The Catch-Up: Somewhere in There Was a Crapfest

I guess the title says it all, eh? I unfortunately had a Saturday off, so a Crapfest was thrown together. Due to its thrown-together nature, a couple of the regulars couldn’t make it: Erik and Paul, leaving David, Alan, Rick, my son Max (having arrived that same day for Spring Break), and myself. Erik usually handles the meal for the evening with great aplomb, and Alan stepped in to fill the void with an exceptional chili with several different meats: beef, steak, venison, narwhal, sasquatch, and I believe I detected the slight tang of unicorn.

Yes, obviously a Jackie Chan movie.

Alan made up for that largesse by bringing Cannonball Run, claiming that it was due to the fact that Max had likely never seen it (he hadn’t) and so it began.

(There was an odd dynamic about this Crapfest – David, Alan and Rick have known each other since high school, so this event was largely a chance for them to catch up and shoot the breeze. Not much movie watching was accomplished by that side of the room.)

Now Cannonball Run – if, like Max, you were not alive during that period of HBO/Cinemax showing it 24 hours a day – is a supposedly comedic retelling of a high-stakes and illegal transcontinental race that actually existed. The first half of the movie shows the gathering of the contestants and star Burt Reynolds’ and Dom DeLuise’s quest to find the vehicle that will score him the million dollar prize. He finally settles on a souped-up ambulance (director Hal Needham had actually run the race in just such a vehicle), but he needs a doctor and a patient to make the ruse work (so did Needham), Enter the movie’s MVP, Jack Elam, who so effortlessly upstages everybody that I wanted him to get a standalone sequel. The patient role is supplied by Farrah Fawcett and her nipples (the bar where Reynolds first spots her must have been very cold). The fact that Fawcett is essentially kidnapped and transported across state lines by Reynolds and crew is only one of the problematic aspects of the movie.

Our last chance against Thanos.

Among the other participants: Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman as racers who use their spandex outfits to get out of any traffic stops (until they run into a female cop); Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. as gamblers disguised as priests; Jamie Farr as a sheikh who just sort of vanishes; Jackie Chan as a Japanese driver with an experimental high-tech car (being cast as Japanese reportedly pissed Jackie off); and Roger Moore as a guy who thinks he’s Roger Moore and has a different girlfriend in every scene (who, when they are allowed to talk, are all voiced by June Foray).

He, too, would like to hit Dom Deluise.

This section of the movie concerns the dirty tricks played by the racers on each other and the various subterfuges to avoid the law. The whole thing has no significant plot to speak of, just an excuse for comic vignettes (and, to be fair, some pretty damn good stunts). I’d only seen this movie piecemeal over the years, and my experience of it this time remains just as piecemeal. I was wondering if Needham’s comic chops had improved since The Villain, and…

Well, most of our amusement that was not Jack Elam-based was shouting at the screen for Reynolds to hit Dom DeLuise again.

This pissed off David enough (really, anything pisses off Dave enough to justify his choices) that he sprang Incubus on us. Not the Cassavetes horror movie, the Shatner Esperanto one. (Paul later admitted that a contributing factor to his non-attendance was the possibility of Shatner, so there is a Crapfest insider trading scandal brewing)

Kia (Allyson Ames) is a succubus who lures men to their doom at Big Sur (although the ambience is 16-17th century European). They’re all wicked men, though, so she finds the work boring, and wants to test her mettle against a good man – Marco (Shatner). The results are disastrous – Kia passes out from the exertion and the innocent Marco carries her into a church to recover. The succubus world regards this as an act of rape and they summon the Incubus (Milos Milos) to deal with him. Kia turns to the light side of the force to protect Marco (Polo) and is attacked by Black Phillip (a cameo which I must admit surprised me). The end.

Talky films are death at a Crapfest, and talky films in a foreign language, well… This is where the kaffee klatsch nature of the other side of the room truly kicked in. Most of the time was spent in using Google Translate to find out what “Shatner is a dickbag” is in Esperanto (Shatner estas pikilo, if you were wondering) and other such wonders while occasionally asking Max to explain what was going on in the movie.

Incubus is actually fairly intriguing, and I’m still not sure why Esperanto was used, except that it was 1966 and stuff was starting to get weird. Shatner was reportedly an enthusiastic supporter of the man-made language, but everybody in the flick learned their lines phonetically, and the more serious Esperanto community is very critical of their skills. Shatner, being Canadian, is habitually defaulting to the French pronunciation for several words, for example. It remains a curiosity at best, but it is far better than its reputation, its inclusion in Crapfest, and the trailer below would have you believe.

And everybody who complains about Woody Allen’s earlier mature films being overly imitative of Ingmar Bergman really needs to see Incubus. Or ĉiuj, kiuj plendas pri la antaŭaj maturaj filmoj de Woody Allen, kiuj tro multe imitas de Ingmar Bergman vere bezonas vidi Incubus, if you will.

