Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gidget Goes to Rome

Be honest now. You didn't even know Gidget Goes to Rome was a movie, did you? This is the first you've ever heard of Gidget's trip to Italy, right? Well, I'm here to tell you that it happened. It wasn't interesting, but it happened. But it did not happen much like it is described in the book.

That happens sometimes. The author has to work from an early version of the script, and if a scene gets cut at the last second, it's possible for it to still be in there. In this case, though, I think the entire script was rewritten and thrown out. But they didn't bother having the book rewritten, possibly because, seriously, who cares what's in the novelization of Gidget Goes to Rome?

The differences start in the very first scene. In the book, it's described this way: "And it was there I was lying one July noon last year, pretty much as God made me, except for a few minor accessories like a black bikini and a pair of sunglasses." In the movie, it's a red bikini. And no sunglasses. Okay, that's pretty small. But as soon as she gets to Rome, the book describes an entirely different series of events. Sure, the overall outline is the same (she fights with Moondoggie and has a crush on an older Italian man), but every element is different.

So with that out of the way, I want to go back to that part about "pretty much as God made me". Is that a reference to nudity? In a Gidget book? Oh my yes. Here's the scene after Gidget has dived into a fountain (which happens at the beginning of the trip in the book, as opposed at the end of the book for a totally different reason in the movie) and is getting examined by an older doctor, who will later turn out to be married, with children, and stringing her along:

With an air of detached sovereignty he inspected the thermometer, smiled knowingly and then asked me to take off my p.j.'s. First I got purple as a plum, but then it came to me that I had nothing to hide. While not as generously endowed as Lucy and Libby, I am endowed. Besides, he was a doctor, wasn't he?

Off came the top of my p.j.'s.

He placed his efficient hand on my back and began to knock around with the knuckles of his other hand in the general vicinity of my lower thorax. Then he bent down and affixed his ear to my back and asked me to breathe. Then he asked me to lie flat on my back.

I complied. My no-longer-hidden treasures pointed straight to the ceiling. Dottore Paladino again leaned his perfumed head over me and pressed his ear toward the region of my heart, just underneath my right half-bosom. I have been examined before, but never like this. It tickled.


I mean, really now! I can assure you that that did not take place in the movie I watched. Also, "right half-bosom"?

Another spot I found strange was when Gidget is pontificating on the difference between jet travel and boat travel. She's very worldly, this Gidget. She also talks in Latin a lot more than I would have expected. And here, what's with this section on her parents' drinking habits?

It's different with wine. We drink it at home, my folks making a sort of a ritual out of it, serving it at the right room temperature (red one), or slightly chilled (white one), and my ma being what is known as "a second plateau drinker" (steady intake of small sips from 6 p.m. onward), while my old man has reached "the first plateau" long ago (steady intake from 5 p.m. onward). But they never get bombed. Drinking wine just puts them in a benevolent mood.


I trust that it will not come as surprise that a Google search for "second plateau drinker" yields no results.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grease: The Novel

Here's a movie novelization I bet you didn't know existed: Grease, by Ron de Christoforo.

Technically, that should read "Grease, by RON DE CHRISTOFORO, based on the screenplay by BRONTE WOODARD, adaptation by ALLAN CARR, based on the original musical be JIM JACOBS and WARREN CASEY". And then there's something about ACTION PHOTOS FROM THE MOVIE, but this is not one of those photo-novels you sometimes see where a cut-down version of the script is put next to movie stills; this is an actual 220-page novelization. Of Grease.

I do not know why there's a novelization of Grease. I realize it was a successful movie (in 1978, it was the third-highest grossing movie ever, just trailing Jaws and Star Wars), but you don't see that many novelizations of musicals. I'll get to the way they handle the songs later (hint: it makes no sense!) but let's count down the Crazy Things in this book.

5. "Another Original publication of POCKET BOOKS". I guess that's supposed to mean that this first appeared in paperback instead of first being in hardback, but it seems odd to trumpet the originality of a book whose author line includes the words "based on" and "adaptation by". I imagine this is related to the way paperbacks used to have a line about "This is the full and unabridged text of the original edition" to soothe fears that they were just cut-down versions of the hardback text.

4. "Ehey." That's not a word, is it? So how come it appears so often in this book? Like this: "Ehey, Danny-boy, I think that chick in the white is giving you the eye." I think it means "Hey", but I've never run across that spelling before. It's sort of the way John Travolta talks, I guess, with that sort of hiccup in the middle of a syllable, but his character isn't the only one that does it.

3. The author thinks this is a real novel. Seriously, he seems to believe he's writing a coming-of-age story set in 1959. This explains why, for example, there's a chapter about Richie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly dying. Maybe it's me, but I don't remember this scene in the movie:

We spent the rest of the day talking softly about the singers, mostly going over what it meant to have someone we cared about suddenly die.

"First it was James Dean a few years ago, and now this," I said.

"Shit, what a way to go -- a plane crash," Kenick said, almost to himself.

"Yeah," Roger said, "and what a way to wind up -- face down in the snow."

"Somewhere in Iowa," I added.

"You guys know what?" Danny asked quietly. "It's only the beginning . . . for us, I mean. I don't think from here on out that we're going to be having too many more new idols -- we're just gettin' too old for that stuff. But what's gonna happen is -- all of our ols idols, the people we grew up lookin' up to, they're all gonna fade on us, or die. . . . It's lousy, and I don't like it."

There was something too true and final in Danny's words. In his own way, he sometimes had a real sad understanding of things.


What? In the middle of freakin' Grease, we're stopping to consider our own mortality? Interesting choice!

Also an interesting choice: The first fifty pages of the book take place before the movie begins. We follow Danny (and Sonny, because he's the narrator and therefore has to be shoved into every scene except where he's being told about what happened by Marsha) to the beach and see Danny meet Sandy and blah blah blah eventually school starts. The last chapter happens after the movie's over (but before Grease 2):

Chapter 36

So school ended and we had our girls back and we were all in love and everything was terrific. Hunky-dory, right? Sure, we both know better.

Me, Kenickie, and Danny went to summer school together and finally graduated from Rydell without too much ceremony, except for a pretty good drunk we tied on in the parking lot of the Palace with the Ladies.

By the fall, things started changing, too quickly. It was too much to face and keep up with at the same time. We had to look for jobs, clean up our act, and things of that nature which I promised myself I wouldn't talk about here.

That New Year's Eve we had a big party with the T-Birds and the Ladies as we saw the last of the Nifty Fifties -- and, to be perfectly honest, I don't think any of us felt all that terrible about seeing that decade and that part of our lives finally coming to a close.


Yay! Now Grease ends on a downer!

2. I mentioned that Sonny is in every scene, right? I realize the character's around a lot, but he's not everywhere. The only times he hasn't been shoved in are where Marsha relates to him (in great detail) what happened at, say, the slumber party. It's distracting, because I keep thinking, "Wait, wasn't that scene just between Kenickie and Danny? Why did Kenickie say 'Ehhh, Danny, you and Sonny think you can hang around and help me out?'"

1. The songs. Whoo hoo hoo. Hoo.

Okay. I would have thought that there were two ways of dealing with the songs. First, you could pretend they didn't happen. You know, "Then Danny started talking up the car. He made it sound great. Now we were excited!" Second, you could accept the singing and dancing and put it into the narrative: "I saw Rizzo walking through the hall, singing about how there were worse things she could do." That sort of thing.

