Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Pied Piper of Hützovina

Man, this movie (Website) annoyed me. I was excited about it because it's about Eugene Hutz, the lead singer for Gogol Bordello, who are awesome. And it's supposedly about him going to Russia to rediscover his roots, which means it's sort of like a reverse Everything is Illuminated (where Hutz plays a tour guide in the Ukraine, leading around Elijah Wood, who is there to rediscover his roots. It's a really good movie).

But what the movie is really about is the director, who is making a documentary about Hutz because she has a huge crush on him. She explains this at the beginning of the movie. And then she has a bitter voiceover when it turns out that Hutz is bringing along his girlfriend, who she's not allowed to film. So whenever the director shows up (which is way too often), the movie becomes a boring downer.

However, there were a couple of scenes that were worth the price of admission. When Eugene goes to a gypsy camp and plays guitar with them, it's really fun. Basically, if Eugene is interacting with passersby and making music, he's so charismatic that it all works. I just wish there were less of the director mooning over him.

Confessions of a Superhero

Okay, you know those guys that hang out in front of Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood dressed like superheroes? They're trying to get their picture taken with tourists for tips. In person, they're weird and skeevey. And this is a documentary about them (Website)! It turns out that some of them are sort of normal, but most of them are at least a little weird, and there's certainly enough skeeviness to go around.

The guy who plays Superman appears to be obsessed with the Christopher Reeve movie, and memorabilia covers every surface in his apartment, including the ceiling. Most of it isn't very good stuff though; there's a lot of comic book store promo stuff, and things you'd get at a thrift store. I think he's more of a hoarder than a collector. I enjoyed the guy who plays Batman, because his stories of his former life are suspiciously like those of a guy I used to know who lied all the time. I'm not saying Batman is a liar. I am, however, saying that he didn't move like a guy who had three black belts, had been in the special forces, and had killed a couple people when he was an enforcer for the mob. He might have been a professional ballerina somewhere in there too.

The subjects of the documentary are interesting, but it's shot in a very annoying fashion. The director seems to very much enjoy focusing the camera on an insignificant point and leaving it there for a few minutes while the viewer reflects on how ugly the lighting is. It's like he was really impressed by the cinematography in Lost in Translation but wanted to make it even more static.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

This isn't a very ambitious movie,but I enjoyed it. I didn't enjoy it a lot, mind you, but I did like the scenes where they mocked the exposition you usually get in music biopics ("...because I'm George Harrison, of the Beatles.") I'm kind of getting tired of the whole Judd Apatow scene, though.

The music was quite good, but it was just authentic-sounding. It didn't have that extra edge of also being funny, like with the Rutles or Spinal Tap. I realize those are tough comparisons, but that's what you get when you make this kind of movie.

Also, I was kind of disturbed by how how Jenna Fischer was. Pam would never dress like that!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Meet the Robinsons

About halfway through Meet the Robinsons, I was getting kind of impatient. The only thing I was really enjoying was the ridiculously villainous villain (he's the one slinking around in a cape and huge Dick Dastardly moustache. His skin even has a greenish pallor!). But then we got to the part where the Robinson family started to show up, and then things went absolutely crazy. It's a family of complete crackpots, and I enjoyed them immensely. The movie is based on a book by the guy who created Rolie Polie Olie, and his peculiar style permeates the look of the film. Which is good. I understand this movie looked amazing in 3-D, but my television isn't as High-Def as that.

Having said that, my favorite character is still the villain. He's completely ineffectual and fairly stupid, but he has a great line on acting villainously. And that's a good start! I do wish there had been more time travel-related shenanigans, though.

Three Amigos

Three Amigos is about -- oh, you know what it's about. It's a classic. But it's a classic that I've never seen before, and it was finally time to rectify that.

Things I liked: the number of purposely terrible jokes, the presence of Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz, and the whol movie in general. Things I didn't like: Mmm . . . nope, can't think of anything. I should have watched this twenty years ago!


This is a pretty good movie, but I'm afraid I didn't like it as much as the other Pixar movies I've seen. That's the problem with making really entertaining movies, I guess.

