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Sunday, September 04, 2016

Fantastic Feud
Every year, during the Fantastic Fest horror/action/weird film festival, they play a game of Family Feud, but with more horrific questions. They poll the internets in advance to get the survey answers, and these are the questions this year. In the spirit of those film quizzes I love answering, here are my responses. Note that because of the feud context, I'm going for more obvious answers here, even if I sometimes note something more obscure.

1. Worst John Carpenter Movie

Ghosts of Mars, with strong competition from Vampires and maybe even Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

2. Best Sequel Subtitle

That would almost certainly be Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. I'm also partial to House II: The Second Story, but that's almost certainly too obscure (even for the FF crowd). I like Die Hard 2: Die Harder (in a so bad it's good kinda way) but I'm not sure how official that is (it's not listed as such on IMDB, but it's almost always referred to that way).

3. Favorite Lethal Lady of Film

That would be Ripley from Alien/Aliens, but I'm guessing you'll also see The Bride from the Kill Bill movies and Furiosa from Fury Road.

4. Most Successful Alien Invasion

Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind for me, but someone mentioned The Thing, which is an interesting spin on this one

5. Cult Film Unworthy of Its Reputation

For me, it's Starship Troopers. Lots of leeway here, but some other good answers would be The Boondock Saints and Donnie Darko. You could argue The Big Lebowski, but you'd be wrong (er, maybe).

6. Stupidest Artificial Intelligence

Almost certainly C-3PO from the Star Wars movies. Skynet, especially in the sequels, would also be a good choice.

7. Worst Horror Movie To Watch on a First Date

My first thought goes to Martyrs, but this being Fantastic Fest, A Serbian Film will certainly place in the survey...

8. Most Lovable Monster

Gizmo from Gremlins works well here. I want to say Aylmer from Brain Damage, but he's not really "lovable" so much as I like his cheerful villainy.

9. Remake That's Better Than The Original

It's boring saying The Thing and The Fly for these questions, but here we are. More unconventional picks: Ocean's Eleven, Ben-Hur (1959), and The Departed.

10. Deadliest Assassin/Mercenary/Hit-person

Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men will place highly here. The Killer and Leon: The Professional will get some love here too.

11. Sequel That *Almost* Killed The Franchise

Batman & Robin seems appropriate here, as it put the franchise on hold for almost a decade...

12. Scariest Plant(s)

The tree from The Evil Dead works here, though I guess you have to also mention The Little Shop of Horrors

13. Most Rousing Revenge Flick

I'll go Oldboy, but there are probably a dozen other good answers. They're mostly Korean, as they apparently love them some vengeance.
Posted by Mark on September 04, 2016 at 12:15 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Professor Abronsius's Robustly Random, Eccentrically Inquisitive, Garlic-Infused Mid-Summer Back-to-School Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to participate. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Larry Gopnick, Professor Dewey Finn, Ms. Elizabeth Halsey, Professor Abraham Setrakian, and Mr. Dadier are also available. Let's get to it:

1) Name the last 10 movies you've seen, either theatrically or at home

Zoinks! Good thing I try to keep Letterboxd up to date (if we're not friends there, we should be). Let's take a gander:
  • The Silence of the Lambs - Not sure what prompts my periodic viewings of this movie, but I appreciate it more every time.
  • Everybody Wants Some!! - As pointless Linklater discussion-fests go, this is on the more enjoyable side for me and yet, it's still a pointless Linklater discussion-fest... It's like a genre unto itself, and one that I've never really bought into...
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Post Star Trek Beyond viewing (which says something about Beyond, see below), one of the most unusual of the films and better for that. I mean, it's basically a fish-out-of-water comedy (almost literally, heh) and The Enterprise isn't really even in it (sorta).
  • Marathon Man - Put on my Netflix queue when The Canon podcast covered it and lo, it finally showed up. Then I realized the disc was broken (yeah, I still get discs from Netflix, wanna fight about it?) and had to get a replacement. Finally watched it, and really enjoyed it. Maybe not top-tier, but quite unusual and entertaining.
  • Jason Bourne - Retreading the same ground over and over again was a strategy that worked surprisingly well for the first three movies, but it appears to have diminishing returns. This movie is fine but the formula has worn out its welcome. It's so mediocre that I bet critics will be putting it on the worst movie of the year list or somesuch.
  • Star Trek Beyond - This reboot series, after a stumble in their second installment, has turned in a strong rebound, maybe even better than the first in the reboot series. I still lament that the franchise has moved into more action-adventure territory than heady SF, but this one executes really well. Check it out.
  • Green Room - Dark and tense, as advertised. Great and unexpected performance from Patric Stewart, and yet more evidence that we're really going to be missing Anton Yelchin.
    Patrick Stewart is not a Nazi
    I'm not a Nazi!
    Writer/Director Jeremy Saulnier is getting stronger, and I'm really looking forward to what he tries next.
  • Star Trek - In preparation for Star Trek Beyond, I still find this reboot to be highly entertaining and fun. Once again, a little more Science in the Fiction would have been nice, but as action/adventure, it's great.
  • Ghostbusters - Just good enough that if you're so inclined, you can trumpet it from on high, but there's enough flaws that if you were predisposed to hate it, you'll find plenty to gripe about. The perfect stew of fomenting culture war. On its own, I laughed a fair amount and enjoyed myself, but it's not the original... but then, what could be?
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane - I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Takes a standard premise and flips it around multiple times. Really solid stuff, great performances all around, and a well executed plot. I know the ending is a bit divisive, but I enjoyed it quite a bit...
Phew, that's a lot of movies.

2) Favorite movie feast

The first thing that came to mind was Denethor's feast whilst he sends his son out to die in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I mean, it's not a fun scene, but for some reason very memorable, including the food being served (which looks tasty, I guess, certainly a feast).
Denethor feasting
Upon further reflection, other candidates include: the scene in which Orson Welles interrupts his own movie to order more food in F for Fake, the titular meal in Soylent Green, the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, and, of course, most scenes in Tampopo.

3) Dial M for Murder (1954) or Rear Window (1954)?

I love both of these movies, but Rear Window strikes me as the more well-rounded choice whereas Dial M for Murder feels like trash elevated to greatness solely by Hitchcock's force of will (nothing to sneeze at, for sure, but Rear window has it all). Rear Window works on many more levels, even if I'd watch either of these again in a heartbeat.

4) Favorite song or individual performance from a concert film

Honestly not a big fan of concert films. Does The Blues Brothers count? I kinda like that one, I guess.

Excluding another film from the same director, if you were programming a double feature what would you pair with:

5) Alex Cox's Straight to Hell (1986)?

I have never seen this, but now I want to. From the description, I'll go with The Wild Bunch. Looking at other answers, though, I see Reservoir Dogs and am now kicking myself.

6) Benjamin Christensen's Haxan: Witchcraft Throughout the Ages (1922)?

I've actually seen this one! I'll go with this year's exquisitely staged The Witch as the pairing (though maybe The Blair Witch Project would be more fitting, given its more explicit mock-documentary nature... but then, The Witch has so much verisimilitude that it approaches mock-documentary as well. Hrm.)

7) Federico Fellini's I vitteloni (1953)?

Another one I have not seen, but from the description alone, the answer has to be American Graffiti, right?

8) Vincente Minnelli's The Long, Long Trailer (1953)?

Not seen this one either, but judging from the description, let's say Bonnie and Clyde.

9) Sam Peckinpah's The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)?

Again, I have not seen but from the description, let's say McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

10) George Englund's Zachariah (1971)?

Nope, not this one either (I'm the worst), but judging from the description, let's just say El Topo... though I should probably watch Zachariah first because it seems vaguely irresponsible to recommend El Topo without really confirming that it fits.

11) Favorite movie fairy tale

The Princess Bride seems an obvious choice here. I suppose nostalgia plays a role in how much I like this movie (I mean, I was basically the Fred Savage character - a kid sick and in bed, objecting to the same girl cooties moments, etc... - when I first saw this), but I've seen it recently and it still retains that almost timeless fairy tale feeling.

12) What is the sport that you think has most eluded filmmakers in terms of capturing either its essence or excitement?

Wrestling. No, not professional WWF/WWE stuff, the amateur stuff that'll be on the Olympics at 3 am on CNBC sometime late next week. Few movies have even attempted it, notably Vision Quest (oy) and Foxcatcher (a slog, not really about wrestling, per say). Of course, I'm not really holding my breath on this one either.

13) The Seventh Seal (1957) or Wild Strawberries (1957)?

The Seventh Seal I guess? I mean, not really a fan of either (or, sadly, Bergman in general - remember this when we get down to the blasphemy/contrarian question below)

14) Your favorite Criterion Collection release

First thought is Brazil, an epic three-disc study in commercial filmmaking. There are lots of better movies in the collection, but it's the extras here that put it over the top. Troubled productions are always more interesting than normal ones, even if the resulting film (and various cuts) never quite live up to the promise of the material.

15) In the tradition of the Batley Townswomen's Guild's staging of the Battle of Pearl Harbor and Camp on Blood Island, who would be the featured players (individual or tag-team) in your Classic Film Star Free-for-all Fight?

Hell, I don't know. Let's just name some people: John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, Dick Miller, Toshiro Mifune, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Michelle Yeoh, Raquel Welch, Tuesday Weld, Sigourney Weaver, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, and Rosalind Russell.

16) Throne of Blood (1957) or The Lower Depths (1957)?

Well, I've actually seen Throne of Blood, so I guess that sez something, eh?

17) Your favorite movie snack

I'd say popcorn, but usually when I go to the movies I get soft-pretzel bites. They're usually terrible too, but good theaters (i.e. that time I went to Alamo Drafthouse) sometimes do homemade soft pretzels that are awesome, and I love them. But popcorn is the safe answer, as that's always actually available, and usually fresh popped.

18) Robert Altman's Quintet-- yes or no?

I have never seen it, but I think that if you look at my answers to all of these "yes or no?" questions over the years, I can safely say "yes" (since, you know, I've never said no in answer to one of these questions, ever.)

19) Name the documentarian whose work you find most valuable

Errol Morris works here. Opened my eyes to great documentary filmmaking with The Thin Blue Line, and has continually surprised me throughout his career, even with supposed trivialities like Tabloid.

20) The Conversation (1974) or The Godfather Part II (1974)?

The Godfather: Part II, though that's a pretty fabulous one-two punch for 1974. Still, something about the Godfather's epic sweep bowls me over in ways that The Conversation never has...

21) Favorite movie location you've visited in person

Can't say as though I actually seek out movie locations, but I do love the Philly Art Museum steps from Rocky, and it's even better at night (looking back through the city, all lit up, is nice).

22) If you could have directed a scene from any movie in the hope of improving it, what scene would it be, and what direction would you give the actor(s) in it? (question submitted by Patrick Robbins)

This is an impossible question, but I came up with an answer because this movie comes up again below: There's a scene in The Thing where Wilford Brimley has been locked up in the shed for a while, but kinda escaped into some underground tunnel and started... building a spaceship? Out of junk that was laying around? I would have reshot this scene such that the spaceship would not be completely visible and thus would be more ambiguous as to what it actually was (I would also revise the dialog to maintain the ambiguity). All you need to know is that he was up to something, not that it was actually a spaceship, because the spaceship is sad looking and stupid.

23) The Doors (1991) or JFK (1991)?

Hands down, JFK. It's just an inherently more interesting premise, and it's extremely well executed, even if it's almost certainly all hooey.

24) What is your greatest film blasphemy or strongest evidence of your status as a contrarian? (H/T Larry Aydlette)

There's several examples above (i.e. disliking Linklater's talky pieces, indifference to Bergman, not having seen the majority of movies explicitly referenced in this quiz, etc...), but I'll say as a general point of blasphemy/contrarianititvity, I don't like slow, plotless films. It's not that they can't be good or that I can't appreciate them at all, it's just that a film has to be really, really good in order for me to really get into it, and apparently my threshold for this sort of thing is much higher than most critics/film lovers. Go figure. I was much more willing to put up with this kind of indulgent wanking earlier in my life, but I'm getting to an even more impatient point in my life now, I guess. Maybe I'll rebound, but I'm not counting on it.

25) Favorite pre-1970 one-sheet

This question was sorta asked before on Ms. Halsey's quiz, only it didn't limit the timeframes. My answer then was the one-sheet for Vertigo:
Vertigo poster
Indeed, a classic, even if there are probably hundreds of others that I'd like just as much, like: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Anatomy of a Murder, and Metropolis.

26) Favorite post-1970 one-sheet

I mean, Jaws, right?
Jaws poster
But that's probably too obvious, so let's go with Halloween:
Halloween poster
Also of note: Alien, Star Wars, E.T., The Godfather, The Exorcist, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

27) WarGames (1983) or Blue Thunder (1983)?

WarGames is the more memorable and probably more prescient of the two, I think.

28) Your candidate for best remake ever made

Either John Carpenter's The Thing or David Cronenberg's The Fly. They're both so good that I find it impossible choose between them though.

29) Give us a good story, or your favorite memory, about attending a drive-in movie

Sadly, I do not have any memories of drive-in theaters and it's quite possible that I've never been to one. I suppose I was old enough, and it may have happened, but I don't think so. My parents weren't much into movie theaters in general and my movie-going heyday began in the late 80s, early 90s, at which point, drive-ins were mostly dead.

30) Favorite non-horror Hammer film

The Hound of the Baskervilles might skirt horror I guess, but it will have to do, and it's really about the subversion of horror, so I feel ok with that.

31) Favorite movie with the word/number "seven" in the title (question submitted by Patrick Robbins)

It feels so boring to say Se7en or even Seven Samurai, but then, here we are.

32) Is there a movie disagreement you can think of which would cause you to reconsider the status of a personal relationship?

Nope. I suppose such a thing is possible, but I can't imagine that being the only thing at work in that particular relationship (i.e. it would be the tip of an iceberg in a much deeper component of our relationship).

33) Erin Brockovich (2000) or Traffic (2000)?

Traffic is more stylistic and tackles a subject that is orders of magnitude more complicated without resorting to any trickery. Both are good movies though.

34) Your thoughts on the recent online petition demanding that Turner Classic Movies cease showing all movies made after 1960

I suppose I can see the thought process here, but they seem to maintain a pretty good mix right now (i.e. heavy on the pre-1960 stuff, but not exclusively so) and I'm generally not one for arbitrary rules like this. Not something I'd sign on to, but more power to you, I guess.
Posted by Mark on August 14, 2016 at 03:08 PM .: Comments (1) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Link Dump: Peakquel Edition
A rash of articles this week examine the lackluster performance of many recently released sequels, which is interesting speculation but perhaps feature a bit too much hand wringing. Movies can be "successful" because of many factors. We all like to think that quality has something to do with it, and it probably does, but not as much as we'd think. Luck undoubtedly plays a part. Marketing can get people into theaters and goose the numbers, but it generally doesn't get people to like the movie. Look, this isn't quantum physics, a movie's success isn't just the sum of metrics describing it. Plenty of movies make lots of money, but that doesn't mean people actually want to see more. Indeed, they might have hated the movie, such that when the inevitable sequel comes out, they stay away. Ultimately, on a long enough timeline, bad movies get their just desserts.
  • Hollywood's New Problem: Sequels Moviegoers Don't Want - The article that kicked off the discussion:
    "Sequels of late have fallen on rough times. The tried-and-true formulas and familiar characters and themes that are the cornerstone of the modern sequel have acted as a de facto life insurance policy against box-office failure," says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "However, 2016 has proven to be a very tough battleground, and the landscape has been littered with a series of sequels that have come up short, and thus call into question the entire notion of the inherent appeal of non-original, franchise-based content."
    Which is funny, because don't we so often hear about original content being not so appealing? Indeed, this year hasn't seen a particularly great performance, even from quality films like The Nice Guys.
  • Have we finally reached peak sequel? asks Matt Singer, who would eventually discuss "peakquel" on twitter and turned the discussion towards "event" based movies:
    American movies in 2016 are all about creating events, movies so "important" that they can’t be missed (or, more specifically, that they can’t be put off until they show up on cable or streaming services). But how much of an event can something be if it's the sixth installment in a series that seemingly has no planned ending?

    ...But events are unique; that's what makes them events. Hollywood now tries to position so many sequels as events, that they've inadvertently diluted their primary selling point. When everything is an event, nothing is an event - and when a franchise has no end in sight each individual installment is inherently less unique, because there will always be more where that came from.
    This is quite true. One of the successful things about Captain America: Civil War was that the fate of the entire planet didn't really hinge on a giant laser beam into the sky, but rather a personal battle between two friends. Meanwhile, X-Men: Apocalypse feints towards the literal end of the world, and audiences mostly just yawn.
  • Maybe Audiences Want Sagas, Not Sequels - Devin Faraci has an interesting spin, but it basically just amounts to the need for a sequel to be good and worthwhile, not just a shameless retread. Still worth thinking about though:
    As Hollywood studios chase guaranteed box office they need to understand that audiences recognize when a movie has been made as a shitty cash grab or, in the case of Neighbors 2, they're cynical when it looks like it might have been a shitty cash grab. Audiences want to feel like a sequel has a reason to exist. On the other hand understanding that too much leads to a peculiar phenomenon where the first movie is just a set up for a trilogy or something, leaving audiences unsatisfied. The key is to create a complete movie experience with one eye on the future. That's the lesson nobody's taking from Marvel.
    Also worth noting that Marvel's source material is already serialized in nature. I think that's a key part of Superhero movie success, though it can often collapse in on itself when filmmakers become too ambitious and try to cram too much into one film. Marvel has done this from time to time, but seems to have largely escaped the normal fate that befalls such a film...
And that's all for now. Stay tuned for the sequel link dump next week. Or not.
Posted by Mark on June 12, 2016 at 03:14 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Captain America: Civil War
Who would win in a fight: Captain America or Iron Man? Such speculation is a hallmark of schoolyard debate and can be a blast to discuss... in isolation. The problem with trying to execute this as part of a larger narrative is that you need to come up with a convincing way to pit two heroes against one another. This often leads to amusing enough sequences that don't make much sense when seen in context. My least favorite parts of the The Avengers are the scenes where our heroes are bickering or outright fighting. Take the Iron Man versus Thor sequence (with special appearance by Captain America). It's a lot of fun to watch! But why are they fighting? Mostly so Thor can shoot lightning at Iron Man, which will have the unexpected consequence of supercharging the suit. Or to ponder the age old question of what happens when Thor's hammer Mjolnir meets Cap's vibranium shield. It doesn't really serve the story, but again, it's fun and even a little clever. It's certainly a step above anything in Age of Ultron. The scene with the Hulk Buster? I got very little out of that. I gather that my opinion on this isn't the most common, or at least that most true comic book nerds are much more into the idea, as it's clearly a time-honored tradition derived from the comic books themselves. It's just the sort of thing that bounces off of me.

All of which is to say that Marvel's latest, Captain America: Civil War, has its work cut out for it. Truth be told, I was not enamored with the idea behind this installment in Marvel's grand shared-universe experiment. But I have to respect their willingness to take chances, and they've done a remarkable job thus far, so it's hard to count them out. I'm pleasantly surprised to report that Marvel's done it. This movie is a stunning juggling act. Not a perfect one. Like, they dropped a few elements but were able to desperately flail their legs to kick them back up in the air before they fell to the ground. The sort of thing that Olympic judges will tut-tut and say oh, that will cost them a 0.1 score reduction while the rest of us just marvel (pun intended!) that this athlete managed to save an awkward situation. They still end up with a great score and maybe even metal, but it's not one for the record books. Ok, I think we've beaten this metaphor into the ground.

The success is mostly due to the philosophical conflict at the center of the film. It's a situation where you can empathize with both sides of the argument and indeed, there isn't really a good answer. It's confronting one of the core issues with superhero stories in the first place, which is that so many of these characters are essentially vigilantes. Right around the time Marvel was just getting started, there were a bunch of comic book movies that were tackling this problem head-on. For instance, The Dark Knight took a very pragmatic view of Bruce Wayne's plan. As Harvey Dent opines:
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Look, whoever the Batman is, he's looking for someone to take his place. He doesn't want to do it forever.
Because who could do it forever? When you place yourself above the rule of law, you will inevitably yield unfavorable consequences. The Avengers certainly have. Of course, they were initially government sanctioned, which makes some of the complaints in this film a little hypocritical. They talk about New York as if S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't put together the Avengers in the first place. Then again, Age of Ultron really saddles this film with distinctly unheroic collateral damage that would undoubtedly lead to widespread distrust of these heroes. So Tony Stark's guilt and plan for some sort of oversight is an understandable perspective (and an interesting evolution of his character since his first appearance). For his part, Steve Rodgers's hesitation to submit to this constraint is perfectly cromulent when you consider his role in exposing the corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. The film isn't perfect in the execution of this debate, but it does actually make room for the discussion. It takes the ideas seriously and doesn't flinch at the complexity. It does, perhaps, let the fisticuffs fly a bit too quick to be convincing, and the tone gets yanked around quite a bit. Again, Marvel is incredibly good at this, so the tonal inconsistencies are handled deftly enough to escape too much scrutiny.

This movie is stuffed to the gills, something that usually dooms a movie into incomprehensibility. Most superhero franchises fall into this trap at some point, incorporating extra villains and side characters and franchise-service until the entire narrative collapses in on itself. The list of culprits is long and distinguished. Joel Schumacher's Batman films, Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, and most recently and relevantly, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice*. Civil War has all the elements necessary for its implosion, but has somehow, improbably, made it all work. I don't know how they did it, but I'm really glad they did.

To be sure, a lot of this movie is not strictly necessary. But most of those extraneous bits are so entertaining that who would ever want to remove it? Take Spider Man. He's one of the main highlights of the movie! The character is handled perfectly. Distinct from previous filmic incarnations, but from what I can understand, very true to the character on the page. And yet, he's completely superfluous. Having Tony Stark recruit him is handled well... so long as you don't start wondering why he invited an unproven teenager to a giant superhero battle. Speaking of which, like, half of the folks involved in that battle don't have a particularly good reason to be there. Well, not half, but why is Hawkeye there? Why is Ant-Man there? Wait, I get the disagreement, but why are they fighting again? Maybe instead of this infighting, Marvel could just come up with a decent villain for once? But I digress.

Ultimately, the plot of this movie doesn't quite hold up under the close scrutiny of Hitchcock's refridgerator. In particular, the plan of the master-manipulator working behind the scenes to foment this conflict is quite obtuse. Then again, who cares? The set piece at the airport is so damn entertaining that it's hard to fault of the movie for bending over backwards to get us there. The ultimate motivations of this villain are surprising and thematically relevant. The whole movie embraces a smaller-scale battle of wills and fisticuffs rather than powerbeams into the sky, invading armies, or explodey bits (well, alright, there are plenty of explodey bits). This is refreshing and genuinely involving. You don't want these characters to be fighting, but you can understand why. You might not even particularly agree with either of them, but you can see where they're coming from and fill in some blanks on your own.

So the movie is overstuffed, but most of this stuffing is still great. We get a nice introduction to Black Panther, a sorta mini-origin story and actually, he's one of the few characters to really undergo a character arc and where he ends up is more heroic than most of our other heros. As Black Panther, he's maybe a bit underwhelming, but Chadwick Boseman's performance, especially when under the T'Challa persona, makes a lot out of a little. He will be served well in his own film. I've already mentioned how great Spider Man is, but can we just bask in how great he was during the airport set piece? His nervous quips and clear love of all the Avengers (even the ones he's fighting) come through strong, and he has some of the best lines in the movie. Speaking of quips, Paul Rudd's Ant-Man shows up and it speaks to his charisma that we're so glad we're watching him that we don't really question why he's even there until after the movie. He's so enamored with all the Avengers, and he gets some really good moments to shine. It's revealed that Emily VanCamp's character from the previous film is actually Sharon Carter (niece of Peggy Carter), which leads to a shoehorned romantic subplot for Cap that is simultaneously a long time coming and also a bit rushed and awkward... but totally worth it for the reaction shot of Bucky and Sam. Speaking of which, Bucky and Sam's interactions are absolutely great. There's not quite enough of it to really enter Laurel and Hardy slapstick territory, but what we get is great. I've mentioned the villain Zemo's absurd plan, but Daniel Bruhl plays him well enough that we think less about the plan than about his motivation.

Jeeze, I could probably spend a few thousand more words enumerating all of the little moments I loved in this film, Chris Farley Show style, but in the interest of time, I will leave it at that. If you have enjoyed any of the Marvel movies thus far, you will enjoy this one. Certainly a big step up from Age of Ultron (which attempted and failed at many of the things this movie succeeds at), and they managed to take a premise I wasn't really on board with and make it work to an extent I would have never guessed possible. It is basically an extended playing-in-the-sandbox excuse for pitting superheroes against one another and coming up with clever ways for superpowers to interact, but is so good at it that you can't help but be won over by the sheer audacity and skillful execution on display. The thematic heft at its core provides depth, but the movie doesn't quite descend into overly grim and gritty territory. It ends with some things unresolved, but in a totally satisfying way.

When Age of Ultron came out, I mentioned that Marvel was really leaning into the comic-bookeyness of this whole endeavor. It's one of the reasons we can so easily forgive how overstuffed this movie is. Sure, Black Panther wasn't given that much to do... but he'll have plenty to do in his own movie at some point (and with Ryan Coogler at the helm? I think we're all on board with that!) We're going to see most of these characters again, and probably sooner rather than later. I also opined that: "The never-ending serialized nature of comic books are coming to the screen, fraught with all the attendant baggage that entails." With Age of Ultron, I was seeing the strain. With Civil War, I'm seeing the opportunities, even if I still find the whole Civil War concept a bit dubious. In the immortal words of that great philosopher, Axl Rose, what's so civil about war anyway?**

* This is the actual title of the movie. Someone actually thought that up, and then more people actually approved it and put hundreds of millions dollars behind it.

** Seriously, though***, wouldn't it be awesome if they played that song at some point?

*** Ok, not seriously, that's a terrible idea, I'm the worst.
Posted by Mark on May 15, 2016 at 09:43 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Movie Queue
There've been a string of limited release films in recent (and upcoming) months and I've done a poor job actually keeping up with these suckers. In fact, I'm behind on just about everything, including more mainstream releases like 10 Cloverfield Lane and even Captain America: Civil War. Still, here's a few movies I'm going to have to catch up with soon:
  • Green Room - Jeremy Saulnier's follow-up to the interesting, small-scale revenge flick, Blue Ruin. This one is something about a band who inadvertently witnesses a murder and tries to survive against a group of skinheads lead by none other than Patrick Stewart. In. Limited release right now, but everyone seems to love it.
  • High Rise - Don't know a lot about this one except that it apparently played like gangbusters at last year's Fantastic Fest, which is usually enough for me. Also, it stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, and Sienna Miller. Not sure when it comes out, but will probably be limited until it hits streaming, etc....
  • The Invitation - Another small, independent film that's in limited release right now. All the descriptions make it sound kinda like it wouldn't be my thing, but then, I gather the description is somewhat misleading. Will have to check it out.
  • Everybody Wants Some - Alright, so you don't need me to tell you about Richard Linklater's latest, especially since it's described as the spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, but Linklater often rubs me the wrong way. This seems like it could work though. We shall see!
  • Tickled - "The Hunt for the Truth in Competitive Tickling" Apparently real, and what else do you need to know about this documentary?
  • Black Mountain Side - I don't remember where I heard about this little horror film, but hey, the description sounds interesting: "A group of archaeologists uncover a strange structure in Northern Canada, dating over ten thousand years before the present. The team finds themselves isolated when their communication systems fail and it's not long before they begin to feel the effects of the solitude." Yes, I will watch this.
As always, there's interesting stuff out there if you're willing to dig. What's on your list?
Posted by Mark on May 08, 2016 at 12:39 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dark Knighted
In the wake of the disastrous Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice*, I thought it was time to take a look back at Batman, so I went out and read a bunch of the more famous and lauded comics as well as a few peripheral bits of media. My experience with comic books and graphic novels is limited, to be sure, but I did briefly go through a phase in the early 1990s where I read a bunch of stuff, including some Batman and Superman. These weren't particularly memorable, though there was that whole Death of Superman thing (and the subsequent return) that was pretty hard to miss. I also read a bunch of them newfangled Image comics, but believe it or not, my focus at the time was more on licensed properties like The Terminator, Aliens, and Predator (and come to think of it, Batman versus Predator was nestled in there somewhere). More recently, friends turned me on to the likes of Locke & Key and Morning Glories, but not so much superhero comics. All of which is to say that you should probably take what follows with the appropriate boulder of salt.
  • The Dark Knight Returns - A 4 issue miniseries set in an alternate, dystopian Gotham City where a 55 year old Batman snaps and comes out of retirement to deal with a growing gang menace as well as some old foes (and while he's at it, friends). Grim and gritty, this is probably one of the most influential comics of all time. Also, probably one of the most overrated. Coming at this from the outside (and 30 years later), it seems like a dramatic pendulum swing, the polar opposite of the campy 60s Adam West Batman TV series. Perhaps a necessary change, but almost certainly an overcorrection. Written by Frank Miller with art from Miller and Klaus Janson, I found the book to be a bit of a slog. Miller's writing is pretty text heavy, with a clunky overuse of cross-cutting (or whatever the comic book equivalent to that is) and relying a little too heavily on an extended critique of the news media. The artwork feels kinda sloppy and jumbled, with some exceptions. The use of a 16 panel grid sometimes leads to highly repetitive and awkward visual cues. It sometimes feels like the art isn't finished. I'm guessing the washed out tone was intentional, but aside from the new Robin character, a lot of this feels a little too muddled. The one visual thing that did work for me are the striking splash pages.
    Splash Page
    Perhaps because of the repetitive grid preceding them, the splash pages have a high impact and the art is usually much more distinctive and focused. They're doled out sparingly, but that only increases their effectiveness. From what I can tell, this is one of the influential things about this book, though I don't know enough to say for sure... Storywise, there actually isn't much going on here. It's all just an excuse for Miller to indulge in graphic excess, relying too much on the shock value of having, say, Selina Kyle be a hooker or Batman riding up to criminals in a tank or something. It's not so much that the story is dark that's the problem (though it does feel excessive), it's that there isn't much of a story at all, it's just a flimsy pretense to go dark. Reading this after seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice*, I'm guessing that Zack Snyder was majorly influenced by this book. His movie has a similar disjointed structure (except that it's a lot worse on screen that it is on the page). Overall, glad I read this, but I can't see myself revisiting it much.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke - This short graphic novel, written by Alan Moore with art from Brian Bolland, is more like it. Once again, we're greeted with stultifying darkness, but here, at least, it works. The art is also quite beautiful and much more appropriate for the story. Speaking of which, there actually is a story. A very dark, very gruesome story, to be sure, but at least something that makes sense. There's shock value here, but that's a means to an end, not the end in itself.
    Reveal of the Joker
    What's more, the art seems singularly focused on moving the story along. It's not an afterthought or formality, it's specifically designed. Everything feels deliberate and planned, like Moore and Bolland are actually taking advantage of the medium (imagine that) to, for example, provide a surprise when you turn the page. There is little of this in Miller's TDKR. There are some strange choices here, notably the idea of showing the Joker's origin (though I suppose you can retcon it as being another made up story, a la Heath Ledger's Joker), but it's all something I'm willing to go with. To continue the pendulum metaphor from above, we're still on that grim and gritty swing, but we're starting to fall back down towards the equilibrium. Not by much, but enough. I found out after I read this that apparently there's some sort of argument about the ending, whether or not someone is killed. In some ways, the book is ambiguous, in others, it's visually very clear. The artwork is so generally well done that I have to take this as being intentional. Sorry, trying to avoid spoilers here, but this is well worth checking out.
  • Batman: Year One - Another 4 issue run written by Frank Miller, this one is illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, and thus avoids much of the sloppiness I perceived in TDKR. Miller's script is also toned down a bit here too, retaining the darkness but relying less on shock value and more on actual story, which I appreciated much more. It's a retelling of Batman's origin, and his initial forays into crime-fighting. Much of this is focused on Batman's failures, to be sure, but hey, one scene follows another in a generally logical progression that actually makes sense. Way to go, Miller! The art is generally better than TDKR as well, and some of the imagery does feel quite iconic (if not as great as Killing Joke). It's clear that some of this inspired Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, even if it's not a one-to-one adaptation.
  • Batman: The Animated Series - This is basically my Batman. I had watched some of the 60s show and I'd seen the Tim Burton Batman movie, but this series, more than anything else, is what made me love Batman as a character. I noticed that this was on Amazon Prime streaming, so I threw on a few episodes, hoping it would live up to my memory. I'm happy to report that it has held up incredibly well. This show is fantastic. From the unique German expressionism/Art Deco visuals, to the voice acting, to the well paced and plotted stories, this gets everything just right. One of the many reasons the show works so well is that it, like its source material, is episodic in nature. This causes so much angst in filmic portrayals because the filmmakers are always trying to cram so much into their 2 hour limit that they often have trouble balancing it all together. The series does not need to worry about such things, and manages to stay very focused and on point throughout. The show was created for kids, but it has a surprisingly ambitious streak, such that adults can still get a lot out of this. Take, for instance, the pure visual storytelling on display in the opening credits - a heist is foiled by Batman, no dialogue, just visuals. While the tone is not as dark as the other things in this post, it was a welcome respite, while not descending into ridiculous camp. They struck a perfect balance here, and it's the sort of thing that I think everyone enjoys, including the hardest of hard-core comic fans and normal people alike. I'm really looking forward to watching more of these...
  • The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon - This recently released cultural history of Batman, tracing him from his origins up through current incarnations, was quite enlightening. Weldon (of Pop Culture Happy Hour fame) clearly has a love of the character that runs deep, and he has done his homework. He posits an interesting cycle for the Caped Crusader, from noir detective to kid and family friendly superhero and back again, it seems like my pendulum metapahor earlier in this post is particularly apt for this character. As evidenced by this post, I'm no expert, but it does seem like Weldon has taken a pretty comprehensive look at the character on both the pages of comic books as well as other adaptations. If you're a fan of Batman, this is well worth checking out.
And that just about covers it. Up next on the Batman front: Batman: The Long Halloween, which seems like something I might want to save for later reading...

* This is the actual title of the movie. Someone actually thought that up, and then more people actually approved it and put hundreds of millions dollars behind it.
Posted by Mark on April 17, 2016 at 02:41 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Witch
In popular culture, the witch hunt is a popular trope. Rooted in actual witch hunts in early modern Europe and colonial North America (15th through 18th centuries), it's a seemingly generic feature of human behavior easily extrapolated into nearly any moral threat. The U.S. roots in Salem were renewed in the 1950s Red Scare, and so on. We've all seen such stories in movies and television, but writer/director Robert Eggers' The Witch is a fascinating take on the matter. Spoilers aho, fun ahoy.

Set in early 17th century New England, it tells the story of a puritan family struggling to survive on their own. Towards the beginning of the film, the youngest member of the family (an infant) is abducted and the family begins to suspect evil forces from the woods next to their farm as the explanation for their woes. It isn't wrong before members of the family start casting suspicion upon one another. A witch walks among us.

Eggers took care with the historical realities, and his background doing the grunt work of production design, set carpenter, etc... served him well. He apparently spent five years researching the colonial setting, consulting primary source documents on everything from architecture to period language. Indeed, most of the dialog is directly culled from Puritan prayer manuals and period diaries, making the speech a little difficult to follow at first, but the mood of which suits the film perfectly. All of this lends a sense of verisimilitude, except for one key detail: the witches themselves!

It's clear, even early on in the film, that the witches are real. These days, most witch hunt stories are completely one sided. For instance, I recently watched a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called The Drumhead, in which a retired admiral investigates and explosion aboard the enterprise, quickly jumping to accusations of conspiracy and treason. It's a good episode, but it's one in which there's never any real doubt as to the outcome. Most examples of a witch hunt in pop culture focus on completely unfounded accusations, but in The Witch, such accusations actually are founded. There really are witches in the woods tormenting the family. One of the insidious things about witches is that they lurk among us, waiting for opportune times to do us harm and often throw suspicion on others. Because of their nature, we tend to abandon our principles and our morals in our desperate attempt to find our foe. The Witch understands this, and because of its staggering period authenticity, we must acknowledge the supernatural's existence, even as our protagonists have no way of rooting them out and end up turning on one another. This sets the movie apart from the typical witch hunt tale, while not excusing the resultant behavior. Despite the setting of the film, it's clearly aiming at more contemporary witch hunts than actual historical accounts.

If someone were to make a movie about, say, Joseph McCarthy, much would be made of the near total lack of concrete evidence for his anti-Communist crusade. As it should! But little would be made of the fact that, despite his deplorable methods of intimidation, his rants about "Communists in the State Department" were basically true. Of course, most of the people and organizations that McCarthy accused were unsupported by evidence, making the topic decidedly muddled. Again, a movie attempting to tell this story would probably bypass this complexity to focus more on the lack of evidence and the persecution than the actual communists that were deploying their Gramscian weapons on an unsuspecting public.

Even today, the concept applies to our national obsession with terrorists. At its core, fighting terrorism is a witch hunt. But since we know that terrorists actually exist, it's not your typical witch hunt narrative. Sonny Bunch sees The Witch as a radicalization narrative:
...I think The Witch has done something far more interesting. Or, at least, more unique. It's not peddling a traditional witch hunt narrative. It's offering a radicalization narrative. Thomasin's tale is the story of how a young person, marginalized by society and her family, comes to join a radical group. It's a story you see in the news today relatively regularly, one that usually focuses on disaffected young Muslims who, alienated by their perceived mistreatment at the hands of Westerners and languishing in poverty, leave their homes to join ISIS and other terrorist groups. They seek belonging and fellowship. And if they happen to find it amongst killers and psychopaths, well, so be it.
The Witch is a horror film. One in which the witches actually exist, even. But the horror in the film is not derived from cheap jump scares. The environment is creepy on its own and the film does an admirable job of slowly building tension through visual techniques, but the real horror is not that the witches exist. Rather, it's that we have no way to fight them and that traditionally, we've resorted to morally compromised methods that easily lead to our downfall (and potentially strengthening our enemy in the process). I'll leave the application of this to current events as an exercise for the reader.

The film is deliberately paced and the dialog takes some getting used to, but it never descends into a slog, and once you start thinking through its implications, it becomes more chilling and fascinating. It's beautiful, well composed, well acted, and more relevant than I ever expected. It's not an easy sit, but it's a worthwhile one that has only grown in my estimation as it continues to occupy my thoughts.
Posted by Mark on March 13, 2016 at 01:45 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Oscars
The Academy Awards are strange in that it's extremely popular to whine about them and how they're so irrelevant, and yet, we all spend time and effort whining about them. I'm including myself. Take my intro to last year's Oscars post:
The funny thing about the Academy Awards is that your opinion about them is pretty boring. You think the Oscars are just a cynical circle jerk of self-satisfied Hollywood elites? Boring! You're outraged at [insert snub here]? Super fucking boring! You're genuinely excited about seeing films receive the recognition they deserve? You are both naive and boring! But the one thing that unites us all is the abject hatred of the short films categories. I think we can all agree on that.
Culture warriors have done their best to liven things up with the whole #OscarsSoWhite thing, and you have to be at least a little interested to see what Chris Rock is going to do as the host this year, but it's still pretty boring.

Personally, I have a decent enough time because I think it's fun to mock celebrities and drink alcohol. I also like parsing the weird politics of Hollywood to make pointless predictions (usually scoring in the 80% range). Back in the before time, the long long ago, I used to do this thing called "liveblogging". For you youngsters out there, back in the dark days before Facebook and Twitter, people would just update their blog every 2 minutes during an event like the Oscars and we'd just sit there hitting F5 to see what people were saying. A few years ago, I finally got with the times and took it all to Twitter. And to be honest, I'm not that funny, so I usually end up just retweeting a bunch of people who are funnier and more incisive than I am. But hey, if you want to chat, I'll be on Twitter @mciocco saying dumb things. If, for some ungodly reason, you want to see a decade's worth of previous predictions and commentary on the Oscars, check them out here: [2015 | 2014 | 2013 |2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]
  • Best Picture: The Revenant. The academy is fickle, but The Revenant seems to have the momentum. Early favorite Spotlight probably deserves the statue, but it's been sinking under the weight of (unfair, imhbco) complaints about its "workmanlike" nature. Still a chance, but it seems unlikely. The Big Short is probably the only other realistic contender. Mad Max: Fury Road would probably be my choice, but it seems unlikely to tweak the Academy's fancy. Bridge of Spies seems like a perfunctory nomination, and the indies like Brooklyn and Room are supposed to be happy just getting nominated, and The Martian is probably in the same boat. A bunch of others probably should have been nominated: Creed, The Hateful Eight, Ex Machina, and of course, Bone Tomahawk.
  • Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant. Back to back wins? Looks like it. Potential spoilers from Adam McKay or George Miller, but they seem unlikely. Should have been nominated: Ryan Coogler for Creed.
  • Best Actress: Brie Larson in Room. Of the 10 films nominated for Actress/Actor, I've only seen 3. I'm not usually one for acting showpieces, I guess, but Larson seems like a lock for this one (and she is indeed excellent!) Charlotte Rampling had a chance, but she's a racist and the academy is taking a lot of flack for that right now, so I'm guessing she doesn't have a chance. Maybe Saoirse Ronan, but Brooklyn has a reputation for being slight, and clearly Larson is doing more heavy lifting. Should have been nominated: Charlize Theron for Mad Max: Fury Road.
  • Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. I'm thinking it's finally Leo's year, and his competition doesn't look like it'll put up much of a fight. Maybe Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, but did anyone see that movie? It's supposed to be about how awesome and brave Hollywood is, and the Academy certainly has a high opinion of itself, so there's that, but I don't think it'll be enough to overtake The Revenant. Should have been nominated: Michael B. Jordan in Creed.
  • Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl. Vikander is the "it" girl right now, and she was in, like, 20 movies last year, all of which adds up to an Oscar win. Personally, I'd go for Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, and I suppose she could upset Vikander for this one. Should have been nominated: Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina (heh).
  • Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone in Creed. Because nostalgia. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies has a decent chance of spoiling, but I think this is Sly's to lose. Should have been nominated: Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. I mean, come on, I like Christian Bale as much as the next guy, but he has no business being nominated in this category at all, let alone when Idris Elba is giving performances like this. I guess the Netflix aspect of the film's release doomed it or something, but still.
  • Best Original Screenplay: Spotlight. Compensation for not winning best picture. Inside Out has a chance, I guess, but it'll also garner the Best Animated Feature and that will probably give the edge to Spotlight.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short. Also compensation for not winning best picture. I'd love to see Drew Goddard get it for The Martian, but that doesn't seem likely.
  • Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road. I expect Mad Max to clean up on some of the less prestigious technical awards, but you never know, The Revenant might run the night or something.
  • Cinematography: The Revenant. Poor Roger Deakins.
  • Visual Effects: Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. This tends to go to a blockbuster, but I guess you can't rule out the bear from The Revenant. And one can hope for Mad Max: Fury Road here too.
  • Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road. Yup.
  • Costumes: Cinderella. Could also go Mad Max, but this tends to go more historical period than dystopian SF, methinks.
  • Musical Score: The Hateful Eight. Ennio Morricone will take this one down, seems pretty much a lock.
  • Best Song: "Til It Happens To You" by Lady Gaga from The Hunting Ground. This one has all the buzz, I guess. I'm not good at the music categories though.
  • Best Animated Film: Inside Out. Duh. Betting against this is one of the classic blunders: Never go in against Pixar when the Oscars are on the line!
  • Best Documentary: Amy. Maybe The Look of Silence could creep up, but Amy's got the momentum.
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul. Always a crapshoot, but this has the buzz.
So there you go. Follow me on Twitter @mciocco to see what I'm saying during the show itself.
Posted by Mark on February 28, 2016 at 12:36 PM .: Comments (1) | link :.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Year End Movie Cramming
The end of each orbital period is usually accompanied by a mountain of best-of-the-year lists and other such reflections. Here at Kaedrin, we watch a lot of movies, but we don't feel beholden to the timeline and usually end up posting our top 10 list in early/mid February. There are a few reasons for this. As we approach awards season, studios are cramming the final weeks of the year with qualifying runs of prestige pictures. But those movies only play in a handful of theaters and don't go wider until later in January. Earlier indie titles are just starting to show up on streaming services now. Plus, I'm just a dude who likes movies a lot. I don't really seek out critic credentials so that I can go to screenings, etc... That being said, January is typically chock-full of movie watching for me, and the grand majority of it is comprised of catching up with movies from the previous year. As of right now, I've seen 50 movies that you could consider 2015 releases (are you on Letterboxd? We should be friends.). Interestingly, with the advent of streaming and better availability of obscure movies, the "year of release" is becoming something of a fuzzy line for me. Sure, What We Do in the Shadows came out in 2014... but that was in it's native country (New Zealand) and the film festival circuit. It wasn't really available to normal people in the USA until 2015. There are numerous examples of this, so keep that in mind. Anywho, there's a ton of movies I want to catch up with in the coming weeks, so I figured I should try and nail down some semblance of a list here. As usual, much of this is dependent on availability and timing, and I probably won't be able to get to all of them. Enough preamble, onto the list:
  • The Hateful Eight - I don't really need to justify seeing Quentin Tarantino's latest at all, and if possible, I will try and catch the 70mm roadshow in KOP. Fingers crossed. (In theaters soon)
  • The Revenant - I feel like I've been seeing the preview for this forever, and it looks gorgeous. Plus, you know, bear rape (j/k, of course, that was the dumbest controversy ever). (In theaters soon)
  • The Big Short - Is it me, or did this come out of nowhere? It's got a bizarre pedigree, but has been getting good reviews. I'll probably take a flier on this one. (In theaters now)
  • Victoria - All I know about this movie is that it's shot in a single, continuous take. And supposedly no Birdman-esque editing tricks either. Other than that, I'm going in blind, but I'm pretty excited about it. (Amazon streaming and iTunes rental.)
  • The Assassin - I've heard good things but know little about this. It may be difficult to get ahold of in time, but it seems interesting enough. (Availability unknown)
  • Room - Another movie I don't know a lot about, but which is getting lots of buzz in circles I follow. It's another one I'm not sure I'll get to due to availability issues, but I am intrigued. (Availability unknown)
  • Kung Fu Killer (aka Kung Fu Jungle) - Rumored to be one of the best action movies of the year, this Hong Kong martial arts flick sounds great. (On DVD/BD/streaming rental)
  • Close Range - Another action flick, this one with less of a good reputation, but which apparently has some great action sequences. Something about a guy protecting his family from a drug cartel. Sounds like it could be fun. (On DVD/BD/streaming rental soon)
  • Joy - I've heard many conflicting things about this, and based on my general reaction to David O. Russel movies, I'm betting I'll think this is a mess. We'll see if I can squeeze it in, but I wouldn't be surprised if I don't get to it. (In theaters now)
  • The Lobster - A frontrunner for Kaedrin's prestigious Arbitrary Award "Achievement in the Field of Batshit Insanity". Alas, this may be difficult to track down. (Availability unknown)
  • Cooties - A holdover from this year's Six Weeks of Halloween, this seems like a fun little horror comedy in which kids at a school become zombies or something. (On DVD/BD/streaming rental)
  • The End of the Tour - This got good reviews and David Foster Wallace is an interesting guy, but I'm not entirely sure how down with this movie I'll be. Still might give it a shot (on DVD/BD/Streaming rental now)
  • Finders Keepers - Documentary about a guy who finds an amputated leg inside a used grill he bought at an auction. Sold! (DVD)
  • 1971 - Documentary about activists who revealed FBI abuse in 1971 (seems to have many echoes to today's privacy discussions, etc...) (DVD/BD)
  • Amy - Documentary about Amy Winehouse which has gotten a lot of buzz. (DVD/BD)
  • The Search for General Tso - "Who was General Tso, and why are we eating his chicken? " These are questions I need answered in documentary form. (Netflix Streaming)
  • The Wolfpack - A documentary about a bunch of kids who grew up never leaving their apartment, and the only thing they know about the outside world are movies. (Netflix streaming)
  • Call Me Lucky - Bobcat Golthwait documentary about an obscure comedian? Sounds good. (Netflix streaming)
  • The Russian Woodpecker - I know very little about this documentary. Something about a Chernobyl survivor and Ukranian war? Has won some awards already... (Amazon streaming rental)
  • Advantageous - One of those low budget SF movies that have peppered the landscape over the past few years. Often interesting, sometimes a bust, I'm probably willing to check this one out. (Netflix streaming)
  • Faults - An interesting premise involving cults and mind control, etc... I've heard mixed things, but it's on Netflix streaming, so I might give it a shot.
  • The Duke of Burgundy - I don't know what to make of this movie. Everything I've heard seems weird, but not so weird that it'd fit the "batshit insanity" realm I usually enjoy. Again, it's on Netflix streaming, so perhaps I'll give it a shot.
  • Results - Another Netflix streaming flier, seems kinda like a romantic comedy, or maybe not? I don't know, we'll see if I actually get to this...
So there you have it, 20+ movies that I would like to check out, though I probably won't get to all of them. And I'll probably watch some other junk instead. Stay tuned for Kaedrin movie awards, coming mid-January!
Posted by Mark on December 27, 2015 at 01:57 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
First, before the spoilers, it's good. A dramatic improvement over the prequels, if perhaps not quite up to the legendary originals. But what could live up to that sort of hype? I tried my hardest to keep expectations in check, and as a result, found myself greatly enjoying this movie. Star Wars is a lot of fun again, which is something that was sorely lacking in the prequels. My biggest complaint, and it's a small one, is that it's too reliant on callbacks to the original trilogy. Everyone's freaking out about this, so spoilers ahead I guess (I'll try to be a little vague about it).

In the behind-the-scenes materials for the prequels (of which there is a lot of footage that was generously released), there's an infamous scene where George Lucas notes that he's trying to establish parallels between the prequels and the original trilogy, saying "You see the echo of where all is gonna go. It's like poetry, they rhyme" The problem here is that George Lucas is no Shakespeare, so much of his attempts at this sort of thing come off as hamfisted and clumsy. It doesn't help that the movies themselves aren't very good. Now, true, J.J. Abrams isn't Shakespeare either, but he's a lot better at this sort of thing. He may have gone to the well a little too often, but the result is that this movie captures a lot of what made the original movies so wonderful (and he did so much better than he did with Star Trek Into Darkness). Ironically, J.J. Abrams has evoked a more Lucas-esque feeling than Lucas managed in the prequels!

So there are lots and lots of callbacks. There's a bigger, badder Death Star. There's an assault on that Death Star that evokes the end of the original Star Wars. There's a dark, masked villain that is strong with the dark side of the force. He has a master that only appears in hologram. He also has a surprising familial relationship with someone. BB-8 is basically R2-D2, but he has that cool rolling propulsion. There's a cantina scene. Heck, Han Solo (and Chewbacca), General Leia, and Luke Skywalker all show up in varying degrees.

And it works. Again, there might be too many callbacks, but for the most part, they rhyme, like poetry. Where the movie really shines, though, is with the new characters. Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) is utterly fantastic, a scrappy badass and the best addition to the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy. Finn (John Boyega) is heroic and funny, hitting a note of almost childlike wonder. He's the most openly emotional, but still brave character in the film. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is charismatic and, well, not quite a rogue, but perhaps dashing. He's a straight arrow, right out of the serials. What's more, these three leads play off each other perfectly and the performances are spot on. One could quibble at the speed with which they develop their deep friendships, but this, too, rhymes with the original Star Wars trio of Luke, Leia, and Han. I love these three characters and cannot wait to see where they go next!

For his part, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is menacing and terrifying, reminiscent of Darth Vader, but by the end he's carved out a wholly different identity. One that's mysterious and vulnerable and intriguing, which softens the impossible comparison between the villains. I'm not quite sure what to make of this character, actually, especially where he ends up, but I'm really excited to see what happens here too. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is still in the shadows at this point, but he seems suitably menacing. Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) gets almost nothing to do in this film except look really cool in her snazzy chrome armor. My guess is that some of her stuff wound up on the cutting room floor, but that she'll also get a chance to rebound and establish herself as a name villain in the next film. Nowhere to go but up for her.

Of the returning characters, Han Solo and Chewbacca get the most screentime, perhaps a little too much, but Abrams made it work. Princess (sorry, General) Leia is in the movie just about the right amount, and Luke is only teased a bit (he'll certainly have more time in the next film). I was wary of this, and in some ways, my worries were justified, but it works out well enough in the end.

All in all, this is an excellent return to form for Star Wars, evoking the best of the original trilogy and yet showing enough potential to carve out its own identity in the following films. This will be crucial because otherwise, this will play out like lesser Star Wars. It's all well and good for this film to recall the originals so much, but the sequels will need to do their own thing if this is to truly succeed. The good news is that all the pieces are on the board, and they've done a good job maneuvering so far. Episode VIII writer/director Rian Johnson is a Kaedrin favorite, and I'm guessing that he'll shepherd this series on well. He's also on board to write Episode IX, so I think we're in good hands (though I have more trepidation about Colin Trevorrow as director).

As a science fiction nerd, I should note that this film is perhaps the least plausible of them all. And that's actually wonderful! One of the worst, dumbest things Lucas managed in the prequels was the hackneyed attempt to explain the Force scientifically. This movie has no such pretensions, and that's actually what Star Wars is all about.

If I may go off on a tangent for a moment here, I feel like I should mention the books that I always thought would make a great sequel trilogy. Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy is still wonderful and worth checking out, even though it is no longer official canon material. Grand Admiral Thrawn was a wonderful villain, so different from what you might expect, and that worked really well (still holding out hope for a Thrawn cameo in these new movies - come on Rian, just throw a dude with blue skin and a white Admiral's uniform on screen somewhere). The heroes in that book were still primarily Luke, Leia, and Han, which wouldn't really be possible in movies these days without recasting, and the new characters weren't quite as lovable as the new trio we got in this film. Still, the series is worth checking out, and it's really the only Expanded Universe stuff that I've really enjoyed.

Anyway, this movie is great. I will grant that I'm not particularly objective about this whole thing. There's a lot of nostalgia and love in this series for me, so it's hard to separate this from that. If I really wanted to, I'm sure I could nitpick a ton of stuff, but I don't want to. In fact, much of what I could nitpick here is almost equally applicable to the original movie. There's no sense in that, I just want to revel in this for now. I enjoyed this a lot more than the prequels, and this movie shows a lot of promise for future Star Wars efforts. Only two more years until Episode VIII (though we'll get a Rogue One movie next year).
Posted by Mark on December 20, 2015 at 09:13 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Mr. Dadier's Juvie-Ready, Tough-As-Nails Blackboard-Bustin' Back to School Movie Quiz
A couple months ago, Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog posted two of his infamous quizes. Given the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, I tackled the horror themed quiz first, but am only now returning to the more standard quiz. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Larry Gopnick, Professor Dewey Finn, Ms. Elizabeth Halsey, and Professor Abraham Setrakian are also available.

1) Favorite moment from a Coen Brothers movie

This is impossible. After careful consideration, I was able to narrow this down to ten moments.
  • Tracking shot across the bar and over the drunk in Blood Simple.
  • The diaper heist in Raising Arizona
  • "Look into your heart!" from Miller's Crossing (alternate: anything with Albert Finney)
  • "You know, for kids." from The Hudsucker Proxy (alternate: Jennifer Jason Leigh's Hepburn impression)
  • "Oh for Pete's sake, he's fleeing the interview! He's fleeing the interview!" from Fargo (alternate: almost every other Marge Gunderson scene)
  • "Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos." from The Big Lebowski
  • The scene where the dog is chasing Josh Brolin across the river from No Country for Old Men (alternate: anything with Javier Bardem)
  • The scenes where David Rasche attempts to explain what's going on to J.K. Simmons from Burn After Reading (alternate: anything with Brad Pitt)
  • The dream sequence fakeout from A Serious Man
  • "...wait a minute... are we trading again?" from True Grit
Also of note, about 10 moments from the Hail, Caesar! trailer.

2) Scratching The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty and The Hudsucker Proxy from consideration, what would now rate as your least-favorite Coen Brothers movie?

First, I resent the inclusion (er, exclusion) of The Hudsucker Proxy in this question. In my opinion, it's one of the more underrated Coen Brothers movies. Anyway, this might get me disbarred from movie nerddom, but I really didn't like Inside Llewyn Davis (and my runner up is another fan fave, Barton Fink). Just bounced right off of those movies.

3) Name the most underrated blockbuster of all time

This is hard, because if a film is actually a blockbuster, it's not really underrated. It was busting blocks, guys! But if you define it as something that people tend to ignore these days (as opposed to when it opened), it gets more manageable. My first thought was the original Rocky, a film that tends to get unfairly slagged because it won the Best Picture Oscar, beating out film nerd favorites like Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President's Men. It also suffers because most of what people know about Rocky comes from the sequels and not the film itself.

4) Ida Lupino or Sylvia Sidney?

Sylvia Sidney's had a long career, and I've actually seen stuff all throughout, including Beetlejuice (which she is fantastic in!) and Hitchcock's Sabotage (which is great).

5) Edwards Scissorhands - yes or no?

Yes! It is a bit indicative of the indulgent excess that would sink a lot of Burton's later work, but here it is still fresh and interesting.

6) The movie you think most bastardizes, misinterprets or does a disservice to the history or historical event it tires to represent

The thing with this is, is that most bastardizations generally make for a better movie. No one gets on The Inglorious Bastards for being inaccurate. Indeed, that's the whole damn point. So the trick here is to find a movie that is bad, which thus does much more of a disservice to history. As such, a couple that come to mind are Pearl Harbor and The Patriot.

7) Favorite Aardman animation

This is pretty simple: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

8) Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie

I haven't seen enough Assayas to comment on this one, so here's my first mulligan.

9) Neville Brand or Mike Mazurki?

I've seen more things with Mike Mazurki, but guys, Neville Brand is in Killdozer.
10) Name the movie you would cite to a nonbeliever as the best evidence toward convincing them of the potential greatness of a favorite genre

I always feel like a cheat when I answer The Godfather, because it's so universal and can be the answer for such a wide variety of questions, but then, here we are. Gangster movies can be trashy, but this is anything but...

11) Name any director and one aspect of his/her style or career, for good or bad, that sets her/him apart from any other director

Too many answers to count here, but the first to come to mind is the weaponized quirk of Wes Anderson.

12) Best car chase

There are so many iconic car chases in film that it's hard to narrow down, so I think I'll try to highlight some more obscure personal favorites. I guess The Blues Brothers isn't that obscure, but it's an unexpected source for great car chases. Death Proof is notable because it's a practical effect in an era of CGI. I've always enjoyed the care chase in Running Scared. But of course, the answer to this is The Road Warrior (and, I suppose, Mad Max: Fury Road).

13) Favorite moment directed by Robert Aldrich

Opening the box at the end of Kiss Me Deadly...
Kiss Me Deadly
14) The last movie you saw in a theater? On home video?

In the theater, it was Krampus, a delightfully mean-spirited Christmas horror movie that nevertheless generated a few laughs. On streaming, it was Barely Lethal, a weirdly fluffy child assassin goes to high school movie that is more successful than, say, Kick-Ass 2, but that's not saying much. And on BD, it was Magic Mike XXL, also fluffier than expected, and more episodic than the first film, oddly weightless... but maybe better for that.

15) Jane Greer or Joan Bennett?

Jane Greer because Out of the Past.

16) Second-favorite Paul Verhoeven movie

Total Recall behind favorite RoboCop. "Consider that a divorce!"

17) Your nominee for best/most important political or social documentary you've seen

Can it be anything other than The Thin Blue Line? That's the answer, right? Alright, there's lots of worthy answers to this, but Errol Morris' masterwork is my pick.

18) Favorite movie twins

It's corny and the movie is not that good, but the pairing of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in Twins is goofy and fun by itself. On a more serious note, the Jeromy Irons twins in Dead Ringers are haunting.

19) Best movie or movie moment about or involving radio

The two that leapt out at me are Samuel L. Jackson's Radio DJ from Do the Right Thing and the backdrop of "K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend" (DJed by the deadpan Steven Wright) from Reservoir Dogs.

20) Eugene Pallette or William Demarest?

I will go with the "Gargantuan-bellied, frog-voiced character actor" Eugene Pallette, a memorable presence for sure.

21) Favorite moment directed by Ken Russell

William Hurt's psychedelic journeys into the isolation chamberAltered States

22) All-time best movie cat

My first thought ran to Jonesy from Alien, but that's more indicative of my love for that movie and all its minutiae than because of the cat itself. Similarly, Elliot Gould's cat in The Long Goodbye is more memorable because of the movie it's in than because it's a cat. Finally, I settled on Irena from Cat People, because she's a giant cat.

23) Your nominee for best movie about teaching and learning, followed by the worst

Real Genius is one of my favorite movies and while the teaching and learning are not direct, I've found that the most valuable stuff I learned in college was not in the classroom, so there is that. Plus, all the other answers I could think of had similar flaws.

24) Name an actor/actress currently associated primarily with TV who you'd like to see on the big screen

Krysten Ritter has been in several TV shows and is always a memorable presence, even when she's not the lead like in Jessica Jones, where she's still awesome and proves she could totally headline a big screen film.

25) Stanley Baker or David Farrar

I've seen a few movies from each filmography, but to be honest, I don't have a preference, so another mulligan for me.

26) Critic Manny Farber once said of Frank Capra that he was "an old-time movie craftsman, the master of every trick in the bag, and in many ways he is more at home with the medium than any other Hollywood director, but all the details give the impression of a contrived effect."

What is the Capra movie that best proves or disproves Farber's assertion? And who else in Hollywood history might just as easily fit his description?

I think the second question betrays the difficulty of the first. There are tons of old-time craftsmen out there, and most film is contrived. That being said, even if It's a Wonderful Life gives the impression of a contrived effect, we should all strive to be so contrived. The other director who might fit this description? Alfred Hitchcock, naturally.
Posted by Mark on December 06, 2015 at 11:29 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Professor Abraham Setrakian's Virulently Vampiric, Malevolently Monsteriffic Super-Strain Halloween Movie Quiz
It appears that Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog is back on track, having posted two whole movie quizes within a couple weeks of each other. Given the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, I'm going to tackle Professor Abraham Setrackian's horror themed quiz first (I will do the other one after 6WH). Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Larry Gopnick, Professor Dewey Finn, and Ms. Elizabeth Halsey are also available.

1) Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet?

When I was coming up with "Obscure Horror Auteurs" for this year's Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, one of the filmmakers I looked into was Sergio Martino. I may still get to him at some point, but I ultimately decided against it because many of his movies just aren't conveniently available. However, like a lot of giallos, they do have worderfully catchy names, such as the Edwige Fenech led Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (alas, seems hard to find). She has lots of other nifty titles to her filmography too, including some that I've even seen. Barbara Bouchet, on the other hand, is a little less known to me, and to be honest, Don't Torture a Duckling is not really my favorite giallo. So Edwige Fenech it is!

2) The horror movie you will stand up for when no one else will

I feel like there are whole sub-genres I stick up for when few others will (don't forget, this is the internet, someone somewhere is standing up for nearly everything), in particular, the slasher film is treasured by us here at Kaedrin. It's horror movie comfort food, like a comfy sweater on a cold autumn day. There are many specific films I could list here, but I'll go with one of my favorites, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI.
Jason Voorhees
Jason Lives!
Other contending slashers that few stand up for: My Bloody Valentine, The Prowler, and April Fool's Day. Another much lamented sub-genre: Torture Porn. It's not really my thing, but I think people in the future will view those movies the same way we view slashers today. Finally, to take this question in another direction, one movie I'll stand up for when no one else will.... because they don't even know about it... is Detention. It's a divisive film to start with, but no one's heard of it, and I love it to death.

3) Your favorite horror novel

It's cliche to say Stephen King's The Shining, so I think I'm going to settle for Dean Koontz's Phantoms, followed closely by Midnight. The major caveat here is that I haven't read any of these books in, like, 20 years, and my teenaged self didn't have quite as refined of a taste. That being said, Phantoms is the one I'd be most interested in revisiting.
Also of note, F. Paul Wilson's The Keep, another one I haven't read in a long time but which I remember fondly. I... should really read more horror these days. Special caveat here, if we were to include short stories, that opens things up considerably, and would probably involve some sort of Clive Barker or Richard Matheson story.

4) Lionel Atwill or George Zucco?

This one goes to Lionel Atwill by default, since I've actually seen Captain Blood, but I can't say as though he made a major impression.

5) Name a horror film which you feel either goes "too far" or, conversely, might have been better had been bolder

Martyrs is the film that leaps to mind, but then, going too far is kinda the point, I guess. It's one of those movies that prompts you to question what the hell you're doing watching such depravity, but you also have to admire its dedication and unflinching exploration of its concept.

6) Let the Right One In or Let Me In?

Hands down, Let the Right One In. Nothing inherently wrong with Let Me In, except the fact that it doesn't really do enough to justify remaking the original movie.

7) Favorite horror film released by American International Pictures

I will eschew the typical Poe/Corman answers and jump to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, which has always fascinated me because of its influence within the genre.

8) Veronica Carlson or Barbara Shelley

I'm not really the biggest fan of Hammer Horror, but I tended to appreciate the Frankenstein films moreso than the Dracula ones, so Veronica Carlson it is!

9) Name the pinnacle of slasher movie kills, based on either gore quotient, level of cleverness or shock value

Fantastic Fest is this great film festival that focuses on genre fare, and they have this one event called 100 best kills where they show clips of the best kills, as curated by a couple of weird dudes who love this stuff. They have this great A/V equipment that allows them to speed up or slow down and easily replay the kills so you can see them in all their glory. It takes like 3 hours. So to answer this question, well, I'm not going to spend that long... but I probably could. Here are some great examples. First up is an obvious one, Jack in Friday the 13th, blatantly stolen from Mario Bava's A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve), but the added starpower of Kevin Bacon always keeps it relevant. Jason has a lot of great kills, actually, including a slew of other Bava-inspired ripoffs in the early films, but also the Sleeping Bag kill in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (with a wonderful callback in Jason X), when Jason boxes with that guy in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and knocks his head off, death by liquid nitrogen in Jason X, the list goes on. Also of note, from Jason's rival Freddy Kreuger, two all time classics in A Nightmare on Elm Street, including Tina's death (interesting because she's dying in her dream, but we're watching her being thrown around like a rag doll out here in the "real" world) and Johnny Depp's death (for its improbable amount of blood; they really got a lot of use out of that rotating room rig thing). But you already know all those, right? What are the more obscure ones? Tom Savini worked on two movies with lots of great stuff, The Prowler (the pitchfork being particularly memorable) and Maniac (though it should be noted that Maniac's most famous kill involves a shotgun, a decidedly non-slasher implement of terror). You've got to love the raft scene in The Burning (I particularly love the way he poses with those garden sheers, despite how pointless that pose would be in that situation) and oh, that scene where the girl accidentally skateboards into a mirror in Pieces. I should probably stop right now before I really disturb everyone, but you know what's funny? I'm using a pretty restrictive definition of "Slasher" here, not including neo-slashers or proto-slashers (I mean, yes, of course I want to talk about the trombone with a knife attached in The Town That Dreaded Sundown, but you have to draw the line somewhere, right. But it's a trombone with a knife attached!)

10) Dracula (1931; Tod Browning) or Dracula (1931; George Melford)?

Alas, I have not seen the Spanish-language version, so I must take a mulligan here.

11) Name a movie which may not strictly be thought of as a horror film which you think qualifies for inclusion in the category

In the interest of not always falling back on my favorite movies (but The Terminator fits here!), I will go with Coherence. It certainly doesn't start out that way, but as the implications of what's happening start to emerge, it gets pretty horrific.

12) The last horror movie you saw in a theater? On home video?

Last one in the theater was The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan's attempt to clime out of the decade long hole he's been digging. It has its moments, and I have to appreciate the goofiness of the premise, but it also has some cringeworthy stuff (I thought we got over the whole isn't it funny when white people try to freestyle rap thing, like, 20 years ago, and there are 3 goddamn scenes in this movie where a kid does horrible rap). Not a return to the promise that started his career, but at least a movie worth watching, so he's on the right trajectory.

On home video, well, I've been chronicling them pretty thoroughly of late. Last week was Dolls and Dummies, before that was Comic Horror week, then a mini-Henenlotter marathon, and also some Larry Cohen and Mario Bava (the last three there part of a series of "Obscure Horror Auteurs"). It's been fun so far, and we're covering some new(ish) releases this weekend (stay tuned!)

13) Can you think of a horror movie that works better as a home video experience than as a theatrical one?

It is surprising how many horror movies are better, or at least different at home. Horror movies are almost always scarier at home (assuming you're playing along), but there are some that work better with audience participation. Still, I feel like most of the classics benefit from a quiet, dark home viewing. The Exorcist comes to mind as something you don't really want to hear other people reacting to (there are probably a million others, but I'll stick with that one).

14) Brad Dourif or Robert Englund?

Robert Englund, full stop. I mean, Freddy Kreuger is almost as much his creation as Wes Craven's, and even beyond that, Englund has established himself as a sorta grand old man of the genre, instantly classing up whatever film he's in (and he's not above appearing in trashy independent fare either, thus giving those films a nice little boost).

15) At what moment did you realize you were a horror fan? Or what caused you to realize that you weren't?

When I was younger, I was absolutely terrified of horror movies and hated even the thought of watching them. Then I went over a friend's house on Halloween to go trick 'r treating and when we got back, he put on Carpenter's Halloween. Nothing like good old peer pressure to force you to watch something new, but lo and behold, I fell in love with the horror genre during that viewing. Since then, I've been mildly voracious when it comes to horror.

16) The Thing with Two Heads or The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant?

I have, sadly, not seen either of these movies, but at least the former has been on my radar (while I've never heard of the latter).

17) Favorite giallo or giallo moment

Blood and Black Lace is, by far, my favorite giallo. My favorite scene is probably the one with the handbag at the fashion show. Bava makes great use of the frame in that sequence, and builds tension like the master he is.
Blood and Black Lace
Blood and Black Lace
18) Name a horror remake, either a character or an entire film, that you prefer over its original or more iconic incarnation. (Example: Frank Langella's Dracula/Dracula > Christopher Lee's Dracula/Dracula)

While recent remakes don't have the greatest reputation, there are a surprising number of remakes that are far superior to the original. Two examples from the 80s immediately jump to mind: The Fly and The Thing. A few weeks ago, The Canon podcast pit these two against each other, claiming that only one could make it into the canon of great films. This seems like conclusive evidence that this "canon" that they are building is nigh worthless, but it's a fun episode nonetheless. However, since this is my blog, I don't feel the need to choose one over the other. They're both great and you can't make me choose.

19) Your favorite director of horror films

An impossible task, so I'm going to have to narrow the definition of horror here, such that it excludes some obvious greats like Alfred Hitchcock (who, to be fair, was more of a thriller/suspense director than straight up horror). It's still tough though. John Carpenter has two bonafide classics that are among my favorite movies of all time (Halloween and The Thing), but a lot of his other movies skirt away from horror. Wes Craven has several classics to his name and a more consistently horror genre filmography, but only A Nightmare on Elm Street rises to Halloween/Thing levels in terms of my tastes (though clearly The Last House on the Left and Scream are influential). I'm having a hard time choosing between them, so I'll just leave it at that. Other notables: David Cronenberg, Mario Bava, Don Coscarelli, and plenty of others. I was actually trying to think of someone more modern, but there is not a huge amount to choose from. James Wan definitely heads that list, Adam Green, Ti West, and Adam Wingard all show promise as well. It's hard to tell these days, though, since so many horror directors move on to other genres rather than get pigeonholed into horror (even Wan has apparently moved on, directing Fast & Furious movies and the like)...