As it turns out, there's a third option: you take the lyrics of the song and pretend they're dialogue. Without, and this is important, editing them in any way. Allow me to demonstrate how the novelization of Grease does this in with "Beauty School Dropout". Frenchy is describing a dream she had:

"Not only did Teen Angel say that my story was a sad one to tell, he said I was the most screwed-up kid on the block! Oh, geez you guys, what am I going to do? I know he was right when he said that my career is washed up. On top of that he reminded me I couldn't even get a trade-in on my Beauty School smock!

"Teen Angel really rubbed it in. I mean he said "Beauty School dropout, Beauty School dropout" over and over again. He knew I flunked my midterms and that I even failed shampoo!

"Well he went on like this and pretty soon I started to get pissed but I didn't have nowhere else to go and I didn't know how to get out of the dream. So I was stuck . . . listening to this stuff."


And it goes on like that!

Incidentally, what I've got here is the original 1978 edition (I found it in a used book store, where it was next to one of the more normal "photo-novels" I mentioned earlier; I assume somebody was divesting themselves of their Grease collection), but it was apparently rereleased in 1998 (for the movie's rerelease). That means not only did somebody think it was a good idea to write this, it got published more than once.

Crazy, crazy book. It's awesome. And I've just now learned that there's a novelization of Grease 2! Stand by for further information.

New topic: Movie Novelizations!

Okay, you know what? I'm tired of just writing quick blurbs about every movie I see. I tend to fall behind, and then I have to rush out a bunch of things like "Meet John Doe was fun, but too preachy and I like Cooper and Stanwyck better in Ball of Fire. Next! The Wizard Rockumentary was adorably amateurish and I just want to pinch the cheeks of all the bands in it. Next!" and so on.

So from now on, I'm narrowing my focus. From now on, we're talking Movie Novelizations. I'm kind of fascinated by them. So that's what I'm going to talk about. Ready? Go!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Golden Globe Nominees

So the Golden Globe Nomination List is out. And I've seen a grand total of three movies mentioned anywhere on that page. Two of them show up only under "Supporting Actor" (two people from Tropic Thunder and Heath Ledger's Inevitable Win for The Dark Knight) and the other is WALL-E down in Best Animated Film and Best Song. Even with two separate "Best Picture" categories, I've seen none of the movies the Hollywood Foreign Press Association thinks were the best of the year. This is because I was off watching the remake of The Wizard of Gore (verdict: not great. And too tilty) instead of Mamma Mia and In Bruges, which is apparently a comedy. Who knew?

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Sci-Fi Boys

If you have any nerd in you at all, this is a great movie. It's about, sort of, how sci-fi movies came to be. It starts with Forrest J Ackerman and "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and then has a lot of famous directors like John Landis and Peter Jackson talk about how they wouldn't have become filmmakers without that magazine. And then all the special effects guys like Stan Winston and Rick Baker come in and talk about how they learned about Ray Harryhausen (and how to make monsters) from it. It's a lot of fun and has very entertaining clips of amateur movies made by young boys who would go on to become professionals. There's a lot of stop-motion animation shot with cameras ill-suited to the task, which is always fun.

I mention this movie for two reasons. First, I watched it last night and loved it. Second, Forrest J Ackerman died last night, and he was Important. He practically invented sci-fi fandom. He did invent the term "sci-fi", but then he was always inventing words. "Scientifiction" didn't quite take off. I've got a fanzine he made in 1936, and I wish I'd gotten him to sign it when I got to go to his house a few years ago. It was a great house, packed with amazing stuff. Like "the medallion Bela Lugosi wore in Dracula" amazing. He used to have a lot more stuff (when he lived in a huge house called "the Ackermansion"), but had to sell a lot of it. Much of it is here in Seattle at the Science Fiction Museum, and I hope something similar happens to the rest of his stuff.

I'm sad that Forry is gone, but I'm happy to enjoy a world he affected. Oh, and that 1936 zine I have is awesome, by the way. It's got a piece written for Robert E. Howard's death, and that piece is written by H.P. Lovecraft.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

High Sierra

Humphery Bogart as a vicious escaped criminal with a cursed dog. I saw this a couple of weeks ago and can't remember much except that there's a subplot about raising money so a young lady can get an operation for her clubfoot, but she never looks even the slightest bit crippled. She doesn't even limp!

Monday, November 24, 2008

White Heat

The thing I thought was most interesting about White Heat was that it didn't waste a lot of time on establishing character. By 1949, all you needed to do was cast James Cagney and the audience would do the rest of the work.

I mean, Cagney's still great and you can't take your eyes off him when he chewing up the scenery. But they save a lot of time by not telling us how he's a vicious sociopathic monster. He just is.

I think I've seen all the essential Cagney gangster pictures now. I should probably hunt down some Paul Muni now, because he's always listed along with Cagney and Edward G. Robinson in these Warner Brothers histories but I've never even seen the original Scarface.

Friday, November 21, 2008

DOA: Dead or Alive

Okay, look. This isn't a good movie. I knew that going in. I'm not dumb, and I knew it was going to involve scantily-clad women fighting. And it did. But you know what? Sometimes, that's enough. It's rotten, but at least it knows it. Don't judge me!

Plus, one of the main characters turns out to be Joy from My Name is Earl. I knew Jaime Pressly was funny, but I didn't realize she was so... let's say "toned".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mr. Sardonicus

Mr. Sardonicus is known for two things: influencing the look of the Joker and having one of those crazy William Castle gimmicks. In this case, the audience was supposed to vote on what ending they wanted to see. Of course, there was really only one ending, because the vote was "Do you want Sardonicus to suffer even more... or do you want to show mercy?" Obviously, everyone wants the suffering.

The movie itself is a lot like Dracula for the first hour or so, except that instead of Jonathan Harker, they've got a brilliant doctor who specialized in paralysis cases. But Sardonicus (who's really a Baron, not a Mister) turns out to be not a vampire but a crazy guy with a permanent crazed smile on his face. It's creepy, but I don't think it's as creepy as the mask he normally wears. The unmoving face works well with his snooty attitude.

Anyway, it's a perfectly acceptable cheapo scare movie.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

Let me tell you about the Grand Illusion. It's a tiny little art-house theater here in Seattle. When I lived a block from it, I never went there, but now I go there about once a month because they have crazy movies you can't see anywhere else.

In this case, their midnight movie was a set of three Christian Propaganda movies made by Ron Ormond and based on the writings of Estus W. Pirkle. They're charmingly amateurish attempts to show the horrors that await the world if we don't all get right with God. And the complete lack of budget or filmmaking talent doesn't seem to have slowed anyone down when they were shooting the scenes set in the Old Testament or in Hell. Those are actually in The Burning Hell, which I also saw. It was okay (I never knew the Old Testament Prophets were so white and Midwestern!), but it was If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? that I was really into.

See, it's about the coming Communist Takeover that will assuredly come. And it's got it all, assuming by "all" you mean "1971 fashions, bad acting, and a leering Commie commandant". And it's also got a loudspeaker shouting "Christianity is stupid! Communism is good!" which is the basis of one of my favorite Negativland songs. It's always fun to hear something in context when you're used to the cut-up version.

