Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nashville

Why haven't I ever seen Nashville? That seems odd, doesn't it? I mean, Robert Altman is one of my favorite directors, this is one of is Greatest Films, it all seems to fall together. And yet, this is the first time I've ever watched it. Weird.

I have to say, it's very long and, er, Altman-y. It's one of those movies where you get excited if two characters are accidentally in the frame at the same time. And there are three hours of people wandering around apparently at random, so it's important to relax into it and not get excited about the idea of a plot or anything. Having said that, the last ten minutes, when most of it comes together, is really good. The character who spends the movie moving around silently and enigmatically never does anything, but I kind of like that. I also like that he's Jeff Goldblum, but it's probably a coincidence that he turned out to be somebody. Like how the Mysterious Blonde in American Graffiti turns out to be Suzanne Somers.

Anyway, I enjoyed it but I don't know if I'm going to put in the requisite time to see it enough times to really form a firm opinion on whether it's worthy of the AFI Top 100 Movies list. If I'm going to watch characters wander around and mumble a lot, I prefer them to be characters that I instantly love and enjoy almost every word they say, like in M*A*S*H and Popeye.

They Live


You know what? John Carpenter is a really good director. How many great movies does he have to make before you accept this simple truth?

They Live's plot is deceptively simple, especially if you've seen The Matrix or listened to the Art Bell Show. It seems that weird semihuman aliens are living among us and they can only be seen if you put on these sunglasses. Then you also get to see the messages everywhere to CONFORM and STAY ASLEEP and MARRY AND REPRODUCE. It's a keen effect, and it allows for lines like "You ain't the first son of a bitch to wake up out of their dream."

This like, of course, is delivered by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, who was one of my favorite WWF wrestlers. Hulk Hogan would have been nothing without him! So my favorite parts of the movie are when he drops his "normal guy" persona and starts expostulating angrily, because nobody can act crazy like "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.

Oh, and there's the fight scene. I think it's kind of silly, but if they want to have a twelve-minute fight scene in the middle of their movie, who am I to argue? I'm a little disappointed there was no eye-poke, though.

By coincidence, this movie was just featured on The AV Club's New Cult Canon.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior


My theory is that as soon as civilization crumbles and people start riding motorcycles and getting mohawks, there's a huge rash of shoulder injuries. Because man alive do postapocalyptic Australians love their shoulder pads. Some of them only have one shoulder protected, but they make up for it by adding giant spikes. And I realize that we never actually see anyone's shoulderpads deflect anything, but I'm sure they're very helpful anyway. Offscreen, people without shoulderpads are probably getting their arms chopped off all the time.

Anyway, I have pretty terrible taste in Mad Max movies. I like this one more than the first one, but the one I really like is Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. I love that movie all to death. But I feel kind of guilty about it, so I occasionally watch Road Warrior so I'll at least be a tenth as familiar with it as I am with Thunderdome.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

After Hours


I didn't really like After Hours. It has a lot of stagey monologues, like it was written as someone's thesis for film school. This is because it was. It relies on a lot of unlikely coincidences, but I guess that's all right because it's supposed to be unlikely.

I mostly think Griffin Dunne's character is kind of a jerk and not too bright to boot. He wouldn't have half so many problems if he'd keep his mind on business. You want to get home? Maybe you should concentrate on getting some train fare and getting your keys back, in that order. And try to leave fewer dead people in your wake. That might help. Although I did like the fact that when he finally calmed down and had a moment of peace and quiet (and being nice to someone), it actually helped him.

It's an odd New York that the movie describes. It's a Manhattan that's impossible to navigate but includes only about seven people. And all the artists do papier-mache, for some reason. That sets up a Bucket of Blood reference that I totally called, by the way.

I mean, I like the idea of someone struggling to get home across a nighttime New York that seems determined to stop them, but I liked it a lot better in The Warriors.

Incidentally, Linda Fiorentino's haircut dates this movie to 1985 incredibly precisely. That makes me sad, because I love that haircut but it hasn't been seen for 23 years.

