Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Video Daily Double about People You Don't Want to Be!

 Welcome back, Educationeers! Don't mind last week's post; the Cap'n was just having a little chat with your parents. But we weren't talking about you. No worries. Today's Video Daily Double gets you right back on track as we continue to look at life in school. By now you've had some time to settle in and get some bearings on the social situation, and you're looking to make some inroads towards the "cool" crowd. Well, drinking is a good start.

 Wait, I said it wasn't? When?

 Three weeks ago, you say? Nah, doesn't sound like me.

 Anyway, here are two types of people you DON'T want to be if you value your reputation in school at all.

 Our first film, Shy Guy, will show you why it's a horrible idea to be shy. Other than the fact that people will forget you exist and never talk to you and girls you eventually meet and have a crush on will see you as "just a friend" leading to internal torment and lonely nights.

 Our second film, The Outsider, may seem appealing as being part of a "rebellious" group in your school, but we all know those losers are just jealous they weren't invited to the good clique, so they started some lame-o loser group.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Retro Review: Burn After Reading

 editor's note: In his continuing quest to re-post older reviews that never made it from the old Blogorium to its present home, Cap'n Howdy has been delivering piles of digital bits to me in the hopes I know what to do with it. Some movies are older than others, but most of these come from a period between 2006 and 2009, when the move took place. Enjoy


I promised Eck's Mass schwag, and we'll get to that momentarily. I wanted to start by thanking Tom for the awesome gift he delivered unto me via my box at work, Burn After Reading.

  About halfway through the last semester, the film students started yapping about how excited they were about Burn After Reading following No Country for Old Men yadda yadda, and it wasn't a total surprise to hear almost all of them bagging on the movie the week after release. It didn't come as much of a surprise because I suspected a retread of the Fargo to Lebowski situation in the late nineties, and having finished Burn After Reading, that's exactly what happened.

  It seems like the bigger a phenomenon a Coen Brothers film is, the more likely they are to follow it up with something totally off the wall. After O Brother Where Art Thou turned into a bluegrass sensation, they made The Man Who Wasn't There, a really bizarre tribute to film noir in black in white that lost pretty much all but the die hard fans. Going back before that, Fargo proved to be something of a curious hit that caught on with non-Coen fandom, and then they released The Big Lebowski, a movie that confounded average audiences and took five or six years to really achieve the cult status it has now.

  Burn After Reading is not likely going to have that kind of cult audience ten years from now, but that doesn't make it a disappointment. If anything, it might be remembered as a sort of Hudsucker Proxy for aficionados down the line*. Burn After Reading is the Coens take on espionage films, packed (like Lebowski) with idiots.

   What's funny is how straight they play the "thriller" angle, down to the way too serious music. But that's not actually what the movie's about. As Adam put it, BAR is about "one woman's quest for plastic surgery by any means necessary", and it's really hard to argue against that, especially by the end. Everything in between is a comedy of errors set in motion by selfish morons trolling around and being generally despicable. It's not hard to see why people find this movie difficult to like.

  Of course, if I boiled down The Big Lebowski to "a stoner who wanders around trying to get his rug back while dealing with a series of selfish assholes", you might not rush to see that either. Plot is rarely the most important part of a Coen Brothers film. They're more interested in seeing how characters interact, and damn do they have an interesting cast assembled.

  By now you've seen Frances McDormand and George Clooney all over the trailers, with a smattering of John Malkovich and Brad Pitt. Pitt's Chad Feldheimer steals every scene of the movie he's in, and you've really never seen him play a character like this. I would liken it to Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou, where he really cuts loose and feels free to be goofy.

  However, I don't want to take anything away from Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, or my two favorite parts of Burn After Reading, the CIA agents in charge of making sense of the shenanigans you'd call a plot. J.K. Simmons and David Rasche pop in at various points in the film, not so much to catch us up but to further address how ridiculous the plot twists get. Many of you know who Simmons is, but it was a real treat to see Rasche, of tv's Sledge Hammer in the movie.

  The film may never attain "cult classic" status, but it's nowhere near the mess you might have heard it was. Of course, film students who cannot remember their film history are doomed to repeat it...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blogorium Review: The Expendables 2

 Around this time two years ago, the Cap'n was way out west and The Expendables was in theatrical release. There was a bit of a kerfuffle on the internet* because The Expendables opened against Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Scott Pilgrim lost. I may have had a thing or two to say about that, because they selectively chose to denigrate The Expendables even though Scott Pilgrim also came in behind Eat Pray Love, Inception, and The Other Guys as well. But The Expendables weathered the storm, even with some shaky hand-held action chicanery and over-earnest monologue-ing from Mickey Rourke.

 It was a throwback to action movies that managed to upset action movie (no pun intended) die-hards for its adherence to new action movie techniques (see: hand-held camerawork during fight scenes) and also upset the kind of people who pretend to be action movie fans but actually just assume that it means every "action" movie is exactly like Commando or YouTube compilations of Steven Seagal kicking people through windows. I saw both kinds of reactions, and both camps seemed to say "boo hoo, it didn't meet my expectations so it sucks." And okay, it wasn't the movie it could have been, but to expect The Expendables to be the last twenty minutes of Rambo for two hours is absurd.

 To expect any action movie to consistently be as ridiculous as Commando is asking too much. People tend to forget that Commando has a few (not many, but a few) scenes where Arnold isn't punning or brutally murdering people. Predator has a LOT of those moments, and so does Die Hard and First Blood. Even Bloodsport has a story, threadbare though it may be. I know, you're shocked, but it's more than a 90 minute string of explosions and arterial spray, and other than maybe Bloodsport, I think you'd consider those to be some of the best films the action genre has to offer.

 But anyway, so we got past The Expendables and the people who didn't automatically feel "disappointed" it were pleasantly entertained, even if it wasn't great. And now, without the burden of political careers or Scott Pilgrims, there's a sequel. So how was The Expendables 2?