The print was, of course, really terrible. That's part of the charm of the Grand Illusion: watching these movies on film, with a group of other people. Sure, you could find them on YouTube, but watching it on a computer just isn't the same.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cover Girl


You know how sometimes in a movie you're just sitting around impatiently waiting for the mousy girl to finally realize she's beautiful? It gets even sillier when the girl is obviously Rita Hayworth. We're supposed to be astonished that Rita Freaking Hayworth manages to become a famous model? Really?

Aside from that, this was good fun. Before she's a model, she's in a lousy theater company with Gene Kelly (it's one of those "lousy" theater companies that are ridiculously talented and occasionally have wildly over-the-top choreography) and Phil Silvers (seriously, even the terrible comedian is fantastic). The great dancing and characters make up for the times when the audience can't help but think that all these people are clearly talented enough to be huge stars and marry anyone they please.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dark Intruder

This isn't really a movie. It was really a pilot for a television show in 1965, but it never got picked up, so they released it as a feature. And I'm glad they did, because it's a lot of fun.

It stars Leslie Nielsen as a kind of supernatural detective who sometimes has to help the San Francisco police with their more... eldritch cases. He has an apartment full of cool-looking things, a dwarf manservant named Nikola, and a secret room that looks like it has a fancy scientific lab in it. Nielsen is a lot more fun here than he would become later in his career when he's playing deadpan stiffs in wacky comedies.

The plot is kind of complicated and involves evil demons and gods and stuff. Oh, and Werner Klemperer is in it, but he's using a British accent and he's buried under makeup, so he's not very Colonel-Klinkish. There's just a touch of Lovecraft. I wish they'd made this a series, because it would have made a fun counterpoint to Wild, Wild West.

Also, now I have to go learn more about Leslie Nielsen's "serious" career, because I had no idea he was so enjoyable.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hollywoodland

I liked Hollwoodland, but I wanted to like it more. The George Reeves part with Ben Affleck was very good, but it was only about 40% of the movie. And the Adrien Brody part was okay, but it just felt like an intrusion on a more interesting movie. Brody had his own plot, but it wasn't very compelling. It might have been more compelling if I hadn't been tapping my foot impatiently, but I doubt it. So what you're left with is a mystery with no resolution at all. Huh.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Guys and Dolls


I really like Guys and Dolls. I'm a huge fan of Damon Runyon's stories, upon which the movie is based. But, and I admit this is weird, I don't really like a lot of the songs. I like musicals in general, but some of the songs here, especially the ones sung by Adelaide, are extremely annoying. So it's one of the only musicals where I like the dialogue a lot more than the songs.

Don't get me wrong; some of the songs are great. Although in this movie version, the casting is a little wonky. Marlon Brando plays Sky Masterson, who does a lot of singing. Meanwhile, Frank Sinatra is stuck in the patter role of Nathan Detroit. It seems like they could have been switched, although I have to admit that both do a good job in the roles they've got. Although Brando's songs were reportedly stitched together note by note, which takes away from the effect a bit.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rogue

Rogue is about a giant crocodile who eats a bunch of jerks. I probably would have liked it more if I had found the setting (the Australian outback) interesting. I didn't. Instead, I just got impatient for the people to start getting chomped.

This was also my problem with Descent. I prefer movies where I want the people to live, you know?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Only Arksed!

This movie is not very good and I didn't watch all of it. It's one of those terribly mid-twentieth-century British comedies with a lot of wackiness. The premise is that the worst soldiers in teh army are all sent to this one Arab country, and then you turn the movie off because when Michael Bentine is one of the subtler performers, you know you're in for a rough time.

I mean, seriously. "Arsked"?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mr. Arkadin

This is a movie that's more "interesting" than it is "good". Orson Welles made it by reusing a couple of scripts from his extremely entertaining radio series The Lives of Harry Lime, but it doesn't really hold together. Or make sense.

I'm pretty sure I understood the plot, which involved the titular Mr. Arkadin (Orson Welles in an extremely silly beard and even sillier accent) hiring a guy to dig into his past, claiming that he has amnesia and wants to know where he came from. It's really just an excuse for various disreputable and colorful characters to tell stories about Arkadin's youth. If i had worked, it would have been like a seedy version of Citizen Kane, but it doesn't fly.

I watched the Criterion version, which has several different edits of the movie. Apparently Welles didn't get final cut, so the studio released a version that he despised. The Criterion version has three or four different cuts, but I don't think it makes any difference. It's an interesting failure, but that's still a failure.

One thing did interest me. There are a lot of scenes that involve a lot of chatting and expositioning, so the characters keep moving around to keep the scene visually interesting. It looks pretty tiring if you ask me, the way they keep circling each other like that. There's a boat scene in particular where the characters are flinging themselves back and forth like the Enterprise is under attack by Romulans.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Little Caesar

Okay, so. Edward G. Robinson. If you recognize his name at all, you probably think of Bugs Bunny suddenly having big lips and saying "Listen here, you mugs! Mnnnyaaahhh, see! Mnnnnyaaahhh!" Police Chief Wiggum sounds a bit like him. I'm a bit ahead of the game because I've seen him in a couple of movies, like Double Indemnity. But I'd never seen him in the iconic gangster roles that made him worthy of Bugs Bunny. Hence Little Caesar, which played as a double feature with Public Enemy, in which James Cagney made being a sociopathic gangster look awesome.

Well, it turns out that Edward G. Robinson is pretty cool. He's more of a sociopath than Cagney's character, to the point where the other hardened gangsters are a little creeped out by how willing he is to whip out his gat and start gunning down anyone in his way. He's not quite as magnetic as Cagney, but that's just because he looks, well, weird. Really weird.

The other reason I wanted to see this movie was because it ends with "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?" I've heard that line a lot and always thought it sounded really odd and forced. In context, it turns out that it sounds just as weird. Huh.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Gamers: Dorkness Rising

I liked the original The Gamers movie by Dead Gentlemen Productions (which is a little difficult to locate since there are several movies with that title and they're all about role-playing gamers), and I was delighted to learn that they were making a sequel. I learned about it kind of early because I work at the company that makes Dungeons & Dragons, and in fact work with one of the stars of the movie.

For that matter, I'm actually in this movie. There's a scene set in an office building and they needed extras. So if you look carefully, you'll see me. For example, here I am as a blurry figure in the background:



In that scene, I'm only visible for about three seconds. But on the plus side, I have a line of dialogue and someone says my character's name. That's not bad, right? It makes it a real character if you ask me. Then later on, I'm at a desk in the background during a ninja fight:



That's me on the right of the screen. I think. It probably is. As a bonus piece of trivia, I'm actually updating my old blog while the scene is being shot. So if you've ever watched a movie and thought "I wonder what that extra is typing," the answer is here. There are behind-the-scenes photos, too!

Okay, anyway. About the movie. I liked it a lot, and not just because I was in it. There are a lot of bits that are extremely funny if you've ever played D&D. And if you've played more RPGs, it's terrific. There are two references to Flying Buffalo products, which I assure you is an impressively narrow joke target.