It was my turn, and I admit that I phoned it in. If you look at the chronological listing of Crapfests, you will note that its origins lie in the realm of R-rated drive-in movies, or to use the (appropriately) vulgar, T&A. If I was into the introspection thing, I might wonder if I took the lazy route because I knew there would be fewer people to hurt with my choice. In any case, I brought Orloff and the Invisible Man, a movie which I hate, but it has to be admitted, has lots of T&A. There is one lengthy sequence where a servant girl undresses for bed to convince her loutish boyfriend to go grave-robbing, and when he agrees, undresses again to don her grave-robbing clothes. It also has the most luxuriant thatch of pubic hair seen this side of actual vintage porn. All ignored, probably because they were still translating stuff like “luxuriant thatch of pubic hair” (luksa tegmento de publikaj haroj) into Esperanto on their phones.

Hell, even the big pay-off, that the Invisible Man is actually a guy in a cheap gorilla suit, went unnoticed.

Bah.

The Original

Dave wrapped things up with the definite high point of the evening, and I wasn’t even displeased about having to watch Revenge of the Sith againIt’s a bit of internet lore about a (bootleg?) version of the movie with subtitles translated into Chinese, then translated back into English via Google Translate (there it is again), with hilarious results. This is the origin of the “Do Not Want” meme.

That’s good enough, but someone went to the trouble to actually re-dub the movie using these mammocked subtitles. The result is astoundingly disorienting at first, because it’s really well done – the guy they found to dub Christopher Lee is spectacularly on-target. Yoda may have somehow become an old woman, but that’s part of the fun. The other part of the fun was figuring out what certain repeated phrases meant – “Sector Ratio” for “General Kenobi” and the Jedi Council’s transformation into “the Presbyterian Church”.

The rest of the fun was listening to the other side of the room bitch about how many years they had looked forward to the final showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan and the many ways in which they were dissatisfied with what they got. “Do not want!” indeed.

We will be having another Crapfest this coming Sunday, with hopefully better attendance and a better choice from me (no promises). Max will be bringing his first selection, and new vistas of hurt will open for everybody, I am sure.

 

 

The Catch-Up: Interlude

“So how did that grand experiment you alluded to in your last blog post go?” asked nobody. (C’mon, pay attention to me! It’s not like our country is being burnt to the ground or anything)

That experiment was: while I’m catching up on reviews of movie watched during my hiatus, watch episodes of some TV series on Friday nights instead of three or four movies, alleviating the buildup. Simple.

(Hold for laughter)

Have you seen me?

Cold turkey didn’t work this time. Last week’s entry, in fact, wherein I excoriated Batman v Superman (and trust me, I cut myself short), prompted a bit of discussion on Facebook where there was some spirited defense of Man of Steel (there was also a complete lack of name-calling and similar drama because my friends are not dicks). There was enough that I thought maybe, just maybe, I should peek back in on that disc to see if I had actually missed anything.

And I couldn’t find the disc. That bothered me more than it should. After all, I’ve gone on record as actually hating that movie, I shouldn’t be surprised that I was lackadaisical about its location in my collection. My database says it’s still there, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve lent out or even given away a disc that I had no further use for, without noting it. I am, in fact, annoyed at myself for being annoyed that I can’t find a movie I hate.

That’s three discs, people! THREE!!!

So I defaulted to another Facebook thread from a week or two earlier, wherein I stated (on the subject of worst Marvel movie) that I would watch The Incredible Hulk again before another viewing of Iron Man 2. So, since I couldn’t watch one hated movie, I watched another. And it’s the 3-Disc Special Edition, bitches. I am serious about this stuff.

My opinion of The Incredible Hulk remains unchanged; I think it’s a pretty good Hulk movie. This opinion may be suspect, in that I’m not a Hulk fan. But I’m also not a Spider-Man fan, and I still recognize that the first two Raimi movies and Homecoming are good Spider-Man movies. The tropes are all there: Thunderbolt Ross continuing to run operations that are guaranteed to make Bruce Banner’s heartrate skyrocket and become the Hulk; the seeking of a cure that only winds up creating more Gamma monsters; and, of course, wanton destruction.

The CGI is ten years old, and is adequate, largely unembarrassing. As the second movie in the MCU, this is valuable mainly for the things it does not have. I couldn’t help but think about how – were the movie made more recently – certain action sequences would have been slicker, better staged and paced. There would be more humor. But it’s not terrible. It’s a shame that the MCU has ignored the movie, retaining only William Hurt’s General Ross, and tossing Liv Tyler’s Betty, The Abomination and The Leader down the memory hole. There was a mention of the Battle of Harlem in one of the Netflix Marvel shows, and that seems about the extent of admission of the movie’s canon-icity.

Also it doesn’t get near enough credit for running the Hulk’s origin story under the opening credits. That’s something we all know, and that saved ten-fifteen minutes or more screen time.

And then I could finally get down to the Great Experiment.

The second season of Legion is even trippier than the first, and sometimes self-consciously so. I don’t mind that at all – the trippiness is what I’m here for. Having not read the comic book, I can’t testify as to how much is derived from the comic and how much madness is coming from Noah Hawley. But in a lot of ways Legion is what I wanted from Twin Peaks: The Return and often got, but in a continuous, high-pressure firehose stream.

Not much Aubrey Plaza or Jemaine Clement yet, though. Sad!

Who knew I’d end up really liking Bobby?