20) Caroline Munro or Stephanie Beacham?

Caroline Munro is actually a name I recognize and look forward to seeing in stuff, including some of my favorite bad movies, like Slaughter High and Maniac, so let's go for it.
Blood and Black Lace
Caroline Munro
21) Best horror moment created specifically for TV

This is a bit of a broad question, so I'll just go with the first thing that came to mind, which was The X-Files: Home (Season 4, episode 2). I've written about this before, so I won't belabor the point, but it's an intensely disturbing episode that pretty much outclasses even the films in its sub-genre.

22) The Stephen King adaptation that works better as a movie than a book

The problem here is that the clearest answer is The Shawshank Redemption, which is not a horror story. Plus, it's not like I've read all of King's books... Looking through the list, though, a couple possibilities include Misery and maybe The Mist. Special mention to Kubrick's The Shining, which isn't really better than the book, but which is different enough that it carves out its own identity, allowing both novel and movie to stand as classics. That's enough of an accomplishment to warrant a mention here.

23) Name the horror movie you most want to see but to this point never have

There are a bunch of silent films that I'd like to catch up with sometime, one of which is The Phantom Carriage. Others include Faust and The Golem. I smell a theme for one week during next year's Six Weeks of Halloween. In the meantime, I'll also mention the upcoming film I've not seen yet but really want to, Bone Tomahawk. See you on Friday.

24) Andre Morell or Laurence Naismith?

Laurence Naismith, mostly because I can actually recognize him as having been in horror movies I've seen...

25) Second-favorite horror film made in the 1980s

Oy, I've already told you, I will not choose between The Fly and The Thing, but the answer is probably one of those. Or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Or Evil Dead II. Or... you know, I'll just stop now before my head explodes, a la Tom Savini.

26) Tell us about your favorite TV horror host and the program showcasing horror classics over which he/she presided/presides The obvious choice is Elvira, but to be perfectly honest, I don't have any specific memories about horror movies when it comes to her (I have memories of, um, other things). So I will go with Joe Bob Briggs because he sticks out in my mind the most. In part, this is because I kinda hated him the first time I saw him, but repeated late night horror viewings hosted by Briggs ended up being fun, and I warmed to the guy, who clearly has a lot of love for the genre, knows his stuff, and doesn't take himself too seriously. Also worth checking out: Zack's podcast episode on the subject.
Posted by Mark on October 21, 2015 at 08:04 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Recent Podcastery
I don't listen to podcasts as often as I used to because all these audiobooks aren't gooing to listen to themselves, but after a few of my old standbys went dark lately, I decided to look for some new ones, and what do you know, a few of them fell into my lap. I'm sure there are plenty of others I should be listening to, but these are the ones that struck a chord recently:
  • The Style Guide - Two guys talking about a given (usually movie focused) topic for about an hour, and it's pretty solid stuff, especially if you like to parse out what defines a genre, and what the outliers are. I just discovered this one and it's a pretty young podcast, but they seem to be off to a great start and am looking forward to devouring their (small) backlog and keeping up with new eps...
  • The Canon - The premise is a pretty standard one. Every week, they choose a new movie and evaluate whether or not it belongs in the Canon of great movies or somesuch. The "or somesuch" piece is because the actual definition of the Canon is pretty loose and they engage in arbitrary limiting exercises like versus episodes where they, for example, say that Alien or Aliens can make the Canon, but not both. The hosts have a weird chemistry too. They have strong opinions, bicker a lot, and often talk over each other. It's probably not for everyone, and if I were to make a podcast, it would not be like this at all, but that's kinda what I like about it, I guess. They do make a lot of good points though, and the annoyance factor isn't quite as bad as the initial episodes these days. Worth checking out. Bonus points for their Cannon-like logo.
  • I Was There Too - What a fabulous idea for a podcast. A guy interviews people who played bit parts in big movies, like the guy who played Nicholson's secretary in A Few Good Men (two lines, but memorable) or the guy who played the Apple store employee in Captain America 2 (also a tiny yet memorable part). Some are more substantial, like Jenette Goldstein, who is probably most famous for playing Vasquez in Aliens, but also had bit parts in a bunch of other James Cameron movies. Like most "interview" based shows, this one depends greatly on the guest, but so far, they've been pretty great. Not frequently updated, but that's quite alright by me!
  • Birthcast, Moviecast, Deathcast, Padcast Podcast - I think I may have mentioned this before, back when they were the Badass Digest Padcast Podcast, but that one was always very inconsistently updated. A while later and their site has rebranded, and the host situation solidified and they started updating more frequently. It's still a bit on the rambly side and it comes from a goofy perspective that might not appeal to everyone, but I enjoy it. They've been watching a bunch of "Future Cop" movies recently, which has been fun.
And that's all for now. Go forth and listen to yonder podcasts.
Posted by Mark on September 09, 2015 at 10:26 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hugo Awards: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
This award is one of the stranger categories for the Hugos. This year, it's something of a respite from the all controversy and vitriol surrounding Puppies and Kittens and all the other nicknames people are handing out with reckless abandon. Which is funny, because as a movie person, I've always found the nominees to this category mediocre at best. It seems that while the electorate can focus on obscure artistic exercises for the fiction awards, they are generally focused on the biggest budget, widest releases from a filmic standpoint.

There are certainly exceptions. The voters seem to enjoy Duncan Jones, giving the low budget Moon the rocket in 2010 and nominating Source Code in 2012 (both flawed films, to be sure, but at least they're unexpected choices). There are a handful of other non-obvious choices (i.e. A Scanner Darkly, District 9, etc...), and a whole boatload of Hollywood pap (i.e. Avatar, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, etc...) There's nothing inherently wrong with big budgets, wide releases, star vehicles, or Hollywood invovlement, to be sure, and there are plenty of fabulous choices in that realm (i.e. Inception, Gravity), but what of the lower budget, obscure, or foreign films that never seem to find their way onto the ballot? I guess I can see why Upstream Color didn't make the ballot last year; it's a pretty inscrutable movie. But then, so was a lot of the nominated fiction! Voters are willing to dig through the heaps for short stories and novelettes, why can't they seem to find things like Detention, Sound of My Voice, Attack the Block, Timecrimes, Triangle, The Man from Earth, and probably a dozen others that are escaping me right now. Sure, many are obscure genre pics, but isn't that the point of the Hugo awards taking on the category? Movies like Avatar get plenty of recognition from the mainstream, why not highlight things that aren't so easy to find, the way we do for fiction?

This year, we have at least two nominees that were deserving (and that didn't have Upstream's impenetrable style), including Coherence (to be fair, there are some eligibility concerns on that one), The One I Love, and maybe even Snowpiercer (a film I kinda hated, but it seems up the voters' alley). Alas, they did not make it, and to be sure, Hollywood had a pretty good year, putting out plenty of genuinely good movies. Indeed, I even nominated 3 of these, so I guess I shouldn't complain! My vote will go something like this (I'm going to be partially quoting myself on some of these, with some added comments more specific to the Hugos)
  1. The Lego Movie - Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made a career out of making movies out of seemingly stupid premises, and this movie may be their crowning achievement. This sounded so much like a cynical cash-grab by Hollywood, but I found myself immediately charmed by the film's fast paced humor and wit. The thing that tips this to the top of my vote is that it is actually very impressive from a visual standpoint. It's got great jokes, and some of them are visual jokes. This is a movie that actually uses its medium in a way that few movies do these days.
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Marvel firing on all cylinders, this is a dramatic improvement over the first Captain America, topping it in everything from action set pieces to consistent interpersonal touches. Considering the wider context, this movie makes some pretty bold moves too, channeling paranoid 70s thrillers (and even casting Robert Redford to underline that point) and throwing a huge monkey wrench into the whole Marvel universe (something I admire about it - as a standalone, it would be fine, but the fact that there are seemingly lasting consequences helps here). I'm actually on the fence with where to place this in relation to Guardians, but for now, it take the #2 slot.
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy - This could have failed so miserably in so many different ways, but my guess is that James Gunn's goofy personality is what saved the whole thing (even if it's toned down a bit here). Once again, it's the interpersonal touches that makes these Marvel movies tick, even this one, which is almost completely disconnected from all the other movies. It's also a big ball of fun, so there's that.
  4. Edge of Tomorrow - There's a lot to quibble about with this movie, but I'll tell you, it really worked for me. From a filmmaking craft perspective, the editing here is incredibly well executed. The ending has some issues and Cruise has his own baggage, but I had a whole lot of fun. I actually voted for this on my ballot, not thinking it would garner enough votes (it was fairly underrated and underviewed last year, even by mainstream audiences), but even then, it would have ended up towards the bottom of my ballot...
  5. Interstellar - There's a lot to like about this film, but it never quite congealed into something as cohesive as Nolan's previous work. Certainly gets points for ambition, but the film is a little clunky in its execution. It all fits together, and there are great ideas and emotional moments at its core, but perhaps could use some smoothing over some of the rougher edges (of which there are, sadly, many). A clear last place finisher for the Hugos. Not an entirely unworthy nominee, but I'd have much rather seen a few other movies in place of this one...
So there you have it. Maybe I'm being a little too hard on voters, as this is a pretty good slate, and it's nice to comment on something and not have to even bother with the whole controversial nonsense that has snowed us in this year.
Posted by Mark on June 28, 2015 at 04:29 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Moving Pictures
Thoughts on movies, big and small, that I've seen recently:
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron - Last year, I fully bought into the whole Marvel mania. Cap 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy were wonderful, and after the dozenth rewatch of the first Avengers, I have to admit that it does some extraordinary things. But that's the thing with the first Avengers. It does some things very poorly. It has low lows. But it dos some things so well, the highs are so very high, that the lows are drowned out by the awesomeness of a single, perfectly placed line of dialog ("Hulk... Smash!" or a dozen other high points). Age of Ultron, by contrast, is a more even movie. The lows aren't as low, but the highs aren't as high either. It remains to be seen whether or not this will be as compulsively rewatchable as the first Avengers, but I suspect it will improve on further rewatching... and as Marvel continues their run through phase 3.

    Here's the thing with these movies: they're really leaning into the comic-bookness of it all. Where phase 1 and most of phase 2 were mostly isolated, standalone movies with some connective tissue weaved in, this movie seems more intertwined and less independent. The never-ending serialized nature of comic books are coming to the screen, fraught with all the attendant baggage that entails. Age of Ultron has a core thread, but dozens of other threads are weaved in, some so blatantly unnecessary that they must have been mandated as setup (see Thor's incomprehensible little detour to some weird underground memory lake), some more seemlessly incorporated. These movies have been going on long enough that many of the things people complain about with comics are starting to emerge. Characters die, but does anyone ever really die in the comics? How does that impact the stakes of the movie you're currently watching? For now, I'm going with the flow, but I can see the strain. How long can they keep this up? Only time will tell.

    I really loved the opening of this movie, with the Avengers already assembled and taking on a Hydra base, followed by an absolutely delightful party at Tony Stark's apartment (where, among other things, several heroes try and fail to lift Thor's hammer - a seemingly throwaway bit that is actually called back later in the film to tremendous effect, a very Whedony thing). Hawkeye, of all people, gets a great little spotlight this movie (it's about time) and that's just another one of those comic bookey things - a character who seems superfluous in the extreme, but turns out great when you give him something to do. Some of the other character stuff is not as fleshed out or contianed. Then things devolve a bit, and we get conflict within the team (seemingly the seeds of Civil War) and a sorta muddled climax. In the end, I still had a ton of fun with this movie, and I suspect it will only get better upon rewatching, and as various unfinished plot threads get resolved or expanded upon in future movies. Some may complain about the comic bookeyness of all this, but they'd be missing the point. The reason Marvel has been so successful is that they've really leaned into that and created something we haven't really seen on film before. I'm looking forward to seeing more.
  • Maggie - An Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie movie that entails approximately nothing like you'd actually expect from such a description. There aren't really any action scenes, no hoards of zombies (only a handful are really seen), no explosions or histrionics. Instead, we get a father/daughter relationship piece. The daughter (Abigail Breslin) has been infected and will inevitably become a zombie, and the father stands by her side during the transformation, torn by impossible choices (Deliver her to quarantine? Give her painful medical treatment that will only delay the inevitable? Put her out of her misery?). It's something that we've seen as a beat in a lot of zombie movies, stretched out to feature length. Unfortunately, while an admirable approach, it's perhaps a little too dour and drawn out. Still, it's artful and well done, and Arnold gives a surprisingly tender and effective performance. It's funny, I was reminded of the opening scenes of Commando... if Alyssa Milano was turning into a zombie. Or something. It is otherwise nothing like Commando, of course, so I probably shouldn't have brought that up. It's certainly worth a watch, but don't expect anything too exciting.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road - Holy hell, I need a cigarette or something. This is the most propulsive action film of the year, and probably the past few years. There's not much explicit plot, and the dialogue is functional at best, but who cares, the pursuing hoard has something called the Doof Wagon, a giant truck that has a bunch of stacked speakers and a guitarist who is bungie corded to it so that he can provide a diegetic heavy metal soundtrack for the militia's attacks. His guitar doubles as a flame thrower. If that sort of thing appeals to you, you will love this movie. It's one of the more visually impressive films of the year as well, relying primarily on practical effects and communicating more through action and visual cues than dialogue or exposition (which is why the dialogue and exposition that does make its way into the film feels a bit stunted). It could almost work as a silent movie... if it wasn't for the impact and bombast of all the revving cars and explosions. The world is so detailed that the visual approach works shockingly well, and it also means that the film can support many readings in terms of thematic depth. I mean, it's an action movie, through and through, and it works perfectly on that level, but many have searched for and found deeper meaning, from the simple plot of women attempting to escape their sexual slavery, to redemption and survival, to the way Charlize Theron's Furiosa relates to Tom Hardy's Max, and more. Whatever, the action is so engrossing and so intense that it scarcely matters. As long as you care about our intrepid heroes, and how could you not, you'll have fun going along for a ride. And what a lovely ride it is! See this on the largest screen possible, as soon as you can.
  • What We Do in the Shadows - I almost don't want to say anything about this movie because it's possible that you could have a great blind viewing of it. It's about a group of vampire roommates in New Zealand, but it's a comedic faux documentary. It works really well and is definitely recommended!
  • Tomorrowland - Not to cop out on you here, but Matt Singer wrote a great intro that nails my feelings on the movie:
    The best argument for Tomorrowland is its release date; one week after Mad Max: Fury Road, a film about a world destroyed by an oil war, and a week before San Andreas, in which an apocalyptic earthquake destroys half of North America. Less a blockbuster action film than a stern but well-intentioned lecture accompanied by an elaborate audiovisual presentation, Tomorrowland argues that rampant cynicism is actively poisoning our future. People become so convinced by movies like Mad Max and San Andreas that the world is doomed that they start to believe it really is. So they give up, and dystopia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tomorrowland tries, through sheer force of will and a heaping helping of bright, shiny special effects, to reverse that trend; to convince people that there’s hope for tomorrow. It doesn’t want to entertain; its goal is nothing less than to inspire an entire generation. But it might have been easier to achieve the latter if it had worked a little harder to accomplish the former.
    A lot of people are kinda down on the movie, and it's true that it's too didactic in its execution, but it is still a Brad Bird movie, and there are bits when you can see his personality come through. Not as much as, say, his animated work (and I was never as much of a fan of MI4 as everyone else either), but there are some isolated moments here and there that hit really well. It's funny though, this movie has a sorta dystopic premise... one that is subverted, to be sure, but it's still not all that different from, say, Mad Max - a bunch of characters are just trying to survive. Tomorrowland certainly engages the problem with more optimism, but it does so in such a direct manner that it almost opposes itself. Still, it's very much worth watching, despite what all the haters are saying about it.
That's a pretty fantastic run of movies, even the ones that I don't love are things that are trying new and adventurous things and are always interesting to watch and discuss.
Posted by Mark on May 24, 2015 at 10:11 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Ms. Elizabeth Halsey's Rotten Apple, Hot for (Bad) Teacher Summer Movie Quiz
After yet another long hiatus, Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as usual, I'd like to play along. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, Professor Larry Gopnick, and Professor Dewey Finn are also available.

1) Name a line from a movie that should've become a catch phrase but didn't *

There's a line from Pulp Fiction that I reference pretty frequently, yet is almost never recognized and usually treated as a general challenging declaration. In response to drug dealer Lance's assertion that his shit can go up against that Amersterdam shit, Vincent quips: "That's a bold statement." It's an obscure line and I can see why no one else would get the reference, but for whatever reason, it stuck with me.

2) Your second favorite William Wellman film

There are several versions of this question in this quiz, and I get the impression that the idea is to look at a prolific filmmaker (Wellman has 83 directing credits on IMBD) and find the non-obvious choice from their filmography. This is somewhat hampered by the fact that I've only actually seen 2 Wellman movies, so The Public Enemy takes the cake by default. Oh well, at least it's not a mulligan (we'll get to that soon enough).

3) Viggo Mortensen or Javier Bardem?

I think I'll go with Javier Bardem for this one. He seems to take more chances and make better choices than Mortensen, and nothing in Mortensen's filmography really approaches Bardem's top performances. For instance, there's nothing even remotely as memorable or terrifying in Mortensen's performances as Bardem's turn as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. If, perhaps, Eastern Promises was a better movie, Mortensen's performance might have been elevated high enough (dat naked fight scene), but even then, I'm not so sure.

4) Favorite first line from a movie

The Filmspotting podcast has this concept of a Pantheon when it comes to their top 5 lists. Films in the Pantheon cannot be put on a top 5, because they are so great (or there's such a personal connection) that they could pop up on wayyy too many lists. Fortunately, I'm not bound by this notion, so I can go back to the well of The Godfather: "I believe in America." Sets the scene perfectly, not to mention the movie and, indeed, even the sequels.

5) The most disappointing/superfluous "director's cut" or otherwise extended edition of a movie you've seen? *

My first thought was "Which Ridley Scott movie do I pick?" but then I realized that George Lucas's Star Wars edits were pretty glaring, and it seemed like there was just no end in sight. He kept changing things! Some of the initial changes were fine; even sometimes great... Removing the telltale signs of composites, fixing some of the transparencies, these things were minor and barely noticeable, but that's what makes them cool. It's the stuff like Greedo shooting first or the insertion of lame CGI Jabba, etc... that really sunk it. As added in Jedi, "Nooooooooo!" Completely superfluous and boorish. That being said, Ridley Scott's "Director's Cut" of Alien is pretty worthless.

6) What is the movie you feel was most enhanced by a variant version? *

My first thought was "Which Ridley Scott movie do I pick?" because seriously, that guy never seems to release a movie without a director's cut, sometimes a cut that dramatically changes the tone and scope of the movie. My first thought was Blade Runner, but then I realized that there are 5 frigging cuts of that movie, 3 of which are director's cuts, or something like that. I guess I'll go with the "Final Cut", until Scott gins up another cut in a few years...

7) Eve Arden or Una Merkel?

I have to admit that I only have a passing familiarity with either of these actresses, but I'll go with Eve Arden, mostly because I recognized more from her filmography...

8) What was the last DVD/Blu-ray/streaming film you saw? The last theatrical screening?

On DVD/BD, it was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in preparation for Avengers 2 and also because most of these Marvel movies seem just infinitely rewatchable.

On Streaming, it was WolfCop because come on, he's a werewolf who is also a cop. WolfCop. Plus, it was a Kaedrin Weird Movie of the Week selection a while back, so I had to watch it once it became available... Alas, it doesn't quite deliver on the bananas premise, but it was fine, I guess.

And in the theater, it was Ex Machina, another in a long line of recent, low-budget, fascinating SF films. This one does a decent job getting at AI, though as movies always do, it perhaps goes a bit far in anthropomorphizing the AI. But then, that's one of the big challenges of an AI story, since our puny human brains can't comprehend what a truly alien being an AI would really be. This is partly my hangup though, and not truly the film's fault. It's an admirable film, and it has just enough pot-boilery elements to make up for any lapses. Recommended!

9) Second favorite Michael Mann film

I was expecting this to be more difficult to narrow down, but I pretty quickly settled on The Insider (behind Heat and just ahead of Manhunter). In fact, The Insider might be Mann's best film, as it's a tighter, more focused and complete narrative where something like Heat has this diffuse, byzantine plot structure that I personally enjoy quite a bit, but which doesn't quite adhere as well as The Insider...

10) Name a favorite director's most egregious misstep

The first that comes to mind is the Coen Brothers' The Ladykillers, a movie that I found surprisingly, shockingly joyless, all the moreso because even as I was watching it unfold on screen, I kept thinking to myself: "That bit's kinda clever, I guess. This should work. Why isn't it working?" Unfortunately, I have almost no desire to revisit the movie to develop a theory about why it faired so poorly, but my instinct is that there is something just slightly off about it that taints the entire picture.

11) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?

What is this tomfoolery? A repeat question! As my answer was in 2013: Hands down, Alain Delon. Le Samurai, man. Le Samurai.
Le Samurai
Le Samurai
12) Jean-Luc Godard famously stated that "all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun." Name one other essential element that you'd add to the mix.

How about a story? But then, any attempt to distill storytelling down to an "essence" is doomed to failure. I'm reminded of this opening line from Clive Barker's Imajica:
It was the pivotal teaching of Pluthero Quexos, the most celebrated dramatist of the Second Dominion, that in any fiction, no matter how ambitious its scope or profound its theme, there was only ever room for three players. Between warring kings, a peacemaker; between adoring spouses, a seducer or a child. Between twins, the spirit of the womb. Between lovers, Death. Greater numbers might drift through the drama, of course-thousands in fact-but they could only ever be phantoms, agents, or, on rare occasions, reflections of the three real and self-willed beings who stood at the center. And even this essential trio would not remain intact; or so he taught. It would steadily diminish as the story unfolded, three becoming two, two becoming one, until the stage was left deserted.

Needless to say, this dogma did not go unchallenged. The writers of fables and comedies were particularly vociferous in their scorn, reminding the worthy Quexos that they invariably ended their own tales with a marriage and a feast. He was unrepentant. He dubbed them cheats and told them they were swindling their audiences out of what he called the last great procession, when, after the wedding songs had been sung and the dances danced, the characters took their melancholy way off into darkness, following each other into oblivion.
Sorry for nerding up the proceedings like this, but I thought it funny that this came to mind...

13) Favorite one-sheet that you own, or just your favorite one-sheet (please provide a link to an image if you can)

Assuming we're looking for original one-sheets and not revivals or tribute posters, which thank God, because I'd never be able to pick which Mondo movie poster is my favorite. Not that it's all that easy to do so otherwise, but I was able to settle on Saul Bass' gorgeous one-sheet for Vertigo:
14) Catherine Spaak or Daniela Giordano?

And so we come to our first mulligan. I got nothing on these two...

15) Director who most readily makes you think "Whatever happened to...?"

Whatever happened to John Carpenter? That man put together a pretty long string of classics throughout the late 70s and 80s, but has done very little in the current century and what he has done has been mediocre at best. He hasn't really done anything good since 1994's In the Mouth of Madness. He has done some work, but he hasn't made anything since 2010's cromulent but decidedly derivative and limp The Ward, and before that, an episode or two from the Masters of Horror TV series (one of which was fine, the other of which was terrible). I suspect it's just that he's getting on in age and filmmaking is a young-mans-game, but still, would love to see him return to his glory days...

16) Now that some time has passed... The Interview, yes or no?

These "yes or no" questions show up with regularity on these quizes, but I don't think I've ever said no. It's not so much that I love the movie in question as that I think most movies have a right to exist. Not that answering "no" would impact anything, but still. It's the principle of the thing.

17) Second favorite Alberto Calvalcanti film

Another blind spot for me, so another mulligan for the quiz...

18) Though both displayed strong documentary influence in their early films, Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog have focused heavily on the documentary form late in their filmmaking careers. If he had lived, what kind of films do you think Rainer Werner Fassbinder, their partner in the German New Wave of the '70s, would be making now?

Sorry, but I have no idea. I'd be curious as to what his response to the whole gay marriage movement would be (he was out of the closet, but he also married two women during that time), but who knows if that would manifest in his filmmaking. I'm not familiar with much of his work, but I know he was an odd cat.

19) Name a DVD you've replaced with a Blu-ray. Name another that you decided not to replace. *

I've only replaced a couple, mostly by accident or because of some other factor. The only example I can actually think of is Alien/Aliens, because I got a nice deal on the whole Alien Anthology box set. Pretty much everything else has remained on DVD for me, though there are some classics I might consider upgrading (The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc...)

20) Don Rickles or Rodney Dangerfield?

As a child of the 80s, Rodney Dangerfield speaks more to me. I've never really gotten the love for Don Rickles, but then, I'm probably not familiar with his best work.

21) Director who you wish would hurry up and make another film

It's funny that a lot of the best filmmakers these days seem to take so long between films. Others just feel like a long time. Quentin Tarantino usually puts something out every 2-3 years, but it somehow feels longer. Alright, so to really answer this question, I'll go with Shane Carruth. Two movies in the past 11 years, with nothing on the horizon (that I know of, at least).

22) Second favorite Michael Bay film

This is tough because once you get past my favorite (The Rock), you've got a whole deluge of movies I'm kinda ambivalent about, followed by movies I'm actively hostile about. I'll put it somewhere around Bad Boys II or The Island. I guess.

23) Name a movie that, for whatever reason, you think of as your own

I don't really know what this means, and I don't think of any of these movies as my own, but I will throw out Phantasm as one of my favorites that doesn't get much mainstream love (though it has a huge cult following), and oddly enough, The Terminator. It might not seem like it, because it's such a popular franchise, but I could think of the original Terminator as my own because I'm, like, the only person to think it's far superior to T2 (or any of the dreck after that). I grew up watching Terminator almost every day (even if it was usually only on in the background), one of a couple movies that's hit triple digit rewatches (not something I do very much anymore, but this was a formative movie for me). T2 is a fine action film, but I'm continually surprised by how much love it gets from, well, everybody.

24) Your favorite movie AI (however loosely you care to define the term)

Obviously The Terminator would be a candidate here, but in the interest of variety, I'll choose a more obscure movie: Colossus: The Forbin Project. Not a perfect movie, but it's quite interesting and underappreciated these days. As mentioned above, AI in movies tends to be anthropomorphized, and this movie isn't an exception, but it comports itself well enough for me. Speaking of which, Ex Machina would be a good candidate here, and obviously, movie AIs owe a huge debt to Hal 9000 (even movies that don't explicitly copy the AI gone mad template are often riffing on it or the expectations of it). Also of note, Demon Seed, a little more bonkers and weird, but I haven't seen it in a while. I should revisit!

25) Your favorite existing DVD commentary track *

The best commentaries tend to be for movies that, for some reason, didn't totally succeed. This requires someone to be open and honest, which rarely happens. But Kevin Smith's commentary (with various guests) for Mallrats is exceptional because of Smith's willingness to confront and own up to his mistakes in making that movie. The movie isn't a complete failure, but there are many aspects of it that Smith admits went off the rails or didn't fall into place (I may also be mixing in his commentary on the deleted scenes) and the camaraderie with his co-workers in the commentary is palpable. It's fashionable to bag on Smith these days because of his antics, and to be sure, he's seemingly less forthcoming (also, he's started smoking pot), but I, for one, would love to see a genuine commentary on some of his more recent movies, in particular Zack and Miri Make a Porno (which seemingly broke Smith as a director, to the point where he doesn't even want to talk about it.) As a runner up, I'll mention Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino's commentary on Hot Fuzz. Sure, Hot Fuzz wasn't a failure (in any real way), but Wright and Tarantino are just so in love with movies that it's infectious. Well worth checking out...

26) The double bill you'd program on the last night of your own revival theater

Cinema Paradiso and Sunset Boulevard, because I'm not willing to recognize that my revival theater is dead...

27) Catherine Deneuve or Claudia Cardinale?

Claudia Cardinale, almost solely because of Once Upon a Time in the West.

And there you have it, another quiz in the books. Let's hope the next one doesn't take a whole year!
Posted by Mark on May 03, 2015 at 11:42 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Oscars
The funny thing about the Academy Awards is that your opinion about them is pretty boring. You think the Oscars are just a cynical circle jerk of self-satisfied Hollywood elites? Boring! You're outraged at [insert snub here]? Super fucking boring! You're genuinely excited about seeing films receive the recognition they deserve? You are both naive and boring! But the one thing that unites us all is the abject hatred of the short films categories. I think we can all agree on that.

In all seriousness, I have fun watching the Oscars. Probably more because I see it as an opportunity to mock celebrities and drink a bunch of alcohol, but still. Oh, and predictions! Back in the day, I used to do this thing called "liveblogging". For you young whipper snappers out there, back in the dark days before Twitter, people would just update their blog every 2 minutes during an event like the Oscars. A few years ago, I finally got with the times and took it all to Twitter. And to be honest, I'm not that funny, so I usually end up just retweeting a bunch of people who are funnier and more incisive than I am. But hey, if you want to chat, I'll be on Twitter @mciocco saying dumb crap. If, for some ungodly reason, you want to see a decade's worth of previous predictions and commentary on the Oscars, check them out here: [2014 | 2013 |2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]

Alrighty then, enough preamble, let's look at predictions.
  • Best Picture: Birdman. Hard to believe, because Boyhood took 12 years to make (he said, sarcastically) and was the early odds-on favorite, but Birdman has been coming on strong of late. Personally, I'd vote for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was legitimately one of my favorite movies of the year. Alas, it has no chance of winning. The Imitation Game makes for an interesting dark horse nominee, if only because of the Weinstein brothers' infamous ability to campaign for awards. A real long shot would be Selma, if people feel guilty enough about not nominating Ava DuVernay or David Oyelowo, but I'm not expecting that. The other contenders should just be happy they were nominated and like it. Or something. (I have seen 6 of the 8 nominated movies, which is about on par for me). Should have been nominated: Gone Girl and totally John Wick (heh).
  • Best Director: Richard Linklater for Boyhood. It took 12 years to make! Again, Alejandro G. Iñárritu of Birdman is a real contender here, as that movie is pretty damn showy and visually impressive (I'm betting on it taking Cinematography on that count though). Not being a fan of Boyhood I would certainly go with Iñárritu or the much less likely Wes Anderson for this award. Bennett Miller and Morten Tyldum are in "Why didn't you nominate Ava DuVernay?" jail and should be happy for their nominations. Should have been nominated: Ava DuVernay for Selma
  • Best Actress: Julianne Moore for Still Alice. I have not seen the movie, but people love her and this might be one of those lifetime achievement sort of awards (she's been nominated a bunch of times, but never won). I get the impression that the slate is somewhat weak, but I've only seen one of the movies here, so who knows? Should have been nominated: Scarlett Johansson for Under the Skin.
  • Best Actor: Michael Keaton for Birdman. Another potential lifetime achievement award type of thing for an actor folks love, but it's also a legitimately great performance. I don't see anyone else really challenging that, though I've only seen 3 of the nominees... Should have been nominated: David Oyelowo for Selma
  • Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Looks like I'm going long on Boyhood tonight, so I'm almost hoping I'm wrong on all these because I don't particularly care for that movie. Still, Arquette has all the buzz. Maybe Laura Dern, but that's a long shot. Should have been nominated: Emily Blunt for Edge of Tomorrow
  • Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. Have not seen it, but by all accounts, he's what makes the movie. I suppose Edward Norton could challenge from his Birdman performance (which is also fantastic), but I'll stick with Simmons on this one. Should have been nominated: Tyler Perry in Gone Girl
  • Best Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Pretty tight race here between Budapest, Boyhood, and Birdman. My guess is that this will be one of those consolation prize type things, because Budapest is wonderful. I wouldn't be surprised if any of them win (but I'd hate it if Boyhood won). Should have been nominated: The Lego Movie.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Whiplash. Pretty much a complete toss up. The only one I'm sure about is Paul Thomas Anderson not winning for Inherent Vice (people seem to find the movie super confounding, but I tend to enjoy that sort of thing...) I kinda just chose this randomly. Should have been nominated: Gone Girl
  • Editing: Boyhood. I'm pretty dismissive of this movie overall, but the 12 years of filming probably does represent an interesting editing challenge that was reasonably well done. But who knows? Whiplash and American Sniper are buzzing on this one too. Should have been nominated: Edge of Tomorrow
  • Cinematography: Birdman. Duh.
  • Visual Effects: Interstellar. For a movie with its share of faults, visual effects is not one of them. Potential spoiler from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Should have been nominated:Godzilla
  • Makeup: The Grand Budapest Hotel. I dunno, it seems to have some buzz in this category, but I kinda think it should go to Guardians of the Galaxy. Wouldn't be surprised no matter what wins.
  • Costumes: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Same as above.
  • Musical Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Why not? This seems to be the favorite for a lot of minor technical awards. Should have been nominated: Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Best Song: "Glory" from Selma. This movie was only nominated for Song and Best Picture, and I think the Academy will want to reward it somehow (because they're totes not racist or anything), so here we are. On the other hand, "Everything is Awesome" has a chance because The Lego Movie was also snubbed.
  • Best Animated Film: How to Train Your Dragon 2. I guess? I mean, once The Lego Movie wasn't nominated, this category suddenly became boring as crap. Should have been nominated: The Lego Movie!
  • Best Documentary: Citizenfour. Pretty much a lock, I really wish I got to see this one...
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Ida. Has been the favorite for a while, but it looks like Leviathan is mounting a challenge. Also, since Ida is pretty fucking dour and it sounds like Leviathan isn't much better, there's a fair chance that Wild Tales may be a spoiler here, as it's apparently more of a crowd pleaser. In general, I find this award impossible to pick.
Well there you have it. Follow me on Twitter @mciocco to see what I'm saying during the show itself. I used to put a little widget thing here that would embed my tweets but come on, I think you can click on a link, can't you?
Posted by Mark on February 22, 2015 at 12:27 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Serial Thoughts
Over the past month or so, I've caught up with and finished off the first "season" of Serial, a NPR podcast that spun off from This American Life. It was a 12 week series of podcasts of varying length that attempted to exhaustively cover one murder case from 1999. The devil is in the details, and if you're fond of that saying, you'll probably enjoy Serial (I am and I did!) You'll be safe for the next few paragraphs, but there will be a spoiler warning later in the post.

The case covers how a popular high school senior, Hae Min Lee, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend and classmate Adnan Syed. He claims innocence, but the prosecution had a witness named Jay who says that he did it. It's an interesting case, especially once you start digging into the details, but that's not why the podcast is great. The creator, Sarah Koenig, takes a very active role in the podcast, such that it's not really about the murder so much as her perspective on the murder and how she reacts to the various pieces of evidence or, more frequently, how difficult it is to actually piece together coherent evidence.

Therein lies the strength of Serial, the stubborn insistence that it's extremely difficult to piece together the details of what happened 6 weeks ago (and even moreso 15 years ago). It's one of the first points the podcast makes, asking several people (unrelated to the case in question) what they were doing 6 weeks ago (no one could confidently remember in detail), and it's something that comes up repeatedly throughout the series.

Watching TV shows like CSI or Bones makes it seem easy to figure out in minute detail exactly what happened in the past, but that's clearly not the case in real life. One of the most amusing examples in the podcast is the alleged payphone outside of a Best Buy store: no one can confirm that it ever existed. Best Buy doesn't remember, the phone company doesn't know, blueprints show a space for a payphone inside the building (but no one remembers that either), and so on. The case against Adnan definitely depends on that phone being there, but no one can corroborate it (though it does seem unlikely that no one would have noticed that the phone didn't exist during the investigation and later trial, it's still a good example of how difficult it is to piece things together). It's probably worth remembering this sort of stuff the next time some sort of controversial crime is committed or even the next time you get angered by something as trivial as a tweet or something like that.

The other interesting thing about Koenig's perspective is that it seems pretty clear that she entered into this case because she thought there was a fair chance that Adnan was innocent. This is not at all unusual, but it is an interesting look at how media bias shapes the way stories are pursued (it would be a great story if Adnan was innocent, perhaps not so much if he wasn't and the courts got it right). To her credit, Koenig doesn't seem to ignore any of the evidence that looks bad for Adnan, and indeed, spends a lot of time on those aspects of the story. This again gets back to the difficulty in piecing together events from the past. Koenig doesn't downplay any of the evidence, but there are so many holes in the story that it's hard to know what actually happened.

(Here be the Spoilers) And in the end, after over a year's worth of investigation, Koenig still doesn't know. In the final episode, she does personally come down on Adnan's side, but only in an "innocent until proven guilty" sorta way. She just doesn't know enough about what actually happened to Hae to say for sure that Adnan actually did murder her. She says that if she was on the jury, she would vote to acquit. Having listened to her perspective for 12 weeks worth of podcasts, I would probably agree, except what do I know but what Koenig presented to me? There's a reason that a trial has two opposing advocates. I mentioned earlier that Koenig "doesn't seem to ignore any of the evidence", but how would I know that?

At the very start of the series, I was immediately reminded of Errol Morris's documentary The Thin Blue Line, which covers a case in which a police officer is killed in Dallas, Texas. Morris has stated that he started this project with a specific goal in mind (I won't go into too much detail here because it's a film you should watch and I don't want to ruin anything), and unlike Koenig, he actually got to that endpoint. The movie actually had a tangible impact on the system, eventually causing decisions to be overturned on appeal. Again, Morris embraced his subjectivity in making this movie. He was almost taunting the viewer through his use of non-linearity, editing, and even visual cues like lighting and framing.

Did Koenig do something similar in Serial? The podcasts are primarily comprised of her direct address to the listeners. She frequently plays audio recordings of calls with Adnan, police interviews, and even court proceedings, but they are usually very short clips. She also attacks the case from multiple angles, thus leading to a non-linearity that also reminded me of Morris' documentary. And while it's clear that she spent a long time pouring through documents, evidence, and audio, it's not entirely clear how much was left out in the interest of streamlining the story. This sounds overly cynical and paranoid, I'm sure, but that's kind of the point, isn't it? How do we know what happened? With the case, with the podcast, with anything!?

That might sound like a copout, but it's not. It's a simple recognition that sometimes the Truth is not always knowable. A project like Serial or The Thin Blue Line could lead to revelations, as it did with the latter, or with a big fat question mark, as it did with former. Sometimes you still need to make a decision, even when you don't have all the facts you would like. Ultimately, assuming Koenig to be trustworthy (and I have no reason to really doubt her, despite the above), I'd have to agree with her conclusion. There's no real answer, but I don't know that the evidence was clear enough to convict someone either.

I've often wondered about The Thin Blue Line - was Morris just lucky? How did he know to keep pushing the established story? How do you select a case for this sort of thing? How much time do you spend investigating before you decide whether to continue or not? When and why would you consider giving up on a case? Serial has been a resounding success, and it appears that there will be a "Season 2" of the podcast, so perhaps this will be one of the things Koenig addresses. It would be entirely fitting with the general tenor of the series so far. (In case it's not abundantly clear, if you are reading this and enjoyed Serial, I highly recommend checking out The Thin Blue Line, currently available on Netflix Instant!)
Posted by Mark on December 28, 2014 at 04:16 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 Year End Movie Cramming
As we approach the end of our current orbital period, many publications are releasing various best-of-the-year lists. Being a movie fan, this means that a bunch of movies come into theaters for an Oscar qualifying run. It also means that a lot of interesting, weird, small movies get some love thrown their way, and become available on streaming services, etc... Here at Kaedrin, we watch a lot of movies, but usually not as much as your typical critic. As of right now, I've seen 55 movies that could be considered a 2014 release (are you on Letterboxd? You should totally friend me there.) This is actually much higher than I was at this time last year, and I've felt this year went a little better in general. I've still fallen back on watching a lot of television shows, but less this year than last year. My gut reaction is that this is a "good year for movies", though of course that's a completely arbitrary designation (and pretty much every year is a good year for movies!). All that being said, there are plenty of movies I want to catch up with before Kaedrin awards season kicks into gear (we're not very timely here, so that usually starts off in January). For the most part, these are not theatrical releases, just stuff I want to catch up with on streaming/BD, etc... I will, of course, be seeing Inherent Vice and a bunch of the other high-profile releases. In no particular order:
  • The Unknown Known - An Errol Morris documentary covering Donald Rumsfeld, it's a pretty obvious must-see for any film fan... (on Netflix Instant)
  • Blue Ruin - This indie thriller generated a lot of buzz earlier in the year, but I never managed to catch up with it. It's on Netflix Instant, so I'll definitely be checking this out.
  • Journey to the West - I heard about this when someone was talking about Fantastic Fest, and from what I've seen (about the first 15 minutes), it seems to fit that film festival's general tone (i.e. profoundly weird and a little disturbing, but also kinda fun). It's the latest film from Stephen Chow, the guy who made Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer (both very fun, energetic movies). Also on Netflix Instant.
  • The One I Love - So I'm not sure what to make of this one. A couple who is having marital problems goes to some cabin in the woods... where they meet idealized versions of themselves. Seems like it will be very talky, but whatever, I've heard good things and it's on Netflix Instant, so I'll probably check it out...
  • Happy Christmas - I don't know about this one. I've never been too into Joe Swanberg's mumblecore stuff, but hey, I'm down for some Christmas cheer. I don't expect it to be great, but it could be fun and again, Netflix Instant means its easily accessible.
  • Ida - This is one of those movies that seems to come out of nowhere and appear on every critic's top 10 list or something. I'm usually pretty suspicious of such movies, and they don't always work out, but then, this is how I discovered Short Term 12 last year (which was one of my favorite movies of last year), so there's that. Again, Netflix Instant, so it's at least easily accessible.
  • Stretch - Director Joe Carnahan's latest movie had a pretty quiet release, but it seems to be a relatively approachable comedy, so I'm happy to give that a shot.
  • Moebius - From what I understand, this movie will significantly increase the year's batshit insanity quotient. I'm a little scared to watch this, actually, but it's another Netflix Instant film so...
  • Knights of Badassdom - Silly comedy about LARPers summoning an actual demon? It sounds like it could be a lot of fun, but it's reputation is not that great. It's a borderline pick, but hey, Netflix Instant.
  • Cold in July - Don't know how this movie, an adaptation of a Joe R. Lansdale novel, slipped past me earlier in the year (apparently it didn't get much of a release). This is the part of the list that stuff stops being on Netflix Instant though, so it might take a little more time to catch up with this crime/thriller.
  • I Origins - Another movie with Britt Marling's particular brand of SF, this time working with the director from Another Earth. This movie seems to be about, um, eyes and evolution or something like that. I don't know, but I'm always down with checking out Marling's latest, even if I don't seem to love her stuff as much as critics.
  • Boyhood - I'm almost positive that I'm not going to like this movie. But I've thought that about other movies before, and there are plenty of times when I'm proven wrong (again, Short Term 12 last year being the latest example). This movie seems more remarkable for its meta elements (i.e. made over 10 years as the actor grows up) than anything that would show up on screen.
  • A Field in England - Don't remember where I heard of this one, but it sounds interesting enough. I don't have high hopes, but hey, those movies often surprise me.
  • Tusk - Kevin Smith's latest, it seems more like a straight up horror movie than comedy, but I'll give it a shot.
  • Coherence - One of those indie-SF movies, like the above I Origins, that I heard a lot about this year, but never managed to catch up with. Something about a dinner party going weird as a comet passes overhead. Perhaps not my type of SF, but still seems worth checking out.
  • The Guest - All I know about this is that it's from the team that brought us You're Next, which means that I'm going to see this when it comes out on steaming (which is, I believe, in early January)
  • Citizenfour - The Edward Snowden documentary. It's in limited release, so I'm not entirely sure when I'll be able to catch up with this one...
  • What We Do in the Shadows - As I understand it, this is a movie about vampires struggling with mundane tasks, like making themselves look nice without the use of mirrors, or having trouble paying bills. Sounds right up my alley, but it looks like it wasn't released inthe US yet. Perhaps an early contender for the best of 2015 list!
There are plenty of others and like I said, I'm not including the stuff that's entering theaters in the next few weeks. In any case, I don't think I'll have any trouble hitting that 70-80 mark that I usually manage.
Posted by Mark on December 14, 2014 at 08:26 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections on the Star Wars: Episode VII Teaser
This past Friday, the Star Wars: Episode VII teaser trailer came out and holy crap, it looks great. Here's the trailer, and fear not, there appears to be no real spoilers in here (and that's part of what is driving a lot of the speculation around the teaser).
In no particular order, here are some freakish, disgruntled thoughts on the trailer:
  • It's worth noting the the Episode I teaser trailer was also pretty good and had fanboys falling all over themselves with joy. It's easy to look at it now and see the faults, but only because we know what a disaster some aspects of the story were. I was there, I remember the excitement, and that does, in fact, impact the way I'm reacting to this trailer (i.e. with measured restraint). That's probably unfair to J.J. Abrams, but it's where I'm at.
  • So apparently there's some sort of controversy over the fact that John Boyega, a black man, is shown as a storm trooper? It's a very weird controversy since I can't find a single person who is actually complaining about that, but I can find about a jazillion people saying how horrible it is that people are complaining about the black stormtrooper. Seriously, I went on twitter and searched for "black stormtrooper" and got a bazillion people decrying the fact that people are complaining about this, and approximately zero people actually complaining about it. And no actual references to people complaining about it either. I mean, we are on the internet here, so there is absolutely someone who is upset about a black stormtrooper, but near as I can tell, there's about a million posts to one in terms of proportion, if that. It seems like a non-controversy to me. The only curiosity is that I know that John Boyega (the black stormtrooper in question) is supposedly one of the main leads in the movie, so how does that fit with him being a stormtrooper (i.e. a soldier for the dark side of the force, if you know what I mean). Of course, even Luke and Han dressed up as stormtroopers, so there's that angle, but I wonder if it's going to be a story of discovery and rejection of the evil empire's philosophy. Whatever the case, it seems exciting!
  • Not to get too far into the whole identity politics quagmire, but it seems like there was either a conscious attempt to address early casting "concerns" with this trailer. That, or the "concerned" folks in question are utterly and completely full of shit (which is probably the case, not that anyone would ever admit such a thing).
  • That rolling robot thing looks great, and while I have not read the script, I can't imagine that it doesn't look better on screen than it did on the page.
  • That new lightsaber is cool, and I don't care if it's impractical or not (though upon first glance, it seems fine. I accept nitpicks, I guess, but it still looks cool, so whatever. Star Wars has never been Hard SF and it really shouldn't be treated as such.) The memes surrounding it are pretty funny nonetheless.
  • The trailer flows really well, and hits a bunch of points that don't give much away, but which are quite encouraging nonetheless. The worst part was that it says it won't come out until December 2015, which we already knew. I'm not totally sold and I'll definitely be trying to avoid more detailed recaps of the movie, etc... as the hallowed date approaches, but I'm still encouraged thusfar.
And that's all for now, let's get on with it.
Posted by Mark on December 03, 2014 at 07:41 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Professor Dewey Finn's Ostentatiously Odd, Schoolastically Scattershot Back-to-School (of Rock?) Movie Quiz
After yet another hiatus, Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as usual, I'd like to play along. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, Miss Jean Brodie, and Professor Larry Gopnick are also available.

1) Band without their own movie, from any era, you'd most like to see get the HARD DAY'S NIGHT or HEAD treatment

And here I must admit that this sort of movie does little to excite me. I enjoy music, but I don't really know it or obsess over it the way do, for example, with movies and beer. So when you ask for a quasi-fictional movie featuring lots of music performances, I'm not overly enthused, even if you grab some bands that I'm intrigued by. That being said, perhaps a dramatization of The Mars Volta's ouija board fueled shenanigans while touring and making The Bedlam in Goliath would be an interesting watch...

2) Oliver Reed or Alan Bates?

This is a close one, both actors I know and like, almost a draw really, but I'll go with Oliver Reed due to slightly more familiarity with his stuff...

3) Best thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video

The answer, pretty obviously, is convenience. There are plenty of inconvenient bits about streaming media, but that's a topic for the next question, and streaming really is more convenient in many ways. No need to handle physical media, swap discs, walk across the room (the horror!), no worry about scratches/deterioration, no storage space needed, and when something is available, it's available on a whim, right now, ready to watch. Also, one of the bad things about streaming - lack of selection - can also lead to good things, like watching something you would never normally watch, simply because it's available and easy to access...

4) Worst thing about the move from physical to streaming media in home video

Total inconsistency in availability, the lack of a truly comprehensive service, video quality, dependence on the internets, boneheaded DRM swindles, the fact that you never actually own what you're watching, the list is long and distinguished. One thing that never gets brought up: lack of special features or things like audio-commentary. I know only the nerdiest of nerds actually pay attention to commentary tracks, but the flowering of information that occurred during the DVD era was unprecedented and beautiful, and I have a feeling that it will wither away and die as we move towards streaming, which is sad.

5) Favorite Robin Williams performance

This is a surprisingly difficult choice. I'm not big on Williams' big, showy performances, but he still has a pretty impressive catalog of serious stuff or things where his boisterous qualities are more seamlessly integrated. I keep thinking of Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, and of course, Dead Poets Society. That will have to do...

6) Second favorite Carol Reed movie

Night Train to Munich, coming in behind The Third Man.

7) Oddest moment/concept in rock music cinema

The marching hammers in Pink Floyd The Wall. In fact, that whole movie, but especially the marching hammers...
Marching Hammers
8) Favorite movie about growing up

This is an impossible one, as the concept is nebulous enough to include all coming-of-age stories, of which there are many. Too many. But I'll give an answer that I'm positive that no one else will give: Real Genius. One of a handful of seminal nerd movies that prefigured the rise of the geek a decade or two later, it still speaks to the geek in me.

9) Most welcomed nudity, full or partial, in a movie (question submitted by Peter Nellhaus, class of 2004)

I love that Dennis pawns this question off on someone else ("It wasn't me, it was that pervert, Peter Nellhaus!"), and since he will probably never post his answers, he will doubly get away with not looking like a total perv. As for me, my mind is straying more towards surprising nudity that was not unpleasant (with the actual unpleasant surprise being in the next question), and the first thing I thought of was Rosario Dawson's eye opening (and pretty ridiculous) scene in last year's Trance. Simply was not expecting it, and while the movie is completely absurd, I've always been in love with Rosario, so there you have it.

10) Least welcomed nudity, nude or partial, in a movie (question submitted by Peter Nellhaus, class of 2004)

A long while ago, I was marathoning a bunch of ghost movies near Halloween (this is pre-6WH, but I still watched a bunch of horror movies before Halloween every year), and thought hey, this Ghost Story movie is pretty famous, let's give it a shot. And I was totally unprepared for the full frontal male nudity right at the beginning of the movie. It's not just that it was unexpected as that it's very nearly the first thing you see in the movie, and it immediately precedes death. So yeah, it sticks in my mind.

11) Last movie watched, in a theater, on DVD/Blu-ray, via streaming

In a theater, it was Guardians of the Galaxy, which I very much enjoyed. On BD, it was Under the Skin just this morning, and I'm not totally sure what to make of it. I liked it well enough, but the overly obtuse approach rarely works completely with me... And on streaming, it was the superb The Silence of the Lambs, which I watched because of a recent Filmspotting SVU episode where they discussed all the Hannibal Lecter movies.

12) Second favorite Bertrand Blier movie

I have not seen one, let alone two Betrrand Blier movies, so alas, I must take my first mulligan in this quiz...

13) Googie Withers or Sally Gray?

Googie Withers, mostly just because I really love The Lady Vanishes. Even though she has only a small role, this is more than I can say for Sally Gray, who I'm wholly unfamiliar with...

14) Name a piece of advice derived from a movie or movie character that you've heeded in real life

When in doubt, run to The Godfather "A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man" or "Don't ever take sides with anyone against the family... Ever" (because it's lonely out there on that rowboat).

15) Favorite movie about learning

So I'm going to disqualify sports or martial arts movies, as training montages, while sometimes about learning, are perhaps too easy of a target. The problem is that you're left with a bunch of inspiration teacher stories, of which there are many. I'll go with Dead Poets Society for obvious reasons, but I'll throw out a lesser known instance that isn't quite as sappy or manipulative The Emperor's Club. Not a perfect movie, but well worth checking out.

16) Program a double bill of movies that were announced but, for one reason or another, never made. These could be projects cancelled outright, or films that were made, but at one time had different directors, stars, etc., attached-- and your "version" of the film might be the one with that lost director, for example (question submitted by Brian Doan, class of 2007)

This is a tough one too! Despite my reservations, I would genuinely like to see Alejandro Jodorowsky's take on Dune, so that's first on the docket. The next immediate choice that came to mind was Stanley Kubrick's version of AI. I actually like Spielberg's version, but I also have no doubt in my mind that Kubrick's vision would have been better. For a different pairing, I'd like to see Ken Russel's take on Dracula paired with David Cronenberg's Frankeinstein, both of which were rumored at one point or another.

17) Oddest mismatch of director and material

It's hard to call it a mismatch, because these are all good movies, but it's hard to believe that Mad Max director George Miller also directed the Babe movies. But since they work, I'll have to go with the default of John Huston directing Annie...

18) Favorite performance by your favorite character actor

This is a tough one because of the sorta nebulous line between actor and character actor, and the fact that character actors tend to be in small, bit parts rather than big showy roles. So I'll throw two out there: Ted Levine's creepy turn as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs (just because that's on my mind, though I don't know how much of a character actor Ted Levine really is), and Stephen Tobolowsky's perfect Ned Ryerson ("Needlenose Ned"? "Ned the Head"?) from Groundhog Day. Bing!

19) Favorite chase scene

I'm going to narrow this down a bit and eliminate car chases from the running, as they seem like their own thing. What does this leave us with? For me, The Terminator. The entire movie is really just one big chase scene, but for my money, nothing beats that final chase towards the end of the movie. It's easy to forget just how effective that appearance of the endoskeleton was back in the day.
The Terminator Endoskeleton
We take such things for granted these days, but it was such a big shock, and the design was so brilliantly sinister that I can't quite get over it.

20) Movie most people might not have seen that you feel like proselytizing about right now

I have two relatively obscure movies that I love that few others have seen: the 1933 polemic Gabriel Over the White House and the intriguing video game documentary Playing Columbine. Of course, part of the reason they're underseen is that they're not very well distributed, though I believe they are now both available on Youtube (you may need to pay). They're both pretty fascinating films, and worthy of a larger audience! Oh, and sorry, I have to include a third one: Gambit, a most excellent heist film starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. It was on Netflix a while back, but then it went off and now you have to buy it (apparently there is a somewhat recent remake, though I can't imagine it being as worthwhile as the original).

21) Favorite movie about high school

Lots of choices here, with The Breakfast Club coming immediately and obviously to mind, and then I thought of Better Off Dead..., which is perhaps slightly more obscure (but not really obscure in any sense).

22) Favorite Lauren Bacall performance

I hate to go so obvious on you, but come on, The Big Sleep.

23) David Farrar or Roger Livesey?

So what you're saying is that I need to bone up on my Powell & Pressburger. Yes, another mulligan here, though I have a sneaking suspicion that I've seen these guys in something, nothing is jumping out.

24) Performance most likely to get overlooked during the upcoming awards season

I'm guessing Scarlett Johanssen won't get much official love for Under the Skin. I think Ralph Fiennes has a much better chance for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but sometimes movies released early get overshadowed later on...

25) Rock musician who, with the right project, could have been a movie star

Well, this is a common answer, but there's a reason for that: Jim Morrison could indeed have made an impact in that 70s movie scene... if he had cleaned himself up, that is...

26) Second favorite Ted Post movie

That would be Hang 'Em High, with Magnum Force pulling in number 1. Beneath the Planet of the Apes has its charms and who knows, if I watched all three of these tomorrow, I might put this in the #2 slot, but I'll stick with my gut on this one.

27) Favorite odd couple

The first one coming to mind is Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run, though there are many others that keep popping in as I write this (Riggs and Murtaugh anyone?) I know this is a movie quiz, but an honorable mention must go to Arya Stark and The Hound on Game of Thrones... a show that has its fair share of odd couples.

28) Flicker or Zeroville?

I know I just cheated by including television in the last question, but hey, this is supposed to be a movie quiz right? I have not read either of these books, but if I were to choose based on the blurbs, I'd go Flicker...

29) Favorite movie about college

Is anyone really answering anything other than Animal House? I could mention Real Genius again if I wanted to be contrarian, but I'll leave it at Animal House.

30) In a specific movie full of memorable turns, your favorite underappreciated performance

I was kinda stumped on this one (as per usual, the definition of underappreciated is difficult to lock down), but Craig Kennedy posted the perfect answer at SLIFR: "He's not exactly underappreciated, but George C. Scott generally comes after Peter Sellers when people talk about Dr. Strangelove and he shouldn't be. He's spectacular and I wish he'd done more comedy." Damn straight.

31) Favorite movie about parenting

Calling National Lampoon's Vacation a movie about parenting might be a bit of a stretch, but that's what I thought of first, so it's just going to have to do. It's also hilarious.

32) Susannah York or Sarah Miles?

Susannah York, mostly because she's Superman's mom. A bit part, to be sure, and I guess Sarah Miles has more artistic cred, but I'm sticking with York on this one.

33) Movie which best evokes the sense of place in a region with which you are well familiar

Rocky, even though the logistics of Rocky's jogging path are ridiculous, it really does capture a lot of Philly. I haven't seen it in a long time though, so there are probably much better choices here.

34) Name a favorite actor from classic movies and the contemporary performer who most evokes their presence/stature/talent

George Clooney is almost consciously trying to be Cary Grant, isn't he? And I suppose he's having success at that too.

35) Your favorite hot streak of any director (question submitted by Patrick Robbins, class of 2008)

It's hard to beat Standley Kubrick, whose entire career was basically a hot streak, even if he wasn't quite that prolific (especially in later years).

And that just about covers it. Already looking forward to the next quiz (which, if recent history is extrapolated, will be sometime in late 2015 - hopefully it will be a much shorter wait)...
Posted by Mark on August 24, 2014 at 08:06 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Recent Documentaries
As I get older, I find myself more and more attracted to documentaries. I don't know if this is a function of my own personal proclivities or if it's that more documentaries are being made or that in the age of the internet, they're just more accessible than ever. It's probably some combination of all those factors, but I've found myself ranking at least one, sometimes two, documentaries in my top 10s for just about every year. I don't generally like "activist" documentaries (too much ax grinding to actually be effective), though if you're Errol Morris, I can make an exception (not sure if you'd consider The Unknown Known an "activist" film, but I'll most certainly be checking it out at some point) - The Thin Blue Line buys him a permanent exception. I tend to gravitate towards documentaries about professions or activities, personalities famous or unknown. This year has seen a bunch of interesting ones, all lining up in the past couple months (for me, at least). So here are four documentaries that I found worthwhile:
  • Jodorowsky's Dune - I watch a lot of weird movies, so when I say that Alejandro Jodorowsky's movie El Topo is, without a doubt, the oddest, most disturbing movie I've ever seen, that's saying a lot. You could make a similar argument for his follow up, The Holy Mountain, but once you've seen El Topo, you kinda know what you're in for. After those two cult oddities, Jodorowsky was somehow tapped to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel Dune. This documentary tells the tale of that failed but profoundly influential production.
    Dune Concept Art
    It's an interesting topic for in-depth exploration (indeed, I was writing about this on the blog way back in 2001), and director Frank Pavich clearly forged all the necessary connections to garner access to all of the copious amounts of pre-production materials, as well as interviews with key collaborators, including Jodorowsky himself. The movie covers Jodorowsky's early career and how he came to be involved with Dune, then chronicles all of his recruitment efforts and pre-productiion work. The movie bogs down a bit and gets a little repetitive when you hit the recruitment phase, as it's a similar structure of Jodorowsky meeting with this or that famous artist and convincing him or her to take a chance on his kooky little movie.
    H.R. Giger Concept Art
    That being said, the sheer amount of talent that Jodorowsky managed to pull was staggering. Salvador Dali and Orson Welles were cast in key roles. Pink Floyd was going to do the score. Dan O'Bannon was going to do special effects. Chris Foss, H.R. Giger, and Jean 'Moebius' Giraud provided countless sketches, storyboards, and concept art. After the project fell apart, many of the collaborators hooked up in other projects, most notably O'Bannon, Foss, and Giger for Alien and Foss on Star Wars, amongst many other productions. So while Jodorowsky's Dune was never made, the shadow of its influence spreads far.

    The only point of hesitation I have about the documentary is that there are no counterpoints. Everyone points to the collaborators or its influence as evidence that it would have been great, but when I hear Jodorowsky talking about the book and what he wanted for the movie, then look at his earlier work, I hesitate to say whether this thing would be any good. Indeed, while I respect Jodorowsky's work, I find it hard to believe that it's as beloved as portrayed in this movie. Indeed, the movie plays it a little coy when it comes to the reasons why the project fell through (In short, few were willing to finance something like this, and I wonder how much of that was Jodorowsky's reputation versus how ambitious or audatious this specific project was). It's a little one sided in its praise and it would have been interesting to see someone counter all the hyperbole that was being laid on pretty thick by the folks interviewed. That being said, this was a fascinating documentary and well worth checking out.
  • Milius - An interesting look at the famous 70s era USC filmmakers from the unusual perspective of John Milius. A boisterous, larger than life figure, Milius was an outlier in Hollywood. A strident conservative and gun nut who nevertheless managed to get along with (and collaborate with) kooky leftists like Spielberg and Coppola, and he was among the more prolific writers out there in the 70s and early 80s. Lots of entertaining anecdotes about his wacky antics (bringing a gun to a pitch meeting, etc...) His output seemed to decline after Red Dawn, as his right wing ways started to catch up with him. The documentary also covers his somewhat recent stroke and his struggle to regain the power of speech (which must be devastating to a writer). This was a well done, entertaining effort, worth popping in your Netflix Instant queue, even if it won't change your life or anything.
  • Tim's Vermeer - Utterly fascinating account of one man's attempt to recreate Johannes Vermeer's distinctive, photo-realistic method of painting. Directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller fame, the guy who doesn't talk), this film is mostly portraying inventor Tim Jenison as he attempts to suss out how Vermeer accomplished his paintings with the use of various optics and mirrors, then his painstaking attempt to recreate one painting by hand (the overall process took years, the painting itself took months). I will leave it at that for now, but this is exactly the sort of thing that I look for in a documentary, and will almost certainly be making an appearance on my top 10 of 2014. I may be a bit unusual in this respect, but I still say this is worth seeking out...
  • Life Itself - This documentary covers the life of Roger Ebert, and so you know that film nerds like myself would be all over it, and it is indeed a very popular film. Directed by Steve James (whose Hoop Dreams was championed by Ebert back when Documentaries were not as popular as they are now) has made a clear eyed look at Ebert's life and times, chronicling his successes and his failures, his friendships and feuds, always in a respectful manner. Lots of great anecdotes and stories, including many that I had never heard before, and his relationship with Siskel is particularly interesting. It gets a little more difficult once Ebert's various health issues start compounding (as it should), but if you're at all interested in film criticism or Ebert in particular, this is definitely a film to seek out.
And that's all for now. Hugo awards are being announced late tonight, so stay tuned for reactions and whatnot...
Posted by Mark on August 17, 2014 at 07:11 PM .: Comments (4) | link :.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is the second Marvel Universe movie of the year, and since this occasions a referendum on the series as a whole, I think I've finally bought completely into this whole Marvel Universe thing. To be sure, I've always enjoyed the movies, but in looking back at the blog, I found that I was almost never particularly excited about any of them. At best, there were a few appearances on the Honorable Mention portion of my annual Top 10 lists and honestly, there are only two comic book movies that actually appeared on a top 10 since 2006 and neither were Marvel movies (one was The Dark Knight, the other was Kick-Ass). It wasn't until Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the cumulative effect of repeated rewatchings of The Avengers that I started to get really excited about the series. Indeed, I think part of the appeal of these Marvel movies is their uncanny rewatchability. Even the worst of the films (Iron Man 2) benefits greatly upon repeated viewings, and as the series of Marvel movies goes on, the interconnected pieces start to underline and reinforce one another without burdening any individual movie (with the possible exception of Iron Man 2, which certainly suffers under the weight of Avengers setup).

With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proves that it is firing on all cylinders. It's not a perfect movie, but it does exactly what it needs to do, and the fact that Marvel has been able to make a movie this weird, yet still court mainstream awareness and success. As I mentioned last week, this was one my most anticipated movies of the year for two primary reasons: One, I knew almost nothing about it. This sets it apart from most other comic book movies, which I'm usually familiar with in one way or another and thus come with varying degrees of baggage. Not so for Guardians. Second, the talent involved is intriguing. James Gunn is a really odd choice, but then, this is a really odd movie. Part of that is Gunn's goofy sensibility coming through, but the fact that Marvel was able to recognize and court that sort of talent is admirable.

The acting talent was also interesting. Like the rest of the Marvel movies, they got some recognizable people, but not A-list stars, but this group works very well together. They have great chemistry, but also work really well together. Chris Pratt's Peter Quill/Starlord has a sorta naive Luke Skywalker component mixed with cocksure Han Solo charisma. Zoe Saldana imbues Gamora with a sense of gravitas that works well, yet is not so serious as to be devoid of levity (her line about "pelvic sorcery" is a standout that will surely enter the geek lexicon, if it hasn't already). Bradley Cooper provides a surprisingly effective voice acting performance for Rocket (I mean, he's not at Scarlett Johansson in Her levels awesome, but he is very good), and the CGI racoon he's playing works way better than I think anyone could have hoped for. Vin Diesel has perhaps the least to do, but Groot is the most likable character of the bunch and heck, Diesel has done this thing pretty well before. Finally, while Dave Bautista may have made a name for himself as a professional wrestler, he frankly steals the show on several occasions as Drax, displaying excellent comedic timing in addition to the more expected physical presence.
The Guardians
The story centers around a typical Marvel MacGuffin, which I admit is getting a bit tiresome. Then again, they are finally starting to talk about these things as Infinity Stones, which I'm guessing will become important in Avengers 3. Anyway, Peter Quill/Starlord finds the MacGuffin, but it turns out that evil warlord Ronan wants to use it to destroy planets. Ronan sends Gamora to retrieve the stone from Starlord, but she has motivations of her own. Rocket and Groot are bounty hunters who get caught up in Gamora and Starlord's fight. They meet up with Drax, who wants to avenge his family's death at the hands of Ronan.

Ronan is fine as a villain, by never really transcends being a generic bad guy. Thanos makes another appearance here, and I feel like the movie wastes his involvement. We are constantly told how powerful he is, but we never see him do anything. We've got plenty of time for that before Thanos hits in Avengers 3, but still, it would be nice to get more here. In any case, while Ronan isn't a hugely inspiring villain, he represents enough of a threat and the stakes are high enough that the movie doesn't really suffer.

The real fun of the movie, though, is watching the Guardians come together. Indeed, I think this is a strength of all the Marvel movies. The best bits are the little interpersonal touches, like the Schwarma bit after The Avengers, Bruce Banner nodding off as Tony Stark bores him at the end of Iron Man 3, or Black Widow haranguing Captain America about his love life in Cap 2. And this movie is full of characters coming together and connecting like that. It's just fun, and that's what makes this movie work.

From a visual perspective, Gunn knows what he's doing and manages the large scale battle sequences and CGI extravaganza well (certainly better than the Star Wars prequels), even if some of it is unnecessary. Some of the close-up hand-to-hand combat can be a bit difficult to follow, but it never approaches the worst of the aughts (when a lot of action was simply incomprehensible) and some of it is actually fantastic. For the most part, it's a very visually pleasing movie. The soundtrack, comprised of lots of popular 70s hits, works extremely well. It actually functions as part of the story, since they all come from a mix tape that was given to Starlord by his dying mother on Earth (and it's his only real connection to his former home). The actual choices are an intriguing mix. And "mix" is the perfect name for it, as it is genuinely diverse in terms of what is included. This isn't a Forrest Gump nostalgia-fest, it's an eclectic mix of fun little songs that matches the tone of the movie perfectly.

