Monday, December 31, 2007

Around the World in Eighty Days

Earlier this year I watched a lot of movies in the "cross-country race" genre. It turns out that Cannonball Run is actually one of the better ones, although I strongly recommend Two-Lane Blacktop and Gumball Rally. Anyway, I appear to have skipped this one, which was remiss of me. Luckily, I was sitting around trying to think of a movie that my new HDTV wold show off to good effect, and I realized there was a brightly-colored widescreen movie just waiting to be watched!

I think it's interesting that this is the only movie that has both Peter Lorre and Marlene Dietrich, since as far as I can tell they both did musical theater in Vienna at the same time. They don't have a scene together, though, so even I don't think it's that interesting.

This is the version with the exceedingly unflappable David Niven and the enthusiastic Cantinflas as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout. It also has about fifteen minutes of irrelevant stuff at the beginning (like almost the entire Georges Melies movie "From the Earth to the Moon"!) and a fairly unsatisfying punchline, but the core of the story is quite strong. If you don't mind the occasional breaks for bullfighting, flamenco, and Chinese Opera.

However, if you want a really good movie in which someone makes a crazy bet in a gentleman's club that he can do a nigh-impossible feat of navigation and racing, I think you should see Horatio's Drive. That documentary is great.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Galaxy Quest

Man, who doesn't love Galaxy Quest? It's the best movie about science fiction fandom and the best Star Trek movie. And since it came out, I've learned to recognize many more of the actors, including Sam Rockwell, Enrico Colantoni, and Justin Long. And seeing Sigourney Weaver complaining about being cleavage-baring eye candy makes me laugh every time,

I do think that the Galaxy Quest convention in the movie looks really good, especially if it's just the "Southwest fans" version. They've got a surprising number of dealers there for a single-show convention.

Tommy

I enjoy Tommy, but I am under no illusions that it makes any sense. What you've got here is a "rock opera" that's made up of a bunch of songs that sort of connect to each other, and then it all gets filmed by Ken Russell, who I think is more interested in covering Ann-Margret with baked beans than in constructing a coherent narrative.

With that said, it still has a great soundtrack (although I prefer it once Daltrey starts singing the songs himself) and there are enough crazy things happening onscreen to make it watchable.

I think it's weird that Pete Townshend (who wrote all the songs!) and John Entwhistle aren't really in the movie, except as musicians. Daltrey gets to run around with his shirt off and even Keith Moon gets to play a crazed child molester. But Pete and John apparently got to sleep through the whole thing. I'm not saying Daltrey didn't do a good job, because all that messianic stuff looks fine coming out of him. But couldn't Pete have been fit in somewhere?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tekkonkinkreet

On this thread on Cartoon Brew, a few people said that this movie should receive one of the three Academy Award nominations for Animated Movie. Now, there's a lot of snootiness and hipper-than-thou attitudes over there, but there are also a lot of people who know their animation. And I'd never even heard of this movie, so I was curious.

It turns out to be a really neat animated movie from Japan. I guess that technically makes it "anime", but the characters look more like Lynda Barry drawings than the traditional Astro Boy-style manga. I like how the characters all look fairly sketch-like, but the background buildings are very solid and 3-D.

The story is fairly surreal and involves a couple small homeless boys with the ability to jump very far and have crazy hallucinations. Also a diabolical yakuza gang which plans to tear down the strip clubs and put up an amusement park for some reason. And some unstoppable killers. Also some of the coolest-looking animation I've seen in quite some time.

Bloodhounds of Broadway

Hmm. I was hoping this would be fun, since it's a Damon Runyon musical. You know, like Guys and Dolls. Except that for a Runyon story, it's got a lot more of the hillbilly girl (played by Mitzi Gaynor, and with a last name of "Stackerlee" for no earthly reason) than it does of colorful gangsters who talk funny.

It's not that I object to tapdancing throwdowns -- well, I kind of do, actually. But even if I liked them, that's not what I'm looking for in a Damon Runyon movie. More gangsters and weird grammar, please!

Also, this is a ridiculously colorful movie. I kept thinking it had been colorized, but no: they actually got that guy a bright green fedora to wear. Some costume designers were entirely too excited by Technicolor.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Bourne Supremacy

I think I'm going to have to give up on Matt Damon. I've never seen any reason for people to think he's a Great Actor, and watching this movie (which I was told was one of the main reasons) didn't give me a clue. He's dour and expressionless the whole time, and I like my actors to occasionally register an emotion or two.

Don't get me wrong, the lack of expression works for the character, but I'm pretty sure practically any actor in Hollywood could have done as good a job. It's the action scenes that are what actually move the plot along, and this is one of the movies that's heavy on the ShakyCam where not only can't you see whether it's the actor or a stunt double, you can't really see what's going on. I really hate that, because it takes me completely out of the movie. It's not as bad as in I Am Legend, where the camera becomes Shaky a reliable twenty seconds before every fight scene starts, nor did I find it as obnoxious as in Batman Begins, where I frequently couldn't identify which of the characters getting punched was Batman, but it's still not my favorite was of conveying Action.

So I guess this is the Future of Action Movies. Muted color palettes, handheld digital cameras, blah blah blah. Why can't more movies be like Banlieue 13?

2007 Movies

Here’s the movies of 2007 that I saw in 2007. I didn’t see all of them in theaters, of course, what with DVDs being so convenient, especially with my cool new televisions. I do this every year – here’s my 2006 list, although it doesn't include 2006 movies that I saw in 2007. This doesn't seem like it should be this complicated to explain, does it? I just go to this site and make a note of all the movies I've seen and then I order them so that the ones I liked the best are at the top.

Note that "the ones I liked the best" are not necessarily "the ones I thought were the best". Sometimes I enjoy bad movies and don't enjoy good movies. Deal with it!

Category 1

1. Grindhouse
2. The Host
3. Ratatouille
4. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Dollars
5. Superbad
6. No Country for Old Men
7. Darkon

This is the category of movies I really liked, to the point of actively recommending them to people on the street. I really, really liked Grindhouse, to the point of seeing it three times in theaters (the best one was at the Drive-In, of course) and watching both of the separate movies on DVD when they came out. The Host is a lot of fun, but it's best to approach it as a Monster Movie rather than a Horror Movie. Also, it's funny, which bothered some people.

Ratatouille was the first Pixar movie with an ad campaign that didn't actively drive me away. It didn't much make me want to see it either, but at least it wasn't like the Finding Nemo ads, which focused largely on the turtles who talked like stoned surfers. Incidentally, I firmly believe that Ratatouille's whole premise was based on the scene in Muppets Take Manhattan where the rats are in the kitchen.

King of Kong and Darkon are both documentaries about people I recognize. I may not know the actual people involved, but harcore videogame enthusiasts and Live-Action Roleplayers are both near and dear to my heart. King of Kong is higher because the subjects are so clearly drawn.

There's a chance I liked Superbad more than I otherwise would have because I saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. On the other hand, it's really funny and does things I didn't expeect.

And meanwhile No Country for Old Men is just really, really good.

Category 2

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
9. Hot Fuzz
10. The Simpsons Movie
11. Transformers
12. 300
13. Hairspray
14. Knocked Up
15. Sweeney Todd

These are the movies that I liked while I was watching them, but felt vaguely dissatisfied when they were over. In the case of Pirates of the Caribbean and Hot Fuzz, I probably just had really high expectations.

Category 3

16. Zodiac
17. Ghost Rider
18. I Am Legend
19. 1408
20. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
21. Stardust
22. The Golden Compass
23. Reno 911!: Miami
24. Spider-Man 3
25. Air Guitar Nation

I didn't hate these movies, but I wasn't crazy about them either. Most of them had aspects I enjoyed (Ghost Rider, for example, seemed to know how ridiculous it was, which is why I liked it better than Spider-Man 3, which had no idea), but didn't really grab me.

Category 4

26. The Number 23
27. Stomp the Yard
28. Resident Evil: Extinction
29. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox
30. Smokin' Aces
31. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
32. Halloween

Man, I hated these movies. Halloween turned out to be a terrible movie to see at the Drive-In, since the last half of the movie was so dark we literally had no idea what was happening on the screen, so it's not really the movie's fault. I knew the Aqua Teen movie was going to be bad, because even though I'm an ATHF fan, I thought the last season suggested that the writers were having trouble filling fifteen-minute episodes. Still, I can't believe they actually decided to use the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future in a major role. Smokin' Aces was pretty much as bad as you'd expect it to be, although it has a pretty funny scene involving Ben Affleck's mouth. I had high hopes for Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox, but it turns out that after you learn that Dr. Bronner was a German guy with a history of mental problems and a penchant for talking like a hippie, there's still a lot of boring movie to fill up.

Resident Evil: Extinction was exactly as bad as I thought it would be and didn't even have the grace to be interestingly terrible. Stomp the Yard was just like, say, Drumline, except that "stomping the yard" isn't as interesting as drum corps. Plus, the main character was a huge jerk the whole time and I saw no reason to root for him.

I would have like The Number 23 more if it had been explicit in its debt to Robert Anton Wilson, and if it had made any sense. Also, that book that Jim Carrey was reading couldn't have been more than 100 pages, so he must have been an awfully slow reader.

So there you go. I'm glad that I didn't hate more movies than I loved. I'm sad that I didn't get around to seeing Across the Universe or Tekkonkinkreet, but on the other hand, I also kind of want to see Dragon Wars and National Treasure. Oh, and I don't guarantee I won't see Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem before the end of the year, but we can probably assume that'll go in Category 3.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Am Legend

I've invented a new rule. If a movie's IMDB trivia includes the line "The film was green-lit without a script," that's probably a bad sign, plot-wise. This is one of those movies that they rewrote all the way through filming, and they appear to have taken a sharp left turn somewhere toward the end of Act 2. Here I was excited because for once, a version of Richard Matheson's book was being given the original name instead of "The Omega Man" or "The Last Man on Earth" (which stars Vincent Price and is a lot of fun, if you're wondering), but toward the end of te movie they suddenly get rid of the cool ending, which is the whole point of the story. It's weird.