The third season of The Expanse remains solid science-fiction, which is to say solid drama with a nice hard science background. The crew of the Roci remain the unluckiest SOBs in the solar system, and they just renamed the ship, so that’s going to take a while to adjust. Relationships continue to grow and evolve. The penultimate episode of season two gutted me, and the next day Syfy announced it was not coming back after season three. Double Whammy! There’s lots of fan turbulence over its cancellation, so maybe I’ll get to enjoy it past this season. That would be a good thing. (Good Things Do Happen Dept: while I was typing this, Amazon announced they would be carrying Season 4)

Westworld is going to be a hard sell for me, but the first season’s premiere episode is a good start. It’s – no surprise – based on the 1973 movie, concentrating more on the androids and the technicians of the Delos parks. The basis for the events in that ’73 flick seem to be laid out in this episode, and much more. I’m impressed with the amount of screwing with audience perception that’s going on, and appreciate the attention being paid to the day-to-day operation of the park (though that also leads me to some questions that may or not be answered in future episodes. Guess we’ll see).

I like Bernard, so I figure he’s not long for this world.

Why should this be a hard sell to me? I don’t have a good history with these prestige TV series. I’ve yet to actually finish a Netflix series – 8 episodes seem to be my limit. Miss me with Game of Thrones, the first episode landed with a dull thud. The record holder so far is Deadwood, with two seasons under my belt before I got exhausted. Westworld, though, has presented me with enough hard science fiction puzzle boxes to give me hope.

One of the questions I had immediately was if this version of Delos only had the Westworld attraction, but I see from some social media that Shogunworld has entered the series. Of course social media is also coughing up entries that amount to “Y’all are still watching Westworld?!” This doesn’t dismay me. I stuck with Lost until the bitter end. I still have hopes for Westworld.

So the Grand Experiment was a success, mostly. Besides the fact that I’m here writing about what I watched instead of catching up on those older reviews.

Crap.

 

The Catch-Up, Part Two (Speaking Of Edition)

I may have accidentally stumbled onto how I can actually set an endpoint to this Catching Up business, and hasten the phenomenon of actually seeing a pinprick of light in this seemingly endless tenebrous tunnel: I’ll watch TV.

See, Friday nights that I don’t have a show are the nights where I can settle into my movie chair and watch three or more movies in a row. This is by necessity more than inclination: scheduling rather than solicitude. Last Friday, as a bit of a warm-up, and because it’s now in its second season and cropping up on my timeline again, I decided to watch the first episode of Legion before moving on to stuff on my Movie Watchlist. You know, find out what the shouting was about.

This is my brain on Legion.

I am not a binge watcher. I like to watch an episode of a TV series, then think about it for a while (you know, the way the format was originally intended).

Last Friday I watched the first six episodes of Legion‘s first season before dragging myself to bed at 2am.

Hey, everybody from my timeline a year ago saying how great and confounding and downright amazing it was, you were right. So now I will kowtow to my magic DVR and – unless showrunner Noah Hawley sucks me in again, no promises – alternate it with episodes of the recently-cancelled The Expanse which I have been hoarding like bullets in a Mad Max movie. I guess I should find some way to lay my hands on the first season of Westworld, too. Maybe this will stem the ever-regenerating list of back-filed reviews waiting to be written.

Speaking of which:

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Well, what you have here is your bona fide classic, re-issued in a stunning blu-ray by Warner Archive. Spencer Tracy is one-armed WWII veteran John MacReedy, who gets off the train at the titular town, claiming he’s “only going to be here a day”. Black Rock is a desolate little desert community that’s incredibly tense about this stranger’s arrival. And that’s all I’m gonna tell you, because I find myself in the odd position of not wanting to talk about a 60 year-old movie. There are two mysteries at play in Bad Day, and unraveling both is essential to your enjoyment of the film. Director John Sturges makes sure we are in the same boat as the movie’s characters: we know as much about what Black Rock is hiding as MacReedy, and we know as much about MacReedy as the townspeople – which is nothing in both cases. And the solutions are pretty satisfying.

If nothing else, the cast alone should convince you this movie needs to be watched. Besides Tracy, there’s Robert Ryan as the town boss, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin as his two bully boys, Dean Jagger as a worthless drunk of a sheriff, and Walter Brennan as the town doctor and undertaker. That’s five Oscar winners right there. Anne Francis runs the local garage, and John Ericson is her brother who runs the hotel.

Francis’ presence as the sole woman in evidence in Black Rock is the one detail that gnawed on me during my viewing; finding out later that  Sturges cut out all background characters to make Tracy seem even more isolated and outnumbered didn’t do much to diminish that gnawing, but it at least made it more understandable.

Shot in CinemaScope, Bad Day really forces you to confront the remoteness of the location (odd that leery MGM suits insisted that a standard 4:3 version be shot simultaneously) (and even odder that it was accompanied by a 4 track stereo soundtrack on a movie with almost no score). That blu-ray does it full justice, and if you don’t have access to an actual repertory house theater, that’s the way to go.

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

And speaking of Warner Archive…

The opportunity to see a feature film directed by Chuck Jones was irresistible. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a well-regarded children’s book; it’s the tale of latchkey kid Milo (Butch Patrick in the movie), whose school has crushed him into a youthful pile of ennui. Finding a magic tollbooth in his living room, he drives a toy car though it (in the movie, turning into a cartoon), and journeys to the land of Dictionopolis, where he gets involved in your standard heroic quest to save the kingdom, rescue princesses, and learn the value of knowledge. The book is a clever affair, full of puns and wordplay, and has been justly compared in that respect to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

An actual problem in its translation to screen is that Juster’s novel, which is itself a satirical take on the state of education, somehow becomes drab and preachy, even if the color palette becomes brighter. There is too much HERE IS YOUR LESSON, STUPID KIDS, and far too little allowing Jones to inject some humor into the proceedings. I thought I was going to really enjoy this during the first self-conscious song during the live action sequence, where our Sandpiper-esque chorus croon about “What will happen to Milo” but then we descend into Dictionopolis and thereafter every song is absolutely dreadful, only compounding the misery.