So what we're left with is an intensely fun adventure movie, taking on some of the best aspects of Star Wars and space opera in general, mixing that with some grand Spielbergian adventure, all with a unique and decidedly goofy perspective that works really well. Marvel seems to have taken some huge risks with this movie, and they are indeed paying off big time. I cannot wait to watch this again, and this one is almost certainly in my top 3 Marvel movies. Plus, we've got a sequel coming, not to mention Avengers 3. This is all very exciting, and I'm greatly looking forward to Marvel's next phase (though I have to admit that I'm very disappointed that Edgar Wright has left Ant-Man - then again, I'm hoping that since they were already so far along, much of Wright's perspective will remain intact...)
Posted by Mark on August 10, 2014 at 07:54 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Fall Movie Preview
As I transition off the Hugo Awards, I figure I'll return the other hobby horse of this blog: movies. I've actually been keeping up with new releases and will probably do some recapping in the near future, but for now, let's look ahead at some movies I'm excited for as we enter the fall movie season:
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (August) - A cheat, as I'll be going to see this tonight, but I will include it because it was, by far, my most anticipated summer movie. Why, you ask? Because I've really come to enjoy the Marvel universe movies, but this particular property is something that I'm almost completely oblivious to - I know nothing about it, and that excites me. It won't be a rehash of an origin story I've seen 10 times already (i.e. Batman, Spider Man, Superman, and all the other big super heroes) and it honestly sounds kinda bonkers (in a good way). I'm not expecting hard SF, but something along the lines of the original Star Wars (though I'm obviously trying to keep expectations in check, that's the sort of adventure film I'm expecting out of this). Add in the genuinely intriguing talent behind the movie (James Gunn directing and co-writing), not to mention the onscreen talent (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and a CGI Racoon, etc...), and I'm totally game.
  • The Green Inferno (September) - Probably the least exciting entry on this list, I've got mixed feelings about Eli Roth. On the one hand, I appreciate a lot of things about his movies, and he does tend to make them into fun affairs (if sometimes overly gory, and I'm not a squeamish kinda guy). And honestly, this looks to be a pretty brutal movie that I'm not entirely sure I'll be into... but that is often more interesting than typical mainstream fair, so I guess we'll have to wait and find out.
  • Gone Girl (October) - It's been a few years since David Fincher's disappointing Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, but he's a director I'm always on the look out for, as even his failures tend to be interesting in some way. In this case, I know little of the story, just that it's a sorta crime thriller thing, which Fincher has proven to be pretty good at...
  • Interstellar (November) - I'm deliberately trying to stay away from details on this one, as all I need to know is the talent behind it (Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and so on...) and the general premise (humanity expanding into the stars) to know I want to see it. I have some real hesitations, as filmic depictions of hard science fiction are few and far between, and often suffer in comparison to their literary counterparts, but Nolan has proven that he can pull of the internal consistency, sense of wonder, and conceptual breakthrough that is required in great science fiction. So basically, sign me up.
  • Inherent Vice (December) - This is a film that's already been pushed back once, so I'm not positive if it will actually be released this year, but it is a film I am very much looking forward to. Of course, most film nerds will look forward to anything that director Paul Thomas Anderson sets his sights on, but this one hold special promise for me because of the source material. I think Anderson is a fantastic director with a profound visual talent and ambitious attitude, but I've found has last few efforts to be disappointing. To be sure, I'm in the minority on that, but I feel like he's been hewing towards the obtuse a little too much. I think you could probably say something similar about the author of the book this movie will be based on, Thomas Pynchon. The man is an unparalleled prose stylist and this will carry his novels far, but with Inherent Vice, Pynchon did something amazing: he included a plot. And not a lame or tacked on plot, a real, honest to goodness private eye story with a somewhat unique setting. So Pynchon was slumming it, and it was absolutely fantastic, and now we have Paul Thomas Anderson picking up that source material. That's got winner written all over it.
  • Honorable Mentions: Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Drop, The Interview, BirdmanBig Hero 6, Fury, Foxcatcher, V/H/S: Viral, and maybe even Dumb and Dumber To...
So there you have it. I'm sure there will be about a dozen or two additional movies that I'll get excited about as prestige movie season approaches, but I'm sure the above will keep me pretty busy...
Posted by Mark on August 03, 2014 at 08:33 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Recent Podcastery
I have actually been listening to less Podcasts of late, though that's really just because I've finally taken the plunge into the rough and tumble world of Audiobooks, most of which are roughly the length of, like 10-20 regular podcasts or something. That being said, I still listen to a fair amount of podcasts. Some of the second string podcasts are getting sidelined to make room, but that's ultimately not a bad thing. Anywho, here are four podcasts I've glommed onto recently and have been enjoying.
  • The X-Files Files - Longtime readers know that I love the X-Files, so this podcast is right up my alley. It's hosted by comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who injects the perfect combination of humor and serious love for the material into the podcast. We're only a few episodes in, but he's had fantastic guests as well, including Devin Faraci (critic from Badass Digest), DC Pierson (comedian), and Dan Harmon (show runner for Community). Great discussions, and a chance to revisit one of my favorite shows. I've always preferred the monster-of-the-week episodes to the continuity/conspiracy episodes, but I'll be taking this opportunity to rewatch the conspiracy episodes. I basically gave up on those things in season 2 during the original airing. I mean, I would occasionally watch one later on, but I never knew what the hell was going on, and I really didn't care. I kinda caught up around the time the first X-Files movie came out, but that was basically because of that hidden track thing on the soundtrack for the movie where Chris Carter basically just explains the whole thing. I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories and the like, so I'm not expecting to love these episodes, but I do so enjoy spending time with Mulder and Scully, so I'm looking forward to it. And it's funny how much the first season episodes played up the conspiracy angle, even in the standalone freak-of-the-week episodes. Anyway, if you're a fan of the show or even if you never watched it before and are looking for a way to catch up, this podcast is a nice supplement.
  • The Badass Digest Podcast (aka the Badasscast, aka The Badass Padcast Podcast) - This is basically just two interesting dudes vamping about movies for about an hour. The aforementioned Devin Faraci and the hilarious Evan Saathoff (aka Sam Strange) work well together, despite the fact that there appears to be little or no thought put into the format of the show. But it works, and it's worth listening to. The only real complaint is the irregularity of the updates, which are somewhat sporadic (they average 2-3 per month, but they're unpredictable).
  • A Cast of Kings - A Game of Thrones Podcast - Back in the day, before there were a gazillion great podcasts to listen to, it used to actually be hard to find good movie podcasts. I would search around for some good ones, and I would always see these weird podcasts dedicated to, for example, Firefly. This made no sense to me, because even though I love that show as much as anyone else, what the hell is there to talk about once you review all the episodes? These things literally went on for, like, 5 years, with weekly updates and everything. But I'm coming around to the idea when it comes to big shows (like The X-Files, which has 8 seasons and hundreds of episodes to work with) or to a show that's airing now. But then, there's only one show that I watch live, and that's A Game of Thrones, so when I remembered that Dave Chen of the /Filmcast also does this Game of Thrones podcast, I was on board, and started following it during this season. If you watch the show, it's great fun dissecting the episodes.
  • Comic Tango - The Echo Rift guys tackle a sorta meta-commentary on comic books, things like pricing, number 1 issues, creators mouthing off on twitter, and so on. I'm not a huge comic reader, but this stuff is still interesting to me somehow. Worth the listen for comic fans, but even if you're not, some of these episodes might be for you (or just check out the regular Echo Rift podcast)...
And that's all for now. On Sunday, we return to the Hugo Awards for a look at the Novelette slate. See you then.
Posted by Mark on June 18, 2014 at 11:46 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Again Saved Titles
Last week, I wrote about my sad devotion to physical media, and how even that has failed me when it comes to some movies. I went through a few of the movies on my Saved Titles list that Netflix doesn't even have DVDs for, and today we continue that list:
  • Blind Detective - Director Johnny To is one of my favorites, so any new movie of his is usually added to my list. This one seems reminiscent of Mad Detective, though perhaps a little more silly looking. Only one way to find out, though. Since this was a somewhat recent release, I would actually expect Netflix to make good on this sucker and get the DVD (or put it on streaming).
  • Cargo - This 2009 German science fiction film has garnered some interesting reviews, but it does not appear to be available on streaming at all, but a rather expensive DVD can be purchased... So how did I discover this? Wonder of wonders, I remember! It was in Ian Sales' post about Prometheus, where he recommended people check out this film instead.
  • Destroy All Monsters - Inspired by Pacific Rim, I spent a week during last year's Halloween movie marathon watching old Kaiju movies, and this was one I really wanted to catch up with, but which was not available anywhere... It looks like a new DVD/BD will be coming out soon, so perhaps Netflix will pick it up. Maybe the new Godzilla movie will drive demand...
  • Don't Open Till Christmas - For whatever reason, I have a penchant for Holiday themed horror movies, and this one seems like it'd fit the bill nicely (especially since I've mostly exhausted said Holiday horror films). This is one that was defiitely in my DVD queue, but which not-so-mysteriously went into "very long wait" mode whenever Christmas rolled around, and really, when else would you want to watch this? So I never managed to snag it when available, and now it's not. It does seem to be available elsewhere (but no, not on streaming), so there's a chance Netflix will restock someday. I'm not holding my breath though.
  • Final Exam - Another terrible horror movie from a reviled sub-genre, the slasher, this one was apparently just released on BD (and somehow, that's cheaper than the DVD), so maybe there's a chance... It is, of course, not available on streaming.
  • Golden Slumber - I missed out on seeing director Yoshihiro Nakamura's A Boy and His Samurai when I went to Fantastic Fest, but managed to catch up with both that movie and the excellent Fish Story and totally fell in love with the director, adding everything I could to my queue. Alas, the list is quite short, and for some reason, Nakamura's movies have not really made their way West just yet. Fish Story was on streaming for a while, but is now only available on DVD. It's well worth checking out if you get a chance.
  • Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS - Back when Grindhouse came out, I remember loving Rob Zombie's fake trailer for Werewolf Women of the S.S. without realizing that there was a whole Nazi Exploitation sub-genre out there, and this one seems to be a popular choice. Frankly, I'm a little happy that this one is not actually available, but it might be an interesting sub-genre to explore...
  • Matewan - Back when I was in college, I spent one of my two (count 'em, two!) free electives on a film class, and this was one of the films originally on the syllabus. For various reasons, we never got to it in the class (I think we ended up watching another John Sayles film, Lone Star, instead), but it's always been something I wanted to catch up with. I can't imagine there's much pent-up demand for this sort of thing on Netflix, so I'm guessing it'll never see the light of day...
There you have it, and we're only about halfway down the list!
Posted by Mark on May 14, 2014 at 11:35 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Saved Titles
I'm one of those guys. The people who still have the Netflix DVD/BD program. I know, physical media! Go ahead, make with the jokes, but have you seen the selection on Netflix Instant? Any self-professed lover of movies needs something a little more comprehensive, especially people like me, who get a hankering to do obscure genre marathons, like German Krimi films from the 1950s and 60s or their sister sub-genre, Italian Giallos from the 60s and 70s. I also have Amazon Prime, so I get some movies there too, but as with Netflix Instant, if you're really hunting down a specific movie (especially an obscure one), you're generally out of luck (though you may get the option to pay a la carte, which I guess is better than nothing). There are other options, Fandor, iTunes, Hulu, HBOGO, etc... but even combined, most of this stuff pales to the selection provided by Netflix DVD. That being said, Netflix's DVD selection is not perfect either. I don't know if it's "getting worse", but I did notice that I have 41 movies on the "Saved Titles" list, which is an awful lot. Granted, several of those are movies that are either still in theaters or haven't come out yet, but several are movies you would expect them to have. Let's take a look at a few of them.
  • Bullet in the Head - A Hong Kong era John Woo action film that I never managed to catch up with, this one came after The Killer, but before Hard Boiled. Amazon appears to have exactly 1 BD in stock right now, and it's absurdly expensive, so I guess I can't really blame Netflix for not stocking this sucker. It does not appear to be availabe on any form of streaming. This isn't exactly at the top of my list (though, well, alphabetically it's close, but that's besides the point), but it would be nice to catch up with this one.
  • A Chinese Ghost Story - I don't remember adding this one to the list (I suspect it's been on there for a while), but it's pretty well regarded and it sounds rather interesting. Like the above, it's not available on any streaming platform, and the DVD is extremely expensive.
  • Accident - Another movie I don't remember much about, but the premise sounds great and this one gets at one of the most frustrating things with Netflix's Instant service - this was available a while back, I distinctly remember seeing it whilst scanning through my queue, but it appears to have gone off streaming. Super. The only other option for this one right now appears to be XBox, which I'm not buying just to get the pleasure of purchasing this movie!
  • Anthony Zimmer - A French thriller that I distinctly remember reading about on Reelviews many moons ago, and this one has been in my Saved Titles list for at least 7 or 8 years at this point. Once again, it appears to be because of abnormally high DVD/BD prices, and no streaming options whatsoever.
  • Bullets Over Broadway - So most of the above are relatively obscure foreign films with limited audiences, so I get that they're not available. This is a popular Woody Allen movie made within the last 20 years. It's not available on streaming anywhere, but it is pretty cheap on DVD, so maybe Netflix is just lazy here.
So there you have it. Like I said, I have 41 movies on the list, but I'd be here all night if I talked about each one. Let's revisit this sometime in the near future. What do you have in your Saved Titles? Oh, right, no one uses physical media anymore....
Posted by Mark on May 07, 2014 at 11:16 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ranking the Marvel Movies
In keeping with my recent thinking on Referendums and such, it's worth noting another edge case. Like Pixar, a new Marvel Universe movie has, of late, yielded a general referendum on the state of the overarching franchise (rather than just a simple review of the latest movie). All the cook kids have been posting their rankings, ranging from the absurdly comprehensive, to official, indisputable rankings, to unofficial, disputable rankings.

For my part, I'll only be ranking the official Marvel Universe films (so no Spider Man or X-Men movies, etc...) and with the added caveat that every one of these movies has achieved a certain level of base competence that is pretty solid. The fact that they are all connected helps strengthen and reinforce even the "bad" movies, and the all tend to be fun. Another thing worth noting is that these all seem to be infinitely rewatchable, which isn't the only or even primary measure of a movie's worth, but it is one of the things that I think ties these movies all together. Let's get this party started at the bottom of the heap:
  • Iron Man 2 - This movie is a total mess, groaning under the weight of an ill-advised multi-stranded plot, with multiple villains, too much Avengers prep work, and an otherwise limp story. In this movie, Tony Stark is basically a jerk, and not the lovable kind he is in all the other movies. I kinda hate the whole "poisoning" plot thread and Tony's lame attempts to hide it all. The friendship with Rhodes never really works, and that party scene is severely lame. I did revisit this movie somewhat recently, and must admit that it's growing on me. I no longer hate it, but it's still a mess. I have grown to really enjoy Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell's performances, even if their plot is a bit on the incoherent side. I could see this potentially taking a jump up one rung on this list, but that's pretty much the ceiling on this one.
  • The Incredible Hulk - This is a movie I want to like, but it ends up pretty low on the list because it's the one Marvel movie that everyone always forgets is part of the universe. Plus, while I enjoyed Edward Norton's take, Mark Ruffalo completely owned the character in The Avengers, which makes this movie a bit of an oddity. On the other hand, there's nothing really dramatically wrong here, and it's got some fun action at the end.
  • Iron Man - I'm a little surprised that this one is as low as it is, but on the other hand, I was never as in love with it as everyone else, even at the time. Sure, Robert Downey Jr. is a revelation in this role, and that's the one thing that really keeps this movie afloat for me. I'm not a huge fan of the opening of the movie, but the second act is fantastic (in particular, the sorta buddy-comedy aspect of Tony working with Jarvis on the new suit). Alas, the finale is a bit strained. I actually really liked Jeff Bridges here, but as with a lot of origin stories, he's given short shrift. Upon rewatching, the ending sits better with me and the movie is still a fair amount of fun, so I'll give it that much credit. It's also worth noting that for its time, it really did represent a shift in comic book movies, which were in danger of getting mired in grimdark. This came out in 2008, the year of the excellent but pretty dark The Dark Knight and the decent but super-dark Watchmen. Batman is allowed to be dark and brooding, because that's his schtick, but it seemed like the comic book movie was burning itself out, and Iron Man (particularly the second act) made comic book movies fun again. It may not be my favorite, but it is probably one of the more important films on the list.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger - Upon first exposure, this was my favorite of the pre-Avengers films, but on subsequent rewatches, I got a little tired of the montage-heavy second and third acts. That being said, this has, by far, the best origin story in the Marvel universe films. The first act of this movie is superb, and while it does slowly trail off into montages and a rather odd climax, I do like Red Skull as a villain and the present-day ending piece is a nice setup for The Avengers (this was the movie that immediately preceded that film, and it does an excellent job leading into it). In general, I'd consider this on par with Thor, and the two movies sorta go back and forth for me.
  • Thor - I expect that this movie would be way lower on most other people's lists, but for whatever reason, I tend to connect more with the Thor movies than most everyone else. Maybe it's the fish-out-of-water comedy or the Shakespearean theatrics, or perhaps just the charismatic lead performances from Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. The romance with Natalie Portman is a bit rushed, and I understand that it doesn't work for some, but it worked fine for me (there is something similar going on with Thor's friendship with Stellan Skarsgard's character). The ending is definitely a weak point, but that is an affliction that all the phase 1 Marvel movies (pre-Avengers) suffer from (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Captain America all have lackluster third acts). Something about this movie just works for me.
  • Iron Man 3 - After Iron Man 2, I was not sure what to expect out of this, especially coming off the high of Avengers. I was pleasantly surprised to really enjoy this movie. I know in the comics, Tony Stark has struggled with alcoholism, but that's not something that would really work in movie form. In Iron Man 2, they tried to get at it by making Tony a total dick and calling his little chest reactor poisonous, but that clearly didn't work. Here, Shane Black rather cleverly substitutes PTSD as Tony's problem, and it fits (perhaps not as perfectly as some would like, but it worked for me). One couldn't ask for a better kickoff to Marvel's Phase 2, and what you see here is a higher degree of competence and indeed, confidence. This is one of the more even movies in the whole enterprise.
  • Thor: The Dark World - Again, this is probably higher than most would put it, but it does represent an across the board improvement over the first film, and given my feelings on that film, you can see why this one would be this high. The broad humor works really well here (excepting the pantsless Stellan Skarsgard, a rare miscalculation in an otherwise solid movie), along with some reversal fish-out-of-water elements. Like Iron Man 3, you can see Marvel's confidence really coming across here. I will admit that I have not rewatched this or Iron Man 3, so perhaps I'd flip-flop them, but for now, I'll stick with Thor.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier - I just saw this last week, so maybe I'm a little too high on it, but I don't think so. Marvel is really making this stuff look easy. I can't get over how well this film balances all of its disparate elements. It's extremely well paced, it's got an amazing amount of action, but for the most part, it's not repetitive (there's a little shaky cam here, and I normally hate that, but the situations were all excellent enough that I didn't really mind). There's a big conspiracy (consciously evoking those paranoid thrillers of the 70s) uncovered here that will have huge implications to the universe, and I love that they went there, but it's the little things that really got to me. In particular, I love that this movie continues the blossoming of Black Widow as a fully realized, charismatic character. Her introduction in Iron Man 2 was hackneyed and underwritten, but she came into her own in the Avengers, and shows even more here. Likewise with Anthony Mackie's Falcon character, who has a great introduction and comes across well for the rest of the movie. I love the little character interactions in this movie, and they get at why these Marvel movies are doing so well. They're just so much fun, and this movie is a prime example. This is a remarkably even movie, and again, indicative of the confidence of Marvel in this second phase.
  • The Avengers - Right now, this movie is hanging on to the top slot by a hair. It's certainly got some flaws. It takes a little while to get going, and I've never been a fan of the sort of Thor vs Iron Man fights that happen in this movie, but Joss Whedon managed to make it work, and while there are plenty of things that I'm not particularly in love with for this movie (the helicarrier, the fact that Hawkeye is mostly sidelined, etc...), it also reaches the highest-highs in the entire series. Unlike the rest of Marvel's phase 1 movies, this is one that gets stronger as it goes, and the big action scene in the finale is actually worth the buildup (unlike the rest of phase 1 movies). Also of note, the aforementioned Black Widow really shines here, and is given really distinctive and important talents. Also, Mark Ruffalo's Hulk is a total revelation. Again, it's the little character interactions and showcases that just work so well here. Most of the characters get some great marquee moments, and there are single lines here that just work so well that any flaws in the movie just sorta melt away. I mean, come on, when the team is finally assembled in New York and Iron Man asks Captain America to call their play (which is pretty cool in itself), and Cap starts handing out orders and finally says "Hulk: Smash." Perfect, and the movie is filled with similar moments. It's definitely not as evenly constructed as the second phase Marvel stuff, but it does have the highest peaks, even if there are plenty of valleys.
So there you have it. Who knows, all this stuff may swap around with future movies or rewatches (of which, I will probably do a lot of). Plus, I'm really looking forward to some of the weird stuff that's coming down the pike, like Guardians of the Galaxy and even Ant-Man.
Posted by Mark on April 13, 2014 at 08:37 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Again Referendum: John McTiernan Edition
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned how some newly released works of art seem to initiate a referendum on the whole of the artist's oeuvre. This was occasioned by the release of Wes Anderson's latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel (which I have since seen, and which is fantastic, among my top Anderson films), but I came across this curious case recently, which marks an interesting case of the referendums. Jonathan V. Last lays down the gauntlet:
Proposed: John McTiernan is the most under-rated director of his generation, having helmed three instant classics (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, The Thomas Crowne Affair), one of which is in the running for Most Influential Movie of the Decade. Even his middling work (Predator and Last Action Hero) is really, really good.
First thing's first, I object to the notion of Predator as a "middling" effort. That three movie run from Predator to Die Hard to The Hunt for Red October is nothing short of astounding, and there are a rarified few directors who can boast a similar run of classics. I'm less sanguine about Last Action Hero, though I will grant the notion that it was a movie that was way ahead of its time, probably deserves its increasing cult status, and is definitely worth a revisit. I really enjoyed both Die Hard: With a Vengeance and The Thomas Crown Affair, though I should probably revisit those films as well.

His work after The Thomas Crown Affair seems a bit lacking, but the general explanation there is mounting legal troubles which basically sidelined him for most of this century. This is basically one of the reasons that Last cites for McTiernan not getting the respect he so richly deserves.

The other reason he cites probably also plays a role:
McTiernan eschewed any particular visual style and instead concentrated on economy of storytelling. There are truly great visuals in his movies (see the opening series of shots in Thomas Crowne where the camera zooms down on the Met from space; a shot which seems cliched now, but predates Google Earth by nearly ten years) but these visuals don’t have any particular signature to them. Instead, you can tell a McTiernan movie by how skillfully it moves the story, builds tension, and uses every knife it lays out on the coffee table.
This is dead on, though perhaps a closer analysis of his work would reveal some signature moves. But I would add that he's a director that doesn't call attention to his filmmaking. Similar to how some of the best movie scores blend into the background while still playing an integral role, McTiernan's clear visual style hits all the right notes without forcing you to notice them. This isn't to say that great directors with bold styles can't produce great works, just that this is a different kind of greatness.

In terms of the commonalities I found in this sort of referendum, McTiernan may not qualify for the "singular vision" criteria (though I suppose it's arguable), but he most certainly does qualify for the "relatively small filmography" criteria. What's more, it's a really interesting filmography. He's got multiple classics, a growing cult film, and several films that were legitimately "middling" (but in those cases, they are often better than they have any right to be - I'm looking at you The 13th Warrior).

I've lost track of when he is getting out of jail, but IMDB already has his next film listed, called Red Squad (about the DEA hiring a team of mercenaries to take on a Mexican drug cartel). Will the release of this film warrant the same sort of referendum that the likes of Wes Anderson receives? I suspect that Last is correct and that McTiernan is underrated, so I don't think the referendum will be as universal as it is for Anderson, but I think it very likely that it will be common, especially if the movie is great. I suppose time will tell...
Posted by Mark on April 02, 2014 at 10:59 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Oscars
At this point, every conceivable opinion you could have about the Oscars has become gauche. Whether you're genuinely enthusiastic, profoundly bored, or searingly cynical, you've got a pretty lame outlook on the event. It's not your fault, it's just the hand we're all dealt. I've found that two things help make the show palatable: beer and mockery. And predictions!

This marks the tenth year I've covered the Oscars. A whole damn decade. I wish I could say that I'm going to do something special for this anniversary, but who am I kidding? I don't really wish that at all, and in fact, I'm recycling some stuff from last year (like the first paragraph of this post, which is as relevant now as it was last year). I used to "liveblog" the Oscars and continually update a post like this as the night wore on, but last year I decided to get with the program and took to twitter (along with the rest of the movie nerds). I expect my personal commentary to be less frequent than even last year, though you can expect a lot of retweets, because other people are more witty than I am. If, for some reason, you want to check out previous years' predictions and commentary, they are here: [2013 |2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]

As per usual, my predictions for the major awards (and, um, some not so major awards that I always pick for some unbeknownst reason):
  • Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave. This is actually something of a race. The three strong contenders for the award have already gone through several cycles of buzz and backlash, peaking early, then rallying, etc... I like that Best Picture allows more nominees, but in reality, it's usually pretty easy to narrow the field down to the 5 that would have been nominated with the old rules. In this case, I think it's pretty safe to assume that Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyer's Club, Her and Philomena have next to no chance to win. I haven't seen Nebraska, but it seems too low-key to attract a lot of votes, and if it's going to be rewarded, there's a better category for that sort of thing ("better" in the sense of academy voters distorted mindset, at least). The Wolf of Wall Street is next on the chopping block, because the Academy already righted their wrongs for Scorsese a few years ago. This leaves 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, and Gravity, and I would not be surprised if any of them won. 12 Years because racism is bad and the academy likes to feel important, Hustle because it's an actor/actress showcase and the academy is mostly actors, and Gravity because spectacle and also a pretty big performance from Bullock. I think Gravity could certainly take the cake here, and would not be surprised if Hustle took it either. Now, I don't truly understand the weird run-off style voting for Best Picture, but I suspect that 12 Years will take the edge because even if someone doesn't vote for it in the number one slot, they'll almost certainly put it in the number 2 slot. Also, racism is bad. (On the other hand, apparently many voters have refused to watch 12 Years because it seems so harrowing - which isn't an uncommon reaction, though pretty cowardly if you're tasked with voting for the Oscars, if you ask me.)
  • Best Director: Alfonso Curaon for Gravity. Cuaron has all the momentum going into the Oscars, having taken the Golden Globe and DGA awards, which actually bodes well for Gravity in the Best Picture category. Best Picture and Director usually track together, but again, I think the weird voting process for Best Picture means that years with close races can see divergence in the two categories. It's a rarity, but it happened last year for purely political reasons (Affleck wasn't nominated and that was seen as a sleight, plus torture is like, really bad, and Zero Dark Thirty had the temerity to depict it). This year I think there's a fair chance that it will be a split because of the close race, though it's also a fair bet that Steve McQueen will take this too. I guess you could call my choice hedging my bet, but I think there's a good chance that the awards will split.
  • Best Actress: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. This is another tough one, as I really think that Amy Adams could take this award due to her being awesome and her (beloved by the Academy) movie not winning Best Picture/Director. Plus, you've got that Woody Allen taint, though Blanchett seems to have survived the controversy intact. Or something. It's a tough call. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing Sandra Bullock take the award, but that won't happen because she just won recently and quite frankly, Amy Adams deserves it more.
  • Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club. He's got the momentum, and we are living in the Golden Age of McConaughey. The dude went from reviled romcom stoner to critical darling making daring choices and putting in superb performances in the course of, like, 2 years. This is also a very actorly performance, with the unflattering physical transformation and all that stuff that the Academy loves to reward. The dark horse here is Bruce Dern, as a sorta lifetime achievement award and a way to reward Nebraska (if it's going to happen, it will happen here).
  • Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave. She had the early buzz, but J-Law seems to be coming on of late, and again, the Academy may want to reward the actor/actress friendly American Hustle here. On the other hand, she just won for Best Actress last year, so the Academy may not see the need to reward her again and go with the unknown 12 Years actress (who was genuinely fantastic).
  • Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club. Some minor controversy here from the LGBT community, but I don't think it's enough to stop Leto's momentum. Plus, the competition in this category isn't quite as fierce as the others this year. I wouldn't be surprised if Leto lost, but it's his award to lose at this point.
  • Best Original Screenplay: American Hustle. The other strong contender here is Her, but I'm betting that the Academy is too old and stodgy for that movie and will want to reward Hustle in some way.
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave. Finally, a category that is somewhat close to a lock. I just don't see any of the other nominees pulling an upset here.
  • Editing: Captain Phillips. Gravity was an early frontrunner, but Captain Phillips has been coming on strong.
  • Cinematography: Gravity. Duh.
  • Visual Effects: Gravity. Duh.
  • Makeup: Dallas Buyers Club.
  • Costumes: American Hustle.
  • Musical Score: Gravity. Though I think this is a big toss up.
  • Best Song: from Frozen
  • Best Animated Film: Frozen. Minor possibility of an upset from Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, though some weird politics may keep that in check (I haven't seen the movie, but it apparently is about the guy who created Japanese airplanes in WWII). I have not seen either film, so I'm just going on buzz here.
  • Best Documentary: The Act of Killing. This could easily go to Twenty Feet from Stardom because it's more of a feel-good movie about unsung heroes and the Academy likes that sort of thing. The Act of Killing may have peaked early, but I'll still go with it for this.
  • Best Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty. Though I've also heard a lot about Broken Circle Breakdown...
So there you have it. Actually a lot of pretty tight races this year. Gravity will almost certainly pick up all the technical awards, but the real question is how well it'll do in the big awards. I wouldn't be surprised to see it do really well. It hits a lot of Academy sweet spots. I'm going to throw up my twitter feed here, though obviously it won't start updating much until we get towards the actual ceremony. Feel free to leave a comment here or hit me up on Twitter...

Posted by Mark on March 02, 2014 at 11:42 AM .: link :.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pop Culture Tasting Notes
Just some quick notes on recent pop culture happenings, in no particular order:
  • House of Cards, Season 2 - I was pleased with the first high-profile season Netflix series last year, but came away a bit disappointed that so many threads were left open. The first season did have its own arc, and there was a good stopping point, but there were just several subplots that were left way too vague in the end. Well, all that stuff is resolved within the first episode or two of the second season, and in spectacular fashion too. It's pretty rare that I'm so surprised at this sort of thing, but it was pretty well shocking and a whole boatload of fun. Sorta. I mean, this is kinda like the bizarro universe West Wing, but instead of Aaron Sorkin's idealized politicians, we get a more Machiavellian, evil twin, goateed take. To me, it's completely absurd, but a whole lot of fun. After the first couple episodes, it mellows out a bit, but I can sorta tell that it's gearing up for something even more crazy, which I'm totally on board for. In the end, while I wouldn't characterize this as a groundbreaking series, it is something worth subscribing to Netflix for...
  • The Lego Movie - After a three day incubation period, it feels like the "Everything is Awesome" song has completely and utterly taken over my brain. I cannot get that thing out of my head. But it is a fun song that's part of a really fantastic little movie. Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made a career out of making movies out of seemingly stupid premises. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was based on a great book that didn't seem at all like it could be made into a feature length movie, but it worked. 21 Jump Street sounded like the worst idea ever, but it was one of the funniest movies of that year. And now we get to a movie based on a toy. Of course, the licensed Lego video games have long been a surprisingly solid series of entertaining experiences, but I still wasn't expecting this Lego movie to be quite as fun or poignant as it ended up being. Lego was in really bad shape not too long ago, but they ended up saving the company by licensing a bunch of pop culture artifacts, notably Star Wars, and started soaring as a result. But is that really what Legos are about? One of the points of the movie is that such conformity is a bad thing, and yet, it doesn't go to far along those lines. Indeed, one key turning point comes when our hero recognizes that being super creative and different may actually be antithetical to their purposes, and devises a plan that their opponents would never expect: they're going to play by the rules. Of course, there's still lots of room for creativity, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the movie take on a subtle balance of positions like that. Plus, just on an execution level, these guys just nailed it. The jokes come at a dense, steady pace, and I'm sure there a ton of stuff here that would reward multiple viewings. The voice performances are all pretty great, and the visuals are sometimes spectacular. In the end, this was about a thousand times better than I was expecting.
  • True Detective - A decidedly more dour experience than the previous two examples, this appears to be an excellent series in its own right. I'm only a few episodes in, but this represents an interesting take on the whole Police Procedural drama we're all so used to on TV (indeed, it's nothing like those series). Plus, with performances form Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, it's a hard series to beat, and they're given lots to chew on as well. I'll hold off on judging the series because it's still relatively early, but it does seem like a winner.
And that's all for now. Stay tuned for the top 10 of 2013 on Sunday!
Posted by Mark on February 19, 2014 at 08:44 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Year End Movie Cramming
It's the time of year when most publications are releasing their Best of 2013 lists and most movie studios are releasing a glut of prestige pictures for Oscar eligibility. Not being an actual critic, this time of year can get to be a bit overwhelming as I struggle to catch up with small early year releases I've not seen as well as keeping up with new releases in theaters. As of right now, I've seen 49 movies that could be considered 2013 releases, which is less than last year at this time (and last year was also a slow year). This is partially because I didn't attend any film festival screenings this year, but also because I've been less excited about the movies this year. I feel a bit burned out by movies, and have actually been watching a lot of TV this year. I suspect this will pass, of course, and I've already started to catch up on 2013 releases. I may start a bit later with this year's Kaedrin Movie Awards (and top 10), but I think I'll be in pretty good shape in the next few weeks, assuming I can cram in a few movies. Speaking of which, here's a list of movies I'm looking to see soon, whether that be in theaters or on DVD/BD/Streaming:
  • The Wolf of Wall Street - From what I've heard and seen, Martin Scorsese's latest could be a strong contender for a top 10 slot on my list, and I'm looking forward to checking this out.
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug - I have this feeling that I have an obligation to see this movie even though I didn't totally love the first movie (though I didn't hate it either, it was a film that yielded much contradiction for me). I don't expect much, but I feel like I should see it.
  • Saving Mr. Banks - Despite the fact that the trailer seems to give away too much of the plot, I do kinda want to check this out. It's not tops on my list, so it may fall by the wayside, but it could be interesting.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis - I can't not want to see a Coen brothers movie, but at the same time, this one definitely doesn't seem to be hitting my normal interest points (folk music? Eh?) It also seems to be frustratingly limited release right now. If it goes wide, I'll definitely see it.
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - Obviously not a prestige picture, but something I'm sure will be enjoyable, which is very valuable in this time of year when we start drowning in dark indie angst.
  • Her - I wasn't very taken with the trailer for this, but it's getting raves and the talent involved, particularly Spike Jonze is a definite plus. Hopefully I'll be able to catch up with it (again, assuming it goes wide at some point).
  • Short Term 12 - Another tiny film that I missed during its initial rollout, this doesn't really seem like my bag of tea, but it gets rave reviews, so I do want to check it out.
  • The Spectacular Now - A coming of age tale that has also been getting raves all year long, it comes out on video soonish.
  • In a World... - This just sounds like a lot of fun (movie trailer voice-over movie? Sure!), and I'm sad I missed it's initial release, but it seems to be coming to video in the next month or so.
  • Bad Milo - I've already noted my desire to see this rather bizarre sounding movie about a butt demon in a wierd movie of the week post, and it looks like I'll be able to do so in the next month or so. Very excited, though I'm not sure it will have enough oomph to really be a big contender.
  • The Act of Killing - And here we hit the depressing movie corner, as I'm sure this will be a harrowing movie, but it nonetheless seems like something I should definitely watch at some point.
  • Stories We Tell - A movie I probably wouldn't be checking out if it didn't get such glowing reviews. Sarah Polley's personal documentary about, apparently, storytelling and the way we shape our lives through narrative. Or something.
  • The Place Beyond the Pines - I get the impression that this is a movie failed by its marketing, which apparently only focuses on about a third of this movie. I'm still not expecting huge things, but I've also heard plenty of good things, so who knows?
  • Disconnect - I have to admit that I'm not terribly enthused about this one, but again, I've heard enough good things to be curious enough that I may check it out.
  • The Bling Ring - This sounds like it could be fun, but knowing Sofia Coppola, it could also be a bit of a slog for me. Or not. Which is why I want to check it out.
  • Much Ado About Nothing - Joss Whedon's follow-up to The Avengers, a semi-modern take on a Shakespeare play shot in a short timeframe with Whedon's friends at his house. Or something like that. I do want to check this out at some point.
  • Prince Avalanche - Not sure I'd go that far out of my way to see this one, but it's on Netflix Instant, so it will probably be watched.
  • Gimme the Loot - I've actually got mildly high hopes for this one, which seems like a real dark horse contender for a top 10 slot. Or it could be trash, but there's only one way to find out.
  • Frances Ha - I've never been a big fan of Noah Baumbach and this film seems to be influenced by some flavor of mumblecore, which is not encouraging to me, but this is another movie I've heard good things about...
  • The Iceman - This seemed to come and go pretty quickly early in the year, but it does seem like an interesting film worth catching up with.
So wow, that's 20 movies I still want to watch, and while I may not be able to get to all of these, I'll probably watch some other 2013 releases not listed here too. I'm definitely more behind this year than I have been in years past!
Posted by Mark on December 29, 2013 at 07:16 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Professor Larry Gopnick's Post-Hanukah, Pre-Christmas, Post-Schrodinger, Pre-Apocalypse SLIFR Holday Movie Quiz
After a bit of a hiatus, Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes and in accordance with prophecy, I shall provide my answers below. This used to be a quarterly exercise, but the pace seems to have slackened of late. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, Professor Arthur Chipping, and Miss Jean Brodie are also available.

1) Favorite unsung holiday film

It's tempting to choose something that doesn't immediately scream "Holiday" here, with the poster child for that attitude being Die Hard, but I'm with Sonny on this one: Die Hard is not a "Christmas Movie". It's what I like to call an Incidental Christmas Movie. One that might squeak by and that I've called "Incidental" before is Trading Places.
Winthorpe Claus
Winthorpe Claus
First off, it's a true "Holiday" movie in that it starts right around Thanksgiving, hits all the Christmas tropes, then follows us into the New Year. Second, it calls to mind A Christmas Story with a Scrooge-like rich guy who learns a lesson and has a change of heart... without being totally derivative. The one big negative about this one is whether this is really an "unsung" movie. So just in case, I'll also throw Black Christmas out there, just for yuks.
Dreaming of a Black Christmas...
I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas...
2) Name a movie you were surprised to have liked/loved

I'm glad this wasn't a "favorite" movie, as that would be an impossible task, and my pedantic lawyerly reading of this question allows me to just give the first answer that comes to mind, which is The Shawshank Redemption. That's one of those movies that must've been really difficult to market, as the previews for it kinda sucked and did nothing to appeal to my 16 year old self. But my college roommate loved it, and one hungover Sunday morning I plopped a VHS in and started watching. I was spellbound for the entire runtime, and my room slowly attracted a crowd of other watchers. I suspect a lot of people have discovered this movie in a similar way, and while "period piece prison drama" isn't exactly super exciting, the movie really does win you over pretty quickly.

3) Ned Sparks or Edward Everett Horton?

Two people I'm not at all familiar with, though I will say that IMDB's description of Ned Sparks as a "Cigar-chewing character comedian, often given to sarcasm" makes me think I should seek some of these films out. On the other hand, Edward Everett Horton is described as appearing "in just about every Hollywood comedy made in the 1930s", so there's a pretty good chance of overlap here, no?

4) Sam Peckinpah's Convoy-- yes or no?

I have not seen this movie, but given my general experience with Sam Peckinpah and given that I assume this is on some Quentin Tarantino top 10 somewhere, I'm going to say "yes".

5) What contemporary actor would best fit into a popular, established genre of the past

I don't know why, but my mind keeps running to George Clooney for this one. Clooney in screwball comedy (it's not like he hasn't tried really hard to do that somewhat recently), Clooney in Noir, and so on... Someone at SLIFR had a great observation though: Justin Timberlake in musicals, back when they were a viable genre...

6) Favorite non-disaster movie in which bad weather is a memorable element of the film's atmosphere

Take your pick of horror movies with thunderstorms, but for my money, there is only one answer, and that is The Shining.

7) Second favorite Luchino Visconti movie

Going to have to take a mulligan here, as I've not seen one, let alone two of Visconti's movies. A thousand pardons...

8) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD/Blu-ray?

In theaters, it was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which I suppose I enjoyed more than the first film, but there's something about this series that doesn't quite jive with me. These movies make me feel evil. I would totally be a better/more evil leader than this President Snow moron. His mistakes in ruling this world with an iron fist are so blindingly obvious to me, and it's these niggles in worldbuilding that have always kept me at a distance in these movies. That being said, once the arrows and tridents start flying, this movie is actually better executed and more interesting than the first film.

On DVD/BD, it was The Heat, which was cromulent, and I suppose I laughed a few times, but was otherwise pretty forgettable.

And you didn't ask about streaming, but I'll give an answer there too: The Angel's Share was a surprisingly effective movie, even if the tone is a bit odd throughout. It's about some troubled folks sentenced to community service being brought together by Scotch whisky. I couldn't tell if they were going for tragic drama, comedy, or heist film, at least, not until the end (which, spoiler alert, is not tragic). Perhaps it's a comedy in the hardcore dramatic sense that no one died in the end? It's decent though, and I'm really glad I watched it.

9) Explain your reaction when someone eloquently or not-so-eloquently attacks one of your favorite movies (Question courtesy of Patrick Robbins)

While I may wind up responding to some of the points made, as a general practice, I'm usually pretty happy to hear such things. The world would be a boring place if we all liked the same stuff for the same reasons. I'm baffled by the tendency for some folks to freak right out when some contrarian does something, um, contrarian.

10) Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell?

I guess Glenda Farrell by default, since I've seen and liked a couple movies she was in... though Joan Blondell was in a lot of TV shows that I'm vaguely familiar with. Really don't have enough info to give a good answer, but I already took a mulligan and we're only 1/3 through the quiz!

11) Movie star of any era you'd most like to take camping

Not sure how to answer this without sounding like a self serving creep who wants some alone time with pretty actresses, so I'll go with a guy, like, say Clint Eastwood or John Wayne or something.

12) Second favorite George Cukor movie

Assuming we're not counting his "uncredited" work in stuff like The Wizard of Oz, well, then I'm kinda screwed as I haven't seen much. I should really check out Adam's Rib sometime though, as it sounds up my alley.

13) Your top 10 of 2013 (feel free to elaborate!)

At this point, I've only seen about 46 movies released in 2013 and am just getting started on my big movie catchup (which usually lasts through January and early February) for the year. We usually make a big deal about this sort of thing here at Kaedrin, so I'll just give a preview a few movies that will probably make the cut (though who knows, maybe one or two will drop out, I'm a fickle man): Room 237, Upstream Color, Side Effects, The World's End, You're Next, Gravity, and I'll leave it there for now. If you're so inclined, check back with me in late February when I've had a chance to catch up with a bunch of stuff (or see stuff that comes out in the next few weeks).

14) Name a movie you loved (or hated) upon first viewing, to which you eventually returned and had more or less the opposite reaction

A 14 year old me was totally in love with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but repeat viewings have slowly eroded my opinion to the point where I do really dislike a lot of things about the movie. Don't get me wrong, it's a fine action movie and great in that context, but as a sequel it just totally craps all over what made the first movie (one of my favorites of all time) so special. I think part of it may even be that lots of people claim they think it's better than the first movie, which is sheer lunacy in my book (though interesting cases can be made).

15) Movie most in need of a deluxe Blu-ray makeover

It looks like most of the really glaring omissions (notably a bunch of Hitchcock and Spielberg classics) have been taken care of in the past couple years, but there are definitely some stragglers. One that comes to mind is Spirited Away, which could certainly use it. And to be more snarky, I'd go for non-special edition, or at least non-NOOOOOOOOO-at-the-end-of-Jedi versions of the original Star Wars trilogy.

16) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?

Hands down, Alain Delon. Le Samurai, man. Le Samurai.
Le Samurai
Le Samurai
17) Your favorite opening sequence, credits or no credits (provide link to clip if possible)

Seriously? This is an impossible question as there are so many damn answers. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, The Godfather, Touch of Evil, Up, The Player, Scream, this is a touch choice. And then you add in credits sequences, which are also tough. I mean, which Saul Bass sequence do you go with? Or maybe Monty Python And The Holy Grail? Even middling movies, like, say, Watchmen, can have a great credits sequence. I'm abstaining from choosing a favorite because there's just too many... but I will embed one that you probably haven't seen before. It's the opening tracking shot, all in one take, from Johnny To's Breaking News (the rest of the movie is fine and worth watching, but never quite approaches the opening scene again):
18) Director with the strongest run of great movies

The first one that comes to mind is Kubrick, who I don't think had a bad movie over his entire career, even if there are a few that I'm not as in love with as others. He'd certainly take the cake if we're talking about duration (we're talking a solid 40+ years for Kubrick), but if you look at quantity of movies, it may well fall back on someone like Hitchcock or Ford or Hawks or Kurosawa. I'll stick with Kubrick for this one though.

19) Is elitism a good/bad/necessary/inevitable aspect of being a cineaste?

Good or bad is all in the eye of the beholder and elitism, to me, is not necessarily good or bad (but then, I'm pretty tolerant of dissention, see my answer to #9 above). Elitism isn't necessary because a lot of cineaste's are all about some obscure sub-genre or something similarly "low" (as in low-art). For me, that would be cheesy horror movies, slashers and the like. It's hard to call yourself and elite and give someone grief over their taste when you like slasher movies. And obviously not inevitable, for similar reasons. I do think that being a cineaste can lead to this sort of thing because a cineaste is able to place a current movie into a much different context than most moviegoers, who are there more just to be entertained. This may even be super common, but it's not "necessary" or "inevitable" that it would happen that way. Elitism is an attitude or idea that not everyone suscribes to.

20) Second favorite Tony Scott film

Well, I guess I'm going True Romance on this one, though it's a tough call because a lot of his movies exist in a similar state of "above average but not great" for me... (And my favorite is probably Top Gun, which provides yet more proof that I'm not an elitist, as per the previous question!)

21) Favorite movie made before you were born that you only discovered this year. Where and how did you discover it?

Dial M for Murder, because Hitchcock. To be fair, I wouldn't say that I "discovered" it this year, but I didn't see it until recently... If you're talking about something I wasn't aware existed at all, that'd be a much harder find.

22) Actor/actress you would most want to see in a Santa suit, traditional or skimpy

Once again, hard to answer without sounding creepy, but let's go with Jennifer Lawrence because she's awesome and could totally pull off either the traditional or skimpy versions, amiright?

23) Video store or streaming?

In terms of platonic ideals, streaming. In practice, streaming takes a big hit because of fractured services/devices and poor selection, but video stores are pretty scant these days too. I'm still pretty happy with Netflix's disc service, which helps pick up the slack when it comes to the lack of selection in streaming.

24) Best/favorite final film by a noted director or screenwriter

Not to make this an all Kubrick quiz, but Eyes Wide Shut would work for me. Though apparently I really need to see Family Plot, Hitchcock's final film...

25) Monica Vitti or Anna Karina?

See, I knew I'd need to take another mulligan. And yes, I need to watch more French New Wave. What else is new?

26) Name a worthy movie indulgence you've had to most strenuously talk friends into experiencing with you. What was the result?

This is not something I do particularly often, so I'm having trouble thinking of an example. I've definitely introduced people to movies I've seen before, but these are usually low-pressure situations, not something that I have to talk people into (and those are normally good examples). Indeed, one such example was the aforementioned Shawshank Redemption (which was well received).

27) The movie made by your favorite filmmaker (writer, director, et al) that you either have yet to see or are least familiar with among all the rest

The one glaring omission that stands out for me would be Kubrick's Lolita, a film I'm not exactly in a rush to see, but should probably do so at some point, just to complete the viewing cycle. There's also plenty of Hitchcock that I haven't seen (despite having seen many of the more obscure ones, oddly enough)...

28) Favorite horror movie that is either Christmas-oriented or has some element relating to the winter holiday season in it

Well, since I've already mentioned Black Christmas, I'll try to liven things up and go with the other Christmas horror classic (no, not Silent Night, Deadly Night): Gremlins. (Also big ups to Robert Fiore, who left a comment at SLIFR with his proposed Holiday Horror movie, a twisted take on A Christmas Story, which sounds awesome/despicable.)
Gizmo Claus!
Gizmo Claus!
29) Name a prop or other piece of movie memorabilia you'd most like to find with your name on it under the Christmas tree

For as much as I love movies, you'd think that I'd desire more in the way of movie memorabilia. I generally just prefer the DVD/BD. Maybe a poster? But I don't really even hang up any of the posters I do have. This doesn't mean that I'd be upset or bored by such a gift (indeed, I'd probably be impressed and very grateful that someone thought that hard about what to get me), it's just not something I'd go after on my own. Which, come to think of it, is a great feature for a present to have - something I'd like but would never buy for myself is a great gift. But because of that, I'm having trouble answering this question. And I'm ok with that.

30) Best holiday gift the movies could give to you to carry into 2014

The obvious answer is "good movies", and this is the time of year for that, but what else would I want in 2014? How about movie studios getting their act together and making a somewhat comprehensive streaming service that actually works. Let's see, what else? No more 3D please? That'll do, I suppose.
Posted by Mark on December 22, 2013 at 08:01 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Men, Women, and Chain Saws
In 1980, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert hosted a special edition of their Sneak Previews PBS show, and used the opportunity to decry an emerging "Women in Danger" genre of horror thrillers:
It's important to note that this was only the opening salvo of exploitation horror. New technology, changes in distribution, the continuing emergence of independent filmmaking, and a host of other factors lead to a glut of popular yet despised horror films. The dominant sub-genre of these films was the Slasher film, but Siskel and Ebert were talking about this so early in the process that the much maligned sub-genre hadn't even been named yet. There is something prescient about the two film critics putting this episode together when they did. The heyday of the slasher was only beginning and would last another three years before it even started to subside.

Indeed, it must have been more than a little odd to have been present while all of this was happening. I actually like slasher movies and have watched a lot of them during my annual Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, but even I would probably have had a different reaction back in 1980. Apparently one of the things that prompted Siskel and Ebert to dedicate a show to the behavior of the crowd during the film I Spit On Your Grave, as they shouted and cheered the rape sequences in the film. That has to be a disturbing way to watch a movie. But with time and perspective, things have changed a bit.

Enter Carol Clover, a Professor at UC Berkely, who wrote several essays on horror films that have since been collected in the book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film:
This book began in 1985 when a friend dared me to go see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I was familiar with the horror classics and with stylish or "quality" horror (Hitchcock, De Palma, and the like), but exploitation horror I had assiduously avoided. Seeing Texas was a jolting experience in more ways than one. (Page 19)
Alerted to the genre, she started to explore territory she had avoided, and "against all odds" she has "ended up something of a fan". She certainly doesn't go too easy on the genre, and in many ways, her critiques mirror Siskel and Ebert's, but perhaps with the perspective of time, she has also found value in these films, and she did so at a time when they were universally reviled and never given much of a thought. Her essay on slasher films first appeared in 1987 (just as the genre was in its final death throes) and was revised in this book in 1992, and immediately changed the landscape. In this essay, Clover coins the term "Final Girl", and notes that even if audiences identify with or cheer on the killer early in the film, they always experience a reversal as the Final Girl fights back. Reading this now, it seems odd that anyone would be surprised that a male viewer could relate to a female protagonist, but this was apparently a surprising thing that people were still working through. As Erich Kuersten notes: "I wasn't afraid for girls, or of girls, I was afraid through girls."

Again, the fact that Clover finds value here does not mean she's blind to the issues with slasher films, but she also thinks its worth discussing:
One is deeply reluctant to make progressive claims for a body of cinema as spectacularly nasty toward women as the slasher film is, but the fact is that the slasher does, in its own perverse way and for better or worse, constitute a visible adjustment in the terms of gender representation. (Page 64)
Clover's slasher essay shines a light on a reviled sub-genre, and is clearly the centerpiece of the book, but there are several other chapters, all filled with similarly insightful looks at various sub-genres of horror. In one, she tackles occult films, with a focus on possession films like The Exorcist, and contrasts with the slasher:
It is in comparison with the slasher film that the occult film (above all the possession film) comes into full focus. Both subgenres have as their business to reimagine gender. But where the slasher concerns itself, through the figure of the Final Girl, with the rezoning of the feminine into territories traditionally occupied by the masculine, the occult concerns itself, through the figure of the male-in-crisis, with a shift in the opposite direction: rezoning the masculine into territories traditionally occupied by the feminine. (Page 107)
I don't always buy into all of this, but then, I came of age when all these films were playing on cable. I grew up with strong Final Girls, so the notion that "strength" would ever be "gendered masculine" seems a little silly to me, but perhaps 30-40 years ago, that was not the case (and vice versa for the male-in-crisis movies). I probably never would have used the same terminology or articulated in the same way, but I've clearly internalized these notions.

There is a chapter on Rape Revenge films, which I am actually not very well versed in (because I was reading this, I watched I Spit On Your Grave this year), but which makes a fair amount of sense. It's easy to see why these movies are controversial, especially something like I Spit, but Clover manages to find value in these films (one of which includes the all male Deliverance) and makes all sorts of clever observations about commonalities in the genre (in particular, there isn't just a male/female dichotomy in these films, but also a city/country or sophisticated/redneck component to the rape and revenge). Finally, there is a chapter on "The Eye of Horror", which spends a lot of time looking at perspective shots and "gazes."

It's a fascinating book, filled with interesting observations and a motivated perspective. There are certainly nits to pick (for instance, at one point, she claims that Werewolf stories are about a fear of being eaten by an animal, which I guess is there, but the real fear is becoming a werewolf yourself, losing control, being overwhelmed by your animal desires, etc... The enemy within, and all that...) and I don't always agree with what she's asserting, especially when she starts down the rabbit hole of Freudian analysis and some of the broader topics like "gazes" and "rape culture" and so on. I could quibble with some of her key films in each chapter (she perhaps overestimates The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and its impact on the genre, though it's clearly a great example for Clover's thesis) and the notion of closely observing a few films and extrapolating that into an entire sub-genre will always cause some dissonance, but Clover clearly did her homework and has seen not only the famous horror movies, but also her fair share of obscure ones. Like the Bechdel Test, the perspective here is narrowed to gender, which of course, isn't the only perspective to have while watching movies. Also like the Bechdel test*, there's this notion that you have to take individual examples of something and treat it as a representative of a much broader trend. This doesn't make these analyses any less interesting though!

When you look at Siskel and Ebert's response to these films, then Clover's response (years later and with some unique perspectives), it's easy to see how much we inform our reactions to film ourselves. Siskel and Ebert saw only misogyny, which is not entirely incorrect, but Clover looked at the films differently and managed to find value. I think a lot of people would find both analyses absurd, and they wouldn't be entirely wrong about that either. People often complain that critics never represent the mainstream, perhaps because the mainstream never really concerns itself with context or perspective. They're looking to be entertained for a few hours on a Friday night, not discuss the reversal of gender politics or other such high-minded affairs. In the end, a book like Men, Women, and Chain Saws probably says just as much about Carol Clover as it does about the films themselves. You see what you want to see in movies, and while that can be interesting, that's not always the whole story.
To a remarkable extent, horror has come to seem to me not only the form that most obviously trades in the repressed, but itself the repressed of mainstream filmmaking. When I see an Oscar-winning film like The Accused or the artful Alien and its blockbuster sequel Aliens, or, more recently, Sleeping with the Enemy and Silence of the Lambs, and even Thelma and Luise, I cannot help thinking of all the low-budget, often harsh and awkward but sometimes deeply energetic films that preceded them by a decade or more - films that said it all, and in flatter terms, and on a shoestring. If mainstream film detains us with niceties of plot, character, motivation, cinematography, pacing, acting, and the like, low or exploitation horror operates at the bottom line, and in so doing reminds us that every movie has a bottom line, no matter how covert or mystified or sublimated it may be. (Page 20)
* Interestingly, horror movies tend to pass the Bechdel test at a much higher rate than most other genres (just shy of 70% pass the test, as compared to stuff like Westerns or Film Noir, where it's more like 25%). This says nothing about the quality of the films or their feminist properties, but it's an interesting note...
Posted by Mark on November 24, 2013 at 01:18 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On The Bechdel Test
For the uninitiated, the Bechdel Test is meant to gauge the presence of female characters in film. In order to pass the test, a film must meet three requirements:
  1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man
The test is named after Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist who formulated the rule as a setup to a punchline in a 1985 comic strip for Dykes to Watch Out For (the punchline: "Last movie I was able to see was Alien...") There are many variants to the rules, but the one listed above seems to be the most common - it adds a requirement that the two female characters have to be "named" to avoid counting stuff like a female clerk giving a woman change or something (a reasonable addition). It has slowly but surely ingrained itself into the popular culture, especially on the internet in the past few years. Indeed, it's become so popular that it's now frequently used incorrectly!

BechdelTest.com seems to be the best resource for this sort of thing, and the statistics are interesting. Out of 4570 movies, only 2555 (55.9%) pass the test. The trend does seem to be (very slowly) improving over time, but it's a pretty dismal portrait.

The Bechdel Test is far from perfect (more on that in a bit), but I do find it to be interesting for two reasons:
  • It's objective. Discussions of identity politics seem to angry up the blood, especially on the internets, so the removal of any subjectivity from the test is a good thing. These are facts here, not opinions.
  • It really does illustrate a certain type of gender imbalance in film. This is an important observation, if not the end-all-and-be-all of feminist criticism.
Alas, there are some rather severe limitations on this test:
  • It says nothing about the quality of the film in question. For instance, Citizen Kane and Casablanca fail the test. On the other hand, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (12% on Rotten Tomatoes) and The Smurfs 2 (14% on Rotten Tomatoes) pass.
  • It says nothing about how "feminist friendly" the film is. For instance: Showgirls passes the test, and while I don't have a specific reference for this next one, I'm positive that there are lesbian porn movies (made explicitly for the titillation of men) that would pass the test too.
This isn't mainsplaining or patriarchy speaking, these are acknowledged limitations of the test. Of course, finding ironic counterexamples is missing the point. It's not that a given movie passes or fails the test, what matters is when you look at the film industry as a whole.

This, however, is the biggest flaw of the test. It's a macro test applied at the micro scale. The test says nothing about an individual film's worth (feminist or not), but the test must be applied to individual films. This leads to a whole boatload of misunderstandings and misguided attempts to tarnish (or praise) a movie because it failed (or passed) the Bechdel test. BechdelTest.com is filled with objections to a given rating and debate about whether an individual film is feminist enough to pass and other such misunderstandings of the rules (for instance: something can't "barely" pass, it either does or doesn't). This account of two students attempting to dominate their class by using the Bechdel Test to dismiss any film that didn't pass is another demonstration. "They labeled any film that didn't pass the test as unworthy of praise and sexist. ... I'm not exaggerating in that statement, the pair literally dismissed Citizen Kane altogether and praised Burlesque." (Of course, as the first commenter notes, both the account and the two students were applying the test incorrectly). Swedish movie theaters are instituting a new rating system that labels films that have passed (I'm not entirely clear of the implications here, but it's still kinda missing the point).

The list could go on and on, but severe limitations like this make it clear that the Bechdel Test has a limited application. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that and it does illustrate something about the industry, but let's stop applying it where it doesn't belong.

Some other assorted thoughts on the Bechdel Test:
  • One of the things that has always irked me about the test is the lack of a stated baseline. I'd be curious to see what a "reverse" Bechdel Test would show, and I think it would give greater context to the numbers being thrown around. Yeah, a 55.9% pass rate sounds low, but what if the "reverse" test showed a similar number for male representation in movies? Of course, it's blindingly obvious that the male rate is significantly higher (my guess: 80%-90%), but it's worth noting that just because a movie fails the Bechdel Test doesn't mean it would pass the reverse test (in particular, I think the "about something other than a man/woman" rule would hit both sexes in the same movie pretty often. Having a baseline would better underscore the issue.
  • It's ironic that one of the test's biggest strengths, it's objectivity, is also one of its biggest weaknesses. This, however, is true for just about any objective measurement ever conceived (i.e. not just for film). Objective measurements only ever tell a small proportion of the story, and you can't judge an individual movie's worth by checking boxes on a form (unless those boxes are for subjective measurements). If the Bechdel Test is your only way of evaluating movies, you will get a very myopic view of the industry.
  • Are there better, simpler metrics that could illustrate a similar issue? For instance, in an industry where the Auteur theory seems to be generally accepted, the director of the film is considered to be the primary author. Guess how many movies are directed by women? It's somewhere on the order of 5%-10%, and most of them are tiny indies that you've never heard of... When you add in writers, producers, editors, etc... the numbers are still pretty low.
  • So what to do about the Bechdel Test results? I imagine this is where most arguments get really heated. I don't know the answer, but given the above bullet, it looks to me like we need more female filmmakers. Artists tend to focus on what they know, and since the grand majority of filmmakers are men, it's not surprising that female representation is low. How this would happen is a can of worms in itself...
  • It strikes me that the misunderstandings and limitations surrounding the Bechdel test are emblematic of debate surrounding identity politics in general. In particular, the resolution of individual/group dynamics is what trips a lot of people up (i.e. the Bechdel test says nothing important about individual movies, only groups of movies, yet because of the need to apply the Bechdel test at an individual level, the discussion often stays at that level). When it comes to insidious systemic issues like this, there's a narrow line to walk, and it's very easy to veer off the path.
Well, I think I've blabbered on long enough. What say you?
Posted by Mark on November 17, 2013 at 01:30 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Myth of Digital Distribution
The movie lover's dream service would be something we could subscribe to that would give us a comprehensive selection of movies to stream. This service is easy to conceive, and it's such an alluring idea that it makes people want to eschew tried-and-true distribution methods like DVDs and Blu-Ray. We've all heard the arguments before: physical media is dead, streaming is the future. When I made the move to Blu-Ray about 6 years ago, I estimated that it would take at least 10 years for a comprehensive streaming service to become feasible. The more I see, the more I think that I drastically underestimated that timeline... and am beginning to feel like it might never happen at all.

MGK illustrates the problem well with this example:
this is the point where someone says "but we're all going digital instead" and I get irritated by this because digital is hardly an answer. First off, renting films - and when you "buy" digital movies, that's what you're doing almost every single time - is not the same as buying them. Second, digital delivery is getting more and more sporadic as rights get more and more expensive for distributors to purchase.

As an example, take Wimbledon, a charming little 2004 sports film/romcom starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. I am not saying Wimbledon is an unsung treasure or anything; it's a lesser offering from the Working Title factory that cranks out chipper British romcoms, a solid B-grade movie: well-written with a few flashes of inspiration, good performances all around (including a younger Nikolai Coster-Waldau before he became the Kingslayer) and mostly funny, although Jon Favreau's character is just annoying. But it's fun, and it's less than a decade old. It should be relatively easy to catch digitally, right? But no. It's not anywhere. And there are tons of Wimbledons out there.
Situations like this are an all too common occurrence, and not just with movies. It turns out that content owners can't be bothered with a title unless it's either new or in the public domain. This graph from a Rebecca Rosen article nicely illustrates the black hole that our extended copyright regime creates:
Books available by decade
Rosen explains:
[The graph] reveals, shockingly, that there are substantially more new editions available of books from the 1910s than from the 2000s. Editions of books that fall under copyright are available in about the same quantities as those from the first half of the 19th century. Publishers are simply not publishing copyrighted titles unless they are very recent.

The books that are the worst affected by this are those from pretty recent decades, such as the 80s and 90s, for which there is presumably the largest gap between what would satisfy some abstract notion of people's interest and what is actually available.
More interpretation:
This is not a gently sloping downward curve! Publishers seem unwilling to sell their books on Amazon for more than a few years after their initial publication. The data suggest that publishing business models make books disappear fairly shortly after their publication and long before they are scheduled to fall into the public domain. Copyright law then deters their reappearance as long as they are owned. On the left side of the graph before 1920, the decline presents a more gentle time-sensitive downward sloping curve.
This is absolutely absurd, though it's worth noting that it doesn't control for used books (which are generally pretty easy to find on Amazon) and while content owners don't seem to be rushing to digitize their catalog, future generations won't experience the same issue we're having with the 80s and 90s. Actually, I suspect they will have trouble with 80s and 90s content, but stuff from 2010 should theoretically be available on an indefinite basis because anything published today gets put on digital/streaming services.

Of course, intellectual property law being what it is, I'm sure that new proprietary formats and readers will render old digital copies obsolete, and once again, consumers will be hard pressed to see that 15 year old movie or book ported to the latest-and-greatest channel. It's a weird and ironic state of affairs when the content owners are so greedy in hoarding and protecting their works, yet so unwilling to actually, you know, profit from them.

I don't know what the solution is here. There have been some interesting ideas about having copyright expire for books that have been out of print for a certain period of time (say, 5-10 years), but that would only work now - again, future generations will theoretically have those digital versions available. They may be in a near obsolete format, but they're available! It doesn't seem likely that sensible copyright reform could be passed, but it would be nice to see if we could take a page from the open source playbook, but I'm seriously doubting that content owners would ever be that forward thinking.

As MGK noted, DVD ushered in an era of amazing availability, but much of that stuff has gone out of print, and we somehow appear to be regressing from that.
Posted by Mark on September 15, 2013 at 06:03 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kickstarter For a Future Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we featured a touching tale of butt demons. This time, we've got a movie that isn't even made yet. Carver is a throwback, 80's style slasher film, beginning with a tragic Halloween accident in the past, culminating in a masked killer dispatching those responsible with a scythe. Yeah, pretty standard slasher formula stuff here, so what's the big deal? I'll let the film's co-director explain:
Yep, the movie is being made by 13-year-old Emily DiPrimio and her dad. From the looks of it, she's got a great sense of humor and her bona fides in the horror department are already pretty well established. Plus, she hates CGI gore. That's got to count for something!
My dad came up with the idea for Carver several years ago, but it never progressed further than an outline. That is, until I found out I needed ankle surgery this past January, which caused me to be off my feet for 12 weeks. I was really down and my dad noticed and asked if I would help him write this script he had been thinking about for a while. Before I knew it, we were writing Carver together which made the 12 weeks fly by. After we finished the first draft, I remember the pride I felt at having helped write a pretty darn good screenplay. I asked my dad if we could make it and of course he said we could try, but it takes a lot of time and money to make a feature film correctly. That is why I am here on Kickstarter- to humbly ask you to help me make my dream of making a slasher film with my dad come true.
The Kickstarter perks range from the normal (copy of the movie, etc...) to the outright awesome - if you donate $10 thousand, you get to write your own death scene in the movie, and judging from their video, the more bonkers the death, the better. As Evan Saathoff notes, "It's not a dinner and basketball game with Spike Lee, but it's better than a dinner and basketball game with Zack Braff, probably."
Posted by Mark on September 11, 2013 at 08:29 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Extra Hot Great
I enjoy listening to podcasts, but with a couple of notable exceptions, they tend to be relatively short lived affairs. I get the impression that they are a ton of work, with little payoff. As such, I've had the experience of discovering a podcast that I think is exceptional, only to have it close doors within a month or two of my discovery. Often, there is a big back catalog, which is nice, but it's still depressing that no new episodes are being made. Again, I can't really fault anyone for quitting their podcast - it seems like a lot of work and the general weekly schedule that is seemingly required in order to maintain an audience doesn't make it any easier.

Extra Hot Great was one of those podcasts that I discovered about a month before they decided to call it quits. They had about a year and a half of back episodes, and I really came to love that podcast. Well, the reason they stopped the podcast was that two of the principle players were starting a new business venture in LA, a website called Previously.tv (I have linked to several of my favorite articles from them over the past few months). If you like television, the site is well worth your time.

And now we can all rejoice, because they've brought back the Extra Hot Great podcast! It is, more or less, the same format as the old classic episodes. A topic or two (usually a show or news item), with some irregular but recurring features inbetween (my favorite being "I am not a crackpot", a Grampa Simpson inspired segment where someone lays out their crackpot idea), followed by Game Time, where they come up with absurdly comprehensive and sometimes complicated movie/television/pop culture quizzes and compete against one another (the thing that makes this segment work so well is that Tara and Joe know their shit way better than you, but are probably about equivalent with each other). The old EHG podcast shuffled between movies and TV, but I'm not sure if the Previously.tv incarnation will focus more on TV or not. Nevertheless, I'm excited to see a beloved defunct podcast brought back from the dead, and you should be too!

And while you're at it, take note of your favorite podcasts and enjoy them while you can - maybe write them a good iTunes review, or drop something in the tipjar or something. Chances are, they won't be around forever! For reference, here's my regular stable of podcasts, you should listen to these too!
Posted by Mark on September 04, 2013 at 06:29 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Reinventing The Movie Theater Experience (And Shushing)
A few weeks ago, Hunter Walk posted a short blog post about reinventing the movie theater by allowing wifi, outlets, low lights, and second screen experience:
Some people dislike going to the movies because of price or crowds, but for me it was more of a lifestyle decision. Increasingly I wanted my media experiences plugged in and with the ability to multitask. Look up the cast list online, tweet out a comment, talk to others while watching or just work on something else while Superman played in the background. Of course these activities are discouraged and/or impossible in a movie theater.

But why? Instead of driving people like me away from the theater, why not just segregate us into environments which meet our needs. ... If you took a theater or two in a multiplex and showed the types of films which lend themselves to this experience I bet you'd sell tickets. Maybe even improve attendance during the day since I could bang out emails with a 50 foot screen in front of me.
Personally, this experience holds little to no interest to me (I can do that at home pretty easily), but I can see why it would be attractive to the Hunter Walk's of the world (he's a venture capitalist with kids and very little free time) and the notion of creating separate theaters for this sort of experience is fine for me (so long as the regular experience remains available). I mean, I probably wouldn't partake in this sort of thing, but if there's a market for this, more power to the theaters that can capture that extra revenue.

Of course, that's not the reaction that Walk got from this post, which went much further and wider than I think he was expecting. It looks to me like a typical personal blog post and thought experiment(probably jotted out quickly on a second screen, heh), but it got picked up by several media outlets and the internet lost its collective shit over the suggestion. Some responses were tame, but many went for hyperbole and straw-manned Walk's idea. He wrote a followup post responding to many comments, and again, I find Walk's perspective perfectly reasonable. But then things exploded.

As cuckoo-nutso as this debate already was, Anil Dash came along and lobbed a grenade into the discussion.
Interestingly, the response from many creative people, who usually otherwise see themselves as progressive and liberal, has been a textbook case of cultural conservatism. The debate has been dominated by shushers, and these people aren't just wrong about the way movies are watched in theaters, they're wrong about the way the world works.
This is a bit extreme, but maybe I can follow this. People do refer to texters and the like as "heathens" and joke about the "downfall of society" as represented by rude people at theaters. Then he goes here:
This list of responses pops up all the time, whether it's for arguing why women should not wear pants, or defending slavery, or trying to preserve a single meaning for the word "ironic", or fighting marriage equality, or claiming rap isn't "real" music, or in any other time when social conservatives want to be oppressive assholes to other people.
Zuh? What the hell is he talking about? Is he really equating people who shush other people in movie theaters with people who defend slavery? I suppose he's trying to show a range of attitudes here, but this is absolutely ridiculous, and the entire thing is premised on a straw man of epic proportions. Dash goes on:
People who have fun at the movies can make almost any movie better. When the first Transformers movie came out, one of the key moments in the film is the first time the leader of the Autobots transforms in grand fashion from tractor trailer to giant robot, and pronounces "I am Optimus Prime". At that precise moment, the guy next to me, a grown man in his early 30s, rose to his feet and shouted "YEAH!" while punching his fist in the air. I could see from his sheer emotion that he’d been waiting for this day, to hear this voice say those words, since the moment his stepdad walked out on his mother. This was catharsis. This was truly cinematic.
Dash is absolutely correct here, but, um, that's not the sort of thing people are complaining about. He's positioning shushers as people who disapprove of emotional responses to movies, as if people get shushed for laughing at a comedy or pumping their fist and shouting "Yeah!" during rousing action sequences. Of course, no one is complaining about that. Even at the most venerated theaters that treat the moviegoing experience with reverence and awe, like the Alamo Drafthouse, actively encourage such behavior! More:
The shushers claim that not giving a film on the screen one's undivided attention is apparently unspeakably offensive to the many hardworking scriptwriters and carpenters and visual effects supervisors who made the film. Yet these very same Hollywood artists are somehow able to screw up their courage, grimly set their jaws with determination, and bravely carry on with their lives even when faced with the horrible knowledge that some people will see their films in a pan-and-scan version on an ancient CRT screen of an airplane that has an actual jet engine running in the background behind their careful sound mix. Profiles in courage.
This is, at best, a secondary concern. The complaint isn't about the filmmakers, it's about the other people in the theater. If you take your phone out in a dark theater and start talking (or texting), it's taking away from the experience for everyone surrounding that person in the theater. Someone who laughs during a comedy or shouts "Yeah!" during an action movie? They're contributing to the fun experience. Someone who's talking to their spouse on the phone (at full volume) about tomorrow's dinner party is seriously fucking with the people around them. You think I'm joking? That very experience happened to me last night during a screening of You're Next (i.e. a horror film that is constantly building and releasing tension, often through silence).
It'd be easier for you to have exactly the hermetically sealed, human-free, psychopathic isolation chamber of cinematic perfection that you seek at home, but if you want to try to achieve this in a public space, please enjoy the Alamo Drafthouse or other excellent theaters designed to accommodate this impulse.
Again, no one is asking for hermetically sealed isolation chambers. At the aforementioned You're Next screening, there were plenty of other people who were clearly into the movie that would occasionally blurt out "No, don't split up!" or groan in empathetic horror when something violent happened - and those things added to the experience. The asshole talking about his rump roast with his spouse, was NOT. Incidentally, no one "shushed" that fucker, which leads me to wonder who the hell Dash is referring to when he talks about these mythical "shushers".