It's a more professional operation than the first The Gamers. The sound is good (in that you can hear all the dialogue!) and the characters are well developed. Or at least exist. Look, if you're a gamer, you'll like it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dawn of the Dead

This is the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. It's terrible. Don't watch it. Sarah Polley deserves a better movie to be her default credit on IMDB.

See, this is a rotten movie that's not rotten in a new way. In fact, it's rotten in all the same old ways. Plus, I saw the version on the Sci-Fi channel, which means one character's dialogue was almost completely muted.

Incidentally, this was directed by Zack Snyder, who went on to do 300 and Watchmen. I hope he's gotten better. Or at least more interesting. Because this was full of random closeups and slow-motion shots of shotgun shells bouncing off the ground. Feh.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Cincinnati Kid

I wanted this to be a much better movie. It's got Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld, Rip Torn, Cab Calloway, Joan Blondell -- it's just a ridiculously good cast. Oh! And Karl Malden, too. I love all those people! And I don't mind poker movies, either. But it didn't really cohere for me.

I think one problem I had was the realism. Not in the poker. I don't expect realism in poker scenes. But what's with the guys constantly spurning the advances of absurdly hot women? Tuesday Weld gets pushed away by Steve McQueen. Some very attractive woman (who's probably a prostitute) gets rejected by Rip Torn, who presumably already paid her to be naked in his bed in the first place. And Ann-Margret, who's just about as sexy a woman as you're likely to fine anywhere, gets rejected by both Steve McQueen and Karl Malden. If you ask me, Karl Malden has no business rejecting the amorous advances of a 1965-era Ann-Margret.

Don't get me wrong; the movie mostly works. Steve McQueen is very cool, Edward G. Robinson is a killer, and so on. But there were scenes (like the cockfighting scene) that just bored me.

The DVD has two special features that are both very dated. One is dated in a cool way: it's a 1965 featurette in which Joan Blondell learns to deal cards from a professional magician. It was quite enjoyable. The other one really dates the DVD, because it's commentary on the poker scenes from Phil Gordon... and Dave Foley. You might guess that this means that the DVD came out during their run of hosting "Celebrity Poker Showdown". And you'd be right! So if you enjoyed their schtick there (Gordon is kind of boring but knowledgeable, Foley is obviously drunk), here it is again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Never Too Young to Die

I realize I say I watch a lot of bad movies, and it's understandable if you don't necessarily believe me. You might think that some of the movies I watch might not be as bad as I say. On the other hand, you might wonder why, if these movies are so bad, I watch them.

Here's my philosophy: I think that anyone who watches only "good" movies is missing out on "awesome" movies. If you allow yourself to be constrained by standard conceptions of quality and competency, you're not giving yourself the chance to see truly visionary movies. Also, you miss out on terrible movies that are terrible in completely crazy ways. It is to this latter category that this movie belongs.

Okay, so it stars John Stamos, and it's 1986 so it's the year before "Full House". He plays Lance Stargrove (his theme song features '80s backup singers screaming "STAAAAARGROOOOVE!" from time to time), a college gymnast with a rich, mysterious father. His roommate is an Asian guy who randomly comes up with James Bondian gadgets even before the plot gets going. Unfortunately, he comes off less like Q and more like The Donger. The poofy yellow shirts with black suspenders don't help.

Lance (STAAAARGROOOOVE)'s father, George Lazenby (still technically a James Bond, although not much of one) dies in the line of some secret agenty stuff, and that means that Lance inherits an old farm, which is full of guns, secret rooms, and Vanity. You remember Vanity, right? She was like Appollonia, but slightly earlier. Or later. I forget which. My point is that she was one of those girls that Prince was always trying to promote. And here she's a hottie secret agent who shoots people and hangs out in a crazy biker bar where everyone rides their motorcycles right up to the bar inside the building and also has unicorn heads on the front of their cycles. And the motorcycles are these absurdly undersized things, like Yamaha 250s and like that.

Oh! And I left out the best part. The bad guy is Gene Simmons, overacting enormously. He's playing a hermaphrodite (...or something) named Velvet Van Ragnar, and there are times when it seems like he's trying to play Dr. Frank N. Furter. And those are his subtle moments. The scene where he tries to seduce John Stamos (!) is especially crazy. But not as crazy as this:



Okay, did you see that outfit he was wearing? It was originally made for Lynda Carter! She wore it in this number where she pretended to be singing with Kiss:



Again: That's a costume that Lynda Carter wore because it was kind of Kiss-like. And then Gene Simmons wore it. Not a copy; that's the actual Lynda Carter dress, although I assume they had to let it out a bit.

Anyway, here's another scene from Never Too Young to Die. People who don't watch bad movies are missing out on stuff like this!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Arsenic and Old Lace

Normally, I get antsy when I have to watch Cary Grant being frantic and flustered (like in Bringing Up Baby). I much prefer him when he's suave and in-control (like in His Girl Friday). But even though a lot of this movie is composed of him being pop-eyed and shooting goofy looks at the camera, I still enjoy it a lot.

For one thing, he's got good reason to be freaking out. The stakes get raised frequently and crazy things continue to happen. For another, the crazy things are themselves entertaining. It's Peter Lorre again! And I think he actually gets away clean, which is always nice.

Also, I think the aunts are great. I know it's an easy gag to have nice old ladies cheerfully talking about killing people, but they're really good at it!

The Mask of Dimitrios

Hey, Peter Lorre gets to play the lead in a movie! And he even gets to be the suave detective, instead of Mr. Moto. Well sort of suave. He's got a cigarette lighter in one scene, anyway.

This is fairly good mid-forties film noir, although I got impatient during some of the flashback scenes. The present day has Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre threatening each other and we're stuck in a flashback watching other people? That's crazy, man! I want more Lorre.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

This was the second movie at the drive-in double feature (the first one was Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is just below this one, because I write these in the reverse order from the way you read them), and it was much worse. It's surprising how different two pulpy Brendan Fraser movies can be, really.

Basically, I disliked almost everything in this movie. The only thing I approved of was the way the characters seemed to have remembered the previous movies. A lot of times, you have a scene where people say "What? The mummy has come to life? Inconceivable! That's completely impossible, even though I've seen it happen several times before!" That happened fairly frequently in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where people were always saying things like "Oh, sure that guy cast a love spell on the student body. A likely story!" even though supernatural things were happening all the time. Mummy 3 avoids that. As soon as the Dragon Emperor starts coming to life, everyone is snapping into action and firing guns and so on. Good for them!

Unfortunately, things break down pretty much immediately so we have a pointless chase and the always-welcome sight of archaeologists destroying priceless artifacts. And there's a comic relief yak that's only in their for three stupid throwaway jokes.

I should mention that even bad movies are better at the drive-in, because it's fun to shout things at the screen and know that no one can hear you. Except the other people in your car, and they're probably shouting things too.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Ah, now this is the kind of movie they made drive-in theaters for! And it's just lucky for me that there's still one within driving distance, because that's where I got to see it.

Is it a "good" movie? Well, probably not. For one thing, there's a 3-D version, which means from time to time, something will fly at the camera for no real reason. The yo-yo scene in particular just exists so that people in the audience will jump in their seats. Except if you see it in a non-3-D setting, in which case you giggle and shout "3-D!" See, that's one of the advantages of watching a movie in your car; you're allowed to shout things if you want.