30 Days of Night


I have always thought that it would make a lot of sense for vampires to hang out north of the Arctic Circle. You get the months-long night up there, which means they could blend in perfectly with the other people. I figure the problem they usually have is that it's hard to feign humanity when you're forced to live on a nocturnal schedule, but if the sun isn't an issue, that's fine. And then when it's everlasting day, they could either just hole up somewhere or migrate to the South Pole or something. I haven't worked it all out yet. Look, I can't be expected to do all the work here.

Unfortunately, this movie is not concerned with finding new ways for vampires to blend in with humans. It's amazing how many movies aren't concerned with that. Actually, this movie is concerned with uninteresting vampires attacking uninteresting people who are having uninteresting relationship problems. It would be a better movie as "Vampires attack Northern Exposure". At least then there would be some interest in finding out how the various quirky characters reacted to being attacked by supernatural forces. But no; this proceeded pretty much by the numbers. Blah.

There was a neat idea involved in the end of the movie, where one of the humans purposely turned into a vampire in order to fight the bad guys on their own terms. That's good thinking!

Shoot 'Em Up


The clever idea here is to take a guy who's good at looking like a gritty tough guy (Clive Owen) and play him off against a guy who's good at being an entertaining weasel (Paul Giamatti). And then you put them in a lot of gunfighting scenes that are slightly less realistic than the ones in Equilibrium.

I found it mildly entertaining, but it actually wasn't as crazy and over-the-top as I was hoping. It's always fun to have a shootout where the good guy has to carry around a baby, but I liked it better in Hard Boiled. The freefall gunfight felt derivative of Moonraker. The shootout that takes place while one of the participants is having sex is okay, I guess. It all just could have done with a bit more wire-work or Kung fu Hustle-style ridiculousness.

I did like the feeble attempts at giving the main character some sort of Tragic Backstory. Apparently his wife and child were killed at a shootout in a burger joint (I'm assuming it was the San Ysidro McDonalds, where James Huberty killed 21 people), thus explaining why he's for gun control. This alleged gun control stance does not get in the way of him killing dozens of people with them.

Oh, and there's supposedly a parallel between Owen's character and Bugs Bunny. This only exists in the form of frequent carrot-eating and some direct quotes. It isn't really brought out.

The Lady from Shanghai


This is an Important Movie, with many famous shots. It also does not make a whit of sense, which means that it's probably film noir. If you enjoy looking at Rita Hayworth (and who doesn't?) it's got some worthwhile scenes. Unfortunately, those are interspersed with Orson Welles trying out an unconvincing Irish accent.

Most of the scenes follow this model: Rita acts sexy, her husband acts weird, and Orson mumbles something that starts with "Sure, and"/ At some point, there's an incomprehensible plot to frame Orson for a murder, which he seems okay with, until it turns out that he's being framed for an entirely different murder. And then there's an astonishingly unrealistic court scene before the Hall of Mirrors Shootout, which is really, really overdirected

I didn't really enjoy it. The most interesting thing from my point of view is that they used Errol Flynn's yacht, and he skippered it between scenes.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Vampire Bat


This was a weird movie, but I think I mean that in a good way. For one thing, it's a 1933 horror movie and it's got Fay Wray, but she never screams. That seems like an odd decision, since two movies later, she'd do some of the all-time great screaming in King Kong. I guess it's possible that no one knew yet that she could scream, but they should have at least tried her out. And her previous movie was The Most Dangerous Game; doesn't she scream in that? Some of the other women do some acceptable screaming and fainting, but they're more of the matronly Margaret Dumont gasp-scream-collapse school. There's onl one Young Lady in the movie, and I say she should have done some screaming.

The plot of the movie is fairly straightforward: we're in a tiny Germanic town (where most of the people have British accents) and people have been turning up dead, drained of blood, with tiny puncture wounds in their necks. And there are a lot of bats around. Naturally, everyone figures it's probably vampires, although the Head Scientist Guy disagrees. And specifically, everyone thinks it was probably Herman, the creepy guy who doesn't talk right (his accent is kind of German) and talks about how much he loves the bats because they're soft like kittens. Herman is played by Dwight Frye, who played Renfield in the Lugosi Dracula, Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon, and was also in Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, and the Claude Rains Invisible Man. He's a lot of fun.