Now, I have nothing against Will Smith. He's a fine actor and seems like a pretty likable guy. But between this and I, Robot I wonder what classic genre story he will next turn into an action flick with a bunch of CGI monsters. Come to think of it, I'd kind of like to see him star in Stranger in a Strange Land.

Anyway, I enjoyed most of the movie. It's just that the ending is so odd that it threw me a bit. Also odd: the extended scene in which it appears that the script for Shrek got slipped in by mistake. The Bob Marley speech was also a little odd.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sweethearts of the U.S.A.

Right now, I am watching Sweethearts of the U.S.A., a 1944 movie so slight it is almost nonexistent. It stars Una Merkel, who you might remember as the daughter in W.C. Field's The Bank Dick, or possibly from her fight with Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again.She was also Effie in The Maltese Falcon,but not the version with Humphrey Bogart, so I don't know why I mentioned it. Her boyfriend is a dialect comedian called "Parkyakarkus", playing a character named "Parkyakarkus" with an accent. He's not very interesting, but it turns out he's the father of Albert Brooks and Super Dave Osborne. I don't mean "his humor makes him their spiritual father" or something -- he's actually their father. You know they were brothers, right?

Anyway, the plot of Sweerhearts of the U.S.A. has something to do with Una working in a war plant (as represented by a lot of montages provided by Boeing) and then hitting her head and being unable to get a job. Then she and Parkyakarkus go off to a house that Parkyakarkus might or might not own and start a nightclub, and then there's a pirate ghost that captures the bank robbers (there were bank robbers earlier that I forgot to mention) and it all turns out to be a dream and she's defense worker of the month and then she knocks herself out again and there's another song in the dream sequence. There's a lot of talk about the War Effort and it ends with dancing girls making a V for Victory and encouraging us to buy War Bonds.

This sort of thing is why I'm glad there are so many channels. Turner Classic Movies has to really try to fill its programming, so you get tributes to Una Merkel's birthday. How else would I get to watch movies like this?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Golden Compass

At the last minute, I found out about a preview screening of The Golden Compass and I braved the snow to see it. Well, it wasn't actually snowing anymore, but at least there was some snow on the ground. Look, it was a grand expedition, okay?

So! I got to see it a week early. That's interesting, isn't it? Sure it is!

And how is it? Well . . . I didn't like it very much, actually. The world is complex enough that there has to be an awful lot of exposition to set things up, and that doesn't leave a lot of room for the story. As a result, there's a stretch where there are several action scenes in a row that are only split up by CGI establishing shots. So I found the whole thing somewhat dissatisfying.

However, it does feature Sam Elliott as an airship captain, and I enjoyed him much better than Robert DeNiro's airship pirate in Stardust. And I certainly found things to enjoy, like the presence of the word "orphink". Of course, the main reason I liked that is that it made me think about the Robin Williams Popeye movie, which I recognize is not for everyone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Devil is a Sissy


I love Turner Classic Movies. Even when it's not showing "good" movies, it's showing things I at least find interesting. Like a marathon of movies starring "Maisie", whoever that is.

In this case, it's a 1936 movie chosen by Harvey Fierstein called The Devil is a Sissy. It stars the three big child stars of the day: Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper, and Mickey Rooney. That's a pretty good cast!

The plot involves Freddie Bartholomew as a British transplant trying to join the New York gang run by Rooney and Cooper. Now, you have to remember that Freddie Bartholomew is extremely -- well, let's put it this way. You know when you call someone "Little Lord Fauntleroy"? That was Freddie Bartholomew. So he's about ideal for the part of "prissy British kid in over his head with the tough guys".

The plot is pretty much by the numbers: Bartholomew gets into trouble trying to join the gang and then they get in trouble, and blah blah blah. It's not actually that good a movie. I found it fascinating, though.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Three Musketeers (not one of the good versions)

The Three Musketeers

I'm a big fan of swashbuckling. If your movie has people jumping on tables and swinging on chandeliers and getting in swordfights all over the place, I'm probably going to love it. This applies whether it's a good movie (The Sea Hawk or Errol Flynn's Robin Hood) or a bad movie (Cutthroat Island, say. Or Yellowbeard). I'm also a fan of Alexandre Dumas, so I've seen all the Three Musketeers adaptations I can find.

This is not the best version. That would be the Richard Lester one from 1973 with Richard Chamberlain, Michael York, and Racquel Welch. It's not even that Charlie Sheen/Keifer Sutherland one from 1993. I wasn't crazy about that one, but at least it had Tim Curry as Richelieu. It's not the 1948 version I haven't seen even though it has Vincent Price, Lana Turner, and Gene Kelly.

Nor is it the 1933 John Wayne version that's really a serial about the French Foreign Legion. That one was weird because it was a really early talkie and they hadn't thought of sound effects yet, so the fight scenes all take place in an eerie silence.

No, this is the 1939 musical comedy version starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. So I'm actually watching it because of my fascination with the Ritz Brothers. Unlike proper comedy teams like Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Three Stooges, or the Marx Brothers, the Ritz Brothers are completely indistinguishable. There's no "fat one" or "angry one" or "funny one". There's especially no "funny one". It is hard to tell from here what exactly their act is supposed to be. They just mug and fall over a lot. And this is in 1939, a year that also gave us such cinematic masterpieces as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, and Mr. Moto in Danger Island.

There was a time when the Ritz Brothers were very highly regarded, especially Harry. I should note at this point that although I've seen three or four Ritz Brothers movies, I have no idea which one is Harry. However, here's a 1976 Esquire article in which Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, and Jerry Lewis all claim that Harry Ritz was a brilliant comedian in nightclubs. A careful look at that list of comics will suggest that Harry wasn't, um, subtle.

Here are some of the things presented as evidence in that article:

They were masters of movement and, in addition to dances so extraordinarily well timed that the three of them looked as if they were sewn together, they were capable of a dozen comic walks and runs.


Mm, yes. It's been awhile since comics were graded based on how many different comic walks they had.

Though theirs was ensemble comedy they almost always dressed the same and were generally indistinguishable as characters- Harry, the one in the middle, always had the most to do. He rolled his eyes better than the other two, and walked funnier, and did funnier pratfalls.


Oof. Yes, he was apparently a master of the eye-rolling, funny-walking pratfall. Fantastic. Maybe the problem with Ritz Brothers movies is that they don't have rimshots after every bit of business.

As a Three Musketeers adaptation, this is surprisingly accurate. It hits most of the major plot points from the book, which is more than most adaptations do. As anexample of comedy that hasn't lasted, it's awesome. I think I laughed precisely once.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Jazz Singer vs. The Birth of a Nation

From a letter in the most recent Entertainment Weekly, with Johnny Depp on the cover:



A Case of Black and White

Thanks for showing some class and justifiably castigating The Jazz Singer (DVD). Like The Birth of a Nation, it may have been a milestone in filmmaking, but that doesn't make it any less abhorrent.



Okay, look. The Jazz Singer has one unfortunate scene. The problem is that's the scene you always see. He's not in blackface the whole movie (he's playing a Jewish boy who disappoints his father by becoming a jazz singer instead of a Cantor), and even that scene isn't really about blackface. Al Jolson's character is performing a minstrel number.

Yes, obviously, that's a problem. It's not unique to The Jazz Singer, though, because movies from the twenties and thirties are rife with uncomfortable performances. The Big Broadcast movies are full of accent humor, where the entire joke is "Lookit the foreigner! He's got a German accent! Haw haw!". Incidentally, they go with Dutch accents a lot more often than you would think. Apparently the Netherlands used to be hilarious.

So that's The Jazz Singer: a scene in which Al Jolson sings a song in blackface. Like Bing Crosby does in Holiday Inn and Fred Astaire does in Swing Time -- not actually playing a black person, but, for some reason, blacking up before singing a song on a stage. In Astaire's case, he's actually doing a "tribute" to Bojangles, but that doesn't help all that much.

Now, let's compare that to The Birth of a Nation, which is three hours of black people being portrayed as subhuman animals and the KKK as noble saviors of civilization. That's abhorrent. Even by the standards of the time, it's explicitly racist down to the core. It does no one any good to lump movies together.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

White Line Fever

White Line Fever is about an idealistic young trucker (Jan-Michael Vincent!) trying to make his way in the cutthroat and corrupt world of trucking. After he refuses to take a load of cigarettes and slot machines, he gets his ribs broken and can't find work anywhere. And then he gets a job by waving a shotgun around. You know, that old chestnut.

See, in this movie the Trucker Uprising is justified by the Evil Police being in the pay of the Evil Cigarette and Slot Machine people.

And then the movie's Roger Corman origins take over and you think the movie's going to become a big old truck chase with trucks trying to stop the Blue Mule (that's the name of the truck) and people on top of trucks with shotguns and every crash shown from multiple angles. Then Dick Miller shows up and you know you're in for a good time. Alas, after a single car crash/explosion (shown from several angles), it degenerates into long, scenic shots that eat up the running time and shocking talk about controversial issues like abortions. And then there's a courtroom scene and the movie starts being about domestic problems because exciting driving scenes cost money.

I don't know why White Line Fever rated an explicit callout in Death Proof, since there really isn't that much driving in it, and none of the stunts really struck me as something you'd feel the need for CGI to recreate. On the plus side, there's a scene where the bad guy tries to kill the hero with a forklift. So that's something.

Convoy

First things first: did you know that Convoy was directed by Sam Peckinpah? Seriously? A movie based on a novelty country song that was written for bread commercials? That's just crazy talk.

Anyway, I watched this as part of my ongoing quest to see all the movies referenced by Grindhouse, and this is one of the driving movies that Death Proof is a tribute to. You know that metal duck on the hood of Kurt Russell's car? It's from Kris Kristofferson's hood in this movie. So there you go.