It’s really a shame when you’ve got some heavy hitters in the voice department doing their usual best – Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, Hans Conreid, Les Tremayne. The movie was actually completed in 1968, but MGM’s ongoing financial woes delayed its release, with minimal promotion, until 1970. I was honestly watching TV with an eye towards movie trailers in those days, and I recall only a 10 second ad for The Phantom Tollbooth, featuring Butch driving through that gate and turning into a cartoon. I guess it was effective enough that I remember it fifty years later. MGM closed its animation department almost immediately after the release.

Juster reportedly hated the movie. I can see why.

Chuck Jones’ legacy as a creator of quality shorter fare is unassailable, at least.

The Ritual (2017)

Speaking of people shouting about things (we were two movies ago): this was getting a buzzy moment on social media when it cropped up on Netflix, so yeah, sure, why not? You may have noticed, I do like a good horror movie.

Hm.

You’ve got five friends (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton and Paul Reid) out for a lengthy hike/camping trip to honor a dead friend (tragic backstory that will get mined thoroughly, you can be sure). One gets injured, cutting the trip short, but instead of heading back down the trail they used, it is decided to cut through the forest, which will only take one day instead of two.

Everyone who thinks this is a bad idea, raise your hands.

Of course, things like compasses don’t work in the woods, there are strange runes on the trees, a night in an abandoned cabin yields weird nightmares, and there is something in the woods following them.

As I said, I like a good horror movie. This means in the past decade I’ve watched a lot of movies with people wandering around lost in some creepy woods. It’s like my Dracula fatigue: I’m in almost desperate need of something besides Blair Witch with a dash of Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-house”. Most of the reviews I’ve sampled don’t like the third act, which is the only part I really liked – it’s the point at which The Ritual finally gains its own identity. It just arrives too late for me to recommend it.

Speaking of wandering through creepy woods:

Annihilation (2018)

  • This is director Alex Garland’s follow-up to his 2014 Ex Machina, which, as is traditional, I will be watching later in the year.
  • A meteor crashes to Earth, bringing with it “The Shimmer”, an expanding field that changes the environment as it expands. Five women (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny) go into the Shimmer in an attempt to find out why the earlier teams never came back – except for one (Oscar Isaacs), Portman’s husband, who is now dying for unknown reasons.
  • Smarter people than me quickly pointed out that this is basically Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”.
  • That’s a very strong cast all bringing their A+ game to a story that requires some really questionable decisions on their characters’ parts.
  • It also has some king-hell horror movie moments.
  • The strongest of these, known as “The Screaming Bear”, is a creature straight out of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series: a predator that speaks in the voice of its last victim.

It may be this last item that got my goat and refused to give it back, in combination with The Ritual: I’ve lost count of the number of writing projects I’ve given up because I finally decided they could be seen as derivative of other works, not original stuff dredged up from my psyche. I should apparently get over myself and write those damned stories, because other people that do get them made into movies (even if Garland didn’t re-read Jeff VanderMeer’s novel before writing the screenplay).

Annihilation is still worth a watch, even if I can’t give it the enthusiastic referral I had hoped.

Oh, hey, speaking of not-enthusiastic referrals:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Extended Edition (2016)

My pal Dave told me that this version added some character beats that actually made him feel better about the movie. So blame this on Dave.

  • It does.
  • The movie is still a goddamn mess.
  • So much of a mess that anybody that comes to me complaining that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a mess for trying to set up the MCU’s Phase Three is going to be strapped to a chair and forced to watch this Clockwork Orange-style. All three hours and two minutes of it.
  • I was really hoping for some illumination as far as what the hell Luthor’s endgame was supposed to be because I’m a gullible sap.
  • I can only assume that every time I see people on the Interwebs talk about how this was the best movie of the year, they are speaking in such heightened irony that I almost can’t hear it, but my dog can.

Zack Snyder v Superman (2016, Warner Brothers)

I am never, ever going to get over my essential bitterness toward Zack Snyder’s interpretation of these characters. From Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel to his pre-production statement of “This Batman kills”, those are major violations of the ethos of the characters I grew up with. Yes, this is a fat old fanboy moaning that his childhood has been violated, but for a better reason than “girls have cooties” (obligatory jab at Star Wars “fandom”, come at me, bro). Superheroes are aspirational characters, and the MCU’s Captain America has been a better Superman than Henry Cavill has ever been allowed to be (at least until Justice League). A major part of that aspiration has been going to great lengths to avoid taking life.

Gosh, this getting ranty.

*sigh* At least it gave us Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Even if it did murder Jimmy Olsen. And Mercy (again). And…

Crap. Should have quit while I was ahead.

Well, now I’m into the beginning of March of this year. That’s something.