The other problem is that I'm not really crazy about these movies where the main character is an unlikeable jerk until he learns a valuable lesson about humanity. Er, "automobility". Whatever. My point is that I had to sit through an hour of Lightning McQueen smirking sideways at people, and I think I prefer movies where I enjoy being around the characters. The only character I actually enjoy in this movie is Mater, and that puts me in the awkward situation of enjoying Larry the Cable Guy. What have I become?

The whole movie also brings up some questions. Like, why does the racetrack have a parking lot? That doesn't make a bit of sense!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I finally got around to watching this, and I wasn't really into it. Daniel Da Lewis was fine, but his character wasn't really crazy enough to grab me, so I kind of felt like it was just a flatter Bill the Butcher (from Gangs of New York, which I love). And if you're not feeling Daniel Day Lewis, this isn't the movie for you. Since nothing much really happens plotwise, it's basically a character study. And I didn't really feel like studying the character for three hours.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Mr. Bean's Holiday


School for Scoundrels

This is not the 2006 movie starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder. All you have to know about that movie is that its DVD coms in an "Unrated Ballbuster Edition". That's what we've come to, apparently. "Now with more football in the groin". Gah. The very first IMDB plot keyword for that movie is "Hit in crotch". Pure class.

No, the movie I'm talking about is from 1950 and stars Alastair Sim, Terry-Thomas and Ian Carmichael. It's based on Stephen Potters books Gamesmanship, Lifemanship, and Woomanship. They're incredibly cynical (and funny) books on how to, in the words of Gamesmanship, "win at games without actually cheating". In the movie, Ian Carmichael spends a half hour being a loser, then gets some instruction. The flavor can be conveyed with this portion of a speech by Alastair Sim (plaing "Professor S. Potter"):

"I can see the question in your eyes. You want to know what is Lifemanship. Well, gentlemen, Lifemanship is the science of being one-up on your opponents at all times. It is the art of making him feel that somewhere, somehow, he has become less than you. Less desirable, less worthy...less blessed. Who then, you ask, are your opponents? Everybody, in a word, who is not you. And the purpose of your life must be to be one-up them because, and mark this well, he who is not one-up is one-down."

After learning the ploys for distracting and annoying people, Carmichael spends an hour destroying Terry-Thomas and everyone else in his path and it is most amusing. Frankly, I do not understand how they managed to remake this movie into something to which the word "ballbuster" could be applied.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mr. No-Legs

This has all the hallmarks of a properly sleazy movie. It's got a long gratuitous car chase which includes a car driving through a house. It's got a bar fight where several people get hit with bottles. It's got cops who drive a Camaro. It's got criminals who try to steal corpses. And it's got a lot of accidental deaths. But the most memorable aspect is Mr. No-Legs himself, a bad-ass gang enforcer who has no legs. If you don't want to sit through the whole movie (and believe me, you don't), here's pretty much all you need to know:

Yes, if you've already seen Crippled Masters, this is the very best movie of its kind. I guess.

Oh, also the movie's almost completely impossible to see. Scarecrow Video had a DVD, but it was an extremely cheap transfer of a terrible VHS copy. Which is appropriate; you don't want to look too closely at a movie like this.

The Reluctant Dragon

This is an almost-forgotten Disney movie that they rushed out to fill theaters because their next animated film (Dumbo, I think) wasn't ready yet. Normally, I would disdain that sort of thing, but it turns out to involve a fascinating tour of the Disney movie studios, and the person doing the touring is Robert Benchley, who's one of my favorite writers. I think he should have stayed in New York, but presumably doing pratfalls in movies paid more than writing humor pieces for The New Yorker.

I liked a lot of things about this movie. I liked the fact that Benchley was escorted around the studio by a young man of such military bearing that he was clearly a member of what can only be called "The Disney Youth". I liked the surprisingly bawdy jokes about the "Life Drawing" class. I liked the Goofy short that happened in the middle of the movie.

And, to my surprise, I even liked the actual "Reluctant Dragon" portion of the movie, which was an adaptation of the children's book (by Kenneth Grahame, who wrote The Wind in the Willows!). I figured it was going to be whimsical and twee, but it was actually incredibly charming. There's this dragon, see, and he doesn't want to fight. He conveys this via the extremely subtle method of mincing around, drinking tea, reciting poetry, and giggling like Ed Wynn. And it's awesome. Anyway, then there's a young boy and a knight and a fixed fight and an elaborately disgusted horse.