I do not fully understand the Trucker Genre. This movie in particular relies on an insane cop (played by Ernest Borgnine, looking exactly like Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit) with an unexplained grudge against Kris Kristofferson in specific and truckers in general. It's not even like in Vanishing Point where the guy's speeding slowly picks up more and more police attention; Borgnine just picks a fight until the truckers punch him out. I think these movies work a little better when the police have a point, like in Cannonball Run. I don't really dig a completely irrational antagonist. Apparently in the Convoy universe, the police routinely arrest truckers for no reason, which seems like it would put a crimp in interstate commerce.

Anyway, then it's a race to the state border! And right past the state border, and now all the truckers in the country are in a big Convoy to Nowhere! And then they all turn around and go back to Texas! And then it's off to Mexico, making me wonder if these guys aren't supposed to be delivering their cargo somewhere. You can talk all you want about the Freedom of the Road, but I'm pretty sure there are schedules to be met. Truckers aren't directionless hoboes. They've got jobs! And what about the pigs in Burt Young's truck? Shouldn't someone feed them or something?

The climactic roadblock scene involves the national guard and tanks and looks more like the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid than a lighthearted Revenge of the Truckers flick. I blame Peckinpah. That's what they get for hiring a real director.

The Dirty Dozen

Now that's what I call a manly movie. You know you've got a tough cast when Jim Brown might not be the toughest guy in it. I never get tired of the reaction shots, because the director shares my enjoyment of Charles Bronson's steely glare and Donald Sutherland's squirrely twitchiness. I like to pretend that Sutherland's still playing Hawkeye from M*A*S*H -- I could see Hawkeye being arrested at some point. It's a little tricky, what with M*A*S*H being made three years later than The Dirty Dozen (and being set like seven years later), but I think I can make it work. Even though his character in The Dirty Dozen is a borderline idiot.

Back to the Future (all three movies)

Upon rewatching the three Back to the Future movies, I am pleased to report that I still like them. Although the first movie is clearly better.

It helps that I'm a sucker for time travel stories. I really enjoy the twisted logic involved with multiple timestreams and going back to see a previous scene from a different angle. I approve of a movie that gets out of hand to the point where one of the characters needs to break out a blackboard to explain the plot to everyone. Say, have you seen Primer? Man, that's a complicated movie. Good times.

The way I see it, there are three basic ways time travel gets used in stories. And conveniently enough, the three Back to the Future movies cover the spectrum.

The most basic kind is where you only have time travel at the beginning and the end of the story and the story isn't really about the time travel. Like in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where the protagonist travels to another time, does some stuff, and (usually) comes back. This is the kind of story you get in Back to the Future 3, which I think is the weakest movie. I mean, I like all that train-robbery stuff, but since they've already resolves Mad Dog Tannen's thread to Doc Brown's life, they could have taken their time a little more. On the other hand, I do approve of the steam-powered time-traveling flying locomotive at the end. So that's pretty cool.

Then you get the most common kind of time travel story, where "History has gone wrong" and the goal is to fix it. That's your basic Time Tunnel or Voyagers or Quantum Leap story, and it's what happens in the first movie. Marty has to make sure his parents end up together and maybe get back home to 1985. Incidentally, one of the reasons this movie holds up is that they do a good job of establishing 1985 accurately; it's got all the goofy hair, fashion, and music that you'd use if you were setting a movie in 1985 now.

Finally, there's the full-on Time Travel Phantasmagoria, where there are multiple time loops and half the scenes end up getting overwritten by the end of the movie. There aren't a lot of movies like that (except for Primer, which more people should see, if only so I have people to talk to about what I think happens in it), but there are some science fiction stories along these lines, like Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" and "All You Zombies—". This is the second Back to the Future movie, where the plot happens in three different eras (and you get to see the same buildings and people at different times, which is always good fun). These stories are usually pretty complicated; look at this diagram for "All You Zombies—", which is actually harder to follow than just reading the story in the first place.

By the way, the reason I decided to rewatch these movies is that I greatly enjoyed this video, which tries to put the "Enchantment Under the Sea Dance" scenes from the first two movies in context with each other. I heartily endorse this product or service.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Halloween

Last night, Rhias and I travelled down to the Drive-In to see Halloween in its natural habitat. And it was a lot of fun!

Unfortunately, the reason it was fun didn't have much to do with the movie. It's really more about lounging about on a lovely summer night, chatting with the car next to you, and discussing why it was a really bad idea to get food at the snack bar. Also talking freely about which cameo character is Sid Haig and which is Udo Kier. And which ones are Sybil Danning, Danny Trejo, or Ken Foree. That Rob Zombie sure knows his classic exploitation character actors.

(Incidentally, we actually do know the difference between Sybil Danning, Danny Trejo, and Ken Foree. It's not like we were saying, "Is that big Mexican guy Sybil Danning? She's really let herself go!")

As for the movie itself, I had some problems with it on a conceptual level. The first half is prequel material, sort of describing "how Michael Myers got that way". Except that he actually starts the movie already killing animals, so he's already "that way". Okay, no problem. But then it makes a point of surrounding him with horrible people. The first person he kills is a bully, then he offs his mean sister and vicious stepfather. So even though they want him to already be a monster (he's uncommunicative, homicidal, and already wearing a mask), he's only killing people who deserve it. He doesn't really start offing innocents for another seventeen years.

Then there's the second half of the movie. I liked that they used the same locations as the first movie (according to Rhias, who has seen the first movie many times), but unfortunately I have no idea what happened in the last 45 minutes or so, because the screen was so dark. I don't know if it was the drive-in's projector not being bright enough, the sky not being dark enough, or just a complete failure of cinematography, but as soon as night came, we literally could not tell what was going on. Is that a knife? Or a fish? Or a hand?

It wasn't helped by the action scenes all being shot in shakycam (I think), so in the unlikely event that we could make something out on the screen, it would quickly drop out of frame.

We could sort of follow the action by the screams, and by discussing it constantly. "Is she inside a wall?" "I think that's her in the foreground, with Myers in the background destroying something." "Is she under the floorboards?" "Are they in a swimming pool?" It was pretty frustrating.

My reluctant verdict: The new Halloween is not a good movie to see in a Drive-In. It kills me to say that. There was a triple (!) feature of Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, and Harry Potter which would have been a lot more fun.

Friday, August 24, 2007

King of Kong

There are some documentaries that try to create story and character arcs through cheap, artificial means like reenactments and heavy-handed narration. Or, in the case of Michael Moore, just staging their own events and then pointing the camera at them, so the director is effectively the star of his own documentary.

Then there are documentaries like King of Kong, where all they have to do is point the camera at someone like Billy Mitchell or Steve Wiebe and let them define themselves in every word they say. It's terrific. I feel like I know exactly what all these guys are like. And although many of them would probably be pretty annoying in person, I happen to have a lot of experience with their brand of nerdy obsession. I was never that into Donkey Kong, but I certainly put in my share of hours.

The most fascinating character is Billy Mitchell, he of the huge ego based on accomplishments 25 years old. I understand he objects to his portrayal, and I can understand why: every single thing he says or does is hilariously pompous, to the point where the movie gets a huge laugh just showing him blow-drying his hair.

I should admit that I have a bias in favor of the kind of crazy obsessive behavior in thie movie. When the Twin Galaxies staff is talking about how important it is to correctly grade and rate video game performances, I'm nodding right along with them. I mean, I'm laughing at the same time, but . . . accuracy is important! It is!

I would like to add that Steve Wiebe's daughter is clearly the smartest person in the movie. Also, it's terrific and everyone should see it.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stardust

This is a fantasy movie with comic elements and airship pirates. Obviously, I was going to like it. Although I think I liked the little grace notes (like the performances of the ghosts) more than the movie as a whole, if that makes sense. There were a lot of little things I liked a lot.

I thought it was going to be an empty theater, because I saw it at 12:40 on a Sunday, the week after it opened to what I'd heard were very small audienced. But our theater was almost packed. Weird.

Muppet Treasure Island

I like Muppets and pirates. And Tim Curry.

Wild Style

This is another classic hip hop movie I've never seen. But it turns out to be mostly terrible, with flat, uninteresting cinematography and flat, uninteresting performances. It is of historical interest, but it's not . . . good. Phooey.

Krush Groove

I think it's weird that Beat Street is one of my favorite movies and I've seen Breakin' a million times, but I've never seen Krush Groove. How is that possible? I was watching breakdancing movies in theaters when this came out, so what happened?

I can't remember my exact thought process, but I expect I either skipped it because it was more of a Rap movie than a Breaking movie, or (And this is a little more likely) I figured it was a Fat Boys Movie and I didn't want anything to do with it because they were a novelty act. I was young and I had strong, albeit arbitrarily-chosen, standards. It took me years to warm up to the Beastie Boys.

So now that I've seen it . . . it was okay. It's more of a Run-DMC movie (I haven't seen Tougher than Leather either, and I love Run-DMC!), but I think I enjoyed the Fat Boys plot more. The main Russell Simmons/Run-DMC plot was kind of weird for me because it was about Run-DMC's really early days, but they were using the songs that were out when the movie was made. So you see them record "King of Rock", and then they're still struggling. That song was huge! Russell Simmons did not have trouble paying back five thousand bucks after that movie.

That actually brings up a question I have about the mob in movies. This might apply to the actual mob too. Anyway, you always see them loan someone some money and then start threatening to kill the guy if he doesn't pay it back, plus exorbitant interest. My question is, why do they loan the money in the first place? You've got muscled-up goons, right? Why can't you just find some innocent citizen and say you'll cut off his thumbs if he doesn't come up with some cash? It seems more efficient.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Goodfellas

I enjoy this movie and feel it is well-made. It's a lot like a proto-Sopranos, what with all the Lorraine Bracco and Michael Imperioli around the place.