Anyway, after about eight weeks of one victim a week, the villagers hunt down Herman (with torches, but no pitchforks), track him down to a cave that looks suspiciously like the cave in Robot Monster, and pound a stake through his heart. Bloodthirsty lot, aren't they?

Anyway, that fails to stop the killings, and it turns out (here comes the twist!) that it's not a Horror film after all. It's a sci-fi film! One of the scientists in town has created life in the form of a small, pulsating sponge, and he needs blood to keep it alive. So he's been killing one person a week, which seems like an awful lot of blood for something about the size of a brick. The laboratory was very nice, with beakers and tubes and things bubbling merrily away.

The ending was extremely odd, in my opinion. There's this comic relief woman who's a hypochondriac. She's the one who did the gasp-scream-collapse earlier. And right after the Evil Mad Scientist has been shot, putting an end to his Brutal Reign of Terror, there's a brief scene about the hypochondriac lady. And we all have a hearty laugh, and the movie ends. It just seemed jarring to have the end of the movie be one of those Love Boat scenes where everybody laughs, since we just had a horror/sci-fi ending.

Having said that, I enjoyed it. It was one hour and fifteen minutes of no-fooling-around 1933-style fun!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Doomsday


That was a lot of fun! It turns out I like movies where the first third is a ripoff of Escape from New York, the middle third is a ripoff of Aliens, and the last third is a ripoff of The Road Warrior, especially if there are several other movies ripped off along the way. And it's got Malcolm MacDowell as a crazed ex-doctor who runs a medieval castle that still has the "Gift Shop" sign up. Hilarious!

Seriously, it's not a "good" movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I laughed out loud several times at either the directness of their "homages" or the (reasonably) unexpected things they did with them.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Attack of the Puppet People


Even for a throwaway AIP movie, this one wasn't very ambitious. They give away the Shocking Secret pretty early on, and the dollmaker makes way too many people into living dolls (spoiler!) to expect to get away with it. There's an attempt at pathos toward the end, but it's too late and too silly. I did like the contrast of having characters watch the scene in The Amazing Colossal Man where the giant (whose name I do not remember) shouts "I'm not getting bigger! You're all getting smaller!" and then having those charactersactually get shrunk to doll size.

The shrunken-people scenes are . . . all right. They're not great, and there are a few problems when they have to be menaced by dogs or cats. But it's what you expect. Generally, though, this was filler. Certainly the title is misleading, since the "puppet people" don't really attack anyone. Well, Tiny John Agar does beat up a marionette, but I don't think that counts. I thought maybe the trailer would be misleading or something ("Beware their tiny fury!"), but it pretty much lays things out accurately:



The poster's a lie, though. AIP posters generally were. That's what happens when you make the poster before you start writing the script.

Southland Tales


Southland Tales is from the director of Donnie Darko (which I didn't like) and Domino (which nobody liked). It doesn't make any sense, but not in the same way that Donnie Darko sort of made sense if you watched it three times and then read the Salon article explaining it. No, Southland Tales doesn't even try to make sense. I don't think it wants to. I think it's really just a series of odd moments and crazy cameos. Here, for example, are some crazy lines:

A scientist played by Curtis "Booger" Armstrong says "And what did we do when we discovered the rift in the Fourth Dimension? We launched monkeys into it." Seann William Scott says "We're going to take the ATM machine with us to Mexico." Sarah Michelle Gellar says both "I love to get fucked hard" and "Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they previously predicted." The Rock says "The Fourth Dimension will collapse upon itself...you stupid bitch" to Bai Ling, just before kissing her. He also yells "Everybody evacuate the atrium and move to the back of the Megazeppelin!"

The whole movie's full of stuff like that. Curtis "Booger" Armstrong's fellow scientists are played by people including Wallace Shawn and Zelda Rubinstein. Also Bai Ling hangs around them a lot and might also be a scientist. It's that kind of movie. It's also the kind of movie that starts with a portentous voiceover to explain How Things Got This Way, and it goes on for eleven minutes. And even after that there's some clumy exposition, none of which matters.

If you want to see a million crazy cameos, this is the movie for you. It also has The Rock pitching a terrible semi-futuristic movie where his character ("Jericho Kane") battles global decleration. Oh! And it features a great new development in The Rock's acting portfolio: whenever his character is frightened or nervous, he goes bug-eyed and twiddles his fingers. Seriously, it's hilarious.