Incidentally, the theater chain that Dash mentions as if it promotes this isolation is Alamo Drafthouse, which is indeed very intolerant of texting and rude behavior in theaters. But it isn't hermetically sealed at all. For crying out loud, it's got a full service restaurant thing going on, with people constantly walking in and out of the theater, eating food, and drinking beer. People are getting drunk at these theaters, and having a great time. I have no idea where Dash is getting this isolation thing from. Also, he mentions the Alamo Drafthouse as if there's one in every neighborhood. I'd happily go to one if it existed within a hundred miles of my house, but there's only 24 theaters in the country (16 of which are in Texas). And again, the only difference between the Alamo Drafthouse and every other theater in the country is that they have the manpower to actually enforce their rules (since waiters are in and out of the theater, they can see troublemakers and do something about it, etc...)
The intellectual bankruptcy of this desire is made plain, however, when the persons of shush encounter those who treat a theater like any other public space. Here are valid ways to process this inconsistency of expectation:
  • "Oh, this person has a different preference than I do about this. Perhaps we should have two different places to enjoy this activity, so we can both go about our business!"
  • "It seems that group of people differs in their standard of how to behave. Since we all encounter varying social norms from time to time, I'll just do my thing while they do theirs."
  • "I'm finding the inconsistency between our expectations about this experience to be unresolvable or stressful; Next time we'll communicate our expectations in advance so everyone can do what she or he enjoys most."
But shushers don't respond in any of these ways. They say, "We have two different expectations over this public behavior, and mine is the only valid way. First, I will deny that anyone has other norms. Then, when incontrovertibly faced with the reality that these people exist, I will vilify them and denigrate them. Once this tactic proves unpersuasive, I will attempt to marginalize them and shame them into compliance. At no point will I consider finding ways for each of us to accommodate our respective preferences, for mine is the only valid opinion." This is typically followed by systematically demonstrating all of the most common logical fallacies in the process of denying that others could, in good conscience, arrive at conclusions other than their own.
If steam wasn't already shooting out of your ears in frustration at Dash's post, this is where the post goes completely off the rails. The hypocrisy is almost palpable. Let's start with the fact that most movie theaters are not, in fact, public spaces. They are privately owned buildings, and wonder among wonders, the owners have defined general guidelines for behavior. When was the last time you went to a movie theater and DIDN'T see a plea to turn off your fucking phone at the beginning of the movie. In other words, theaters "communicate our expectations in advance" of every movie they show. It's the Dash's of the world who are ignorant here. This is precisely why I wasn't that upset with Hunter Walk's original suggestion: If a theater wants to allow texting and talking and second screen experience, more power to them. Every theater I've ever been to has pleaded with me to consider the other people in the theater and, you know, try not to ruin other people's experience.

Dash's stance here is incomprehensible and hypocritical. What makes rude people's differing standards more relevant than the "shushers"? He calls shushers "bullies" in this post, but they're simply trying to uphold the standards of the theater. Why are rude people entitled to ruin the experience for everyone else in the theater? I honestly have no idea how someone like Anil Dash, who I know for a fact is a smart, erudite man (from his other writings), could possibly think this is an acceptable argument.
Amusingly, American shushers are a rare breed overall. The most popular film industry in the world by viewers is Bollywood, with twice as many tickets sold in a given year there as in the United States. And the thing is, my people do not give a damn about what's on the screen.

Indian folks get up, talk to each other, answer phone calls, see what snacks there are to eat, arrange marriages for their children, spontaneously break out in song and fall asleep. And that's during weddings! If Indian food had an equivalent to smores, people would be toasting that shit up on top of the pyre at funerals. So you better believe they're doing some texting during movies. And not just Bollywood flicks, but honest-to-gosh Mom-and-apple-pie American Hollywood films.
He's right, American shushers are a rare breed - I think I may have seen people get shushed 2 or 3 times in my life. And I see a TON of movies, to the point where examples of people doing rude things like talking about other subjects, answering their phone, etc... are countless. Usually, people just grin and bear it. And then give up going to the theater. Why spend $30-$40 to see a movie with a friend when you'll just get frustrated by assholes doing rude shit during the entire movie?

India sounds like a horrible place to see a movie, but whatever. I imagine these theaters are pretty clear about what this experience is going to be like, so fine. Is anyone shushing Indians in those theaters? I find that hard to believe. But we're not talking about India, are we? They clearly have different cultural norms than we do in America, and that's awesome!
So, what can shushers do about it? First, recognize that cultural prescriptivism always fails. Trying to inflict your norms on those whose actions arise from a sincere difference in background or experience is a fool's errand.
Someone is attempting to force their culture on someone else here, and it's not the shushers. Dash clearly likes the way things work in India, and is arguing that we should adopt that here. If he's talking about creating separate theaters for his preferred experience, then go for it! We'll let the market sort out what people like. I'll even concede that Dash could be right and his partial attention theaters will swallow up traditional American theaters whole. Of course, in that situation, I'll probably never go to a theater again, but such is life.
Then, recognize your own privilege or entitlement which makes you feel as if you should be able to decide what’s right for others. There's literally no one who's ever texted in a movie theater who has said "Every other person in here must text someone, right now!" Because that would be insane. No one who would like to have wifi at a theater has ever said "Those who don't want to connect should just stay at home!" Because they're not trying to force others to comply with their own standards.
They're not forcing me to text to talk on the phone, but they ARE forcing me to listen to them talk or see them text. Perhaps if we were talking about a true public space, this would be the case, but we're not. The private owners of these theaters are asking you not to do this, therefore the entitlement is on the texters and talkers.

Dash has since written a followup that is much more reasonable (it makes me wonder if his initial post was just link-bait or some other cynical exercise), and again, I agree with the idea of producing new theaters around this concept. They may even experience some success. I just won't be going to any of them.
Posted by Mark on August 25, 2013 at 10:25 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pacific Rim
The short answer here is that if you have not seen this movie, get thee to a theater, posthaste1. It's got giant robots and water monsters beating the hell out of each other. What's not to like? Alright fine, I get that it's perhaps not everyone's thing, but it's the most fun I've had in the theater all year, and it's one of those movies that really should be seen on the big screen.

The longer answer, of course, is that this is much more than a movie where giant robots and water monsters (in the movie's parlance, Jaegers and Kaiju respectively) beat the hell out of each other. Well, the monsters are just monsters. Awesome monsters, but clear, unambiguous, villainous monsters. There's something intelligent behind them, but we don't get much of a look at them, and we don't really need to. The monsters are well designed, huge, and destructive enough to raise the stakes of the story. What else would you expect from the likes of Guillermo del Toro, who is famous for this sort of thing...

The Jaegers are also well designed, huge, and awesome, but what's important about them are the pilots. The story is all about the pilots, which is what puts this ahead of other giant robot movies like Transformers or *ahem* Robot Jox (even though that movie features a giant mech with a chainsaw jutting out from the crotch, for reals). Now, this isn't a slow character study or anything, but the characters are well drawn and fleshed out enough so that when they do hop in their Jaeger to beat some Kaiju ass, you're fully invested in what's going on. To drive a Jaeger, you need two pilots, and they have to be mentally linked together, so what ends up happening is that the pilots need to have a meaningful connection outside of the Jaeger. This means that a lot of pilots end up being related (we see brothers, twins, etc...) and that pairing people up is very important. Naturally, this provides opportunity for all sorts of drama... I even liked the goofy scientists who were researching the Kaiju, played by Charlie Day (who is basically playing Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia if Charlie existed in a world with giant sea monsters) and Burn Gorman, who don't get a ton of screen time, but provide some comic relief.

The story begins with a bit of exposition, which usually induces groans in an audience, but this was actually a pretty fantastic way to establish the world the story takes place in. Indeed, most movies would linger on the destruction of, for instance, the first Kaiju that appears in San Francisco. Here, we get a glimpse of the giant sea creature destroying the Golden Gate Bridge, but then we move on to explain how the monsters kept coming at regular intervals, and how humanity pulls together to build giant Jaeger robots to defend themslves... only to be overrun by the ever growing tide of Kaiju, who are getting bigger and bigger and appearing more and more often.

It gives the world a terrifically lived-in quality that you don't normally get in big summer action blockbusters. The world has clearly changed because of this stuff and it didn't happen overnight, the way it seems to in other big action movies. For instance, when all those buildings are getting demolished in Man of Steel, everyone wonders what is happening to all the people in those buildings. In Pacific Rim, you kinda assume that a lot of that stuff has been evacuated. Heck, they've built their cities around the bones of fallen Kaiju, establishing Kaiju shelters and whatnot.

The production design is utterly superb. The Jaegers are huge and awesome machines, but they've all got their share of scrapes and scratches and flaking paint. Even the suits the pilots wear have that well-worn character. These aren't shiny, gleaming machines covered with Abrams-like lens flares, they're weapons that have seen a lot of use.

It might seem silly to say, but everything in the movie is named well, starting with just "Jaeger" (which is German for "Hunter") and Kaiju (which is Japanese for "strange beast" or "monster" and also refers to a sub-genre of movies popular in Japan, typified by Godzilla), but they also have various classification systems and names. The main Jaeger base is called "The Shatterdome" which is just all kinds of awesome. Cherno Alpha is a Russian Mark-1 Jaeger piloted by a husband/wife team. Crimson Typhoon is a Mark-4 Jaeger piloted by triplets. It has three arms, which allows them to utilize something called the "Thundercloud Formation". I don't really know what that means, but it's awesome anyway. Striker Eureka is an Australian Mark-5 Jaeger piloted by a father/son team that we actually get to know reasonably well in the movie. And finally, Gipsy Danger is an American Mark-3 Jaeger, originally piloted by brothers, one of whom dies. The remaining brother is basically the main character in the movie, and they spend a fair amount of time getting him back in the cockpit with a new co-pilot. The Kaiju also have names and categorizations, and are basically treated like Hurricanes. We actually don't hear their names that often in the movie, but their categories are an immediate indication of how much trouble our heros are in.

The action is well staged, clear, and since you care about the characters, it's very engaging. It's funny, but the Jaegers are actually relatively slow. Their movements have a certain gravity to them that actually makes a lot of sense, even if this isn't a movie that you'd ever want to nitpick.

All of which is to say, if I was 12 years old when this came out, I'd be all over this stuff. I have to imagine that kids will fall in love with this movie, creating their own Jaeger names and fighting Kaiju of their own design("That would make a great Jaeger name" will be the new "That would make a great band name"). On the other hand, this hasn't quite done the blockbuster business I was hoping for. It's made lots of money, I guess, but it's a movie that screams for a sequel (though they weren't so presumptuous as to set up a sequel in the movie itself, which is a good thing) and I think it's going to have to do better than it is right now in order to make that happen. Not sure why people aren't flocking to this right now. Perhaps people got worn out by early summer blockbusters and are sick of big explosions and whatnot. I guess there's a possibility that it will have long legs, and I'm sure it will do gangbusters on video, but if you haven't seen this yet, please do.

So overall, it's an amazingly fun movie. Sure, you could probably nitpick it to death, but what are you, a monster? (Er, kaiju?) This movie is just so joyous that none of that stuff matters. It's certainly derivative, but in a loving way, and that love really shines through in the final product. The worst thing I can say about this movie is that I wanted more of it. I wanted to see more of Cherno Alpha and Crimson Typhoon kicking ass. I wanted to know more about the monsters. I didn't necessarily need that and yeah, I know, be careful what you wish for, but this movie has excellent worldbuilding. Again, it's a ton of fun, and you should totally go see it on the big screen.

1 - In spellchecking via google for this, I learn that "posthaste" is derived from the historical notion that postal carriers traveled quickly, by horse and whatnot. This doesn't quite capture how quickly I think you should go out and see this movie. You should probably use a horseless carriage, at least.

Update: Ohmygod, 4th String Jaegers is amazing (favorites are Whiskey Ginger (Ireland's Jaeger) and Lady Parts (a pink Jaeger)). See also, Radio Free Echo Rift review, the Jeff Rubin Show review, and the /Filmcast review.
Posted by Mark on July 21, 2013 at 01:35 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Minutiae of Die Hard
I don't think of Die Hard as being particularly well written, but watching the latter day sequels puts the whole thing in such stark relief that I'm surprised they didn't get a best screenplay nod for the original Die Hard. Alright, that's an exaggeration, but things it does well aren't showy. Fair warning, this post gets pretty deep into the minutiae of the Die Hard movies and only really lists one example, but it's indicative of a larger trend.

A Good Day to Die Hard came out earlier this year, and was functional but mostly forgettable installment of the series. The extent to which I enjoyed it was purely a function of the fact that I enjoyed previous films. Basically, I like John McClane. One area in which the film fails miserably is villainy. There are a few twists and turns on that front, but towards the beginning of the film, we've got this villain that is constantly and incongruously chomping on carrots. It turns out, he's also a tap dancer.

Now, I've never been to film school and I've never taken a class in screenwriting, but I imagine lesson 1 being something about giving your villain a quirk that will help the audience identify him. Think of the thought process in the screenwriter's mind here. He needs a quirk. Shit, everyone loves carrots, let's have him down carrots faster than Bugs fucking Bunny. But he's a villain, we need people to hate him too. I've got it: Tap dance. Genius. But what are we supposed to get out of this? I mean, yeah, when the McClane boys do take him out, there is a momentary comfort that the world has one less tap-dancer, but is that enough?

In contrast, look at Hans Gruber. In many ways, he is the template for villainy. And he loves the hell out of bespoke suits. There's an early scene where Gruber and friends are escorting Mr. Takagi in an elevator.
Nice suit. John Philips...London?

Takagi stares at him, speechless.

I have two myself.
(beat, as he exits:)
I'm told Arafat shops there too...
It's an odd moment, and it calls to mind Hans Gruber on his day off, shopping for a suit. It's a quirk, to be sure, but it's a subtle one, and it's not quirk for quirk's sake. It's actually quite well placed and it even serves multiple purposes.
Nice suit Hans!
Gruber is playing a stereotyping game with everyone. He's playing the role of terrorist to a tee, but his comment on the suit is odd precisely because it doesn't quite fit with that stereotype. It fits more with the effete, snobby European stereotype, I guess, but even moreso, it fits Gruber's ultimate motivations: money. This odd exchange at the beginning of the film is actually the first hint that we're not dealing with your garden variety terrorists here. Later, we find out they're simple thieves. The whole thing is just a big robbery. And of course the man orchestrating the whole event is obsessed with the trappings of money, like, say, expensive suits.

It's not obvious or on the nose. In fact, you're probably not supposed to notice it at all, except perhaps in your subconscious. It lays the groundwork for the robbery without being overt. It's a quirk and it gives Gruber depth, but it's not stupid and it fits organically with the story. It's the sort of thing you can actually believe.

Again, this is a tiny nit to be picking, but it's indicative of how well the first Die Hard fits together... and how poorly the most recent installment works. Next time on Minutae of Die Hard: we spend 5000 words on the guy who played Endo in Lethal Weapon, and his decision to let his guard down so that he can snack on some candy bars even while the police are assaulting the building.
Posted by Mark on June 16, 2013 at 08:35 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Whedon vs. Martin
This past Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones ended with a doozy of a surprise (at least, for those of us who haven't read the books!), and while we all come to grips with what happened, Joss Whedon is sitting back and laughing. Warning: Many spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, Buffy, Firefly/Serenity, and probably some other stuff.

The Red Wedding, which is the name given to the sequence whereby several of our Game of Thrones heroes are betrayed and murdered in a brutal fashion, was shocking in its brutality. Whedon saw it from a different perspective though: Basically, Whedon has a reputation for killing off his most beloved characters on TV shows. George R.R. Martin appears to be giving him a run for his money. Or is he? Whedon's deaths tend to be emotionally powerful, prompting much in the way of hate mail. He defends these deaths in the name of the story. For instance, when Whedon kills off Wash in Serenity, he claims it was because otherwise, we would all assume the success of our heroes would be a foregone conclusion. The death is absolutely infuriating, not least of which because I'm not particularly sure it achieves its aims. It was a shocking moment in the film, but it was so sudden and so damn pointless, that it didn't really do anything but make me sad. Furthermore, he was killed by faceless Reavers, so it's not like you have anyone to blame... except for Whedon himself. Contrast that with the Red Wedding. Robb Stark (heir to the iron throne), Talisa (his pregnant wife), and Catelyn (his mother) are all betrayed and slaughtered in the cruelest of fashions (their entire army is killed as well). It was sudden, but not nonsensical. And indeed, the sense of dread had been building for a while. For crying out loud, Talisa had just commented that if their unborn child winds up being a boy, they should name him Eddard (after Eddard Stark, who was also betrayed and killed in season 1). Ned friggen Stark!

Again, I was shocked and saddened by this event, but there are a number of things that make this better than Whedon's brand of murder. First, this is a show with a ton of characters, so there will be plenty of others that will rise up to take Robb's place. Second, the show has already established the danger of getting too attached to characters. Lots of people died on Sunday, but they're but the latest in a long line of tragic deaths and betrayals. Third, Martin is an equal opportunity killer. The blood of villains flows as readily as the heroes, which makes for a nice balancing act, and they're sometimes just a surprising (notable example: Viserys Targaryen, who is "crowned" by Khal Drogo in a fantastic moment). Fourth, while the Red Wedding is the end of characters we like, it's also the beginning of a villain we're going to love to hate! The same could be said for the Death of Ned Stark at the hands of Joeffrey (quite possible the most hatable character in television history, who has been built up as such a tremendous douche that his death will have significant cathartic value). Whedon's use of deaths seem like cheap shots. As emotionally draining as they are, they're actually not that frequent... but in a lot of cases, they probably should be. Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Whedon killed fan favorite Tara, it was a mere plot convenience for him. A cheap way to up the stakes (and he needed this, as those nerdy villains were kinda lame). So what's the problem? Well, if that's what it takes to die in this show, the non-Buffy characters should have all died in, like, season one. It's a pointless, lazy death. Whedon certainly has his fans and I actually count myself one of them. Indeed, most of his death scenes are well deserved and well done. Even the ones I hate tend to at least be effective. But I'm not really willing to forgive Wash. Just can't get past that one. So Whedon is right, we should give George R.R. Martin an equivalent reputation for killing his characters (in fact, I think he's had that reputation for a while, it's just that we're finally seeing it on TV). But this isn't a zero sum game: there's plenty of blame to go around, Joss! So congratulations: you both have a reputation for killing beloved characters.

Tangentially, are there any characters on Game of Thrones that you would be devastated to see die? And if not, what does that say about the show? Personally, I think that if Aria was killed, I'd be pretty crestfallen. And maybe Hodor, because I love that guy (though I wouldn't be surprised to see him go). What say you?
(Thanks to Don for the Hodor meme)
Posted by Mark on June 05, 2013 at 08:20 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Irony of Copyright Protection
In Copyright Protection That Serves to Destroy, Terry Teachout lays out some of the fundamental issues surrounding the preservation of art, in particular focusing on recorded sound:
Nowadays most people understand the historical significance of recorded sound, and libraries around the world are preserving as much of it as possible. But recording technology has evolved much faster than did printing technology—so fast, in fact, that librarians can't keep up with it. It's hard enough to preserve a wax cylinder originally cut in 1900, but how do you preserve an MP3 file? Might it fade over time? And will anybody still know how to play it a quarter-century from now? If you're old enough to remember floppy disks, you'll get the point at once: A record, unlike a book, is only as durable as our ability to play it back.
Digital preservation is already a big problem for current librarians, and not just because of the mammoth amounts of digital data being produced. Just from a simple technological perspective, there are many non-trivial challenges. Even if the storage medium/reading mechanisms remain compatible over the next century, there are nontrivial challenges with ensuring these devices will remain usable that far into the future. Take hard drives. A lot of film and audio (and, I suppose books these days too) are being archived on hard drives. But you can't just take a hard drive and stick it on a shelf somewhere and fire it up in 30 years. Nor should you keep it spinning for 30 years. It requires use, but not constant use. And even then you'll need to ensure redundancy because hard drives fail.

Just in writing that, you can see the problem. Hard drives clearly aren't the solution. Too many modes of failure there. We need something more permanent. Which means something completely new... and thus something that will make hard drives (and our ability to read them) obsolete.

And that's from a purely technological perspective. They're nontrivial, but I'm confident that technology will rise to the challenge. However, once you start getting into the absolutely bonkers realm of intellectual property law, things get stupid really fast. If technology will rise to the challenge, IP owners and lawmakers seem to be engaged in an ever-escalating race to the bottom of the barrel:
In Europe, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release. Once that happens, anyone can reissue them, which makes it easy for Europeans to purchase classic records of the past. In America, by contrast, sound recordings are "protected" by a prohibitive snarl of federal and state legislation whose effect was summed up in a report issued in 2010 by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress: "The effective term of copyright protection for even the oldest U.S. recordings, dating from the late 19th century, will not end until the year 2067 at the earliest.… Thus, a published U.S. sound recording created in 1890 will not enter the public domain until 177 years after its creation, constituting a term of rights protection 82 years longer than that of all other forms of audio visual works made for hire."

Among countless other undesirable things, this means that American record companies that aren't interested in reissuing old records can stop anyone else from doing so, and can also stop libraries from making those same records readily accessible to scholars who want to use them for noncommercial purposes. Even worse, it means that American libraries cannot legally copy records made before 1972 to digital formats for the purpose of preservation...
Sheer insanity. The Library of Congress appears to be on the right side of the issue, suggesting common-sense recommendations for copyright reform... that will almost certainly never be enacted by IP owners or lawmakers. Still, their "National Recording Preservation Plan" seems like a pretty good idea. Again, it's a pity that almost none of their recommendations will be enacted, and while the need for Copyright reform is blindingly obvious to anyone with a brain, I don't see it happening anytime soon. It's a sad state of affairs when the only victories we can celebrate in this realm is grassroots opposition to absurd laws like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA.

I don't know the way forward. When you look at the economics of the movie industry, as recently laid out by Steven Soderberg in a speech that's been making the rounds of late (definitely worth a watch, if you've got a half hour), you start to see why media companies are so protective of their IP. As currently set up, your movie needs to make 120 million dollars, minimum, before you start to actually turn a profit (and that's just the marketing costs - you'd have to add on the budget to get a better idea). That, too, is absurd. I don't envy the position of media companies, but on the other hand, their response to such problems isn't to fix the problem but to stomp their feet petulantly, hold on to copyrighted works for far too long, and to antagonize their best customers.

That's the irony of protecting copyright. If you protect it too much, no one actually benefits from it, not even the copyright holders...
Posted by Mark on May 29, 2013 at 10:46 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Amazon Pilots
I mentioned the other week that Amazon released 14 pilot episodes for original series. They haven't made a decision about which series will get picked up, but I watched a bunch, so here are some thoughts. High level summary: "Meh."
  • Zombieland - This was probably the only show I was actually curious about, and it acquitted itself reasonably well. It's tough to compete with the talent of the movie, but it actually worked well enough, and some of established in the movie actually fits the TV mold (notably the "Zombie kill of the week"). It's clearly not hitting on all cylinders and it's not as polished as the movie, but it has potential, and I could see myself watching this.
  • Alpha House - This show about 4 Republican congressmen who are roommates clearly has the best pedigree. Name actors, Doonsbury writer, and so on. That talent does show in the final product, which is probably the most composed of the shows that I watched. But it wasn't all that funny, and the one-sided politics means that it won't be surprising or interesting either. Again, the pilot was fine, and there's potential here, but I could also see this crashing and burning.
  • Onion News Empire - As a fictional show about a ridiculous news channel (i.e. it's not an actual fake news show, it's a story about people who put on a real news show that's, uh, fake), this one was ok, and I chuckled at a few jokes, but it's ultimately nowhere near the level of brilliance that the Onion is capable of. Again, I suppose it could grow some legs, but I was fairly disappointed by this one.
  • Those Who Can't - This show about a misanthropic trio of teachers who act outrageous and inappropriately towards their students sounded awful, but was surprisingly engaging. It's got a sorta It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia lite vibe going on. It seems a little too reliant on the characters' apathy, which is a joke that could get old pretty quickly, but I could see this working if given room to grow.
  • Browsers - People started singing and I immediately checked out. It's actually one of the better reviewed shows, but I couldn't even be bothered with watching it.
That's what I watched. I wasn't too enthused by any of the episodes, but I think that's more of an issue with Amazon's process here than the shows themselves. Comedy shows are cheap to produce (which is no doubt why Amazon is starting with them), but they usually take a few episodes to establish themselves and grow into their premise. There are very few comedies that launch with a pilot that is representative of what the show will ultimately become. A few of these episodes show promise, but who knows how any of them would play out. I watched them because I was curious, but that's because this is a sorta novelty thing. Perhaps if I came away from this experience with more than a "meh" feeling, it would be different, but at this point, I'm not particularly inclined to take more chances on these Amazon shows, which has to be a problem for Amazon. I'll be curious to see which shows get picked up and move forward (though apparently Zombieland won't, according to the creator's tweets, which indicate that fans of the movie really killed the show for some reason...)
Posted by Mark on May 19, 2013 at 08:19 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Star Trek: TNG Tidbits
The Star Trek: The Next Generation Third Season BD came out recently, replete with bonus materials. Of course, it's obscenely expensive (Star Trek releases have always been so) and probably only purchased by obsessives. Us normal fans just fire up episodes on Netflix pretty easily, but then we miss out on remastered HD visuals and bonus features. Fortunately for us, Hercules from AICN has done a seemingly comprehensive recap of all those special features, and there's lots of behind the scenes gems to be had. The general consensus is that season 3 is where TNG turned the corner from a decent show into a great show, and a lot of these features apparently focus on that. Some interesting tidbits:
* A "technobabble generator" created as a joke by a friend of Shankar became a frequently utilized not-joke writers' room tool.
Always funny to hear about the teching the tech tendencies of the writers...
* Moore and Braga lament that "Star Trek: Generations," which they labored on for a year, didn't turn out as well as "All Good Things," which took two weeks to write.

* Piller argued against the other writers who wanted Wesley to stay true to his fellow cadets in the season-five episode "The First Duty." Piller prevailed and Wesley did end up throwing his friends under the bus to put Starfleet Academy honor first. The episode, relates Shankar, is now used at the U.S. Air Force Academy to teach cadets about the honor code.

* The writers reveal Brent Spiner grew weary of stories involving Data's cat Spot. As a practical joke, they inserted into one script a scene in which Data invents a collar that translates Spot's meows into English.

* One storyline that was much fought for before Piller shot it down was to kill Will Riker and replace him permanently with his transporter-mishap doppleganger Tom Riker. "It was a chance to reinvent the character," explains Moore.

* Patrick Stewart, perhaps envious of William Shatner, apparently told every TNG writer he met that Picard wasn't "shooting and screwing" enough.

* Behr had a great episode idea about Picard getting promoted to admiral and Riker given the captaincy of the Enterprise -- and how Picard dealt with the promotions. But Roddenberry insisted Picard's insecurities regarding his new life were out of character, and the script was scrapped. That concept evolved into the episode in which Picard gets boned on the pleasure planet.

* Frakes was always annoyed when the writers made Riker turn down offers of commanding his own ship. He (and many fans) felt his willingness to decline a captaincy was out of character.
Frakes hits the nail on the head with that last one. I mean, I get why it was done (the show must go on, and having Riker off on some other ship would be either contrived or lame), and it made for some good episodes (The Best of Both worlds 2 parter with the Borg being the most obvious), but the character of Riker was such an experience hound, always game for just about anything, that it's hard to believe he would turn down a captaincy.
* Ironically given the subject matter of his first script, Moore was not a fan of children living aboard the Enterprise. He also never understood why a psychotherapist was always sitting on the bridge next to the captain. Moore was also no fan of the replicator, which he believed an enemy of drama.

* Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and Moore all once lamented that they should have saved "Yesterday's Enterprise" for the plot of the "Generations" movie, with the Kirk-Spock Enterprise swapped for the Garrett-Castillo one.

* The staff, which at the time included future "Battlestar Galactica" mastermind Ronald D. Moore, would often refer to Data as "a toaster."
Lots of other interesting stuff in Herc's post...
Posted by Mark on May 12, 2013 at 01:37 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The State of Streaming
So Netflix has had a good first quarter, exceeding expectations and crossing the $1 Billion revenue threshold. Stock prices have been skyrocketing, going from sub 100 to over 200 in just the past 4-5 months. Their subscriber base continues to grow, and fears that people would use the free trial to stream exclusive content like House of Cards, then bolt from the service seem unfounded. However, we're starting to see a fundamental shift in the way Netflix is doing business here. For the first time ever, I'm seeing statements like this:
As we continue to focus on exclusive and curated content, our willingness to pay for non-exclusive, bulk content deals declines.
I don't like the sound of that, but then, the cost of non-exclusive content seems to keep rising at an absurd level, and well, you know, it's not exclusive. The costs have risen to somewhere on the order of $2 billion per year on content licensing and original shows. So statements like this seem like a natural outgrowth of that cost:
As we've gained experience, we've realized that the 20th documentary about the financial crisis will mostly just take away viewing from the other 19 such docs, and instead of trying to have everything, we should strive to have the best in each category. As such, we are actively curating our service rather than carrying as many titles as we can.
We don't and can't compete on breadth with Comcast, Sky, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, or Google. For us to be hugely successful we have to be a focused passion brand. Starbucks, not 7-Eleven. Southwest, not United. HBO, not Dish.
This all makes perfect sense from a business perspective, but as a consumer, this sucks. I don't want to have to subscribe to 8 different services to watch 8 different shows that seem interesting to me. Netflix's statements and priorities seem to be moving, for the first time, away from a goal of providing a streaming service with a wide, almost comprehensive selection of movies and television. Instead, we're getting a more curated approach coupled with original content. That wouldn't be the worst thing ever, but Netflix isn't the only one playing this game. Amazon just released 14 pilot episodes for their own exclusive content. I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before Hulu joins this roundalay (and for all I know, they're already there - I've just hated every experience I've had with Hulu so much that I don't really care to look into it). HBO is already doing its thing with HBO Go, which exlcusively streams their shows. How many other streaming services will I have to subscribe to if I want to watch TV (or movies) in the future? Like it or not, fragmentation is coming. And no one seems to be working on a comprehensive solution anymore (at least, not in a monthly subscription model - Amazon and iTunes have pretty good a la carte options). This is frustrating, and I feel like there's a big market for this thing, but at the same time, content owners seem to be overcharging for their content. If Netflix's crappy selection costs $2 billion a year, imagine what something even remotely comprehensive would cost (easily 5-10 times that amount, which is clearly not feasible).

Incidentally, Netflix's third exclusive series, Hemlock Grove, premiered this past weekend. I tried to watch the first episode, but I fell asleep. What I remember was pretty shlockey and not particularly inspiring... but I have a soft spot for cheesy stuff like this, so I'll give it another chance. Still, the response seems a bit mixed on this one. I did really end up enjoying House of Cards, but I'm not sure how much I'm going to stick with Hemlock Grove...
Posted by Mark on April 24, 2013 at 09:28 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Miss Jean Brodie's Modestly Magnificent, Matriarchally Manipulative Springtime-For-Mussolini Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm chomping at the bit to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, Sister Clodagh, and Professor Arthur Chipping are also available... This time around, Miss Jean Brodie has concocted "a genuine corker of a questionnaire which is sure to divide allegiances and facilitate shocking betrayals of confidence over accusations of cheating and excessive IMDb referencing, even if you're taking the test alone." A curious assertion, seeing as though Miss Brodie herself has cheated by including several questions recycled from previous quizzes (marked with an asterisk). Well regardless, let's sharpen those #2s and start cheating:

1) The classic movie moment everyone loves except me is:

The challenge with this question is that it's tough not to just pick a classic movie I don't love and pass that off as a "moment"... so yeah, I'm not a big fan of Easy Rider, except, you know, the classic scenes where they're motorcycling past gorgeous landscapes, set to awesome classic rock music. I actually do love those sequences, even if I don't love the movie. Looking at other responses, it seems that When Harry Met Sally... is not faring so well, but I think that scene is fine. So I'll choose something from a film I really do like, in a sequence that is expertly framed and staged: the crop-duster sequence from North by Northwest. Like I said, it's well done and visually arresting, but at the same time, why would anyone think that this is the best way to attack someone? It's one of those engineer's disease things where I get taken out of the movie as I try to figure out logistics of what's going on. A failing that lies squarely on my shoulders, not Hitchcock's, but that's the best answer I can give for this one.
North by Northwest
2) Favorite line of dialogue from a film noir

I'm shocked that no one has given the answer that first leapt to mind. Maybe it's too obvious but this line from Double Indemnity encapsulates everything about noir pretty neatly: "Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money - and a woman - and I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?" That it is.

3) Second favorite Hal Ashby film

Well, I've only seen two, and since I love Harold and Maude, it looks like The Last Detail takes this one by default. However, I should really get off my arse and see Being There sometime.

4) Describe the moment when you first realized movies were directed as opposed to simply pieced together anonymously. *

I honestly can't think of a specific moment in which this happened. I guess it was a sorta slow revelation. I can't even really remember when it was that I sorta developed my own personal auteur theory, which, to be sure, was not particularly well considered. It was really just a realization that the director attached to a project was a more reliable indicator of quality than the actors, purely based on being burned by great casts in bad movies (which, come to think of it, was also realization that dawned slowly, over the course of years, to the point where pinpointing a moment seems impossible).

5) Favorite film book

Given that I read a lot, I'm a little surprised at how little I read about film. My default answer would have to be Understanding Movies by Louis Giannetti. My copy is the 8th edition, but I think it's up to the 12th or so now. It was the textbook we used when I managed to take a film course in college (despite having almost nonexistent electives) and it provided me with a nice toolbox for film analysis...

6) Diana Sands or Vonetta McGee?

Vonetta McGee, mostly because of her work in one of my favorite bad movies: The Eiger Sanction. From memory, her character's name is Jemima Brown and she thinks Clint Eastwood can "broil a mean steak." She actually doesn't have that big of a role in the movie, but for some reason, I found her memorable.

7) Most egregious gap in your viewing of films made in the past 10 years

I feel like I've kept up with everything that I've wanted to keep up with. The gaps tend to be things that have never really moved me. Stuff like Mumblecore or contemporary Iranian cinema (or similarly obscure foreign groupings of films that aren't Asian). I've seen some of this stuff, but I don't really have any desire to check out more, especially since the gaps in my viewing from films made before the last 10 years are so much greater!

8) Favorite line of dialogue from a comedy

You've got to be kidding me. Way to narrow it down, Miss Brodie! I'll just give the first thing that came to mind, which is Dan Aykroyd's perfect delivery of "Listen... do you smell something?" in Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, that's probably not even my favorite line in that movie, let alone all comedies.

9) Second favorite Lloyd Bacon film

Dude has 130 director credits in IMDB, and I don't think I've seen any of them. Call this one a mulligan.

10) Richard Burton or Roger Livesey?

Richard Burton, because I actually know who he is and have seen him in movies and stuff.

11) Is there a movie you staunchly refuse to consider seeing? If so, why?

There are tons of movies I don't particularly want to see, but that's not really a staunch refusal, and I'd probably watch anything once, if properly motivated.

12) Favorite filmmaker collaboration

It's funny, I didn't even consider the director/actor collaborations that everyone answers for this one. My mind went immediately to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, who collaborated on Grindhouse and Sin City (and probably others). For director/actor combos, I'd go with something like John Woo and Chow Yun Fat, or the obvious Scorsese and De Niro.
Grindhouse Poster
13) Most recently viewed movie on DVD/Blu-ray/theatrical?

On DVD, it was Devil in a Blue Dress, which was very good. On streaming, it was Side by Side, an interesting documentary where Keanu Reeves (!?) interviews filmmakers about the rise of digital filmmaking (and the fall of photochemical film). Definitely worth a watch. And in theaters, sheesh, it was A Good Day to Die Hard, which I suppose was entertaining enough, but didn't really do that much for me.

14) Favorite line of dialogue from a horror movie

Another impossible question, though this seems more manageable. The first thing that came to mind was Psycho, but even there, I've got two: "A boy's best friend is his mother." and "We all go a little mad sometimes." Some good ones in Halloween too: "It's Halloween, everyone's entitled to one good scare." and Dr. Loomis' ravings about Michael Myers: "I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes... the *devil's* eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... *evil*."

15) Second favorite Oliver Stone film

A tough one, since I have a clear favorite (JFK), but the rest are all sorta on the same level. I'll say Platoon as a second favorite.

16) Eva Mendes or Raquel Welch?

I have to admit that neither filmography does much for me, but despite One Million Years B.C., I'll have to go with Eva Mendes, who still shows some promise...

17) Favorite religious satire

Life of Brian. Duh.

18) Best Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)
19) Most pointless Internet movie argument? (question contributed by Tom Block)

Hay, you asked the same question twice! Take your pick: Is film criticism/culture dead? Let's rank Pixar's films! Is X film sexist/racist/whateverist? Is Ferris Bueller a projection of Cameron's, ala Fight Club? (Good call with that last one, Jeff Gee, thx) Here's a quiz consisting of 31 questions about film, you should totally answer them. And so on.

20) Charles McGraw or Robert Ryan?

Wow, two people I know and like about equally. Granted, I haven't seen more than a few movies from either actor (despite their lengthy filmographies), but I'll go with the coin toss winner here, Robert Ryan.

21) Favorite line of dialogue from a western

In Once Upon a Time in the West, three men confront Harmonica, who asks if they brought him a horse. The leader, clearly planning to kill Harmonica, sez that it "...looks like we're shy one horse." To which, Harmonica replies: "You brought two too many.", then proceeds to shoot down all three, then take one of the horses. There are some others ("When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk."), but I'll leave it at that.

22) Second favorite Roy Del Ruth film

Yep, it looks like I need to take another mulligan here.

23) Relatively unknown film or filmmaker you'd most eagerly proselytize for

Last year's hyperactive Detention merits a mention here, as it is certainly one of the most underseen films that I think would be popular if only people knew it existed. On the other hand, it is a reallly weird movie and probably has limited mainstream appeal. But I love it.

24) Ewan McGregor or Gerard Butler?

Well, here's the thing, I don't think either of these guys are particularly great at picking projects to work on. They can be great at times, but they're both in a lot of crap too. And I mean a lot of crap. Ewan McGregor might have a slight edge at this point, I guess, and he usually manages to be good, even in bad movies (see: Star Wars prequels)

25) Is there such a thing as a perfect movie?

In terms of objective evaluation, probably not. Fortunately, no one is even capable of objectively evaluating a movie (at least, not in a meaningful way). But then you get into the morass of subjectivity, and it becomes difficult to pick out what's perfect. Perfect movies are like love. It may not be perfect for everyone, but it's perfect for me at that particular time, and things that I'd hate in any other person/movie, I'm willing to tolerate... nay, love in some others. So yeah, that makes sense, right?

26) Favorite movie location you've most recently had the occasion to actually visit *

Well, this is lame, but I'll have to give the same answer as last time: 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, most recently seen in Blow Out. Oh, oh, wait, the Llanerch Diner from Silver Linings Playbook. Technically, I haven't eaten there recently, but I've driven by it since seeing the movie...

27) Second favorite Delmer Daves film

Nope, never seen any of his movies. I had 3:10 to Yuma on my DVR at one point, but then my DVD pooped out and I had to replace it. So close, yet so far away.

28) Name the one DVD commentary you wish you could hear that, for whatever reason, doesn't actually exist *

Tons of options here. Orson Welles seems like he would be fascinating. Certain contemporary filmmakers, for whatever reason, don't do commentaries for their own films, like The Coen Brothers (who have done a couple, but not most), Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan. So let's get the four of them together in a room and have them do a commentary for... well, any movie, really, but let's say Pulp Fiction, just for the yuks.

29) Gloria Grahame or Marie Windsor?

Can't say as though I'm overly familiar with either, though I have seen movies by both. I'll go with Marie Windsor, for The Killing...

30) Name a filmmaker who never really lived up to the potential suggested by their early acclaim or success

There are a depressing number of answers to this question. M. Night Shymalan is an obvious one. Richard Kelly is another, though I did enjoy The Box more than most and he's still young enough that he could emerge big time.

31) Is there a movie-based disagreement serious enough that it might cause you to reevaluate the basis of a romantic relationship or a friendship? *

I can't say as though there is. I value differences of opinion and if we all liked the same exact stuff, life would be rather boring. I don't get the internet fanboyistic tendency to harass people who hold different opinions about movies, games, etc... I'm sure there would be stuff that a friend (romantic or not) likes that would give me pause if I found out at a certain crucial period of our friendship, but then, I probably have the same sort of weird taste for something too. I mean, come on, did you see above where I said I liked The Eiger Sanction?

* a classic or, if you must, recycled question from quizzes past that Miss Brodie thought might be interesting to revisit

And that's all for now. As always, it was a blast coming up with answers for this one...
Posted by Mark on March 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Oscars
The Academy Awards! At this point, every conceivable opinion you could have about the Oscars has become gauche. Whether you're genuinely enthusiastic, profoundly bored, or searingly cynical, you've got a pretty lame outlook on the event. It's not your fault, it's just the hand we're all dealt. I've found that two things help make the show palatable: beer and mockery. And predictions!

For the past 9 years (!?), I've been "liveblogging" the Oscars. When I started this practice, blogging was still mildly hip and cool. Now the concept of a "liveblog" is hoary and lame. As such, who the hell knows what I'm going to do tonight. I will certainly update this post throughout the show, but I probably won't do so as often as I have in the past. Or maybe I'll take to twitter, like any sane person would do. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, won't we? If you're interested, previous installments are here: [2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004]

In accordance with tradition, I'll lay out my predictions for major awards right now:
  • Best Picture: Argo. I'm as surprised about this as you are. Like everyone else, I thought this was going to be a Lincoln year. But Argo has a lot of momentum from other awards shows, it's got an actor as a director (always popular with the actor-heavy Academy), and finally, it's a movie about how awesome Hollywood is and how Hollywood saved the world or something. Oh sure, Affleck wasn't nominated for director, and those two awards usually track together, but it doesn't seem like that rule is as relevant now that the best picture category can feature up to 10 movies. It stands to reason that these awards will eventually split at some point. If I were voting, I'd pick Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained, but they almost certainly won't win (because torture bad and Tarantino's movie uses the N word a lot). Also, Kathryn Bigelow already got her Oscar just a couple years ago, and even though Zero Dark Thirty is drastically better than The Hurt Locker, no one will see the need to reward it. Les Miserables is a musical, a genre which rarely wins, plus it seems to have a mixed response anyway. Amour will take the Best Foreign Language Film award. Everyone will see the nomination itself as reward enough for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Life of Pi seems divisive. Silver Linings Playbook is a wildcard, but I don't think it will win. In the end, I think it still comes down to Argo or Lincoln.
  • Best Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. This is basically by process of elimination. Benh Zeitlin is out because he's so young that just the nomination is reward enough (as mentioned above). Michael Haneke will be getting the Best Foreign Language Film award, so no need consider him. David O. Russell seems more likely to take a Screenwriting award (a typical compensation move). Ang Lee took a lot of chances, but such ambitions are rarely recognized. Spielberg brought a revered historical figure to life. Plus, slavery is, like, really bad. And Spielberg managed to say that without excessive use of the N word, so I guess that makes his movie more palatable. Or something. I would be genuinely surprised if Spielberg doesn't win (and given these nominees, he would probably be my pick too).
  • Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook. Perhaps a consolation prize for this movie, but also a recognition for the rising star of Lawrence, who has paid her dues (already been nominated once) and I suspect many will be pleased at her Hunger Games stardom as well. Oh, and she was also pretty good in the movie. There's always that. I'd give Jessica Chastain fair odds as well, but she plays a torturing torturer (who totally tortures people), so maybe that will hold back a few votes (she would probably take mine, though it's close). Quvenzhane Wallis is the youngest actress to ever be nominated, but I think the pattern with this film is that the nomination is enough. Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest actress to ever be nominated and she's a genuine legend... but only in France, which won't play here. Naomi Watts is in the slot normally reserved for Meryl Streep, a charismatic actress that everyone likes all the time, but such nominations rarely win.
  • Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln. No contest here. Everyone else should feel honored to lose to Day-Lewis, whose performance is legitimately amazing (if I were voting, he'd be my pick).
  • Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables. Really just based on people liking her. Perhaps as an apology for pairing her with James Franco as an Oscar host or something like that. I didn't see Les Mis, but from everything I've heard, she was the best part and that I Dreamed a Dream thing is catchy too. The only other nominee I could see winning is Amy Adams, who is another popular actress who should be rewarded sometime, but I think The Master might be a little too cerebral for the Academy.
  • Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln. Because who the hell knows with this category? Everyone in the category has already won an Oscar, so no one really cares here. That being said, I think the other main contender will be Robert De Niro, because he hasn't done anything worthwhile in a long, long time, and maybe the Academy wants to throw him a bone as encouragement. But he has to go up against Tommy Lee Jones, who fought to abolish slavery, so yeah, tough call. In all honesty, anyone could take this home.
  • Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained. I know I've been down on this movie's chances because of Tarantino's usage of the N word, which theoretically should be most attributable to the script, but this is a really tough category to pick. Mark Boal's script would have a better chance if it didn't endorse torture (which it doesn't, but that's the perception). Amour will get the Best Foreign Language Oscar. I'm surprise Flight was even nominated. Moonrise Kingdom is actually an interesting Dark Horse nomination here, as maybe the Academy will seek to reward Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola because they snubbed them in all the other categories (seriously, what's up with that?)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook. Consolation prize for David O. Russell. On the other hand, if Argo has a good night, it could snap this one right up.
  • Editing: Argo. Even if it doesn't take best picture, it will probably still rack up some of these technical awards.
  • Cinematography: Skyfall. Definitely not the conventional pick here (which is probably Life of Pi), but I'm pulling for a career consolation prize for Roger Deakins, who has been nominated 10 times without a win.
  • Visual Effects: Life of Pi. Though there's also a strong contender in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I'll chalk some lost votes up to the whole 48fps thing.
  • Makeup: Les Miserables
  • Costumes: Les Miserables
  • Musical Score: Argo
  • Best Song: Skyfall. I never realized that this is actually Best Original Song, which explains why I Dreamed a Dream wasn't nominated (it would have probably killed if it was). As it is, I'll just go with Adele, as everyone seems to like her.
  • Best Animated Film: Frankenweenie. A tough category to pick this year. Normally you just look for the Pixar film, but Brave has not fared so well, and the category is actually pretty strong this year. I'm betting on Burton, but I wouldn't be surprised if any of the other nominees won...
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Amour. Seems like a lock.
  • Best Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man. This is a notoriously difficult category to predict. Supposedly the rules for who can vote on this category were broadened this year, so that puts another spin on things. Still, Sugar Man has momentum, and it's a feel-good doc, which sometimes wins out over more "important" docs....
So there are my picks. I'll be back later tonight, though I think I'm going to be mostly just tweeting or something. Who knows? Will post an update here either way.

Update 7:30 pm: It looks like Twitter will work for this, so I'm just going to insert a twitter widget here. Feel free to leave a comment here or @ me on twitter...

Posted by Mark on February 24, 2013 at 12:06 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

More Year End Movie Cramming
I've made some excellent progress on the annual year end movie cram session, uncovering at least two top 10 films in the process. Of course, I've also discovered some additional movies that I figure I'll watch before I ever get around to compiling a top 10. Some of these show potential, some are almost certainly horrible, but I want to watch them anyway, because I'm a glutton for punishment. Not really, but most of these are on Netflix Instant, so I'll probably give them a go anyway.
  • ParaNorman - Alright, I'm cheating a little here because... I already watched this one, but it was one of those things I kept hearing about in year end movie discussions of underrated movies, etc... And actually, this one seems to have garnered a fantastic reputation. I can't say as though I quite loved it that much, but I did really enjoy it and am really happy I caught up with it.
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Alright, let's keep the animation theme going (Maybe time for a best animated film category in the annual Kaedrin Movie Awards?). I didn't hear much about this back when it came out, but hey, it's the Wallace and Grommit guys (I think?), so I'll give it a shot.
  • The Three Stooges - I dismissed this back when it came out, but I've been told it's actually very funny. I've also been told it's horrible, but who knows, maybe it will make a good KMA nominee at some point.
  • Trouble with the Curve - Eastwood's cragly old-man period continues. I can't say as though I expect much out of this, but why not give it a look?
  • Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap - I'm not a big rap fan, but good documentaries will often bring you into worlds you never thought you'd find interesting. And I do like documentaries about the creative process, so this could be a winner.
  • The Queen of Versailles - This documentary is showing up on a lot of top 10 lists and whatnot and it's on Netflix Instant, so I'll check it out. I'm not overly enthused about the subject matter, basically chronicling the opulent excess of a rich family as they're forced to buckle down during the 2008 economic woes. It almost feels like slightly upscale reality TV.
  • Mansome - It seems like Morgan Spurlock is really cranking out mediocre documentaries these days, but you know, I tend to find them oddly entertaining, even if never quite approaching the level of profundity that he things he's achieving.
  • Sleepwalk with Me - I've heard a lot about this movie, and yet, I find that I can't really describe it at all. Seems to be generally well respected though, and it's on Netflix Instant, so I'll check it out.
  • Bullhead - One of last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar nominees, didn't really get a release here until 2012.
  • Dark Shadows - Lots of mixed signals about this. It seems like a horrid mess, but the bits and pieces I've seen of it seem at least entertaining, even if it never really comes together.
And who knows what other things will come up. Like I said, I'm not really expecting any of the above to knock my socks off, but I guess there's only one way to find out for sure.
Posted by Mark on January 09, 2013 at 09:29 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Hobbit
So I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and I have no idea what to make of this movie. My thoughts on this movie have become a gigantic bundle of contradiction, and instead of eventually resolving itself in time, it's just getting bigger and bigger, like a snowball rolling downhill and turning into an avalanche. I've seen a lot of reactions to this film, and I've had the rather odd experience of agreeing with what everyone said about the film. Which is to say, I agree that the film is great, that it is horrible, that it's action packed, but boring, that 48 FPS in 3D is pretty cool, that it really sucks too, that somehow the first third of the story is overlong, yet I can't wait to see more. What the heck is going on here? Let's break it down a bit more.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room first. The Hobbit is the shortest book in the whole Lord of the Rings series, and it's a rather simplistic adventure tale written for children, yet Peter Jackson and crew have decided to split this up into three films. What's more, each film is looking to run close to 3 hours in length. The cynical response to this is to call it a simple money grab, and for sure, New Line certainly greenlit the project for exactly that reason, but I get the impression that Jackson genuinely believes in what he's doing here. I also get the impression that Jackson is being enabled by those around him, that few are telling him not to do something so extravagant. That is pure speculation, of course, but I feel like Jackson got a little carried away with this project and no one tried to stop him.

But how is it possible to do this? Well, technically, I suppose this isn't just a straight adaptation of The Hobbit. The story is certainly padded out, but not by making events in The Hobbit last longer, but by delving deeply into the supplemental materials of Tolkien's universe. Stuff like The Simarillion, of which there exists a ton of material to draw upon.

So rather than a Wizard and a bunch of dwarves dragging a hobbit along on an adventure, we get all these background sequences where we see historical digressions on dwarf culture, or Radagast the Brown riding a sleigh pulled by bunnies, or a mysterious necromancer mucking with the lands, or Gandalf speculating on the rise of Sauron with the elves, and so on. There is an interesting balance that Jackson is trying to go for here. The Hobbit is a really light story, which means that it could be a bit jarring when viewed in light of the more intense LotR trilogy films. These new scenes help integrate the movie with the rest of the series and give it more depth... but I'm not entirely sure that was needed. Again, I didn't find any of these things boring or poorly done, but then, they're just not necessary either.

Does this actually work? Damned if I know! If you're down with the whole Tolkien universe, and I suppose I am, then it's all good, I guess. I'm the type of person that appreciates details that hang together in the end, even if some things aren't strictly necessary. On the other hand, I can totally understand the complaints that this movie is overlong and boring. There's a lot of unnecessary stuff here, and while I appreciate detailed narratives and explanations, I'm also a fan of economical storytelling. While Jackson and Co. managed something rather spectacular with the original LotR trilogy, ruthlessly trimming parts of the story that were superfluous (I mean, is anyone really all that upset that Tom Bombadil didn't show up in Fellowship of the Ring?), they went in the complete opposite direction with The Hobbit, adding tons of extraneous stuff that wasn't even in the narrative to begin with. I can appreciate the skill with which this was done and I was never bored while watching the movie, but at the same time, I would probably have liked this better if there were only one movie that was tightly plotted.

I hold out hope that at the end of this whole process, instead of releasing even longer extended cuts on DVD/BD/Streaming, Jackson will buckle down and produce a 2-3 hour cut of the movie (which, again, is looking to be 9 hours or so long). Given the amount of extra stuff in this movie, I'm pretty sure that would be possible. I also doubt this will happen officially, but I can pretty much guarantee such a thing will show up on the internets, Phantom Edit style. It would probably be an insane amount of work, but I wouldn't put it past Tolkien fans, who certainly qualify as cult fans, despite the popularity of these movies.

Alright, next up is the presentation. I saw the movie in 48 FPS IMAX 3D (jeeze, that's a lot of acronyms). It was simultaneously interesting and terrible. I guess I can see where Jackson is coming from with this. 48 frames per second does impart more information to the viewer, and it makes fast camera movements appear smoother and more detailed. This is especially helpful when it comes to 3D, and I think this is the first time I saw a 3D movie in IMAX without emerging from the theater with a splitting headache. Should that be attributed to 48 FPS? I'm not sure, but from what I've seen, that might be a fair bet. On the other hand, I found the presentation lacking in many ways. One of the interesting things about it is that I don't really know how to describe it. I'm not alone, either. Everyone seems to be grappling with the problem of describing this presentation, whether they're proponents or detractors. Many have called it more realistic looking and smoother, which sounds nice, but then, detractors are saying it looks like an old, crappy TV show or a video game. There's also the notion that more realistic looking can also contribute to a sorta uncanny valley kinda experience, where the supposedly better experience of more FPS ends up feeling creepy or unnerving. From my perspective, while the movie clearly has great production design and special effects, the presentation detracts from the experience considerably. I suppose I fall down more on the detractors' side here. I found it distracting at first, but eventually got used to it. But the fact that it was no longer distracting doesn't mean that it looked good. Ultimately, I found the whole enterprise rather pointless. I didn't get anything extra out of it, except that this is yet another piece in the puzzle of my cognitive dissonance with this movie.

There's a part of me that wonders if my instinctual response to this is because I'm used to film and that I'm just being a luddite, but I've really grown to dislike 3D, and I don't think that 48 FPS has really changed my mind on that. There's just something so strange about the experience that it's really hard to get over it. This feels like more than just a simple change that I need to get used to. Besides, it's not like I've never seen higher frame rates. For example, I get why video games go for higher frame rates - it's an interactive experience, so faster feedback is always going to feel better - but I don't see the need in the world of film.

There are some things I'm not so conflicted about. Ian McKellen has always been fantastic as Gandalf, and this movie is no exception. Martin Freeman is a wonderful addition to the cast and comports himself rather well, especially in key scenes like the game of riddles with Gollum. Speaking of which, that scene with Freeman and mo-cap Andy Andy Serkis as Gollum is the highlight of the movie. While the beginning of the film felt meandering and overstuffed, the last third was pretty well done and delivered some satisfying arcs that I didn't realize were being set up earlier in the film. Oh and remember that first, horrible trailer with that dwarf song? Yeah, I hated that trailer, but the song actually felt much better integrated into the movie. I thought it was actually somewhat movie. If, like most of the film, a little unnecessary. But it was a good kind of unnecessary.

In the end, I really enjoyed this movie. I also kinda hated it. I... really don't know how to parse my response here. Ultimately, I think I would have rather had a single film that told the simple story with the normal 24 FPS 2D presentation. But I don't begrudge Jackson for trying something new either. Gah, I feel rather feckless when thinking about this movie. I keep throwing thoughts at it, but nothing seems to stick. It's like I'm stuck in some sort of quantum loop, both loving and hating it all at once. The cat is both alive and dead, the electron is a particle and a wave, it's all very paradoxical. But it is happening... so what do I say? I don't know. I do know that I'll try to watch the next movie in regular 2D. Assuming that will even be possible. And I do still hope that someone puts together a 3 hour (or shorter) edit of the entire series at some point. I suppose that says something.
Posted by Mark on December 26, 2012 at 01:52 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Year End Movie Cram Session
With the end of the year approaching and most blogs and newspapers and other outlets already releasing their top 10 lists, I always find myself excitedly rushing to catch up with movies I missed throughout the year... while keeping up with the late-year prestige releases. Some might find this to be a chore, but I always end up having a lot of fun discovering movies I didn't know about or think I'd enjoy. Oh sure, there's the occasional tedious bore too, but that just makes the real surprises that much more enjoyable. As of this writing, I've seen 48 movies that would be considered a 2012 release, which is actually a little low compared to the past few years, perhaps because I didn't end up at any film festivals this year. So I've got some catching up to do, and fortunately, there are lots of good movies coming up or already available on streaming... Indeed, the latest episode of Filmspotting SVU has covered this very topic, and some of their streaming choices have an overlap with my choices below...

Current Releases or Coming Soon
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Duh. To be honest, I'm rather annoyed that this book, the shortest and simplest of all the LotR novels, is being dragged out to three movies... but on the other hand, it looks pretty good too. Seeing this tonight, actually.
  • Django Unchained - The "D" is silent. It also stands for "Duh".
  • Zero Dark Thirty - A movie that I was originally not that excited about, but more recent trailers are definitely more compelling and it's getting a lot of buzz too. Most feedback seems to indicate that it's a great movie, but there's some controversy over the portrayal of torture in the films. Not having seen the movie, I will refrain from any sort of judgement on that, but at the very least, I think it could provide for some interesting discussion.
  • Save the Date - Tiny indie romantic comedy. I've actually heard good things. Release looks to be limited, but I believe it will be showing up OnDemand.
  • Life of Pi - I originally dismissed this based on what I thought was a pretty awful looking trailer, and to be honest, I'm still not very enthused about this movie. That being said, I'm hearing good things from critics, so maybe it's worth a shot. Who knows if I'll actually get off my butt to see this, but it's possible...
  • Jack Reacher - Tom Cruise's shenanigans aside, I'm actually a big fan of Christopher McQuarrie as both a writer and director (even on films people hated, like The Tourist), so I'm interested to see what's up with this one.
  • John Dies at the End - A movie I've been looking forward to all year long will finally come out in a limited theater run and OnDemand. To be honest, while I enjoyed the book, I didn't totally love it... but director Don Coscarelli always intrigues me, and everything I've seen about the movie so far has been pretty great.
DVD/BD and Streaming
  • Killer Joe - This small thriller directed by William Friedkin and starring Matthew McConaughey (who is having a surprisingly good year) got some attention when it was released, but I was never able to find it in theaters. Comes out on DVD/BD this week.
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi - This documentary about the world's greatest Sushi chef comes highly recommended, and it's on Netflix Instant. Definitely need to catch up with this one.
  • FDR: American Badass! - Ah yes, one of Kaedrin's Weird Movie of the Week picks finally becomes available (not sure how long it's been on Netflix Instant, but now I definitely need to check this out).
  • Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - Lots of critics seem to love this movie, but they're also careful to call it deliberate and slow and difficult to get through... things that don't usually work for me. But again, it's on Netflix Instant, so I might give it a shot.
  • Lockout - AKA Spacejail! Honestly not expecting much out of this, but hey, it sounds fun in a so bad it's good kinda way.
  • Casa de mi Padre - I remember hearing about this Spanish language Will Ferrell movie when it came out and wondering what the heck was going on... Figured it might be worth giving this a shot.
  • Penumbra - A movie I missed out on at last year's Fantastic Fest, but which I do want to catch up with.
  • A Separation - I suppose it's technically a 2011 film, but I do really want to see this film at some point. Even if I can't count it towards 2012, there's always my best 2011 movie of 2012 award!
  • Silent Night - Ah, it just wouldn't be Christmas without a homicidal Santa movie.
And there are probably a dozen other lesser efforts that I'll probably check out as well, but the ones above seem to show the most promise. I'm probably missing some good stuff as well. With luck, I'll hit that magical 70-80 number of movies that it usually takes to actually compile a top 10.
Posted by Mark on December 16, 2012 at 07:06 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cult Movies in the Internet Age
Recently on Twitter, Dan McLaughlin asked: what would you regard as cult classic films made after 2000? As Sonny Bunch notes, this very much depends on how you define "cult" films. As it turns out, I've written about this before:
Cult films are (generally) commercially unsuccessful movies that have limited appeal, but nevertheless attract a fiercely loyal following among fans over time. They often exhibit very strange characters, surreal settings, bizzarre plotting, dark humor, and otherwise quirky and eccentric characteristics. These obscure films often cross genres (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc...) and are highly stylized, straying from conventional filmmaking techniques. Many are made by fiercely independent maverick filmmakers with a very low budget (read: cheesy), often showcasing the performance of talented newcomers.

Almost by definition, they're not popular at the time of their release, usually because they exist outside the box, eschewing typical narrative styles and other technical conventions. They achieve cult-film status later, developing a loyal fanbase over time, often through word-of-mouth recommendations (and, as we'll see, the actions of fans themselves). They elicit an eerie passion among their fans, who enthusiastically champion the films, leading to repeated public viewings (midnight movie showings are particularly prevalent in cult films), fan clubs, and active audience participation (i.e. dressing up as the oddball characters, mercilessly MST3King a film, or uh, jumping around in front of a camera with a broomstick). Cult movie followers often get together and argue over the mundane details and varied merits of their favorite films.

While these films are not broadly appealing, they are tremendously popular among certain narrow groups such as college students or independent film lovers. The internet has been immensely enabling in these respects, allowing movie geeks to locate one another and participate in the aforementioned laborious debates and arguments among other interactive fun.
Not a bad explanation, but the whole thing is still a bit subjective. Sonny observes that modern cult movies have an additional obstacle:
In our modern, hyperconnected age, however, a key component of "cult" is lost. If you've heard of a film, you can see it. It's on TV and if it's not on TV it's on a streaming service and if it's not on a streaming service it's on DVD and if it's not on DVD you can probably torrent it. That element of discovery, of being in on something no one else is in on, is lost.

In many ways, the cult classic has been replaced by what I like to call the cable classic: There is a certain class of film that was lightly attended in theaters and derided by critics only to find a huge audience on cable and DVD. Zoolander is probably my favorite example of this phenomenon: Zoolander has gone on to find a huge audience in home viewings, is highly quotable (a key component to any "cable classic"), and is constantly the subject of sequel rumors.
He's very right about how connectivity plays into this. A big part of why something would be considered cult was that you really had to work just to get a chance to see it. For example, nowadays everyone knows about the 80s and 90s Hong Kong action movie scene (and even if you haven't directly seen them, you've seen a million Hollywood movies influenced or just plain ripping off those movies). But back in the 90s, a buddy and I used to ride the train into Philly and skulk around Chinatown trying to find crappy bootleg VHS tapes of movies we were never quite sure what to make of... I mean, the internet existed and it didn't take long to figure out who John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat were, but who's this Tsui Hark guy? Ringo Lam? Johnny To? What the heck is Wu Xia Pian? It's not like we had iPhones and internet connections. We just saw a poorly labeled VHS with a title on it and took a chance. We ran into our fair share of duds that way, but more often than not, we found some fascinating stuff.

Nowadays? You just throw Full Contact into your Netflix Instant queue and marvel at the bullet-cam shots, all from the comfort of your couch.

Of course all the other elements of cult still apply. The quirky, non-mainstream sensibility, the passionately loyal fanbase, the obsessive analysis and debate on the internet. Of course, even that element has been eroded by our connected age. Lost fanatics were endlessly analyzing numerology or recording episodes and going over them frame by frame like they were the Zapruder film. These are cult movie tendencies gone mainstream.

And indeed, cult movies don't always stay cult. No one would consider It's a Wonderful Life a cult classic these days, but despite it's pedegree, it had a lackluster release and languished in obscurity for decades. It wasn't until some observant TV execs noticed that its copyright had expired without being renewed that it started to become mainstream (and how could it not - apparently multiple stations would air that thing repeatedly during the holiday season). This might give another clue as to why the internet is breaking down cult movies: on the interwebs, no one gives a crap about copyright!

Anywho, we should probably get to the meat of the question. As a working definition, I'll say that a movie must enjoy a certain degree of obscurity as well as a small but fiercely loyal and dedicated fanbase (as evidenced by large-scale public demonstrations, obsessive analyses, comprehensive wikis, etc...) I'll start with Sonny's first batch of suggested post-2000 cult movies:
  • Requiem for a Dream - This is a tough one. One reason it did so poorly at the box office was that Aronofsky refused to cut the film when the MPAA gave it an NC-17, instead releasing it as just an "unrated" movie (which would effectively doom any movie, as the big theater chains would never exhibit those movies). On the other hand, as Sonny notes, this movie is a mainstay on "brilliant films I never want to see again" lists that are constantly being compiled by internet nerds. To me, this is borderline cult. There's enough here that there are probably people watching it on a dare, which is kinda cultish, but on the other hand, you don't see a lot of people obsessing over this one film and going over it frame by frame like you do with some other movies...
  • Pootie Tang - This is an interesting choice. The only reason this is even known about is that it was written and directed by Louis C.K., whose star has been on the rise the past few years. Lots of people obsessed with his TV show are thus seeking this out. I think it still remains to be seen if this congeals into an enduring cult classic, but it's got potential.
  • Black Dynamite - I certainly do love this movie, and it ticks that obscurity card well enough. My question is just how obsessive its fans are. I really don't know the answer to that, though it's worth noting that there's an Adult Swim animated series that might be an indicator. Of what, I'm not sure!
  • Hard Candy - I'm really not sure about this one. I liked the movie enough to put it on my top 10 list that year, but is it really cult? It's certainly obscure, but I don't see a lot of passionate public discussion on this movie. But who knows? Maybe teen girls all put on their red hoodies and organize viewing parties on college campuses or something.
  • Idiocracy - This is definitely what Sonny calls a "cable classic". For whatever reason, the studio only did a half-hearted theatrical release, but people in love with Office Space sought this out on DVD, and it's gradually gained a big following, to the point where most people know what you're talking about. Perhaps not a cult classic due to the trappings of the information age, but pretty close.
  • Oldboy - As Sonny mentions, this is a bit of a cheat because it's foreign. However, in the film nerd community, there is a pretty slavish dedication to the Korean film scene in recent years. Unfortunately, the ease of access to this movie kinda deflates its cultish tendencies. You don't see college kids trolling around, er, Koreatown(?) looking for bootlegged copies anymore.
  • The Room - This is the only pure, undadulterated cult classic in this post. Along with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this movie is the poster child of cult movies.
One of the things that's tough about this is that I feel like cult movies take a while to establish themselves, and these movies have only been around a few years. They need time for people to discover and subsequently obsess over them. That's why, even in the above list, most of the movies are from before 2005. With the exception of The Room, I don't think that any of them are sure bets, but they've all got a certain potential. Here's some others that have come up in this discussion, or that I just want to talk about:
  • Firefly (and I guess Serenity) - I'm not entirely sure this meets the "obscure" criteria, though I will say that it is almost definitely not appreciated by a mainstream audience, which kinda does earn it some cult cred. Plus, the fanbase that does exist for this is the very definition of cult. Small, passionate, and obsessed. Not only do the fans have a name for themselves (Browncoats), but they are still, a decade later, obsessing over the short-lived, 14 episode series. Even the original Star Trek had 3 (long, 25+ episode) seasons for fans to sink their teeth into. But these Browcoats almost make those Trekkers look like mainstream folk. To this day, there are multiple podcasts dedicated to the show that have been running for years. Think about that. A series that was cancelled after just 11 episodes (3 were unaired) has inspired multiple people to prattle on and on about the show for almost a decade now. What the heck are they still talking about? I don't really know, but this is pretty cultish! And that's before we get into the way they try to incorporate Firefly lingo into their speech ("Shiny!" or "'verse" and probably lots of others) or tediously transcribing and translating all the Chinese language lines in the episodes. The list goes on. Cult classic, right here.
  • Primer - This ultra-low budget, twisty time travel tale is obscure enough to qualify, and the lengths to which fans go to understand the narrative (and all its timelines) is impressively cultish. A solid choice.
There are a lot of other movies that I think have potential, but which haven't quite attracted the right level of obsessiveness to really qualify as cult (like Rian Johnson's Brick and The Brothers Bloom).

In the end, I agree that the internet is a bit of a game changer for cult movies. The internet trends towards the Long Tail and ever-smaller niches (not just in entertainment), which are traditionally the domain of things like cult movies or other underground scenes. Of course, none of this is going away, it's just changing. In accordance with Kaedrin law, I will end with an appropos Neal Stephenson quote from The System of the World:
"It has been my view for some years that a new System of the World is being created around us. I used to suppose that it would drive out and annihilate any older Systems. But things I have seen recently ... have convinced me that new Systems never replace old ones, but only surround and encapsulate them, even as, under a microscope, we may see that living within our bodies are animalcules, smaller and simpler than us, and yet thriving even as we thrive."
Posted by Mark on December 05, 2012 at 09:37 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Companies Don't Force You Into Piracy
But let's be honest with ourselves, that doesn't mean that all those same media companies don't suck. Let me back up a minute, as this is an old argument. Most recently, this article from The Guardian bemoans the release window system:
A couple of months ago, I purchased the first season of the TV series Homeland from the iTunes Store. I paid $32 for 12 episodes that all landed seamlessly in my iPad. I gulped them in a few days and was left in a state of withdrawal. Then, on 30 September, when season 2 started over, I would have had no alternative but to download free but illegal torrent files. Hundreds of thousands of people anxious to find out the whereabouts of the Marine turncoat pursued by the bi-polar CIA operative were in the same quandary
This is, of course, stupid. This guy does have a pretty simple alternative: wait a few months to watch the show. It's a shitty alternative, to be sure, but that doesn't excuse piracy. As Sonny Bunch notes:
Of course you have an alternative you ninny! It's not bread for your starving family. You're not going to die if you have to wait six months to watch a TV show. You're not morally justified in your thievery.
Others have also responded as such:
This argument is both ludicrous, and wrong. Ludicrous, because if piracy is actually wrong, it doesn't get less wrong simply because you can't have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay. You are not entitled to shoplift Birkin bags on the grounds that they are ludicrously overpriced, and you cannot say you had no alternative but to break into an the local ice cream parlor at 2 am because you are really craving some Rocky Road and the insensitive bastards refused to stay open 24/7 so that you could have your favorite sweet treat whenever you want. You are not forced into piracy because you can't get a television show at the exact moment when you want to see it; you are choosing piracy.
This is all well and good, and the original Guardian article has a poor premise... but that doesn't mean that the release window system isn't antiquated and doesn't suck. The original oped could easily be tweaked to omit the quasi-justification for piracy. Instead, the piracy is included and thus the article overreaches. On the flip side, the responses also tend to overstate their case, usually including something like this: "you can't have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay." This is true, of course, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating for consumers. And with respect to streaming, the media company stance is just as ludicrous as those defending piracy.

