Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Runaways

Hey! I saw The Runaways today and liked it a lot. But I decided to write about it on Mysterious Exhortations, my new blog. Go read it there, please!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar Pool Theory

This is a terrible year for Oscar pools. See, everyone agrees on the actors (Bridges, Bullock, 'Nique, Waltz), which means there's not a lot of room to separate from the pack. Even Best Picture is widely considered to be Avatar, although I've noticed a trend toward picking The Hurt Locker. Either way, though, it's hard to win a pool if everybody picks the same thing.

So here's my theory. Let's say there's an 90% chance that all the favorites win. So if that's how you bet, you've got an 90% chance of being right. But then you have to divide your chances of actually winning by the number of people that also played all the favorites. Which, this year, is everyone. So if you and ten other people all picked the same favorites at the top, you've got a 90% chance ... of having a one-in-eleven chance of winning. And it'll come down to Live Action Short or something equally random.

So this year, I've decided to stake out the longshot vote. I realize there's a very good chance that Avatar or The Hurt Locker will win Best Picture. But the odds stink. So I went with Inglourious Basterds. I think it was a fantastic movie, and if people can get over their instinctive "Ew! Tarantino!" reaction, they might vote for him. And his acceptance speech would be amazing.

Plus, this way I get to root for my favorite movie of the year to win Best Picture. That doesn't happen when I'm forced to pick Crash or something, you know?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gums

Okay. This movie raised a lot of questions. Mostly questions like "What in the hell?" and "Why is this happening?" Let's take it from the top.

Gums is a pornographic parody of Jaws. Except instead of a great white shark, there's a mermaid who kills men via fellatio. Except that she's not much of a mermaid. She's got legs, for one thing. The top-billed character is played by Brother Theodore, who is hilariously crazy. He's also mostly incomprehensible. The whole movie's incomprehensible. At one point, the scientist character (who does, in fact, look and sound a little like Richard Dreyfus) goes to the wrong house. A voice from inside tells him the address he wants is across the street. Then we cut inside the house to see one dog mounting another. Just before the audience goes blind with horror, we cut back to the scientist knocking on the door of a house that clearly has the wrong address.

There were three jokes in the movie that I liked. And I'm pretty sure these were all on purpose.

JOKE THE FIRST: The deputy is seen apparently riding in a parade, but then the camera pulls back to reveal he's just standing up in his jeep and waving to people for no reason.

JOKE THE SECOND: The mayor has a comically large tie.

JOKE THE THIRD: Brother Theodore's master plan at the end of the movie involves Hitler's genitals. But the guy in the burlap sack insists that he's not even Hitler. And he's right: this guy is clearly not Hitler. He tries to go along with it for a minute or so, but finally has to insist that he's just a guy that Brother Theodore stuffed into a sack. I enjoyed that bit, because it was appealingly random.

The rest of this movie doesn't make a bit of sense. For one thing, why, if it's porn, is all the sex concealed behind poorly-drawn underground-comix-style illustrations? Why are two of the characters replaced by puppets for the last five minutes? What was with the vulture?

Anyway, it was a weird, weird movie. Exactly the sort of thing you want to see in a late-night show at a local art hose theater packed with people enjoying themselves, and that's how I did see it. Plus, it's barely over an hour long, so I could still get home and go to sleep. I appreciate that.

It did make me happy by providing another sighting of the Panic in New York; Menagerie Breaks Loose headline. Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I've figured out what the deal is with that. But I'll explain it in a different post.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Wolfman

Well ... it's definitely a wolfman movie. It's got an aged gypsy fortune teller (who should really have been played by Adrienne Barbeau), frightened villagers, people getting killed on the moors, a lot of shots of the full moon, and an angry mob waving torches. I don't know why they're not waving pitchforks, because we see them lying around in the village earlier.

There's a spot where I think we're supposed to object to the idea of Lawrence Talbot being killed. However, at that point, he's already offed twenty or so villagers, along with a handful of scientists and at least a few Londoners. Frankly, even if he had somehow gotten cured of the werewolfism, he's still got to be brought down somehow. No one's going to say, "Well, you weren't quite yourself when you decimated the Royal Academy of Sciences so we'll let you off. Don't do it again!"

