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.