The Catch-Up, Part One

Now that I’ve opened the floodgates, it’s time to see if I can’t successfully clear out my backlog of commentary. Probably most of these are going to be capsule-type instead of my usual incisive in-depth criticism (hold for laughter).

For instance:

Geostorm (2017)

  • Guys, I am still not sold on Gerard Butler as a leading man.
  • The science on display here is so incredibly suspect they might as well call it magic.
  • If you’re an aficionado of  Devlin and/or Emmerich scenes of vehicles outracing natural disasters, you’re in luck, because Devlin pulls that shit twice.
  • Similarly, if you feel movies are sorely lacking in characters saying the title over and over again, boy, do I have a flick for you.
  • Since there has to be a human villain behind the events, and Morgan Freeman isn’t in the cast, it’s going to be incredibly obvious who it is from the get-go.
  • Still, if you’re pining for an Irwin Allen-style multi-character disaster flick, you could do worse. For instance, by actually watching an Irwin Allen-style multi-character disaster flick.

The Beast (1975)

Trying to get back into my once-lofty goal of watching all the high-falutin’ pieces of world cinema I had been ignoring for decades, I pressed play on this one, which got some newfound infamy a few years back with a blu-ray release. I knew only two things going in: one, it had originally been conceived as a chapter in director Walerian Borowczyk’s earlier Immoral Tales (which I’ll be watching later, because, remember, I tend to back into filmographies – I prefer to think of it as a motif, rather than a pathology), and two, it’s, shall we say, somewhat explicit.

So I spent about the first twenty minutes of the movie fearing I was going to spend the rest of my life thinking of it as Horse Dong: The Movie. This prodigous member has such prominence in our first act.

If all the furor around The Beast had led you to expect a salacious re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, you are going to be mighty confused by all this horse-dongery, but there is some method here. The story proper takes place in the present day (or at least 1975). The noble l’Esperance family is in decline, and their only hope to avoid financial ruin is a long-arranged marriage with the wealthy industrialist Broadhurst family. The daughter, Lucy (Lisbeth Hummel) is to wed the brutish Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti), who is more at home in the family stables (where, you know, the horse dongs live). Lucy is pretty gung-ho about this, unaware that the flowery romantic letters she has been receiving are actually written, Cyrano-style, by Mathurin’s father, Pierre (Guy Tréjan). And that is only the most minor of the machinations Pierre is juggling to make this wedding happen.

Before a fractious dinner, Lucy is told of a mysterious encounter centuries earlier between the Countess Romilda l’Esperance (Sirpa Lane) and the infamous Beast of Gévaudan. That night, wearing the platonic ideal of a sheer nightgown, Lucy has visions of Romilda’s story (after contemplating her polaroid of everybody’s favorite horse dong). We see Romilda follow a lost lamb into the woods, only to find it devoured by The Beast, who has yet another titanic tallywhacker. It chases Romilda as the surrounding bushes and trees are suddenly complicit in tearing off her clothing, and roughly rapes her. She decides she likes it and apparently proceeds to screw the Beast to death. Take that, oppressor!

During breaks in this vision, the barely and then not-at-all clad Lucy keeps sneaking into Mathurin’s room, where he is sleeping off a tremendous drunk, before she is startled off and returns to more visions of furry pr0n. All this is leading up to a series of revelations that will doom that arranged marriage, the l’Esperance family, and the manipulative and even murderous Pierre.

Booga booga!

When you finally stop thinking of this as Horse Dong: The Movie and start getting into the actual story, it becomes a pretty scathing absurdist comedy, like Buñuel but with a better emotional core, and Borowczyk really impressed me with his careful setup of several unexpected jokes. Every woman below the age of 30 in this movie is eventually going to be extremely naked, so it would be easy to cynically dismiss this as a porno film for people who would like to pretend that they had just seen an art film. But The Beast has a lot more to offer, and it is rather amazing to contemplate that such a movie, so explicit and yet so artful, even exists.

And now, true to my usual self-destructive bent, I guess I should track down the sequel-in-Sirpa-Lane-only Italian cheapie The Beast in Space, and throw away all that goodwill.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

  • What, you were expecting a full-blooded review? I’m gonna have to watch it again for that, and this is a three-hour movie.
  • I liked it. I liked it better than the original, which I found very pretty (and undeniably influential) but completely unengaging.
  • My favorite form of science-fiction uses a technological advancement to facilitate the story, and the best instances of this explore how the advancement changes society, and all the different ways that advancement is utilized. Making the protagonist a replicant trying to rise above his origin, and interacting with other replicants trying to do the same, is great.
  • That improved AI subplot is also really good, and affecting.
  • To muddy the waters a bit, the Netflix series Altered Carbon does an excellent job of extrapolating how society will find different ways to exploit and fuck up a good idea. But like seemingly all Netflix prestige TV series, I lost patience around episode 8.
  • When I first saw Blade Runner, my date, at the end (with the footage taken from The Shining), asked, “Why would anyone live in that city if this was outside?” 2049 does a better job of answering that with its blighted wastelands of a dying Earth.
  • If Roger Deakins hadn’t finally gotten his Oscar for this, there should have been rioting in the streets.
  • What a cast. I would have liked to see what David Bowie could have done with the Jared Leto role, but I actually rather liked Leto in this.
  • One day I will have the time to watch this again. I look forward to it.