It's a fun movie from minute to minute, but it doesn't make sense overall. But I don't think it has to. I do advise you to ignore its claims of relevance. It may look a little like a biting social satire, but that's just the putty holding together the crazy moments.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ice Follies of 1939

Ice Follies of 1939 isn't as much fun as it sounds. Well, I imagine that some people might not think a movie called "Ice Follies" starring Jimmy Stewart and Joan Crawford doesn't sound like fun to begin with. But come on. Ice Follies!

However, this isn't the kind of movie where a bunch of terrible vaudeville sketches are randomly strung together like those "Broadway Melody" movies were. No, this one has a plot, in which Jimmy Stewart is an ambitious ice-choreographer but can't get anyone to stage his Big Vision. And then he marries his girlfriend (Joan Crawford), which makes his partner leave. Then Joan becomes a movie star, which makes Stewart leave. Then everyone's miserable, bt the Big Vision suddenly gets funding and a big ice show get shoved into the middle of the movie.

His Big Vision turns out to involve the same ice skating stuff as usual, including a guy jumping through circles of fire and a comedy act in which a guy in one of those horrifying vaudeville comedian checked suits (with matching bowler hat) skates around with a drag queen. So that section of the movie worked pretty much the way I expected, with a bunch of specialty acts strung together.

The problem is that the random string of specialty acts is broken up by way too much plot and people being unhappy. One minute we're enjoying a ludicrous ice act involving Indians (in a movie like this, they're definitely not "Native Americans" yet), and then we're suddenly listening to Jimmy Stewart and Joan Crawford being miserable because their careers (ice show impresario and movie star) are very successful but they haven't seen each other in a year. And then the movie's problems are resolved by . . . the woman quitting her job. That's the "1939" part of the title. Luckily, the "Ice Follies" part kicks in and the movie mogul gives everybody a job in the movies. This mogul is the easiest touch I've seen since Orson Welles in The Muppet Movie.

And then the movie goes crazy. See, it ends with Jimmy Stewart directing Joan Crawford in a movie (within the movie, you understand). And then, even though the movie's been in black and white for the last hour and ten minutes, it's in color for the last segment, which is a lush Technicolor Cinderella on Ice that, frankly, looks terrible.

Also, don't you think it's odd that none of the three leads do any ice skating in this movie? Seems strange, is all I'm saying.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Magic Christian


The Magic Christian really seems like it should be good. It stars Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers, for a start. I enjoy both of them! And the movie appears to include pretty much everyone. At one point during the opening credits, the names on the screen are Christopher Lee, Spike Milligan, Roman Polanski, and Raquel Welch. Then it says "Additional Material by John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Peter Sellers." Then it mentions that the theme song, "Come and Get It", was by Paul McCartney. That's a pretty good pedigree!

Unfortunately, things degenerate pretty quickly into strenuous wackiness, in which Sellers adopts a number of silly voices in attempts to annoy the people around him and in the audience. Some of these did amuse me; for example, I greatly enjoyed the extremely odd "Hamlet" scene, in which the "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy is done as an extremely slow, laconic mumble which turns into a striptease. Most of them, though, were not good.

For me, I think the high point was the cameo appearance by BBC news personality Alan Whicker, because I was finally able to compare the original version to the imitations that Monty Python's Flying Circus featured.

To the extent that The Magic Christian has a plot, it's about Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who is a billionaire who gives people money to undermine their principles or something. At the beginning of the movie, he adopts a bum (Ringo Starr) he finds in the park. Ringo doesn't have much to do; he just sort of tags along and says "Right, dad!" a lot.

In this sort of situation, it is now traditional to complain that Sellers was only fifteen years older than Ringo. I would like to emphasize that I don't care about that. At all. Characters are frequently not the same age as the actors portraying them. That's why they invented wigs and makeup.

Anyway, the five Plot Keywords at IMDb are "Drag", "Yacht", "Satire", "Flame Thrower", and "Galley". I think that gives an accurately unfocused description of what to expect.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Intolerance


Okay. Intolerance. The nearly-three-hour silent epic by D.W. Griffith that the American Film institute put on their "100 Greatest American Films" list after deciding that Birth of a Nation had to come off.