Actually, though, I enjoyed Journey to the Center of the Earth a lot. They didn't let the heartwarming family reunion stuff get in the way of the fun, and they wrapped up that stuff up pretty early. And the woman got to save the guys at least as much as she got saved. In fact, the scene where she shows up at the last second rowing a boat made from half a dinosaur skull is pretty kickass. I also liked the fact that the kid grabbed some valuable jewels and wasn't punished for it. In fact, they came in pretty handy! And Brendan Fraser handled his role pretty well. He doesn't look old enough to be a professor, but I guess it's possible.

I probably would have liked it better if the Jules Verne novel hadn't been an explicit part of the plot. But it was still quite enjoyable.

Blazing Saddles

Up until last night, I'd never seen Blazing Saddles. And I don't want any guff about it, either. I suppose you've seen every movie ever made.

Anyway, I thought it was... okay. It certainly has laughs in it. But it didn't quite live up to the advance word, which was "greatest movie ever". My primary complaint is that Bart's character is a complete cypher. I never got any sense of how he felt about being sheriff for a town full of jerks. He never even seemed that bothered about getting hanged. He just took whatever silliness the plot presented and did what he was supposed to.

I know, complaining about character motivation in a movie most famous for its legendary Fart Scene is a little off the point. But it just kind of bugged me. Strangely, I didn't much mind the way the movie completely falls apart at the end, possibly because I love Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which has a rotten ending too.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Be Kind Rewind

You know how sometimes a movie's advertising campaign will give away every detail of the plot? Well, this movie's campaign revealed every detail of the middle part of the movie. The actual plot was left completely alone, but the whole deal with Jack Black and Mos Def recreating movies? Man, we saw the heck out of that. The poster features them and nothing else.

And to be fair, it is my favorite part of the movie. I think it looks like a lot of fun to take a random movie and have one day to shoot it by any means necessary. I'd be totally up for some sort of competition of that sort, you know? Anyway, the actual plot of the movie appears to have something to do with a neighborhood being uprooted, but there's not much of an ending to that. And there's also a video store that's apparently having trouble adapting from VHS to DVD, but it looks like a really tiny video store. Charming, sure, but the lack of DVDs is not its main problem. I would say that the main difficulty comes from the fact that the've only got about forty movies and no customers. Apparently they've never made twenty dollars in a day before.

Jack Black is fine in this. He's not as high-energy as he can sometimes be, but I'd still like to see him do a whole movie without scatting. I was pretending at one point that he was playing the same character as in High Fidelity. Remember when he was a supporting actor? Wasn't that nice?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

I hated The Dark Knight. I didn't buy Heath Ledger's performance for a second, Batman's "deep, scary" voice just made me roll my eyes, and all I could think about when Two-Face showed up was that he really shouldn't be able to make an "Mmm" sound with no lips. Also, isn't that eyeball going to dry out?

But I'm not going to go into it. I'm not even going to list the two times I thought "That right there was the stupidest thing I've ever seen in a movie." I'll just say this: I went into the movie already hating it. I had been barraged by people telling me that it was the greatest movie ever (Ever!) and that it was the best adaptation of a comic book, and so on. The hype was overwhelming and before the movie even started, I was sick to death of it. I had to force myself to go, and if I had not seen it on Friday night, I probably would never have gone at all.

So, since I realize that everyone else in the world (or at least, "everyone else on the Internet and also everyone at my workplace") loved it, I'm offering you a deal. Don't tell me how great it is, and I won't tell you how much I hated it. If you don't talk about it, I won't.

Okay?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chained Heat II

It's not often you get a movie that's sleazy, exploitative, and really, really boring.

The main reason I wanted to watch this was because I somehow got the idea that Brigitte Nielsen was playing the ingenue, like Linda Blair did in the first one. That sounded really weird, but it turns out she's really the warden, who struts around in tailored suits and stuff. That sounds more like her kind of role right? So once I established that, the movie was a long slog through a slightly more softcore take on the same things that happened in the first movie. Somebody really likes the sight of women putting on white cotton panties.

I would like to praise the work of Bobo, the transvestite painter. The actor playing Bobo apparently thought he was in a real movie, although the movie he had in mind was a comedy spy spoof or something. I don't really know what he was doing, but at least he was trying something.

By the way, Brigitte Nielsen is a terrible actress.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I was hoping to love this movie, and I didn't. I mean, I liked it, I think. But I didn't love it unreservedly. And now that I'm home and thinking about it, there are more and more things that are bugging me about it. This is going to be one of those things where I talk about things that happened in the movie. So if you haven't seen it yet and that sort of thing bugs you, you should probably stop reading.

Anyway, take the ending. After the plot gets dealt with, Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz, and the ectoplasmic Nazi file out of the cave, and then they all tell Jeffrey Tambor to take this job and shove it. Take that, The Man! And the ectoplasmic Nazi (with the voice of the fish from American Dad) references his ghost penis. The weird thing is that there has been no foreshadowing of this. At all. I guess we're just supposed to hate Tambor on principle because he's an authority figure? But I didn't even know these guys hated their job, and then they're all of a sudden walking out. I'm surprised they didn't close the movie by high-fiving in freeze-frame. And in one scene, the ectoplasmic Nazi is an officious German who insists that everyone follow all the rules, and then he's suddenly all "Voo-hoo! Let's steal a plane!" The whole thing comes out of nowhere, and I found it a really unsatisfying ending.

My theory is that this ending was tacked on after people found the actual ending of the plot kind of a downer, what with Abe Sapien's newfound love suddenly dying like that. That bugged me too. When a movie sets up a dilemma (Hellboy must defeat teh prince, but if he hurts the prince, the princess also gets hurt! What will he do?) and then resolves it (answer: pummel the prince, but not kill him, thus saving the princess!) it feels like a cheat to immediately kill off the princess anyway. She could have just cut her own hamstrings at the beginning of the battle, thus crippling the prince and saving us all a fight scene. By the way, have you noticed that ever since The Matrix, you can't have a battle without someone leaning way back in a limbo pose to avoid something and then running along a wall? I guess maybe Abe quit because he was mad that he's not allowed to have a love interest?

Anyway, there were a couple of other scenes that bugged me (the introduction with an annoying kid who was far less interesting than Ron Perlman and the drinking that went on forever), but I'm not sure they made me hate the movie. I really loved the sets, for example. Rhias and I kept nudging each other and pointing to shoggoths in the background. And both the library and the troll market were fascinating. I might actually have preferred this movie if the main characters had been removed so that I could get a better look at the stuff in the background. And I liked a lot of the little things, like the line "I'm not a kid! I'm a tumor!"

I just wish I liked the movie itself more, you know?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Out for Justice

I think at this point I may have seen enough Steven Seagal movies for one month. This is the one where William Forsythe kills a cop and then drives around a neighborhood being crazy and killing people. At one point, there is an excellent fight in a butcher shop, in which Mr. Seagal bonks someone with an enormous sausage. You don't have to be Fellini to figure that one out.