 Basically, it's exactly what it needs to be. Not a whole lot more, and certainly with things that improve on the first film but also some changes that I wouldn't really call "improvements." Still, overall I have to say that it delivers on the action, has a few good laughs (and a lot of chuckles / groaners) and is going to provide the "popcorn entertainment" quota for late summer action. It doesn't feel bloated like a Battleship or unnecessarily convoluted like a Bourne Legacy, and for the most part West and the cast get things right about where they need to be.

 This time, since they killed off "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Eric Roberts, there was a need for new villains, so Stallone and director Simon West (Con Air, The Mechanic) brought in Scott Adkins (Undisputed II, The Bourne Ultimatum) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD, Universal Soldier) to give Barney Ross and his crew some real trouble.

  The first thing The Expendables 2 does better than The Expendables is streamline the plot: instead of some kind of rogue-CIA agent funding a military coup / dictatorship in a fictional South American country that our team are vaguely invested in, Van Damme's Villane / Villain (it depends on what site you check) makes good on the promise implied by the name "expendables" by kicking Barney (Stallone)'s knife into the chest of a team member. (SPOILER ALERT) To be fair, it's kind of a cheat because a) it's the new "Expendable" Billy (Liam Hemsworth), the sniper who announces two scenes earlier that he wants to leave the team to be with his girlfriend, and b) because Liam Hemsworth is mostly in the movie so they could use his last name in the trailer to trick you into thinking it was his older brother Chris, prompting guys to say "Oh shit! Thor is in The Expendables 2" when in reality it's just the dude from The Hunger Games. In fairness, he does blow a guy's head off with his sniper rifle and holds his own for a while.

 Anyway, Villane and his crew the Sangs (who have goat tattoos on their necks for a reason Van Damme sort-of explains) steal the layout of a Russian mine where weapons grade plutonium is stored from our heroes, so the movie becomes a combination of "stop them from selling the plutonium" and "get revenge on this asshole" that invests the audience in the story. I'd be lying if I said we get to know more about the individual members on the Expendables - Jet Li leaves after the first action sequence, providing a waffling "maybe I'll be back, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll start a new life." and then parachuting out of the plane.

 Randy Couture and Terry Crews don't get much more to do than they did in the first one, Jason Statham only gets two scenes to really show off (one in a church and the other fighting Adkins at the end), but I guess it's nice that Dolph Lundgren has a few defining character quirks introduced this time around. Stallone (who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Wenk) incorporates some of Lundgren's actual life into Gunner's character by making him a former chemical engineer (and Fulbright Scholar) who worked at a nightclub "to impress a girl" (all true, although I'm not sure if he was working at the club to impress a girl or because he was a 3rd degree black belt.) It makes up for the notable absence of Mickey Rourke, even if that means we're spared another monologue about the value of human life.

 Most of the focus in the film is on Stallone or the new / returning characters. In addition to Hemsworth's Billy, when Jet Li takes off before the title screen, Church (Bruce Willis) tells Barney that Maggie (Nan Yu from Speed Racer and Lundgren's Diamond Dogs) is going to join them on the mission to retrieve that map Villane steals. Maggie can hold her own, and is in a lot of ways more interesting than most of the guys on the team. She also gives Stallone the opportunity to be funnier because Barney Ross is so uncomfortable around women that he just can't understand why she keeps flirting with him. Van Damme is also good to see, although if you've seen Universal Soldier: Regeneration or JCVD, you know he's more than capable of putting his weathered face to use as an imposing adversary. He's a bad guy out for the money, but the Sangs have a code built around respect, so he's very particular about how he deals with the Expendables.

 Oh, and then there's the other driving force of the film, which provides for some of the best (and also worst) adjustments between the last movie and this one: Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris. Of the three, only Willis really seems to be playing a character, as Norris and Schwarzenegger are basically playing their personas. Case in point: Chuck Norris, introduced after killing an entire Sang team and blowing up a tank, walks into frame to the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (?), is identified (repeatedly) as a "Lone Wolf," and proceeds to provide a "Chuck Norris Fact" in the span of three minutes.

 And look, it's kind of funny at first, until he leaves shortly thereafter and it's clear that when (and if) he shows up again that's all he's going to be used for. He's a walking reference to the fact that people mythologized Chuck Norris. But then we get to Arnold, reprising his cameo from the last film as Trench, who is a walking "one-liner": he says "I'm back" or "I'll be back" repeatedly, and when Chuck Norris walks up next to him, I kid you not Schwarzenegger says "Who is next? Rambo?" It's like Arnold wrote all of his dialogue for the film and delivers it in the worst possible way (seriously, when he has things to say relevant to the plot, the delivery is much better).

 Oh, and then there's this exchange between Church and Trent:

 Trent: I'm almost out. Stay here - I'll be back.
 Church: No, you've been back enough. I'LL BE BACK.
 Trent: Yippie-ky-yay.

  The walking, talking reference to your more famous movies is a little groan-worthy, but it is mostly contained near the end, where Statham was a pretty good knife fight with the largely unused Adkins (seriously, check out some of his movies), Stallone has a better fight with Van Damme (even if they re-use footage of one of JCVD's high kicks right after he did it the first time), and I have to say that I laughed at Arnold and Bruce in the Smart Car and Chuck Norris' use of an airport scanner. That said, it's not exactly the direction I was hoping to see these movie go in. We're seeing them because we know who these action stars are, not because we want to be reminded of their "greatest hits." That just reinforces the assumption that The Expendables as a series is a glorified YouTube compilation of action tropes.

 But overall it's a fun time at the movies. I really enjoyed Van Damme and Statham's "I now pronounce you man and knife" and Dolph Lundgren being a part of the team (and failing miserably to impress Maggie) and let's be honest here: there's something cool about seeing Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger standing side by side and shooting at Jean-Claude Van Damme and assorted goons. I still wish that Randy Couture and Terry Crews had more time to shine, but I guess the third movie is an inevitability, so there's always next time, right?