It's not that good. I can understand why the AFI pulled Birth of a Nation, because it's kind of hard to watch a movie in which the KKK is portrayed as heroic defenders of the Southern way of life and African Americans are portrayed as subhuman animals. It's kind of interesting to note that the actual black people in that movie are standing around in the background looking perfectly normal; it's the lead characters, played by white guys in blackface, that are the cartoonish buffoons.

Anyway. Intolerance contains four different stories: Modern Day, Babylon, France, and Jesus. The movie cuts back and forth between the stories in an almost random fashion, occasionally interspersing things with a shot of a woman (Lillian Gish!) rocking a baby in a cradle.

The Jesus story doesn't amount to much: we see a miracle or two and the crucifixion. The France story is a little more complex and involves Catherine de Medici plotting against the Huguenots, which results in a big attack on Paris and the virtuous girl heroine being killed by the mercenary soldier that she spurned.

The Babylon story is pretty impressive. It has elephants and camels and a leopard and enormous sets and hundreds of extras. It also has a moving crane shot that is extremely advanced for its time. Oh, and topless women in the Babylonian Orgy scene, but it's not as good as it sounds.

The Modern Day story starts out with a factory owner whose wife falls in with Uplifters (dour old women who, no longer being attractive to men, go around improving people's moral lives by taking away everything the enjoy -- it's not a subtle movie), so the factory owner starts underwriting the charitable activities so much that he has to cut wages by 10%. Then there's a worker's strike, a lot of workers get shot, and everybody moves to a new city. The Virtuous Girl (called "Dear One" here) has a baby but the father gets framed by the mob and while he's in jail the Uplifters take the baby -- it's all very melodramatic. It has a happy ending in which the father is saved from the gallows after a scene in which a car races a train. This part was released separately, as The Mother and the Law, because there's no sense letting a perfectly good melodrama go to waste.

If you look around the world of movie reviewers, you will see things like "Many reviewers and film historians consider [Intolerance] the greatest film of the silent era." I think that's crazy. It's nowhere as good as even Wings, let alone The General. And does City Lights count as the Silent Era? In my opinion, this is people who are A) dazzled by the sweeping epic-ness (and it is an impressive achievement), and B) looking for a D.W. Griffith movie that they can praise without feeling gross like when you mention Birth of a Nation. Just because it was expensive and features intercutting doesn't make it great. For one thing, the intercutting doesn't help; it's at the expense of all the stories.

The real killer is that although Intolerance acts like a morally instructive film, I can't really tell what point it's trying to make. Yes, about half the title cards include the word "intolerance" in various forms (for example, the guy in the Modern Story gets "intolerated into jail"), but . . . what? The Babylon story isn't about intolerance; it's about Babylon being attacked. The Jesus story isn't really about anything, since I don't remember a scene between Water-into-Wine and Pontius Pilate. The France story is sort of about Catholics vs. Huguenots, I guess, and the Modern story is vaguely about uptight do-gooders, but it doesn't hang together.

The Babylon story was released separately as The Fall of Babylon in 1919. Unfortunately, it's not available, so you might have to watch the three-hour version. Well, you don't have to. If you want to give it a shot, you have my permission to read a book or something when the non-Babylon parts are happening. No one will know.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Scorpion King

This is a movie that has no illusions about what it is. From the first scene (in which The Rock shoots four arrows at once, which hit four different people, knocking them across the room and, in one case, all the way through the wall and fifty feet into the air, and did I mention the arrows all had ridiculous heads like tiny buzzaws and pointy bits) it's clear that it's going to be a great big ridiculous thrillride, and anyone who doesn't like it should stop watching.

It helps that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is a charismatic guy. He doesn't quite wink at the audience, but there's a smirk on his face in some scenes.

My point is that this movie is a lot of fun, even if it's not entirely clear how this can be the same Scorpion King as in the Mummy movies.