The Recall (2017)

  • This is for all the people who say “I really miss when you used to review crappy movies.”
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but five friends (RJ Mitte, Jedidiah Goodacre, Laura Bilgeri, Niko Pepaj and Hannah Rose May) head out to a weekend at an isolated lake house.
  • At the traditional Texas Chainsaw rural gas station, they encounter The Hunter (Wesley Snipes), who doesn’t much care for snot-nosed whitebread kids.
  • Wouldn’t you know it, there’s an alien invasion that weekend.
  • These aliens have been here before; they abduct humans, make some improvements, then release them. No one knows why, and this time they’re abducting even more.
  • Well, whaddaya know, The Hunter is one of those former abductees – an astronaut kidnapped off the ISS, and he’s been booby-trapping the woods against the aliens’ return. Of course, this means a team-up with the kids.
  • SPOILER ALERT
  • The kids all get abducted and altered, anyway.
  • Speaking of which, Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered did this much better.
  • Good thing they now have super powers, because after the aliens go away, the government is rounding up all the abductees and killing them.
  • The end.
  • The CGI is… not entirely successful, shall we say. Practical effects in the abduction sequence are similarly a mixed bag. Again, Beyond Skyline did this stuff much better. I also suspect they had a lot more money, though.
  • Speaking of money, I have a sort of rough respect for a crew that has to light night scenes in a forest and finally just says fuck it and starts setting up white lights where they couldn’t possibly be.
  • Wesley: good to see you onscreen again, man. I hope your next movie serves you better.

 

 

 

 

Yes, Another Infinity Wars Take

Hey there.

Been a hell of a couple of months, hasn’t it? I’ve kept busy, watched some movies, dealt with depression. That I wasn’t writing anything about those movies fed into that depression. So let’s at least kick that frustration to the curb, shall we?

And then I’ll turn right around and invalidate this return to the digital page by merely adding to the noise about the latest Marvel movie, Avengers: Infinity War. Better, more prolific writers than myself have already written thoughtful pieces about it (for instance, check out Rob Dean’s defense of the utter necessity of that downer ending on Daily Grindhouse). You know me: when it comes to cinema, I’m pretty much an autodidact. I don’t have any classes or degrees to back up what I think about movies, I just have personal data to fall back on – so I guess that’s the tack I’m going to take. I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible, especially since my pal Diane won’t get to see it for another couple of weeks and she will murder me. (The “downer ending” referenced above is such a part of the cultural ripples racing out from the movie that I think I’m safe there. Just don’t click on that link, Di)

One of the most surprising things – to me – is that my wife, Lisa, is a big fan of the MCU movies. I have to immediately qualify that, because she hasn’t made it a point to see ALL of them, but she’s been willing to see most. It started when we took my son, Max, to see Iron Man all those years ago, where we taught him the value of sitting through the end credits. She’s expanded her nerd creds a bit past that – my proper schoolmarm wifey laughed out loud many times at the vulgarities of Deadpool and going to see Pacific Rim: Uprising was her idea. (She also enjoyed Wonder Woman, but let’s leave the DCU out of this) As we entered Theater #9 to watch Infinity War, she said, “I’m really looking forward to this.”

Max will be finishing up his sophomore college year next week and coming home, and he’s going to want to see Infinity War. Lisa has informed me that it will be my job to take him, because, unlike Black Panther, she does not want to see it again. Her dismay at the ending was not helped by my explanation of that post-credits scene, either. “Who?”

The conversation after the movie (well, after a trip to the restroom, where there was a line, unusual for the men’s side: if nothing else, Infinity War keeps your butt in that seat for two and a half hours) led to me saying, “You know, this movie and the next were originally called Infinity War Part One and Part Two.” “So they crammed it all into one movie?” (fair assumption. The flick is packed) “No. I think they just changed the titles.”

The tweets I had read comparing it to The Empire Strikes Back were quite appropriate. I was there for that, and the feelings leaving the theater were the same. (At least we don’t have to wait three years for this rendition of Return of the Jedi.) I’ve also seen comparisons to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, but I haven’t seen any of the Potter movies since the first, so I can’t attest to that (yes, I have a box set and will get around to them eventually, don’t @ me).

Maybe read a few thousand of these, eh

I find myself wondering how many people on that record-breaking weekend had my wife’s experience, though: coming to Infinity War with only the past movies to rely on, and without a lifetime being steeped in comics lore and culture. Infinity War is the closest thing to a cinematic realization of a major crossover comics event that we have ever seen, and it probably would have helped to have a few of those under your belt before watching it. The breaking up of the heroes into different teams of disparate characters was done fairly organically, as opposed to Batman making battlefield assignments (so much for keeping DC out of this). The pitched battles against bad guys that can’t have any real victories, because it would cut the major story arc too short, and dispel the dramatic tension. And, of course, the fact that the heroes must be driven into their darkest hour of defeat before they ultimately triumph. That usually takes about twelve issues. In movie terms, about five hours, it seems.

Doing something like that in a movie is outlandishly expensive. Which is good, says I, because the constant crossover events are what eventually led me to drop comics for the umpteenth time (well, that and poverty). I think it was Fear Itself, after Civil War, The Secret Invasion and Dark Reign that finally broke me. I doubt a similar glut will happen in the MCU. It’s just not financially feasible.