Also, Joe Pesci is just terrific in this. He deserved the Oscar he got. In fact, I personally think this should have won Best Picture instead of [checks IMDB] Dances with Wolves? Seriously? That's crazy.

I kind of hate the DVD, though. No extras and I have to flip the disc over halfway through the movie? That's what I get for buying it right away, I guess.

The Miracle Woman

Yeah...I didn't really connect with this movie. It stars a startlingly young Barbara Stanwyck as one of those preachers in a big tent, a lot like a televangelist without the "tele". And then she meets a blind man who teaches her the value of love and truth and all that. And the whole time, the sound is really loud and harsh because it's 1931 and they haven't really figured out the subtleties of sound recording.

There were two things that stuck with me. First, there's a scene where the blind guy entertains Barbara Stanwyck in his living room, and it's like a horrifying tour of what people did before television and the internet. There's a wind-up music box, a marionette, a card trick, and a ventriloquism act. And the ventriloquist's dummy ends up with a lot of dialogue. I do not believe it's a good idea to try to seduce a lady preacher with a dummy.

The other thing was that a messenger boy gives someone the finger. It's not much these days, but when it happens in a 1931 movie directed by Frank Capra, it comes as quite a surprise.

Whirlpool

Now this is proper film noir. Directed by Otto Preminger, written by Ben Hecht (under a fake name because of the blacklist, which I think adds a certain amount of world-weary bitterness to a script), and starring Richard Conte, Gene Tierney, and an extremely young and weird-looking Jose Ferrer as an unscrupulous hypnotist.

One thing I really liked was that there aren't any really nice people in the movie. Even before the evil hypnotist shows up, the "perfect couple" are lying to each other and quietly seething. That's good stuff right there.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?

How do you screw up Robin Hood this much? And if you're going to, why don't you just not bother? We've already got two great versions (Errol Flynn and Disney, and I don't care what you say), and then this nonsense comes along. A whiny, clumsy Robin Hood that is only cocky when it's most annoying? Great. Morgan Freeman playing the Magical -- actually, can't we just call it "The Morgan Freeman Character" at this point?

Anyway, I obviously only watched this for Alan Rickman, because I was still on that "Alan Rickman as an entertaining villain" thing. In this case, it's like he's appearing in a different, much more fun, movie. Here's what Roger Ebert said when it came out:

Costner plays Robin Hood as if he were Alan Alda.

Alan Rickman, in complete contrast, plays the Sheriff as if he were David Letterman: He's a wicked, droll, sly, witty master of the put-down and one-liners, who rolls his eyes in exasperation when Robin comes bursting in to interrupt the rape. Rickman's performance has nothing to do with anything else in the movie, and indeed seems to proceed from a uniquely personal set of assumptions about what century, universe, etc., the story is set in, but at least when Rickman appears on the screen we perk up, because we know we'll be entertained, at whatever cost to the story.


Darn right! I don't understand how a fun guy like Brian Blessed's Lord Locksley could possibly be the father to both Kevin Costner and (spoiler!) Christian Slater. Well, I admit that I don't really know that Blessed's character is a fun guy, but how could he not be? He's Brian Blessed! If Mike McShane hadn't shown up as Friar Tuck, the "Merry Men" would have been the worst-named group since, um, I can't be bothered to come up with a comparison.

This movie stinks.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Die Hard

Whooooo! Die Hard!

I'm watching it because I decided to watch a few movies where Alan Rickman is a villain who doesn't do magic. He's so good.

Also, this movie boasts a really impressive array of 1980s Authority Jerks. The television reporter is William Atherton, whom you might remember as the professor in Real Genius and as Walter Peck in Ghostbusters. Meanwhile, the LAPD police chief is Paul Gleason, who was Principal Vernon in Breakfast Club. If they could have squeezed John Vernon and Ben Stein in there, it would be perfect.

It's pretty close to perfect anyway.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

This is not a perfect movie. In Raiders, Karen Black does her share of "Indy! Save me! Help me, Indy!" but Kate Capshaw takes it to a new, extremely annoying level. She also never seems to grasp the fact that people's lives are in danger. When Indiana and Short Round are being crushed to death, she's worried about a broken nail. Well, and millions of scorpions. But still, she really has to go.

On the other hand, there are some really quotable lines in there. It's not all bad, it's . . . just not Raiders, you know?

Raiders of the Lost Ark

This is a perfect movie. Perfect, I tell you! There may be other Spielberg movies that are "better", but I don't think it's possible to construct a movie more flawlessly than this one.

This time, I was particularly impressed with the fight on the plane. There's a shot where the camera is rotating with the plane, and in the background, the big pool of gasoline has ignited, and the fire spreads right along with the panning camera. It's very nice.

The Simpsons Movie

Well . . . this was almost exactly what I expected. It's funny, it has some quotable bits in it, and it has a joke that I really, really did not expect (during Bart's skateboard ride). It suffers a bit by overlapping things that have happened on the show (it's not even the first time Homer has destroyed Springfield with pollution!), but when you've got a show that's been going so long, that's inevitable.

There were lines I didn't hear properly because the guy behind us was laughing so loudly. And he was one of those guys that likes to repeat punchlines out loud, which was weird. Still, it's nice to hear people enjoying themselves.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture

As part of my vaguely-planned ongoing campaign to see movies that have influenced Quentin Tarantino, I was excited to see this sleazy Swedish exploitation flick. Allegedly, its portrayal of a girl with an eyepatch taking revenge on those who forced her into prostitution was the reason that Daryl Hannah has a patch in Kill Bill.

And I guess it's possible. She does look pretty cool, all shooting people in slow motion. The slow motion, incidentally, is a lot slower than most slow-motion action sequences. You have plenty of time to watch her turn around and guess what she's going to do and watch her do it.

Unfortunately, this isn't just a sleazy Swedish exploitation flick, it's a sleazy Swedish pornographic exploitation flick. When Frigga (that's the heroine's name) is a prostitute, there are a number of extremely explicit, yet completely non-erotic, sex scenes. I don't think it's like I Spit on Your Grave, where Joe Bob Briggs has convinced me that the rape scenes are supposed to be repellent; I think that early-'70s Swedish porn just looked like that. We've come a long way, baby.

Incidentally, the forced-prostitution ring in this movie is incredibly poorly run. They just kidnap Frigga off the street, knock her out with drugged wine, and inject her with heroin. When she comes to, they explain to her that she's now an addict so she might as well do what they tell her. So she tries to escape. They knock her out, inject her again, explain things again, and then send in a client. She attacks him, so they pop out her eye (in a really disturbing scene shot using a stand-in corpse), knock her out, etc. etc. Now, maybe it's me, but wouldn't it make more sense to wait until your new employee has started to experience the withdrawal first-hand? Then there's the issue that they give her time off every week and let her solicit tips from the clients, which means she has plenty of time to go into town and learn karate, shooting, and stunt driving. It's just sloppy, if you ask me.

Anyway, then there's a lot of revenge-taking, including a slow-motion takedown of two cops for no real reason, and a car chase with no justification at all. Oh! And a lot of cars blowing up in spectacular fireballs because they bumped together at 10 mph. It's a sleazy exploitation movie all right, no doubt about that.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Ah, now this is the movie that Patton Oswalt was talking about. It's really quite bad, consisting mostly of ponderous voiceovers by a haunted painting of someone suspiciously like Aubrey Beardsley while the bed, indeed, eats people. I mean, it's interesting that the bed has an actual digestive system, but it doesn't really make for a whole movie.

The shot of a man with the flesh removed from his hands is as entertaining in context as it is excerpted.

Really, the most interesting part was the writer-director's introduction. Apparently he made the movie in 1977 on, I think, 16mm. But they couldn't get the money together to blow it up to 35mm, so he got on with his life and essentially forgot it existed. Then, decades later, he was on a cult movie message board and read a question by someone asking if anyone remembered this movie, which he immediately recognized as his own. It turns out it was bootlegged on home video by someone and then showed up in various other countries. And I guess he still had the film cans in a closet somewhere and was able to get a DVD release a couple of years ago. Good for him! The movie's still terrible, though.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Deathbed

Yeah, see, here's the deal with this. I've just listened to Patton Oswalt's new album, in which he heaps abuse on a 1977 movie called "Death Bed: The Bed That Eats", which sounds right up my street. This is . . . not that movie. This turns out to be a terrible 2002 straight-to-video movie that's softcore porn-without-any-nudity.

It's officially called "Stuart Gordon's Deathbed", but I don't think Stuart Gordon is actually that big a name that he can sell a movie where he was just Executive Producer.

Anyway, this is terrible. I stopped watching after 30 minutes, even though I was really looking forward to seeing Dukey Flyswatter still working.

Gangs of New York

While I was waiting around in a Barnes & Noble waiting to get the new Harry Potter book (the "midnight sale" finally let me in line around 1:45 am), I had a lot of time to leaf through random books. And Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster looked pretty good. It was good enough for me to read several chapters, anyway. And it reminded me how much I like Gangs of New York.

I know it's not his "best" movie, but I think it's the Martin Scorsese movie I enjoy the most. Daniel Day Lewis is committed to being as entertaining as possible, every second he's on screen. And Cameron Diaz is surprisingly convincing, although honesty forces me to admit that I probably prefer her as a Charlie's Angel.

Dragonard

Okay, this movie is terrible. But in the interest of full disclosure, I should inform you that some people will probably find something of interest in it. Specifically, a shirtless 23-year-old Patrick Warburton being sold into slavery and being repeatedly flogged when he's not having unconvincing softcore sex with topless ladies. Also, he hasn't yet discovered that deep-voiced drawl he does all the time these days, so that's kind of interesting.

But really, it's like a Harlequin novel come to unconvincing life. Seriously, check out the cover of the novel it's based on. "A Flaming Novel of Lust and Slavery" indeed. Apparently there's a sequel, called "Master of Dragonard Hill". Yikes.