 Oh, one final note: so Simon West made Con Air (which I liked) and The Mechanic (which was a serviceable but not great Jason Statham vehicle) and also a few other things I didn't see or didn't like (The General's Daughter and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider respectively), so I didn't really know what to expect here. The Mechanic was competently shot but the action scenes were few and far between, so it was hard to say what we'd get here. I'm happy to say it's mostly an improvement over the impossible to watch fight scenes in The Expendables (I'm looking at you, Lundgren / Li fight), so that's an improvement over Stallone. The pre-title sequence was good and easy to follow other than awkward framing in the Jet Li "knives vs frying pan" scene. Still, I don't think the series has quite found a director that can convey the action in a way that does it justice. So that's something to think about for next time, if you ask me. And by that I don't mean the movie leaves itself blatantly open-ended - it has a beginning, middle, and an end, but it's clear there can (and more than likely will) be more Expendables adventures. I mean, the producer has to make good on promising Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Nicolas Cage, and Clint Eastwood for part 3**!

 So yeah, if you didn't like the last one I'm sure you'll find lots of things not to like about The Expendables 2. And to be fair, it's not like they knocked it out of the park. It's more like a "ground rule double" of action films, which is probably less than what you expected with this kind of lineup but it's getting them in place for a grand slam. I hope, anyway.

 * Interesting tidbit: Auto-Correct didn't even blink when I typed the word "kerfuffle" even though I'm positive I've never used that term before on the Blogorium and I'm honestly surprised to think that it might qualify as an actual word with a working definition.
** Two of the four names will be in that movie, and I bet you can guess which ones.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Clint Eastwood (Part Four)

Million Dollar Baby

Flags of Our Fathers

Letters From Iwo Jima


Gran Torino



J. Edgar

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

While the Kids are Away, the Video Daily Double will Play!

 Greetings and salutations, parents of Educationeers! I assume you're taking some time out after having dropped the kiddos at school to check out what they're up to online, and accordingly stumbled upon Cap'n Howdy and his Blogorium, home of the Video Daily Double! Well, I wouldn't want you to think your kids are in any danger. Here at the Blogorium, I like to help educate the youth of today with the films you grew up watching. Let's have a look at a few that you may remember, but not so "kiddie," shall we?

 Observe! Report!


 Our first film, Relax, is about finding ways to avoid the stresses of dealing with yelling children day in and day out. And it doesn't even involve drinking!

 Our second film, Don't Be a Sucker, will help you understand that disliking people just because everybody else does is a relic from tribalism and is therefore an asinine construct of outdated societal norms. Nah, I'm just kidding, it's about communists.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Retro Review: Super High Me and The X-Files: I Want to Believe

 (editor's note: The Cap'n realized there was a series of Blogorium posts from 2008 that never made the transition from our old stomping grounds to the new one. As a result, it seemed like a good idea to share some other reviews that had been otherwise "lost" over the past four years).

Last night, I watched two movies:

    X-Files: I Want to Believe and Super High Me.

    Guess which one was surprisingly engaging and changed the way I perceived someone?

    If you guessed Super High Me, you're correct. As the title would suggest, the documentary is a parody of Super Size Me, wherein comedian Doug Benson (The Marijuana-Logues, VH1's pick something) finds out what the effects of smoking weed all day for thirty days straight are.

    This one joke premise actually gets expanded a little bit since Benson, a noted pot-enthusiast, has to stop smoking pot for 30 days in order to accurately judge a month of doing nothing but getting high. I was always kind of lukewarm towards Benson, because it seemed like he always had the obvious joke on Best Week Ever or I Love the (fill in the blank), but it does turn out that he just works better blue.

   During the 30 days of not smoking pot, Benson also becomes surprisingly lucid and more observational in his stand up (which he continues doing all 60 days), even if he doesn't notice it. It's actually quite interesting watching him go from stoned to sober to stoned again. I wouldn't call it regression when he hits the end of no pot, but there's a definite shift in his material.

    The rest of Super High Me is devoted to learning more about California's medicinal marijuana program. Benson meets people who run the dispensaries, the cameras are present when the DEA raids in the middle of the night, and he jokes with other comedians about getting high. As far as the "effects" go, there's not a radical difference in his medical tests, psychological profile, or psychic ability (you heard me), althoug his sperm count goes wayyyy up.

    Recommended as a renter if you like Doug Benson, are a stoner, or like stand up peppered with frequent drug use. Not recommended if you thought Super Size Me was a life changing experience.


    The most damning thing I can say about X-Files: I Want to Believe is that it's disappointing. After all these years, the best Chris Carter could come up with was a third rate episode of CSI featuring Mulder, Scully, and Billy Connoly playing a pedophile priest.

    Oh, excuse me - a possibly psychic pedophile priest. That, along with a ridiculous twist involving organ transplants and two headed dogs are what qualify this sub-par episode disguised as a movie as being "paranormal". What it really means are endless (and pointless) arguments between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson about "the darkness" and "believing".

    Everything about the film is perfunctory, from the camerawork to the lackluster score and the grasping at straws way the film both tries to ignore the series but throw in as many "hey remember this" bits. For example, in the span of 60 seconds, we see Mulder a) walk to his "I Want to Believe" poster, b) eat sunflower seeds, c) a picture of his sister, d) the camera pan up to see the pencils in the ceiling, even though it doesn't make sense in the house they live in. Oh, and the basketball, just in case. All they were missing was an "X" on the window.

    There's a George W. Bush joke that's so behind the times that it wouldn't have been funny in 2004, let alone 2008. Why they dragged Mitch Pileggi in for such a pointless and unnecessary cameo is beyond me. He's literally only in the film because fans would've rioted otherwise, because there's no other reason for his totally wasted screentime.

    Frankly, everything about X-Files: I Want to Believe is a waste. It's nowhere as horrendous as the series finale; it's just unnecessary. The worst sin the movie could have commited was to exist for no good reason, but that's exactly what happened. If for some bizarre reason Chris Carter gets a shot at one more movie, they'd better make it a damn sight more compelling. Even die hards can only take so much abuse; ask George Lucas.