So Avengers 4 -whatever title it may take – is likely to be similarly cataclysmic (though, of necessity, with a smaller cast of characters) and then we’re probably going to return to comparatively smaller movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp. More diversity is something to wished for, and I doubt the lesson of Black Panther’s success will be ignored. We seem to be on track to finally getting a Black Widow movie – good, I can only watch Atomic Blonde so many times and pretend Charlize is a redhead – and somebody needs to construct a story that brings together Natasha, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Mantis and Valkyrie. Shuri for tech. Maria Hill as liaison. I’ll volunteer, if need be.

Was it, like, a year or two ago I was whining that the only people that seemed capable of making immersive spectacle movies taking advantage of new technology anymore were the Chinese and the Wachowski sisters? I can’t say that anymore, and that makes me happy. Infinity War had some amazingly sweet mocap performances. Josh Brolin showing through Thanos was exceptional, but The Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw) were literally comic book characters come to life, and I’m looking forward to my inevitable blu-ray purchase so I can see more of them. There were also some sadly questionable effects… then I remember also those glaringly visible matte lines in the first theatrical run of Empire. 

This may mean I am the one with the problem here, and if so, I will own it. I love the spectacle of these peak visual movies. I was fairly obsessed with League of Gods and Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons for a few months. Jupiter Ascending was a pleasant surprise. But those are balanced out by many others that have no soul to give their fantasies flight: 47 Ronin, Immortals, Seventh Son, Gods of Egypt, the live-action Ghost in the Shell. Artistry untempered by humanity simply does not last.

If I want to end on a more upbeat note, I should point out that Lisa is still pumped to see Deadpool 2, and willing to be talked into Ant-Man and the Wasp, so maybe her nerding wasn’t truncated by disappointment after all.

So… you miss me?

 

 

 

Oh. Hi.

Yeah, I’m still alive. January was ridiculously busy for me, and now that I’ve got a little downtime, I’m feeling remarkably decrepit. Standing up is a major production. Stairs are an invention of the devil. That’s one reason I’ve not been around here so much. I’ve been sinking a fair amount of time into just watching some movies and performing my primary function, being a pillow for my Monkey Dog.

Another stumbling block: there I was, writing right along on what was supposed to be the second post of January, when I was stopped dead; I was trying to get back into my groove of watching Important World Cinema That I Had Been Ignoring, and was struck by the singular terror of writing something about a fairly well-respected film.

This has happened to me before, of course. The last time it was this bad was back in the days when I was writing The Bad Movie Report, and decided to do a series on the classic Universal horror movies that were being reissued on VHS at the time. I started working on Frankenstein, my personal favorite, and was again stopped dead. What more could possibly be said about a sixty year-old flick? What new? Why was I even trying? This crisis shut down the site for quite some time.

I eventually climbed back on the horse, and will do so again. I do keep watching movies, leading to yet another thread of percolating anxiety in my life. When am I going to be able to write about them all? Why am I even doing this?

I also think cold, dreary February is fertile ground for existential nannydiddering like this.

I’ve been called in to work this evening, covering for a sick co-worker. I could mumble there goes more writing time, but I’d be lying. I’d probably watch another movie. And then not write about it. And seethe about not writing about it. And next week’s gonna be another busy one.

See you in a bit. Sooner rather than later, I hope.

 

 

The Great Texas Snow-In

Sure. Laugh while you can, Monkey Boy. Ice and (minimal) snow shut down the city for two days. But you see, that doesn’t happen around here. Sure, there’s trucks to spread sand on bridges, but not many of them – they’re not needed that often. I don’t think you can even buy snow tires south of Dallas/Fort Worth (and maybe not there). Every video of a car crash due to ice is usually somewhere that has some experience with those conditions. Don’t get me started on what it would be like here, where driver considerations of safety and sanity go out the window when it rains.

I remember briefly reading how to put snow chains on a car back in high school, during driver’s ed class. There was no practical exercise, of course. It was as exotic an experience as learning the proper way to don lacquered samurai armor. Like algebra, it was believed that no use for it would be found in our adult lives.

So a long weekend – for me, two days in a row is a long weekend – turned into a four day unpaid vacation. Well, sometimes, all you can do is watch movies, right?

God help me, the first movie was Roller Blade.

Now, a couple of Crapfests ago, Erik broke us all with The Roller Blade Seven, which is the second sequel to this. Doing a bit of research, I got the impression that the earlier movies were well-regarded, and like a fool, I checked that out.

Post-apocalypse, we are informed that it is the Second Great Dark Age. Some semblance of peace is kept by the roller skating Bod Sisters and the police force of the Good Marshall (Jeff Hutchinson). The motto “Skate or Die” is pretty much proven by the murder of a guy on foot in the first few minutes. The killer is a mercenary (Shaun Michelle) who is sent by the villainous Dr. Saticoy (Robby Taylor) – or, to be precise, his literal right-hand man, a hand puppet – to infiltrate the Bod Sisters and steal their power source, a pre-apocalypse gizmo that will power his rocket cycle to reach an isolated automated factory that is still producing energy weapons (incidentally, he doesn’t tell us this until an hour into the movie, because I don’t think the writers knew up to that point, either).

“Curse you, Direct-To-Video Reed Richards!”