Eartha Kitt is good.

Reno 911: Miami

I quite enjoyed this. I think it works best as a DVD you're not really paying attention to. The commentary by Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, and Kerri Kenney was entertaining and informative, to the point where I listened to the whole thing without flipping to either of the two (!) in-character commentaries.

Hey, did you know The State is finally coming out on DVD? Like, the whole series. Oh my yes.

Escape from L.A.

Boo! Kurt Russell should knock it off!

Yeah, this was as bad as everybody said. I liked the addition of Steve Buscemi, but it would have been nice to have some sort of new addition to the last movie.

Escape from New York

Yay! Kurt Russell rocks!

One odd thing, though -- every time there's background music, I'd think, "Boy! This sounds just like a John Carpenter movie!" And I already know it's a John Carpenter movie. But the music may be the John Carpentest ever. This is probably what Robert Rodriguez was listening to when he scored Planet Terror.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

I don't really enjoy this section of the Grand Harry Potter Saga. In the first book, Hogwarts is this grand, mysterious place where Harry escapes from his horrible mundane life and learns to do amazing things and so on in an escapist vein like that.

By this point, though, things are just as miserable at school as they are at home. People are constantly trying to kill him and he's being sullen and not talking to anyone about his problems. Plus, the need to stretch all the plots out until the end of the year means he has to do stupid things (like "not practice Occlumency even though it's the only thing Dumbledore has said to him all year") to keep all the plot threads apart.

The problem with condensing a whopping big book down to a children's movie is that you either cut subplots entirely or shorten them into incomprehensibility. Like, that Occlumency thing I just mentioned is pretty much glossed over. And Harry seems to have some sort of flirtation with Cho Chang, except that it doesn't really take place on screen, so the only time we're reminded of it is when some character makes a reference to her, and then everyone forgets all about it for an hour.

The other problem is that they only condensed it enough to get the movie down to two and a half hours, which was too long for the child behind us to sit quietly through. Boooo.

I did enjoy Luna Lovegood, although I think I like her more in the books, where her particular brand of crazy gets more time to shine. I also liked the newspapers a lot, although I spent so much time trying to read the extra headlines, I sometimes missed the main thing I was supposed to be reading.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Transformers

I saw the Transformers movie. But since I work for a subsidiary of Hasbro, I probably have to recuse myself from commenting on it.

All the President's Men

I like this movie a lot, although I think the book is a little better. It's paced kind of slowly, because it takes Woodward and Bernstein forever to get anywhere with their investigations. I like that it shows the reality of investigative journalism: a lot of slammed doors and unproductive phone calls. The big break doesn't come when someone finds a conveniently-placed file full of all the information they need; it comes when someone is finally willing to talk to them, although they don't want to say anything.

I saw this movie as part of Rhias's Deep Focus movie club.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Monster Camp

I have a great fondness for movies about Live-Action Roleplaying. Admittedly, I've only seen this and Darkon, but my years of experience in regular tabletop roleplaying, plus a certain amount of running around pretending to be a vampire (and occasionally a werewolf) means that although I personally have never employed boffer weapons, I strongly identify with the themes of these movies.

Monster Camp is about the Seattle branch of NERO, and although I don't actually know any of the people in the movie, it all seemed very familiar. I'll just give one short example: it looked like the guys were in it for the fighting and the ladies were in it for the roleplaying. This, of course, is a crass generalization, like "some guys are just in it for the chicks".

There are some interesting differences between Monster Camp and Darkon. Darkon spends some time establishing that the players have rich, full lives outside the game. There are people with office jobs, managers of companies, and so on. To judge from Monster Camp, everyone is a 24-hour gamer, including the guys who are five years into the process of considering getting a GED. It's a somewhat less attractive picture. I also thought it was interesting that Monster Camp is mostly about the NPCs and people putting on the game, rather than the players. I though they could have gone into more detail there, since all they showed was fight scenes. Surely there's some roleplaying!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

American Pimp

I am of the belief that most of what the people in this movie say is hogwash. I further believe that no matter how outlandishly you dress, adding a bejeweled sombrero is just going to look silly.

It was interesting, but it didn't really answer everyone's questions like "How do you start out being a pimp?" There were some interesting insights into the pimp's role as financial manager, but mostly it was people who lie for a living looking into the camera trying to make themselves sound as coooool as possible. I blame Iceberg Slim.

The Bridge

It's really odd to watch a documentary in which people commit suicide. Even if it's combined with searching interviews with surviving family and friends discussing how each person got to that point, and even if there's somebody who survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, and someone else who stepped in and stopped an attempted suicide, the fact is that the movie is still basically about watching the last moment of some people's lives. It's an extremely strange experience.

The inspiration for the movie was this New Yorker article (which is fascinating) that talks about how many people commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a lot more than you'd expect; apparently the bridge exerts some kind of spooky iconic hold on people. Like Theda Bara. So the makers of The Bridge essentially trained some cameras on the bridge and waited for people to jump.

Now, it wasn't a purely voyeuristic endeavor. When they saw someone who was just pacing back and forth crying and glancing over the railing, they'd call the police and tell them to go do something about it. But sometimes, they'd pan the camera past someone just as they were stepping over the railing and all they could do is record the moment.

The interviews with family and friends are really interesting, because most of the survivors seem to have more or less come to terms with what happened. They describe bi-polar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia in interesting and descriptive language. Apparently, the interview subjects didn't know there was footage of their loved ones jumping until much later. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm kind of sympathetic to the argument that if someone wants their final act to be a private matter, they shouldn't do it off an enormous public landmark.

So I'm not sure how I feel about this movie. It's quite involving, although it contains a lot of filler of the Sopranos-finale variety. They can get away with showing a lot of footage in which nothing happens because you're aware that at any moment, any of them could be the one who jumps. I'm just not a hundred percent convinced that the movie earns its emotional response honestly.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Ratatouille

Very enjoyable!

I've decided that I need to just ignore commercials for Pixar movies. Both Toy Story and Finding Nemo had commercials that made me actively loathe the idea of watching the movies. They made the movies look cheap and stupid. And then when I watched the movies years later, they were awesome and had emotional depth and everything. So when the commercials for Ratatouille looked dumb, I went anyway. And I'm glad I did, because it's quite good. Who knew Patton Oswalt could act?

It also made me hungry. And then I felt guilty because as soon as I got home, I had a frozen microwave dinner. Oops! The next day I made baked potatoes, roasted corn on the cob, and delicious grilled steaks, though, so I feel better about it.

I have to say, I don't understand the comments about how odd it is that they made a rat sympathetic. Rats are cute! If anything, Remy is less cute than a real rat.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Do the Right Thing

This is another movie that starts incredibly strong. You've got your Public Enemy doing "Fight the Power" and Rosie Perez doing this really angry dancing, and it's just so high energy that you wonder if the movie can possibly keep up.

Well, it doesn't quite maintain that pace, but it's always lurking in the background. And when the climax comes, it feels both explosively unexpected and like it was completely inevitable. Obviously a fantastic movie.

According to the Academy Awards, Do the Right Thing was not the best film of 1989. Apparently, the correct answer is Driving Miss Daisy. And people wonder why Spike Lee is angry.

Witness for the Prosecution

Agatha Christie was one of the greatest plotters ever. We agree on that, right? (If the answer is "No", then go read a bunch of Golden Age mysteries and come back; then we can have an intelligent, high-toned discussion where the names "Ellery Queen", "Ngaio Marsh", and "Carter Dickson" get thrown around. I'm looking forward to it!) So the underpinnings of this movie are rock-solid. The twist at the end is both surprising and justified. From a whodunit point of view, the movie is impeccable, as is to be expected.

What always comes as a surprise to me is how much fun the acting is. Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester are terrific and appear to be enjoying themselves greatly. The courtroom scenes cause me to roar with laughter at the same time that practically every line of dialogue is essential to the plot. Man, I like this movie.

Quintet

I've never seen a Robert Altman movie I didn't like! Well, now I have, I guess. What I like about Altman movies is all the overlapping dialogue and meandering plots with clever dialogue. But this has hardly any dialogue and moves directly from point A to point B. It does this extremely slowly, because the floors were all iced over and no one could walk very quickly.

It's possible I was impatient because I could tell it was a postapocalyptic Ice Age within the first ten seconds of the movie, but it took fifteen minutes for the exposition to catch up. Likewise with the "twist" that the game in the movie (which was sort of a "death-boardgame of the future") is responsible for the mysterious deaths; I think I'm just too used to the science fiction tropes to be surprised by them.

Rollerball (the original)

Actually, I didn't much like the original either. I was really sleepy and wasn't able to pay much attention, so I wasn't paying enough attention to really care that James Caan was in danger. I liked the sport a bit more than in the remake, but I still thought the guys on motorcycles could have been going a bit faster.

Rollerball (the lousy remake)

This was a lousy remake. I say if you're going to make a movie about a death sport of the future and make half the scenes involve people zooming around and getting injured, you should try to make the sport sort of make sense. But I guess if you can't make your movie make sense, creating a coherent deathsport is probably beyond you.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Champion

This is a 2005 documentary about awesome character actor Danny Trejo. It's actually not so much a documentary as it is an extremely long interview, because the entire thing is narrated by Trejo himself answering questions.

It's quite interesting, because Trejo's led an interesting life. For the most part, the movie staysout of the way of its subject, which is something I wish more documentaries would do.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity

Not a good movie. It's never good when Brinke Stevens is the best actor, really.

It's interesting to watch a sleazy flick from before breast augmentation, though. The stars would look much less realistic these days.

How to Get the Man's Foot out of Your Ass

I tend to call this movie "Baadasssss!" on the theory that that's what's on the poster. Plus it's shorter. And more fun to say.