Conan the Destroyer

This movie should have been a lot more fun. You've got actors who look like they're in a comic book, and not a particularly realistic comic book at that. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like he's a Rob Liefeld character. I mean that literally; you know that ridiculous Captain America that Liefeld did? Well, check this out:



Crazy, right? The Captain America looks ridiculous, but that's what Arnold Schwarzenegger actually looked like. I mean, he was flexing for all he was worth, and Liefeld took that part out, but still. And in this movie, you've also got Grace Jones and Wilt Chamberlain running around. This should be incredible!

And it isn't, really. For one thing, they never really take advantage of Wilt's height. I understand that they don't want to make Arnold look small, but then what's the point of hiring a basketball player? Arnold's 6'2", but Wilt's OVER SEVEN FEET TALL! And his first appearance is sitting down next to someone who's lying down. That's crazy. When Bruce Lee fought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, they made sure Kareem looked freakishly tall, because that would be cool. I have no complaints about Grace Jones (who is awesome), but they could have used her more often.

One thing that would have improved the movie would have been to put in some sort of character-building scene between Wilt and Conan, where they maybe fight off some attackers together and bond over the experience. That way, when Wilt turns on him (spoilers!) there could be a moment of will-he-or-won't-he regret. But no!

Anyway, it's an acceptable fantasy epic the way they used to be (i.e. "not that great"); it's just not as good as the previous one.

Conan the Barbarian

I think there's a chance I've never seen Conan the Barbarian before. That seems weird, because it came out in 1982, which is a time at which I was watching every fantasy movie available. Three years later, I watched Legend! On purpose!

So now, in honor of Gary Gygax's death, I finally got around to watching what is arguably the best Sword & Sorcery movie, if you don't count the Lord of the Rings movies. I realize it's not technically a D&D movie, but Robert E. Howard was a big influence on D&D, so it pretty much counts.

It's a fine movie. Schwarzenegger is deployed perfectly; saying almost nothing, but flexing his mighty thews a lot. There are several shots which look like they're taken directly from the works of Frank Frazetta. And that's because they were! So it was good, cheesy fun.

Friday, March 7, 2008

New Humorous Subtitles for Hypothetical Sequels

I recently saw this challenge: what's a funnier thing to add to sequel titles: "Electric Boogaloo" or "FOO Harder"? Like, if you're talking about a hypothetical sequel to The English Patient, is it funnier to say "The English Patient 2: Electric Boogaloo" or "The English Patient 2: English Harder"?

Now, I admit that both of those have their place. However, I have a strong objection to automatically saying the same joke in the same situation. I think the truly funny answer is to mix it up a bit. And I also have to raise an eyebrow at the idea that the two standard jokes reference movies from 1984 and 1990. There's also a school of thought that enjoys "Movie Title 2: The Movie Titling", which might be a reference to Highlander 2: The Quickening. It probably isn't, though; I might just be unable to think of a movie sequel involving the word "bloodening".

At any rate, my point is that modern sequels have subtitles at least as silly as the standard jokes. Also, there are classic sequels that I think have gotten lost in the shuffle. So, in the futile hope of freshening up people's material, I present "New Joke Subtitles for Hypothetical Sequels". Frankly, this seemed like a cleaner concept before I had to explain it. Anyway, let's get on with it.

Movie Title 2: The Klumps

Movie Title 2: The Streets (works best with a verb. Like Roll Bounce 2: The Streets)

Movie Title 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Movie Title 2: Nerds in Paradise

2 Movie 2 Title

Movie Title 2: The Arena of Death

Movie Title 2: 2-D!

Movie Title 2: Minor Character's Revenge

Movie Title 3: Tokyo Drift

Movie Title 2: Secret of the Ooze

Scream Movie Title Scream

Movie Title 2: Senior Year

Movie Title 2: Dead by Dawn

There. Now, please, no more Electric Boogaloo for six months. It's a tired joke; let it rest.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Stick It

Yeah, so I was watching Luschino Visconti's The Damned, but it wasn't really holding my interest. So I switched to this gymnastics movie by the director of Bring It On and it was so much more fun! Don't judge me. So I like seeing Jeff Bridges as a gymnastics coach, so what?

As far as these "kid with a bad attitude commits some sort of vandalism and gets forced to go do something which inevitably results in their skill being shown off" movies go, it's definitely better than the first two others that come to mind. Of course, I'm thinking of Step Up and The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift so that's not hard. But seriously, they avoid most of the usual problems: the vandalism isn't that bad this time, and it isn't even the main character's fault. This is in stark contrast to, say, Tokyo Drift , where the guy pretty much destroyed an entire housing complex.