Here's a few examples I've run into:
  • HBOGO - This is a streaming service that HBO makes available to it's cable subscribers. It's got a deep back catalog of their original content, as well as much of their current movie lineup. Sounds great, right? What's my problem? I can't actually watch HBOGO on my TV. For some unfathomable reason, Comcast blocks HBOGO from working on most streaming devices. It works on my computer, and it was recently launched on XBOX 360 (but I have a PS3 and I'm not shelling out another couple hundred bucks just so I can gain this single ability), but is otherwise not available. I'd like to watch the (ten year old) second season of Deadwood, but I can't do so unless I sit at my desk to watch it. Now, yes, I'm whining here about the fact that I can't watch this content how and where I choose, but is it really so unreasonable to want to watch a television show... on my television? Is this entitlement, or just common sense? How many dedicated streaming devices do I have to own before I can claim exhaustion? 4? 6? 15? Of course, I've got other options. I could purchase or rent the DVDs... but why do that when I'm paying for this other service?
  • Books and Ebooks - So I'd like to read a book called Permutation City, by Greg Egan. It was originally published in 1994, frequents Best SF Novel lists, and has long since fallen out of print. This is actually understandable, as Egan is an author with a small, niche audience and limited mainstream appeal. None of his novels get big print runs to start with, and despite all the acclaim, I doubt even this book would sell a lot of copies here in 2012. Heck, I'd even understand it if the publisher claimed that this was low on their ebook conversion priority list. But it's not. The ebook is available in the UK, but I guess the publisher has not secured rights in the US? I get that these sorts of rights situations are complicated, but patronizing a library or purchasing a used copy isn't going to make the rights holders any money on this stuff.
  • DVD on Linux - I've got multiple computers and one runs linux (at various other times, I've only had linux PCs). One of the things I like to do for this blog is take a screenshot of a movie I'm writing about. However, it is illegal for me to even play my DVDs on my linux box. These are purchased DVDs, not pirated anything. To be sure, I'm capable of playing DVDs on my linux PCs, but I'm technically breaking the law when doing so. There are various complications in all sorts of digital formats that make this a touchy topic. Even something as simple as MP3s trip up various linux distros, not even getting into stuff like iTunes or DRMed formats.
  • Blu-Ray - A few months ago, I wrote about a movie called Detention. I loved it and wrote a glowing review. Wanting to include a few screenshots to really sell the movie to my (admittedly low in quantity) readers, but when I plopped the BD into my shiny new BD drive on my computer, the BD player (Cyberlink PowerDVD) informed me that I wasn't able to play the disc. I was admittedly lazy at the time and didn't try too hard to circumvent this restriction (something about reinstalling the software (which I'm not even sure I have access to) and downloading patches and purchasing some key or something?) and to this day, I don't even know if it was just an issue with that one disc, or if it's all BDs. But still, who wins here? I get that the IP owners don't want to encourage piracy... but I don't see how frustrating me (a paying customer) serves them in the end. It's not like this "protection" stops or even slows down pirates. All it does is frustrate paying customers.
  • iTunes - I don't even really know the answer to this, but if I don't have an AppleTV, is there a way to view iTunes stuff on my television? I don't have an iPad, but if I bought one, would I be able to plug the iPad into the TV and stream video that way? I think there is software I can buy on PC that will stream iTunes... but should I have to purchase extra software or hardware (above and beyond the 5-10 devices I have right now) just to make iTunes work? And the last time I toyed with this type of software (I believe it was called PlayOn), it didn't work very well. Constant interruptions and low quality video. The fact that there are even questions surrounding this at all is a failure. For the most part, I can avoid this because Amazon and Netflix have good selections and actually work on all of my devices (i.e. they actually care to have me as a customer, which is nice).
Now, this doesn't mean I'm going to go out and pirate season 2 of Deadwood or any of the other things I mentioned above. Frustration does not excuse piracy. No, I'm just going to play a game or read a different book or go out to a bar or something. I have no shortage of things to do, so while I do want to watch any number of HBO shows on HBOGO, I can just as easily occupy my time with other activities (though, as above, I've certainly run into issues with other stuff). Pretty soon, I may realize that I don't actually need cable, at which point I'll cancel that service and... no one wins. I don't get to watch the show I want, and HBO and Comcast are out a customer. Why? I really don't know. If someone can explain why Comcast won't let me stream HBOGO, I'm all ears. They don't have the content available ondemand, and they're not losing me as a customer by allowing me to watch the shows (again, you have to be an HBO subscriber to get HBOGO).

I get that these are all businesses and need to make money, but I don't understand the insistence on alienating their own customers, frequently and thoroughly. I'm not turning to piracy, I'm just a frustrated customer. I've already bought a bunch of devices and services so that I can watch this stuff, and yet I'm still not able to watch even a small fraction of what I want. Frustration doesn't excuse piracy, but I don't see why I should be excusing these companies for being so annoying about when and where and how I can consume their content. It's especially frustrating because so much of this is done in the name of piracy. I suppose this post is coming off petulant and whiny on my part, but if you think I'm bad, just try listening to the MPAA or similar institution talk about piracy and the things they do to their customers to combat it. In essence, these companies hurt their best customers to spite non-customers. So I don't pirate shows or movies or books, but then, I often don't get to watch or read the ones I want to either. In a world where media companies are constantly whining about declining sales, it's a wonder that they don't actually, you know, try to sell me stuff I can watch/read. I guess they find it easier to assume I'm a thief and treat me as such.
Posted by Mark on December 02, 2012 at 08:19 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cloud Atlas
A couple months ago, the Filmspotting SVU podcast discussed what's known as Hyperlink Cinema, those movies that are comprised of multiple, seemingly independent but actually interconnected narratives, and co-host Matt Singer came up with a test: "Would these stories hold up on their own without each other? If we pulled one story out and made it a short film, would that short film be worth watching on its own?" That's an interesting criteria for these movies, as so much of what makes them interesting is not the story itself, but the structure. These movies are screenwriters' dreams, lots of opportunity for playing with time and locations and themes, and devising a way to make it all a big puzzle that unravels itself as the movie plays out. What Singer is getting at with his test is that many of these films sacrifice character or drama in order to make the structure work...

So how does Cloud Atlas, the new film from the Wachowski siblings (is that what we're supposed to call them now?) and Tom Tykwer, hold up against that test? I'd say it doesn't hold up that well, but there's enough going on in this movie that I think it remains worthwhile, and given that the theme of the movie is essentially that everything is connected, it makes sense for the movie to be a slave to its structure. Based on a sprawling, ambitious novel by David Mitchell, the movie tells six different tales, ranging from the distant past to the distant future, with the same actors playing roles in each timeline. There's some notion of reincarnation or distant relationship between each actor/character and each timeline, and each story is connected to each other in some way or another.

Unfortunately, all of the stories are trite and clichéd. Some work better than others, but I get the impression that they're almost parodies of their respective genres. The movie is certainly self-aware enough that it might try for that sort of thing, and not having read the book, I can't say whether or not that was an intention, but in practice, it doesn't quite congeal the way I think they hoped it would. That being said, none of the stories are boring, and the real triumph of this movie is one of editing. The transitions between each story are relatively seamless, with visual motifs used to great effect while still quickly and effectively establishing which story you're in. While I was puzzling out how each story related to the other (which is part of the fun of hyperlink cinema), I was never confused as to what story I was watching or what was going on. The Wachowskis and Tykwer make this look easy, but I'm of the opinion that this sort of thing is much harder than it looks, and I was really surprised at how well done that aspect was.

Of the six stories, the one I liked the most was set in a futuristic Korea, where a clone escapes servitude and becomes a sorta rebel. It had a very 70s science fiction sorta feel to it, complete with shocking Soylent Green style revelations. The ending of this segment left a little something to be desired, and there is some amazingly bad makeup in evidence here, but it was the most interesting of the six segments. I actually enjoyed all the other tales well enough, though again, there's a lot of cliché to wade through, including some really on-the-nose type stuff (especially with the slavery segment).

While I don't think any of these stories, if lifted from the movie and screened separately, would work by itself, each one of them has a hook that could lead to a great story or movie. The general ideas of each story are solid enough, it's just perhaps the act of compression combined with the didacticism of the script that lets the movie down. I'd be really curious to see how well the book actually accomplishes this. I imagine a lot of subtleties of this story would be better suited to the written word than the screen.

For instance, this is a movie with a message, and boy do they really want you to know that. This is one of the more didactic movies I've seen this year, with characters constantly spouting the story's themes in clumsy and awkward dialogue. The notion that everything is connected, that small actions have far-reaching consequences, that inaction is an action, these are all fascinating topics, but the movie clearly doesn't trust the audience to make those connections and frequently lays them out in bald, explicit, literal speeches. This sort of thing tends to work better on the page than it does onscreen, and because I'm sure Mitchell was not constrained by things like length, he could perhaps have spread the themes out so they didn't seem like a sledgehammer hitting your face.

In terms of performances, everything is mostly adequate, though I do think some of the makeup jobs were distracting and unnecessary (others were not nearly as bad, and some were very successful). From a technical perspective, everything works very well. Visually impressive, and for a movie this didactic, I thought a lot of the visual transitions between stories were exceptionally well done. Again, the editing is perfect, and the music is quite effective as well.

I've ultimately come away with a good feeling from this movie, but it's also clearly got some big flaws that hold it back. I'm actually quite impressed with how well the stories were weaved together, and I found the movie entertaining and thought provoking, I just wish that the filmmakers trusted us viewers a little more.
Posted by Mark on November 18, 2012 at 12:49 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot: James Bond
So I saw Skyfall a few days ago, and whenever a new Bond movie comes up, it seems that I always reminisce about all the other Bond movies I've seen. After approximately two minutes of exhaustive googling, I've determined that there aren't any quizes or memes or whatever that I can desperately latch onto, so I made one up. You're welcome.

1) Favorite James Bond actor?

Well, it might seem trite and cliche to say Sean Connery, but there's a reason he's the typical answer to this question. He more or less originated the character as we know him, so it's tough to go with anyone else. However, if Daniel Craig continues his run (he's 2 for 3 at this point, by my reckoning) for a few more good movies, he could give Connery a run for his money. Unlikely, though.

2) Favorite James Bond movie?

Casino Royale is the movie that really hooked me into Bond, and I think it remains my favorite for numerous reasons. In particular, the first third of that movie is utterly perfect and the best action film out of all of the series. The second and third acts drag a little bit and things do get convoluted at times, but it all worked out reasonably well for me. I'd say Goldfinger deserves some recognition as the film that really refined and perfected the Bond formula. Of the other Bond films, I like a lot of them, but many are middling efforts at best, and most don't seem to age very well. That being said, even the bad ones aren't without their charm, which is why the series has been so enduring.

3) Worst James Bond movie?

I'll give this to Never Say Never Again, though Diamonds Are Forever is nipping pretty closely at its heals. The commonality with both these movies is that they were failed attempts to reinstate Connery as Bond. Also, they're nigh incomprehensible stories. The one saving grace for Diamonds are the henchmen, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. Oh sure, they're silly characters and make no real sense, but they stand out in a movie that bad. That's kind of damning with faint praise, to be sure, but that's why I went with Never as the worst.

4) Favorite villain/henchman?

The one/two punch of Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob from Goldfinger is pretty hard to beat.

5) Favorite Bondian double-entendre?

Another obvious win for Goldfinger: Pussy Galore. However, that answer is so blindingly obvious that this should really be the Pussy Galore memorial list. And thus, I think Octopussy merits special mention, not just because it's silly, but because they actually went ahead and named the movie after the double entendre.

6) Favorite Bond girl?

The obvious answer is Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, from Dr. No, but since that's so obvious, I'll go with Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green, from Casino Royale.

7) Name an under-appreciated Bond moment.

Moonraker has garnered a rather low reputation among the Bond films, perhaps even rightfully so, but one of my favorite moments in all of the movies is in Moonraker. Bond is hanging out at the estate of the villainous Hugo Drax, and in his villainy, he invites Bond to participate in a pheasant hunt. He even hands Connery a shotgun. But it's a ruse! One of Drax's henchmen has taken up residence in a nearby tree and levels his sniper rifle at Bond's head. Just then, a few pheasants are kicked up. Bond lifts his gun, gives the birds a lead, then pulls the trigger. Drax laughs and says "You missed!" Cut to man in tree falling, cause Bond just shot him. Bond says "Did I?" Annnnd scene! Sheer brilliance. Watch it online here.

To finish this comprehensive survey of James Bond films, I leave you with this parting thought, something I think we all say at some point whenever a new Bond movie is out:
Sophisticated Cat wants an Aston Martin
Holy crap, I posted cat picture on the internets. I'm, like, a real blogger now. Only took a dozen or so years.
Posted by Mark on November 14, 2012 at 09:29 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections on the Disney/Lucasfilm Deal
In the midst of the Frankenstorm, those of us on the east coast felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out... in joy! We feared that... something wonderful had happened. Alright, so calling this deal "wonderful" is an exaggeration, but on the whole, I think this will be a positive thing for Star Wars nerds everywhere. For the uninitiated, earlier this week, Disney purchased Lucasfilm, a deal encompassing the Star Wars franchise as well as ancillary entities like ILM and Skywalker Sound. In addition, Disney announced that it plans to release Star Wars Episode VII in 2015. No details on the creative aspects of that movie except that George Lucas will remain involved as a "creative consultant".
It is our destiny...
Disgruntled, freakish reflections on the deal:
  • Some might be concerned with Disney's corporate greed, but I find their lack of faith disturbing. In all seriousness, it's not like Lucasfilm wasn't in a constant state of money-grubbing, merchandising, and DVD/BD double dipping, not to mention George Lucas' constant tweaking of the original series (i.e. a crowning achievement in trolling). In fact, this might be one of those occasions where greed works to our advantage. Corporate greed may drive Disney to, you know, give the fans what they want: a pristine, restored, anamorphic HD release (blu-ray, download, streaming, whatever) of the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy. As Jonathan Last notes:
    For too long we've been held hostage to the personal artistic visions of George Lucas who, like Stalin airbrushing his enemies out of state photographs, carefully disappeared the original theatrical cuts so that Gredo could shoot first, CGI spectacle could muddle up Mos Eisley, and a young Hayden Christiansen could appear to Luke Skywalker and automatically make him realize that he's his dad.

    Now Disney's corporate greed could give us the product we've always craved. All hail Disney corporate greed!
    Plus, it should also be noted that Disney seems to have a pretty good track record of allowing acquisitions to thrive on their own terms. Both Pixar and Marvel seem to be in pretty good shape. Heck, even Studio Ghibli seems to have done well under the Disney umbrella. If Disney puts out HD copies of the theatrical cuts of the movies, this deal will have been worth it.
  • According to this painfully corporate interview with Lucas, he has "treatments" for 7, 8, and 9 and he'll be a "creative consultant" on the new movies. I have no idea what this means for the upcoming films, but I'm cautiously optimistic. While I'd love to see Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy up on screen, I'm doubting we'll get anything like that (perhaps they'll throw us a bone and feature a Thrawn cameo). I don't know how closely Disney will be obliged to follow Lucas' "treatments" of the new films, but as long as Lucas isn't actually writing the scripts or directing the movies, we should be in pretty good shape. As much as I've ragged on Lucas in the past, I think the guy does have pretty good ideas, and if you look at movies where he was a producer (but not writer/director), he's actually got a pretty good track record. Empire, Jedi and the first three Indiana Jones movies are all fantastic. Crystal Skull gives pause, though. Much of this will depend on the actual creative talent that Disney hires for this, which will, no doubt result in entitled hand-wringing by fans. Again, I'm cautiously optimistic.
  • Speaking of hand-wringing about creative talent, I think these new movies represents a conundrum for movie nerds. On the one hand, I want these movies to be good and thus it would be nice to get good creative types involved. On the other hand, that means that these creative types won't be working on their own original ideas, which is depressing. Does Disney dare hand the franchise over to young talent? Do they go with more established types? Do they hire a hack? There's a lot of pitfalls here, and I have to say that I'm not too enthused about a lot of names being thrown around. Christopher Nolan doesn't feel right, and I want him to work on original stuff anyway. JJ Abrams (and his regular stable of writers, like Lindelof, Kurtzman, and Orci) doesn't feel right either, and his writing staff is hit-or-miss at best (Star Trek reboot good, Prometheus and Transformers hideously bad). Zack Snyder might work, except that he's Zack Snyder and I've never really loved any of his movies. Edgar Wright could be a good pick, I guess, but again, I'd rather he work on original material (or at least obscure adaptations). Really, none of the names being thrown around seem that great to me. This seems like an impossible choice, but again, cautiously optimistic here.
  • I'm not particularly excited about any crossover potential, which seems to be where a lot of nerds go whenever a deal like this is mentioned. Still, I don't think we've seen a lot of Marvel/Pixar/Disney crossover, so I don't think we'll see Star Wars mixing it up. Except maybe in video games. Marvel vs. Star Wars, anyone?
  • Speaking of video games, maybe Disney will rev LucasArts back up and make some of them adventure games from the 90s again. Or maybe even reboots of X-Wing and/or Tie Fighter (I spent a lot of time playing those games in the 90s!)
  • Four words: Pixar Star Wars Movie. Perhaps a post-IX movie? Let's make this happen while Pixar still has that creative talent (though some may say that it's already too late, given the last couple Pixar movies).
Well, that's all for now. Again, I think this will be a generally positive thing for Star Wars fans. Ironically, it may even be a good thing that Lucas has been trolling everyone for so long, as it's brought the series down a few pegs, to the point where it doesn't seem so sacred that a new movie would never work. Fingers crossed.
Posted by Mark on November 04, 2012 at 11:40 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

6WH: Week 6.5 - Speed Round and Halloween
It's hard to believe that six weeks have passed and the big day has arrived, but here we are. As per usual, I have not actually written up every movie I saw during this festive Halloween season. Sometimes a movie just doesn't fit with a given week's theme, or perhaps I only caught a portion of it on television, and sometimes I just don't have much to say about a movie. So every year, I close out the marathon with a quick roundup of everything I saw that hasn't already been covered. Stay frosty everyone, here we go:
  • Sisters - An early Brian De Palma thriller where he, of course, apes Hitchcock... but to good effect. Lots of interesting twists and turns, and a couple of great split camera sequences too. Totally worth watching, actually one of the better things I saw during the marathon. ***
    Stabby Stabby!
  • The Hunger - Tony Scott's first film, it's an overly artsy vampire flick that features a lot of boring long takes and you never really know what's going on and you don't really care anyway and hmmm, lesbian vampire sequence? Visually impressive, with feints towards some interesting concepts, but not much to really sink your teeth into. **
  • Idle Hands - Stoner comedy meets horror, and the results are actually a lot of fun, though I think your mileage may vary depending on how much you're into this sort of thing. Which, for some reason, I am. This may have been one of the most enjoyable movies of the marathon. ***
  • The Devil's Backbone - This is sorta like Guillermo del Toro's dry run for Pan's Labyrinth. A ghost story set in a creepy school during the Spanish civil war, this one is very creepy, with some great spook sequences, though it doesn't quite put you through the emotional ringer like Pan's Labyrinth (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).
  • Assault on Precinct 13 - John Carpenter's first film about the last night a police station is open. Staffed with a skeleton crew, they take in a crazy dude who, it turns out, has been marked by a local... gang? It kinda plays out like a zombie film or a siege film. Some really disturbing stuff (including a brutal child murder), but an ultimately effective and tense affair. I kinda enjoyed the relationship between Napoleon (one of the prisoners) and Ethan (the one cop left at the station) and the whole thing works well enough. I haven't seen the 2005 remake, but this original film strikes me as something that could certainly be improved upon, even if I enjoyed it quite a bit. ***
  • Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 - This movie is a bit of an abomination. It's not strictly a found footage movie, but it makes overtures in that direction by having the characters film themselves and watch the tapes later when they're trying to figure out what happened during a particularly raucous night in the woods. Some interesting ideas at the beginning here... It's a movie that acknowledges the existence of the first movie - very meta. But things devolve into silliness and boring shenanigans. A potentially decent twist at the end, but ultimately worthless unless you're a bad movie aficionado. Or Burn Notice fans! *
  • Slither - I forgot just how fun and gross and gory and entertaining this movie was. Another take on the pod people, but with some disgusting alien physiology, and lots of other fun stuff. Plus, captain Malcolm Reynolds! James Gunn needs to make more of these (apparently he's been tapped to make the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which could be good I guess, but I'd rather he have the freedom to make something wacky like this or Super again). ***
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon - I thought I had seen this before, but it must have been one of the sequels or something because I didn't remember any of this. It's another one of them Universal monster movie classics, but I don't think it has fared quite as well as the others. It was entertaining enough and worth watching, but not one of my favorites. **1/2
  • 28 Days Later... - I forgot how effective the first half of this movie is, and was wondering why this movie doesn't loom larger in my mind's eye... and then I got to that final third of the movie, which just drops off a cliff at some point. It's still weel made and effective enough I guess, but to me the emotional center of the film (spoiler!) is when Brendan Gleeson gets turned. It's just so heartbreaking, and the film never really recovers from that. Also, the motivation of the military guys is rather silly. *** (maybe less, but I love that first 2/3 of the movie)
  • The Shining - A classic, one of my favorites. I guess it's a little slow moving, but I love it anyway. There's just something so discordant, so unsettling about the movie that really gets under my skin. Also worth checking out, Filmspotting's sacred cow review... ***1/2
  • Ghostbusters - Yep, it's kinda an annual tradition at this point, and this is a true comedy classic. ****
  • Ghostbusters II - And this was quite a letdown from the perfection of the first one. Vigo is actually a pretty nice villain, but otherwise, this movie just devolves into ridiculousness. Gah, they drive the Statue of Liberty with a fricken Nintendo controller. **
  • Paranormal Activity 4 - I almost forgot to include this, which I think says something about the movie, which is fine I guess, but the series is really starting to show some fatigue at this point. The present day setting and fancy tech gizmos don't really add too much to the proceedings (though I guess the Xbox Kinect thing was used well enough) and at this point, I'm happy enough with the series, but for the first time, I'm not really looking forward to more movies. But who knows, maybe they'll surprise me. I'm kinda shocked it's managed to last this long. Worth watching, but probably the worst in the series so far. **1/2
  • Phantasm - Another annual tradition, not much else to say about it, but check out Radio Free Echo Rift's most recent podcast for a fun discussion of what makes this movie tick.
  • Halloween - "You know, it's Halloween... I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare, eh?"
    John Carpenters Halloween
So there you go. Another year, another crapton of horror movies. By my count, I watched 34 movies and 20 television episodes (I suppose I should have mentioned that I watched 8 Treehouses of Horrorses, but methinks I'll save that recap for next year sometime). This is actually somewhat less than last year, though I did have a film festival somewhere in there, which is tough to compete with. As usual, I'm significantly outpaced by the likes of Kernunrex, who averages something like 2-3 movies/shows a day. Not that it's a contest. It's been a great season, and don't you worry, next year's marathon will be on us soon enough. Have a great Halloween everyone!
Posted by Mark on October 31, 2012 at 07:23 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

6WH: Week 6 - No Discernible Theme Week
Coming down the homestretch! Though we're battening down the hatches in preparation for the Frankenstorm (pretty much directly in the path over here), we nevertheless took in some horror films this weekend, because we're dedicated like that here at Kaedrin. Alas, no real theme this week, though that's a sorta yearly tradition of its own. Let's see how we did:
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (trailer)
  • This is gonna hurt... a lot. (Robot Chicken)
  • Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (trailer)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - So, what to do when confronted with a chainsaw wielding maniac? Dennis Hopper knows the score. In this movie, he fights chainsaws with more chainsaws.
    Lefty and his chainsaws
    But I'm getting ahead of myself. This sequel is quite the odd duck. Hopper plays a former Texas Marshall named Lefty who has been hot on the trail of the cannibals from the first film... for a dozen years. So yeah, not very good at his job, but we're rooting for him anyways. It seems that said cannibal family has moved on, settling in the Dallas area and winning chile cookoff contests. Their secret? It's all in the meat. They're also quite the interior decorators. Anyway, when a DJ accidentally records the call of a victim, things get hairy for her. Or something. Plot isn't exactly the strongpoint of this movie. Inbred hicks with metal plates in their head? Hot chainsaw on chainsaw action? Yes. Storytelling? Not so much. That being said, it's an enjoyable enough film. It's a little goofy, but the series hadn't yet completely devolved into outright parody of itself (if memory serves, that distinction is held by the third installment). Tobe Hooper is an effective craftsman, and there's some creepy visuals here, though Leatherface is the sort of guy that's creepier the less you know about him... and we get a little too much of a look at him in this movie. Things go on perhaps a bit too long, but again, this is a mostly fun experience. **1/2
  • Jack Chop (short)
  • Howling III: The Marsupials (trailer)
  • Audition (trailer)
  • The Loved Ones - I don't know how I heard of this movie, but here it is, piping hot off the Netflix queue. It's a sorta Aussie torture porn flick, though not quite as extreme as other entries in the sub-genre. On the other hand, it does feature a creepy father/daughter kidnapping (what can I say, dude loves his daughter) and a frontal lobotomy administered via a power drill.
    One lobotomy, coming right up!
    For his part, our intrepid hero does pretty well for himself despite said lobotomy. The main thread here is pretty effective and visually interesting, though I don't know that there's really enough there to sustain the entire movie. As it is, the thing is padded out by our hero's buddy, who is taking a hot goth chick to the school dance. As near as I can tell, there's no real purpose to that thread in the movie at all, except maybe to pad out the length a bit. It's an interesting movie, and worth watching for fans of torture porn. **1/2
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror I: Bad Dream House
  • The Raven, read by Vincent Price
  • Vincent Price Wine Cooler Commercial
  • House on Haunted Hill - Nothing like a little Vincent Price to liven up the Halloween season. In this movie, he plays a millionaire who invites 5 other people to spend the night in a haunted house, paying $10,000 to each person who survives the night. Clearly a movie that owes a lot to The Cat and The Canary, with multiple shots seemingly lifted right out of that earlier film. For a movie made in the 1950s, there's actually quite a bit of spooky imagery, and the film effectively establishes a lot of tension during the early proceedings. As things proceed, we find out that Price and his wife don't exactly have the best of relationships, and are plotting to kill one another and blame it on the other guests. This is all in good fun, though the tension mostly dissipates once you realize what's going on. Still, the twists and turns in the final act are entertaining and well done, and at 75 minutes long, the movie certainly doesn't overstay its welcome. ***
I didn't realize it until now, but if I had been more careful about the third movie selection, I could have done a power-tool murder weapon theme or somesuch (I'd think of a better name, but since I can't actually use that theme... what was I talking about again?) Anyways, it's been a fun six weeks. The big day is coming up quickly, and if my home hasn't been completely devastated by the Frankenstorm, I'll post the annual Speed Round - quick takes on all the other movies I watched this season, but which didn't quite make it to their own post. See you (hopefully) on Wednesday!
Posted by Mark on October 28, 2012 at 08:39 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

6WH: Jekyll
The Six Weeks of Halloween horror marathon continues with this BBC series written by Steven Moffat, who would go on to produce the most excellent Sherlock series as well as take on the show running responsibilities for the most recent seasons of Doctor Who. Like Sherlock, Jekyll is a modern-day retelling of a famous Victorian-era story, in this case Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

As with a lot of other British shows, this one is a simple, 6 episode season that has had no real follow-ups (though I suppose Moffat left things open enough in the end to continue the story if needed). Once again, this is a bit of a modernization of the story, so Moffat is able to play with the conventions established in Stevenson's original novel, even to the point of self-awareness by referencing Stevenson's novel.

The show starts a little on the slow side as it establishes the setting and situation our main protagonist is in. Many mysteries and conspiracies are cycled through, and our main character has quite the interesting arc, making you wonder who is the real villain of the story. For the most part, this plays out in a grand tradition of fun, as you learn more and more about Jekyll and Hyde, their origins, and how they impact those around them. I don't want to give much away, but there are plenty of red herrings and mysteries that are eventually resolved in a somewhat satisfactory manner.

The production is generally well orchestrated, with solid visuals and music, if perhaps not quite as polished as a usual TV production would be. It shares a lot in common with Sherlock, though it clearly retains an identity of its own.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The crucial part of Dr. Jekyll (and his modern incarnation as Dr. Jackman) and Mr. Hyde is played by actor James Nesbitt, who certainly sinks his teeth into the part. He may even delight a little too much in the part, which becomes a bit showy. Of course, it's quite a juicy character, a man with two distinct and opposite personalities, so there's not much to complain about there, and again, he does quite a good job keeping up with the production.

As horror, it's not really gory or scary, per say, but it certainly touches on such sub-genres and establishes a tension all its own. I found the beginning to be a bit on the slow side, but it became more involving as things went on, and there were certainly of twists and turns ans the series progressed, each episode ending on a minor cliffhanger, but proceeding anyway. I wouldn't call this a masterpiece or anything, but I had a fun enough time giving it a gander during the Six Weeks of Halloween...
Posted by Mark on October 24, 2012 at 09:24 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

6WH: Week 4 - Now Playing
Alrighty then, enough with the obscure historical horror. Out with the old, in with the new. This week, we look at some current horror flicks. Two are still in the theater, one just came out on Netflix Instant (it was apparently in theaters a month or two ago), and all are worth watching.
  • Frankenstein (1931 trailer)
  • Frankenstein's Fiancee (Robot Chicken)
  • The Thing Goes Zombie (short)
  • Frankenweenie - A surprising return to form from Tim Burton, this is an excellent, loving homage to all those old Universal horror movies. Obviously the Frankenstein movies are referenced extensively, but it's clearly got a more general love for the genre. The story concerns young Victor Frankenstein and his dog Sparky. Victor is a bit of a loner, and when Sparky unexpectedly passes on, he vows to bring back his beloved pet. He is, of course, successful in his endeavors, drawing the attention and ire of his competition in the school science fair.
    Victor and Frankenweenie
    The tale of Frankenstein has always been one of caution against meddling, but this film attempts to modernize the idea, indicating that science is basically value neutral and can be used for good or ill. The movie stumbles a bit in the ridiculous town hall scene, but is otherwise pretty successful at stressing these themes. It's beautifully shot in black and white and the stop motion animation and production design are top notch. Ultimately, though, it's a movie with a heart, and I'll admit, the theater got a little dusty in the end. Ok, so this isn't really a scary movie, but it will still appeal to horror fans and is a must see for just about anyone. ***1/2
  • Paranormal Activity 4 (trailer)
  • The Ring Video Dating (Robot Chicken)
  • Insidious (trailer)
  • Sinister - This movie was written by C. Robert Cargill, perhaps better known as Massawyrm, who made his name writing about films at Ain't It Cool News. In short, he's done well for himself. The movie is somewhat derivative of the current trend in found footage and passive-aggressive demon possession (popularized by the Paranormal Activity movies and stuff like Insidious), but it puts an interesting twist in both, making this a worthy effort. The found footage portion is exactly that - a character in the movie finds a bunch of old movies and watches them as research for a book he's writing. And the films, chronicling a series of bizarre ritualized murders, are intensely creepy and unsettling. This film might dip into that well a bit too often, but they did such a great job with those in-film home movies that I didn't really mind. There are some typical horror movie tropes going on here too (apparently no one's heard of light switches - this is a dark movie) and there's some clumsy exposition courtesy of a college professor, but I don't know, all of this stuff ended up hitting the right note for me. And the demon at the heart of the mystery is indeed creepy and well done. It's an effective film, if not a perfect one. ***
  • The Netherbeast of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc. (short)
  • Phantasm (trailer)
  • Martyrs (trailer)
  • The Tall Man - Writer/director Pascal Laugier is perhaps best known for 2008's Martyrs, pretty much the end-all-and-be-all of torture porn. It's a movie I have a lot of respect for, even if it was an aggressively (and intentionally) unpleasant watch. This movie is the follow up, and no, it has nothing to do with the Phantasm films. Instead we get a twisty exploration of child abducting Urban Legend, starring Jessica Biel as a mother trying to catch up with her abducted child. Or is she? The movie shifts gears early and often, consistently keeping me off balance. This is a good thing, although some of the twists do rely on obscure side characters that I didn't notice much earlier in the film, which added a little confusion at times, but for the most part, the twists worked out well enough. Unfortunately, I don't quite know what to make of the "truth" of what's going on here. I don't really buy it, though it's reasonably well constructed. This is nowhere near as intense or disturbing as Martyrs, but there are some similarities when it comes to the whole secret societies and conspiracy angles. It's certainly well shot and visually interesting, and the acting is fine (music is a bit lackluster, but not distractingly bad or anything). And the movie is gripping and tense enough as you watch, it's just, again, once you learn the full idea behind the premise, I don't know how convincing it really is... A worthy effort, and I'd be curious to see what else Laugier does. **1/2
That's all for this week. Stay tuned, next week is Italian horror week. Got a couple Argento films lined up, along with some other stuff...
Posted by Mark on October 14, 2012 at 07:30 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Professor Arthur Chipping's Maddeningly Detailed, Purposefully Vague, Fitfully Out-Of-Focus, Back To School Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, Dr. Anton Phibes, and Sister Clodagh are also available... This time around, Professor Arthur Chipping, colloquially known as Mr. Chips, notes that "school is back in session, which means it’s time for yet another movie quiz." There's no real theme to the quiz this time around, but in the spirit of the Six Weeks of Halloween, I'll try to steer things into the realm of horror whenever possible (Update: only partially successful at this.) Ok, enough jibber jabber, let's answer some questions.

1) What is the biggest issue for you in the digital vs. film debate?

This is a tough one because all of the issues that are coming to mind are sorta meta-issues. In theory, digital lowers costs for productions and makes things much easier to distribute (this includes theatrical distribution, but also stuff like On Demand and, of course, the internets). In practice, the movie industry's obsession with piracy has pretty much muffled most advantages on the distribution side of things, and theater chains haven't exactly jumped at the opportunity to leverage digital distribution in an ideal way. It would be great if my local Regal dedicated a few timeslots a week to offbeat, indy, or even older film series. Judging from my own anecdotal experience with that theater, they could certainly stand to sell a lot of tickets that way. However, I know that this is easier said than done. Studios make showing movies in a theater an expensive proposition right from the get go, whereas, even a handful of tickets for something you already have the right to show will make you money. Again, digital could make this easier, in theory, but from what I've heard of digital distribution, the process is incredibly onerous and painful to use thanks to all of the copy protection, DRM, etc... The future is digital, and from a technology standpoint, we're almost at the point where you'd be able to implement an ideal distribution network for all movies (heck, most media in general). Unfortunately, the business side of things is holding technology back.

2) Without more than one minute's consideration, name three great faces from the movies

Since I've been watching a lot of horror films lately, the names that come to mind are Angus Scrimm, Bruce Campbell, and Shelly Duvall. Distinctive faces, all.
Bruce Campbell
If chins could kill...
3) The movie you think could be interesting if remade as a movie musical

I have a deep dislike for movie musicals. That being said, a full length Planet of the Apes musical, a la The Simpsons, would probably still be better than that Tim Burton remake. "I hate every ape I see, from Chimpan-A, to Chimpanzee!"

4) The last movie you saw theatrically/on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming

In theaters, Frankenweenie, which I enjoyed greatly (probably the best Tim Burton movie in a decade, probably more). On DVD, it was The Devil's Backbone, which I also thought was quite good. On Blu-Ray, I've got Bernie, a movie that really surprised me in that I totally loved it. And on streaming, Bloody Birthday, a so-bad-its-good Kids are scary and hate you! movie (part of this past weekend's Halloween horror movie marathon). Actually a pretty good run here.

5) Favorite movie about work

The obvious answer here is Office Space, though looking at other answers, I see Glengarry Glen Ross, The Hudsucker Proxy, and His Girl Friday, great movies all. But I'll stick with Office Space.

6) The movie you loved as a child that did not hold up when seen through adult eyes

I realize I'm in the minority here, but Terminator 2: Judgment Day is kinda terrible. It still holds up as a solid action film with good special effects, I guess, but it jettisoned everything that made the first movie special without really adding anything interesting to the mix. I loved it at the time, but as I got older I started to see the cracks. This David Foster Wallace article neatly encapsulates my view, though I don't know that I'd put it quite the way he does (nor would I extrapolate in the way he does). Ok, fine, it doesn't "neatly encapsulate" my view, but you should read it anyway.

7) Favorite "road" movie

Many possible ways to take this. Mad Max and The Road Warrior are obvious answers, but I'm also fond of Midnight Run (a different sorta "road" movie, I guess), and in the interest of keeping it real with the Six Weeks of Halloween, Road Games makes for an intriguing concept. It's perhaps not perfect in execution, but the premise of taking Hitchcock's Rear Window on the road is beautiful and I really enjoyed it.

8) Does Clint Eastwood's appearance at the Republican National Convention change or confirm your perspective on him as a filmmaker/movie icon? Is that appearance relevant to his legacy as a filmmaker?

Completely irrelevant and it doesn't change my feelings towards any of his movies, whether I love or hate them.

9) Longest-lasting movie or movie-related obsession

These questions seem awfully imprecise and vague. I'm not entirely sure what this is getting at, but in accordance with my marching orders, I'll say horror movies.

10) Favorite artifact of movie exploitation

Again with the imprecision. Is this asking about exploitation films? Or about artifacts that are exploiting movies? For the former, my answer would have to be the trailers and posters, the trashier the better. For the latter, well, let's just say that this action figure of Boba Fett sitting on my desk here holds a special place in my heart.
Boba waves hi!
Everyone wave to Boba...
11) Have you ever fallen asleep in a movie theater? If so, when and why?

I'm not sure if I ever fell asleep outright, though it was a very near thing when I saw The Squad at Fantastic Fest. It was a few days into the festival, in the midst of a day with 5 movie viewings scheduled, and it was just an awful, boring, stupid movie. I may have rested my eyes for a moment or ten.

12) Favorite performance by an athlete in a movie

The first thing that popped into my head: Kurt Thomas from Gymkata (he single-handedly defeated the Soviets... with Gymnastics!) Popular opinion seems to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane!, which is certainly a worthy choice. And if you count wrestlers, you've got Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride, and Rowdy Roddy Piper from They Live. But who are we kidding? Gymkata is set in the fictional country of Parmistan. Population: Communists. And they're defeated because of their baffling but convenient placement of pommel horses throughout their country.

13) Second favorite Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie

It begins: I have not seen any Fassbinder movies. As usual, I expect similar answers to be given for several other questions in this quiz.

14) Favorite film of 1931

Hoo man, this is a tough choice. M or Frankenstein? Yikes. I can't decide, as both are superb (though I can decisively pick them above other 1931 movies I've seen, which are surprisingly many).

15) Second favorite Raoul Walsh movie

Oh, this question is diabolical. Back in Professor Peabody's quiz, you asked for our favorite Raoul Walsh movie. At the time, I hadn't seen any, so I had to abstain, but I eventually went out of my way to watch White Heat, just because of the quiz (this came in handy on another quiz). Alas, that remains the only Raoul Walsh movie I've ever seen, thus I must abstain from this question as well.

16) Favorite film of 1951

Strangers on a Train, hands down. There are other worthy contenders, but no one beats the Hitch.

17) Second favorite Wong Kar-wai movie

I must admit that I'm not a huge Wong Kar-wai fan, though I've seen enough of his movies to declare Chungking Express my second favorite.

18) Favorite film of 1971

This is another tough one. I'll go with Dirty Harry for now, but I do have a fondness for The Andromeda Strain as well. Lots of other juicy choices that year too, but I'll leave it at Dirty Harry...
You feeling lucky, punk?
You feeling lucky, punk?
19) Second favorite Henri-Georges Clouzot movie

The Wages of Fear, after Diabolique.

20) Favorite film of 1991

Raise the Red Lantern is a masterpiece, though it's not something I love to rewatch all the time, like The Silence of the Lambs. Still, that's a pretty great one-two punch.

21) Second favorite John Sturges movie

I'll go with Joe Kidd, though I should really watch more of his movies...

22) Favorite celebrity biopic

The first thing that came to mind was Amadeus (does that count as "celebrity" in the modern sense, especially given that it's more about Salieri than Mozart?), but Ed Wood is a ton of fun (hmm, Tum Burton getting a lot of action in today's quiz).

23) Name a good script idea which was let down either by the director or circumstances of production

Too many to answer. Most recently, I was thinking this about a few German Krimi movies I watched for the Six Weeks of Halloween. Some really fantastic ideas there, but they wound up a little on the messy side when translated to the screen.

24) Heaven's Gate-- yes or no?

I haven't seen the movie, but sure, why not? I find it hard to say "no" to a movie, even one I don't particularly like or agree with. I kinda equate "no" with censorship, and fooey to that.

25) Favorite pairing of movie sex symbols

The one that immediately came to mind was Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but upon further reflection, the George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez combo in Out of Sight is probably a better choice, as that movie is clearly superior. I'm not even that big of a fan of Clooney or Lopez, but I really enjoy that movie and they have great chemistry together.

26) One word that you could say which would instantly evoke images and memories of your favorite movie. (Naming the movie is optional - might be more fun to see if we can guess what it is from the word itself)


27) Name one moment which to you demarcates a significant change, for better or worse, on the landscape of the movies over the last 20 years.

A lot of options here, but in accordance with decorative gourd season, I'll pick something from the horror genre. The Blair Witch Project wasn't the first "found footage" mock documentary (heck, it wasn't even the only one of those from 1999), but for better or worse, it popularized the idea to the point where it broke out of the horror genre. Two other horror movies could also qualify for this: Scream (reviving slashers in particular, and horror in general) and Saw (popularizing the whole torture porn thing).

28) Favorite pre-Code talkie

Gabriel Over the White House, a completely bonkers but surprisingly relevant movie. I was totally flabbergasted by this movie when I first saw it. It's this tacky, unbelievable leftist authoritarian fantasy, and it's utterly riveting.

29) Oldest film in your personal collection (Thanks, Peter Nellhaus)

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), Hitchcock's first movie (part of a collection I bought once).
The Lodger is clearly not evil
The Lodger is clearly not evil...
30) Longest film in your personal collection. (Thanks, Brian Darr)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Special Extended DVD Edition clocks in at 251 min (And the other LotR extended editions would probably also top most of my other movies). Coming in second would be the Das Boot Director's Cut, clocking in at 208 minutes, barely edging out The Godfather: Part II which is "only" 200 minutes (though, notably, the only theatrical cut mentioned in this answer).

31) Have your movie collection habits changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?

I don't buy nearly as many DVDs/BDs as I used to. This changed most dramatically when I first signed up for Netflix (somewhere around 2005, give or take a year), though more recently the cheap availability of online streaming has also begun to change my habits. Discs are becoming more and more of a pain. I have to, like, get up and walk over to the player in order to swap out discs. Alas, when you're into exploring obscure movies, discs are usually your only options.

32) Wackiest, most unlikely "directed by" credit you can name

I always enjoy it when Alan Smithee directs a film.

33) Best documentary you've seen in 2012 (made in 2012 or any other year)

I've not watched a ton of documentaries thus far this year, but I did really enjoy Bobby Fischer Against the World. Heckler was actually a very interesting discovery, and it becomes more of a meditation on criticism in general than heckling. Ok, so maybe "mediation" is too weighty, but I really enjoyed the movie. Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel and Machete Maidens Unleashed! were great fun, but not exactly insightful or anything.

34) What's your favorite "(this star) was almost cast in (this movie)" anecdote?

Well, Tom Selleck was considered for Indiana Jones (apparently he turned it down). I don't think other answers are possible.

35) Program three nights of double bills at a revival theater that might best illuminate your love of the movies

There are seriously way too many options here, but I came up with something that covered a few interesting themes:

Night one: James Cameron (back when he was still awesome) - The Terminator and Aliens - These are just two of my favorite movies of all time. They pair well together and would make for an exciting, adventurous start to my three nights of double features.

Night two: Cultural Cross-Contamination - Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars - Let's see here, John Ford westerns inspired Akira Kurosawa to make structurally similar samurai films, then crazy Italian Sergio Leone takes one of those samurai films and converts it back to the world of westerns, infusing it with spaghetti. Bitchin.

Night three: Sensory Overload Night - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Detention - This will be an exhausting, but rollicking night. A good way to end a three day marathon of double features though.

36) You have been granted permission to invite any three people, alive or dead, to your house to watch the Oscars. Who are they?

I always stink at questions like these. Let's see here. Stanley Kubrick, Armond White, and Alison Brie. Kubrick and White will either come to blows, or have the most interesting conversation evar, which will represent a nice bonding experience for me and Alison.

37) Favorite Mr. Chips. (Careful...)

Not having seen any of the movies featuring the good Professor, I will have to abstain from this question. I will, however, wax poetic about Charlie's Chips. Does anyone remember Charlie's Chips? It was this giant delivery truck that would tool around town, delivering potato chips in giant tins to anyone who subscribed. When you ran out, you simply put out the bin, and the Charlie's Chips dude would pick it up and deliver you a full container of chips. This was somehow a rational business model in the 1980s. So there, nothing to do with movies, but all this talk of Chips made me think of it, so there. I hope you're happy now.
Posted by Mark on October 10, 2012 at 09:22 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, October 07, 2012

6WH: Week 3 - Revisiting 1981
This was originally going to be a week chock-full of slashers, but despite an excellent start on that front, things gradually got less-and-less slashery. As it turns out, all three movies are bona fide members of the horror class of 1981, a year in which changes in distribution and low-budget independent filmmaking conspired to release an explosion of horror movies on an unsuspecting populace. Much of this was driven by the slasher craze, but horror in general was booming in the early 80s and particularly in 1981. Naturally, I've already seen a lot of the classics from that hallowed year, but there were a few high profile movies I'd missed out on for whatever reason, so here goes:
  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • Scanners (trailer)
  • Happy Birthday to Me - Someone is offing the cool, smart kids (but I repeat myself, heh) at a prestigious prep school, but who? There are approximately a gajillion red herrings in this film, as the mysterious killer takes out each of the "Top Ten" students, and Ginny keeps having weird flashback to past trauma. Lots of suspicious characters, including one of the Top Tenners that specializes in... taxidermy? This leads to amusing puns along the lines of "Hey, stuff it, dude."
    Happy Birthday to Me
    Happy Birthday to Me!
    Directed by J. Lee Thompson (who made the well regarded Cape Fear), this is one of the more fun examples of the teen slasher genre, with creative deaths (including a neat scarf in the motorcycle wheal death, a death-by-barbell, and the most famous weapon, death by shish-kebab) and a series of goofy, Scooby Doo-like twists at the end. There's even a grand unmasking as the true killer is revealed. Clocking in at 110 minutes, it's one of the longest slasher movies ever made, but it's still a lot of fun. Not quite top tier, but certainly top of the middle tier. ***
  • The Evil Dead (Japanese trailer)
  • My Bloody Valentine (trailer)
  • Driving Lessons - Halloween Deleted Scene (short)
  • The Funhouse - This is a film that's generally lumped into the Slasher sub-genre, but in the end, I have my doubts. It certainly starts off by totally aping Halloween and Psycho, but it winds up being a practical joke, not a real shower-murder scene. As the film progresses, things certainly get tense, but it's still not quite like a traditional slasher, as the villain seems to have more in common with monsters like Frankenstein (whose mask the killer wears for the first half of the movie or so) than the past-tragedy-inspired killers of your typical slasher. Unlike most killers, this guy evokes a certain amount of pity, even if he's terrifying and deformed.
    The titular Funhouse
    The plot revolves around a bunch of stupid kids who elect to spend the night in the titular Funhouse of their local carnival, only to find said deformed monster murdering a fortune teller over an expensive handy. Naturally, all the doors are locked and the carnies can't leave any witnesses... hijinks ensue. This one certainly takes its time, but once it gets going, it's pretty solid. It's atmospheric and tense, featuring much less gore than you'd expect for a movie of this era, but it gets the job done. Not one of director Tobe Hooper's best movies, but a worthy effort nonetheless. Probably somewhere in the middle of the middle tier of slashers, definitely worth watching if you like that sort of thing. **1/2
  • Jason's Deceiving Speed (Robot Chicken)
  • The Prowler (trailer)
  • The Burning (trailer)
  • Bloody Birthday - And this one wound up being very light on the slasher elements, probably better classified under the realm of Kids are scary and hate you! movies. In this case, said kids were all born during an eclipse, thus making them into psychopaths who begin exploring their murderous tendencies starting around their 10th birthday. Lots of foreshadowing, as people who deny the kids what they want get their inevitable comeuppance. Not a lot of gore, but they make up for it with lots of boobies. It's not scary or even very tense at all, but it winds up being great fun, as it seems to recognize just how silly it is, and it revels in making you hate those sneaky little shits as they engage in their murderous shenanigans. Kid actors in movies are usually a precarious thing, but here, those eclipse kids are kinda awesome, always smirking and looking all smarmy and evil. Overall, not really a noteworthy film, but I had fun with it. **1/2
So there you have it. Not really sure what next week will bring, perhaps some stuff currently in theaters, or maybe just a week with no discernible theme. Stay tuned!
Posted by Mark on October 07, 2012 at 07:18 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

6WH: Tales from the Crypt - Season 1
Tales from the Crypt was one of those shows I was vaguely aware of, but never really watched much. Let's just say that I was young and foolish and didn't appreciate the Crypt Keeper's puns. Now? I value a good pun. Is that value ironic? Oh God, am I becoming a hipster? Well, whatever, I figured it was worth revisiting this show, and since the first season was only six short episodes, it wasn't too much of a time investment. It's funny, but I never quite realized just how much talent was involved with this show. In this first season alone, we've got episodes directed by Walter Hill, Robert Zemeckis, and Richard Donner. And that's not even considering the familiar actors and writers. Plus, the episodes are a relatively short 25-30 minutes, so even if you don't care too much for an episode, you don't have to put in that much time. So let's see how the first season fared. There were only 6 episodes, so I got through them pretty quickly:
  • The Man Who Was Death - So what happens when an executioner (the guy who throws the switch on the electric chair, to be specific) loses his job because the state outlaws the death penalty? Why, he simply starts freelancing his executioning, that's what.
    The Mad Executioner
    This was actually a great start to the series; well acted and visually interesting with an appropriately ironic outcome. Lots of longish takes and breaking of the fourth wall, and well written too. Like The Mad Executioners from this past weekend, this one also has shades of Dexter, as the executioner punishes folks who are getting away with murder... I really enjoyed this one, and it set the tone rather well for what would follow.
  • And All Through the House - Regular readers know of my affinity for Holiday Horror, and this tale of murder, greed, betrayal, escaped mental patients dressed as Santa, and general mayhem makes for a fine addition to the pantheon of axe-wielding Santas (of which there are surprisingly many).
    Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this seems uncharacteristic for him, but the episode's got a goofy sensibility that seems appropriate. Series is two for two so far!
  • Dig That Cat... He's Real Gone - A bum is endowed with 9 lives and attempts to get rich at a carnival sideshow by using up his lives as Ulric the Undying. Basically, he kills himself on stage, and people pay boatloads to see it. Great central performance by Joe Pantoliano and you know what, even Robert Wuhl is pretty great as the sleazy sideshow showman. Again we get lots of fourth wall breaking as Joey Pants explains how he came to acquire his 9 lives (let's just say that it involved a mad scientist and a cat), and overall, this is the third straight great episode.
  • Only Sin Deep - Well, I guess they can't all be winners. This tale of a gold-digging hooker who sold her beauty to a pawn shop so that she could seduce a rich dude is fine for what it is and certainly better than a lot of other horror anthology episodes I've seen (I'm looking at you, Fear Itself!), but it's a distinct step down from the first three episodes. For a series whose premise essentially boils down to "Isn't it fun to watch bad people get their comeuppance?", it's hard to say that I just didn't like our main character here, but I really just couldn't see much redeeming quality to her character. In the first three episodes, the main characters had at least some likable traits, however minimal. This lends a certain pathos to the tragedy. Here, we've got nothing. And she's pretty dumb to boot. Not horrible or anything, and the premise could work, but I wasn't a big fan.
  • Lover Come Hack to Me - Rich but meek Peggy marries handsome douchebag Charles. Aunt Edith is wary of Charles (assuming he's just marrying Peggy for her money), but Peggy just wants to have a nice honeymoon. But, of course, the road is blocked and they're forced to spend the night in a spooky house. Hijinks ensue. Interesting change of pace for the series so far, and a nice series of reversals make this one an improvement over the previous episode, but perhaps not the best of the series so far. Still, I liked this episode quite a bit.
  • Collection Completed - Ah the perils of retirement. The great M. Emmet Walsh plays Jonas, the new retiree who doesn't seem to enjoy spending time with his wife and all of her pets. Naturally, he takes up a... hobby. Heh. Solid episode, but a little on the melodramatic side, which ain't really my thing. Still, it's fun enough. Not quite the strongest finale for the season, but a worthy episode nonetheless.
So the quality seemed to fade a bit towards the end of the season, but it was all enjoyable enough that I immediately added season 2 to my Netflix queue.
Posted by Mark on October 03, 2012 at 10:14 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, September 30, 2012

6WH: Week 2 - The German Krimi Film
One of the more obscure sub-genres of film is the German Krimi, which translates to "crime" or "mystery thriller". Interestingly, these movies all had their origin in the crime novels of ridiculously prolific British author Edgar Wallace (dude wrote somewhere on the order of 175 books). I had never heard of these movies before, but J.A. Kerswell devoted a short chapter to this movement in his Slasher Movie Book.
...the krimi was at its height of popularity from the end of the 1950s to the mid-1960s (although it was still being made into the early 1970s). Mostly filmed in Germany, the krimi films fetishized England and presented a decidedly Germanic idea of Englishness, which produced an otherworldly, alternative reality. ...These krimis are typically peopled by dastardly villains in outlandish costumes - featuring everything from a green skeleton in a cape to a whip-grasping monk in a red habit and pointy hat.

Increasingly flirting with the horror genre, the krimi satisfied the conventions of the crime caper as well as Teutonic farce.
By today's standards, these are pretty tame films, and as the description above might imply, they're not out-and-out horror, though they have leanings in that direction. There are some key horror conventions on display here though, including POV shots, macabre mad scientists, masked killers, and, strangely, a lot of throwing knives. I'm glad I tracked these down, but the overwhelming reaction I had to all of these movies was that they had some interesting ideas that weren't quite fully developed. This was perhaps due to the time they were made, but hey, if you're looking to remake movies, these seem like great candidates to me. Anywho, let's get this party started:
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To Murder (short)
  • Night of the Lepus (trailer)
  • Frogs (trailer)
  • Fellowship of the Frog (aka Face of the Frog) - Adaptations of Edgar Wallace novels were produced as early as the 1920s, but the heydey of the krimi began in 1959 with the release of this film about a mysterious criminal mastermind known only as "the Frog", who peppers his daring heists and robberies with the occasional murder. Hot on the Frog's tail is Scotland yard, with an assist from an amateur American detective (and his British butler). The Frog's costume, featuring a mask with gigantic glass eyes (lending the impression of a frog), is actually somewhat effective, if a little on the outlandish side.
    The Frog
    The Frog
    His dastardly scheme winds up being pretty silly though, and I'm not quite sure I really understood what he was getting at with his plan. Basically, he wants to win the affection of a pretty lady... by terrorizing her brother and father? There's a nice Scooby-villain unmasking at the end of the movie too. There's a lot of neat elements here, but nothing to really pull it together into a great film. I actually really enjoyed the amateur American detective guy, he's kinda like Batman without the costume: embarrassingly wealthy, fights crime in his spare time, has a British butler, fancy car, and wacky gadgets. And the Frog has the makings of a great villain. He leaves a neat little calling card after each heist, and he brands his loyal minions with a little frog symbol too. Cool elements, but alas, the film settles for something less than satisfactory. I'm glad I watched it, but it's not a particularly accomplished film. **
  • Final Destination 2 (trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIV: Reaper Madness
  • The Life of Death by Clive Barker (short story from Cabal)
  • The Mad Executioners - This film was made a few years later, while the krimi was enjoying great popularity, and the story here fares much better than Frog, though there are still some odd components (which we'll get to in a bit). The story begins with a mysterious hooded society passing judgement on a criminal who thought they had gotten away with their crime. We later find out that there's been a series of executions by this society, each victim a criminal who was "beyond the reach of the law" (shades of Dexter here, perhaps this movie was an influence?) Each body is found with a file detailing all the evidence, and the victims are hanged with an infamous hangman's rope, stolen from a museum. Soon, we see copycat societies taking up the cause, and a mysterious rash of gruesome beheadings has claimed the sister of our heroic Scotland Yard detective.
    The Frog
    A Mad Scientist
    This movie is an improvement over Frog, but some of these elements don't quite fit together. In particular, the side-story about the mad scientist experimenting on decapitated heads seems kinda tacked on, like it was from another movie or something. On the other hand, there's a lot of red herrings, which always kept me guessing, and while the tale may be a bit disjointed, both of the main threads are intriguing enough on their own... It all comes together in the end, and I found it a reasonably enjoyable experience, but again, it feels like these ideas could be more fully developed. **1/2
  • Stephen King's It (trailer)
  • The X-Files: "Humbug" (tv show)
  • Tales from the Crypt: "Dig That Cat...He's Real Gone" (tv show)
  • Circus of Fear (aka Psycho-Circus) - This film was made as the krimi was winding down, but it's also probably the best of the films covered in this post. The movie opens with an extremely well filmed heist. I particularly enjoyed the way director John Llewellyn Moxey cut between the various groups of criminals by employing imagery of watches and clocks. Anywho, the heist doesn't go quite as well as planned, and a guard gets shot. This leads the crooks to split up, one of whom heads towards a creepy circus, where he quickly runs into the business end of a throwing knife.
    POV Shot
    POV Shot
    Other crooks become suspicious and start looking for the body and money he was carrying. The film is actually populated by well-respected actors of the likes of Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski, and some nice dynamics at the circus keep things interesting. Of course, Scotland Yard is also on the case and as the bodies start to pile up, the suspects seem to be piling up. There's lots of fun to be had here, including a masked lion tamer and a scheming little person. Once again, I don't know that the movie fully delivers on its various ideas, but I found it to be the most enjoyable of the three, and the most visually interesting as well. **1/2
Apparently latter krimi pictures were coproduced in Italy and released as giallos there... Italian Giallo films had emerged and evolved alongside the krimi, but quickly overtook the German sub-genre in terms of visual style, violence, and mayhem. I found this to be an interesting exercise, but I'm a much bigger fan of Giallos and quite frankly, these aren't really horror films. There are some horror elements, but for the most part, they're probably, at best, thrillers.
Posted by Mark on September 30, 2012 at 07:56 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

6WH: The Slasher Movie Book
I like slasher movies. There, I said it. Of course, longtime readers of the site (all 5 of you!) already knew that, as slashers tend to comprise an inordinate proportion of movies watched during the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon I do every year. As sub-genres go, it's not particularly well respected, but again, I like them. I've written about this before, so I'll just say that I find them comforting, like curling up under the sheets on a cold autumn night. Oh sure, they're all working from a relatively limited and predictable formula, but sometimes that works and I'm a big fan of folks who are able to find new and interesting ways to think inside the box.

The Slasher Movie BookDespite all the slasher movies I've seen, I'm far from an expert. Enter The Slasher Movie Book. I didn't realize this, but the book was written by J.A. Kerswell, who runs Hysteria Lives! website as well as the Hysteria Continues podcast I mentioned recently.

Having read the book, I think it's safe to say that Kerswell is indeed an expert, and not just on slasher movies. Indeed, the first several chapters of the book cover broad swaths of horror movie history. He's mostly focusing on proto-slashers, but it's clear that Kerswell has broad expertise in the rest of the genre as well. As most horror movie histories begin, this one starts with the Grand Guignol (a theater in Paris that specialized in short plays featuring graphically portrayed acts of torture, murder, and general mayhem), but quickly transitions into silent horror films (which have guided my recent viewings).

From there Kerswell spends a chapter on German "Krimi" (translates roughly to "Crime" or "Mystery Thriller") films, a sub-sub-genre originating in the 1950s that I'd never even heard of before (as such, I will be devoting this coming weekend to some Krimi films I was able to wrangle from Netflix, tune in Sunday to see the results!), then moves on to the Italian Giallo movement (which is a sub-genre I've enjoyed greatly) and other similar proto-slashers from the 60s and 70s.

But the bulk of the book focuses on the Golden Age of the Slasher film, those hallowed years between 1978 and 1984 when slashers were formally codified and replicated ad nauseam. Starting with Halloween and basically ending with A Nightmare on Elm Street, there were seemingly hundreds of slashers made and released in that era. And Kerswell's seemingly seen every last one of them. I mean, I know I said I'm not an expert, but this dude outstripped my knowledge on just about every page. The book is nearly comprehensive, especially in the Golden Age portions. Unfortunately, that breadth of film knowledge comes at the expense of depth. Most films warrant little more than a sentence or two. The classics of the sub-genre obviously get more attention, though even these portions are not exhaustive. But really, how could they be? There are probably a thousand movies mentioned in the book; going into meticulous detail on every single one would be tedious and boring.

Instead, Kurswell does a pretty deft job and summarizing the ebbs and flows of the genre, from the origins of various conventions in early films to the progression of said conventions through the Golden Age. He traces the genre's roots as they move from gritty realism to a reliance on the supernatural to the self-reflexive parodies that kept it alive. He's identified the trends and movements within the genre while cataloging examples to demonstrate. This is a book I assumed would bog down in repetition or simple regurgitation, like that part in the Bible where Jeremiah begat Jededia, Jededia begat Jebediah and so on, for like 10 pages. But this never really reached that kind of boring territory for me. Of course, I'm kinda obsessive about this stuff, so this book fed me a steady stream of new and unknown movies, all contextualized with stuff that I was already familiar with. It worked well.

The book rounds things out with a look at International slashing, the dark days of slashers, "Video Hell", the reinvigoration of the sub-genre at the hands of Scream, and a survey of latter day horror.

I found out about the book from Brian Collins, the guy who runs the estimable Horror Movie A Day website, and I think his review is pretty spot on, and he's qualified to make statements like this too:
...there's enough evidence throughout the book to suggest that I won't always see eye to eye with him, as he refers to New Year's Evil as "dull" (no movie with a killer name-dropping Erik Estrada can be considered as such, in my opinion) and considers the (IMO) rather bland House On Sorority Row to be a top-tier slasher on the same level as My Bloody Valentine. But I have to remember that everyone has their own favorites; the book's introduction explains that Halloween II was his first slasher and thus he has a soft spot for it, though he's thankfully honest about its shortcomings in the text itself. And he's on the right (meaning: MY) side for some other underrated flicks, such as the 2005 House of Wax, and he also (correctly) refers to Cold Prey II as one of the best post-Scream slashers, a bit of a surprise given his affection for Halloween II, which it was clearly aping.

I'd never judge a book of this type on a few opposing views of some low-rent slasher films, however - it's meticulously researched and the occasional flubs are likely due to typographical error, not ignorance (though he seems to suggest Wes Craven directed Hills Have Eyes 2 AFTER Nightmare On Elm Street, when in reality they were just released that way). But I'd have to stop just shy of calling it "exhaustive," as there are some puzzling oversights. No mention is made of 1991's Popcorn, for example - strange given the fact that it was one of precious few slashers of that time (and fairly well regarded to boot), and Craven's Shocker is also missing, odd considering that the "death" of the slasher cycle of the '80s could probably best be exemplified by one of the genre's founding fathers trying and failing to create a new slasher icon. No Dr. Giggles either, another "too late" attempt to revive the sub-genre. I wouldn't consider this odd in a typical book that just covered the marquee titles (Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc), but come on - there's two paragraphs on To All A Goodnight but not even a passing reference to Horace Pinker? For shame...
Brian is dead on (read: he agrees with me) about New Years Evil and House On Sorority Row, and some of his omissions are good calls to... One omission I would mention is Alice Sweet Alice - Kurswell does mention it in passing under it's original title (Communion), but I would have expected more info on what I thought was one of the clear proto-slashers (I mean, not even a picture of that creepy mask? Come on!) You can't please everyone, I guess. As mentioned above, Kurswell needed to walk a fine line here. Too much info and the book gets cumbersome and boring, too little information and doofuses like me whine about it on the internets. Again, this book is about as good as it gets when it comes to breadth of information.

It's also a very pretty book. Paperback, but all in color, with oodles of gorgeous poster art and stills. I'm not one of them poster art curators that seek out foreign lobby cards and obscure movie art, but I can appreciate that sort of thing when I see it, and if that's your bag, you'll love this. Tons of goofy stuff, along with genuinely effective imagery.

It's a fun book for fans of the sub-genre. Kurswell seems genuinely enthusiastic about the subject and treats it with a respect that few do. As a result, I've come away with dozens of movies I want to track down (if not, uh, hundreds). But don't worry, I'm only planning on spending one week on out-and-out slashers (probably next week).
Posted by Mark on September 26, 2012 at 10:18 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Six Weeks of Halloween 2012: Week 1 - Silent Horror
The leaves are turning, the wind is gusting, little plastic corpses and bite sized candy are showing up in grocery stores, along with graveyard themed decorations and mutilated pumpkins. It's my favorite time of the year, and as usual, it's time to celebrate the season by watching lots of horror movies. As usual, Kernunrex has gotten the festivities started off in style, and gives as good an introduction to the concept as one could hope for:
Halloween, the high holiday for horror geeks, has no equal. When is the science fiction fest? Which day do comedy kooks celebrate? Would there ever be a spaghetti western wingding? No, horror is special; it's primal and emotional, tapping into the deepest parts of our psychology and yanking at those uncomfortable pieces we normally pretend do not exist. Something this unique deserves more than a mere day of honor at the end of October. I say: let Halloweentime last for six weeks!
Hell yes! Six weeks of horror movies and pumpkin beer, let's get this party started. Stock the Netflix queues, batten down the hatches, it's gonna be a bumpy ride. Every year, I start off the season thinking to myself: self, you should probably become more familiar with silent-era filmmaking, why not spend a week doing so? Then I promptly forget as I tear through a bunch of trashy slasher movies or Giallos or what have you. Well not this year!

My experience with silent horror films is pretty much limited to a viewing of Nosferatu not that long ago. I guess you could also consider Hitchcock's silent film The Lodger as horror too. The silent era of film is a bit of a blind spot in general, so it's definitely something I should be making myself more familiar with, and this provided a good excuse. So it was a quiet weekend, if you take my meaning. Let's see how much choices were:
  • Grindhouse: Don't (fake trailer)
  • The Haunting (trailer)
  • The Others (trailer)
  • The Cat and the Canary - The original tale of relatives brought together in a haunted house for the reading of a will, this thing seemingly presages, well, every horror movie ever made. Haunted house, check. Escaped lunatic, check. Prowling POV shots from the killer's perspective, check. Scooby-like plot to manipulate the will, check. Goofy, incompetent cop, check. Creepy housemaid, check. Indeed, the cat-and-canary analogy itself could describe the way killers stalk their victims in countless horror films (though I guess it's more frequently referred to as cat-and-mouse).
    Not a monster
    The atmosphere of this film is quite effective, but the creaky old manor, filled with cobwebs and secret passages, is yet another horror staple that we've all seen dozens of times. As with most of my experience with silent films, this one moves a tad slow and the acting style of the era was one of overemphasized motions and theatrical gyrations. As visual storytelling goes, though, this one is actually one of the better examples that I've seen. A must watch for students of horror, but perhaps not something that would thrill general viewers. ***
  • Shining (fake trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
  • The Shining (trailer)
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - This is another movie that sorta foreshadows a lot of the genre that would come later. In particular, a case could be made that this is the first slasher, though the film also seems to have been a major influence on Noir films as well. In terms of it's visual style, it's a most striking example of the German Expressionism style, with a set design that is very angular and thus somewhat unsettling. Expressionistic films are not usually this overt or bold, but this film really does get in your face with that sort of distortion of reality. The story itself is somewhat pedestrian. Dr. Caligari sets up shop in a local carnival to exhibit a Somnambulist, a man he claims has been asleep for decades, but who walks and talks in his sleep. The Somnambulist is kept in a coffin (aka the titular cabinet), and Caligari breaks him out and has the crowd ask questions. One unfortunate soul asks "When will I die?" and the Somnambulist's reply is "At first dawn!" Sure enough, the next morning at dawn, the man is found dead.
    Stabby stabby
    More hijinks ensue, and there's a few reversals and twists towards the end, but the thing that really sets this movie apart are its visuals. Really, it's just the set design, with it's discordant, angular lines, that is most memorable here. There is basically no camera movement at all, apparently the result of a low budget. This makes the overtness of the film's expressionism a little more explainable, as that's how they sought to make the movie visually interesting. Alas, the film has a preponderance of intertitles, making this rather textually heavy despite its silent origin. Again we get slow pacing and melodramatic acting histrionics. It's another influential and important movie, but I liked The Cat and the Canary much better... **1/2
  • Monster Realty (Robot Chicken)
  • House Of Wax (1953, trailer)
  • House Of Wax (2005, trailer)
  • Waxworks - Perhaps the least horror-like movie of the bunch, this nonetheless has some unsettling, weird elements that at least go in the right direction. The story concerns a writer hired by a wax museum to create backstories for the various wax figures. This makes the film into a sorta anthology as the writer concocts tales for three figurines. Harun al Raschid is a Caliph who gets caught up in a squabble between a baker and his wife. Ivan the Terrible thwarts attempts at his life, only to go mad when he thinks that one has succeeded. And Spring-Heeled Jack seemingly threatens the writer in the wax museum! Each story is shorter than the last, though, making this a somewhat lopsided affair, with the grand majority of screen time focused on Harun al Raschid and Ivan the Terrible. Fortunately, all three tales are worthy and interesting, even sometimes incorporating surprise twists. There's a cleverness here not really present in the other two films I watched this weekend, and despite not being horrific, it's still pretty entertaining. That being said, it's got the same pacing and acting ticks that I notice in most silent films. It's a fun film, well worth checking out for film buffs... ***
Well there you have it. I still can't say as though I'm in love with the silent era, but I do find some of these movies fascinating, if only because of their influence and historical value. Next week, I shall return with some proto-slashers, including a German Krimi film and whatever else I can scare up.

Update: Rex posted some thoughts on The Cat and the Canary.