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Mis)Adventures in Projectioneering: The Brain Wrap

  This edition of Adventures in Projectioneering might lean a little on the technical side, but I'll try to keep it at a minimum. It's mostly about those nights where everything goes wrong, and in order get into detail without simply throwing out jargon, I'll explain some of the ins and outs of being a projectionist. The important part, when I'm running around like a maniac trying to fix one problem after the other, I'm sure you've all experienced.

 Maybe it's the older equipment at the theatre I'm working at, or maybe it's Cap'n Howdy's "ring rust" (a.k.a. general incompetence) that caused things to fall apart not once, not twice, but four times during one shift this weekend. All four of them involved "Brain Wraps," which is the first piece of jargon I can knock out for you.

 So this is the Brain, which sits on a platter with the film:

 The film runs through the Brain, which determines the speed and prevents things from moving too quickly or too slowly. If the film moves too quickly or too slowly, it will begin to wrap around the Brain, hence the term "Brain Wrap." (Google apparently likes the term as one word, but I'll stick with my interpretation as amateur projectionist).

 Brain Wraps can happen for other reasons as well; for example, if you thread the film the wrong way through the rollers or if a piece of film jumps over one of the rollers, it can cause the film to tighten around the brain until it can no longer feed through the projector and the film comes to a dead stop. The inert film will then melt as a result of the heat in the projector's lamp, which I gather you've seen or heard of in some form or the other. It's a nice "meta" technique in movies that want to draw attention to the projected image, as well as how Zack Snyder ended his trailer for Dawn of the Dead.

 How it happened four times in one night is still something of a mystery, as one of the things I do is check and double check the platters and Brains while films are running. The platters and projectors are old, and the Brains are constantly being repaired. We're all aware that each projector has its own particular quirk (some run a little slow, some have film that jumps off of the rollers), so it's important to monitor them to make sure everything is going smoothly.

 The first one seemed to be doing fine: it started normally, and when I came back to dim the lights and adjust the volume, it was still running through the Brain nominally, but when I came back upstairs from getting the next showtimes, something went wrong. And because I didn't go check on it sooner, Cap'n Howdy got to join the "Wall of Shame" where burned film hangs. Why it wrapped, we aren't sure, but wrap it did, to the point where the film around the brain was three or four inches around, which is really bad.

 After that, I was extra vigilant, and since I was still training, the normally scheduled projectionist was also keeping a close eye out, which makes the next three all the more mysterious. I checked, double checked, and then was triple checked by the other projectionist, and everything was good. The threading was correct, the platters were on the correct setting, and there was no reason for a Brain Wrap. And yet, we came back to three separate projectors to find that the film had jumped over a roller and was beginning to wrap. All were easily fixed without having to make an emergency splice (therefore avoiding three more trips to the "Wall of Shame"), but my trainer was at a loss for how or why these phantom wraps occurred.

 Nevertheless, this led to much running around, desperately trying to keep everything on schedule without letting a small problem get bigger (and it will) while hopefully keeping things invisible for the audiences below. For the folks who had to wait ten minutes for us to fix the melted Brain Wrap, I apologize. That's on me, and it won't happen again. I should have learned that lesson twelve years ago when a similar problem happened during Paul Verhoeven's Hollow Man. Alas, general incompetence gets us when we least expect it. Until next time...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Clint Eastwood (Part Three)

A Perfect World

The Bridges of Madison County

Absolute Power

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

True Crime

Space Cowboys

Blood Work

Mystic River

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More Back to School Tips from the Video Daily Double!

 Greetings, Learnucationeers! Cap'n Howdy knows that one week's worth of educational films about school isn't enough, so just in case you thought today's Video Daily Double was going to take your mind of the impending return of school buses, think again! It's time for more learning about school and more schooling about learn. No, wait...



 Our first film, School Rules: How They Help Us, should be self explanatory. School Rules help you more than they help me, so pay close attention.

 Our second film, How Quiet Helps at School, is a logical extension of the last film. If you were talking during the last film, you might want to think about what you did while you watch this film. Think shamefully.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Retro Review: Drillbit Taylor

 (editor's note: The Cap'n realized there was a series of Blogorium posts from 2008 that never made the transition from our old stomping grounds to the new one. As a result, it seemed like a good idea to share some other reviews that had been otherwise "lost" over the past four years).

Let's talk about Juniorbad, which is what the clever title of a review for Drillbit Taylor should have. Fair or not, that's exactly what the movie is: a younger, less amusing version of Superbad written by Seth Rogen and produced by Judd Apatow.

    The only significant difference is that Owen Wilson is the title character, a homeless military deserter approached by three freshment to act as their bodyguard. See, in their first week at high school, a surprisingly crafty bully manages to fool both the principal and the children's parents into thinking he's the victim, while in the meanwhile he's trying to run them down in a car after school (I'm not making this up). Hence, the need for Drillbit Taylor to protect them.

    Everything else maps out pretty much the same way. There's the skinny nerd hero who kind of reminds you of Michael Cera, the fat kid surrogate for Jonah Hill, and the quirky shrimper wanna-be McLovin. This might be cute in its own right, except that Drillbit Taylor lacks just about everything Superbad had going for it. When you knock the age of the characters from seniors to freshmen, and accordingly cast pubescent kids working with a PG-13 script, it gets hard to go anywhere new.

    It's not that the kids aren't likeable, because half of the time they are. The other half of the time, the script shoehorns them into doing things that just don't make sense. Of course, when you're talking about a movie that stacks the odds against them so much that it get ridiculous, I'm not sure where my loyalties should lie. I am pretty sure I shouldn't have been rooting for the bully to just kill the kids, which I did on a few occasions.

    The problem is that Drillbit Taylor seems like the kind of movie that should precede Superbad, and not follow it. Remove
Wilson from the equation and it makes sense that the three youngsters (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentle, and David Dorfman) would get over being bullied and become the ignored nerds we meet at the beginning of Superbad. That being said, the story just isn't very interesting in and of itself, which tends to render most of the film moot.