That is a half hour worth of plot spread unevenly over 88 minutes. The remainder is filler, and it feels like improvised filler. There is occasional cleverness, like all of Marshall Goodman’s lines sounding like they had been written by whoever did the King James version of the Bible, but that may also be me clutching at straws while I drown in DTV crap. I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of Michelle Bauer, who was apparently paying back some favors at the time? If that implies to you there is some full frontal nudity, you are correct. I gave the movie a half-star on Letterboxd, and that is largely thanks to my beloved Michelle.

So what do I decide to follow that up with? The Snowman, of course. Really, it seemed kind of climatically necessary.

Yes, this movie was universally excoriated when it was released. And that is the sort of movie I have to check out, because, you know, oftimes people are just wrong. This is a case in point. The Snowman is not terrible, it’s just aggressively mediocre.

We’re in Norway. Michael Fassbender is formerly well-regarded police detective Harry Hole, who is currently in the midst of a long drunken spree. His superior is tired of covering for him, but also ignores Hole’s protestations of “All I need is a case.” Hole manages to slide into a visiting officer’s case, leading him to a serial killer who’s been operating for years – and has also contacted him with a cryptic letter even before he started investigating.

This is based on a long-running mystery series by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø – in fact, the seventh book in the series – and apparently deviates from that book quite a bit. Folks I know who enjoyed the book were rather dismayed. Its production history is somewhat tortured; it started production in Norway (to take advantage of a state funding program to promote filming in the country), then moved to London, for whatever reasons.

I’m hamstrung in any critique by not reading the book; what I can say is that the movie is deadeningly predictable. Any questions I had were answered an hour later, and none of those had anything to do with the plot. They were questions like “What does this alarmingly puffy-faced Val Kilmer have to do with anything?” and “When will we get to see more goateed Toby Jones?” I will admit the Kilmer one is little unfair, as he was apparently recovering from cancer treatment at the time. But that’s some problematic storytelling, and I wasn’t encouraged to spread any spackle on the gaps. I suppose the movie did make me care enough to go “Oh come on!” when the coincidences and conveniences started piling up toward the end. I do wonder about the killer’s fondness for Hot Butter’s proto-techno song “Popcorn” – is that in the book, or is it an attempt to co-opt a cultural relic, as Zodiac did with Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”.

I am pretty bemused that The Snowman managed to make me feel ambivalent toward Fassbender, an actor I generally admire, and make one of the most beautiful countries on Earth look dreary.

The opening scene (aka “The Secret Origin of The Snowman) is the best sequence in the movie. Featuring Chloë Sevigny, it is bleakly affecting. I just wish the rest of the movie lived up to it.

Man, that’s a pretty exciting trailer. Odd how much of it’s not actually in the movie.

In the interest of actually wrapping up the post for this week, we’ll end up with the next entry in this Trip through Hell: I suddenly remember that Tarsem Singh did a Greek mythology movie called Immortals that just sort of vanished, and I wondered why. Why it was so rapidly forgotten, I mean, not why he made the movie, though that turned out to be a fairly cogent question as well. Because it doesn’t have that much to do with Greek mythology, and more to do with 300. I mean, there it is, right on the box: “From the Producers of 300“.

Tremendous cast. Henry Cavill, ripped to the gills after months of training, plays Theseus (who’s kind of turned into the generic Greek hero over the last few decades, hasn’t he?). John Hurt is Zeus in human form, who’s been training Theseus. Mickey Rourke is the villainous King Hyperion, conquering everything with his horde and tearing it apart to find the Epirus Bow, a weapon that does not exist anywhere in the Greek myths, but is the only thing that can release the imprisoned Titans and destroy the world or some damned thing. Theseus is Zeus’s trump card that he hopes will somehow save the world.

Zeus in his celestial form is Luke Evans, and, in fact, all the gods are young, beautiful, and have lifetime memberships to Planet Fitness. Despite Zeus’ training of Theseus, it is apparently God Law that the pantheon will not interfere in the affairs of Man, which is the first instance where it occurred to me that I wasn’t exactly dealing with Bulfinch’s Mythology, or even someone who had read the Classics Illustrated version.

Just when it seems that Immortals is going to cut loose with the mythological grandiosity, it undercuts itself. Both of Theseus’ big fights – with the movie’s version of the Minotaur and the final confrontation with Hyperion – are gritty mano a mano hand-to-hand fights which is fine (if boring) – but the first appears after the discovery of the Epirus Bow, which has no bearing on the ensuing fight, and you keep waiting for the Chekov’s Gun rule to kick in. You will, in fact, be waiting for that for-freaking-ever, because Theseus gets to use it once before losing it. The Titans will be released, and that’s it for the Magic McGuffin. There is also a pitched battle in a long corridor from a hardened gate blown apart by the Bow, giving Immortals its Thermopylae with an added touch of Helm’s Deep from The Two Towers.

It has its moments, like a gorily effective sequence where Ares defies Zeus and literally destroys a group of Hyperion’s troops that are about to kill Theseus. But they are so few and seemingly horned-in to an unengaging and derivative story – and not even derivative of the mythology it’s attempting to exploit – that the whole enterprise feels like nearly two hours of wasted, misguided energy.

I finally rebelled and determined to watch some movies of (harrumph) quality… but we’ll have to leave that for next week. We’ve thawed out and I’ve got a ton of work to catch up on.