Again Update: Bonehead XL is also writing about The Cat and the Canary. It's all Cat and Canary, all the time on the internet! You should watch it too! Ok fine, he's got a bunch of other reviews too and his site promises to be another 6 weeks of Halloweeny fun.
Posted by Mark on September 23, 2012 at 07:20 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More X-Files Episodes
In what's sure to be an anticlimactic post, I'm going to list out a few of my favorite X-Files standalone monster-of-the-week episodes. Apologies for the lateness of this post, as my host apparently experienced some "hardware failures" over the weekend. All is well right now, though I had skipped the Sunday entry (first miss in years, so cut me some slack, Jack) and I even lost some Beer Blog stuff (though regular posting has resumed there as well). But I digress. Where was I? Ah yes, X-Files. A couple weeks ago, I revisited the series in general and listed out some of the most popular episodes. Today, I'm going to list some of my personal favorites, which may or may not be episodes that frequently show up in best-of lists. It will be earth-shattering to you all, I'm sure. Here goes:
  • Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12) - This has always been one of my favorite episodes, but it's also probably the one entry on this list that will also show up frequently in discussions of best episodes. It's another Vince Gilligan penned episode, so once again, I feel like its stock has risen as Gilligan's career has flourished. The story is all about vampires, and it's actually the second episode to tackle that classic monster (I guess it's worth noting that vamps weren't quite as hot a commodity as they are today). The first episode, 3, did not fare to well. Overly morose, obtuse, and kinda boring. Bad Blood, on the other hand, captures that goofy spirit the X-Files strayed to rather often, ultimately resulting in a much more satisfying story. But it's the Rashomon-like (update: according to Wikipedia, it's an homage to a specific episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show) structure of the plot that makes this noteworthy, as much of the story is told in flashback, first from the perspective of Scully, then from Mulder's perspective. Naturally, this yields two very different tales, further mining the chemistry of Mulder and Scully's relationship (one of the shows big strengths and something sorely lacking in the previous vampire episode). The two stories then converge into one, with an unlikely, but satisfying conclusion. Also of note, a great multi-faceted guest performance from Luke Wilson as the town Sheriff (who, of course, appears completely differently in the two different accounts).
  • Darkness Falls (Season 1, Episode 20) - Series creator Chris Carter wrote this episode about disappearing loggers in a remote Washington state forest. This one showed up towards the end of the first season, and I remember being enthralled by this story, cementing this as a show I would pay attention to... Unlike a lot of the episodes discussed thus far, this one is less of a goofy tale and more of a tension-filled, almost horror episode. Lots of great touches, from the nature of the threat (which came from chopping down a 500-1000 year old tree or something) to the dynamics between the agents, the logging company guy, the forest ranger, and a wacky environmentalist. There are these great scenes where the camera lingers on the power generator and the light bulb in the cabin they're staying in (this is notable, as the tiny buglike creatures they're facing are afraid of the light). Revisiting the episode recently, I'd say there are some aspects that don't hold up entirely well, particularly the ending, but it all fits with the show's themes and aesthetic. It's not a direct reference, but I kinda like the government conspiracy angle in the final moments of the episode. Very Raiders of the Lost Ark, I'm surprised the dude didn't use the exact words "Top Men". Still, this is certainly an episode worth your time.
  • Ice (Season 1, Episode 8) - Written by the duo of Glen Morgan and James Wong, this one is actually an entertaining retelling of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, which is the same source material for the more well-known movie incarnations like The Thing. There are some small tweaks that keep things interesting, but this is clearly a derivitive episode, and you'll recognize a lot of it, from the Arctic research station to the paranoia and so on. It's a solid episode, and it actually shares a lot of traits with the aforementioned Darkness Falls, though the latter episode clearly had a more original feel to it. Despite its derivative origins, it's still a great episode, well worth watching.
  • Die Hand Die Verletzt (Season 2, Episode 14) - Another Glen Morgan and James Wong script, this one featuring one of the more terrifying monsters in the early seasons. I will not spoil who or why, but I like the show's take on that old hoary satanist trope. If one were so inclined, the episode also has something to say about organized religion in general, and it does so in a clever way.
  • Je Souhaite (Season 7, Episode 21) - Another of those goofy later season episodes written by Vince Gilligan, this one doesn't seem to get as much attention, but I do love the episode, which is very funny and tightly plotted, with a surprisingly upbeat ending. It's playing all the typical Genie tropes, and it's kinda sad/goofy at first, but it builds steam as it goes, and I think it's one of the unsung episodes of the series...
  • Honorable Mentions: War of the Coprophages, Small Potatoes, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas, Monday, Arcadia, The Goldberg Variation, Hollywood A.D. (an average episode, but worth watching for the split screen bubble bath scene alone, and it's nice to see Skinner used to comedic effect), and ok fine, this was a fool's errand, there are tons of great X-Files episodes and most of these honorable mentions are just as good as any episode listed thus far.
So there you have it. I should note that I haven't really delved into seasons 8 and 9 (aka the years when David Duchovny gradually left the show, leading to new partners for Scully, etc...) There's actually some surprisingly good stuff in those seasons, but I don't think I watched them on their initial run and thus am less familiar with them. Hey, perhaps I can milk a third post out of this...
Posted by Mark on September 19, 2012 at 09:58 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Revisiting The X-Files
I'm not a big TV person, but as it turns out, this is less a result of quality than it is of convenience. I think it's the broadcast model that really grinds my gears, but in this age of DVRs and Streaming services, I find myself gravitating towards a lot of television shows that are fully available. This includes a lot of discoveries, but I also value the ability to go back and revisit a show I once loved. As you might guess, I've been watching a lot of The X-Files lately (the whole series is available and easy-to-mainline on Netflix Instant).

Clocking in a 9 seasons and 200+ episodes, it's not a series that lends itself to a single blog post, but it's still worth talking about. There were, of course, two main threads in the series: a continuity of alien/government conspiracy plot-based episodes (though not the first series that attempted such long-term storytelling - Twin Peaks and Wiseguy come to mind - it was still quite ahead of the curve in this respect), and a series of one-off creature of the week type episodes. The continuity episodes established an elaborate mythology that quickly became too dense and nonsensical to me. I'm not sure if that's just because I missed the occasional episode (and thus had no idea what was going on), or if it was because the overarching conspiracy just made no sense, but the general consensus is that the overall storyline went on a little too long, was drawn out over too many seasons, and just got overly complicated and downright silly in the process.

I was always more interested in the one-off standalone episodes though, and they're the ones I keep returning to... Some are memorable favorites, some are new discoveries, things I'd never seen before. One thing that strikes me now is that the series really did consist of an eclectic mixture of elements that worked surprisingly well. There are stoic episodes consisting of deadly serious tragic figures, or lighthearted comedic takes on normally staid subjects. There were a lot of horror or science fiction tropes thrown out there, but also more realistic takes that only feinted towards the paranormal (in particular, there were some serial killer episodes that had little to no supernatural elements). The series was one of the few that could scare you like a good horror movie, instill suspense like a Hitchcockian thriller, impart that expansive sense of wonder that's the hallmark of great science fiction, or just plain make you laugh with expertly crafted comedic episodes.

I haven't really revisited any of the mythology episodes, but the standalone stuff has held up remarkably well. Monsters, aliens, psychics, freaks, serial killers, urban legends, claustrophobia, disease, the series took on quite a broad set of topics. In addition to the subject matter, the series is notable for its production values. In particular, I think the series had great cinematography. Sure, it sometimes gets a little too dark and the special effects are certainly showing their age, but for a TV show made in the 1990s, it's remarkable. Most television of that era had a sorta "flat" feel to it, but the X-Files always seemed to have qualities more closely related to film. That's not particularly rare in contemporary television (especially with the rise of pay cable network television like HBO), but back in the day, watching television that had filmic qualities was quite an eye opener, and as the series progressed, they managed to push boundaries and play with conventions more than most shows of the era. Take, for example, the episode Triangle, which consisted of four continuous shots (there were actually a few more than that, but clever editing made each segment seem continuous, with only commercials breaking up the action).

I had originally planned to list out my favorite episodes that were also somewhat obscure - the ones you don't hear much about - but perhaps it would be good to quickly revisit the series' regularly accepted best episodes (and save the obscure ones for their own post). Unlike a lot of series, I find that my favorite episodes are pretty well represented among the typical best-of lists out there, so here they are:
  • Jose Chung's From Outer Space (Season 3, Episode 20) - Darin Morgan only wrote 5 episodes of the series, but his influence is clearly felt in the entire show. In particular, he brought an offbeat, humorous perspective to a show that could easily have become mired in alienation and despair. To be fair, those were certainly themes of the series, but thanks to writers like Morgan, they were not overbearing themes. This particular episode is one of the rare alien-focused episodes that doesn't connect with the series' mythology (and thus, one of the rare alien episodes that I enjoyed!) The episode is structured around a series of flashbacks and interviews, highlighting several different points-of-view and numerous unreliable narrators. This structure is leveraged for all it's worth, often emphasizing the humor, but also just plain weirdness inherent in the premise. Jose Chung is an author is seeking to write a book about alien abduction and thus he gloms onto Mulder and Scully. It's an interesting and fun episode.
  • Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4) - Another Darin Morgan penned episode, this one retains much of the goofy humor that Morgan is known for, but also infusing a tragic poignancy in the form of Clyde Bruckman, a psychic who can predict the circumstances of peoples' death. There's an interesting serial killer story going on in the background here, but this is really about playing the agents against Bruckman. In particular, I like the way this episode plays with skepticism among Mulder and Scully. Apparently actor Peter Boyle won an Emmy for his role here, and it's easy to see why. Morgan won an Emmy for writing as well, and again, it's easy to see why.
  • The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5, Episode 5) - This one's written by series-creator Chris Carter, and represents one of those broadening episodes that tried to break through typical formulas for the show by varying the style considerably. It's filmed in black and white and features a modern take on the Frankenstein story - a goofy homage to Universal's famous monster movies, with some comic book tropes thrown in for good measure. It's a really weird, surprisingly light-hearted episode, with lots of quirky details (in particular, the monster Mutato's love of Cher music has always stuck with me as a memorable quirky element here). Definitely one of the series more adventurous episodes.
  • Drive (Season 6, Episode 2) - I'm not sure this one would have made the list a few years ago, but because writer Vince Gilligan and actor Bryan Cranston were both involved in this episode, many have revisited this one in light of their later work on Breaking Bad (another series I'm trying to catch up on). Gilligan is actually responsible for a lot of great X-Files episodes (including another called Pusher that often makes best-of lists) and you really can see his style in both these episodes and his later work on critical darling Breaking Bad. Gilligan was one of the few to successfully pick up the goofy humor once Darin Morgan left the series, but this particular episode features very little in the way of humor. It's actually once of the tenser affairs in the series. There's a government conspiracy angle that fits with the series themes, though it's still standalone. A lot of tension is ratcheted into the premise by working with a sorta counting-clock mixed with geographical limitations, and the unrelenting pace is matched by a rather dark and depressing ending. There's a lot of haunting moments here, though I do think that Gilligan tends to rely on certain crutches in his storytelling, particularly with respect to characters not explaining themselves (something I've noticed in Breaking Bad as well). In any case, this is a very well crafted, if disturbing, episode.
  • Home (Season 4, episode 2) - Generally considered to be the best of the standalone episodes, this one featured a script by James Wong and Glen Morgan (brother of the aforementioned Darin Morgan). It's also probably the most graphic and disturbing episode of the series. While many of the series' horror beats relied on "boo" moments of monsters jumping out of the dark screen, this one relied on a slow burning story concerning a terrifying clan of inbred backwoods hillbillies, calling to mind an entire subgenre of horror that, quite frankly, this episode pretty much outclasses (with maybe one notably exception of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Some of the most terrifying, disquieting moments of the series are contained within, and this is a must watch episode for any horror fan (or fan of the series). It's actually one that I missed upon its initial run, but which I discovered years later in an eye-opening experience.
There are, of course, lots of other regularly praised episodes, but I'll save them for a later post, along with some of my personal favorites.

The X-Files has a clear legacy, but few shows that followed have really captured what made this show great. The broader legacy includes all of the shows writers and directors, who've gone on to write and direct shows like Lost and Breaking Bad. There have been a few recent heirs to the series, though none has really approached the versatility or depth of the X-Files. Still, shows like Warehouse 13 (a sorta mashup of X-Files and that wacky Friday the 13th series) and Fringe do their best, and even succeed in some limited degrees. At this point, I'm guessing there won't be another series like The X-Files, and maybe that's ok.
Posted by Mark on September 09, 2012 at 06:53 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Director Joseph Kahn has only made two movies, but they're both impossible to categorize. Oh sure, Torque is clearly a Fast and Furious clone, but Kahn made it his own. It's a movie that "so bad it's good" doesn't even begin to describe. Back in the day, Nick Nunziata did as good a job as possible describing it:
When I say that Torque is the most shamelessly synthetic and overstylized action flick ever made I mean it in the nicest way possible. This film makes cheese blush. It gives bullet time lead poisoning. From the first computer assisted race sequence to the climactic Chop-Kawasaki and Mach 48373 race through the city, Torque revels in excess in ways that would resurrect Don Simpson and eject him from his grave in slow motion as doves gather and carry him to the surface of Venus where he is pelted with little rocks shaped like Jerry Bruckheimer's night terrors. As the film unfolded I seriously found myself falling in love with its utter fakeness and bold arrogance. You know the kind of love I'm referring to. The love an inmate finds after cell blocks B and C ventilate his colon enough so that he forgets what it was like before the whistling sound began to waft from his drawers twenty-four hours a day. Before his ass had its own climate. Torque is that rough lover, the one who punches you in the eyes when he/she is happy and does spinning monkey kicks to your coccyx when he/she feels melancholy. This film has the Goodyear blimp testicles to recreate a quote from The Fast and the Furious (also produced by Neal Moritz, one of this film's many Summerian summoners) and then scoff at it.

It scoffs at The Fast and the Furious, a film that not only made this film possible but one that looks like a Cassavettes flick in comparison. Let that sink in. I'll wait.
I can't say as though I truly enjoy Torque as much as its cult following suggests, but Kahn's latest film, Detention, is something I fell in love with right away.

Within 5 minutes of Detention, I was on board. And, judging from the reviews (and even audience reactions), most other folks wouldn't be. But that's ok. This isn't a movie for everyone. It's a movie for the information-overloaded internet and texting generation (you could consider me on the outside of that, I think, but not so far outside that I can't appreciate what this movie is going for). Referential, manic, kinetic, goofy, this thing makes Scott Pilgrim look like an Ozu film. Smash cuts, whip pans, excessive cross-cutting, flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks, on-screen text, and did I mention how referential this movie is?

It's not a subtle movie. You could say that's a bad thing, but for me, it's rocketed past unsubtle and into some sort of transcendence. This is a movie that makes hyperbole seem inadequate. You could say that this is a movie that's trying to hard. It could feel like an exhausting experience, an endurance test, or maybe a seizure-inducing bomb. It seems like everything that I think is great about this movie could equally be considered a flaw by detractors. But while I can see why people would feel that way, I quite enjoyed it.

The story, inasmuch as you could say it has a story, is about Riley Jones, a high-school "loser" who runs afoul of a slasher-inspired killer. Er, sorta. It's like a demented mixture of John Hughes and Donnie Darko and Freaky Friday and countless horror films. Kahn is riffing off of current horror movie trends, notably torture porn, but fusing it with references from the 80s and 90s. In fact, the 90s references seem to be about on par, if not more prevalent, than the 80s references.

The movie is so fast paced that I suspect it will reward multiple viewings. It's packed with references, not only in the dialogue, but also in the visuals and conceptual design. For instance, there's a movie-within-a-movie slasher franchise called Cinderhella, and our main character, Riley, is walking around with one shoe for most of the movie. So while this film is ostensibly hitting you in the face with a sledgehammer (in the form of editing and writing), there are some subtle touches when it comes to stuff like this. The references are widely sourced; not just movies, but also music and fashion and probably stuff I didn't even come close to picking up on... If you get it, it's awesome, and if you don't, you might not like it. On the other hand, this is a movie made for the internet age. In interviews, Kahn suggests that he expects the audience to pick the movie apart and look up references on the internet. Indeed, I can see this movie gaining a big cult following who will go on to cultivate a wiki or something that would catalog all of the myriad references. Is this a good thing? I guess that depends on your perspective, but I'm glad someone is playing around with that sort of thing for this new generation. Referential art is certainly not a new thing, even excessively referential art.

Kahn is pushing the boundaries of information processing. Consider how fast the on-screen text is displayed. which is clearly calibrated for a younger, texting-obsessed audience. Other folks might be tempted to tell this movie to get off their lawn, and that's ok too. I will admit, the movie is all over the place. That might trip it up some in the second and third acts, but it ultimately holds together well and I suspect that some of the seemingly goofy plot machinations that emerge later in the movie fit together tightly. For a movie featuring time travel, angry Canadians, alien bears from the planet Starclaw, and copious amounts of vomit, this is quite the feat. Again, I think repeated viewings might be necessary to break the code.

This is bold, audacious, adventurous filmmaking at its best. Sure, it's totally bonkers, but it's got a manic energy that's hard not to like. A part of me, the part that tries to overanalyze and nitpick everything, doesn't really know what to make of it, but on a pure entertainment level, it's something that really appeals to me. I suspect you'll be hearing more about this movie when it comes to Kaedrin awards season... (Incidentally, I tried to take some screenshots from the BD, but it appears that BD's copy protection means I can't actually watch it on my PC, despite having a BD drive and "approved" player. Yet another instance of DRM making it hard on those of us who want to support filmmakers.)
Posted by Mark on August 26, 2012 at 06:34 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Final Girl Film Club: The Initiation
It has been far too long since I've joined in on the Final Girl Film Club, so I'm rectifying that situation with this month's pick: The Initiation. It's not quite the cheesefest of some slashers, but on the other hand, it actually acquits itself reasonably well. Definitely a second tier effort, but well worth watching for fans of the sub-genre.

Things get kicked off, as they often do in slashers, with a tragedy in the past. A young girl awakes in a room filled with decapitated dolls (this is brought up again later in the movie, though never really explained). She hears strange noises, so she goes to investigate. As she approaches her parents' room, she glimpses them knocking boots in the mirror. Naturally, she takes this opportunity to stab her father in the leg... at which point, some strange man bursts into the room. The father grabs a bottle of liquor and attacks, but he only succeeds in dousing the man in alcohol. Stunned, he falls backwards into the roaring fireplace, whereupon he immediately bursts into flames. All pretty standard slasher tragic history stuff here, but then the twist: It's all a dream! (This sort of cliched "twist" is a recurring theme in the movie.)

It appears that this is a recurring nightmare for Kelly, a college freshman played by Daphne Zuniga. She's probably most famous for her work in Melrose Place, but to me, she will always be Princess Vespa. Here, she's pledging a (not at all creepy) sorority, and the head of the sorority informs her (and her sisters) of the typical 80s college movie prank they must carry out: they're to break into Kelly's family's mall and steal the security guard's uniform. Delightful.
But don't get your hopes up yet, because it'll be another hour or so before we get there. Instead, we take a detour to a sanitarium (never seen that in a slasher before, eh?) where we see a Nurse Ratchet wannabe sticking it to the inmates, including a dude with burns all over his face and a penchant for gardening. This in no way foreshadows anything, right?

Checkov's Gardening Implement
Of course, Ratchet wannabe girl is murdered during a daring sanitarium escape scheme in which numerous crazies have gone missing... including someone Kelly's parents are afraid of!

Meanwhile, Kelly's got the hots for her dream analysis professor Peter, who thinks he may be able to help her interpret her recurring nightmares. He takes her to "The Dream Factory", otherwise known as the basement, whereupon he hooks her up to all this fancy equipment, with the help of his wacky aid, Heidi. We immediately trust Peter because he's super intelligent, as demonstrated by his repeated references to Freud and Jung. Also: Science! Anywho, we find out a little more about Kelly and her dream as well as a childhood accident where she fell out of a treehouse, slipped into a coma, and then emerged weeks later with amnesia. As Heidi speculates, that ain't no nightmare man, it's a memory! Heidi will later perform quite the Scooby sleuthing on Kelly's past...
There's a lot of meandering in the second act, but it nevertheless manages to maintain momentum and entertainment value. For instance, there's the typical slasher party sequence, complete with cheesy 80s live band music and a bonkers theme - everyone dresses up as their "favorite suppressed desires". This generally manifests as girls wearing slutty costumes, but there's one dude who dresses up like a giant penis. Of course!

Elsewhere, people are mysteriously dying, courtesy of the aforementioned gardening implements. This relatively short list of victims includes Kelly's father, who is beheaded on his way to see his mistress. In one of the film's more brilliant and retrained comedic touches, Kelly's mother notices that he forgot his glasses, and runs outside, only to find his car driving off (this is presumably the killer covering his tracks), and exclaims "Sometimes I think that man would forget his head if it wasn't attached!" This, again, is just after he was beheaded.

Next up, we finally get to the aforementioned mall prank... but it appears that our killer has gotten there before our heroines. There's a lengthy sequence in which the porn mustachioed security guard who doesn't know how to button his uniform shirt and wears cowboy boots is stalked by the killer, eventually succumbing to yet another gardening implement. Not sure who this guy is, but he clearly thought this was his prestige moment and gives a full-throated scream as he dies. I believe he was nominated for an Academy Award that year, but didn't win.
Finally, the girls get to the mall and devise a plan wherein everyone splits up to find the security guard and separate him from his uniform. Naturally, the other sisters in the sorority have contracted out with the frat boys to give the girls a good scare (classic 80s prank twist), and of course, they get picked off one by one in a series of increasingly odd sequences that, nevertheless, never quite reach the levels of insanity or gore you want out of a good slasher. Sure, there's a basic level of competence here, but there's nothing here that you haven't seen before.

It's ultimately all good fun. There are a series of obvious twists and turns in the final minutes of the movie, again carrying forward the theme of cliched plot devices. This movie really does check off the slasher boxes pretty well. It's got everything. Past tragedy, suppressed memories, Freud, Jung, sanitariums, burn victims, evil twins, awkward revelations of child abuse, lots of T&A, obscure tools that are nonetheless common weapons in slasher movies (most notably the speargun), bad 80s music, faux-science, the list goes on and on. Pretty much every thing about this movie, every kill, every plot development, every character is derivative of other slashers... and yet, it works. It works pretty damn well, actually.

That is the paradox of slasher movies, I guess. They're so formulaic and so derivative, and yet, so comforting in their sameness. It's like horror movie comfort food. Like putting on a warm sweater on a cold winter's night. As slashers go, I'd put this in the upper portion of the second tier. It's clearly not top tier stuff, but it gets the job done well, and there's a lot of nice little touches. This movie essentially represents a really nice appetizer for my upcoming 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon, which I now cannot wait for...

Some more screens and commentary below the fold, though not a ton, as it's a pain to take screens off of Netflix's streaming.

Death by Garden Tool
This is Kelly's father, played by Clu Gulager, who I actually kinda love because he's in a lot of movies, and his son is the lunatic director from season three of Project Greenlight (the best and most kooky season of that unfortunately long defunct series).
Part 2 of Kelly's father's death is a beheading done in shadows! Yet another common slasher trope.
Yep, it's a penis costume. Not sure what "suppressed desire" this tracks to for this guy, but whatever, I think... this is probably a good place to end this post.
Posted by Mark on August 19, 2012 at 08:05 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On Nitpicking
I watch a lot of movies and thus it follows that I also consume a fair amount of film criticism, mostly through the internets (reviews, forums, podcasts, etc...) One thing I've noticed recently in a few high-profile movies is that many reviews resort to long lists of nitpicking. I'm certainly not immune to this tendency - I tried to minimize my nitpicks in my Prometheus review, but if I were so inclined, I could probably generate a few thousand words picking the nits out of that movie. I really disliked that movie, but were the nitpicks the cause? Another movie I could probably nitpick to death is The Dark Knight Rises... and yet, I really enjoyed that movie. We could quibble about the quantity and magnitude of the nitpicks in both films, but a recent discussion with a friend on both movies made me start wondering about nitpicks again. It's something I've seen before, though I don't think I've ever really written about it in detail.

The origin of the term comes from the process of removing the eggs of lice (aka nits) from the host's hair. Because the nits attach themselves to individual strands of hair, the process of removing them is tedious and slow. You could shave all the hair off and later, chemical methods of treating lice infestations became available. But the term nitpicking has lived on as a way describing the practice of meticulously examining a subject in search of subtle errors in detail. In the context of this post, we're talking about movies, but this gets applied to lots of other things.

When it comes to movies and TV series, nitpicks can go either way. Some will claim that the existence of nitpicks are evidence that the show or movie is sloppy and poorly made. Others will claim that the nitpickers are missing the forest for the trees. Nitpickers just don't "get it" and are taking the fun out of everything. In fairness, there's probably an element of truth to both sides of that argument, but I think they're both missing the point of nitpicks, which is this: Nitpicks are almost always emblematic of a deeper problem with the story or characters. Oh sure, there are some people who can't turn their brains off and nitpick because they're just analytical by nature (one definition of engineer's disease), but even in those cases, I think there's something to be said for a deeper dislike than the nitpicks would seem to indicate.

Nitpicks are the symptoms, not the disease. I didn't dislike Prometheus because, for example, their spaceship was in a constant state of thrust at the beginning of the movie or because there was no explanation for how the ship maintained gravity in space. But both of those things were immediately obvious to me, which tells me that I wasn't really immersed in the story that was being told. As the movie unfolds, a number of breathtakingly stupid plot developments were continually taking me out of the story. Perhaps if the movie wasn't so stupid, I may have overlooked those initial observations, but as the nitpicks mounted, it became harder and harder to overlook them. I don't go into a movie hoping that it will suck. There's a certain amount of goodwill that a movie has to wear away at in order to ruin immersion, and for whatever reason the quantity and magnitude of nitpicks with Prometheus wore out that goodwill pretty quickly. The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, didn't bother me nearly as much. In fact, as I mentioned in my review, most of the nitpicks I have with that movie came to light after the fact. It's what Hitchcock calls a "refrigerator" movie: something that makes sense while you're watching it, but falls apart under critical examination (while standing in front of the refrigerator later in the night). That being said, for lots of people, that wasn't enough. And that's perfectly understandable.

In general, it seems that people are perhaps less objective than they'd like to think. One of the great things about art is that the pieces that move us usually aren't doing so solely on an intellectual level... and when it comes to emotion, words sometimes fail us. Take, for example, a comedy. The great thing about laughter is that you don't have to think about it, it just happens. Different people have different tastes, of course, and that's where subjectivity comes in. But for whatever reason, we don't like to admit that, so we try to rationalize our feelings about a given movie. And if we don't like that movie, such rationalizations may manifest in the form of nitpicks. None of this is absolute, of course. Most art works on both intellectual and emotional levels, and as you gain experience with a given medium or genre (or whatever), you will start to pick out patterns and tropes. One of the interesting things about this is that what gets labeled a "nitpick" can vary widely in scope. Nitpicks can range from trivial mistakes to serious continuity errors, but they all get lumped under the same category. As such, I think it can be difficult to discern what's a nitpick and what's the root cause of said nitpick.

A few years ago, I was discussing John Scalzi's book Old Man's War in an online forum. I (and a number of other forum members) enjoyed the book greatly, but one person didn't. When asked why, she responded that it was disappointing that, during one scene earlier in the book, a doctor spent time explaining how some machines worked to his patient. This is a nitpick if I've ever seen one. What she said was true - it was somewhat unrealistic that these two characters would stop what they're doing to have a discussion about how certain technologies operated. But I was wrapped up in the story by that point, so I barely even noticed it. Even after it was pointed out, it didn't ruin the book for me. She was not invested in the story though, so that scene was jarring to her. After further discussion, it turns out that this was a specific manifestation of a larger issue she had with the book, which was that it lazily introduced concepts through awkward exposition or dialogue, and never followed through on any of it. I don't particularly agree with her on that, but I can see where she's coming from.

I think the lesson here is that when people are nitpicking a movie to death, it's not necessarily the specific nitpicks that are so bothersome. Perhaps, in some cases, it's the combined weight of all the nitpicks that causes an issue, but I suspect that even in those cases, the nitpicks are merely the most obvious examples of a deeper problem. I think both critics and defenders would do well to recognize this sort of thing. It's fun to list out nitpicks or examples of something you don't like about a work of art, but that's not really what criticism is about. I don't mean to say that you can't or shouldn't do this sort of thing, just that it would be useful at some point to look back at that list and wonder what it was about the book or movie or whatever that inspired you to meticulously chronicle minor errors or whatever. This is probably easier said than done. I can't say as though I succeed at this all the time, but then, I'm just some dude wanking on the internets. Ultimately, all of this is somewhat superfluous, but it's something worth considering the next time you find yourself cataloging trivial errors in detail.
Posted by Mark on August 12, 2012 at 06:38 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Obscure Movie Corner
I always hate it when I see a list of "Movies you've never seen before" or somesuch on the internets. It just seems so... presumptuous and conceited. Like all lists, sometimes they're good, sometimes they stink, usually they're somewhere in the middle. Well, recently a friend of mine asked me for some recommendations for movies he might not have seen (based on a discussion in meatspace about Christopher Nolan's first film, Following, a movie he had not seen). "Go deep," he says, so I did. This all happened on twitter though, and that 140 character limit is a bit chafing. Plus, it seems like an interesting topic for this here blog, which will also let me bloviate about these movies at length. I always enjoy highlighting the offbeat or obscure movies out there on my blog, and one thing you'll notice about some of the below recommendations is that a lot of them have shown up on the yearly Kaedrin Movie Awards or Top 10 lists (2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006) or elsewhere on the blog. But sometimes I think they get buried and again, I always like an opportunity to shine a light on obscure movies that folks don't talk about much... So here we go:
  • Following - Might as well start here, since this is what inspired the list in the first place. It's Christopher Nolan's first film, and you can very much tell that it's from the same director as the breakout Memento. The premise is that a young writer starts following random people he sees on the street. The point is to get ideas for his writing, but of course, he eventually follows the wrong person and hijinks ensue. It's a small movie, told asynchronously (though not quite as mindbending as Memento, it's still a pretty interesting exercise in editing and storytelling). It's actually something I'd like to revisit sometime, but if you haven't seen it and you've enjoyed Nolan's work, it's worth tracking down. And it's on Netflix Instant, so it's pretty easy to find!
  • Fish Story - This is the first movie that came to mind when tasked with obscure movies someone might not have seen. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura has been slowly gaining a cult following amongst film nerds of late (I became aware of him at last year's Fantastic Fest), and with efforts like this, it's easy to see why. I don't really want to say much about this - it's pretty rare in this day and age that you get to sit down and watch a movie without knowing anything about it. Not that knowing basic premise is all that damaging to the viewing, but still, I had a really nice experience in part because I didn't know anything about it going in... Also on Netflix Instant, so definitely something to add to your queue and watch ASAP. Alas, not much other stuff from Nakamura is available in the US (but if you get the chance, A Boy and His Samurai is also great).
  • The Mission - The first of three Johnny To movies on the list, this is one that doesn't seem to get a whole lot of attention, but I really love it. To gets overshadowed by other Hong Kong action directors like John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Ringo Lam, but for my money, he's the best director working in Honk Kong today. This one is a relatively straightforward gangster tale, but it demonstrates To's distinctive style well. Woo is known for choreographing beautiful, almost balletic action. To seems to have a more meticulous, intricate, chess-like strategy to filming action that is really quite striking. This movie features a lot of it, where you see a team of bodyguards take up positions, and To films it in such a way that almost all of them are on screen, despite the fact that they're well dispersed around the area. Really striking stuff. Not available on streaming, but readily available on Netflix DVD...
  • Breaking News - Another Johnny To movie, this one included mostly for the opening action sequence, which is absolutely astounding. I actually mentioned it a while back in my post on long takes, and this thing is really quite well done, and again demonstrates To's ability to stage intricate action sequences. The rest of the movie is solid, though it never quite reaches the heights of that opening again. Still worth checking out. Again, available on DVD.
  • Mad Detective - The last of the Johnny To movies, this one is quite a bit more wacky than the preceding films. It's got a strange, supernatural element and a sorta elliptical storytelling style that I think is quite striking. There's not a ton of action here, but To's knack for intricate staging still plays a big role. [Full Review]
  • Hard Candy - I'm not entirely sure how obscure this one is, but people rarely seem to bring it up. It's one of Ellen Page's breakthrough movies, and a well deserved one at that. Be forewarned, it's got some heavy stuff in it - it's about a pedophile and features only two characters and one major setting. It's difficult to describe, but it manages to generate a lot of tension, and quite strangely, your sympathies sorta shift around as you're watching. Not everything is what it seems! Worth watching.
  • Brick - Again, not really sure how obscure this one is, but this mashup of high school and film noir is definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it. Also a good idea to catch up with director Rian Johnson's early films before he hits it big time with Looper. Speaking of which:
  • The Brothers Bloom - Rian Johnson's sophomore effort is perhaps not as tight as Brick, but it's still a blast. It hits all the con movie tropes while still managing to carve out an identity of its own, and while the ending isn't quite perfect, it's still better than I was expecting. It's a lot of fun, with a neat, twisty plot and some great performances (particularly Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi, who are just delightful in this movie).
  • Timecrimes - Best director name ever Nacho Vigalondo's intricate time travel tale that illustrates a chain of consequences that result from a mistaken, 1 hour trip back in time. Cascading paradox avoidance and a light tone, though it doesn't shy away from its darker side. Really wonderful little film, and I can't wait to see more in this vain from Vigalondo. In the meantime, you should also be able to check out his other film:
  • Extraterrestrial - More of a romantic comedy than anything else, it is set on the backdrop of an uneventful alien invasion, giving it an interesting vibe on what could have been a simple retread. May disappoint fans of Timecrimes, but I had a lot of fun with it.
  • The Man from Earth - Definitely among the most obscure movies on this list, it's also a very low budget movie that mostly takes place in a single house, featuring a bunch of conversations by some academics and their buddy, who's moving on. For a film that is very talky, there's a pretty well established dramatic throughline, and some interesting twists and turns. Well worth a watch.
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil - A neat little movie that turns the Hillbilly Horror subgenre on its head. It's a ton of fun, especially for folks acquainted with horror tropes. By the way, don't watch the trailer for this, as it gives away a lot of the jokes. I've sung the praises of this one for a while now, and I know I've turned at least a couple people onto it... why not check it out yourself?
  • Gambit - Near as I can tell, this is hugely obscure, and I don't know why, as it's quite spectacular. It's something of a heist film, starring a very young Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine... It's got an unusual structure, but that only serves to keep you off balance, and things never quite go the way you'd expect. Unfortunately, it's no longer available on Netflix Instant, and they don't have the DVD either. But it is available on Amazon Streaming (for purchase). I really wish this were more widely available, as it's a really wonderful addition to one of my favorite genres (the heist film). If you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up.
  • Blood and Black Lace - Ok, so probably not that obscure for Horror genre hounds like myself, but if you haven't had the chance to check out the Italian Giallo films, this is an excellent place to start. It's one of the few films that can lay claim to birthing the slasher sub-genre, though it doesn't feature any of the excess that sub-genre is known for. Still, it's got a body count and a masked killer, but it's impeccably filmed and well worth watching for any student of the horror genre.
  • M - Alright, so this one is definitely not obscure by any stretch of the imagination, except insofar as people from my generation tend to be somewhat ignorant of films made before the 1960s (ok, unwarranted sweeping generalization, but I think you can see my point). If you've ever hesitated about this movie, don't, it's exceptional. Fritz Lang's classic tale of a serial killer (of children, no less) who runs afoul of the local criminal element (in a beautifully ironic twist, the police get so frustrated that they can't find the killer that they crack down on the typical criminals, who quickly get sick of this and resolve to find the killer themselves so that they can get back to business as usual). Lang's brilliant expressionism, along with great performances and photography, make this film an absolute classic.
  • Martin - This might be my favorite of George Romero's movies... and it's not even a zombie movie. It's about vampires. Sorta. It's actually a pretty unique and modern take on the vampire, much more interesting than a lot of contemporary takes. Seek it out.
Well, I could probably go on like this for another 10 or 20 movies, but I'll leave it at that for now...
Posted by Mark on August 05, 2012 at 08:40 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On The Inevitable Batman Reboot
This list of five things he wants in the Batman reboot (assuming that the next film in the franchise will be some form of reboot) has some interesting notions. I'll have more to say about some of his other demands, but if I were ever tapped to make a Batman movie (or comic, for that matter), this one would be my keystone:
Make Batman a detective.

The full name is "The Dark Knight Detective." Batman isn't just an urban vigilante in a strange getup - he's a master detective whose deductive skills rival Sherlock Holmes. This element of Batman is historically underplayed, and Nolan's Batfilms in particular have ignored his detective element (or, more truthfully when Nolan has engaged the detective element it has been in a way that makes Batman seem stupider, like the fingerprints on the Joker's bullet thing).

Tell a story where Batman isn't just punching guys but where he's engaged in a real mental match-up. Where he's not only riding in his Batmobile but also piecing together seemingly mundane and pointless clues. Where he's seemingly at a loss but is actually one step ahead of the villain. Look to the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films for a sense of how to do this.
He loses me with the Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes reference (I guess they're fine for what they are, but are they really something to emulate?), but otherwise, this is spot on. Batman's first appearance was in Detective Comics, after all, and he's supposed to be the world's greatest crime solver. Why not give him an actual mystery to solve? As the Devin Faraci (the author of the piece) notes, this aspect of Batman is historically underplayed, but everyone loves a good sleuthing, so long as the mystery is actually clever and not just obscure (i.e. don't hire Lindelof and Abrams, though I suspect people would lobby for that duo). To my mind, this sort of story would be an ideal fit for The Riddler as villain, but I'm getting ahead of myself. More on villains later.

As for Faraci's other suggestions, I don't feel strongly about most of them, but let's take a look anyway. Maybe I can muster up some invective or praise:
  • Less Frank Miller, more Grant Morrison. Having already copped to not having read the comics, I'm not really qualified to respond to this, but I think I can go along with the general point, which is to make Batman less grim and gritty and more fun. Makes sense, but there's also a fine line to walk. I'd like to avoid the Danny Devito Penguin, if you please. Say what you will about Nolan, but I like his mixture of realism and comic book fantasy when it comes to a character like the Joker.
  • Get rid of the bulky rubber outfit. I'm mostly ambivalent about this one, though I agree that it would be nice to see a good portrayal of the grey suit. On the other hand, the grey suit has that whole Underwear of Power thing going against it, so I'm fine if they stick with the black armored stuff.
  • Have it take place in the DC Universe. Again, not really qualified here, but I would want anything in this vein to be subtle and on the periphery. Post-credits sequence would be acceptable. I may have more to say on this a little later in this post.
  • Don't you dare make it an origin story. Hell yes. Wholeheartedly agreed here. As Devin notes, "I'll allow a visit to the grave of the Waynes, but that's it." Heh.
So, what would I really want out of a reboot, besides making Batman a detective and eschewing the origin story? I'm glad you asked:
  • Give Batman a single villain. Look, I get it, Batman has the strangest, most memorable, and all around best rogues gallery in all of comics. But please, please show some restraint here. Villains seem to multiply in sequels, but I'd respectfully request that be avoided as well. You only have two hours or so, and it's exceedingly difficult to manage the balancing act of having so many characters onscreen. What's more, it's completely unnecessary. You want to do a story with The Riddler and The Penguin? Fine, make two different movies. It's not like the studio doesn't want two more movies. Keeping the number of main characters to a minimum is another reason I don't really like the idea of opening Batman up to the rest of the DC universe (though I suppose that can be done responsibly).
  • Avoid the Joker. I know someone will eventually get the unenviable task of rebooting the role of the Joker at some point, but for now, you have to leave this one alone. There's just no beating Ledger's Joker right now. Maybe with the passing of time, a new take on the Joker can emerge, but for now, let's just focus on the rest of that neglected rogues gallery. What I would have loved to have seen with Leger's Joker was a situation in which Batman would consult with Joker in Arkham, Hannibal Lecter style ("What became of your lamb, Batman?") That is one situation where multiple villains would actually work. Alas, I still think it's too soon for such an approach. A Harley Quinn approach would be an interesting way to reprise the Joker's themes without the Joker himself... but I'm digressing.
  • Don't set up a sequel/crossover. Like limiting the story to one villain, this is all about focusing on the matter at hand. I think some leniency could be made on this point if the setup is minimized and subtle, like in a post-credits sequence (Nolan managed pretty handily in Batman Begins). This one is another reason I'm not a fan of opening Batman up to the rest of the DC Universe. Again, it could be done responsibly, but there's a big possibility the movie would pull an Iron Man 2.
So there's my five requests. I suppose an honorable mention could go to leaving out a love interest for Batman/Wayne... but that sorta goes along with the minimizing characters theme I've got going with the list. My movie would be pretty simple from a number of characters standpoint, but perhaps more complex from a theme and plot perspective (as befitting a mystery, though obviously there'd have to be enough characters to maintain suspicions). This is straightforward stuff: Make him a detective, pit him against a single villain who is not the Joker, and don't say anything about sequels or origin stories. It's minimalist, but don't worry, I can guarantee this won't happen. Unless Hollywood calls, in which case, I'm all over it.
Posted by Mark on July 25, 2012 at 09:59 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises
On Thursday into Friday, I took in a marathon of all three of Christopher Nolan's Batman films. This presentation has put me into a more reflective mood than I would have if I'd only seen the latest installment, The Dark Knight Rises, so there's going to be a fair amount of wandering discussion to start the post. The short, spoiler-free news here is that The Dark Knight Rises is a worthy successor to The Dark Knight, though it doesn't quite approach the latter's true greatness. To a certain degree, this film does suffer a bit from sequelitis, but much less so than any other comic book franchise to reach a third installment. I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but if you want to avoid them, I'd stop reading and come back once you've seen the film.

The modern comic book franchise has an interesting pattern that is unlike most movie series. The first film tells the origin story, and is generally competent and commercially successful. Rarely do these first installments achieve greatness, as origin stories are difficult to pull off. The origin itself is usually the most interesting part, but it also crowds out the villain or inciting conflict a bit, making the conclusion of the movie seem rushed or awkward. Still, by that time, the movie has probably ingratiated itself to the audience to such a degree that imperfection is tolerated if not celebrated. For his part, Nolan did an excellent job with Batman Begins, which is one of the better origin stories in modern comic book movies.

But the interesting thing about comic book movies is that the second film often eclipses the first. There are, of course, exceptions to this. The Burton/Schumacher Batman series certainly fell prey to the challenges inherent with sequels. Iron Man 2 suffered less from being a sequel than from being a building block in a larger scheme, though the problems are similar. However, most comic book sequels in the oughts were surprisingly good (perhaps because they learned from Burton's mistakes). The origin and world-building was out of the way, and the filmmakers were free to tell a straightforward story arc. This made for sequels that were tighter and more assured than their predecessors. Think X2 or Spider-Man 2. And, of course, The Dark Knight (which is my personal favorite).

This leads into the third film, which, for numerous reasons, tends to be the last film. One of the interesting things about comic book movies is that they often tend to retain the creative team from film to film. This becomes a commercial challenge, as the productions then get more and more expensive, and with expense comes other limitations. Plus, the actors have aged and the director wants to move on. Knowing that this is their last chance with the material, the third film often becomes crammed with the comic's famous remaining story arcs. Multiple villains, additional characters, and at least two major story arcs get smushed into a single narrative, muddying the waters quite a bit. As such, series with a good second installment end up faltering under the weight of expectation (because the second film was so good), expediency, commercial considerations, and overstuffed narratives. We end up with Spider-Man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand. Neither series has fully recovered, though both have had spinoffs or reboots, with varying degrees of success.

So, does The Dark Knight Rises succumb to the same pressures? Perhaps, but it's as good as I could have ever expected. It's certainly miles ahead of the aforementioned third films, even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor. It's worth taking a look at why The Dark Knight was so successful. To my mind, it's because that movie transcended its origins. It felt less like a comic book adaptation, and much more like its own entity. This isn't to hate on comic books. I'm not someone who looks down on the medium or anything, but one commonality to most comic book movies is that they feel like an adaptation. And what do we know about adaptations? The book is usually considered to be better than the movie (with a few rare but notable exceptions), and while I haven't read a lot of comic books, I suspect this is the case for the grand majority of film adaptations. But I don't get that feeling from The Dark Knight. There are some who will complain about how grounded the movie is, almost like it's ashamed of its comic book origins, and that's certainly a discussion worth having, but to me, that's just the film trying to be its own thing. It's a realistic take on the concept of a vigilante, and it acknowledges the problems with such a stance (something few superhero movies do). There's a devil in the details vibe to the film that just works so well - Batman is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. The Dark Knight isn't good for a comic book movie, it's a good movie, period. Again, it transcends its roots, and that's why I love it.

Now, it is not a perfect film. There are some plot machinations that didn't fit well and Nolan is not known for direction action sequences (to my mind, he's much more notable as a writer and storyteller than as a visual stylist, though he can certainly hold his own), but to me, all of that is overlooked because of the narrative and emotional arcs that were weaved through the film.

The Dark Knight Rises has similar imperfections, but it never gells together quite as well as its predecessor, and indeed, it feels like an adaptation again. Like a lot of third installments, there are more villains, more side characters, more story arcs smushed together here, but Nolan somehow manages to make it work. I was very worried about all the new characters - Catwoman, Bane, Blake, and several others - and while I'm not sure all of that was necessary, they did a good enough job with it all. It helps that they cast talented and charismatic actors in those roles. Anne Hathaway is wonderful, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy series (but, uh, stuffy in a good way). It's unfair to compare her to Heath Ledger's joker for a number of reasons, but from a charisma and charm perspective, she did remind me of that performance. Unfortunately, while she has a hefty side role, she doesn't really have a ton of screentime (one of the problems with having so many characters). Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job as rookie cop Blake, but I couldn't help but think that his character felt a little tacked-on. I wouldn't change it, because I ultimately like where its going, but it does add to the feeling that the film is a bit stuffed.

So we come to Bane. I have mixed feelings on this matter. In truth, I think Nolan exceeded my expectations. Bane is a worthy villain, even if his byzantine plans are a bit of a retread for the series (we find out why later in the movie). He also shares some of the villainy duties with other characters, though Bane is clearly the big bad here. Tom Hardy does his best, but for a character that is so expressive, it's frustrating that we can't ever see his face (the various costumes and disembodied voice are a little strange too, but I went with it). At one point in the film, there's a bit of a flashback, and we do get to see him sans mask. It's such a weird feeling, because Hardy really is a magnetic presence in any film, and he displays that more in a split second of the flashback than we get whenever he has the mask on. He works as a villain, but he's got big shoes to fill, and it's tough to beat Ledger's Joker. It's a bit of a conundrum, one of those things that makes the movie feel like an adaptation, rather than its own thing. Again, I've not read a lot of Batman comics or anything, but I'm guessing that Bane works better on the page than he does on screen. The being said, he gets the job done.

Christian Bale is dependable as always, and he's given some heft to chew on in this film. Nolan has taken the character in an interesting direction. As the film opens, Batman hasn't been seen for years and Bruce Wayne is something of a recluse. Selina Kyle piques his interest, and he eventually figures out a way to don his costume again. It's an interesting dynamic, and I'm glad to see that they've acknowledged the wear and tear of the superhero lifestyle (even if it's handwaved away a bit later).

I won't go into too much detail about the plot. It goes places I didn't expect, which is nice, but it also feels comic-booky. Again, I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, except insofar as it makes this movie feel like an adaptation. I suppose you could argue with that distinction, but that's what I get out of it. As previously mentioned, Bane's plan is audacious and complex, and thematically, the film tackles relevant economic themes, particularly the occupy movement, and it does so in ways I didn't really expect. Does the plot hold together well?

Alfred Hitchcock might help here:
Dear boy, quite obviously you've never heard of the icebox syndrome... I leave holes in my films deliberately, so that the following scenario can take place in countless homes. The man of the house gets out of bed in the middle of the night, and goes down stairs and takes a chicken leg out of the icebox. His wife follows him down and asks what he's doing. 'You know,' he says, 'there's a hole in that film we saw tonight.’ 'No there isn't,' she says and they fall to arguing. As a result of which they go to see it again.
Hitchcock referred to this as "the icebox trade" or "refrigerator talk", neatly encapsulating the notion that a movie works well while you're watching it (because of a fast pace or tense atmosphere), but that falls apart while standing in front of the refrigerator for a post-movie snack. This is something that impacts both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, though I think it impacts that latter far more. For me, it ultimately worked, the same as how Hitchcock's films worked, but I've seen other folks complain about this aspect of the film.

As an action director, I feel like Nolan has made some strides in the right direction. I did get a weird vibe from the two big fights between Batman and Bane, mostly because it made me think of Rocky III, with Bane in the role of hungry up-and-comer Clubber Lang, and Batman as the complacent champion, Rocky. Again, it's weird to be thinking of that movie during this one, but that's what happened. Indeed, I got another weird movie connection with Alfred's Affleckian speech about seeing Wayne in Italy or somesuch. These aren't really complaints though. The fights were clearly choreographed and well shot, and the ending of the film is satisfying. Nolan managed to kill off Batman without killing off Batman, which worked for me (though this hint of optimism may strike others as being too convenient, I kinda loved it).

In the end, what we've got here is a good film. It's not as transcendent as its immediate predecessor, but it stands up favorably to the first film, and indeed most of the comic book canon. There are a lot of things about this movie that will mold to fit your preconceptions. If you're inclined to go with it, as I was, it will come out ok. If you're not, if you're looking for reasons to dislike it, you'll come out with your suspicions confirmed. That being said, it's a fitting end to Nolan's trilogy, even if I'm certain the series will continue. The series as a whole has raised the bar for comic book movies, and few have even approached its high points.
Posted by Mark on July 22, 2012 at 02:12 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, July 01, 2012

First things first: Merida's hair is glorious. I'm not an animator and I don't work with computer graphics very much, but I have a detail oriented mindset and thus I think I can appreciate all the work that went into getting that hair to work so well. Apparently there was a whole team of folks at Pixar working on a new hair simulator that could handle Merida's curly red hair, and again, I'm no expert in this realm, but I'm guessing the amount of physics that went into modeling how different bits of the hair worked was large and complex. Then they had to tweak it all to simulate wet hair (for what I believe is only a single scene in the movie). It's impressive stuff.

So... is the movie Brave as good as the hair portrayed within? Maybe! It's not a top tier Pixar production, but I'd put it somewhere towards the top of their middle tier. Which is to say, it's better than most films (animated or not). Pixar is at a strange place right now. After an impressive run in the oughts, they appear to be running out of steam. Or are they? It's strange that every time a new Pixar film is released, there seems to be a referendum on the whole of their oeuvre. People love to rank the films and argue whether or not they've made a truly bad film (for the record, I don't think they have, even if I didn't love Cars 2).

And this film had even weightier expectations because it was the first Pixar film to feature a female as the protagonist. It was also the first Pixar film to be directed by a woman, though she was apparently replaced at some point in the production, leading to a co-director credit. In recent years, there's been a fair amount of talk about Pixar's gender problem, but I'm on record as arguing that this sort of analysis completely misses the point: "Traditional Disney fare was always a sorta female dominated affair. Lots of princesses and love stories and yada, yada, yada. There were the occasional male-dominated stories, of course, but overall, animation was female dominated. One of the big things Pixar did to establish itself as something new and different was to focus on boys ..." Put simply, I don't think this movie is getting a fair shake in this respect. If this was a Disney or even Dreamworks picture, I think folks would be raving, but they expected so much from Pixar that I think the film is getting crushed under that weight of undeserved expectation.

I appear to be playing into this a little bit. I mean, I've written three paragraphs already and I haven't actually said anything about the movie, except how awesome the hair is. And while the curly red hair is spectacular, it's also a bit superficial. So let's get into it. The film focuses on young Scottish princess Merida, a fiery tomboy who loves riding her horse, archery, and climbing mountains. Her mother is in a constant struggle to get her to act all lady-like, but her father seems content to encourage her less elegant pursuits. Things come to a head when visiting clans vie for Merida's hand in marriage. I will admit, this is something of a rote premise. The initial parts of the first act come off as being very Disneyish. There's even some bad Scottish kilt-lifting jokes (which I suppose are unavoidable, but still). Now, "Disneyish" isn't inherently bad, but I can totally see why people wouldn't be very thrilled by this setup. Fortunately things get better from here.

It's hard to describe the rest without getting into spoiler territory, but I'll try. In essence, Merida runs away and meets up with a witch and there's a curse and she ends up spending some time with a friendly bear. And it's fantastic. This is where the movie sets itself apart. The bear is fantastically animated, walking around on two legs and somehow managing to maintain some sense of dignity, though I think the bear eventually learns the value in acting in an undignified manner.

The real heart of the story, though, is Merida's relationship with her mother. This, I find, isn't something that's very common in movies like this (I could certainly be wrong about that, but I found it refreshing). Now, I'm a guy, so I don't know how well the movie actually captures that whole dynamic, but it's got a ring of authenticity to it (and in general, female critics seem to praise this part of the film, even when they don't like it overall). There's an excellent scene in the first act where the director is cross cutting between the mother and daughter, establishing the things they want to say to each other but can't or won't. There's some stuff in the second act that works really well between these two, which leads into the final act. There's a bit of a grinch-like transformation at one point, making me wish there was perhaps a little more meat on the bone of the story, but there's a clear throughline to the plotting that ultimately works well. In a very real sense, the movie is as much about the mother as it is about the teenager (which, again, is a refreshing change of pace).

It's a movie that isn't perfect. It did leave me wanting more - more of the mother/daughter relationship, heck more of the father/daughter stuff, even some more of the little brothers, and especially more of that excellent second act stuff with the bear - but that's not the worst problem a movie can have. Like I said, there's a clear throughline to the story, so I'm willing to go with it. The premise is a bit rote and the transition between acts is a bit rushed, but I think they managed to put enough of a spin on the typical "princess" story that it was worthwhile. The score is fine but the songs are dreadful. That's the one part of the film I don't think I can really overlook. Just horrid.

What we're left with is a very good film. I think it's being a bit unfairly maligned. It's true, Pixar has done better, but that doesn't make this a bad movie. I don't know that it will make the top 10 at the end of the year, but it will certainly be a contender. Well worth seeing, and I think that mothers and daughters will get a lot out of this (but don't worry, there's plenty of action and adventure for the guys). ***
Posted by Mark on July 01, 2012 at 07:02 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Promethean Link Dump
I certainly had my issues with Prometheus, but I also must admit that it does strike a nerve. There are isolated sequences of sublime beauty or wrenching tension, but they're not held together by anything substantial. I think the movie is stupid, but it's at least interesting stupid, which is why I think the film has become so divisive. It's got such a well calibrated sense of stupid that it actually makes you want to talk about it, which most dumb movies don't manage. Even if you're just cataloging the movie's many flaws, you're still engaged with it in a way you don't with regular bad movies.

This movie is a special kind of bad, and as such, there's a lot of interesting discussion surrounding the film. As I mentioned in my previous post, it seems like everyone is talking about this movie, even folks I wouldn't normally expect. For instance, every podcast I listen to on a regular basis has devoted a segment to Prometheus, even the ones that aren't solely focused around movies. Extra Hot Great, Filmspotting, /Filmcast, Reasonable Discussions, Slate Culture Gabfest, NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, and probably a bunch of others have all done so. But there's a ton of other discussion surround the film that I also wanted to point to, in case you were jonesing to read about the film, which I admit is kinda fun, even if I didn't love the movie:
  • Prometheus Unbound: What The Movie Was Actually About - So this guy on Livejournal (!?) has a pretty thorough discussion of the movie and it's philosophical and mythic underpinnings. Lots of interesting stuff here, but as is the case with a lot of things, I'm glad a lot of this is subtext:
    From the Engineers' perspective, so long as humans retained that notion of self-sacrifice as central, we weren't entirely beyond redemption. But we went and screwed it all up, and the film hints at when, if not why: the Engineers at the base died two thousand years ago. That suggests that the event that turned them against us and led to the huge piles of dead Engineers lying about was one and the same event. We did something very, very bad, and somehow the consequences of that dreadful act accompanied the Engineers back to LV-223 and massacred them.

    If you have uneasy suspicions about what 'a bad thing approximately 2,000 years ago' might be, then let me reassure you that you are right. An astonishing excerpt from the Movies.com interview with Ridley Scott:

    Movies.com: We had heard it was scripted that the Engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and that Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever considered?

    Ridley Scott: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, "Let's send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it." Guess what? They crucified him.

    Yeah. The reason the Engineers don't like us any more is that they made us a Space Jesus, and we broke him. Reader, that's not me pulling wild ideas out of my arse. That's RIDLEY SCOTT.
    As I said, I'm pretty happy this wasn't explicitly referenced in the movie, but it's fun to read about it on some dude's blog like this.
  • The Science of Prometheus - a review, containing a lot of spoilers - With a title like that, I was expecting this to be a bit dry, but it's actually a lot of fun:
    Seriously guys? Cinema trips with my pals are better prepared than this. No one thought to ask what they’d be doing when they signed up for a 4 year round trip to a new planet? The money must be really good. ...

    As we’ve discussed, this is probably the most slap-dash, ill-prepared scientific mission ever. No one really knows what to expect, and they only carry out atmospheric analysis on arrival to let them know if they can step out onto the surface without dying instantly. On the upside, they have gorgeous space suits to go out in (costume designer and long-time Scott collaborator Janty Yates deserves high praise). Holloway is the spitting image of Commander Shepard of the Normandy in his suit, which I liked for no clever reason.
    There's lots more and it's very good.
  • Film Freak Central Review - Another review that sorta craps on the movie, but in an interesting way:
    It's time, probably long past time, to admit that Ridley Scott is nothing more or less than Tim Burton: a visual stylist at the mercy of others to offer his hatful of pretty pictures something like depth. If either one of them ever made a great film (and I'd argue that both have), thank the accident of the right source material and/or editor, not these directors, whose allegiance is to their own visual auteurism rather than any desire for a unified product.
    That's a bold statement... but I can't really fault it.
  • SMS dialogue between Noomi Rapace and an Engineer - Heh. "All will be revealed in James Cameron's PROMETHEUSES"
Well there you go. Interesting stuff. Stay tuned for some Redshirts action on Sunday.
Posted by Mark on June 20, 2012 at 09:34 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I am surprised at the reception Prometheus is getting in the press. I wasn't a huge fan, but for the most part, it's getting positive reviews, even from people I'd expect wouldn't review it well. Adam from Filmspotting gave it a pass (to his credit, Josh did not), Ebert gave it 4 stars, A.O. Scott was generally positive, and heck, even the snobs over at the Slate Culture Gabfest were pretty happy with the movie. In fact, it seems like everyone is talking about this movie. The weird thing about all this is that every one of those positive reviews acknowledges the things I hate about this movie, but for some reason, they don't seem to care as much. The consensus seems to be that the movie is gorgeous and visually stunning, but stupid (which is usually attributed to the script). I agree with that, but I guess I place a higher value on storytelling than critics.

I suppose I can see where they're coming from, but as a Science Fiction nerd, I'm wondering if I hold movies like this to a higher standard than the more general film nerds out there. Part of it is that there really are so few science fiction movies out there that actually capture the same sensawunda feeling I get from reading science fiction... and one of those movies is definitely Ridley Scott's first Alien film. To me, this sets a high bar, and Prometheus doesn't even come close to that level of storytelling.

Prometheus certainly strives for more than Alien, and I suspect that ambition mollifies some critics, but I would much rather a film that delivers on what it promises than a film that reaches for the stars and doesn't even come close. I'm ultimately not even really willing to credit the film for ambition, as its attempts at depth are all ham-fisted and awkward at best.

The film certainly starts out with some promise. I was a little on-edge when we first see the spaceship in a series of admittedly pretty establishing shots. This is a nitpick, but the engines were firing, as if the ship was in a constant state of acceleration. This is typical in a Hollywood film, but rewatching Alien made it a depressing thing - this was something the earlier film got right. In the grand scheme of things, it's not important, and I was willing to overlook it at first, but looking back on the film now, I find it emblematic of the intelligence displayed in the film. This is where being a science fiction fan probably kicks in - I like a film that at least makes an effort at scientific plausibility and rigor, and this film has almost none.

I was quickly heartened to see the montage of the robot David, played excellently by Michael Fassbender, as he went about his duties on the ship while the human crew slept for the 2 year duration of the trip. There's a focus on character there that isn't really present in the rest of the film. After that opening sequence, Fassbender's David is generally relegated to playing the sinister robot that no one can trust. This is also a bit depressing, because at one point, it almost seemed like the film was really going to deliver on the parallels between the humans looking for their creators, and David's struggle with his. Part of the problem with any ensemble piece is that the story will often not give enough attention to the side characters, or it will give too much attention to everyone and muddle the results. We see both in this film. I think there was a lot of potential in the story for David's character, but it is mostly squandered.

The more we learn about the plot, the worse the movie gets. We're treated to a clumsy scene of exposition where the two main scientists in charge of the expedition explain what's going on, and in the process they neglect to display any scientific prowess at all. They make crazy inferences from millenia-old cave paintings, attribute the whole thing to a race of "engineers" that actually created the human race (despite not having even a modicum of evidence), and fall back on spiritual hooey when questioned. Now, the whole science versus faith struggle can be an interesting one and certainly warrants exploration, but while this film makes overtures in that direction, it never really goes more than skin deep. These are just sloppy plot points used to get our hapless humans into dangerous situations with monsters and stuff.

Charlize Theron plays the corporate suit, meant to be smarmy and icy cold like the other businessfolk in the Alien universe, but she never quite comes off that way. She seems mildly selfish and concerned with her own well-being, but her display of basic knowledge about things like quarantines (I mean, seriously? This is an expedition to find alien life on an alien planet, and there's no easy quarantine procedure?) and self-preservation comes off as being slightly refreshing in a movie where a geologist responsible for mapping an alien cave system gets lost. I think Theron's performance is pretty good, but she's just written very poorly. She has a scene with the ships captain, Idris Elba (who does a fair enough job representing the "trucker in space" archetype established in the original Alien), which is cliched and a little off, but actually works because, you know, there's two people acting like normal human beings. But otherwise, she's given some pretty shit lines (I found it odd that she actually pronounced the word comma between "No, father" at one supposedly revealing scene later in the movie... oh wait, she didn't pronounce it, the script was just that bad) and her characters arc really goes nowhere.

I don't want to turn this into a catalog of nitpicks and complaints about how wrong everything is in the movie. Others have done a pretty good job nailing stuff like that down, but I do want to call out the worst offender. Right, so we have a group of scientists exploring a series of alien cave systems. They come across a long-deal alien being. The geologist immediately freaks out and wants to leave, which, ok, fair enough. Then the biologist joins him? In other words, the person who would ostensibly be the most interested in a dead alien body decides to leave too. Ok, fine, I can deal with that I guess. Then they get lost, which I think I already mentioned makes no sense, as the geologist has been mapping the entire place with his fancy probes, but whatever, they're lost and there's a storm outside and no one can get them. So they make their way to the creepiest location in the building, a room with a bunch of vases leaking suspicious black liquid. Ok, sure, let's go with it. Then an obviously aggressive and terrifying snake-like alien creature pops up like a cobra, spreading some flaps to reveal its teeth... and the biologist guy decides to approach it like it was some sort of adorable puppy. Now look, I get it, these characters aren't aware that they're in a horror movie, and as a prequel, they're unaware that this thing has face-hugger-like attributes, but it's acting in obviously threatening ways and the biologist, of all people, decides he should just stick his hand in its mouth or something? To no one's surprise, it attacks him and eventually shoves its way down his throat, doing god knows what to him. Quite frankly, I don't even really remember what comes of him. It's sorta dropped later in the movie.

Like the aforementioned thrusting engines at the beginning of the movie, this is just one representative example of the many things this movie gets so very wrong. It's a movie that pretends it has some sort of lofty goals of exploring mankind and creation and spirituality and all sorts of stuff, but the fact of the matter is that the people in this movie aren't really characters. Some of them get a solid set-piece or two, but they're otherwise bland plot-delivery devices, useful only so that the screenwriters can tell us what the movie is about (rather than letting us grapple with those big questions ourselves). Like I said, some of the characters get some good moments, but these only become more frustrating when you realize that they don't really add up to anything.

For example, there is a great set-piece where our main protagonist (at least, I think she is) finds out that she's "pregnant"... of course, she's pregnant with some sort of alien organism, rather than a real child (in an awkward exchange earlier in the film, we learned that she was barren). Sinister robot David wants to freeze her for the trip home (normally that sort of thing would be left to the corporate weenie of the expedition, but whatever), but she bravely escapes and runs to a med-pod and gets it to extract the organism. It's actually a really well executed sequence, and Noomi Rapace gives a great, raw performance here... but it's just sorta floating in the middle of the movie. It's not entirely clear why any of that happened or what difference it made and it doesn't really fit with the whole biology of the Alien universe. In fact, the movie seems to assume that complexity is what makes the whole Alien life-cycle interesting, but that's just so wrong. The original Alien portrayed a rather elegant system, and Aliens grew on that and expanded it in a logical way. This film just throws in extra steps and new creatures for the sake of doing so.

The film is gorgeous, well composed, even a little interesting. The first forty minutes or so show a lot of potential, but the rest of the movie fails to deliver on any of that promise. Nearly everything about this movie is well done, except for the script, which is just horrible. The fact that it's a prequel to Alien, a movie that got all of these things right, only makes it more disappointing. I suspect that Sonny Bunch is right when he speculates as to how this movie got to be made as an Alien prequel, rather than as a standalone feature:
Ridley Scott: You see, it’s a movie about finding out who we are. It’s a search for God, in a way—and a reflection of what happens when God has judged you to be a mistake. We’re talking a big budget, high-octane movie with a spiritual side.

Fox Exec: Well, Sir Ridley, I’d be interested if the price is right.

RS: I’d say we can do this for, I dunno, $150M or so.

FE: Yeah, well, I dunno about that. I mean, your last few flicks haven’t exactly blown away the bean counters—Robin Hood, Body of Lies, American Gangster, A Good Year, Kingdom of Heaven…that’s a decade of flops, man. I’m not sure I can really authorize that kind of scratch.

RS: OK, well…….what if it’s a prequel to Alien? ::shrugging::

FE: HERE’S ALL OF THE MONEYS. ::hands over bag with dollar sign on it::
I don't know that it happened exactly like that, but I do know that the prequel aspects of this movie are absolutely worthless. It adds nothing important to the Alien canon, and you could argue that it, in fact, subtracts rather much from the series. This could have been a good movie, which only makes it all the more depressing. Given Ridley Scott's previous work, I have to wonder if there aren't a few other versions of this film on the cutting room floor. Perhaps one with a noir-like voiceover that the studio thought might work, and a 5 hour directors cut or something. But I really can't see how that could possibly save this turkey. There's enough interesting stuff going on in the movie that it always manages to hold your attention, and I suppose there's a few scenes were big stuff done blow up real good, but the film is ultimately lacking in the most important area: the storytelling.
Posted by Mark on June 17, 2012 at 07:45 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sister Clodagh's Superficially Spiritual, Ambitiously Agnostic Last-Rites-of-Spring Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Ed Avery, and Dr. Anton Phibes, are also available... This time around, Sister Superior Clodagh "has fashioned a quiz organized loosely around themes of religious belief and representation in the movies", which, now that I think about it, isn't a particular specialty to me. Perhaps it's my 16 years of Catholic schooling (and exposure to actual nuns) that has caused me to neglect religious filmmaking, or maybe it's because most films examining religion aren't particularly sympathetic. Whatever the case, here are my answer's to Sister Clodagh's quiz:

1) Favorite movie featuring nuns

I had a tough go on this one. There are a lot of movies with nuns, but few where the nuns are actually prominent characters. My first thought went to Two Mules for Sister Sara, a movie I don't even remember that well, except that I remember enough to know that it doesn't really qualify for this question... I've actually not seen this quiz's namesake in Black Narcissus, so that's a no go. Looking at the other answers at SLIFR, I see one that works for me though: Sister Mary Stigmata (a.k.a. The Penguin) in The Blues Brothers. The nuns I've come into contact with never contained mystical powers, nor did they smack their students with rulers, but I grew up in the namby pamby 80s. I've heard stories, though. (Oh, and in the course of one of the other questions below, I found Dead Man Walking - which is a great movie featuring nuns... among other things.)
The Penguin
2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie

I'll go with Ronin (with The Manchurian Candidate being my favorite), but while I've seen at least 5 or 6 other Frankenheimer movies, I probably should also take a look at Seven Days in May and Seconds (which would be the punniest answer to this question, tee hee).

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?

Hell, I don't really know who either of these people are... But looking at their filmography, I see that Scott Brady was in Gremlins, which is pretty awesome. Then again, I can't even picture him in that and William Bendix is in a few movies I'd like to catch up with at some point: Hitchcock's Lifeboat and William Wyler's Detective Story. But not having seen those movies, I guess this one goes to Brady on a technicality.

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?

I have certainly never done so in real life (though I do seem to recall a huge line stretching around the block for Return of the Jedi in my youth... I don't remember how long it took to get in, but I'd be surprised if it was six hours). At this point in my life, I can't imagine doing that for simple entertainment purposes - heck, I get annoyed when I have to wait more than a minute or two to buy a ticket these days. But I suppose that if someone invents a movie that will confer some sort of powers (or immortality or something) to its audience, I'd be willing to wait the six hours for that. I'm not holding my breath though.

5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie

I can't say as though I've seen any of his movies, though perhaps I have seen an episode of The Twilight Zone that he directed (if so, I have no remembrance of it). I have done an exhaustive ten-second analysis of his filmography though, and shall thus declare Death Takes a Holiday a movie that interests me. So there.

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?

Peggy Cummins, because I've actually seen movies that she's in... and I even recognized her name. Poor Ann Savage... but it's hard to compete with Gun Crazy and Curse of the Demon.

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child

As if I needed a reason to question the reliability of human memory, this question hurts. The first movie that jumped into my head was The Terminator, but that came out way too late to be my first movie, and I know I've seen others before it. As previously mentioned, I remember the line for Return of the Jedi, but my memories of that showing must have been superseded by the dozens of other times I've watched that movie. I do remember watching Dumbo at some point. I have no idea how old I was at the time, but I'd put that at around 4 years old, as that age is where my mind points to as containing the first real, concrete memories (including a distinct memory of asking how old I was - I may have done that before, but I was 4 years old when I started actually keeping track of my age).

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?

I can't say as though I've ever wanted to do that. I can only remember walking out on a movie once, for Tank Girl, which was emphatically not what I wanted to watch at the time. I do remember getting sick in Cloverfield - and I'm not typically prone to motion sickness either - but instead of bolting from the theater screaming, I simply closed my eyes until my body was able to establish some sort of equilibrium.

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?

Robert Mitchum, hands down. I mean The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear (both of 'em), and Out of the Past... heck, even Scrooged. Tough to compete with Mitchum's filmography.

10) Best movie Jesus

This is a tough one, as most of the obvious choices are from movies that I'm not that big a fan of... I honestly can't think of a truly great performance as Jesus. Dafoe's Jesus is pretty good, I guess, except that's not really the Jesus I know. I've never seen Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and from what I hear, the movie ain't particularly good (though he's apparently good in it). Honestly, the best answer I've seen for this one is John Turturro from The Big Lebowski....

11) Silliest straight horror film that you're still fond of

There are probably dozens of answers I could give here, as I tend to enjoy silly horror films, but the only real possible answer for me is Phantasm. Granted, I does still strike a nerve at moments and can be genuinely compelling, but it's low budget and horrible acting sometimes make the film laughable. In particular, the sequence where the Tall Man's finger turns into a bug is a masterpiece of silly cinema. It's a movie that I've always loved though, perhaps because it is earnest, but silly.
The Penguin
Greatest Special Effects Ever
12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?

Emily Blunt by default, as I've actually seen movies she's in. This is mildly unfair though, as I'm much more familiar with the filmic period of Blunt than the filmic period of Gray (who was most active in the 30s and 40s).

13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular

Ben-Hur, hands down my favorite Biblican spectacular, probably because it only touches on the Bible peripherally. Most of the other Biblical epics struggle to compete with the minds eye from having read the Bible from a young age. Ben-Hur is based on a novel and had multiple film adaptations before the Charlton Heston, William Wyler take that I love so much, but it still feels like an "original" story, something I value more and more in these days of remakes and marketing-driven films.