    You can find little moments of amusement in Drillbit Taylor, mostly coming from the adults who seem to be in a different film than the children. Director Steven Brill (Little Nicky) packs the movie with cameos from David Koechner, Cedric Yarborough, Lisa Lampanelli (playing herself), Adam Baldwin, Frank Whaley, Matt Besser, Beth Littleford, and Stephen Root. Danny McBride (
Foot Fist Way, All the Real Girls) has the closest thing to a supporting role as one of Drillbit's homeless friends, but even he feels restrained by the "kid friendly" rating.

    Perhaps it's the PG-13. Maybe it's just the feeling of "been done, and better at that". All I know is that Drillbit Taylor is at best a middle of the road, watered down version of a much funnier movie. And I watched the "Unrated" version.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Quick Review: The Shark is Still Working - The Impact and Legacy of Jaws

 If you're the kind of person who reads about movies online (and I certainly hope you are, because otherwise you wouldn't be reading this), you've probably heard about The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws. Chances are you heard about it a few years ago, wondered if and when you'd get a chance to see it, forgot about it, heard about it again, then forgot about it again, and then recently heard it was going to be an extra on the 37th Anniversary Blu-Ray Special Edition of Jaws: The Movie That Ruined Summer Movies Forever.

 Is that a fair characterization of Jaws? Not really, but since it comes up almost every time people mention the slow decline in quality of "Summer" movies, in large part because people get tired of talking about George Lucas and Star Wars, which was the other movie where marketing and promotion factored in as much if not more than the film itself. Of course, Jaws and Star Wars are both entertaining movies that make movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones look like the garbage they are. I chose those two films coincidentally, of course. If I had seen a Transformers film one could argue I should substitute that for either film listed above, but I haven't and won't.

 So before you badger me about getting off on a tangent about the relative quality of "Summer" movies today vs. 30+ years ago, it is worth noting that this exact argument figures into The Shark is Still Working. Not in great detail, because there isn't much in The Shark is Still Working that approaches the phrase "in great detail," but it is a fun and comprehensive overview of Jaws. And by comprehensive I mean that it covers nearly everything you might have ever wondered about Jaws.

  That includes a brief look into the making of (with some discussion of Laurent Bouzereau's The Making of Jaws), voice-over actor Percy Rodrigues' role in the trailer narration, Peter Benchley's book, the poster art, the locations used in the film then and now, the story behind the U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue, Steven Spielberg's reaction to not being nominated for Best Director, interviews with nearly every surviving cast member, crew member, and Universal pictures executives, Jaws Fest, memorabilia collectors, John Williams explaining the shark theme, a beach that uses the theme to warn swimmers to get out of the ocean, the film's impact world-wide, the marketing, what happened to The Orca (and The Orca 2), what happened to Bruce the Shark, how CGI would ruin Jaws, interviews with fans including Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, and Bryan Singer, and tributes to Martha's Vineyard locals who appeared in the film (both living and deceased).

 This doesn't cover everything you see in The Shark is Still Working, which is narrated by the late Roy Scheider and features Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, and Scheider prominently. It's quite impressive for a fan made documentary to manage to bring together nearly everyone involved in the film (especially since quite a few major subject are no longer with us) but I had the distinct impression that there was so much to cover but not enough time to give it all proper attention. As a result, The Shark is Still Working jumps around from subject to subject before viewers really have time to settle in on the significance of what's being discussed.

 Now, I'm not saying that The Shark is Still Working should be Never Sleep Again: the Elm Street Legacy. That's a four hour overview of the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series that covers nearly anything you can think of in detail. The Shark is Still Working is 101 minutes long and manages to cover many bases, and much of what director Erik Hollander and writer James Gelet find was new to me. I don't wish to diminish what The Shark is Still Working accomplishes, but my honest reaction was that it covers as much Jaws ephemera as humanly possible but generally speaking doesn't go into depth about most of it. It's a very entertaining documentary and has some fantastic interview subjects, and the footage of Spielberg watching the Academy Award Nominations is worth the price of admission alone. (Spielberg tries not to be upset that Jaws is nominated for Best Picture but not Best Director, and his faux-disappointment masks the face of a 27 year old genuinely feeling slighted for his efforts).

 Getting back to where my review begin, the concept of Jaws laying the groundwork for Summer Blockbusters (including the repeated statements of Smith, Roth, Singer, and Shyamalan that emulating Jaws' impact weighed heavily on their own careers) is in The Shark is Still Working. But like many other elements of the Impact and Legacy of Jaws that bear more investigation, it only touches on the issue. The Shark is Still Working may not end up as the "Be All, End All" documentary about Jaws, but it is a fine conversation starter. Considering that you get this and Bouzereau's The Making of Jaws as extras on the Blu-Ray for a movie you should be buying anyway, that's a pretty good way to see The Shark is Still Working after all these years.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Clint Eastwood (Part Two)

Honkytonk Man

Sudden Impact

Pale Rider

Heartbreak Ridge


White Hunter Black Heart

The Rookie


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Heading Back to School with a Video Daily Double!

 Well, Educationeers, the time is upon us. It's time to get your knapsacks ready and head back to school. Since it's been a long summer of going to the fishing hole and painting fences, I figured it would be a good idea to give you a Video Daily Double preparing you for life back in the classroom. After all, why not learn about what you're going to be doing for these next long months: learning!

 Learn on!


 Our first film, Your Junior High Day, is for all Educationeers making the leap from "little kid" to "miserable adolescent" when you leave Elementary school and go to Middle school. Oh, how I feel for you and would never, ever, trade places with you.

 Our second film, The Show-Off, will help you middle schoolers figure out how to best navigate your new, awkward, social position. Hint: rat on everybody. It will only end well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Retro Review: Lost Boys - The Tribe

 (editor's note: The Cap'n realized there was a series of Blogorium posts from 2008 that never made the transition from our old stomping grounds to the new one. As a result, it seemed like a good idea to share some other reviews that had been otherwise "lost" over the past four years).