It's basically the story of an obsessed man (Mario Van Peebles IS Melvin Van Peebles!) doing anything he can to get his movie made. My problem is that I've been reading books by Robert Rodriguez and Roger Corman, so I keep noticing corners that could have been cut. Multiple takes? Live sound? Paying for a soundtrack? Man, even if it is Earth, Wind, and Fire, you've got to keep expenses down!

Anyway, quibbles aside, I enjoyed it. It was a trifle artistic at times, but as a portrait of an obsessed artist, it has elements that differentiate it interestingly. Like, you hardly ever see a movie where the Black Panthers ride to the rescue.

Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Rollergirls

After Cthulhu, I had another World Premiere to watch at the Seattle Internationl Film Festival. And it was in the same theater, which was convenient.

This movie was a documentary about the Rat City Rollergirls, the Seattle Flat Track Roller Derby league. Now, I have to confess to a bit of bias here, because I'm a Rat City fan. Also I'm a scorekeeper for the league. And even if I weren't affiliated, the showing was absolutely packed with skaters and refs and practically the entire league. So you can imagine how enthusiastically the movie was received. Almost every single shot was greeted with cheers.

So it's hard for me to fairly judge the movie. I saw a preview of Kevin Smith's Mallrats at the San Diego Comic Con in 1995, and it was pandemonium. It's hard not to enjoy yourself when you're watching a movie with a lot of comic book references when the whole audience is full of comic book nerds and Stan Freaking Lee is in the row in front of you. Apparently, we received that audience so enthusiastically that the studio people started to get very unrealistic expectations about how well Mallrats would do.

Anyway, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Although there are a few scenes where I got distracted because I kept watching the audience so I could see myself.

Cthulhu

One advantage of the Seattle International Film Festival is that we get the occasional world premiere of a movie. Classy! In this case, it's Cthulhu, which has been the subject of some controversy. I mean, not so much controversy that most people have heard of the movie, but still, some people are all atwitter.

Some people are bothered by the fact that this Lovecraft adaptation has a gay love story in it. They feel that this represents an unacceptable variation from the original text. Personally, I am not that much of a strict constructionist. Frankly, Lovecraft stories rarely work as a straightforward adaptation. They're pretty talky.

Another set of people are ticked off that although it's called "Cthulhu", it's actually an adaptation of "Shadows over Innsmouth". They feel that the movie is trading on the popularity of the Lovecraft Mythos without taking it seriously enough. I can sort of see their point, but it's not that hard to shoehorn the name "Cthulhu" into the Innsmouth plot.

Me, I didn't like it because I disliked the lighting. Almost every scene was shot with whatever light sources were actually there. And that translates to an extremely dark movie. I was watching it on a large movie screen and I sometimes had trouble seeing what was going on. So I think it's going to be extremely difficult to watch this movie on a TV screen, which is where it's mostly going to be seen. This movie might make a round of the art-house theaters, but if it's going to get an audience, it'll be on DVD.

It's so dark that the protagonist is in silhouette more than half the time. I could pretend that it was an artistic decision, designed to show how the character had no inner life or something, but I'm pretty sure it's just because they didn't know what they were doing.

So I didn't like it. I'm told that worse movies sometimes play at the Lovecraft Festival in Portland, but that seems like fairly faint praise.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Q

Apparently the title is just Q, not Q: The Winged Serpent, which is what everyone calls it. Huh.

I like the idea of a police procedural where it turns out that Quetzlcoatl is living in the Chrysler building, but I'm not sure this movie ahered rigorously to actual procedures. I also started to have my doubts about the cops when the medical examiner claimed one victims heart had been surgically removed when the guy's ribcage had clearly been ripped open by the jaws of life or something. Comr to think of it, the religious aspects were a little sketchy as well. I think they were using a Time-Life book for reference.

I do not hold the movie's poor special effects against it. It's a low-budget movie; whaddya gonna do?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lone Wolf McQuade

More David Carradine, this time as the bad guy. However, I am reliably informed by Dave's Long Box that it's awesome. As an aside, what I love about Dave's Long Box is that it's mostly about things he likes. I mean, I dig the entertainment value of bad reviews as much as anyone (check out the Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension review of Deathsport!), but I also like that there are some websites around that seem to get some enjoyment out of life.

Anyway. In this movie, Chuck Norris plays a Texas Ranger. It will come as no surprise that he is incredibly convincing as a badass. As he walks towards a bad guy in the opening sequence, dropping his weapons, he just looks more and more menacing. Even before he's done anything, he is obviously a killing machine. It quickly gets to the point where you just don't understand the thinking of these people. Just stop shooting at him! He's obviously going to destroy you.

Unfortunately, he's too tough for the Texas Rangers. He's a lone wolf, and the captain will not stand for it. Here's your new rookie partnet, McQuade! Unbelieveably, he'll actually survive the movie! Anyway, he gets put on probation halfway through the movie just like you expect, but surprisingly it's not because he's killed like thirty people already. It's just because the case is now a federal one and everyone thinks that an angry Chuck Norris on the job would cause problems. David Carradine doesn't know that when he kills Chuck's dog, after which... it is on.

David Carradine had three requests before he signed on to this movie: He didn't want his character to die, he didn't want to shoot the girl in cold blood, and he wasn't crazy about losing to Chuck Norris in hand-to-hand combat. By this point, Carradine sort of thought of himself as the godfather of all karate and kung fu movies, since Kung Fu had kicked off the western interest in martial arts.

Well, Chuck Norris pretty clearly wins the fight, although Carradine gets a few good shots in. And he shoots the girl by accident, because she jumps in the way. And you can't really tell if he dies, because he might have survived that incredibly huge explosion. So I guess Carradine got what he wanted.

There's a lot of fun stuff in this movie. Chuck rides on a truck's hood in a way that I believe is referred to as "The Captain's Mast", unless Tarantino was making that up. He beats up entire gangs single-handed, except for the times his rookie partner gets to take out one or two token guys. He drives his truck up out of the trench where he and the truck were buried alive. It's got Sam Elliott (as a wise old cowboy but with a smaller moustache than usual) torturing William Sanderson (as a shrieking hippie). If you thought Sanderson did some good cringing in Deadwood, you should see him grovel here.

It also features a slow-motion hose fight where Chuck ends up making love in a mud puddle, but I think it's okay to overlook that.

Deathsport

In his autobiography (Endless Highway), David Carradine describes Deathsport as a sequel to Death Race 2000, but set in the farther future. The DVD case has a reference to the year 3000, so I expect they were planning on calling it "Death Sport 3000" at some point.

It's terrible. It's so bad that Roger Corman strongly advised Carradine not to do it, but Carradine felt bad about having gone off to do Circle of Iron (which he always calls "The Silent Flute") so he did it anyway. And then Deathsport bombed. Horribly. It practically ruined David Carradine's career, although he bounced back a couple of years later with The Long Riders. His autobiography is full of movies almost ruining his career and other movies making him a big star again.

Anyway, this is a movie about motorcycles zooming around the desert while futuristic sound effects distract me from the action. I'm not one of those people that writes angry letters about how "the sound effects were clearly a four-stroke engine but that model of Honda only comes in a two-stroke and also the carburetor sounded wrong blah blah blah", but these don't sound anything like motorcycles. And yet, in spite of the "futuristic" things welded to the bikes, they're obviously regular motorcycles.

The swords they use are also obviously plexiglass. Carradine mentioned in his book that if they ever touched each other, they'd shatter, so they needed to come up with a whole new kind of fight choreography involving extreme closeups and extreme longshots. It's not very convincing (and it's sort of reminiscent of Star Wars, which came out the previous year), but it's better than the rest of the fights, where people get disintegrated to save the effort of using making them look wounded. Most of the special effects are computer generated, but they had to use the computers available in 1978, so it looks incredibly cheesy. Corman appears to have been shooting on video already, so that he could just flip a switch and make the screen blue. Blue means electrocution, I think.

To be fair, I should admit that there are some explosions and people on fire, so it's not like they were completely afraid to spend money. This was balanced out by the time-honored technique of just using the video control panels as sets for your high-tech scenes. For a good example of this, I direct you back to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, where the planet-destroying beam is turned on by a guy who's obviously dissolving from Camera 1 to Camera 2.

I might as well mention at this point that the "Deathsport" in question involves "Death Machines", which are the aforementioned "motorcycles with jet sound effects". They drive around each other on a motocross course for awhile until one rider shoots the other with a disintegrator, which makes him vanish instantly. Futuristic!

Incidentally, you know that mountain in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey that the robot Bill and Ted bring the real Bill and Ted to? The one that's in Star Trek and a million terrible science fiction movies? This is one of those terrible science fiction movies.

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip

We have a late entry to the "race across the country" marathon!

Things start as though we're in a Jules Verne novel. Or maybe P.G. Wodehouse: a bet in an oak-panelled gentleman's club. Horatio Nelson Jackson wagered fifty dollars he could drive a horseless carriage all the way across the continent, from San Francisco to New York, in less than three months. This was in 1903, and Horatio Nelson Jackson would be the first person to drive a car coast to coast. And in 2003, Ken Burns made a documentary about it.

This is a great documentary about a great subject. Even before Horatio sets out, there's great stuff, owing to Burns's tendency to show fascinating pictures while a narrator explains the context. The really early horseless carriages looked great, and everyone's wearing driving goggles and capes.

Early cars were a full-time hobby, as I learned from the recent reprinting of early Walt and Skeezix. As an aside, it turns out that "Gasoline Alley" used to be a lot more interesting. And gasoline-related. Anyway, if you wanted to drive around, you needed puncture repair kits, spark plug regappers, and any number of other things to keep the car going. Even when you weren't driving, you spent a great deal of time tinkering.

So Jackson faced two basic challenges: first, the reliability of the car. Second, the reliability of the roads. Not only was this before interstate highways, it was before most of America had paved roads. And what paved roads existed were only inside city limits. And there certainly weren't road maps. Also, he didn't own a car and had no real experience driving.

