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.