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor

The obvious answer is the "I hate sand" monologue from Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, but I wasn't really laughing at the time because I actually wanted those movies to be good. I don't really have a list of unintentionally hilarious cinematic moments, but I could probably come up with hundreds of examples if given enough time. Another few that just came to me: several moments in The Happening are just cringe inducingly funny (I'm thinking about the scene where Marky Mark pleads with his students to care about the bees, or the scene where he tells this completely off-the-wall story about how he went to a pharmacist or something), and then there's the scene where Miles Dyson dies in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is just hysterically funny in a moment that is supposed to be deadly serious.

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?

Michael Fassbender, though again, we're hit with two different time periods, and I'm much more familiar with Fassbender's work than Farrar's... Also, Fassbender is pretty fucking awesome.

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie

I had a hard time with this, then the ideas just kept pouring through to the point where I can't pick a favorite. I'll start with a pair of Christmas classics: It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, then move to more modern times with Field of Dreams and one that I saw in the SLIFR thread that I would have never thought of, but which fits: Groundhog Day.

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism

People seem to take different stances on agnosticism, so this question will definitely provoke different sorts of answers depending on how you define agnosticism. Some think it's all about doubting or questioning the existence of a deity, and their answers indicate such (including snarky ones like "anything directed by Michael Bay makes me question the existence of a god"). Personally, I tend towards the notion that agnosticism is really about the difference between belief and knowledge - I think we are all agnostics of a sort, even if we call ourselves Christian or athiest or Muslim or whatever. The movie that comes to mind here is Contact, which explores the subject at angles. I don't think the movie is perfect and some aspects haven't held up as well as I'd like, but I do love the conflict at the heart of the story. Science versus religion, fact versus faith, knowledge versus belief. I have not read the book, and from what I understand, the film stops short. But judging on the film itself, I think it makes a certain sorta sense that aligns with a lot of my feelings on the myriad subjects tackled. In essence, I don't see the conflicts described as being all that conflicting. Science and religion sometimes struggle with the same questions, but their approaches are so fundamentally different, and the questions so impenetrable and that I think both are necessary...

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical

I generally hate musicals, so I have no idea, but I'll choose the most obscure thing that comes to mind, which is a song from Stingray Sam that consists mostly of the two parents' names and their offspring's name, which is a portmanteau of the parents' names - for example, Fredrick and Edward produced Fredward. It's a brilliant song. Here, watch it:

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie

The Big Sleep, with His Girl Friday being my favorite, and Rio Bravo being my second favorite. In all honesty, the answer could be any of those three, depending on my mood, as I love them all. I also have an affection for Sergeant York, but that's a more sentimental and personal thing...

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?

I'm going to have to take a mulligan here, as I'm not really that familiar with these actresses' filmographies. I've frequently observed that I need to get better acquainted with the silent era, though I've not made much progress in that direction.

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?

Most recently seen in the theater was The Cabin in the Woods (which I loved), though after tonight, it will be The Avengers. On Blu-Ray, it was The Thing remake/prequel/reboot thing (pun intended) that strikes me as being an object lesson in how CGI effects are inferior to practical effects. Also, it was a fine, but pretty unnecessary movie that doesn't really come close to the classic Carpenter version. On streaming, it was Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a documentary about the Filipino exploitation scene in the 60s and 70s (this will come up later in the quiz).

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion

I have not seen Life of Brian in many years and thus don't remember much about it other than it was funny and surprisingly thoughtful.

23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?

Yeah, so I don't really know either of these guys. Skelton sticks out in my head, but I don't really know his filmography that well. And Phil Silvers was in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which I remember enjoying despite the fact that it's a bit overlong.

24) "Favorite" Hollywood scandal

Not much of a scandal follower myself, so I can't really think of many, except perhaps the Hollywood blacklist stuff, but even then, I'm not too interested in that sort of thing. I'd rather watch movies than gossip about actors and actresses, thanks.

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)

This was surprisingly difficult, as most every religious movie I've seen seems to involve Christianity in some way or another. The Wicker Man came to mind, but that's not really a serious exploration of paganism, and much of it is played off of the Christian leanings of the main character. A Serious Man is a great movie and it's got a lot to say about Judaism. I've got to give credit to the guy who answered I Walked with a Zombie, which also brings to mind The Serpent and the Rainbow, both of which (superficially) involve Voodoo. It's been so long since I've seen Gandhi that I'm not sure how religious it really was... Jeeze, this question is harder than it should be.
The Wicker Man
26) The King of Cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks, Peter)

Erm, yeah, once again I'm not terribly familiar with any of their work, but I'll go with King Hu for his work with the Shaw Brothers and his work on Wuxia Pian pictures.

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat

This is a deceptively difficult question to answer, but I'll say dialogue, writing in general, and originality would be welcome in modern movies. Hollywood seems to be stuck in this weird marketing mindset which says that movies can't be successful unless they're based on an existing property. Hence the recent spate of remakes and reboots, along with the trend towards franchises that's been on the march for several decades now. It's not so much that this stuff is inherently bad as that it's seemingly pervasive these days, to the point where Hollywood is putting out movies based on board games (which I'd honestly not mind if they actually went out of their way to hire someone talented to write an interesting story - I'd love to see that sort of thing flourish, but from what I've seen, that ain't happening). Conversely, American independent cinema is running too far in the opposite direction, making unpalatable, aggressively insular, "personal" films that are often actively hostile to their audience. That sort of middle-ground where movies can be entertaining but still very good seems to have been lost.

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie

Shocking confession: I've never actually seen a Federico Fellini movie. I should probably get off my butt and see , but I've heard so much about that movie and despite the praise, it never sounds even remotely interesting to me. Ditto for La Dolce Vita. Call me a philistine, I guess.

29) The Three Stooges (2012) - yes or no?

Sure, why not? I've never been much of a Three Stooges kinda guy, and I probably won't see this in the theater, but I'm not actively opposed to it either. This might just be my temperament though, as there's a question like this in every quiz, and I'm pretty sure I always answer "yes" because perhaps it feels like censorship to say "no" and who am I to judge what other folks like.

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?

Boy do I suck at these. I don't really know either one that well, but I'll go with Patsy Kelly. Because I said so, that's why. Also, she's apparently in Rosemary's Baby. So there.

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory

I have no frickin idea what the "best" conspiracy theory is, but one I just ran across thanks to that Machete Maidens Unleashed! documentary is that one of the women who went over the the Philippines to film one of the many women-in-jungle-prison movies made there was never heard from again. The folks at SLIFR have identified a couple of other good ones though, such as the rumor that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landings on the Universal lot and the one where Steven Spielberg directed Poltergeist. But the best one is probably The Dark Side of the Rainbow....

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie

I'm going to go with The Godfather, for a number of reasons. The big knock against the film is that it's "romanticized" or "sentimental", but I think that completely misses the point. Like a lot of great gangster movies, The Godfather does show a sorta romantic aspect to the mafia of olden days, but it also doesn't shy away from the nasty stuff either, and the very end of the film is quite disheartening. There's also a lot to be said about the cycle of violence in the film that many folks seem to gloss over. I suppose a lot of this is arguable, but perhaps that's why The Godfather is a classic.

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise) I'm having a lot of trouble with this one, in part because it's either too specific, and I can't think of an example that matches that criteria, or it's too vague, and nearly any movie that makes me think would qualify. I lean towards that more general version, but again, that means that there are so many movies that could fit into the answer to this question that it would really be unfair to answer with one or two movies... and I don't have time to list out hundreds!

Well, that wraps up this edition of the movie quiz. I know I'm really bad at the actor/acress vs actor/actress questions, but I still love these quizzes and am already looking forward to the next one (which will hopefully be in the summer instead of skipping a season like this time)....
Posted by Mark on May 06, 2012 at 07:46 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods
It's difficult to talk about this movie without spoiling it, but I'll start with the notion that if you're a fan of horror movies, you should really go see this(more spoilertastic commentary will be below the fold). This is rather strange, as the movie isn't entirely a horror film, though it contains lots of horror elements and tropes. It's not really a horror comedy either, though it is very funny at times. It's got satirical elements, but it's not really a satire. It's a strange beast, but a very interesting one. Movies like this don't come around that often, so check it out.

Again, trying to avoid spoilers here, but looking at the filmmakers is instructive. The film's got a script from Joss Whedon, which should tell you something, and then you've got Drew Goddard, a regular in the Whedon and J.J. Abrams writers stable. In other words, expect genre deconstruction and mysterious folk lurking in the shadows. Or something.

It's certainly not a perfect film, but it's probably the best thing I've seen so far this year, and the most fun too. Unfortunately, it's hard to talk about it for fear of spoiling. It's not a movie that relies on a single twist or anything and you can tell from the movie's title what's coming. Heck, it's not so much a title as it is a premise: kids go to a cabin in the woods. Guess what happens next? But Whedon and Goddard make the sub-genre feel fresh in a way you don't see very often. Again, it's not reliant on a big surprise, but rather a series of small twists and tweaks, starting from the first scene in the film, none of which are particularly earth-shattering on their own, but which build upon each other to create an effective cumulative result. Again, if you're a fan of horror movies, you need to see this.

Well, that's probably enough trying to skirt around the details. Spoilers aho, fun ahoy! So very quickly, yes, there are five kids (each conforming to a stereotypical archetype like "The Fool" and "The Virgin") that go to spend the weekend in a remote cabin in the woods. And yes, they are attacked by a family of redneck zombies after they read some latin aloud whilst investigating a creepy basement. But the most interesting thing about the movie is that the kids are basically being manipulated by some sort of shadowy organization; an effort lead by Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. At first, this organization seems like the villain, but it seems that this ritual destruction of youth at the cabin is actually necessary to forestall an even bigger disaster - the rising of the Lovecraftian elder gods.

Of course, the kids don't play along quite as expected, and while first half or two thirds of the movie are pretty conventional, the shit really hits the fan in the last third. When we first find out what the kids were facing (redneck zombies!), I was a little disappointed... but then you get that last sequence of the film, where everything just goes crazy. Horror fans will delight in all of the references (throughout the whole film, but especially in the climactic sequences). Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite stick the dismount. It's going fantastically for a while, but then Sigourney Weaver shows up and delivers some clunky exposition that didn't quite hit the right note for me. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't ruin the movie or anything, and the ultimate outcome of the film is fine.

To use the gymnastics metaphor, this movie is like a routine that starts off conventionally, well performed, but nothing we haven't seen before. But then, about two thirds of the way through, some really amazingly acrobatic stuff starts happening, leading to a huge dismount. The movie doesn't stumble, but it's not an entirely clean landing either. It's the sort of thing where the audience at home is exhilarated by the performance, but the announcer says something like "Ohhh, that's gonna cost them a tenth of a point" or something absurd. Still very high scores and everyone cheers, but not quite a perfect 10.

There's a ton of metaphorical possibilities with this movie though. For example, Devin Faraci effectively argues that the Whitford and Jenkins characters are actually the heroes... or maybe anti-heroes of the piece, not the kids:
That's the real twist of the movie. After all, you know right from the start that the events in the cabin are being controlled. But the assumption is that this is something insidious, something evil. I've seen a lot of reviews that utterly misunderstand the truth about Downstairs. The truth is that these guys are saving the world. Once a year they engage in a sacrifice that saves the world. It's terrible, and you may have issues with how they go about it - especially the way they blow off steam partying and betting - but the reality is that there are dark forces that needed to be contained, and this is how it's done.
Whedon and Goddard have apparently often compared themselves (in the roles of writer/director) to the Whitford and Jenkins characters (the ones manipulating the kids in the movie). If they're the filmmakers, then the elder gods could be the audience - us. Or you could say that the elder gods are the studio execs and we're the kids being slaughtered. You could go the more serious rout and claim that the young are being sacrificed at the behest of their elders.

In any case, there's lots to chew on here, especially in the realm of media and the audience relationship with creators. It calls to mind a lot of other films, while still being distinct and worthwhile on its own. I'm think of The Truman Show or maybe even Rubber, which are a little more explicit in their exploration of audiences, but still quite effective.

Many of the questions that are called to mind in this movie surround the tropes and conventions of horror, which you could argue have become stale and are somewhat disturbing in and of themselves. I mean, why do we enjoy watching the young get slaughtered by monsters? Seeing this movie now also paints The Hunger Games in a less flattering light, as that book/movie never really worked for me. I could tell it wanted me to be asking these same questions, but I was never immersed enough in the world to care. The Cabin in the Woods has a lot of things that I'd think would pull me out of the story too, but they never really did. I mean, the logistics of capturing, storing, and maintaining the monsters would be pretty absurd, as is the notion of the "Red Button" (though I appreciated the touch of the two step activation system - it's not a button anyone would ever want to press, but if you're going to build it, it's comforting to know that they made it safe enough that it wouldn't be accidentally triggered!)

I could probably ramble on and on about the symbolic interpretations of the movie or all of the references, but I'll just end with a few of my favorites:
  • Badass Digest has a wonderful screencap of the white board that lists out all of potential monsters. We get to see a lot of these things in the final third of the movie, but just the list of names is brilliant in itself. When I first saw the movie I was straining to see as many as possible. The ones that jumped out at me upon viewing were the Deadites (a reference to Evil Dead II) and, simply, "Kevin" (I don't know if that's just there to be random, or if it's some sort of reference to We Need to Talk About Kevin - a movie I haven't seen, so I have no idea if this even makes sense). But having a clear snapshot of the board is awesome; there are so many great options on the board. So many questions (and it's good that they're not answered too). I have to wonder why some of the options weren't chosen in the betting pool - what's so wrong with Reptilius or The Dismemberment Goblins that no one chose them in the pool? And I love the ones that are sorta duplicates, but have been made distinctions anyway. The one mentioned in the film is Zombies vs. Redneck Zombie Family, but I think my favorite on the board is Witches vs. Sexy Witches.
  • On one of the podcasts I listen to, someone (I think Joe from Extra Hot Great) lamented that all of the monsters were generic versions of things that have more specific versions. For instance it's clear that the "Hell Lord" (aka Fornicus, Lord of Bondage) is a reference to Hellraiser, but for obvious reasons, the filmmakers would never be able to afford to buy up the rights to all of the referenced monsters (or representations thereof that we would recognize). Personally, I love that they're not the exact representations or names we recognize. I think it would have been kinda annoying to see Pinhead show up in this movie. The movie clearly derives all the monsters from somewhere, but there's still at least an element of originality at play here that would be lost if they used existing properties.
  • I think one of my favorite parts of the movie was their hilarious take on Japanese Horror, and I would have loved to have seen more than the short glimpses of the other (failed) sacrifices around the world.
  • Though not explicitly referenced and clearly not exactly comparable, did anyone else get a Cube vibe from the whole facility?
  • I really like the breadth and specificity of some of the references. There are big movies and small movies, old classics, old B-movies, and newer fare too. I mean, Angry Molesting Tree (clearly a reference to The Evil Dead (the first one)), Snowman (which could be for pure absurdity value, but then, there is Jack Frost), Dolls (basically from The Strangers), Twins (presumably a reference to the Grady twins from The Shining). And then there are even some original addtions - the "Dragonbat" seems to be unique to this film.
Well, there you have it. I think this is a movie I'm going to end up owning, just for the extras I hope are on the disc!
Posted by Mark on April 22, 2012 at 07:51 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week we discovered some presidential badassery. This time, we've got a ripping tale of aliens, nazis, and lasers:
Zone Troopers poster
Courtesy of Zach Carlson from Badass Digest, here's a summary:
Watching Zone Troopers, you get the feeling that it's accidentally ten times better than it's meant to be. The plot and dialogue seem like they were written on a comic shop toilet stall: Four likeable WWII soldiers named things like "Sarge" and "Mittens" stumble across enemy lines and the Reich's most carefully guarded discovery: a massive interplanetary spacecraft. One of its pilots has escaped unharmed, and joins our boys in a full-metal lazer-battle against Hitler's lil' shits. We even get to see Eva Braun's boyfriend get smacked straight in the kisser!
Ah, the 1980s. Apparently this movie is actually real and is available through the magic of Manufactured-on-Demand DVD from MGM. Or something.
Posted by Mark on April 04, 2012 at 08:25 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Have you figured out what this post title is about? Yes, folks, it's time for some epic Star Wars geekery. Fortunately for me, Rod Hilton has done all the legwork in a very long and well argued essay. The title of this post is known as the Ernest Rister sequence, and it represents the order in which the Star Wars films should be viewed.

There have traditionally been two main strategies for ordering the series. George Lucas would have us watch them in chronological order, which is obvious lunacy for numerous reasons (which Hilton studiously trots out), but most of us nerds have decided that the natural progression is actually in order of release (which is IV, V, VI, I, II, III). There are less flaws with that ordering. Hilton's reasoning here is a bit stilted, as it rests entirely on the "Special Edition" versions of Star Wars, but to my mind, the primary problem with the release order strategy is that the series then ends with a whimper. The prequels provide background and little else, and even that background is largely already known. Ending a six movie marathon with III would be quite a downer.

We could add a third strategy here for those bitterest of nerds, which is simply IV, V, VI without any acknowledgement that there were other Star Wars movies. Hilton, to his credit, acknowledges the charm of this option (and even links us to some Despecialized Editions of the movies), but he also sought out other orderings, just in case you actually do want to watch the other three movies. Enter the Ernest Rister sequence: IV, V, I, II, III, VI. The argument for this strategy is surprisingly compelling:
George Lucas believes that Star Wars is the story of Anakin Skywalker, but it is not. The prequels, which establish his character, are so poor at being character-driven that, if the series is about Anakin, the entire series is a failure. Anakin is not a relatable character, Luke is.

This alternative order (which a commenter has pointed out is called Ernst Rister order) inserts the prequel trilogy into the middle, allowing the series to end on the sensible ending point (the destruction of the Empire) while still beginning with Luke’s journey.

Effectively, this order keeps the story Luke's tale. Just when Luke is left with the burning question "how did my father become Darth Vader?" we take an ex­tended flashback to explain exactly how. Once we understand how his father turned to the dark side, we go back to the main storyline and see how Luke is able to rescue him from it and salvage the good in him.

The prequel backstory comes at the perfect time, because Empire Strikes Back ends on a huge cliffhanger. Han is in carbonite, Vader is Luke’s father, and the Empire has hit the rebellion hard. Delaying the resolution of this cliffhanger makes it all the more satisfying when Return of the Jedi is watched.
Hilton goes on to then suggest his own variant of the Enest Rister sequence, which he calls the Machete Order: IV, V, II, III, VI. Haha, I see what he did there.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true! Episode I doesn't matter at all. You can start the prequels with Episode II and miss absolutely nothing. The opening crawl of Episode II establishes everything you need to know about the prequels...
Hilton has a very detailed and, naturally, nerdy description of why this is the superior sequence. For my part, I find this an acceptable order. My biggest concern is Vader's shocking revelation in Episode V. As long as that surprise is maintained, I'm pretty happy with the ordering, and there are a lot of things to like about the Rister or Machete ordering. Unfortunately, my nieces have already be indoctrinated (using the traditional order of release sequence), so I can't test the theory out on them, but if another opportunity to introduce someone to the series ever comes up, I might give it a shot. One nice thing about the Rister/Machete order is that both start with the best movies in the series, and once you get past the reveal in part V, you can lay out the strategies to the person watching and see which way they'd like to go.

Ok, so I think that's enough nerdiness for now. (Thanks to JVL for the link)
Posted by Mark on March 14, 2012 at 09:26 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tasting Notes - Part 5
Yet another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:

  • Fringe - I posted about the first couple seasons a while ago, but I've recently caught up with Season 3 and most of Season 4. To my mind, the show really came into its own in Season 3. What started out as unfocused and aimless has very slowly evolved into a tight, well-plotted series in season 3. I'm not sure I'd call it great, but Season 3 was a lot of fun. There are some ridiculous things about the series as a whole, and that's still there, but it all seemed to be worked out in the third season. Season 4, on the other hand, seems to have taken a few steps backward. It's actually very disorienting. Everything from the first three seasons is now unclear and less important. This was probably their intention, but I'm not entirely sure I like it. I mean, we've spent three seasons getting to know these characters, and now we're in yet another alternate universe with the same characters, but they're all slightly different. I'm not ready to give up on the show or anything, but it seems like the show is back on its unfocused track...
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Terriers - This is an interesting series. It was cancelled after the first season... and while I can see why (the film is almost incessantly anti-mainstream, often finishing off episodes on a down note), I did still enjoy watching the series.
  • The Secret World of Arrietty - Solid Studio Ghibli film. Not perfect, but well worth a watch and very different than typical American animated fare. Here's my question - what's with the title? It's so weird and unapproachable, whereas the source material, a book called The Borrowers, seems much more appropriate and marketable. This just makes no sense to me. (I suppose one could also quibble about the term "borrowers" since that implies that the goods will be returned, which doesn't happen either. There's actually an interesting discussion to be had here about what constitutes theft/stealing in the world set up in this book/movie.)
  • Act of Valor - A very... strange movie. I don't quite know what to make of this. It stars actual, active-duty Navy SEALs and... they are clearly not actors. Any scenes with dialogue are a little on the painful side, and it doesn't help that they keep talking about their families and how they can't wait to get back to their family and isn't being a father great? I'd give a spoiler warning for what happens here, but it's pretty damn obvious from, oh, the first 5 minutes in the movie what's going to happen at the end. All that being said, the action sequences are very well done and seemingly authentic, though there are a number of scenes shot to resemble a FPS video game. For the first time ever, I think it actually works in this movie, though it's still a little strange to see movies and video games blending together like that.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Gambit - Classic heist film starring a very young Michael Caine as a burglar who hires Shirley MacLaine to help rob one of the richest men in the world. Caine's got a great plan, but of course, things rarely go as planned. Or does it? Tons of twists and turns in this one; very entertaining and satisfying. Highly recommended. (Update: Well, shit, Netflix apparently took it off Instant Streaming... and they don't even have a DVD for the thing. It is on Amazon Instant though...)
Video Games
  • Shadow of the Colossus - I finished Ico a while ago and I loved it. I've since moved on to the other Team Ico game, Shadow of the Colossus. I've actually played this before, but I never finished it. The HD remix that's available on the PS3 now is actually quite nice, though the game still seems a bit stunted to me. Don't get me wrong, it's got great production design and an interesting structure (basically 16 boss fights and that's it), but some of the puzzles (i.e. how to defeat each Colossus) are a bit too obtuse, and once you figure them out, it can still be a huge pain to actually defeat your opponent. It just seems like sometimes the game is giving you busy-work just for the sake of doing so... That being said, I'm determined to actually finish the game off, and I am kinda looking forward to the next Team Ico game, which should be coming out sometime this year.
  • Upcoming Video Gamery: Mass Effect 3 came in the mail this week, and I'm greatly looking forward to it. It took me a while to get into part 2, but once I got there, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm a little intrigued by the fact that my character/team from the second game can be transferred to this third game. Not sure how dynamic that makes things, but I guess we'll find out.
  • Other Video Gamery: I've played a little Soul Calibur V, and fighting games remain inscrutable for me. I can get some of the basics down, but once I get into the more advanced maneuvers/enemies, I fall apart pretty quickly, and the game doesn't seem to do a very good job teaching you the more advanced aspects of combat. At this point, I have more fun creating custom characters than actually fighting. I also got a copy of Resistance 3, which is just another FPS with aliens and guns and big explosions and stuff. What can I say, I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.
  • Of the eleven books posted in my last Book Queue, I've read 5. I've only got two books left in Lois McMaster Bujold's excellent Vorkosigan Saga, and I've posted about some of the other books I've read.
  • I'm currently finishing off Shamus Young's Witch Watch, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.
  • I may end up finishing off the Vorkosigan books next, but I'm also quite looking forward to famous security wonk Bruce Schneier's latest book, Liars & Outliers. It promises to be informative and level-headed look at "trust" from a security professional's standpoint.
The Finer Things
  • I've had lots of great beer recently, but I'll just link over to my beer blog rather than repeat myself here. I've been updating that blog much more often than I ever thought I would, and it's been a lot of fun. Check it out!
  • I think I'll be posting on Sunday about my next Homebrew. I had originally planned to make it an "Earl Grey" beer, but it turns out that food-grade Bergamot oil is somewhat hard to come by (most of what you can find is made for external use). I may still end up getting some flavor from a few teabags of Earl Grey, but it will probably be less prominent than originally planned. Again, more details to come.
And that's all for now...
Posted by Mark on March 07, 2012 at 08:03 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Favorite Films of 2011
Once again, I find myself attempting to sum up a rather unusual year for movies. Here we have a year of movies that managed to transcend mediocrity, but none which achieved true greatness. There were a ton of good movies released this year, ranging from a good way to spend a few hours to... a very good way to spend a few hours? Again, nothing seemed to really hit on all cylinders this year.

The theme of 2010 was a questioning of reality. I don't see a theme in 2011, but I do see some patterns. The one that sticks out to me is that there seemed to be a preponderance of art house genre pictures. These movies tend to be low budget schlock-fests, even when they're good. But this year, several talented directors took on unusual genres, and instead of schlock, we got deliberate pacing punctuated by visually spectacular moments of beauty. From cosmic existentialism (The Tree of Life, Melancholia, Certified Copy) to straightforward action (Drive) to westerns (Meek's Cutoff), we got a ton of unusual takes on standard genres this year. There are even more examples that will be listed below. Does this really qualify as a Theme (capital T) for 2011? Probably not, but it's the pattern I'm most struck by... it seems that all the interesting movies this year were playing with form and genre...

As of this moment, I've seen 75 movies that would be considered 2011 releases. Add in the 19 movies I saw at Fantastic Fest, and that brings the grand total up to 94 movies. This is a record for me, though probably much less than a lot of critics would see in a year.

The standard disclaimer goes double for this year: creating a list like this is an inherently subjective process, and I seemed to have struggled with the list more than expected, to the point where I'm having trouble orienting films on a pure 1-10 scale. For the past several years, I've always had a pretty easy time with the top 5 movies of the year. I would have a little more trouble with the 6-8 picks, and the final two were always impossible to pick. This year? I feel like I've got 10 movies I want to cram in those 9 and 10 slots, with maybe a few in the 6-8 realm... As such, I'm breaking from tradition this year and listing out my top 10 in alphabetical order. A bit of a cop out, sure, but what are you going to do? Sue me?

I used to put this list together by trying to figure out the best films of the year, but in the past few years, I've been gravitating more towards my favorite films. There were films I really respected this year that never quite connected with me the way they did with critics, so I have a feeling my list will be more personal and unusual than most top 10s... Indeed, this is probably the least commercial list I've ever put together (there are normally at least a few big budget Hollywood type films on the list, but not so much this year...) My hope is that this will make for a more interesting list to read, but enough babbling, let's get this show started:

Top 10 Movies of 2011
* In alphabetical order
  • 13 Assassins: Takashi Miike's period Samurai action flick is among the prolific director's best films (that I've seen at least). A rather straightforward tale following the titular 13 assassins as they take on an evil lord bent on domination, this film is often graphic and disturbing, but also thrilling. Especially in the final action centerpiece of the film, which sustains the tension for a remarkably long time. Well worth watching for action fans.
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • A Boy and His Samurai: Set in modern day Japan, a child and his mother stumble upon a man in Samurai garb. It turns out that he is actually from the Edo period. It's something of a cliched premise, a fish out of water story, but the film studiously executes on every level. What could seem derivative ends up being simply charming. A sweet, sincere, and heartfelt film... Unfortunately, it hasn't really received much of a distribution outside of Japan, but if you get a chance to see it, it's well worth your time.
    More Info: [IMDB]
  • Extraterrestrial: Nacho Vigalondo's take on an alien invasion film is actually a romantic comedy, and it's all great fun. Julio wakes up in Julia's apartment with quite a hangover. After some awkward pleasantries, he seeks to depart... and that's when they notice. Cell phones, land lines, television, and the internet are down. And there's something massive in the sky above Madrid. Again, we've got a cliched premise, the alien invasion, but Vigalondo almost completely ignores it in favor of the romantic comedy aspects of the story. Twisted, a little silly, and very funny. Unfortunately, this is also not really available yet...
    More Info: [IMDB] [Capsule Review]
  • Hanna: Director Joe Wright's take on a modern day fairy tale, this is dark, action packed, fantastical stuff. Excellent performance from 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan in an exceedingly difficult role. Also a wonderful Chemical Brothers score. I initially thought of it as being a bit thin, but it has only grown in my mind as time goes on. I really quite enjoyed this film and recommend it highly.
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 2 Kaedrin Movie Awards]
  • Knuckle: This intriguing documentary follows 12 years in a longstanding feud between two Irish Traveler clans. The strife goes back decades, and through numerous interviews and bare-knuckle fights (officiated by third-party clans, this is the seemingly preferred way to resolve arguments), we get a close look at the circle of violence in action. This specific tale is heartbreaking, not just because of the people involved, but because it's a microcosm of all human conflict. The pattern presented here is instantly recognizable and applicable to a wide range of conflict. It's not a perfect film, but it's one that has stuck with me since I saw it...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [Capsule Review]
  • Rubber: What a wonderfully absurd and weird movie. Another deliberately paced genre film, this one is visually interesting enough to keep momentum, and it has a lot to say about movies and audiences. Plus, come on, it's hard not to like a movie about a sentient tire named Robert who can use his telepathic powers to make people's head explode. There's no way to really encapsulate the greatness of this film in a short paragraph, but this is an intriguing movie and a must-watch for any genre fans out there...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 2 Kaedrin Movie Awards]
  • Tabloid: Errol Morris' documentary about a former beauty queen charged with abducting her quasi-boyfriend, a Mormon Missionary in England. The whole story was covered in the British Tabloids, and boy is this a corker of a story. Just when you think it can't get any crazier, it does. And then it just keeps going... An interesting story in itself, but also more broadly applicable and thought provoking when it comes to the nature of attention seekers and the tabloids that feed them (and us). And the British tabloid reporters are hysterical (particularly the one who keeps talking about the "spread eagle" position, even verbing it at one point!) I can't recommend this one highly enough.
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • The Artist: This modern day silent film is getting a lot of Oscar buzz and it's already gotten some backlash, but when I finally caught up with it, I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed it. To me, this one falls under Howard Hawks' belief that all you need to make a good film are "three good scenes, and no bad ones." For me, there might even have been more than three scenes - the deafening silence of applause, a lady and a jacket, and a few others... Yeah, Hollywood is going to be all self-congratulatory about this movie come Oscar time, and I don't think I'd put this near the top of my list were I not ordering it alphabetically, but I think it still deserves recognition (now if only they'll make one of my other proposed silent films!)
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD]
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: This was the slot that was really hard to fill. If this were an ordered list, this is the slot that would be interchangeable with a bunch of the honorable mentions below. And this movie is flawed, but very interesting. At once jam packed and deliberate; overstuffed, but leisurely. Maybe I'm a sucker for intricate spy stories that are less complicated than they seem, but I found myself very taken by the movie. An exceptional performance by Gary Oldman anchors the film and makes it more approachable, despite the bland emotionlessness the role requires. Dour, stoic, bleak, and contradictory. Somehow the movie worked for me, despite the fact that most of my description makes it sound like a movie I wouldn't like. I'd have a hard time recommending this to anyone, actually, but I did really enjoy it myself, so here we are...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil: One wouldn't expect a film playing with the genre conventions of Hillbilly Horror could also represent an interesting statement on the nature of prejudice, but here we are. Indeed, because of the humorous nature of the film and its subject matter, it's almost more effective than films that tackle the subject head-on. But don't let any of this high-minded talk fool you, it's a really funny little film that doesn't have any pretensions about what it's trying to do, and a must watch for horror fans. Another highly recommended film.
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Full Review]
Honorable Mention
* Also in alphabetical order
  • Attack the Block: A big ball of genrerific fun that just never quite reached the heights for me that it seemingly did for some critics. I really enjoyed it though, and there were some thematic confluences with real world events that helped make this movie more interesting than I think it even really intended. Another alien invasion cliche here, though this one actually plays up that side of the story, and it manages to succeed where a lot of lesser movies fail (in particular, it takes some initially unlikeable protagonists and makes you root for them). Another film that could have subbed in for Tinker Tailor on the top 10 proper, depending on my mood...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]
  • Cedar Rapids: A most unusual comedy, this one follows a small-town boy as he makes his way to the big city for an insurance convention and quickly gets in over his head. Great ensemble cast - Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, and even Sigourney Weaver. Lots of hijinks ensue, but things go deeper than expected without getting overwhelming either. A neat trick, that. Another candidate for that tenth slot on the top 10...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]
  • Certified Copy: This is a movie I like thinking about more than I actually liked watching. It's a study in ambiguity. It makes no real sense, and thus there are so many differing interpretations you could take that it becomes something of an existential exercise. Unfortunately, films where two mildly unlikeable people just talk around each other for a few hours with no real point aren't usually my thing, and thus it was a bit of a slog to sit through. Director Abbas Kiarostami grounds the movie in realism, but about midway through, a conversation with a woman working at a coffee shop changes everything. It's a movie where I was constantly asking myself what was going on. There are lots of interesting ideas here, for instance the idea that in art, often a copy can be as good as the original. How does that play out in the movie? What is the real relationship between the man and the woman? I'm at a bit of a loss here. I really like a lot of the discussions surrounding the movie, but I didn't particularly enjoy sitting down and watching it...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]
  • Drive: Nicolas Winding Refn's art-house version of The Transporter, but much better than that sounds. After an intense and exciting opening chase sequence (that focused more on subterfuge and concealment than pyrotechnics and speed), the film switches gears, telling a bit of a love story through nothing more than long, meaningful glances and facial expressions. Oh, and explosive, gratuitous violence. This one narrowly missed out on a top 10 slot, and who knows? I think that if I were to compile this list on some other day, it might have made the list ahead of Tinker Tailor. But then, it could just as easily have not made the list due to at least a few of the other Honorable Mentions here...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]
  • Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within: A Brazilian film about police corruption, I was a little worried about the politics of this film, but it eventually settles on a synthesis, not endorsing either side, but rather, emphasizing that both sides must work together in order to succeed. It's an interesting, well considered position, and films that can pull off that balancing act are few and far between. I've actually never seen the first film in the series, but I did find this one quite well done. Yet another candidate for that coveted tenth slot of the top 10...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Capsule Review]
  • I Saw the Devil: Kim Jee-woon's epic revenge film is certainly a sight to behold. Ultimately it didn't stick with me as much as I initially expected, but it's still one of the surprisingly many Korean films about Vengeance that's worth watching. In this particular case, you better be prepared for some particularly brutal and disturbing stuff, but that's the way these films seem to go.
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]
  • Midnight in Paris: I've never been a particularly big fan of Woody Allen, and this film does have a lot of his stamp on it, but on the other hand, the fantastical trips to the past were absolutely delightful. It was the present-day stuff that seemed so caricatured and mind-numbing and so... Woody Alleny. This is totally a film worth a watch, just to see the interactions with historical figures in Paris, but I just couldn't get past Allen's usual ticks, nor could I quite reconcile the apparent message of the film (nostalgia for the past blinds us in the present - an intriguing idea, actually) with what Allen was actually showing us on screen. Instead of demonstrating his point to us, he tells it to us through dialogue... but what he actually shows us is the opposite message...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]
  • Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol: Good old fashioned, action packed fun. From director Brad Bird, who has made some of my favorite animated movies (notably The Incredibles), in his live action debut, he has shown a deft hand here. I'm not sure I ever really considered it for a top 10 slot, and there are things about it that I don't love, but it was still a ton of fun and I'm really excited to see what Bird will do next...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes: I enjoyed this movie, but I have to admit that I'm surprised by the amount of praise heaped upon it by critics. For all the fun and successful motion capture performances, the film still suffered a bit from awkward dialogue (some awful clunkers in here, as well as a few groan-inducing clichés) and a stilted story (which is ultimately what put it down here in the honorable mentions). Still, a rousing climax and a great character arc for Caesar the ape. And let's not forget Maurice the CGI orangutan, the only true the voice of wisdom in the film!
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Full Review]
  • The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: Morgan Spurlock made a name for himself with a concerted effort at brand assassination, so it took guts to make this movie: a movie about product placement and branding that was completely financed by... product placement and branding. It's a great idea for a movie, and the fact that it's Spurlock making it adds a bit of tension to the proceedings that wouldn't be there for other filmmakers. Then again, that might not be such a great thing. Ultimately only a surface-level affair, it was still interesting and very entertaining stuff. Worth watching!
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Arbitrary Award]
  • The Guard: An eccentric Irish policeman teams up with a straight-laced FBI agent to take down a drug ring. Another most unusual movie that doesn't really go down the way the premise would have you believe. Great performance by Brendan Gleeson as the baffling and confrontational Irish policeman, and a mostly endearing character, despite his many quirks. It's an interesting movie and I'm glad I got the chance to watch it, but something about it never clicked with me either...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]
  • The People vs. George Lucas: A documentary covering the career and movies of George Lucas, and the many complaints the man has garnered over the past 10-15 years. It's an interesting and entertaining documentary, provoking questions about the ownership and meaning of art itself, as well as providing something of a catharsis over some of the beloved films Lucas has made and... changed. It's not quite as one-note or unfair as it sounds - this isn't a long bitching session about, for instance, Greedo shooting first, though there's certainly a lot of that there. It's a fair movie, albeit one that ultimately comes down on the side you'd expect. Definitely worth a watch for any Star Wars or Indiana Jones fans out there who are hurting...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD]
  • The Muppets: A delightful little film that nonetheless had me wondering about a few things when it was over. There's nothing particularly interesting about the plot and indeed, it seems unnecessarily disjointed and a little confusing in the end. That being said, the movie is filled with fun gags and nostalgic callbacks that are really wonderful fun. I had a great time with it, but it's also not something that really stuck with me, so it falls down here in the Honorable Mentions...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD] [Winner of 1 Kaedrin Movie Award]
  • Win Win: An interesting little film about families trying to make it by. I find it difficult to really talk about this movie. It's got lots of funny moments, but it's not really a comedy. Perhaps you'd call it a dramedy. It's got dramatic substance without being overwhelmed by heft, and it was one of the more enjoyable underseen films of the year. Definitely worth a watch and a contender for that coveted tenth slot...
    More Info: [IMDB] [DVD] [BD]
Just Missed the Cut
But still worthwhile, in their own way. Presented without comment and in no particular order:
Conspicuously Absent
These are films that are almost universally recognized in critics' circles, but which didn't really connect with me. Again presented without comment and in no particular order: Should Have Seen
Despite the record number of movies I saw this year, there were still a few that got away. This could be because of limited distribution, or because I just didn't find the movie that compelling until after it was out of theaters or something like that... Again presented without comment and in no particular order: Well, there you have it. More than you could ever want to know about my favorite movies of 2011. Did I miss anything? Are my picks wildly off-base? Feel free to leave a comment. I have to say that I'm sorry that two of the films on my top 10 aren't even really available on DVD/BD/Streaming yet. I usually hate it when critics do crap like that, but I do love both of those movies, so they have to stay on the list. I think this might also be my least commercially successful list ever. I don't quite know what to make of that, but here we are...

Anyways, stay tuned next week for the annual Kaedrin Oscars Liveblogging event! It should be a real corker.
Posted by Mark on February 19, 2012 at 07:17 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Taxonomy Platforms
The human brain is basically a giant correlation machine. Well, ok, that's a drastic simplification, but I've often written about how correlation and induction play an important role in life. This is a large subject, but today I want to focus on one result of our predilection towards correlation: our tendency to develop complex taxonomies. For books and movies, we've got genres. For beer, we've got style. Retail stores have departments. You name it, chances are that there's a complex taxonomy describing variations (you'll notice that this post tends to consist of examples from my obsessions with movies, beer and technology, but this would all be relevant to a wide variety of subjects).

This tendency invariably leads to nerdy arguments about specific examples and where they fall within the taxonomy. Is Inglourious Basterds Science Fiction? Are comic book movies science fiction? Should we make a distinction between science fiction and science fantasy? What exactly constitutes a West Coast IPA? What do we call Black IPAs? What are the defining characteristics of a Weblog? What are some examples of the Hillbilly Horror genre? Take a trip down TV Tropes lane, and you're guaranteed to find a comprehensive list of genres, sub-genres, and myriad conventions or cliches.

Why go to all this trouble to categorize everything? What is it about the internet that seems to magnify these discussions?

Well, the most obvious reason for such excessive categorization is that it will communicate something about the particular instance being discussed. Categorizing movies into various genres helps us determine what we're in for when we sit down to watch a movie. Style guidelines communicate what kinds of characteristics to expect from a beer. Genres and styles provide a common ground for both creators and critics, and the reduce the pool of possibilities to a more manageable number.

Those are good things1, but they're really only scratching the surface of why we taxonomize. Most people get frustrated by taxonomies. It seems that every genre, every style, is inadequate, especially when their favorite instance is pigeonholed into a particular category. Hence, we get the aforementioned nerdy debates on the nature of science fiction or west coast IPAs. Genres and styles are blurry along the edges, and there's a great deal of overlap. Individual works often fit into many categories. If one were so inclined, they could make each category excessively inclusive or moderately narrow, but worrying about the blurry edges of taxonomy is kinda missing the point. In the parlance of hackers, the blurry edges of taxonomy are a feature, not a bug.

I've been reading Steven Johnson's book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, and he makes a fascinating observation that genres are the stacked platforms of the creative world:

For understandable reasons, we like to talk about artistic innovations in terms of the way that they break the rules, open up new doors in the adjacent possible that lesser minds never even see. But genius requires genres. Flaubert and Joyce needed the genre of the bildungsroman to contort and undermine in Sentimental Education and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Dylan needed the conventions of acoustic folk to electrify the world with Highway 61 Revisited. Genres supply a set of implicit rules that have enough coherence that traditionalists can safely play inside them, and more adventurous artists can confound our expectations by playing with them. Genres are the platforms and paradigms of the creative world. They are almost never willed into existence by a single pioneering work. Instead, they fade into view, through a complicated set of shared signals passed between artists, each contributing different elements to the mix.

I love the description of genres fading into view, perhaps because you could say that genres never really come into full clarity. That may frustrate some, but that inherent blurriness is where taxonomies derive power and it's what allows geniuses to create their most amazing works. And this does not just apply to art. In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus relates an anecdote from Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star):

In one of the many stories he likes to tell about German, English and Belgian brewers, Michael Jackson first asks a German how beer is made. "Pils malt, Czech hops," the brewer replies. Then Jackson asks the German brewer down the road the same question. "It's the same as Fritz said. That's how you make a Pilsener, that's what we learn in school."

After getting a different answer from a British brewer, Jackson turns to a Belgian brewer. "First of all, you take one ton of bat's droppings. Then you add a black witch," the Belgian answers. "The brewer down the road uses a white witch." Jackson concludes with the lesson: "Belgium is a nation of tremendous individualists."

If style guidelines for Bat Dropping Ale stated that color shouldn't be less than 25 SRM, do you think that would have stopped the brewer down the road from using a white witch? Of course not. Style guidelines don't limit creativity, lack of imagination does.

As Hieronymus later notes, if we didn't make "rules," we wouldn't know when to break them.

That is the power of taxonomy. It gives us a place to start. It gives us the basic rules and techniques. Defining such conventions may seem limiting, but it's actually freeing. You have to understand those conventions before you can break them or combine them properly, which can sometimes result in something inspirational and brilliant. Ironically, this seems to happen with such regularity that I'm sure many "innovations" we see today are repeats of previous revolutions. As Johnson notes, genres and style are part of a stacked platform. They're built on top of even more basic building blocks, notably technology. Technology often recontextualizes existing taxonomies, opening them up to subtly different interpretations. The same innovative idea can be magnified and mutated into something different by technology. It's very rare that something completely new emerges from history. It's more likely something that has existed for a long time, but slightly tweaked to match the times. Taxonomies are platforms. They are not limiting. You build things on top of platforms, and that's why we go to the trouble of categorizing everything we can.

1 - Nerdy fury on the internets is one thing, but for the most part this isn't really controversial stuff. However, once you start placing taxonomies on human beings, things get a little more complicated. If one were so inclined, an interesting discussion on the nature of prejudice as it relates to the human penchant for correlation could yield interesting insights. Unfortunately, this is not a post for that more weighty (and controversial) subject.Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by Mark on February 12, 2012 at 09:21 AM .: link :.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week we examined a touching tale of bovine mutation. This time, we've got presidential badassery:
It's apparently real. I really thought I was watching a parody thing here. Even when I started recognizing the actors, I thought it was, like, one of them Funny or Die videos where they trick famous people into doing a short skit or something. But it's a full feature. A feature where a beloved U.S. president rides around on a machine-gun-equipped wheelchair fighting Nazi werewolves (literal werewolves, not those other werwolves). Oh and for those looking forward to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it appears that Kevin Sorbo has been tapped to play Lincoln in this film (and according to the writer, "in this movie Lincoln is the king of all badass presidents, but he's a stoner. Other Presidents in office can make him come alive out of his White House painting and ask him for advice if they smoke weed with him.") I also love Ray Wise's interaction with Einstein. Inspired lunacy.
Posted by Mark on January 25, 2012 at 07:22 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, January 01, 2012

My Most Anticipated Movies of 2012
Before I get started on recapping the 2011 movie landscape (yes, I know most folks are already done with their year end recaps, but here at Kaedrin, we work at a more leisurely pace), I thought I'd look ahead at 2012. My impression of 2011 is an odd one. I really enjoyed many movies I saw, but there were few that really blew me away. It's not quite a year of mediocrity, but it isn't a spectacular year either. 2012, though, is shaping up to be at least very interesting and possibly one of the best years in a long time...

The Obvious Blockbusters:
Most folks already know these movies are coming and they're also something of a known quantity, so I'm separating them out. There are, of course, other big blockbusters coming, but these are the ones I'm most interested in:
  • The Dark Knight Rises - I'm obliged to include this one. I'm a huge fan of The Dark Knight, but I have to admit that I have trouble believing this new installment will even come close to its predecessor. I actually don't know much about Bane as a villain and I think Tom Hardy's a fantastic actor, but I can't imagine he'll compare favorably to Heath Ledger's Joker. What's more, this film seems to be suffering from typical superhero-sequel-villainitis - there are apparently three villains here. On the other hand, if anyone can pull it off, it's Christopher Nolan and his typical band of collaborators. I'm excited for this movie, but I'm also a little wary and am trying to temper expectations (I'm also avoiding trailers/marketing as much as possible).
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Peter Jackson has reassembled the LotR crew. I don't really need to explain why this is so awesome, but interestingly enough, I think the Hobbit is probably a more mainstream story that will really hook audiences. On the other hand, they're splitting the book (which is pretty short and straightforward in comparison to the rest of LotR) into two movies, which seems like a naked money grab. Still, I can't wait for this one.
  • The Avengers - Another superhero tale, this time a superteam comprised of superheroes, each of which has had their own solo movie. The problem, of course, is that all of the solo movies have been profoundly mediocre (with the one possible exception being the first Iron Man). On the plus side: Joss Whedon is writing and directing, which is the one factor that distinguishes this movie from its ilk and really makes me want to see it. But to be honest, I want this movie to be good more because I'd like to see Whedon go on to make something original and interesting (the way Nolan was able to parlay his success with Batman to make movies like Inception).
  • Skyfall - Bond finally returns to the big screen. I can't say that I'm too excited about director Sam Mendes for this, but I loved the hell out of Casino Royale and the series has nowhere to go but up after the disastrous clusterfuck of Quantum of Solace.
The Less-Obvious Flicks:
It seems like 2012 is brewing up a lot of original screenplays with talented directors, which is a welcome development. And an exciting one too!
  • Django Unchained - Without a doubt my most anticipated movie of the year. Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino is taking on the Western, and he's assembled a fantastic cast to help him along. I'll be curious to see how the tragic loss of Tarantino's long-time editor Sally Menke (frequently cited as an important collaborator) will impact the production, but I'm confident Tarantino will be able to put together something great here...
  • Looper - Writer/Director Rian Johnson's take on the time-travel story is another of my hotly anticipated films of the year. I loved Johnson's Brick and The Brothers Bloom, so this one is a no brainer. Also of note: Apparently Shane Carruth (who wrote, directed, edited, and acted in the ultra-low-budget time-travel tale Primer) is pitching in, so now I'm expecting some really mind-blowing time travel stuff.
  • Wreck-It Ralph - It's been a long time since I've been excited for a new Disney Animation movie, but it appears the time has come. I don't know much about it, but it's apparently set in an arcade where video-game characters can hop from game to game. Typical villain Wreck-It Ralph gets sick of being a bad guy and attempts to channel his inner-hero. The whole intersection between video games and movies is interesting to me, so I'm expecting a lot out of this one... Also of note: Director Rich Moore cut his teeth working on The Simpsons and Futurama. Excitement level: Rising.
  • The Cabin in the Woods - A horror movie with a tired premise ("Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen."), but some interesting talent attached (it doesn't seem like it will be the teenager deathtrap that so many of these movies devolve into), including a script by Joss Whedon. Color me intrigued.
  • Seven Psychopaths - Writer/Director Martin McDonagh made a name for himself with In Bruges, and this latest film seems like it'll be right up my alley. Apparently the plot features a bunch of gansters and the titular psychopaths and follows the tale of a dog-kidnapping. Also, it stars Colin Farrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Abbie Cornish, Tom Waits, and Kevin Corrigan. Yes, please.
  • Argo - I'm not sure how it happened, but Ben Affleck really has quietly become one of the more interesting directors working in Hollywood these days, and this movie seems like another offbeat choice. Apparently it follows a CIA plan to mount a fake movie production in order to save Americans trapped during the Iranian revolution. Yeah. And Jack Kirby is apparently a character? Ok. I will see this.
  • The Secret World of Arrietty - It's not often that Anime films get a release in the US (and who knows how many screens this will end up on), but a new film from Japan's Studio Ghibli is always worth a shot (even if it's not directed by Hayao Miyazaki - though he has a writing credit here).
High Risk/Reward Films: This is risk/reward from my own estimation of the potential enjoyment, not from any sort of budget or box office perspective. All of the above movies could be horrible, of course, but some of the below movies seem so strange that they seem like they could either be amazing or horrible. Still, even if they fail, I have a feeling these will at least be interesting failures. This list sorta mutated halfway through into movies that are perhaps less risky, but also have less potential, but I didn't really have anywhere else to put these movies and don't know what else to call this list (Honorable Mentions? Except that there are way more of these than any other list)...
  • Gravity - Director Alfonso Cuarón's one-woman show starring Sandra Bullock as the lone survivor of a space mission to fix the Hubble telescope sounds like it could be amazing. But I've never been a big fan of Sandra Bullock, and I've always found Cuarón's Children of Men to be overrated. That being said, rumors indicate that Cuarón will be relying heavily on long takes to tell this story, which could elevate a seemingly simple story into pure spectacle all by itself. Then again, it could also be a tremendously boring character piece with long shots of Sandra Bullock crying or something. Still, an original science fiction tale that might have some hard SF elements is something I am certainly excited for...
  • Cloud Atlas - Six interconnected tales that span centuries and genres, directed in parallel by two units lead by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski Siblings. It's certainly ambitious and it will almost certainly be epic... but the question is whether it will be an epic clusterfuck or an epic wonder of cinema. Neither Tykwer or the Wachowskis have done anything all that interesting recently, so that's not very encouraging, but the sheer scope of this movie is interesting enough to make me want to see it...
  • Only God Forgives - Nicolas Winding Refn is always interesting, though he sometimes gets a little too carried away. This film reunites him with Drive's Ryan Gosling and has a pretty strange premise: "A Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster settle their differences in a Thai-boxing match." Alright, I'm interested.
  • Cosmopolis - David Cronenberg adapting a Don Delillo novel about a young millionaire's odyssey through New York in order to get a haircut stars Robert Pattinson. This could be interesting or an utter disaster.
  • Bullet to the Head - Walter Hill's return to action films could be decent. It stars Sylvester Stallone, Jason Momoa and Christian Slater(!) and it follows a cop and a hitman joining forces to bring down a common enemy. Everyone involved in this has hit-or-miss careers, so I wouldn't get too excited, but there's potential here.
  • The Great Gatsby - The thought of an adaptation of this novel alone wouldn't be that big of a deal, but the movie is being directed by the bombastic Baz Luhrmann. In 3D. I'd like to pretend like I have a clue about how this will turn out, but I have a feeling that I'd never come close to what this will actually be.
  • Gambit - A script by Joel and Ethan Coen always intrigues, though director Michael Hoffman's filmography does little to inspire. Still, it sounds interesting: "An art curator enlists the services of a Texas steer roper to con a wealthy collector into buying a phony Monet painting." I kinda wish the Coens were directing, but I'll still give this one a shot...
  • Wanderlust - Mostly because director David Wain is pretty awesome. Also, Jennifer Aniston. The premise is lackluster (New York couple moves to a free love commune), but Wain is typically hilarious.
  • The Raven - Edgar Allen Poe hunts a serial killer. Interesting casting choice of John Cusack as Poe and a premise that could be great (even if it's pretty well trodden revisionist ground).
  • Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson's next film certainly has a great cast - Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban - but I'm always wary of Anderson.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Yeah, this revisionist stuff was overplayed a few years ago, but this could be a lot of fun, right? Director Timur Bekmambetov can certainly bring some interesting visual flare to the proceedings, though I don't think I really like any of his previous films (but they are pretty!)...
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation - I know, right? This doesn't sound like it would be any good, but I recently saw the preview and it actually looks like an exciting action film with some unexpected starpower in the form of Bruce Willis. I don't really expect much out of this, but it could be a bucket of fun...
  • Frankenweenie - Tim Burton? I haven't been a fan of most of his recent stuff, but this animated feature sounds like it could play to Burton's particular brand of whimsy.
  • Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - The first movie was horrible and the preview for this isn't particularly inspiring, but co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (known mostly for the Crank films) have a wicked sense of humor and a manic visual style that could make this movie more interesting than it deserves to be.
  • The Bourne Legacy - A Borne flick without Borne? It's certainly got a lot of talent attached and I'm a fan of Writer/Director Tony Gilroy (who wrote the previous installments, though his work on the third was apparently minimal due to the writer's strike), so there's a big potential upside here. But it could also fall completely flat without Damon...
Uncertain Release:
There are some movies in the pipeline that may or may not be released in 2012. But when they do come out, I'd probably be interested in them:
  • The Master - I have no idea what it's about, but any movie from Paul Thomas Anderson will of course be hotly anticipated by any film geek. Unfortunately, it's unclear if it will be released this year. I will say, though, that I'm disappointed that Anderson never got to make his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's awesome stoner/noir detective novel, Inherent Vice (hopefully he tackles that next).
  • Inside Llewyn Davis - It's the Coen Brothers next movie. Duh. The plot summary is less than inspiring, but the Coens always seem to make their movies worth watching.
Notable Absences:
For whatever reason, these films aren't inspiring as much interest in me as they seem to be in everyone else...
  • Prometheus - On the face of it, it sounds interesting. Ridley Scott directing a new original science fiction movie? Except that it's apparently something of an Alien prequel... and man, the concept of finding out the origins of the space jockey is just silly. Ridley Scott's recent output has been rather dull as well. I guess this could be good, and the preview doesn't look like the abomination that it sounds like on paper, but I'm still not really looking forward to this one...
  • The Amazing Spider-Man - An unnecessary remake/reboot that doesn't look like it will add anything new or interesting to the series. I suppose it could be ok, but I have a hard to believing that.
  • Lincoln - Don't get me wrong, the involvement of Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis is intriguing, but I just can't muster much interest in this biopic...
So there you have it. 26 movies I really want to see, 2 that might have to wait until 2013, and 3 that I'm not that excited for, but will probably see nonetheless... The funny thing? I probably missed quite a few interesting movies! Feel free to share anything I missed in the comments...
Posted by Mark on January 01, 2012 at 06:02 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday Horror
'Tis the season... for cheesy horror movies! It's something of an annual tradition here at Kaedrin, though the pickings are getting a bit slim these days. Two of the three movies below are only slightly related to actual holiday scares. That being said, I always seem to have fun with these movies, even if they aren't so great:
  • Sheitan - So some morons go to a club on Christmas Eve, get kicked out, then decide to spend the holiday at the country house of a girl they just met. Little do they know that the caretaker, Joseph, has other plans for the crew. Satanic plans! Yeah, so the film's big problem is that the protagonists are complete and utter douchebags. French douchebags! Sometimes this isn't the worst failing in a horror movie, but there's a distinct lack of horror here as well (at least, until the end, when things get a little better). Vincent Cassel actually turns in a fun, scenery chewing performance as the satanic Joseph (and apparently he also plays Joseph's wife!) The film is shot well and there's something interesting in the general story. Unfortunately, it's all ruined by our douchey protagonists. **
  • Films to Keep You Awake: The Christmas Tale - Ahh, now this is more like it! Still not tremendously holiday focused, but at least there's a Santa-suit-wearing criminal in this one! 5 kids discover a woman (the aforementioned Santa-suit-wearing criminal) trapped in a well. It turns out that she's a bank robber on the run, so the kids attempt to blackmail her into giving them her stolen money. Things don't go as planned. Also: Zombies (kinda).
    Santa Suit Wearing Criminal
    It's far from perfect, but it's fun and actually pretty tense at times. The kids all put in good performances, and the Santa-suit criminal manages to be pretty menacing after a while. There's a weird movie-within-a-movie thing going on that I'm not sure entirely works, but the general story works well enough and the ending is sufficiently satisfying. ***
  • Demonic Toys - Yeah, so I don't think this one has any relationship to the Holidays at all, except that a bunch of toys are attacking everyone, which is actually pretty cool. Don't get me wrong, this is not fine cinema, but it's fun schlock, and while there's a silliness to the proceedings, I did like the backstory. Something about a demon who wants to be reborn and needs to possess a pregnant woman, who happens to stumble into said toy warehouse. Ok, fine, there's not much to the story or, well, the movie, but I had fun with it. I mean, Baby Ooosy Daisy? Awesome. It's actually a pretty bad movie, but fans of bad horror might enjoy it... **1/2
Well, there you have it. There are still a few more Holiday Horror movies in the queue, including Don't Open Till Christmas (though this is apparently no longer available from Netflix) and Santa Claws (get it?) Well, there's always next year!
Posted by Mark on December 18, 2011 at 02:17 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nerding Out on Star Trek
Star Trek has been in the news lately, as J.J. Abrams preps the new movie. It seems that Khan will be the villain again (originally thought to be played by Benicio Del Toro, but that has apparently not happened), though there is also apparently a secondary villain who plays an older mentor to Khan. Or something. It was the obvious choice and I'm interested in seeing what Abrams does with the new movie, but in a lot of ways, it's also a disappointing and lazy choice. Not just because Khan was the villain in the original second Star Trek film either. As Devin Faraci also notes, I think one of the things people forget about is that one of the reasons that film worked so well was that Khan wasn't the obvious choice:
Khan wasn't an obvious choice for the original Star Trek II. Basically Harve Bennett watched every single episode of the original series because he thought Star Trek: The Motion Picture lacked a good villain, and took a shine to Space Seed; while it was always regarded as one of the better episodes of the series, Khan wasn't quite the iconic villain he is today.

What made Khan iconic was the fact that his quest for vengeance led to the death of Spock. It seems unlikely that Star Trek 2 will be a remake of Star Trek II, so it's probably a riff on Space Seed - except made more EXTREME for 3D movie purposes. I bet they get Chris Pine to yell 'KHAAAAAAAAN!,' though.
I think I would have rather seen Abrams go in a completely different direction. Either mining the original series for other obscure characters to update for the big screen, or maybe even - and I know this is crazy talk - creating a new character from scratch. The Star Trek reboot was extremely popular, so they've got a built in audience for this next installment. As long as you can make a trailer with a bunch of lens flares, swish pans, and explosions, people are going to go see the sequel. Why not take a chance? Khan is an iconic villain because of his context - none of which has been built up in this new reboot universe.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the existing movies and just for shits and giggles, I ranked them from favorite to least favorite below. Mostly because this post just wasn't nerdy enough. Here goes:
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - The obvious choice, and the film most frequently cited as the best of the Trek movies. I actually haven't seen it in a while, but there are lots of memorable things about it, and of course, Khan was probably the most memorable of the villains in the films...
  • Star Trek (2009 Reboot) - Oh sure, it's not a very rigorous movie and I would totally prefer more science in this film's fiction (and what's there is just breathtakingly stupid), but this film is just so much damn fun that it really does catapult up towards the top of the list. I'd actually say it ties with the next few films, but for now, this is where I have it.
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - Who among us hasn't picked up our mouse and talked to it, saying "Computer? Commmputerrr?" like Scottie does in this movie? It's an unusual movie in that it's a sorta fish out of water comedy rather than a sci-fi action film (and quite frankly, those who complain about the reboot's science should take a look at how time travel is portrayed in this film). Fortunately, it's still a boatload of fun.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - Returning to the series more adventurous roots, this film also wound up being really well done. I feel like I'm saying this for all the movies so far, but it's a lot of fun.
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture - I know, it's slow and plodding and filled with lame glory shots of the Enterprise leaving stardock or something, but I actually enjoyed this one overall. It was a little nebulous and intellectual, but that's what I like about it.
  • Star Trek: First Contact - Certainly the best of The Next Generation movies, this one is pretty fun, but it's also much more of a lame action movie than the series or even the other movies. I think this movie also demonstrates that while the Borg were once awesome villains, their continual evolution into ineffectual dweebs was disappointing. They're better than this movie gives them credit for. This movie works, but there's lots of dumb things going on here.
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - I'm actually surprised this one fell this far on the list. It's not a horrible movie and I don't hate it, but quite frankly, I don't remember much about it (which isn't a good sign).
  • Star Trek: Insurrection - Meh. It's an ok film, and Worf has a space bazooka and everything, but it plays out like a third rate TNG episode. I remember having an ok time with the movie when it came out, but it's ultimately a pretty forgettable experience...
  • Star Trek: Generations - And now we get to the part of the list where the movies are legitimately bad. This movie was just so unnecessary and got the TNG crew off to a horrible start. It's one thing to honor the old crew. It's another to try to cater to everyone, and thus make a movie that works for no one. A horrible movie.
  • Star Trek: Nemesis - Another terrible movie. Hard to believe that's the same Tom Hardy that was in Bronson and Inception, but yep, that's him. I've always thought that the Romulans would be a good villain for the movies, but it never seems to work out...
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - A total abomination, the less said about this the better.
I think my biggest problem with the Star Trek movies is that I consider a lot of The Next Generation episodes better than most of the movies, even including the ones at the top of the list. And even a lot of TNG episodes haven't aged that well, but many are still really well done and interesting. Much moreso than the movies, at least. Speaking of TNG, check out this twitter feed which is throwing out humorous plot summaries from a proposed 8th season of TNG. My favorite episode:
A sentient nebula chases the ship, which has nowhere to hide, because usually it would be in a nebula. Data adopts a dog, snake, and parrot.
Heh, great stuff. Speaking of great stuff, RedLetterMedia has reviews of all the Next Generation movies (in the same style as their brilliant Star Wars prequel reviews) that are certainly worth checking out. Well, I think that covers all the Star Trek nerdery I have right now, so there. I hope you enjoyed it.
Posted by Mark on December 11, 2011 at 07:40 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The 2011 Holiday Movie Season
The holiday movie season has traditionally been Hollywood's dumping ground for Oscar bait. Prestige pictures are rushed out the door to meet eligibility requirements, and film nerds rejoice that we're actually getting some more intelligent, subtle fair. Well, in recent years, the trend hasn't quite reversed, but big tentpole action films are being released during the holidays now. Avatar came out on Christmas, for instance, and this year, we've got stuff like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. But there are still some interesting looking movies coming out as well, so here's a few that I'm looking forward to:
  • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel - A documentary covering the career of Roger Corman. The release looks to be severely limited, so I'm wondering if I'll ever get to see the movie, but here's to hoping it at least makes it to DVD/Streaming quickly. It's still right up my alley though, so if I get a chance, I'll jump to see it...
  • Haywire - Steven Soderbergh slumming it with an espionage action flick. He's also reuniting with The Limey screenwriter Lem Dobbs on this one, which is somewhat encouraging. Certainly worth a look, though I'm hearing mixed things and I think I saw a preview for this that wasn't particularly inspiring... so I guess we'll see.
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - An exceptional cast, notable director, and well-regarded source material. It looks a little on the dry side, but color me intrigued. I could go for a slow-burning espionage thriller right about now, and this looks like it will fit the bill nicely.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - I loved the original Swedish version of the film, and this looks like pretty much the same movie... but with another talented cast, director David Fincher, and music by Trent Reznor, I'm pretty excited to check this out. I expect to be a bit underwhelmed, but Fincher tends to outperform when I go into a movie thinking that...
  • The Adventures of Tintin - Stephen Spielberg has two movies coming out this holiday season, but I'm more interested in this one. I know very little about it, except that it's an animated adventure film directed by Spielberg. What else could I possibly want?
  • Other Stuff: War Horse, A Dangerous Method, and Young Adult.
  • Stuff to Watch on DVD/BD/Streaming: Attack the Block has been #1 in my Netflix queue for a while now, but it's still at "Very Long Wait". At this point, I'm a little worried about expectations with that one. Also looking to get past the "Very Long Wait" on Bellflower. Others in the queue: Another Earth, The Guard, The Trip, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Martha Marcy May Marlene (making the reasonable assumption that I can't find it in the theater), and probably a few others that I haven't figured out yet.
Note, I didn't include movies that are currently out in wide release and/or movies that I've already seen (i.e. that's why The Muppets and Hugo aren't listed...)

I'm actually a little more on top of things than I thought I was with this year's crop of movies. Part of it is that I've managed to catch up with several films on DVD/BD lately. I'm sure a few other things will pop up between now and when I actually compile my top 10 of 2011, but as of right now, this is looking like a banner year (especially if you add in my Fantastic Fest watching) in terms of movies seen...
Posted by Mark on December 07, 2011 at 09:02 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Weird Movie Synopsis of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we saw a tale of Elephant vengeance. Against Nazis. This time, courtesy of my friend Dave, we've got a touching story of bovine mutation:
"In this unsettling chiller, a genetic experiment intended to boost bovine fertility goes awry when one of the cows spawns lethal mutant offspring."
Short, but sweet. Does it surprise anyone that this is a film that is available on Netflix streaming? I thought not.

According to Dave, this movie is actually much more well-made than the premise might lead one to believe. I guess we'll just have to see about that, won't we? The movie is called Isolation, and IMDB has rated as a rather hefty (for this kinda movie) 5.9 rating from 2500+ users.
Posted by Mark on November 16, 2011 at 08:21 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, October 30, 2011

6WH: Week 6 - The Slasher Calendar (Again)
I've done this before, so I won't go over why so many slasher films are centered around holidays and dates, but yeah, they are. I don't know that I've seen every holiday slasher, but there are certainly enough that you could create a calendar of events throughout the year, with at least one or two slashers per month. Fortunately, there are some holidays that are still open, so if I were to actually make a slasher, Flag Day is still available (perhaps I could combine it with jellyfish and crocoroids). Anyway, in visiting the calendar this year, it's become clear that I've exhausted most of the good holiday slashers, and am in the distinct second or third tier. But no matter. Slashers are like cinematic comfort food. So let's get on with it:
  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • My Bloody Valentine (trailer)
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To Murder (short)
  • Mother's Day - Made not too long after Friday the 13th, this one was still early enough in the popularity of slashers that it doesn't strictly adhere to all the tropes the way a lot of movies afterwards did... It turns out that this was a Troma video, which basically means it's really weird and ultra-low budget (and it's worth mentioning that low budget in 1980 is way worse than low budget in 2011 - these movies look pretty bad these days). So pure B-movie exploitation here. The movie is basically about a trio of women who go camping every year, only this year they chose to camp near an old lady and her nefarious sons, who have a habit of kidnapping and raping girls at the behest of their mother.
    Mothers Day Poster
    So there are some elements of the slasher here, but it's arguably not a slasher. It's also somewhat unpleasant and it doesn't really make a ton of sense. It probably goes on too long too. On the other hand, we've got a little old lady in a neck brace who is pretty awesome, and I have to admit that I loved the last shot in the film, which kinda left me with a better opinion of the film than it probably deserves from any objective evaluation. Only really for genre completists, but maybe some others would get something out of it... **
  • Halloween (trailer)
  • Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • Hardly Working: Slasher (Short)
  • Graduation Day - Ah, now this is more like it. Another Troma movie, but this is textbook slasher material right here. We've got a tragedy from the past (though not quite the distant past) and a mysterious killer seemingly avenging that tragic death. The film centers around a track and field team (cue obligatory team photo, with members crossed off one by one as the killer makes the rounds). One of the members of the team died of a blood clot earlier in the year, and now other teammates are dropping like flies. The potential suspects are numerous. It seems that everyone is sporting a gray sweatsuit and black gloves (and a stopwatch), just like the killer. The weaponry tends towards the bladed variety, including that badass fencing helmet (good idea for the mask, though its only used a few times). As a whodunit, it's not lighting the world on fire, but it gets the job done. The budget is still super low, and it shows during the kill sequences, which are somewhat creative, but which also would have benefited from some more expertise on the special effects side. They try to get around it with clever camerawork, and sometimes even succeed, but there's only so much you can do with that. Ultimately, this hit the spot much better than Mother's Day did, though its ending isn't quite as great and it's clearly not on par with the best examples of the genre. **1/2
  • Uncle Sam (trailer)
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night (trailer)
  • April Fools Day (trailer)
  • New Year's Evil - Probably somewhere between the previous two films in terms of hitting the slasher tropes, the thing that struck me the most about this movie is how much better it looks. I'm certainly not talking blockbuster stuff here, but it clearly had a bigger budget, and you can see that in every aspect of the filmmaking. Though it doesn't hit all the right conventions of the slasher, there are some interesting things going on here. The film takes place on New Year's Eve, where a radio/TV host is counting down New Years across the time zones. She takes a phone call, and a guy calling himself "Evil" informs her that he's planning to kill someone every hour, on the hour. At first, everyone thinks it's a crank call, but then dead bodies start showing up. It's actually pretty fun, and unlike a lot of slashers, you spend a lot of time with the villain. He seems frighteningly normal and even charismatic (and he's a master of disguise! Look at that porno 'stache!), again quite unusual for slashers.
    Rockin the Porno Stache
    There's way too much 80s rock music and the film unravels towards the end. There are some interesting twists, but I don't think they really figured out a great ending. Well, I shouldn't say that, as the last shot works well enough, I guess, but everything leading up to that feels kinda rushed and disjointed. Ultimately, still a second-tier film, but one probably worth watching for fans of the genre. I actually quite enjoyed it. **1/2
Well there you have it. I can't believe Halloween is tomorrow. This whole season flew by. I'll probably post my typical Speed Round post on Wednesday, as I've seen a bunch of movies that didn't quite fit with previous weeks' themes. And quite frankly, I'm still in the mood for horror. We may just need to make this the 8 weeks of Halloween or something. Have a great Halloween!
Posted by Mark on October 30, 2011 at 08:03 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dr. Anton Phibes' Abominably Erudite, Musically Malignant, Cursedly Clever Halloween Horror Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, Professor Severus Snape, and Professor Ed Avery, are also available... But now, here are my answers to the sinister Dr. Phibes:

1) Favorite Vincent Price/American International Pictures release.