But four days after making the bet, he had a car, supplies, and a Kodak camera. This makes him ideal for Ken Burns, because he took a lot of pictures, which look great on the screen while Tom Hanks reads Horatio's letters home.

If I say any more, I'll just end up narrating the whole documentary. It's awesome and people should see it, because "Is it even possible?" is a much more interesting challenge than "How quickly can it be done?". Also, there should be more oak-panelled gentleman's clubs where people make outrageous wagers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ladies They Talk About

This is a women-in-prison movie -- from 1933! Starring a young Barbara Stanwyck! And did I mention it's . . . pre-Code? Well, the Hays Office existed by then, but they weren't cracking down yet. So there are bare shoulders, stockings, and an actual cigar-smoking lesbian or two. For the 1930s, it's really quite racy.

Monday, June 11, 2007

When Comedy Was King

This is a 1960 movie that consists almost entirely of classic silent film comedy. I say "almost" because although the visuals are all Chaplin, Arbuckle, etc., the soundtrack has a great deal of a narrator telling us how great silent comedy was. He doesn't have the courage of his convictions, though, because in between the raptures on the joys of silent comedy, he's just narrating the action. Why, it's almost as though he doesn't trust the pure pathos of Fatty Arbuckle's predicament to communicate itself to the audience without somebody telling us what's going on!

The music is pretty good, but I found it almost too relevant to the action onscreen. I don't think you need slide whistles to demonstrate every time someone falls down. Especially because Keystone comedies tended to have a lot of people falling down.

I also kind of take issue with the choice of the "three geniuses of silent film": Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and . . . Harry Langdon. Really? Not Harold Lloyd?

I did greatly enjoy the clips of Teddy at the Throttle, which features a young Wallace Beery actually chaining a young Gloria Swanson to the train tracks because she won't marry him. I shall let you imagine precisely what kind of moustache Beery has.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

I would like to emphasize that I don't enjoy bad movies in an "ironic" way. It might just be that I've seen them too many times, but I honestly enjoy the weird stilted dialogue, the unconvincing special effects, and the cheat sets. When I watch Robot Monster, I'm not chuckling about how bad it is. I mean, I am, but I'm also enjoying the movie on its own merits.

See, I think that creativity, in and of itself, is interesting. And when you've got an Ed Wood following his dream and making a movie that's not like anything else, it's interesting even if it's also totally incompetent. And incompetence can also be interesting, since sometimes you see a movie that gets things wrong that you wouldn't think anyone could screw up.

So anyway, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a tribute to the terrible black and white science fiction movies of the 1950s. And it's always dangerous to make a movie like this, because you can't do camp on purpose. But this one works. The weird stilted dialogue is exaggerated just enough to be funny (to me anyway) without overdoing it. And Animala is worth watching the movie just by herself. She's both sexy and hilarious. "Rowr" and "Always agree" are great catchphrases.

I think Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is mostly based on Robot Monster, since it's got that shot of a monster in a silly costume carrying an unconscious woman. The cave of Cadavra is, I think, the same one as in Robot Monster. And so on. Obviously, there's also some Plan 9 in there, as well as a touch of This Island Earth and possibly even some things that aren't even references to anything.

Incidentally, the interior of the spaceship is supposed to look cheap by using pegboard as one of the walls. I am obliged to point out that if you go watch the pilot movie of the modern Battlestar Galactica, you'll see the same kind of wall used as the wall of Starbuck's cell.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Death Race 2000

If you're going to do a movie in a narrow genre like "a group of colorful characters in a cross-country road race," I recommend you introduce some interesting element. But not a lame one like that mob angle in Speed Zone. For example, Death Race 2000 awards points for killing pedestrians. And the cars are extremely silly-looking, with tusks and fangs and giant jackknives and things, because it's set in the far-off future. All the way in the year 2000! The future will look pretty cheap.

This is one of the more fun cross-country race movies. Somebody's apparently working on a remake, which I'm confident will be terrible. I hope they find a way to squeeze in Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine for cameos.

Incidentally, they don't even run over that many pedestrians. It's probably only around ten, and that's counting the hospital scene.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Cannonball Run II

This was even more terrible than I remembered.

This time, the race is supposed to be from Redondo Beach to Connecticut, but unless there are cactus fields in unexpected parts of the country, they never get out of the southwest. And since the big finale is in Las Vegas, I have to assume that they did all that racing (at least 24 hours, since there's a night scene) and barely got out of the first state.

They probably could have gotten farther if they had started the race earlier in the movie. For some reason, they decided to put in a lot of motivation and backstory and other irrelevant plot-related nonsense, so it's 45 minutes before the race starts. And even then, nobody seems all that interested in racing. Instead, we get a lot of scenes where incompetent gangsters steal bits from Wile E. Coyote. Blah.

Plus the cars are boring. Too many station wagons.

Movies like this are why the "Race across the country" genre never really took off.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Two-Lane Blacktop

Two-Lane Blacktop

Okay, now we're talking. This is one of those existential driving movies from the days of Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, where the mere fact of driving is elevated to some kind of mythic level. This takes it so far that the characters don't even have names, just roles. The cars aren't here to do crazy stunts, really, they're just here to be here. It's an aesthetic that's very unlike modern movies, or for that matter most of the movies made at the same time, so I think it's interesting to see what's basically an entirely different take on what movies could be like if you took out the characters, plot, and most of the dialogue. The girl enters the movie for no reason and then leaves it an hour later. There's no explanation given, and I get the feeling even the character doesn't know why she leaves. She just does.

This movie was one of the inspirations for the actual Cannonball Sea to Shining Sea etc., and it does feature a race from "wherever they are in the Southwest" to Washington, D.C., even if the race kind of peters out and they never get there. So it's sort of a godfather of the coast-to-coast race movie, even if its general nihilism gets in the way.

I'm not really a car guy, so I don't know what to make of conversations like "396?" "454." "No shit." I have conversations that are almost as incomprehensible, but they're about what's inside my friends' computers.

In its way, Two-Lane Blacktop is even more stripped down than Vanishing Point. The main characters are just as stoic, and here there isn't even police to fight against. It's not clear if the Driver and the Mechanic are just directionless slobs or have rejected society or what. They just drive around from city to city and get in drag races. They've got that total zen acceptance that you get after about twelve hours solid driving. Their lives are nothing but the car, and occasionally racing people to make money to get parts.

The Driver, Mechanic, and Girl make an interesting contrast to the GTO. He's angry, talkative, and defensive. He hit the road because his life fell apart, or possibly because he was scouting for film locations, or maybe because he used to be a test pilot. The people in the Chevy don't talk about their motivations, because they've cut away all the fat from their lives. As well as their car.

Speaking of nihilism and existentialism. I was impressed when Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry ended by having their main characters suddenly slam into something and explode. This movie goes even farther, ending the movie with the film melting and breaking. That is hard core right there.

Speed Zone!

I don't think I've ever seen Speed Zone before. It just seems so incredibly unnecessary to make a second sequel to Cannonball Run, especially if it's not even called "Cannonball Run 3". Hey, speaking of "unnecessary", did you know there was a TV pilot made for a Cannonball Run spinoff television show that would star Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis? It was called "The Stockers" according to IMDB. What an odd idea.

It's a little strange that I don't like this movie better. The "star-studded cast" is studded with people I actually like: John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Peter Boyle, Matt Frewer, Eugene Levy, and the Smothers Brothers are all people I actively enjoy. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy them in this movie, which believes shouting and unpleasantness is funny. The weird thing is, normally I agree with this. But they found a way to make Joe Flaherty trying to kill Matt Frewer unamusing. That's not easy.

It's interesting the number of ways Speed Zone! finds to be worse than Cannonball Run. The first movie is obviously sexist, but this one somehow makes it worse by being so leering about it. Like, I'm not sure Cannonball Run understood what it was doing, but Speed Zone! takes a positive delight in making its female characters the subjects of leering jokes by all the other characters. I think the first movie mostly assumed that once you have Farrah Fawcett and Adrienne Barbeau, the audience can take care of the leering. I guess Jack Elam did some leering, but the that joke was about how creepy Elam was, not about how funny it is to speculate about whether women are wearing bras.

Movies like this tend to have cars doing enormously unlikely jumps, which are edited together to make it look like the car lands safely. The one in this one, where Flaherty and Frewer jump over a lake, has one of the worst jumps I've ever seen, because they left in way too much of the actual jump. The car they flung over the lake clearly lands on its back bumper with the rest of the car straight up in the air. It's great. You'd think a movie like this could at least get the crash scenes right.

This movie marks a high point in the field of "police wildly overreacting to speeders" when Peter Boyle shuts down every highway in the country to funnel everyone onto I-70 so he can set up a roadblock at Baker, CA. Personally, I think he'll have trouble with that, what with all the road scenes clearly taking place in Canada. It would have helped to maybe cover up the signs saying how many kilometres away things were. And making sure all the visible road signs were in English would have been a nice touch, too.

One of the things that makes Vanishing Point so good is that it was actually shot where the action was supposed to be taking place. You don't really get the feel of "driving cross-country" when you're just watching two hours of people driving around the plains just outside of Quebec.

Special note: Both this and Cannonball! feature a team using an airplane to cheat. If you're thinking of operating a coast-to-coast race, I recommend checking the odometers.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Revenge of the Nerds

Ten Good Things About Revenge of the Nerds

1) Anthony Edwards and Timothy Busfield in their first real movie roles!

2) Curtis "Booger" Armstrong in the role that pretty much defined him for the rest of his career!

3) Robert Carradine, who I forgot to mention as being in Cannonball! Also more or less a career-defining performance if you don't count all those movies he did where you don't recognize him because he's not playing a nerd!

4) Larry B. Scott, who plays the gay black guy, went on to be Tasty Taste in Fear of a Black Hat. which is a great movie.