Insert Joke about Vampire Film "sucking"

In ten years, nobody's going to be defending Lost Boys: The Tribe. No one is going to be watching it again, for one thing, but even if some curious teenager decides to double feature the first and second film (we'll get to the possibility of the third film further down), odds are they'll find The Lost Boys far more compelling then its anemic sequel.

    Lost Boys: The Tribe works very hard to mimic the structure of the original, down to recreating classic moments from the first film. The big problem is that none of it is very interesting. It turns out that if you try to retain the atmosphere of a film from the 1980s but remove all of the wardrobe, music, and cheesy haircuts, things don't work. Rap metal and excessive profanity don't actually qualify as "updating" the world of Santa Carla.

    The cast is uniformly bland,  which kills any interest in the vampires. In The Lost Boys, Keifer Sutherland was so much more interesting than Jason Patric that you wanted to see them drag him into the night. In The Tribe, all of the vampires are surfers who say "fuck" and "dude" a whole lot and like to stab each other because they can't die. And videotape it.

    The leads are vanilla, at best. Going by the names, I guess they're supposed to be loosely related to Corey Haim and Jason Patric's Emerson family, although that's never addressed in any way. They have a "kooky" aunt that's meant to fill in for the mother and crazy grandpa, which results in the worst callback to the original film at the end.

    Corey Feldman, who really ought to be the one thing this film has going for it, is a total bust and he can't help it. Feldman's voice aged a lot faster than the rest of him, so Edgar Frog sounds like a fifty year old in the body of a twenty something. In The Lost Boys, it was kind of clever that someone as young as the Frog Brothers could be experts on killing vampires, but when you add twenty years, it's just kind of stupid. Ideally you should push this world further down the line and have someone like Nick Nolte playing a much older Edgar Frog (ala Kris Kristofferson in Blade). Feldog just don't have the heft to pull it of.

    I never thought I'd say this, but director P.J. Pesce is no Joel Schumacher. There's zero visual flair in this movie, unless you count borrowing shots from the original, and even those look more like ripoffs. The script by Hans Rodionoff, when not speeding its way through the plot of the first film (the transformation from human to vampire is no longer a gradual thing but instead happens over the course of a few hours) is busy making unnecessary pop culture references. The Goonies one I was willing to ignore, but the extended Big Lebowski name dropping really irked me.

    Oh, and there's the pointless opening with Tom Savini who agreed to be in the film as long as he only had to work one night. Look for a really weak retread of his From Dusk Til Dawn character at the beginning of the film.

    Ultimately, there's not a lot of reason to watch Lost Boys: The Tribe. While I don't remember seeing The Lost Boys when it came out (I would've been eight), I did watch it on home video six and seven years later and throughout high school. Even removed from the 1980s, it was still an entertaining movie with "kid" protagonists, Mouth from The Goonies, Bill from Bill and Ted, the old man from Tron, and that strange cover of "People are Strange". As I got older, I came to appreciate Edward Herrmann, Dianne Wiest and Kiefer Sutherland. And the fact that despite being the idiot who made Batman Forever AND Batman and Robin, Joel Schumacher had once upon a time made a decent movie or two.

    Lost Boys: The Tribe has none of that going for it. I don't think I'll be watching it again. I find it hard to imagine there'd be a nostalgia for this particular era, so it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to revisit the "aughts" with this film.

Spoiler-ish Alert, if anyone was still thinking of watching this.

    Finally, let's discuss the actual ending; not the one where they kill the head vampire surfer moron, but the one during the credits where Corey Haim's name inexplicably appears right before Corey Feldman's. Normally, that'd be a "what the fuck?" moment, but since the music fades out, we can guess there's something coming.

    Sure enough, Edgar Frog is sitting under a lone spot light talking into the darkness, saying things like "cut the theatrics! I know you're there." Then we see a shadowy Corey Haim, looking much worse for the wear (nearly unrecognizable to be honest). They hint at some kind of history between the first Lost Boys film and The Tribe, and then they say some really cheesy stuff and attack each other. Cut back to the credits.

    Alternate endings on the dvd carry this thread further, but suggest that Edgar Frog's brother Alan (Jamison Newlander) is now a "Master" vampire and is coming back to exact his revenge on the Coreys. Either way, we're being promised a third Lost Boys movie that has all the makings of being MUCH worse than The Tribe. Tell you what, gang; go find Jason Patric and get him involved, because if you're going to pursue a continuation of the original film using people willing to come back, then you might as well grab him too.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cap'n Howdy Presents: (New) Adventures in Projectioneering!

 Well, I wasn't expecting this. It's been twelve years since the Cap'n worked for or in a movie theatre, and that was one of those "chain" types (it still exists which is why you might have noticed the fact I no longer identify it by name) and I thought that I'd probably never find myself in a projection booth again. Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because it tends to be the kind of job high school students get over the summer or stick around through the fall and move up from concessions to usher to projectionist. I know this is the case because it's what I did.

 The Cap'n is no spring chicken, so it seemed like if I'd been away for so long and that the younger generation was no doubt better equipped to handled these new fangled "digital" projectors we hear about. Speaking of which, true story: when I went to see The Dark Knight Rises a few weeks ago, before the IMAX showing, I saw it at a large (but different) "chain" multiplex and when the movie ended I could see the Windows toolbar at the bottom of the screen. As in, no film whatsoever, we were watching a projection of somebody's digital copy of The Dark Knight Rises. I'm not making justifications for people who pirate movies, but it's an uphill battle convincing them that you're in for a better experience watching a theatre's projected computer screen for $15.

 Anyway, so with digital projectors being in vogue and projectionists not really in demand (you can program those things and they run themselves, reducing the person in the booth to a minimum-wage IT employee), it hadn't crossed my mind in some time I'd ever be working in a theatre again. But then I got word from a friend whose husband worked for a local theatre that they needed a projectionist and all I needed to do was drop by. And all of a sudden, with limited funds, a very part time job, and lots of spare time I could be using to make money (sorry readers, but this here Blogorium is a labor of love, not a lucrative cash cow for the Cap'n), I decided why not go check it out.