Above the Law

I watched this a week ago. I mean, I originally watched it back when it first came out, and I thought it was great. That was back in 1988, when new action stars were popping up all over the place. I still remember the ad for 1991's The Perfect Weapon, which claimed that Jeff Speakman was the future of action or something. It turned out he wasn't. Seagal looked great back then. Aikido looks cool. And then I watched it again a week ago and still liked it. That's about all I can remember, really. I'm beginning to think that terrible New York accent is how Steven Seagal really talks.

By the way, I don't think you can read it at this size, but the movie poster actually says "He's a cop with an attitude" on it. Yes, kids, there was a time when you could say that with a straight face.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Chained Heat

Yeah, you heard me. Chained. Heat. Linda Blair and Sybil Danning. Women in Prison. Or as the advertising tagline would have it, "2000 women, stripped of all they had, except the will to survive." I should point out that there are actually only about thirty women who actually appear on screen. Although there are allegedly tensions between the White Girl Gang and the Black Girl Gang, we only see two African-American inmates, one of whom gets killed pretty quickly. The remaining one, the Dutchess, is played by Tamara Dobson, who was Cleopatra Jones, though. So she's got a pretty strong presence. There's also an entire Latino gang we never see any actual evidence of.

It's a really poorly run prison, in my opinion. The inmates apparently get to wander around wherever they want, even in the middle of the night. And the warden's office contains both a bed (with leather sheets) and a jacuzzi. Oh, and a stuffed mountain lion with glowing eyes. And then there are the sadistic rapist guards, but that's just the sort of thing you have to expect in a movie like this. With all that going on, you wouldn't expect quite so much frolicking, but I guess even hardened criminals like to splash each other in the shower.

The plot is pretty much by the numbers: young, nubile Carol (Linda Blair) goes to jail and gets caught up in the whirl of elaborate drug rings, lesbians, and riots. Actually, the only riot in the movie is organized by Carol herself, but that's after she gets raped, goes to solitary, and becomes Tough and Hard, as indicated by her development of a New York accent.

I saw the movie the way you're supposed to: as a midnight (really 11:00 pm) showing at a tiny movie house in the neighborhood. It was a good crowd, because there was a lot of laughter during the movie. Somewhere in the 25 years since it was made, it turned into a comedy

Now, let's talk about Chained Heat sequels. You're not going to believe some of this nonsense! Note that I haven't actually seen any of these movies myself. Yet.

First, there's Chained Heat II from 1993. It stars Brigitte Nielsen, so I have to assume they're skipping past the "young and nubile" stage and jumping the protagonist straight to "tough as nails revenger". It takes place in "a Czech prison, where the sadistic warden and guards rape and perform bizarre sex acts on the prisoners" according to IMDB. The director is Lloyd A. Simandi, who will direct many more of these sequels. For some reason, his company is called "North American Pictures", although he does most of his work in Europe. Weird.

Next: 1998's Hell Mountain, also called Chained Heat 3: The Horror of Hell Mountain. Also shot in the Czech Republic, it's set in Apocalyptical Times, where someone named Stryker keeps women as slaves to work in his mines. There's also something about "the last professor on Earth". This was remade as Rage of the Innocents in 2000, but it appears to have been one of those "remakes" that includes a lot of footage from the first movie.

Now here's where it gets weird. The next movie is Chained Rage: Slave to Love, which is apparently mostly made of footage shot for Rage of the Innocents (which itself was largely made out of Hell Mountain footage). IMDB doesn't list it as an alternate title, but the image it shows is called "Bound Heat: Chained Rage". And there's no plot synopsis, so I don't know what happens in it. At this point, we're looking at sequels to Forgotten Rage, but we'll get back to Chained Heat in a few paragraphs.

Next up, something called either "Dakota Bound" or "White Slave Lovers", in which a plague kills everyone on earth except for twenty women from a private school. There are no characters named "Dakota", and I'm getting increasingly skeptical about this chain (ha!) of movies.

Cries of Innocence at least sounds sort of related to the previous movies, since a small group of women are enslaved by the controllers of the only source of water that isn't plague-ridden. It's also called Forgotten Rage: White Slave Secrets, so it's got the names of two previous movies in it.

Finally (in this series) we get to Bound Cargo, from 2003. Apparently women are on the run from soldiers and are taken in by a lonely widow, and soft-core hijinx ensue.

Okay! Now let's rewind a bit. Remember Chained Heat 3: The Horror of Hell Mountain? There was also Dark Confessions, which was marketed as Chained Heat III: No Holds Barred. I don't know what happens in it, but the IMDB Plot Keywords are "W.i.p." (women in prison, makes sense), "Falsely Convicted" (typical, although I'll point out that Linda Blair's character was actually guilty in the first one), "Lesbian" (no surprise), "Monastery" (really?) and "Prostitution Ring". And apparently sexual slavery is involved at some point.

Now, there are sequels to Dark Confessions, which are therefore also sequels to Chained Heat. We start with The Final Victim, which has a boarding school with a lesbian warden. It's also called "Bound Heat: Tears at Dawn" and "Girl Camp 2003: Chained Vengeance". Next, Girl Camp 2004: Lesbian Fleshpots, IMDB says "A woman infiltrates a factory producing subservient young women in order to steal from its bank account," and I can't possibly improve on that.

Finally (for now), we get Chained Fury: Lesbian Slave Desires. The only interesting thing about this one is that one of its Plot Keywords is "Czechploitation".

So there you go! Those sequels were all produced by Lloyd A. Simandi, including both of the Chained Heat 3 movies. He also made a series of "Medieval Fleshpot" movies, if you're curious.


Oh! There's also a spot wheree someone says to Linda Blair that something will happen "so fast it will make your head spin". It seems like someone should have realized that it's hard to say that to Linda Blair without reminding the audience of The Exorcist.

Wanted

I'd say Wanted was about 80% stupid and about 30% awesome. I realize that's more than 100%, because some things can be stupid and awesome at the same time. But for most of the time, Wanted was just stupid. The main character? Stupid. And whiny. Really, really whiny. Even after Angelina Jolie shows up, he still spends an unpleasant amount of time bleating about "What's happening? Ahhhhhh!" and so on. When the most annoying person in your movie is protagonist, that's a bad sign.

It's my theory that the most talented person involved with the movie was the Second Assistant Director. That's the guy who's usually responsible for the stunts, and those were the best part of the movie. The script? Rotten, not to mention completely implausible. Seriously, the backstory of this movie is even less plausible than the one in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It involves something about ancient weavers discovering random threads in their fabric, figuring out that they represent a binary code, and then translating them into people's names. And then killing those people. Somehow, this gives them super powers.

Having just watched both movies, I feel qualified to make this statement: Wanted is like The Matrix, but less realistic and without the philosophy. Both movies have a scene where somebody jumps across a street from one high-rise to another, but Wanted doesn't even try to justify it. The curving bullets are only the beginning of the nonsense.

I will say that Angelina Jolie is great. I've read that her character used to have a lot more dialogue, but she kept asking to have her lines taken away so she could just smile mysteriously. She's good at that sort of thing. Also, it must be nice to have a role where none of her tattoos have to be covered up for a change. And I really liked her final scene, which was pretty satisfying.

Unlike the rest of the movie.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Well, I was pretty sure this movie would be ludicrous, and it was. Does that mean it's not fair of me to complain about some of the, um, ludicrosity? Because it really is just completely unconvincing and doesn't bear a second of scrutiny.