5) Ted McGinley, looking and acting like he always does!

6) John Goodman as the coach of the jocks!

7) Extremely dated racist and sexist jokes! Wait -- that's not so good. Oh well, you can't win them all.

8) Did you know that Brian Tochi, who played Toshiro (source of much of the aforementioned racist jokes) was also the voice of Leonardo in the 1990s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies?

9) Lewis's father is briefly played by "Jamie Cromwell". James Cromwell! Awesome!

10) "WEEE ARRE THE CHAAMMPIONNNNS . . ."

Cannonball!

Cannonball! With an exclamation mark! Distributed by Roger Corman and produced, apparently, by the Shaw Brothers! That can't be right, can it?

Just like Gumball Rally, this came out in 1976 and is about an underground coast-to-coast race. But this one goes from Santa Monica to New York, not New York to Long Beach. It's a whole different movie!

I think of Gumball Rally as the spiritual prequel to Cannonball Run, like how Speed Zone isn't "really" Cannonball Run 3 but we all know it is. But Cannonball! also has a claim, what with the name and all. Also apparently the novelization of this movie and of Cannonball Run were by the same guy, so somebody, at some point, thought of them as fairly similar. Apparently, that means there's a novelization of Cannonball Run. I bet it's awful.

You know how there's sometimes someone in movies like this who flies ahead so they can be at multiple race locations before the race gets there? Like in Gumball Rally, where Roscoe the Cop sets up four or five different roadblocks? That sseems challenging to me. The whole race takes less than 35 hours and these guys manage to watch the cars pass them in Albuquerque, then rush to the airport, jump on a plane, and fly directly to Houston in time to see the cars pass them, then get to Kansas City? There must have been an awful lot of flights available at convenient times.

The best scene is the big car crash toward the end. You know the scene in Blues Brothers where a ridiculous number of police cars slam into each other and you start wondering why they didn't stop first? This is like that, with about half the cars but ten times the silliness. Because these are the kind of car crashes where the cars immediately explode into big ridiculous fireballs with giant plumes of black smoke. And the cars hit the pileup much slower, so eventually it's been several minutes since the pileup started and there's a blaze that could be seen from the next state and people are still driving into it at full speed and dying horribly.

The horrible deaths, incidentally, are why I think of Gumball Rally as the closer sibling to Cannonball Run -- this movie feels more like one of the nihilistic early-seventies driving movies where people die suddenly at the end, whereas Gumball Rally is more cheerful and fun-loving. It could be argued that the Cannonball Run movies took that too far.

Awesome trivia: this is the only movie where Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese have ever worked together. They both have tiny roles (and a scene where they're acting together with Paul Bartel, who directed the movie), but I don't think it counts as a cameo if it happens before anyone knows who you are. Stallone's no surprise because he was in Bartel's previous movie, which also involves a cross-country race. With lots of killing. Man, Death Race 2000 is fun. More fun than this one, anyway. Apparently, Paul Bartel directed Death Race 2000 for the comedy but then got kind of pigeonholed in the "car" genre. And then he broke out of it by doing Eating Raoul. He had kind of an unusual career.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Cannonball Run

I freely admit that Cannonball Run is a terrible movie. You don't need to tell me that, okay? We'll just take it as given. Unfortunately for all of us, it was also one of the only movies that HBO carried back in my formative years. We're just lucky I didn't imprint on Under the Rainbow.

So I know this movie really well. I don't know how many times I've seen it, but it's sunk deep into my DNA. I know it so well, I can cheerfully quote either the theatrical version or that censored version they show on networks. Right now, I'm actively wondering if the soundtrack is available somewhere. I even liked the USA reality show from 2001, and I think I'm the only person who even knows that show happened.

My point is that I'm not reliable in this matter. When Dom Deluise says "Been a cop long?" I'm on the floor. I actually worry about what happens to the motorcycle that Bert Convy rides out of the airplane. I say "Hold onto your lunchpail. This may get a little weird" all the time. Well, in my head.

The crazy thing is that this is actually one of the more accurate movies about racing coast-to-coast. The screenplay was written by Brock Yates, who created the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in the first place. In fact, you know that ambulance that Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise drive? It's the same ambulance that Yates drove in the 1979 version of the race. The script was apparently goofied up a good deal, but it's got more authenticity than you think it does. Hey! Why don't you read Yates's book Cannonball!: World's Greatest Outlaw Road Race? It's prety entertaining. He's in the movie, too; he's the guy who gives the introductory speech before the race begins.

Anyway, the movie. I find it odd that all these secretive underground races have big, splashy finish lines. The hotel even welcomes them on their marquee, so I assume they have some sort of package deal.

The record in this movie is 32:51, by the way. I like the idea that the record from the previous movie got broken. Another record broken: toal alcohol consumed. The Gumball Rally doesn't make a big deal out of it, but a lot of people are throwing back beers while they're driving, and toward the end, there's some amp-popping. You know, to keep going. Cannonball Run ups the ante a bit, largely by adding Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. This is Dino's last film role and by this time, I don't think he knew how to act sober.

Okay! Things I like about this movie: almost everything, especially the things that are silly or irrelevant. Like Burt saying "Pumps one and two. Hit 'em!" on the theory that he has two gas tanks and it doesn't matter if one of the pumps is unleaded and one premium because "She goes both ways!" That's almost as random a line as "He's got the franchise!" from Kill and Kill Again. I also like Jackie Chan kicking Peter Fonda in the face. For that matter, I like almost all of the fight scene, because it shows that the racers can bond together. I even like the idea that Captain Chaos can make the ambulance go faster, and that doesn't even make sense!

It does kind of bug me that the girls in the Lamborghini left before everyone else, so Burt Reynolds could easily have run up there and punched his ticket for a shorter race time. That's right: I'm concerned about possible plot holes in Cannonball Run. Fear me.

One last note: isn't it nice of A.J. Foyt to bring the arrested racers to the finish line in a taxi? A lot of obsessed authority figures wouldn't do that.

The Gumball Rally

I love the way The Gumball Rally starts. No messing around with plot or characters; just a rich guy sending out the word, and then it's on. We don't have time for your fancy "exposition" or "characterization" here! If you don't understand why people would want to race across the country, then that's just too bad. You can figure out who's who on the ride. Let's go!

I'm assuming that the real cause of movies like this was the 1974 creation of the 55mph speed limit. There were driving movies before then (like Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop, which were supposedly the inspiration for the actual race that inspired this set of movies), but after the national speed limit, you get this, Convoy, Smokey and the Bandit, and generally Hal Needham's whole directorial career.

I do think some people take their car movies a little too seriously. For example, I present this quote from Wikipedia: "A good deal of effort went into reproducing accurate sounds from the now classic cars participating in the race. Few movies of the era managed this, and some find the opportunity to hear the V12 Ferrari and 427 Cobra at full song is alone worth the time spent viewing this film." Really? Hearing the sound effect of an engine is a good enough reason to see a whole movie? Man, that's weird.

Structurally, this is the same movie as Cannonball Run: a straight-up race from New York to Los Angeles. It even ends in the parking lot of the Queen Mary. But Gumball Rally plays it straight for the most part. There's only one team in a disguise; everyone else is in a sports car. Well, there's the team in a van, but I don't think they're trying to trick the cops. It's interesting to see which elements the movies have in common. Apparently, "hiding a car on a truck" is one of the basic elements of a movie like this.

Incidentally, this is the movie that answers the question "When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?"

I also wanted to make a note that at the beginning of the movie, the alleged record time was 34:11 and at the end, it's 33:57. There's a record mentioned in Cannonball Run that I want to compare that against.

The Great Race

For no particularly good reason, I have decided to watch a bunch of "driving coast-to-coast" movies. You know, Cannonball Run is part of a grand tradition of movies, many of which do not feature Jamie Farr.

First up: The Great Race! Okay, so it's actually a New York-to-Paris auto race and not just coast-to-coast, but I think it's close enough.

This is a big-budget Blake Edwards extravaganza. I never know quite what to make of movies with Overtures. I always feel like I'm cheating if I skip ahead to the movie. But DVDs must have the "skip scene" button for a reason, right? Anyway, by the time I got to the Intermission and the Entr'acte (...seriously), I was keenly interested in skipping ahead. This movie was the inspiration for The Wacky Races. Okay, now try to imagine a 160-minute episode of The Wacky Races. Now take out the "Race" and put in lots of tiring "Wacky".

I did not like the movie. I didn't realize just how much like The Wacky Races it would be, nor did I really consider the effect of watching it for two straight hours. Man. Jack Lemmon's Professor Fate had me longing for the subtle acting of Dick Dastardly. Everything is paced very slowly so the actors have to mug it up just to keep things going. I guess it's possible that the endless reaction shots are actually the point of the movie; it is Blake Edwards, after all.

In 1965, a movie like this was an excuse for a series of set pieces. Two minutes of racing, then everyone's in a wild west saloon watching the can-can waiting for the fight to break out. Eventually they're on their way, but the racing is stopped for an ice floe or a European Principality power struggle or something. Almost all of the movie was shot on backlots, so you never get more than a couple blocks of driving at a time.

In the 1970s, they'd come up with an interesting twist on race movies: they actually focus on the driving and not on elaborately-choreographed dance sequences. Plural. And the big, stupid pie fight. I do approve of the fact that they appear to have used actual fruit and cream pies instead of the usual shaving cream, but that doesn't make up for the total pointlessness of the scene. The swordfight was pretty good, but I would have preferred to see it in a movie about swordfighting.

I did enjoy a couple of things, like the way Tony Curtis's excessively stiff delivery meant that he kept saying "auto-mobile". Professor Fate's car and submarine were very pleasing to my eye. That's about it.

Anyway, I think this movie clearly demonstrates that just because Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were funny together in Some Like It Hot, that doesn't mean it'll always work. It might have helped to give them some scenes together. And maybe a whole new script.