Interestingly, the message of this movie was a lot like Pumping Iron II: The Women: Judging is unfair and arbitrary. Although I think the real message, just like with Bring It On, is that it's fun to show characters talking funny ("It's not Gym-nice-tics") and doing things that look really cool on film.

The gymnastics routines do, in fact, look cool. I used to watch a lot of gymnastics, but that was so long ago that I kept thinking that the pommel horse looks weird. But I'm assuming that this is one of those things they changed years ago that I never noticed.

Oh! I like the Missy Elliott song over the opening and closing credits, but I think it's weird that the credited sample is "Apache" by the Sugarhill Gang when it's 99% "Apache" by the Incredible Bongo Band, which is the song that the Sugarhill Gang sampled. I think there's like a tenth of a second of a "Hoooo!" in there from the Sugarhill Gang version. It doesn't really matter; it just seems odd.

Royal Flash

This is tricky. George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series contains some of my favorite books ever, so the odds are against me really liking a film version. It's not impossible -- I love both the book and the film of The Princess Bride. But you certainly don't get lucky every time.

But I don't think I'm being too harsh here. The main problems with the movie are that it's too slapsticky, and that's not my fault. It's true that a lot of the time I'm muttering that Malcolm McDowell isn't doing Flashman right, but I honestly think that's because it would be funnier if he were less outspokenly craven. The book version of Flashman usually only acts like a coward when there's no other option.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Three Musketeers

This is the 1948 version, starring Gene Kelly. It's actually pretty good! The swordfights are a lot of fun, because Gene Kelly adapts his usual athletic style of dancing perfectly. So lovers of swordfights that sometimes have more jumping around on unlikely props than actual swordfighting sould enjoy it.

The problem, and I'm surprised to say this, is that it's too faithful to the book. All the subplots are kept in, and that means there are long stretches of "drama" between the fun. Have you ever read The Princess Bride? You know how William Goldman just kept "the exciting parts" and took out the dull stuff? This movie still has the dull parts. It could be edited down to a tremendously fun hour, though, full of swordfighting and wall-climbing, and derring-do. Gene Kelly's a lot of fun, and it's entirely plausible the way everyone looks at him admiringly. The duel where D'Artagnan meets Athos, Porthos, and Aramis degenerates into the other three watching him and applauding. It totally makes sense that these guys are instant friends.

The supporting characters are exactly as good as they should be in a lavish Technicolor movie like this. Vincent Price is Cardinal Richelieu! Lana Turner is Milady de Winter! Angela Lansbury is Queen Anne! And so on! It's a lot like The Scarlet Pumpernickle, really. And that's good, because it's one of my favorite Daffy Duck cartoons.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Pumping Iron II: The Women

The first shot of Pumping Iron II: The Women involves a tanning bed. Welcome to the eighties, everybody! Brace yourselves for headbands and feathered hair!

Oh, and leotards. Many, many leotards.

This movie takes some liberties with the idea of a "documentary". The first movie certainly had some, um, aggressive editing and some people may scowl at the idea of Schwazenegger being told what role he was supposed to play. But this movie builds up to a competition that was put on by the makers of the movie. They completely decided ahead of time what point they were trying to make, and it shows. Also, the Dramatic Lighting of the competition makes it hard to actually have an informed opinion.

Also, it seems weird to complain about objectification in a movie that's explicitly about people who have sculpted their bodies to a specific point, but that shower scene seemed a bit over the top. I certainly don't remember a scene in Pumping Iron that was quite so soapy. But it's balanced off by the extremely dull scene in which (old, male) judges try to figure out how to operate a calculator.

In the first Pumping Iron, the guys were big. Not as big as they are these days (judging from those terrifyingly veiny magazine covers you sometimes see), but still pretty big. In this, though, most of the bodybulders look like today's aerobics models. Even the one who's supposed to be "too manly" wouldn't stand out much these days. I mean, except for her exceptional mullet.

Pumping Iron

Man, and I thought When We Were Kings starred a charismatic guy with big muscles!