So here's the backstory. This is all the stuff that happened before the movie starts. First, there's Cibola, the fabled City of Gold. That turns out to be in South Dakota, even though the movie says it's either Aztec, Mayan, or Olmec. At some point, Queen Victoria -- no, wait. That's not right. I think what happened is that someone (we don't know who) buried it under a mountain and built incredibly elaborate counterweights and things. As you do. Then the guy who made the Statue of Liberty knew about it somehow and hid a couple of Aztec (or Mayan or Olmec) planks in a couple of desks, then put a reference to that on one of his statues. Then Queen Victoria, who knew about it from some other means, sent a coded message to the Confederate army, who didn't do anything about it until after the war was over. Then John Wilkes Booth and some buddies went to a cryptographer (who hung out in a bar all day hoping someone would bring him a puzzle), who started to decode it and then burned the pages from Booth's diary.

And then we jump to the present day and Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, and a couple of other people work through the riddles. My question is: when you have a fabulous treasure, what's the point of doing all this? First you hide it so no one will ever find it, and then you write an elaborate riddle telling people where it is? And then you write another riddle pointing people to that riddle? And then repeat a few times? If you want to hide it, stop putting coded directions everywhere; what are you, the Riddler? Conversely, if you want people to know where it is, just tell them! Just say "It's under that giant mountain over there!"

Marked for Death

The Seagalogical investigations continue! Most people remember this movie, if at all, as the one with the Jamaican Voodoo Bad Guys. I remember it as the first time I realized just how much Steven Seagal hates glass. In all of his movies, he throws people through windows and stuff, but in this one, he actually goes out of his way to break all the glass he can see. There's a fight in a jewelry store, and he methodically takes a thug's head and smashes each display case one at a time. If I were the owner of the store, I'd object to that sort of behavior.

In fact, I object to a lot of Seagal's behavior. He's an ex-cop, but I don't think that quite justifies a gunfire-filled high-speed chase down the middle of a busy street that ends by smashing both cars through a storefront. And I'm not sure how he got that severed head back through customs, either.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Matrix

I just read The Full Burn, by Kevin Conley. It's about the world of stunts and stuntmen, but it wasn't as great as I was hoping it was going to be. I think my main objection was that it was really short, and that about a third of it was stuff I already knew from watching Double Dare. The chapter about Zoe Bell was still interesting, because the author was on the set of Death Proof, but it still spent a lot of time telling me how cool she is. I already knew that, thank you!

Anyway, there's a lot of discussion of driving stunts, and specifically the motorcycle riding in The Matrix Reloaded. And that got me to thinking, maybe I've never really given the second and third Matrix movies a real chance. So, since I was lounging around all day with nothing to do, I figured I'd watch all three of them in a row. That didn't actually happen, but I did get around to rewatching the first one.

It feels kind of dated already, of course. The washed-out green color scheme led to a great many washed out movies, and the bullet time (which, I feel obligated to point out, first showed up in Kill and Kill Again) also isn't as groundbreaking as it used to be. Still, it's a great looking movie. There are a lot of really neat shots and fun action scenes. And there's the vaguely philosophical overtones, which on reflection appear to be a mish-mash of Buddhism, Plato, and fairly obvious Christ symbolism. And you know what? That's fine with me. I have no objection to movies with awesome action scenes and set pieces, vague philosophy to tie it together, and sex-ay people in tight latex. I'd like more movies like that, in fact.

Keanu Reeves is fine in this movie. He's supposed to look dumbfounded and befuddled the whole time, and that's well within his range. I find I like him best when he's playing a vacuous idiot, like in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and arguably Dangerous Liaisons.

Under Siege

Hey, why not watch one of Steven Seagal's good movies? This totally holds up, and it's interesting to compare it to Die Hard\. It obviously hits several of the same notes, but it's not just a straight rehash. The stakes are bigger and the explosions are larger, so it makes sense that the hero has more killing power.

The villainy is top-notch, too. It's not quite Alan Rickman, but Tommy Lee Jones does a fine job and seems to be enjoying himself a lot. And Gary Busey makes a lot out of a role that I think is just "comedic bumbling henchman" on the page. I think this movie's absolutely fine. I enjoyed it the first time I saw it, and I enjoyed it this time too.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

WALL·E

WALL·E is an incredibly sweet film. That's "sweet" as in "Awwwww!" not as in "Dude, that movie was totally frickin' sweet! High five!" I thought I should make that clear. The first thing to do is to realize that the humans are the subplot. Sure, there's something about the future of humanity and some environmental themes, as well as a certain amount of "get outside and exercise", but that's all secondary to the real plot: a love story between two robots. WALL·E is a robot that's gone crazy from centuries of being alone, and he's turned into a romantic. When EVE shows up, it takes him awhile, but he wears down her programming and turns her into a romantic too. When he's let loose on people, he has the same effect on them.

That's why I don't care that much about whether the people are successful at the end of the movie (my guess is that they're not). The important thing is that they have a dream now. But the really important thing is that WALL·E and EVE are together. Awwwww!

Also, the "Presto" short before it might be my favorite Pixar short ever. It's very funny, and it successfully walks the line of having a trickster character (in this case, an adorable bunny) that plays pranks but stays likable and sympathetic.

Seagalogy: On Deadly Ground

My girlfriend and I have been reading Seagalogy, which is just a fantastic book. It sounds like a stunt, because who would really want to watch every Steven Seagal movie, let alone write a book about them? But it turns out that this isn't one of those "snark" books, possibly because that wold be too easy. No, it's an actual critical study, examining the themes that link together all of Seagal's movies.

The theory is that while it's more common to look at all of a director's movies, when you have an iconic actor like Seagal, you can consider his movies as a group. And it's true! Seagalogy starts with his early (great) movies like Above the Law and Hard to Kill, and points out that in the first few movies, a big deal is made out of how his characters traveled to Japan to learn aikido, but after that the movies just accept it and move on. There's also some great examination of which characters have Shadowy CIA Pasts, and the many ways that are found to have characters talk about how awesome Seagal is. It's a really great book, even if you don't care about Steven Seagal. I strongly recommend it. And I can't emphasize this enough: it's neither gratuitously mean nor slavishly fannish. The review of Seagal's band is insightful and sympathetic. And hilarious!

So, having read it, we naturally felt like we wanted to see some Steven Seagal movies. You know, now that we're fully versed in the man's ouevre. Unless that means "eggs".

On Deadly Ground

This is an extremely Seagally movie. It's the only one he directed himself, and it's actually one of the only two with explicit environmental themes. And he goes around in a silly fringed buckskin jacket blowing things up and humiliating Mike Starr in a bar scene suspiciously similar to the one in Billy Jack. It's a lot of fun in a weird way, because although I liked it, I never felt like I liked the main character. He's a big bully, if you ask me. And the end, where he tortures and kills Michael Caine, is pretty cold-blooded.

And then there's a four-minute Environmental Speech at the end. Apparently it was originally eleven minutes, and it is a crime against humanity that the original cut isn't available somewhere. It's pretty dull as it is, and that's why I didn't go see Al Gore's movie, which is pretty much the same thing except with Powerpoint. In my experience, Powerpoint very rarely improves things.