There were some things I liked. I enjoyed Anthony Hopkins as the amused father, although it was largely the same role he played in The Mask of Zorro. It helps that I enjoyed that movie a lot. I liked that Rick Baker was in charge of the werewolf effects. There was CGI, yes, but there was a lot of footage of "a guy in a wolfman suit". And it looked like a proper wolfman. The two stages are "man" and "wolfman", not "man" and "wolf". It's a little thing, but it's important.

I also always kind of enjoy exceedingly blatant sequel hooks. And I suppose this is a spoiler, but I would totally go see Inspector Abberline: Werewolf Detective.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jabberwocky

The Terry Gilliam project continues, with a movie made back when Monty Python was still practically a going concern. And it seems strange that I've never seen it, since I've seen all the other Monty Python stuff I could get my hands on.

As it happens, I think I was correct to skip it. It's mostly an excuse for Terry Gilliam to cover Michael Palin in gunk and then hide him behind clouds of smoke. There isn't really a plot, and the jokes kind of feel like somebody who's heard of Monty Python and wants to give it a try without really understanding it. There are a lot of pointless non sequiturs and things that are intended to be funny because they're so strenuously peculiar and unexpected. Wacky!

That's really all there is to say about it, I'm afraid. It's only interesting in the sense that you can watch Gilliam's directorial sensibilities evolve. It's mostly darkness and smoke machines at this point.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monty Python and the Holy Grail


What with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus coming out, I've decided to watch all the movies directed by Terry Gilliam. There are only three I haven't seen (counting the Imaginarium itself), and several of the ones I have seen are among my favorite movies ever. So this shouldn't be too hard! First up, we have Mr. Gilliam's directorial debut, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which he co-directed with Terry Jones.

I have, of course, seen this before. Many, many times. I've worn out two videotapes of this movie. I want to emphasize that I'm not one of those people who quotes it all the time. I used to be, but I got over it. The quotes are always there in the back of my head. Always. While watching it this time, I got almost ten minutes in without quoting along, but then "Dennis! There's some lovely filth down here!" leapt unbidden out of my mouth.

So obviously I can't be objective about this movie. I love everything about it, and I've reached the point where I'm watching the backgrounds because I've already memorized what happens close to the camera. I've read a bit (read: everything I could get my hands on) about the making of Holy Grail, so I know that Gilliam was mostly interested in making things look right and covering actors with filth, while Jones's directing efforts were more about the actors and the funny. In later Monty Python movies, they sensibly decided that Terry Jones would be the Director, while Terry Gilliam would be Production Designer. Meanwhile, Gilliam would go off to start directing on his own on Jabberwocky, which I will watch for the first time now. Exciting!

Incidentally, I thought "Spamalot" was fine, although it wasn't as funny as the movie.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sita Sings the Blues

I am going to attempt to talk about Sita Sings the Blues without reference to the way it was made, the way it was distributed, or the many interesting questions it raises about Copyright and Fair Use. Those are all valid topics of discussion, but I feel they've been amply covered elsewhere. Instead, I shall be focusing solely on the movie itself.

...this is a fantastic movie. It retells the Ramayana, a story from India's myth/history, and it does it in several different ways at once. The characters all have six or seven different appearances, so that the viewer quickly learns what the core elements are. Sita could look like this or like that, and the story could go in these directions, but she's always Sita. As if to back up the idea of a story being told in different ways, we occasionally see classical shadow puppets acting out a conversation by modern residents of India, telling the story, getting confused, and disagreeing with each other on the order of events.

One of the threads is a very cartoony (and adorable!) Sita singing the blues songs of Anette Hanshaw. It's not even that much of a stretch, since Sita's man Done Her Wrong, which of course is one of the main themes of the blues. I like that section a lot, not just because Annette Hanshaw turns out to be terrific, but because most of the movie is a mash-up of different versions of the Ramayana, and the addition of something from the twentieth century shows that the basic themes are, in fact, universal. You can add blues to the pot with no problem at all. That also applies to the Modern Day section, which is about Nina Paley (the filmmaker) and the end of a relationship.

Sita Sings the Blues takes a classic story and retells it in a thoroughly modern way. It shows how the story is applicable and meaningful for people living today, and it does it all exceedingly entertainingly. It's beautiful and a lot of fun.

(And, yes, it was made all by Nina Paley on Nina Paley's home computer, and it's got a groundbreaking distribution model and the use of Annette Hanshaw songs presents interesting questions about copyright and Fair Use. There's more information on the FAQ. Happy now?)