I tend to think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a film actor. I'm aware of his political success, but I kind of think of it as a fluke. Like, what's Jesse Ventura doing these days? And I'm aware of Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding days, but it's the movies I think of first. And say what you like about him, he did some damn fine movies.

Here, he's trying to be a villain and play mind game with people. But I don't think his heart's really in it. I think he's just goofing around and messing with people because it's fun. He just oozes charisma. and other things. I could do without some of the close-ups. And anyway, he does look just ridiculously big. If a guy who looks like that can't win a bodybuilding competition legit, what's the point? I mean, I didn't come away feeling bad for Lou Ferrigno because he got psyched out; I think Arnold just looked better.

The important thing about the mind games, though, is that the really drive home the fact that Arnold is a very intelligent, ridiculously competitive person. He's already been the best in the world at bodybuilding and arguably action-movie-heroing. I have decided not to bet against him.

Oh, and jokes about homoeroticism are just too easy. I mean, it's a movie where large, muscly guys oil each other up. I like my jokes to require a little more work than that, you know?

When We Were Kings

This is the documentary about the Muhammad Ali - George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire in 1974. It's well-made, but it requires a bit of a mental effort to view George Foreman as the vicious bruiser he was seen as back then. He was a barely-human monster that everyone loathed and feared, which is fairly different from the cuddly grill salesman we have these days.

Muhammad Ali is even more different. These days, he's universally beloved (remember that time he lit the Olympic flame? Everyone loved that!), but he was a very controversial person, what with the Nation of islam and the refusing to be drafted. But watching this movie, it's hard to imagine, because he's just ridiculously charismatic. He's having a great time making fun of the press, his opponent, and anything that occurs to him. The movie cuts back and forth between the giant monster George Foreman pounding a heavy bag with the funny, quick Ali, and it creates a great contrast.

One thing I never quite understood, and still don't, is how exactly Zaire decided that Muhammad Ali was the epitome of the African-American, while George Foreman wasn't. I mean, they're both black, right? It's not one of those Jack Johnson vs. James Jeffires deals. I can only assume that it was really just because Ali was so much more fun.

The non-boxing parts of the film, where they mention Zaire's political situation (vicious dictatorship!) and the great concert with James Brown and B.B. King are interesting, but they're not really the focus of the show. The actual boxing match is pretty interesting, especially since they do a good job of explaining the "rope-a-dope" strategy. I don't watch boxing at all, so I appreciate that there was a strategy that could be seriously explained.

My favorite line in the movie is toward the beginning, when Ali is doing some world-class bragging: "Just last week, I murdered a rock!" Wow! That is a bad man!

My favorite line that's not in the movie comes from later George Foreman interviews. At some point, Foreman started telling a story that around the fifth round, he hit Ali hard in the ribs, and Ali taunted him with "Is that all you got, George?" and Foreman thought, "Yup. That's about it." That's funny, but I'm not convinced he actually had the presence of mind to think it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Step Up

Not good. The dance scenes were not frequent enough, nor were they shot in a way I found pleasing. There were too many cuts, at least until the big final dance scene, which I liked better in Fame.

Down Among the Z-Men

This is the Goon Show Movie. Sort of. It stars Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine, but it's awful. It wasn't written by the people who wrote the Goon Show (namely, Spike Milligan) and it fails in many important respects.

The worst part is probably Bentine's character, which is a "wacky professor" with a fright wig, buck teeth, and a funny walk taken directly from Charlie Chaplin. No, wait; the worst part is the plot, which is paper-thin, if that. The only good parts are when the movie stops completely to allow for a dance scene by this twelve-woman dance troupe. There's also a scene where Bentine drops character completely (thank god) to do an elaborate monologue where a weird-looking prop takes fifteen or twenty roles. I mean, the monologue isn't funny (at all), but I did like the number of different ways the prop was used; just when you think there's nothing else it could look like, he turns it in a new way and you think, "Hey! It does look kind of like a key!".

Oh! The worst part is the way Peter Sellers is deployed in a completely noncomedic role. What the hell is that all about?

Also, I'm not saying the director was a hack, but from 1936 through 1938, he directed twenty-seven movies. Yow.