and shoulder above them all.

Here's the kicker, the reason I mention all of this: Put Commando on at a party. People will love it - even the ladies who wander in and out of the living room to shake their heads at the guys glued to the screen. There's too much in Commando to not like the film, to not sit there in awe that something so goofy yet so entertaining exists. From the steel drum score to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it gratudity to the chase scene in the Chopping Mall, Commando has a little something for everybody.

For that, I give it a pass. More than a pass - despite the fact that I should know better, as a self-respecting fan of quality cinema, than to "like" something so mindless while denigrating the Transformers films, there is some appeal to simple-minded action films. More so even than the Jason Statham / Dwayne Johnson / Vin Diesel releases of late, Commando exists as the kind of movie you couldn't get away with now, a movie so singularly tailored to the adolescent male that irony and self-reflexiveness have no place. Can The Expendables say that? Can Crank? Can The Rundown?

It's not that there's anything wrong with those films, necessarily, but when people talk about the "Guy Movie," more often than not they're describing Commando without identifying it by name. It is pure, unrestrained Id, plowing through male wish fulfillment without stopping to wonder if it makes any sense. Turn your nose away (and many do), but try that party test. Let me know what happens.




* "But wait," you say, "what about Conan the Barbarian?" to which I reply, "Again, good movie. Macho, yes, chauvinistic, yes, but still a movie people get invested in."
** It would be like watching John Carpenter's Vampires on cable - not the same AT ALL.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Everything Old is New Again, but Newer.

The Cap'n was all set to go off on another rant about remakes (in part because I saw that the Highlander remake is moving forward), where I'd gripe and moan about how the 1980s are being singled out as a decade to be pillaged - mostly because the studios know people know the name and that they can talk a young filmmaker into directing based on nostalgia for their youth.

I was all set to yammer about how while artistic repetition is nothing new, this is an unprecedented era of recycling without even bothering to pass the film off as anything but a copy of the "original" blah blah blah. But, to cover my bases, I decided to do a little experiment - the Cap'n would check out a list of movies remade during the 1980s. Surely that would provide a good balance to our remake heavy 21st century cannibalization of cinema.

And then, during a cursory Wikipedia search, I filled up both sides of an envelope.

Oh sure, I made some excuses here and there - 1984 is a re-adaptation, not a remake. The same argument could be made for The Thing, so that doesn't count. But the honest truth is that doesn't really hold water when the same argument can be made now about True Grit or Let Me In, etc. What I found was a snapshot of a decade filled with remakes - some of films audiences may not have known (films released in another country, obscure titles), but many they would have. I can't help but think that the only difference is that the internet allows for more grousing, more open hostility to the process.

Allow me to demonstrate with a smaller version of the list I made; many of the films didn't bother to change the names, but the ones that did I'll point out.

Against All Odds (Out of the Past)
Always (A Guy Named Joe)
The Bad Seed
The Blob
Body Heat (Double Indemnity)
Breathless
The Burmese Harp
Cat People
Cousins (Cousin Cousine)
D.O.A.
The Defiant Ones
Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Boudu Saved from Drowning)
The Fly
The Hand (The Beast with Five Fingers)
Outland (High Noon)
Invaders from Mars
Little Shop of Horrors
The Man with One Red Shoe (Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire)
Mister Roberts
Not of This Earth
Scarface
Stagecoach
Suspicion
The Thing (The Thing from Another World)
Three Men and a Baby (3 hommes et un couffin)
To Be or not to Be
The Toy (Le Jouet)
Unfaithfully Yours
Victor / Victoria
We're No Angels
Where the Boys are '84
The Woman in Red

So maybe that gives us a sense of context; the largest difference between films remade from 1980-1989 and now is a larger cross-section of decades the remakes came from. Still, I think it's not only fair, but appropriate to point out that not only is artistic repetition not new, but the argument that films are simply being remade to capitalize on a recognizable name isn't unique at all, either to the 21st century or the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, an argument I too have made in the past.

Well, so much for that post. Now what am I supposed to write about today?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Trailer Sunday the 15th!


The Dunwich Horror


Crossfire


Used Cars


The Troll Hunter


A Day at the Races


Splendor in the Grass


Action Replayy