Monday, June 16, 2008

From the guys who brought you...

Step Brothers is being billed as "From the guys who brought you Talladega Nights." And Pineapple Express is being billed as "From the guys who brought you Superbad." My question is: Do they think we'll like them more if they're just "guys" instead of "writer/director/media moguls"?

Let's take the Step Brothers team first. It's got the same billed director (Adam McKay) and writers (Adam McKay and Will Ferrell) as Talladega Nights. But doesn't everyone just assume that 90% of that movie was improvised? I mean, for Anchorman, they had so much "unused footage" that they were able to just edit together a whole second movie. At this point, the movie-going public has decided how they feel about the unending barrage of Will Ferrell movies, and I don't think anyone really cares who the director is. The only question anyone has is "Is this another Stranger than Fiction, or is it more of the same stuff? They might as well just advertise it with the tagline "John C. Reilly has decided it's more lucrative being in movies like this than being a real actor!". Meanwhile, Pineapple Express does have the same writers as Superbad, but the director's new.

Really, it turns out that "The guys who brought you" both of the previous movies were part of the Judd Apatow Squad. He produced Talladega Nights, you know. And Anchorman. And 40 Year Old Virgin and Walk Hard. He's not exactly an outsider, you know? He's got three or four movies every year, and all the hipsters still think of him as "the guy who made Freaks and Geeks, which was cancelled tragically early." We're not talking about Joss Whedon here. Judd Apatow is so hot that he's got two ad campaigns for two movies simultaneously that brag about two different movies he made. His track record is so good that he can pick and choose what to play up. He can make Seth Rogen a matinee idol!

All I'm saying is that once your movies have made you billions and billions of dollars, maybe you're no longer "the guys".

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dog Day Afternoon

Hey, this really is a good movie! I'd always heard that it was, and I was quite pleased that it lived up to the claims. Al Pacino is really good as a bank robber who's out of his depth almost immediately. And John Cazale (Fredo from the Godfather movies -- did you know that he was only in five features and all five of them were nominated for Best Picture?) is great.

It's very much a movie of the 1970s, and I mean that in the best possible way. You don't see movies on this kind of film stock anymore, you know?

Oh, and this is one of many classic movies of the era that I mostly recognize from the Mad Magazine parody. It seems like an odd movie to show up in Mad, now that I think about it.

High School Musical

All right, let me explain. See, I've got these season tickets to the local theater's "Broadway in Seattle" series, largely so I could see Avenue Q (which was this week and was terrific) and Spring Awakening (which is next month and sounds like fun). The season tickets came with some shows that I wasn't specifically interested in but had some curiosity about. Last month, the play was High School Musical: the Touring Stage Show. And I didn't like it at all. In fact, we snuck out at intermission to go watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But I was still curious about High School Musical. I mean, it's hugely popular, so there must be a reason, right?

Well, I didn't actually enjoy it that much, but then I'm not the target audience. I did see a lot of things that made it better than the stage show. For example, the play skipped the opening scene where we learn that Troy and Gabriella can sing. That seems like a fairly important plot point, but they threw it away on stage. Basically, all the songs were better in the movie because they weren't all sung by the entire cast at the same time. I mean, they still weren't all that good, and I'm pretty sure the musical-within-the-movie is going to be terrible (it's called "Twinkle Towne", for one thing), but I could at least see why people would like this.

I do object strongly to the ending, in which the mean drama kids seem to completely repent their previous behavior and even get to sing along during the final song. That's ridiculous! During the big happy ending song, the bad guys are supposed to sit sullenly in the corner covered in pie. I know how these things go!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Harriet Craig

Very little happens in this movie. Almost nothing, in fact. Basically, Joan Crawford acts cruel and insane for an hour and a half until her husband finds out how much she's been lying about everything. Then he goes to Japan and the movie's over. i wasn't all that into it, but there are worse things in the world than watching Joan Crawford play a domineering wife.

This movie was produced by William Dozier before he did the "Batman" television series. I think that's kind of interesting.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

This is a surprisingly fun movie, and I don't even mean that in a "Haw haw haw! Lookit the crappy special effects! Hee-yuk!" way.

I'm convinced it's a comedy, or at least the parts with Bill Moseley are. The whole setup that Leatherface and his family have is way too complicated to be taken seriously even for a minute. And the movie even had Joe Bob Briggs in it, at least until his scene got cut out.

Don't get me wrong. It's not a "good" movie, and you have to be in the right kind of mood for it. But I had a lot of fun watching it. Most enjoyable.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I enjoyed the new Indiana Jones movie a lot. I enjoyed it enough that calling it an Indiana Jones movie doesn't feel like a lie. It had action, quips, and ridiculously complex booby traps in ancient temples (which I've always enjoyed). I didn't mind She-Ra LaBeef, and I actively approved of Cate Blanchett and her silly accent.

Were there things that made me roll my eyes? Of course there were. But I did not mind them because I was enjoying myself. Steven Spielberg still knows how to put together an entertaining movie, you know?

I didn't find the Big Thing At The End as jarring as some people apparently did. It's a little like the rain of frogs in Magnolia -- there were things that foreshadowed it and made it not come out of left field, but you have to have done the right reading to pick up on it.

I am a little annoyed by the Internet's new tendency to blame everything they don't like on George Lucas. Listen, I think Spielberg's a big enough boy that he can get his own way from time to time. Lucas didn't even write the screenplay; David Koepp did. I feel kind of bad for George Lucas at this point. You're telling me the man who created Star Wars and co-created Indiana Jones is the Internet's least favorite movie-maker? Really? That's rough.

But back to the movie: I liked the older Indiana Jones character. He was a bit more professorial and a little slower to action. He's suspiciously indestructible, which might be due to drinking from the Holy Grail in the last movie, but he's still Indy and that's good enough for me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

St. Trinian's


This was a great deal of fun! I've been reading a lot of old British school stories lately, so it's nice to see a plot where there's absolutely no moral lesson. And these girls are, in fact, outright malicious. The model appears to have been the Addams Family movies, where there are a lot of visual gags in the backgrounds taken from the original cartoons, while the main characters cheerfully get on with doing horrifying things in the foreground. Whee! Explosives and crimes and shockingly-altered outfits!

There are also a great many winking jokes about Colin Firth and Rupert Everett. Who doesn't want to see Colin Firth's leg get humped by a small dog named "Mr. Darcy"? Nobody, that's who.

The acting is great, by the way. I was impressed by five or six separate girls. And although Colin Firth's IMDB page claims that "Although he usually gets along quite well with other actors, he had a well-publicized verbal feud with Rupert Everett, although the source of this tension is not known," they seemed to get along fine in this. They were, in fact, quite funny. The whole movie's funny. I loved it.

El Orfanato


I can never decide how I should refer to foreign films. I mean, when I talk about this, I just call it "The Orphanage". But it's called "El Orfanato" in the actual movie. So I tend to just choose randomly and it turns out it's more fun to say "Orfanato".

I'm not wildly into the moody impressionistic ghost story genre, but I did like it. I enjoy horror movies where there's always a fairly plausible nonsupernatural explanation, because the implication there is that someone has gone completely bonko mad, which can be just as worrying. And there are a lot of pretty creepy shots, which is important in a movie like this.