 Now this particular theatre was enticing because I've been going there since I was a kid. It's been here since before the Cap'n lived in this state, and while it's changed hands a few times over the years, it turns out one thing hasn't changed at all: the projection booth.

 I expected to be rusty at threading a projector (and I was) but I had no idea I'd be working with machines as old as I was, kept in working order by a dedicated team making the best of what they had even when parts were in short supply. And by that I mean "we don't make that kind of part anymore" short supply. It's impressive to see projectors that I saw movies on as a kid still playing films today, including The Dark Knight Rises. 35mm film is still where it's at, as far as this Luddite is concerned.

 The other thing I'd forgotten was how much fun it is to physically thread the film through the machine - yes, it can be maddening when you have four movies starting within five minutes of each other (still better than eight to sixteen), but there's something about being in the background, watching the audiences sit down to watch a movie, and getting everything ready. Because much of the equipment isn't automated, I also get to do little tricks like lower the lights on cue, adjust the sound between trailers and the film, and sometimes physically lift the shutter covering the lens.

 It's the kind of thing you forget that you enjoy doing, a job that's entirely behind the scenes but results in people being able to escape somewhere else for a few hours. Being a projectionist is a unique sort of job in that you are responsible for the experiences of anywhere from two to two hundred people, but only you know what that responsibility means. I'm not diminishing the front of house folks (who are all very nice and laid back people - the atmosphere of the theatre is very laid back with no uniforms or restrictions on facial hair, etc.). Believe me, they get the complaints if I do my job badly, but don't think I don't know if I goofed up. Chances are I'm trying to fix it, and every time a piece of film is a little too loose or rides to the side of a roller, I am hoping that doesn't sully your moviegoing experience. People don't go out to see movies that much any more, so it is incumbent on me to make it worth your while.

 Do I make too much out of this? Maybe. I mean, it's not like I'm making much more than what I did twelve years ago. But I enjoy doing it, and I'd forgotten how much I could enjoy doing it, even as a second part time job. If I ever get a call back from full time work, or if the Blogorium magically turned into a hit or something tomorrow, I still think I'd hang on to this gig for as long as it lasts. If nothing else, the stories will be good, and I have a few already.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Clint Eastwood (Part One)

Play Misty for Me

High Plains Drifter


The Eiger Sanction

The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Gauntlet

Bronco Billy


Friday, August 3, 2012

Blogorium Review: Savages

 It hasn't exactly been the best start of the millennium for Oliver Stone. After he pretty much owned late 80s and early 90s until Quentin Tarantino took his throne of "edgy filmmaker" (appropriate considering that Stone took Tarantino's script for Natural Born Killers and changed it to suit the movie he wanted to make), things kind of dropped off. I don't know where you folks stand on U Turn and Any Given Sunday, but I still like them, but it's pretty much the consensus that Stone fell off of the radar and started making movies that were at best "okay" after 2000.

First Stone tried to get in on the "somewhat historical sword and sandal" movement, post-Gladiator (this would include Troy, 300, and also Ridley Scott's other foray, Kingdom of Heaven) to less than desirable results. Alexander is pretty much a mess, and that goes for all three (four?) cuts that are out there - the action heavy / homoerotic removing "Director's Cut," the messy theatrical cut, and the "fuck it, here's a combination of the two" Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut. Honestly, I never saw the "Director's Cut" because it seemed silly to accentuate the action over Alexander the Great's relationships, but I saw the theatrical and final cuts. I guess the last one is the better of the two I saw, but it's no Gladiator, and Gladiator sure isn't Ben-Hur*.

 I never saw World Trade Center and W. was okay but oddly toothless. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps had some pretty good performances but suffered from music choices and visual metaphors that were way to "on the nose." Look, it's cool if you want to cover the financial crisis using Gordon Gekko because in many ways this happened because stock brokers and traders decided to emulate Michael Douglas after Wall Street, but to have someone blow a bubble that floats up over the New York skyline and then bursts, followed by the stock numbers plummeting overlaid on the same skyline is laying it on a bit thick. And I'm being generous here, because people seemed to hate Money Never Sleeps and World Trade Center, while generally well reviewed, always gets forgotten when compared to United 93. And when was the last time you heard anyone mention W.?

 This brings me to Savages, which is being touted as a "return to form" for Stone. For me, a return to form means we're looking at the guy who made Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July and JFK and Nixon and Salvador and Natural Born Killers and even though I don't really like it, The Doors. Because that Oliver Stone was at least interesting. And Savages is not quite that, but it is definitely a better movie than anything Stone's made since 1999 (or, if you really insist that Natural Born Football sucks, then 1994).

 Savages, which is based on Don Winslow's book of the same name (and co-written by Winslow and Stone and Shane Salermo) is the story of O (short for Ophelia, which seems like it should have some significance but only really ties in because there's a painting of the drowned Hamlet character) played by Blake Lively. She narrates the film and pretty much admits that she's going to be unreliable from the get-go because she (SPOILER) tells you a lie by saying "Just because I'm telling you this story doesn't mean I'm alive at the end of it." Unlike other unreliable protagonists (I'm looking at you, non-Batman Christopher Nolan characters), O isn't crazy so much as she isn't very bright. But we'll get to that in a little bit.

 O is dating Chon (Taylor Kitsch), a veteran of Afghanistan and also probably Iraq who came back and started growing and selling weed with Ben (Aaron Johnson), who O is also dating. They have a happy little thing going on and a thriving business with their smuggled in from Afghanistan pot until a Mexican cartel sends them a message, in the form of a video of decapitated folks who said "no" to their business proposition. Ben is more of a zen kind of guy, who spends a lot of time around the world making things better, so he's amenable to making a deal. Chon, on the other hand, is still fixed in a mindset of hostility and sees the cartel trying to make a hostile takeover. He has some buddies he served with who provide security at a distance with sniper rifles keep an eye on their meeting, in case things get nasty.