My point is that I love the dragon. Here's a clip of one of his poems, during which the boy is getting a little fed up:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I enjoy movies with intelligent invective, like The Lion in Winter. There's also a great scene in Yankee Doodle Dandy where James Cagney and Eddie Foy Jr. (playing Eddie Foy, which doesn't seem like much of a stretch) insult each other's shows for about five minutes with smiles on their faces. Anyway, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is one of the high points for invective. If you like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor looking awful and acting horrible and vulgar at each other, this is the movie for you!

I enjoyed the parts where Taylor made herself as horrible as possible. Even with the makeup and the shouting, that's still not very horrible, but she tries very hard. But my favorite parts were when George and Martha teamed up and directed their viciousness at their unsuspecting guests. Good times.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hard Target

God help me, I love Hard Target. I love all of its ridiculous John Woo slow-motion close-ups, random dove appearances, and explosions. I love the John-Claude Van Damme kicking and even the stringy mullet. It's fun, is what I say, and what's more, it's the kind of fun I enjoy.

Now, I admit there are some things that are a little unrealistic. Like the time Van Damme fires a pistol forty or fifty times and then tucks it in his waistband -- shouldn't the barrel be kind of hot? Or Wilford Brimley's performance as a moonshining, arrow-shooting, horse-riding Cajun. It's actually a terrific performance, but it's hard to get away from the fact that it's Wilford Brimley, you know? But the few flaws do not stand up to the general awesomeness you get when there's no one to tell John Woo it might not be a good idea to have the final explosive shootout in the warehouse where they store Mardi Gras floats.

Pretty much all the acting comes form Lance Henriksen, who spends most of the movie looking vexed in slow motion. He's great too. The whole movie's great. And silly. But mostly great.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Evictors

We watched this movie on the strength of its poster, which is awesome. Rhias goes into more detail on her blog, but the short version is that the poster (painted by Drew Struzan) does a really good job of setting up the movie and making you want to see it. Well, it made us want to see it, anyway.

The movie itself turns out to be a Samuel Arkoff production, which means it's made on the cheap but has some interesting touches. It also has Jessica Harper, who I recognize mostly from Shock Treatment, although if I'm around film snobs I claim I know her from Suspiria. She's also in My Favorite Year, which I actually like better than either of those two movies.

Anyway, the plot involves a house that had something horrible happen to it in 1934, but you can't really tell what.

At the beginning of the movie, there's a huge shootout in 1934, and then later on in 1939 it looks like the residents of the house were murdered by creepy unexplainable guys. And then the same thing happens to the modern-day people , which lets Jessica Harper run around screaming. I think the modern-day people are in the '40s, because they have big cars and sit around reading LIFE magazine while listening to big band music, but it's a little confusing to have a movie with two distinct time periods that are right next to each other like that. I'm not sure there's any reason it wasn't just set in the modern day (1979), unless the whole reason the movie was made was because they got some vintage cars they could use.

Anyway, there's a scene where the villains are shockingly revealed and explain their plan to each other, and it dosn't really make a great deal of sense even then.

Basically, I knew I was in for a good time when the movie started with this:

That's right: it's a horror movie on videotape from the mid-80s. The original video transfer screwed up the aspect ratio, but that just meant that I was able to watch it using all of the widescreen television and it worked out pretty close to correct. Sweet!

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I saw Ratatouille when it came out, even though I hated the commercials. I would expand on that, but it turns out I covered all that last time.

This time I was watching it because I wanted to prepare for my recaps of Hell's Kitchen on Television Without Pity (cross-promotion!) and I didn't have time to go to culinary school. Also, I really think that the sequence where Anton Ego tastes the ratatouille is one of the greatest purely visual moments in cinema. In just a few seconds, they show:

1) How good the food is,
2) What good food can mean to someone,
3) Why the character loved food to begin with, and
4) The character rediscovering the love of food.

It's awesome. It's hard enough to translate from taste to visuals, but to do it so concisely and without any words at all is just amazing. I liked Persepolis as much as anyone, but this movie earned its Animation Oscar if you ask me.

My only other comment is that I strongly suspect it of having been influenced by the scene in Muppets Take Manhattan where the rats cook in the diner.