 The cartel sends Alex (Demian Bechir)to speak on behalf of the boss, Elena (Salma Hayek), and yeah, it's pretty much a "join us or we'll make your lives hell" kind of offer. Ben is hesitant, but Chon really angers Elena by saying "you want us to eat your shit and call it caviar," so things get testy. Elena also has Lado (Benicio del Toro), the muscle, who we meet killing a lawyer named Chad (Shea Wigham cameo) in what you could call a ruthless manner. Lado doesn't like Ben and Chon, so when the order comes down to kidnap O, he makes it his personal mission to keep an eye on her.

 From that point on, the movie gets more interesting, which is not to say it wasn't before. It's just that if that were my entire review I could have skipped the movie and just recapped the trailer. The trailer sells it as just a kidnapping movie and that Ben and Chon are going to get her back and escalate the violence, Taken-style or something to that effect. But that's not really what happens in Savages.

 Instead, the film takes some time to breathe and lets the characters get to know each other a little better. We get to know Ben and Chon more, which is good because otherwise it would be easier to characterize the film as "John Carter  and Kick-Ass vs. Frida and The Wolf Man." Also, Elena gets to know O, in part because her own daughter Magda (Sandra Echeverría) doesn't want to have anything to do with her. In an interesting wrinkle, we first meet Magda while she's on the phone with her mother, shopping in the same mall O is about to be kidnapped from. Stone could have laid it on thick there but mostly the parallels between the two young women is kept in the background.

 Also, I haven't mentioned sleazy DEA Agent Dennis, played by John Travolta. It's been a while since I've seen Travolta in anything, so I forgot just how good he can be in movies and not just as tabloid fodder. Here he's great as a corrupt agent playing more than one side, simultaneously feeding Ben and Chon information while plotting across the border in order to keep his pockets lined and his ass out of the line of fire. While ethically dubious I have to say I admire his ability to avoid the same fate as Chad on more than one occasion.

 Stylistically I guess you could say that Savages is a little closer to the Oliver Stone of Natural Born Killers, but it's nowhere near as wild as that movie. Yes, sometimes it switches to black and white or goes slightly slow motion, and there's the juxtaposition of classical music with graphic violence, but more or less the film is told in a straightforward fashion. Where it's closer to Natural Born Killers is in the violence, where Savages really just does not hold back. There's a scene where Lado whips a guy until his eyeball pops out, and then the eye just hangs there for the rest of the scene until the mole is douse with gasoline, place inside of a tire, and then set ablaze by Ben (at Elena's bidding). It's not a sensationalized violence so much as the kind that makes you cringe a little, like when Lado blows off Chad's kneecaps (this would be more of a spoiler but Chad dies in the same scene we meet him early in the film).

 So Savages is an entertaining, if violent movie. I like that both sides make their case about how the title applies to the other (again, not in a heavy handed way. I feel that's necessary after Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), and while I was expecting to enjoy the supporting cast I did end up liking Kitsch and Johnson and Lively as well. Good job, Oliver Stone - I did not see that coming. I also liked the smaller roles / cameos in the movie, like Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) as Ben and Chon's money launderer, Leonard Roberts (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Heroes) as O's security guy Hayes, and Joel David Moore** as a computer programmer who I don't think ever says anything in the film but you see him two or three times.

 But as much as I'd like to close things out like that, I do feel like I should pull a switcheroo just like the ending of Savages. Well, I should say "endings" because there's a climactic shootout during a hostage exchange where pretty much everybody dies and then O says "that's how I imagined it would happen, anyway" and then abruptly jumps back to explain what DID happen, which makes more sense considering we had already seen the formulation of the plan earlier in the movie. It is kind of a cop-out, not only because Stone (and Winslow and Salermo) give you the emotionally satisfying conclusion you were probably expecting in its entirety only to pull the rug out, but also because it feels like they couldn't make up their minds.

 Yes, O is unreliable and you set that up early on but if we're really going by that then how could we possibly have seen the conversation that sets up the actual ending of the movie? No one she communicates with was privy to it. I just took it that O was narrating parts of the movie but after a while the movie took over and we're just seeing the narrative presented to us not as O saw it but as it was unfolding. She can't possibly know half of the things we see, so you just get over the structure of film as flashback.

 Anyway, so it's like they had two endings, couldn't decide which one they liked more (the "movie" ending or the "appropriate for the world of this movie" ending), so they decided to use both. And it detracts a little bit, especially when it goes on to these ambiguous statements about what happened afterward and what living like a "savage" means and O waxing the philosophical. It's not enough to derail Savages, but I have to say that the movie doesn't quite stick the landing. Otherwise I had fun watching it, cringed a little bit at the cruelty, and enjoyed the acting and direction. This is the kind of Oliver Stone I could get used to watching again - maybe not at the top of his game, but still making interesting movies that don't hold back so much.

 * Fair? Maybe not, but it's hard to argue that this wave of historical "epics" doesn't in some fashion borrow heavily from Ben-Hur or Spartacus or Demetrius and the Gladiators.
** I guess most of you would say from Avatar, but since I haven't seen Avatar he's "Hatchet's Joel David Moore" to me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summer Winding Down? Not with the Video Daily Double!!!

 Greetings, Slackucationeers! Cap'n Howdy knows you're using the last few days of summer to squeeze in as much slacking as you humanly can, but in the interest of picking up a few useful tidbits before trotting back off to school, I've helpfully cooked up this week's Video Daily Double! Since I know you're hoping to sneak in some partying and merry-making before everything is said and done with, I thought I'd take some time out of your busy schedule of doing nothing to warn you of the dangers of partying too hard!



 Our first film, Innocent Party, deals with a very important subject with the initials V and D. And it doesn't stand for Valentine's Day. Honestly, this video is probably something you should watch with your older brothers or sisters, so they can explain things you won't understand. Yet. But beware what you don't understand!

 Our second film, None for the Road, is for those of you who thinking drinking will make you cool. Spoiler Alert: It Will, but that just means you totally shouldn't do it. Cool people may have the right clothes and a cool car and all the right friends, but in the end they just go on to live great lives and you're not going to be cut out for that. When you're older, rent a movie called Heathers. You'll understand.