It is perhaps dreadfully uncool to pick the film the entire quiz is named after, but my pick is honestly The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It's a fine film by itself, but it's also much more influential than most of its contemporaries, influencing the likes of Seven and even Saw (not to mention the franchise that spawned and the whole torture porn sub-genre).

2) What horror classic (or non-classic) that has not yet been remade would you like to see upgraded for modern audiences?

This is quite a difficult question. For one thing, a lot of movies that get remade have no real need of a remake - they're perfect the way they are. So what does need a remake? Well, there are some movies, no matter how great they are, that are just products of a different time, and could use some updating. There are some movies that just don't have enough of a budget or production value, and they could also benefit from a remake. Finally, there are movies that have a really neat premise that fall down when it comes to execution. That last one is especially difficult because they're not normally good or beloved, and thus are unlikely to be greenlit by a studio exec. But for the purposes of this question, there are no studios or commercial concerns, so what movie to pick? Well, when it comes to classics, the obvious choice would be Creature from the Black Lagoon - the only of the old Universal monsters that hasn't been updated and redone ad nauseum. The reason for the Gill-Creature's lack of remake probably has less to do with the popularity of the character than to the fact that it was one of the few Universal creature features that was totally original. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy (which is mildly arguable, but I'm including it anyway) are so popular because the characters are in the public domain (Universal owns some aspects of the appearance of the various monsters, but that is easily avoided because the characters themselves are not). Because of this, characters like Dracula can be continually reinterpreted and reinvented for new audiences and generations. Indeed, Dracula has racked up over 200 appearances in film - one of the most portrayed fictional characters in all of cinema. But the Gill monster? It will never be as popular because Universal had so tightly controlled the copyright... at least, not until the film enters the public domain. On the other hand, maybe it's a silly movie that wouldn't survive a reinvention. But we won't know unless we get someone talented to give it a shot, and it's probably worth trying.

3) Jonathan Frid or Thayer David?

Well, I've never been much of a Dark Shadows kinda guy, so I'm afraid I can't really give a good answer for this, except to say: Jonathan Frid. Because I feel like it.

4) Name the one horror movie you need to see that has so far eluded you.

There are a lot of questions like this in these quizzes, and my answers tend to fall on a particular era of film: Silent Films. In keeping with that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is probably the one classic horror film that has so far eluded me. Along with several hundred others, but I keep thinking to myself: Self, you should really become more acquainted with the Silent Era. And then I promptly ignore that impulse. Indeed, for this year's 6 Weeks of Halloween marathon, I had originally intended to devote a week to silent films (including Caligari), but there's only one week left, and I really want to watch me some slasher films. But I will get to silent horror at some point. Oh yes.

5) Favorite film director most closely associated with the horror genre.

A truly difficult and tricky question. Does someone like David Cronenberg count? He spent the first decade or so of his career putting out solid or even great horror films, but he has since moved on to other genres (mostly). How about John Carpenter? He's made two of my favorite movies of all time (Halloween and The Thing), but he's also made some stinkers and he hasn't even made a decent movie in over 15 years (though I have yet to see The Ward). Maybe it's just that I'm bad at picking favorites. Names are just coming to me. Mario Bava. Don Coscarelli. Alfred Hitchcock (does he count?) Sam Raimi. Wes Craven. Jeeze, we could be here for a while. I'll stop now.

6) Ingrid Pitt or Barbara Steele?

Hey, I'm actually mildly familiar with these two. Mildly. I'll go with Ingrid Pitt, because I've seen her in more things, but Barbara Steele is no slouch...

7) Favorite 50’s sci-fi/horror creature.

A tough one. The Gill Creature kinda qualifies (is that really sci-fi?), but in the interest of variety, I'll go with The Blob. There's something just so great about the inhuman, unfeeling nature of the blob.

8) Favorite/best sequel to an established horror classic.

Aliens is the first to come to mind, but while it's quite a tense affair, I don't know that I would call that a horror film (though the Alien certainly was) so much as an action/adventure/thriller. The other obvious choice is Bride of Frankenstein, a film many believe is better than the original (though I'm not with them on that, it's still among the best sequels). And while I wouldn't call anything in the Friday the 13th series "classic", I do have an inordinate fondness for Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI. Yeah, did I say I have trouble picking favorites? Because I do. Oh, and Phantasm II. And definitely Evil Dead II. Ok, I'll stop now.

9) Name a sequel in a horror series which clearly signaled that the once-vital franchise had run out of gas.

This one's really hard, because there are so many horror series, all of which run out of gas from time to time, only to be revitalized (even if only for a short time). There are probably a bunch of Dracula movies that would fit that mold. But what the hell, I'll just say A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which just stopped the series in its tracks (not that it was soaring so high at that point, but still) and I don't think it ever really recovered...

10) John Carradine or Lon Chaney Jr.?

These two actors have over 500 films to their credit. Yikes. I'll go with Lon Chaney Jr., for The Wolf Man alone.

11) What was the last horror movie you saw in a theater? On DVD or Blu-ray?

Last horror movie I saw in the theater was Paranormal Activity 3 (I was surprised that the series had not worn out it's welcome - I generally enjoyed it). On DVD, it was Lucio Fulci's goretastic The Beyond (fun, but not much to it other than gore, which I will grant, is pretty awesome in that movie). On Blu-Ray, it was Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, a mildly diverting film that was enjoyable enough, though again, nothing special. On Netflix Streaming, it was The Sentinel, a decent 70s haunted house film that is nevertheless kinda sloppy and disjointed and very weird. Interesting, but nothing to go crazy about.

12) Best foreign-language fiend/monster.

The most obvious answer would be Godzilla, though I've never been a particularly huge fan of those movies. The "fiend" part of the question does indeed open this up to probably too broad of a category, so I'll just leave it at Godzilla.

13) Favorite Mario Bava movie.

Oh, this is a difficult one, but after a microsecond of thought, I'll go with Blood and Black Lace. Impeccable.
Masked Killer
Blood and Black Lace
14) Favorite horror actor and actress.

Oh, this is an easy one, right? Cause there aren't that many actors or actresses that do a lot of horror films, right? RIGHT? Ok, fine, I'll go Boris Karloff for the actor, and Jamie Lee Curtis for the actress.

15) Name a great horror director’s least effective movie.

John Carpenter's Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. Another question that could probably have a thousand answers, unfortunately.

16) Grayson Hall or Joan Bennett?

Again with the Dark Shadows? I decline to answer. Ok, fine, Joan Bennett. There. You happy now?

17) When did you realize that you were a fan of the horror genre? And if you’re not, when did you realize you weren’t?

When I was in fifth grade, I hated horror films. Or, at least, I was terrified of them and avoided them at all costs. Then, one halloween, I spent the night at a friend's house, and we watched Halloween. Nothing like peer pressure to get you to watch something you wouldn't normally watch. And I was shocked to realize that I loved the movie. I was hooked. I started watching all the 80s slashers that came on TV (through my fingers at first, then when I realized that it wasn't that bad, I really started to eat up horror films), and now I watch nothing but horror movies for the six weeks leading up to Halloween every year. Not to mention all the other horror films I watch throughout the year.

18) Favorite Bert I. Gordon (B.I.G.) movie.

I can't say as though I've seen a lot of his movies, but Empire of the Ants comes to mind.

19) Name an obscure horror favorite that you wish more people knew about.

This is a hard one because "obscure" can be a relative term. What constitutes obscure for a horror fanatic? It's difficult, because horror fanatics watch a lot of obscure movies just for the hell of it. But my pick will be Mute Witness, a movie that I rarely hear about, even in horror film circles. I won't ruin it by talking too much about it, but it's about a mute woman who witnesses a murder and then has to escape the clutches of the murderers, even though she's in a remote area and can't speak.

20) The Human Centipede-- yes or no?

Yes. Look, it's a disgusting concept, but I have to admit that the first film is reasonably well made and even restrained. It was nowhere near as bad as I feared. On the other hand, the sequel is pretty foul. But even that is well shot and there's something interesting about what he chose to do in that movie. These are films I would probably never recommend to anyone, but if you're inclined to watch disgusting movies, these are fine.

21) And while we’re in the neighborhood, is there a horror film you can think of that you felt “went too far”?

The aforementioned IMDb - The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence is certainly a candidate, but the one that came to mind after that was Martyrs, a film I have a lot of respect for, but which also made me wonder what the hell I was doing watching this thing.

22) Name a film that is technically outside the horror genre that you might still feel comfortable describing as a horror film.

Genres are inherently fuzzy. That's part of their charm! That being said, a couple examples would be Blue Velvet and The Silence of the Lambs and maybe even Se7en. Did I mention that I'm bad at picking just one film?

23) Lara Parker or Kathryn Leigh Scott?

Alright, Jesus, I'll watch Dark Shadows, ok? Just stop giving me these choices!

24) If you’re a horror fan, at some point in your past your dad, grandmother, teacher or some other disgusted figure of authority probably wagged her/his finger at you and said, “Why do you insist on reading/watching all this morbid monster/horror junk?” How did you reply? And if that reply fell short somehow, how would you have liked to have replied?

I haven't been around too much of this sort of attitude, so I don't really have an answer prepared, but I'm sure I could come up with something about the nature of fear or something. And quite frankly, anyone who's so lacking in empathy that they can't understand why someone would *gasp* like something different than them, is probably not worth responding to...

25) Name the critic or Web site you most enjoy reading on the subject of the horror genre.

Brian Collins and his amazing Horror Movie a Day. I don't know how he does it.

26) Most frightening image you’ve ever taken away from a horror movie.

A difficult one, as the most frightening stuff, for me, is the stuff that's not shown. But just to answer the question, I'll say Phantasm has quite a few shots that haunt me...

27) Your favorite memory associated with watching a horror movie.

Well, I've already mentioned my first viewing of Halloween, so I'll call out my first viewing of Paranormal Activity. Before it got hyped to high heaven, it was just a small film, struggling to get a release. The filmmakers managed to wrangle some midnight screenings (and later used footage of the crowds in their trailer), one of which I got to attend. It was a big and fun crowd, there were lots of scares, and as a midnight showing, I didn't get home until around 2:30. And if you've ever seen the movie, you know that all the bad things that happen... happen at around that time. Let's just say that I stayed up for a while after that.

28) What would you say is the most important/significant horror movie of the past 20 years (1992-2012)? Why?

Two films come to mind. Scream's postmodern approach made it ok to make horror movies again. I know a lot of people don't like it or love it, but it is an important film, if only for the influence it's had on the genre. The other film would be The Blair Witch Project. It wasn't the first found footage, mock-documentary film (nor was it even the only one made that year!), but I think it might be the most effective one, and given the strength of the format over the past decade or so, I think that deserves a callout.

29) Favorite Dr. Phibes curse (from either film).

"Death of the first born" from The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Ironically, an quasi-unsuccessful curse, as well. But it was elaborate and horrifying, moreso than most of the others.
I want to play a game
The Abominable Dr. Phibes
30) You are programming an all-night Halloween horror-thon for your favorite old movie palace. What five movies make up your schedule?

Well, at least you didn't say I could only pick one movie. Are you sure I can't pick 10 movie movies? Or maybe 20? This is hard, but I'll leave it at those 5, as I could be here all night tweaking the list.

And there you have it, another great quiz. I'm already looking forward to the next one!
Posted by Mark on October 26, 2011 at 07:28 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, October 16, 2011

6WH: Week 4 - Wes Craven
The six weeks of Halloween continues with three as yet unseen Wes Craven horror films, including some of his most recent work. Craven's an interesting director. He's worked primarily in horror and he's made at least two or three seminal films in that genre, but even his "lesser" works generally have something going for them. Even in films that don't necessarily work, he always manages to strike a nerve or two, which is more than could be said for most other directors. This week, I watched three of his films:
  • Shocker (trailer)
  • It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow (trailer)
  • The People Under the Stairs - I was a little surprised at just how batshit insane this movie ended up being. It's a really, really strange film. It begins with some poor folk, including young Fool and Ving Rhames, attempting to rob the slum lords that have been making life hard. There's a persistent rumor of buried treasure in the rich folks' house, but things are not what they appear. Once the man and woman of the house show up, things start to get really crazy, thanks in large part to gleefully manic performances by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie (both of whom were apparently in Twin Peaks as well). It turns out that they're brother and sister and they've locked their kin in the basement and... holy shit, did he just get dressed up in a gimp costume and start shooting a shotgun at everyone?
    The People Under the Stairs
    Yeah, it's that kinda movie. The other character worth noting is the house itself. Filled with trap doors and secret passages, it's one of the best creepy houses out there. But aside from some well executed "Boo!" moments, it's not really much of a scary movie. Indeed, given the antics, it's actually rather funny. I can't really tell if that's intentional or not, but I had fun with it. It's certainly not a perfect film, but as I mentioned earlier, it does scratch a certain itch. **1/2
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (sorry no vid online)
  • Freddy Krueger: Registered Offender (short)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (trailer)
  • My Soul to Take - So if The People Under the Stairs was insane, this movie goes ahead and increased the Batshit quotient by at least 4 or 5. It doesn't make much in the way of sense, but it's strangely compelling and watchable nonetheless. There's something about a serial killer known as the Riverton Ripper and 7 kids born prematurely the night the Ripper was caught and disappeared (they never found the body, zomg!) Naturally, when the Riverton 7 turn 16, the Ripper comes back to kill them all. Or something. It doesn't really matter. It's just an excuse to do some slasher-esque horror, which isn't exactly groundbreaking, but which I generally enjoy. I guess you could say there's a bit of a whodunit as well, but in a movie this bizarre, it's hard to say whether or not it was all that well executed. It's not a particularly good movie, but like all of Craven's films, there's something that strikes a chord here. Sure, it's filled with dreadful teenage dialogue and whatnot, but it all comes together reasonably well. I think the film is a bit unfairly disparaged, even if it isn't particularly great. Perhaps because we know Craven is capable of more, but ultimately, I'd call this an interesting failure rather than an out-and-out failure. It's got some interesting elements and at least he's trying something strange and different, which is more than can be said about most other horror films these days. **1/2
  • Wet Nightmares (short)
  • Scream (trailer)
  • How Scream Should Have Ended (short)
  • Scream 4 - The first Scream film was a clever and self-aware slasher film, the culmination of two decades of horror films. The second film looked at slasher sequels, and like most of it's target films, it's not as good as the original. The third film tread that same familiar ground, and like most franchises that make it to a third film, that installment was pretty horrible too. So now we come to Scre4m (Screform?), where Craven teams up with the original writer, Kevin Williamson to take on the whole Remake/Reboot trend. The film opens with a familiar phone call sequence... with a twist. And it actually works really well. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie never quite lives up to the promise of those initial sequences. This isn't to say that it's bad, I actually quite enjoyed it. All the familiar faces are there, along with an all new teen cast that's just ripe for stabbing. In particular, I enjoyed Hayden Panettiere and Alison Brie, though neither is given much to do in the movie.
    Scream 4
    Still, it's all good fun. Some of the dialogue gets a bit too on-the-nose at times, and the premise is getting pretty tired by now, but it was certainly a big improvement over the third film and maybe even the second film (I haven't seen either in a while, but that's the impression I get). If you're a fan of slashers and dislike the general trend of remakes/reboots, check it out. ***
And that just about covers it for this week. Not sure what I'm going to hit up next week, but perhaps some haunted houses are in order!
Posted by Mark on October 16, 2011 at 07:15 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, October 09, 2011

6 Weeks of Halloween: Week 3 - Val Lewton Horror
In 1939, RKO-Radio Pictures was the smallest of the major studios. Its first ten years had been tumultuous, but things were looking up. They had just offered the talented youngster Orson Welles a multimillion dollar contract, hoping to capitalize on his success in their radio division. Welles' first film was Citizen Kane, which opened to critical praise and has gone on to be frequently cited as the greatest film ever, but which also lost money for the studio at the time. In addition, Charles Foster Kane was obviously based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who took the film none too kindly. In response to Welles' hubris, Hearst's media outlets boycotted the film, intimidated theaters into following suit, and threatened RKO exects with exposing fifteen years of suppressed Hollywood scandals. Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons was even less successful.

After some leadership shakeups, one of the ways RKO sought to reverse their fortunes was to focus on B movies, and specifical B horror movies. Enter Val Lewton, who was offered "artistic freedom" if he accepted a few conditions:
  1. He had to produce "horror programmers" with runtimes under 75 minutes.
  2. Each film had to come in under a $150,000 budget.
  3. Each film's title would be determined by marketing research.
  4. Lewton's salary would be $250 a week.
Lewton readily agreed, famously noting that "They may think I'm going to do the usual chiller stuff which'll make a quick profit, be laughed at, and be forgotten, but I'm going to fool them . . . I'm going to do the kind of suspense movie I like." And he certainly seemed to do so. There were no classical monsters in Lewton's movies (the closest he came was with zombies, but those aren't the Romero zombies we're all too familiar with these days). They seemed unique and rather restrained. In today's gore-happy world of Human Centipedes and Saws, they seem downright quaint, but they're still very interesting.
  • Cat People: RKO studio head Charles Koerner was apparently of the opinion that vampires, werewolves, and man-made monsters had been over-exploited and that "nobody has done much with cats." Before Lewton even went to work, the title was chosen: Cat People. Lewton was apparently terrified of cats and drew on folk tales from his native Russia to make this film. The story concerns a Serbian girl, Irena (played by Simone Simon), who is convinced that she is cursed to turn into a panther and kill the man she loves. In theory, very similar to The Wolf Man (and other "enemy within" type stories), but in practice, a very strange yet well executed film.
    Cat People Poster
    There a number of effective sequences, including a nighttime chase sequence where the audible footsteps quickly dissapate, replaced by the quieter patter of a stalking cat. There's also a tense sequence in a pool, and another in an office (where our heroic architect brandishes a T-square, which looks very much like a cross). There are some panthers in the film, but the action is usually shown in shadow - an effective choice. I don't want to give the film too much credit, but it does prefigure a lot of what became known as the hallmarks of film noir. Many of the techniques in this film were used ad nauseam in the decade to follow. For instance, many of the scenes are framed in such a way that Irena is confined by shadows or other such shapes (for instance, at the zoo, the shadows of the zoo's cages surround her), indicating that she is trapped by the curse of her people. This was replicated numerous times in film noir, using things like venetian shades to indicate the bars of confinement. Much of this is due to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, who was heavily influenced by German Expressionism and who helped refine the various noir techniques throughout the 1940s. Indeed, after launching Lewton's first three films for RKO, director Jacques Tourneur moved out on his own, eventually teaming up with Masuraca again to produce one of the classic films noir, Out of the Past. Cat People is restrained, yet filled with lurid love triangles, repression, and vanity, all exacerbated by the supernatural folk tales of Serbia. The film was a big success, some saying that Cat People saved RKO, which was nearly bankrupted by Welles' shenanigans at the time. It's a tame film by today's standards, but quite interesting nonetheless. ***
  • Silver Bullet (Robot Chicken)
  • The Leopard Man (trailer)
  • Cat People (1982) (trailer)
  • The Curse of the Cat People: The most intriguing thing about this sequel? There are no cats or panthers or pumas. Well, in the opening shot, there is a black house cat that scampers across the screen, but other than that, nothing. The title had been handed down from the studio's marketing department, but Lewton, unphased, wrote a "very delicate story of a child who is on the verge of insanity because she lives in a fantasy world." The film features much of the cast of the first film, including the... ghost?... of a cat woman. Despite the lack of cats, it turns out to be a very poetic and personal film about the fears and dangers of childhood. By 1944, RKO had moved Jacques Tourneur on to other things (their thinking being that splitting Lewton and Tourneur, they would get twice the output for the same price), so Lewton hired Gunther von Fritsch, whom he fired almost immediately because he was so slow (remember, these movies were made quickly and on a tight budget). In came a young Robert Wise, who would go on to direct classics like The Haunting and The Andromeda Strain (among many others). Once again, audiences were quite taken with the poetic and humane story presented in the film. It's a very different film, practically unrelated to the original, but still quite effective in its own right. ***
  • Full Moon Tonight (Robot Chicken)
  • Isle of the Dead (trailer)
  • The Seventh Victim (trailer)
  • I Walked With a Zombie: I actually watched these films a bit out of order, as this was the second of Lewton's productions, also directed by Jacques Tourneur. A recurring theme of Lewton's work seemed to be his exasperation at the titles he was handed from the marketing department. In this case, he was quite distraught until he came up with the idea to simply adapt one of his favorite books. He described this movie as "Jane Eyre in the West Indies." With zombies. (Note, this was 60-70 years before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the numerous mashups that followed). Not being that familiar with Jane Eyre, I can't say as to how successful Lewton was in terms of adaptation, but the film itself is pretty damn good. There are several standout sequences, my favorite being when two women, dressed in white, navigate through a dark field towards the distant drums of a voodoo ceremony (which are, in themselves, a wonderfully atmospheric touch). Ultimately, I didn't find this as enjoyable as the two Cat People movies, but it was an interesting watch nonetheless. **1/2
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III: Dial "Z" for Zombies (sorry, no clips online)
  • Ghost Ship (trailer)
  • I Sell the Dead (trailer)
  • The Body Snatcher: Another Robert Wise film, this time based on the short story The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson. Here Lewton was relieved by the good title and the classic source material (which also happened to be in the public domain), though exasperation came later when the initial script, which had introduced much more mayhem than Stevenson's original story called for. Lewton himself rewrote the script at the last moment, making sure that the film still appealed to stars Boris Karloff and even the ailing Bela Legosi. Well, whatever his worries, the film turned out fantastic. Wise and Lewton relished being able to create a period piece that could still be filmed cheaply. Legosi was very ill at the time, so he was not quite up to speed, but luckily, he played a rather small part as the mad scientist's half-wit assistant, so his infirmities were actually appropriate for the role. Karloff was at the top of his game though, delivering the sharp dialogue with gusto.
    Boris Karloff
    The story concerns a doctor (played by Henry Daniell) who requires fresh cadavers in order to continue his studies and teach his students. The law being somewhat in opposition to this practice, he had to hire an insolent cab-man (Karloff) to rob the graves of the recently deceased. When there are not enough bodies to meet the doctor's needs, the cab-man resorts to murder! It's all very well done, the relationship between the doctor and the cabby gradually escalates with tension, and Karloff and Daniell clearly got under each other's skin. The film reaches its climax with Karloff delivering a wonderful monologue: "I am a small man, a humble man, and, being poor, I have had to do much that I did not want to do. But so long as the great Dr. MacFarlane jumps at my whistle, that long am I a man. And if I have not that, I have nothing." Karloff's performance is something to behold. Having spent most of his career playing various monsters, Karloff clearly relished playing a human being, even if the character was a manipulative villain. In today's parlance, he's just chewing the scenery. Playing opposite Karloff was the capable Henry Daniell, who certainly holds his own as the conflicted and guilty doctor, ashamed of his past and perhaps even his future. Once again, while perhaps a bit grisly for its time, this is tame by today's standards... but it's definitely worth watching for Karloff's performance alone. ***
Ah, it's good to be back in the flow of traditional 6WH posts. Stay tuned for some quick reviews of the Fear Itself anthology series and I think I'll end up covering three Wes Craven movies next week. Recommendations are always welcome, though I can't guarantee I'll get to it (but if it's available on Netflix streaming or Amazon Prime's free streaming, I'll probably give it a shot).
Posted by Mark on October 09, 2011 at 08:51 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Fantastic Fest Dispatch #3
Coming down the homestretch, only a few movies/events left to go over. See also: Dispatch #1 and Dispatch #2.
  • Extraterrestrial - So. Nacho Vigalondo. Best director name ever? Probably. But he's an institution at Fantastic Fest. You see him all over the place, and later in the night, he's usually drunk and very animated. Here at Kaedrin, we're big fans of his work. His 2007 film Timecrimes made my best of the year list, and is an entertaining and intricate time-travel story. He's also the director of numerous short films, including 7:35 in the Morning, which was nominated for an academy award (note to self: seek more of these out!)
    Extraterrestrial Poster
    As a followup to Timecrimes, Vigalondo started working on an even bigger, even more intricate script. Knowing that it would take a few years to get that going, he set about doing a film in the meantime, which brings us to Extraterrestrial. Julio wakes up in Julia's apartment with quite a hangover. After some awkward pleasantries, he seeks to depart... and that's when they notice. Cell phones, land lines, television, and the internet are down. And there's something, something massive, in the sky, sitting above Madrid.

    It's a setup we've seen a million times before, but it doesn't play out like any other similar film. In a very real sense, this is similar to Melancholia in that the SF premise is only a catalyst for the human story. It is almost literally window-dressing. But unlike Melancholia, this movie remains awesome. It's twisted and funny. Really funny, actually. It's Nacho Vigalondo's take on the romantic comedy, and probably best of it's ilk that I've seen in a long time. It's perhaps a bit silly (it is a comedy, after all), but I think it works very well. It doesn't hit all of my personal buttons in quite the way that Timecrimes did, but in a big way, this is a more assured film, and I'm glad that Vigalondo has avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump". Highly recommended - if you get a chance, give it a watch. ***1/2
  • The Day - I don't like post-apocalyptic movies. There are a few exceptions, but a filmmaker has to do a lot to make me overcome my disdain. In this film, we follow a group of 5 survivors as they attempt to make it past cannibal-infested land. They're carrying two jars of hope and faith (i.e. seeds), with which they hope to establish a semblance of civilization again. Of course, they get cornered and have to fight, and there are revelations and twists and turns and badass action sequences. In particular Ashley Bell was impressive as the female lead. Not quite Ripley, but clearly a conflicted badass. It's ultimately a fun film, but I always have nagging questions about post-apocalyptic worlds that are never quite explained. Fortunately, this film wisely chooses to completely ignore whatever caused the apocalypse, instead focusing on the struggle for survival. This mitigates the nagging question problem, though those issues still arise after the film ends. This sort of thing might hold it back from true greatness, but I'm also willing to go with it, and the film manages wring tension out of its premise. Good ending too. If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic movies, give it a try. **1/2
  • 100 Greatest Kills - So I was sitting next to a guy during The Day whose name was Tron (apparently not named after the movie - he was born before it came out). Very nice fella, and he told me that I would LOVE this 100 Greatest Kills event. I didn't realize it, but apparently they take submissions for the best onscreen kills, and if you submit it, they'll play it during the event. That being said, they try to keep things obscure, though they do give the classics their due. When I first got in the theater, the lights dimmed, and they started playing Stairway to Heaven while showing all of the most famous death scenes. Great selections here, but this isn't really why you attend. They immediately started playing some truly obscure stuff (quite frankly, I don't remember any of these), including a series of kills from 80s VHS movies. Some of the kills were also quite disgusting. For example, in one of the video movies, a guy cuts open a pregnant woman, grabs the baby, screams, and throws it against the wall. This actually sounds a little more horrifying than it looks, as it's quite low budget and very poorly acted, so it comes off as being a little comical. But still disgusting. Some of the others were also pretty gross. Not helping was the little digital gizmo they had that let them play and replay death scenes, sometimes in excruciating slow motion. Examining the Scanners head explosion frame by frame was pretty darn fun. We also watched the Brad Pitt death from Meet Joe Black many times. The final clip was a 15 minute gorefest from another of those video movies from the 80s (seriously, how do people find these things?) and it was quite disturbing. But they gave out free copies of Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive, so look for a capsule review of that during the 6WH... Overall, it's a really fun event. If you're not squeamish, it's highly recommended...
  • Master Pancake Presents: Highlander - So this wasn't actually part of Fantastic Fest, but my Austin friends got me a ticket to see it and I cleared my schedule that night to see it. For the uninitiated, Master Pancake is basically like MST3K, but it's performed live. The three guys that do it are very funny, and it's actually quite a production. They start off with a simple introduction and banter, set up a drinking game (in this case, you have to drink anytime sparks appear on screen - and if you've ever seen Highlander, you know that anytime a sword strikes something, it emits sparks, so there was a lot of drinking), and then launch into the film, with a brief intermission and skit performed live onstage in the middle of the film. Lots of mocking, especially of Sean Conner's unbelievable performance as Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (seriously, he plays this Egyptian Spaniard without even attempting to maks his Scottish accent). Very funny, and a great time. If you're ever in Austin, it's well worth trying to get yourself a ticket for Master Pancake! Thanks again to Kaedrin reader and friend Spencer!
And that about covers what I saw at Fantastic Fest. I saw 19 movies, went to 4 events, and of course, Master Pancake too. I won't go through the pomp and circumstance of a full awards post, but here are a few: All in all, quite a successful festival. Will I go again next year? It would certainly be really nice, but I'll have to see what my schedule is like (not to mention money, vacation time, and so on). I definitely want to go to the festival again sometime, as I did have a blast... And that concludes my Fantastic Fest posting. Regular 6WH posts to resume this weekend (this week's theme: Val Lewton horror!)
Posted by Mark on October 05, 2011 at 06:06 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Fantastic Fest Dispatch #2
As mentioned in the first dispatch, Fantastic Fest was quite a hectic but fun week for me. I don't really have much to say in terms of an introduction, but there are some thoughts on the festival itself interspersed with the movie reviews below. Also, just to mention that this technically represents the second week in my annual 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon. It doesn't take the general form of most 6WH posts, but there's plenty of horror and weirdness below, so enjoy! See also: Dispatch #1 and Dispatch #3.
  • Fantastic Arcade Story In Videogames - One of the neat things about Fantastic Fest is that it's not all movies all the time. Over at the Highball, they set up something called the "Fantastic Arcade". Filled with Free-Play arcade cabinets and various PC/PS3/X360 machines, you could just wander around and play games all day if you wanted. There was a nice indie-game competition as well. And there was even a series of panels surrounding various issues in gaming. This particular panel was all about how to work story into video games, and it featured a team from Lightbox Interactive (makers of the forthcoming Starhawk) and a couple of filmmakers, including best-director-name-ever (and apparently a Fantastic Fest institution) Nacho Vigalondo. The panel started off a bit like an advertisement for Starhawk, but as with any panel featuring Nacho Vigalondo, things derailed pretty quickly and thus became much more interesting. They discussed the preponderance of cut-scenes and the inherent challenges of video games, especially how video games tend to put players "on rails" and the ways around that. Then Nacho started talking about how the Angry Birds are actually the villains in that game (terrorists?), thus kicking off a 15 minute digression into the various incongruities of Angry Birds, including the architectural style of the pigs (their structures often seem pretty impressive at first, but then you realize that they've sometimes just completely surrounded a pig in the structure, essentially burying it alive!) All in good fun. I had to leave a little early to catch my next movie, but it was definitely a lot of fun.
  • Melancholia - The best part of this movie was the 15-20 minute interview with director Lars von Trier that preceded the film (he was not there in person as he apparently does not fly, but had participated in a Skype interview earlier in the day). He was very open and honest and even quite funny. The film, on the other hand, was a bit of a mess. I shouldn't say that, as von Trier certainly knows his way around the camera, and the film is, as always, immaculately composed and shot. The story, on the other hand, is quite unfulfilling.
    The opening of the film is actually brilliant. It's very arty and experimental and whatnot, but also compelling and visually spectacular (it also doesn't appear to fit in with the timeline of the rest of the film). From there, the movie rewinds, focusing on a wedding between Justine (Kirstin Dunst, apparently recommended to Von Trier by PT Anderson!) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood fame). At first, it seems like a typical rich folks wedding reception at a huge country club, but it soon becomes clear that there are deep problems in the family, and Dunst's character is suffering from chronic depression. This part of the film is somewhat insufferable. After the wedding, we find out that there's another planet (unironically called planet Melancholia) that is on a collision course (or perhaps just a close flyby) with Earth. That is quite an interesting concept, but the film only really uses it as window dressing - something that sets off the depression amongst the family. I'd be curious about the actual physics of all this. For a time it does come off as being plausible, though there is one event towards the end that I couldn't come up with a feasible explanation for... but again, this isn't really the film's main point.

    At one point, I thought maybe there would be a twist that the characters were actually on Melancholia, and that it was the Earth that was appearing in the sky, but that doesn't pan out. However, the film does seem to be set in an other-worldly location. They mention a nearby town, but for the most part, the entire movie is set on the grounds of a golf course/country club, and after the wedding, there really aren't any other characters that show up. It's a really bizarre setting for the film, which could have been fine, but I don't think it was really in service of anything. The final sequence of the film is also pretty great, but not enough to make up for all the stuff that happens in between. Again, very well made, but didn't really do much for me. **
  • Beyond the Black Rainbow - Very experimental and trippy, like a slower version of the end of 2001, drawn out over 110 minutes. The story, inasmuch as there is a story, is about a young girl who is seemingly trapped in an institute that bills itself as a technological cure for various mental maladies (or something). Who is she? Why doesn't she talk? Why can't she leave? What's going on at this institute? What's with the girl's doctor? These questions aren't really answered, but you do get a series of dreamlike vignettes that are visually interesting, if not really spectacular. As if the film wasn't trippy enough, at one point, we get a flashback where one character does acid, after which we're treated to a 10 minute scene where he's submerged in black liquid and his face melts (Spoiler? Not really.) Things get more interesting towards the end of the film. We see that the girl (and her doctor) seems to have some sort of mental powers, and the film becomes something of an escape film. But that's probably giving it too much credit for plot. There is a narrative, but it seems more appropriate for a 15 minute short than an almost 2 hour film. I don't hate this film. It's got some merits and I'm glad I got to watch it, but it's also not a particularly good film either. **
  • Knuckle - There were only two documentaries playing at Fantastic Fest, and this was one of them. It follows 12 years of a violent feud between two (or maybe three) Irish Traveler clans. Most of this is accomplished via bare-knuckle fighting (officiated by third party clans). Interestingly, the documentary seems to have come about by accident. Director Ian Palmer was hired to videotape a wedding, and from there, the various Traveler families (especially the Quinn McDonaghs) allowed him to tag along at the various fights and tape them for their own records. It seems that the feuding families often produced video tapes taunting the opposing family and sending for representatives at the next fight. After 12 years of this, Palmer compiled everything together, did some additional interviews, and made this movie. Videotape isn't exactly a high-quality medium, but in this case, it's an accurate representation of what was happening and everything was very well documented. Ultimately, the film plays out like a microcosm of all human conflict. The two main families in the film are actually blood related, but their feud goes back decades, and few are interested in ending the conflict. Listening to various family members talk about it is almost heartbreaking, not just because these two families seem to be locked in a circle of violence, but because we can so easily recognize the pattern. You can see this sort of needless conflict all throughout history and even in present day conflicts. It might be too presumptuous to apply it to something as controversial as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but like I said, the movie is a microcosm. It's a much smaller conflict, but it still seems hopeless, especially when Palmer cuts to young children playing in the street, pretending to fight. It is not a perfect movie, but it was one of the more interesting and thought provoking films of the festival. ***
  • Fantastic Debates! - After Knuckle came the Fantastic Debates, an annual tradition wherein two folks participate in a traditional verbal debate, then box for two rounds. This year's debates featured two hobbits debating the benefits of World of Warcraft, two comedians debating whether robots were better than humans, an astrophysicist debating the "fuck Nasa" guy (I'm not generally a violent guy, but I enjoyed seeming him get an ass whooping), and finally, the main event, Alamo Drafthouse mogul and FF organizer Tim League fighting James Quinn (the undefeated bare knuckle brawler from Knuckle) over the topic "Texans are tougher than the Irish" (I particularly enjoyed the way League was able to argue his point while at the same time kissing Quinn's ass). It was all great fun, and there are numerous vids covering the event on youtube. This is the sort of event I'd love to go back in time and watch from previous years. The only drawback to the event was that an apparently great movie was scheduled at the same time, and didn't have any other showings during the festival. Dammit.
  • The Corridor - Four lifelong friends go camping in a remote area and discover an impossible hallway in the woods. They've been the best of friends, but things are changing. They're getting older, balder, crazier, and so on. It hits the two main tropes pretty hard. I mean, how many movies about old friends camping do we really need to see? The early-mid-life crisis stuff is a little less trodden, but still a pretty common thing, and the film is a bit too on the nose with some of its commentary on that subject. That being said, the actual corridor piece is pretty interesting, and there are quite a few creepy sequences that result from that. It was actually well made and acted, and I did enjoy watching it, but I think I would have appreciated a little less cliche in the script. **
  • Elite Squad: The Enemy Within - One of the frustrating things about film festivals in general is that you don't always get into the popular screenings. But at Fantastic Fest, this can be a blessing in disguise. I had originally planned to see the "Secret Screening" at this time, but it was sold out. I later learned that the secret screenings are generally not very interesting (I was expecting some crazy movie I never heard of, but it was apparently Paranormal Activity 3, which will be out in wide release in less than a month). So I had to "settle" for this film: a most excellent Brazilian film about police corruption. It would actually make a nice companion to City of God. That film was told from the perspective of children growing up in a violent neighborhood. This film is told from the perspective of the police.
    Elite Squad II: The Enemy Within
    At first, I was a little worried about the political posturing of the film. For example, early in the film, the voiceover decries the political left. It's a seemingly typical sentiment among law enforcement: liberals make it hard to do their job. Later in the film, you start to see the corruption on the police side of things. And finally, the film reaches an equilibrium, not endorsing either side, but rather, emphasizing that both sides must work together in order to succeed. It's an interesting, well considered position, and films that can pull off that balancing act are few and far between. Oh, and there are also good characters and even some decent action sequences. I really enjoyed this film, one of my favorites of the festival. This is apparently the second film in a series, so I'll have to seek out the first film, because this was really fantastic. ***
  • Karate Robo Zaborgar - Another film that wasn't my first choice, but which wound up being one of my favorites of the festival. It's apparently a loving remake/parody of a 70s Japanese television show about robots, karate, and, of course, sexy lady cyborgs. I don't think I can sufficiently explain the pure insanity on screen here, but it's got everything you want out of a Japanese comedy film. You've got motorcycles transforming into robots (apparently the original series was part of the inspiration for Transformers), a ludicrous love story, a group of down-on-their-luck former police officers called "The League of Smiles", and, of course, someone lights their fart as a form of propulsion. Again, difficult to describe, but I was laughing the entire time. Well worth a watch, especially for fans of Japanese robot cinema! ***
  • Borderline - A French film following a beaten down family man and lawyer who stumbles on a bag of drugs, and decides to start selling it to make ends meet. Of course, the original owner of the bag eventually tracks him down, and things go downhill from there. It may not sound like the setup for a pure comedy, but it's quite funny, though it gets a bit dark later in the film. Still, a very solid movie. Not quite as uproariously funny as Zaborgar, and actually quite tame for a festival like this, but it's a fun film. **1/2
  • Juan of the Dead - One of the most popular films of the festival, this Cuban zombie film is quite funny. Unfortunately, just by virtue of its title, it forces comparison to the nearly perfect Shaun of the Dead, a film that's better than this one. That being said, there's a lot to like here, and it was definitely one of the funnier films of the festival. Like most zombie films, it doesn't really have much direction, but it's actually got some well drawn characters and some decent arcs that elevate this movie above a lot of other zombie movies. I'm not typically a big fan of zombie movies, but I really enjoyed this and it's definitely worth seeking out. Also of note, director Alejandro Brugués has challenged Fantastic Fest mainstay Nacho Vigalondo to a Fantastic Debate next year (with the topic of "What the fuck is Timecrimes about?". I guess this means I'll need to go back next year! ***
  • Cost of Living (short) - I didn't go to any of the film shorts programs that Fantastic Fest had, but they do show some shorts in front of movies, and this one was so good that I had to call it out. It's about two security guards who work at some sort of science institute. Basically one of those places that only exist in video games that create mosters, which of course get loose and start wreaking havoc.
    Cost of Living
    Anyway, Brandon Routh is absolutely hysterical here, and if you ever get a chance to watch this short, go for it (a quick search did not yield any videos, but perhaps it will be available someday). ***
  • The Squad - A squad of Columbian soldiers comes upon an outpost suspected of being attacked by guerrillas. What they find is less than clear. A cryptic outpost log sheds no light, and then someone discovers a lone, traumatized survivor in a room that has been sealed off by bricks. Rumors quickly abound that she's a witch that caused the destruction of the outpost. It's actually a somewhat interesting premise. Unfortunately, the entire thing is bungled. I never got a sense for any of the characters, the layout of the outpost and surrounding environs was very poorly established, the squad does not act like any military unit I've ever seen, and everyone actions like an idiot. This is a movie that relies heavily on character interactions, but I feel like we were missing a lot. I didn't care about or like any of the characters, yet the dialogue assumes that we do. All throughout the movie, people keep talking to this one character, Ponce, as if we know who he is or care about him in any way, but of course, we don't. The entire film is framed in medium shots and closeups, and most of the camerawork is handheld and shaky. It's also got some weird depth-of-field issues. All of these things can be effective if used for a specific reason in specific situations. They can emphasize the isolation of the characters or the chaos of battle, but when they're used this often, they yield diminishing returns and only serve as a distraction. The story is almost non-existent. There's clearly some traumatic history for this squad, and the film references it numerous times, but I ultimately found that I could really care less. It wasn't scary, there's no real plot, and its atmosphere suffers because of it. There is actually quite a nice final shot in the film that I really liked, but it was too little too late. My least favorite film of the festival. *
  • Let the Bullets Fly - I know a lot of critics say this, and it seems absurd, but watching 4-5 movies a day can be exhausting. By the time I got to this movie on the fifth day of the festival, I was starting to flag. It's a lighthearted action comedy starring Chow Yun Fat and featuring an intricate, Yojimbo-like plot. I have to say, it seemed like it was a ton of fun, and I did enjoy myself, but I was clearly fatigued. Maybe it was just that The Squad sucked so bad, or maybe it was because I'd just seen, like, 5 subtitled movies in a row and this one had really quick dialogue, or perhaps I had too many late nights and early wakeups. I was exhausted at this point. I watched the whole movie and managed to enjoy it, but it's something I want to revisit at some point when I'm more refreshed. I'll refrain from rating it at this point, but it did seem like a good film, so check it out.
  • Fantastic Fest Awards - So I was very tired, but this sort of event re-energized me a bit, or perhaps I just got my second wind. There were lots of various awards handed out, including awards for bumpers, which takes some explaining. Most film festivals feature a short promo for the festival itself at the beginning of each screening. That short film is called a bumper. It's usually the same short film, over and over again, but Fantastic Fest is different. They select a theme (this year's was Altered States, which most people took to mean drugs), then accept submissions from local filmmakers, and we wind up seeing a different bumper before each showing. Some are funny, some are disgusting, some are just plain bizarre. The winning bumper was one of the disgusting ones which basically depicted a vasectomy. It was certainly shocking, but quite frankly, it was rather stupid and didn't demonstrate any talent on the filmmaker's part (the way most of the other ones do). Anyway, they also gave out awards for a bunch of films and short films, and it seems that You're Next was a big winner, much to the chagrin of its producer, who had to accept all the awards. At this point, I should note that the awards were basically big beer mugs, and in order to accept the award, you have to chug it... so this guy basically had to chug 5 mugs of beer within about 15 minutes. It was all pretty funny. This was a fun event, but I'm not sure it'd be something I'd want to go to every year (if I went to the festival every year). On the other hand, it was exactly what I needed at this point in the festival.
  • The Fantastic Feud - So every year, they do this horror trivia challenge, pitting international filmmakers and critics against American filmmakers and critics. The whole thing takes the format of family feud, and it's quite fun. The only real drawback was that it was really short this year, like only 40 minutes long (apparently previous years were much longer and even more fun). I had a great time, but as previously mentioned, I was exhausted, so I was almost glad to be finished for the day... Still, it was one of my favorite events, and definitely something I'd do again (if I ever go again!)
Whew, I still have a bunch of other things to write about (including a review of Nacho Vigalondo's excellent Extraterrestrial), but this entry has already grown to mammoth proportions, so I'll save that for Wednesday, perhaps along with some other thoughts about the festival. After that, the 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon will resume as normal.

Update 10/5/11: Added some images to this post. Fixed some typos. Added links to other FF dispatches.
Posted by Mark on October 02, 2011 at 11:12 AM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fantastic Fest Dispatch #1
So things have been quite busy so far. Not much time to really record detailed thoughts, but since it's Sunday, I'll list out a few of the movies I've seen earlier in the week. Tons of fun stuff going on, but quite frankly, not much time to discuss. I'll probably have more time to cover movies next weekend (and since I'm traveling on Wednesday, probably no post then either)... Also, this is technically the first week of the 6 Weeks of Halloween Marathon. Not all of the below movies are horror and thus aren't necessarily Halloween movies, but they're all pretty weird and at least a few are pretty horror-focused. See also: Dispatch #2 and Dispatch #3.
  • Blind - I missed the beginning of this movie by about 15 minutes, so I missed out on some of the establishing scenes. Near as I can tell, a blind former police officer becomes a witness to a crime. Naturally, this presents a bit of a problem, and the serial killer starts playing cat-and-mouse games with her. The description initially reminded me of Kaedrin fave Mute Witness, but while this film is well done and engaging, it never manages the suspense of Mute Witness. That being said, it does feature some excellent set pieces (most notably the one on the subway) and some effective relationships. Very solidly constructed thriller, but not something that will blow you away either. **1/2
  • Boys on the Run - Bizarre movie about... I honestly don't know how to describe it. It's an exaggerated romantic comedy, in a way, but one with Japanese perverts, inopportune boners and sex workers and the like. Lots of embarrassment humor, a nice taxi driver homage, and one of the best slow-clap sequences I've seen in a while. I really liked the performance from the female lead's roommate - very funny. The ending was somewhat disappointing though, making me wonder why I bothered watching it. It's got its moments, and it did make me laugh, but I never really connected with it either. **
  • The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) - Human Centipede 2 has all the disgusting, graphic scenes I was dreading in the first film. Not exactly a good thing, but it represents an interesting commentary on the fans of the original film. Devin Faraci has probably the best take on this I've seen so far:
    This time it’s meta. Martin is a bug of a man, round like a beetle with huge, bulging eyes. He’s Peter Lorre working the dead shift at a parking garage, where he spends his hours obsessing over the movie Human Centipede. Finally he begins to create the ultimate fan fiction - a human centipede of his own, except this one is 12 people long. ...

    Martin is a direct parody of the fans. He’s fat and sweaty and awkward and possibly mentally disabled. He’s also a parody of how the detractors see the fans. He’s malleable and unable to tell reality from fantasy. ...

    Six is attempting a level of critique that’s impressive, and the film feels like a response to every single review and editorial written about the first Centipede.
    As Devin says, it's a big "Fuck You" movie. I don't think I'd use the word "restraint" to describe the first film, but it actually was pretty cold and clinical and you really don't see that much (it's graphic, but not as much as you fear), while this sequel is dirty, grimy, and explicit. The film doesn't hold back at all, breaking every taboo it can, and then some, leaving me wondering just what Tom Six has planned for the third (and hopefully final) film in the series. In the Q&A after the movie, Six says the third one will be "really sick". Given how grotesque this movie is, I don't know if I really want to take Six up on that third film. One last thing - I'm a little disappointed. I counted, and there were only, like, 40 legs on the creature that Martin creates. While a big improvement over the first movie, that's still, like, 60 limbs short of an actual centipede. Perhaps this is what Six plans for the next film. Anyway, the film is surprisingly well directed and acted, and it does make an interesting comment on the nature of fandom and critics, but I still can't really recommend it in any fashion. You were warned. (this one kinda defies rating, but I'll say **)
  • The Yellow Sea - Gritty Korean crime picture featuring more knife and hatchet fights than any movie I've ever seen. Unfortunately, some of that is obscured by shaky-cam action, a trend I wish would just go away at this point. The movie tells the story of a poor cab driver in China who goes to South Korea to find his wife. She's gone earlier to make money, but has now disappeared. In order to fund the whole venture, the cab driver must take on a job - assassinate one of the Korean crime lords. It's probably not a spoiler to say that the cab driver is betrayed at nearly every turn. There's a lot of resilience in the face of adversity going on here, and some nice touches in terms of the nuts and bolts of things. It's a little long, but very complex and never boring. ***
  • Retreat - Interesting and twisty single-location film. A troubled couple travels to an isolated island for quiet time, but when a bloody stranger turns up at their doorstep, things start to get weird. The twists aren't quite mind-blowing, but they always keep things interesting. The remoteness of the cottage they're staying at certainly increases the tension a bit, as the only person within radio distance is not answering. On the other hand, there are some stupid horror movie character moments when you want to yell at the characters for doing something so stupid. Thematically, there are some interesting reversals, but ultimately it doesn't really gel. Well shot and well acted, it can be a bit of a downer, but it's worth a watch if you're into this sort of thing. **
And that covers it for now. Again, probably no entry on Wednesday. Maybe I'll get to something on Thursday, but probably more likely to see posting resume next Sunday. There are still about 3 or 4 movies I'm really looking forward to, so let's hope I can actually get into those shows!

Update: Dispatch #2 and Dispatch #3 have been posted.
Posted by Mark on September 25, 2011 at 01:31 AM .: link :.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Netflix's Woes, Continued
In the wake of Netflix's pricing increase, it's been estimated that they've lost somewhere around 1 million customers. On Sunday night, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings attempted to explain the move. He starts off the announcement by saying "I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation."

He then proceeded to explain how he would make up for everything... by totally screwing over customers even more.

Essentially, Netflix is splitting into two independent entities (both owned by the same parent, for now). One is the DVD by mail service, which will work the same as ever, but which will not be named Qwikster. The other is the streaming service, which will retain the Netflix name. I see no reason to do this, but whatever. Maybe it's an accounting thing. But then Hasting drops the bombshell: "Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated." Um, what? All the sudden, this whole thing went from baffling to insane. The ratings you give movies on Netflix won't be reflected on Qwikster (and vice versa), if you want to change address or credit card info, you have to do so on both sites, and you presumably won't be able to tell if a movie is available on streaming when looking at the Qwikster website.

Now look, I'm not a Netflix hater. I love the service and even with the price increase, it's a great value. I remember the old days of Blockbuster and do not want to return. I even defended their price increase back in July, essentially calling all the controversy an infantile response to Netflix's reasonable reaction to unreasonable studio demands. If the studios charge 10-100 times as much for Netflix to stream movies, it's only natural that the price would increase.

But this new change is utterly ridiculous. What's more, it seems to make no sense whatsoever. I'm not an expert in business practices, but I can't find a single compelling reason to make this change at all. There isn't a single operational benefit to the switch and there's now a massive usability hurdle placed in front of the customer. I suppose there could be some sort of internal accounting or business or stock reason to make this change, but even that doesn't make sense. In July, their stock was nipping at $300 a share. Now? It's at around $130 a share. How does this benefit them? My guess is that the stock will rebound a bit, but that they'll continue to bleed subscribers. The only thing I can think of is that Netflix really does want to just sell off the DVD business and focus on streaming. Depressing the stock prices the way they have means that maybe potential investors will see it as a more attractive investment or something. I don't understand why that would be a viable option, but it's the only thing I can think of...

For the first time since subscribing to Netflix over 6 years ago, I'm looking into alternatives. I will most likely keep their streaming service, but the way they're setting up the DVD service seems to beg customers to look for alternatives. Before the split, Netflix was a unique value proposition. You had access to nearly every movie available on DVD. The streaming selection was limited but growing, and you could always fall back on DVDs if needed. Now? There's no compelling reason to use either of Netflix's services. The only thing that could save this would be if Netflix actually expanded their streaming selection significantly, something I don't see happening anytime soon. And if they keep bleeding customers the way they are, their position at the bargaining table will only get worse as time goes on.

Streaming may be the future of video content, but there's a fairly significant chicken-and-egg problem that needs to be solved first. In order to get favorable deals with the studios, the streaming service must boast a very large number of subscribers. In order to get those subscribers, a streaming service must boast a very large selection. Again, I don't see how this move helps Netflix in any way.

In the end, I'm flabbergasted. I just cannot comprehend what is going on right now. Netflix was great while it lasted. It's a shame it's going away.
Posted by Mark on September 21, 2011 at 02:52 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Link Dump - Action in Movies Edition
Some interesting movie-related links I've run across of late:
  • In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) - Jim Emerson's very long but fantastic video takedown of the convoy chase action sequence in the The Dark Knight may come off as overly harsh and gloriously nitpicky, but I don't really have any issues with the complaints he points out either. Sure, in some cases he's just not giving the benefit of the doubt, but most of his complaints have merit. I've always said that Christopher Nolan wasn't as impressive as a director as he was as a writer and, perhaps to a lesser extent, editor (of course, some of Emerson's complaints are with the cuts, so there is that). In the comments at Badass Digest, I also learned that Nolan apparently doesn't use a second-unit or any sort of pre-visualization. If this is true, I think it goes a long way in explaining most of the problems that Emerson points out. On the other hand, Emerson's article at Press Play shows what look like storyboards, so who knows. He also seems to cut Nolan a little more slack in the text, acknowledging some of the constraints that Nolan was working under, but his ultimate opinion is still pretty harsh. But I have to say that I really appreciate this video. A lot of critics say that Nolan's action is incomprehensible and hard to follow, but few take the time to explain in detail what they're talking about. All that being said, I still love The Dark Knight.
  • In the Cut, Part II: A Dash of Salt - Well, if Dark Knight fans weren't incensed enough by Emerson's complaints about that movie, they might be driven insane when they see him hold up the middling thriller Salt as an example of a movie that gets action right. That being said, you really can see how much clearer and streamlined the action is in that sequence. I'm really glad that I got to see this video because watching just the part 1 video makes it seem like Emerson is just a stuffy critic making too much of too little, but in this case, he shows how even a mediocre movie (which I did enjoy) can get things right. We need more videos dissecting movies, shot-by-shot, like this.
  • Hulk Explain Action Scenes! - So this is an excellent, and very long article about what makes action scenes work. I have one major complaint though, and it has nothing to do with what Film Crit Hulk is actually saying. I realize this is a very usability-nerd complaint, but for fuck's sake man, drop the ALL CAPS schtick. Look, it works in small doses and is indeed perfect for Twitter, but reading an long article in all caps is simply excruciating. I couldn't read the whole thing in one sitting and indeed haven't finished it yet, despite the fact that I really like what I'm reading. What's more is that he's not using CSS or other means to create the all caps effect, he's actually typing this in all caps (meaning that there's no easy way to convert this into normal, readable text). The grammar schtick isn't nearly as bad, but if you're going to be writing long pieces of analysis, it's really unnecessary to spend the entire article in the Hulk's voice. Anyway, this proves to be a nice complement to Emerson's videos.
Both Emerson and Film Crit Hulk are planning additional parts to their respective series, so look out for them. They are well worth while.
Posted by Mark on September 14, 2011 at 09:02 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

So this story is a week old at this point, but it's so amazingly stupid that I can't seem to wrap my head around it. It seems that George Lucas is still screwing with the original trilogy, and he's made the most egregious and ridiculous change yet in the new release of the original trilogy on blu-ray. Here it is (stick with it, the change is about 30 seconds in):
As Devin notes:
It’s hard to believe this because Vader crying ‘Noooo!’ was one of the most widely derided aspects of Revenge of the Sith. It’s easy to believe because Lucas is so out of touch and loves the idea of on the nose symmetry between the two trilogies.
And the story has been confirmed by multiple sources, including the NY Times.

It's a flabbergasting change, for a million reasons. Of course, there are tons of stories about it all over, and folks are already creating funny mashups and posting screenshots of canceled orders (I think that's my favorite response actually).

But really, no parody is needed. Lucas's antics have gone beyond the point of outrage or controversy (like some of the other changes Lucas has made) and into pure comedy gold. Russ Fischer notes that: "There is a troll at work here; we just don’t know yet if it is George Lucas, or some anonymous prankster." At the time, the story hadn't been confirmed yet, so Fischer was thinking of the whole thing as a hoax. However, even though it's not a hoax, I think Fischer was on to something there. I think George Lucas is trolling us. I think it's become clear that he is literally playing a practical joke on us, one that has been decades in the making. He spent several years making these amazing movies that everyone would grow to love, only to abandon the whole thing when he finished. Fifteen years later, he put his long-term practical joke in motion by tweaking the old films (Greedo shooting first being the most egregious change), then releasing three poorly made prequels. Not satisfied with the reaction to this (which, granted, made him even richer), he continued his changing of the classics (even convincing Spielberg to change E.T.!), noting that fans went bonkers over every change, no matter how small. He even went and ruined Indiana Jones while he was at it.

But none of these things were good enough, and strangely, he seemed to keep making money off of these atrocities. Every troll gets to this point, sooner or later. When Lucas realized that he could do anything, I think he actually sat down one day and wondered to himself: Everything I've done so far has been small potatoes, how can I really piss these people off? Lots of people have speculated about why Lucas has made the changes he has. Some think it's pure greed - for every change he makes, he can sell a new copy to the same old customers. But that rings hollow. The real prevailing wisdom here is that George Lucas actually believes he is making the movies better. He is an artist! And this is his vision! Or something like that. Well, maybe he really is an artist. Maybe this is his crowning achievement. It's not an achievement in film though, it's an achievement in trolling.

I know it's unrealistic to expect that these Blu-Rays won't sell. They will. But the only way to defeat trolls is to ignore them. Or perhaps applaud their trollishness... and then ignore them. Well played, Lucas. But I'm not buying your movies anymore.
Posted by Mark on September 07, 2011 at 09:00 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Tucker & Dale vs Evil
In horror movies, taking a vacation in the woods never seems to work out so well. There are a number of variations on the theme, including the traditional slasher (exemplified by the Friday the 13th movies) and, of course, the Hillbilly Horror subgenre in which a bunch of kids find themselves in a rural area (usually in the deep south or, most notoriously, West Virginia), hunted by inbred cannibals. As it turns out, hillbilly horror cinema is a surprisingly deep subgenre, including the likes of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Cabin Fever, Deliverance, Wrong Turn, and dozens of others.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a new horror comedy that takes full advantage of that tired premise by turning it on its head. It begins with the typical establishing shots of Hillbilly Horror, following a group of college kids as they go camping in the woods of West Virginia. I don't want to give too much of it away, but the twist is that after the initial sequence, this film is told from the perspective of the hillbillies... and it doesn't quite play out like you'd expect.
Tucker and Dale
Tucker and Dale
The clever script plays with the tropes of the genre and, quite amazingly, winds up being more plausible than most of its brethren. Even when the misunderstandings and accidents begin piling up and escalating (a process most films of this type usually stuble at), the film maintains an even keel. It's also maybe the funniest movie of the year so far. Anchored by great performances from Alan Tudyk (who you know as Wash from Firefly/Serenity), Katrina Bowden and especially Tyler Labine as Dale, it's a parody with a heart. There are tons of in-jokes and references to other films, but they're subtle and never distracting. It shows reverence for the subgenre whilst skewering it mercilessly.

Again, I don't want to ruin the movie, and quite frankly, I'd recommend avoiding the trailer, as it gives away a number of the comedic beats in the film. It is perhaps not a perfect film, but I was quite taken with it. It's currently available on Comcast's VOD (and perhaps other cable providers' VOD services), though it is a bit expensive (still cheaper than most theaters though). I believe it's slated for a limited theatrical release later in the month as well. It's well worth checking out, especially for fans of horror.

Incidentally, writer/director Eli Craig was the guest on the /Filmcast last week, which is where I heard of this film in the first place. Check out the episode (and the After Dark episode)...
Posted by Mark on September 04, 2011 at 01:21 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we looked at a horror movie featuring bunny suit wearing chainsaw murderer. This time, let's examine a movie about elephants. And Nazis.
According to IMDB's surprisingly informative user review, Elephant Fury has a rather interesting history:
Sensation director and actor Harry Piel made the film "Panik" in the period 1940-1943 that was banned by the Promi: the animals running loose from a zoo after a bombardment reminded in 1943 too much of the real bombardments and in Berlin indeed one day the animals from the zoo were running through the streets. The only copy of the film was later destroyed by a bombardment also, while after the war the negative was confiscated by the Russians. In 1951/2 Piel was able to reclaim the negative, shot some additional material and edited a new version under a new title.
By all accounts, it's not particularly good, but the entire thing is available on YouTube (embedded above) and the short description is tantalizing: "Wild Animals Escape Zoo to attack Nazis". Note that the animals do not escape the zoo and attack Nazis. They escape to attack Nazis. Motivation is important, even to animal actors.
Posted by Mark on August 31, 2011 at 08:45 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
It's not the worst movie ever made. In fact, it's pretty good. Much better than I expected. It has its problems, and I'm still not entirely convinced that it needed to exist in the first place, but now that it does, it's probably worth checking out. It does not start well, though.

The first scene in the movie is an ape-poaching sequence. It's not terrible, but it's also pretty pointless and doesn't really connect that solidly with the rest of the film. It's not until the second sequence in the film that the bad really gets horrible. I'm going to quote, from memory, some dialogue from the script. It's approximate, but I think you'll be able to see why it's so bad.




JAMES FRANCO: Cliché. Science cliché.


JAMES FRANCO: Cliché. Cliché!
Yeah, but from these inauspicious beginnings, the film slowly starts to reverse itself. Interestingly, and perhaps appropriately, it doesn't really right itself until Caesar (which, without getting into details, is basically James Franco's pet ape) grows up and starts to demonstrate his real intelligence. The special effects of the film are getting a lot of buzz. In particular, Andy Serkis's motion-capture performance as Caesar is even being mentioned as a potential Oscar nominee. Not all of the effects are perfect, but those folks over at Weta Digital know where their bread is buttered, and so the really important parts are done extremely well.

One of the problems with the film is that once Caesar begins to gain his independence, the human side of the story becomes less important. By the end of the film, the humans really don't have much to do. Oh sure, there are a couple human villains, but James Franco, for example, doesn't really have much to do once you get to the midpoint of the film. A lot of the human side characters are never really given much to do, even though some are played by really good actors.

The thing I like about the movie is that the film doesn't quite succumb to the traps that are set up early in the movie. For instance, without getting into specifics, the Apes and humans aren't really at war. There is one really fantastic action set piece on the Golden Gate Bridge, and there are some "villains" among the humans, but for the most part, there isn't a full scale war here. The apes aren't out for revenge and they're surprisingly restrained and reasonable.

In the end, there are some real clunkers in the dialogue, and there are some plot holes and really major, groan-inducing clichés, but the film manages to overcome them. It ends much stronger than it begins, which is actually a nice change of pace. I feel like a lot of movies start well and fall apart in the second or third act. This is a film that starts poorly, but gets better, leaving you with a good feeling at the end. It's definitely worth a watch, but maybe as a matinee or DVD. I've got some more spoilertastic comments in the extended entry, for those that have already seen it. Here be the spoilers:
  • I think a lot of Hollywood movies would get at least 13% better if they'd just cut out some of the dialogue. In this movie, there's a really fantastic sequence involving James Franco's father, played by John Lithgow. The first time we see Lithgow, we hear him attempting to play Claude Debussy's Claire De Lune on the piano. It's a great piece, and Lithgow's character is clearly having trouble playing it. It's a great way to establish that Lithgow, a musician, is suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's. Then, when the movie breaks into Cliché 34 and Franco (illegally) gives Lithgow the experimental drug treatment he's been working on, we get another great sequence where Franco wakes up and hears Lithgow playing the piano... but this time, he's not having any trouble. What a wonderful way to establish that the drug worked! Then the script goes and ruins it, as Lithgow exclaims "I'm not sick anymore!" Completely unnecessary.
  • So when Franco realizes that the experimental drug isn't aggressive enough and that his dad's sickness will return, he admits to his boss (who was understandably dismissive of the project due to an event at the beginning of the movie) that he gave the drug to his father and that he needs to make some tweaks to the formula. The boss is, again, reasonably dismissive of the idea. The project is dead, and so on. They talk for a while, Franco says something, the boss says no, but then Franco says something else, and the boss turns on a dime. No, that doesn't quite explain how quickly the boss changes tune here. The Grinch? Scrooge? Their transformations are downright slow compared to this guy. Even funnier, it's like Franco and the boss have reversed roles. The boss is now reckless and Franco is now conservative. Crazy.
  • So Malfoy is in the movie, and he's terrible. Well, I shouldn't say that. His character is terrible and poorly written. He's also given the Charlton Heston references. I'm not sure if they were just ill-advised references or if Malfoy's performance is just really bad, but they were a bad idea. I guess the "Madhouse!" one kinda works, but the "Take Your Stinkin' Paws Off Me You Damn Dirty Ape" line is really awful.
  • Not all references to the original are as ham-fisted though. In particular, I'm curious about the mission to Mars that is playing in the background of a few scenes. We see a ship launching and we hear a news clip talking about a manned mission to Mars, then we see a newspaper that says "Lost in Space". I presume this is a reference to the original Planet of the Apes - basically that Charlton Heston was on that trip to Mars and ends up in the future, etc... I haven't seen the original in a while though, so I don't remember if it exactly fits. If so, it makes for an interesting touch, but I'm not sure if this movie really fits with the continuity of the existing series, which kinda has its own prequels built in...
  • The sequence that happens after the credits start is awesome and actually kinda clever. What's really fascinating is that it fits in with a book I finished recently called Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. I have my problems with that book, but there are some really astute ideas in the book, one of which is the role germs play in conquest. Let me back up a minute. One of the things that Diamond contends is that the reason Eurasia dominated the rest of the world is because of the number of domesticated plant and animal species in Eurasia. This domestication lead to increased food production and storage, which allowed people to specialize in other things, which gave rise to cities. All of this gave rise to certain diseases as well, and when Eurasians began to expand to other continents, they brought their diseases with them. For example, North America had native peoples, but not much in the way of domesticated plants or animals, so you didn't get specialists or, more importantly diseases. When the Europeans arrived in the New World, they brought their diseases, which spread throughout North America uncontrollably. We hear a lot in America about how we mistreated the Native Americans, and we did, but the real killer was mostly unintentional. Diamond estimates that there were 20 million Native Americans and that 19 million of them were unintentionally killed by disease. The remaining 5% are all we really hear about though. This is a drastic simplification of Diamond's book, but I think you can see my point. The thing that I found interesting about the credits sequence of this movie is that it's basically doing the same thing. In this movie, the Apes aren't going to hunt down and kill all the humans, but their disease will...
And I think that just about covers it...
Posted by Mark on August 24, 2011 at 09:20 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fantastic Fest
A couple of weeks ago, I bit the bullet and booked my trip to Fantastic Fest, a movie festival focusing on genre film (mostly horror, fantasy, SF and action). It takes place in Austin, TX and is primarily held at a couple of big theaters there, notably the Alamo Drafthouse (I've never been to one, but from all reports, they're great). Everything I've heard about this festival is that it is amazing, especially for genre-hounds like myself (and this year's festival aligns pretty well with the beginning of my annual 6 Weeks of Halloween marathon).

They haven't announced the schedule yet (and they should totally get on that), but they have released a bunch of the movies that will be showing. I'm really psyched to see a bunch of these films. Many genre films and filmmakers don't get wide releases, so it will be really nice to be ahead of the game on some of these. Even more interesting is the fact that I haven't heard of the grand majority of the films announced so far, which hopefully means I'll be discovering some films that I wouldn't normally have even had the chance to see. Again, they haven't announced the schedule, but I figured I should take a look through the two blocks of released titles to see what I'm interested in. I suppose there's no real guarantee that I'll get to see all the films I want, but I'm definitely hoping to catch up with most of these films:
  • Extraterrestrial - The premise of this one sounds mildly lame - it's another alien invasion movie, this time told from the perspective of a guy with a hangover. Or something. But it's directed by Nacho Vigalondo (best director name ever?), who made Kaedrin favorite IMDb - Timecrimes a few years ago. I love that movie, so I'm hoping this one will overcome its cliched premise.
  • The Innkeepers - Basically a haunted house movie. But that subgenre seems ideally suited for writer/director Ti West, another Kaedrin favorite and director of The House of the Devil.
  • Let the Bullets Fly - Apparently a very successful Chinese film starring Chow Yun Fat. It's set in the 1920s on a train and seems to be a parody of westerns, or something.
  • Pastorela: A Christmas Play - A movie so obscure I can't find it on IMDB. I'm a sucker for Christmas horror though, and it seems like that's what this one is getting at: "When Chucho (Joaquín Cosio) loses the beloved role of Satan in the town’s Christmas play and tries to reclaim the part, all hell breaks loose and an epic battle between good and evil begins."
  • Snowman's Land - Ah, I see what they did in the title there. Another typical premise - the hit man's one final job. Still, looks interesting...
There are, of course, lots of interesting looking films that have been announced, and I'm sure I'll see a ton of films while I'm there, but I'm really looking forward to several of the above films.
Posted by Mark on August 21, 2011 at 07:33 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

More on Spoilers
I recently wrote about the unintended consequences of spoiler culture, and I just came across this post which has been making waves around the internets. That post points to a study which concluded that readers actually like to have a story "spoiled" before they start reading.
The U.C. San Diego researchers, who compiled this chart showcasing the spoiler ratings of three genres (ironic twist stories, mysteries or literary stories), posited this about their findings: "once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier - you’re more comfortable processing the information - and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story."
Jonah Lehrer apparently goes so far as to read the last 5 pages of the novels he reads, just so he has an idea where the story's headed. He clearly approves of the research's conclusions, and makes a few interesting observations, including:
Surprises are much more fun to plan than experience. The human mind is a prediction machine, which means that it registers most surprises as a cognitive failure, a mental mistake. Our first reaction is almost never “How cool! I never saw that coming!” Instead, we feel embarrassed by our gullibility, the dismay of a prediction error. While authors and screenwriters might enjoy composing those clever twists, they should know that the audience will enjoy it far less.
Interestingly, a few years ago, I posted about this conundrum from the opposite end. Author China Miéville basically thinks it's extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to write a crime story or mystery with a good ending:
Reviews of crime novels repeatedly refer to this or that book’s slightly disappointing conclusion. This is the case even where reviewers are otherwise hugely admiring. Sometimes you can almost sense their bewilderment when, looking closely at the way threads are wrapped up and plots and sub-plots knotted, they acknowledge that nothing could be done to improve an ending, that it works, that it is ‘fair’ (a very important quality for the crime aficionado - no last-minute suspects, no evidence the reader hasn’t seen), that it is well-written, that it surprises… and yet that it disappoints.

The reason, I think, is that crime novels are impossible. Specifically, impossible to end.
There's a lot to parse out above, but I have two thoughts on the conclusions raised by the original study. First is that there may actually be something to the cognitive benefits theory of why people like this. The theory and methodology of interpretation of text is referred to as hermeneutics*. This is a useful field because language, especially figurative language, is often obscure and vague. For example, in the study of religious writings, it is often found that they are written in a certain vernacular and for a specific audience. In order to truly understand said writings, it is important to put them in their proper cultural and historical context. You can't really do that without knowing what the text says in the first place.

This is what's known as the hermenutic circle. It's kinda like the application of science to interpretation. Scientists start by identifying a problem, and they theorize the answer to that problem. In performing and observing their experiment to test the problem, they gain new insights which must then be used to revise their hypothesis. This is basically a hermeneutic circle. To apply it to the situation at hand: When reading a book, we are influenced by our overall view of the book's themes. But how are we to know the book's themes as a whole if we have not yet finished reading the parts of the book? We need to start reading the book with our own "pre-understanding", from which we hypothesize a main theme for the whole book. After we finish reading the book, we go back to each individual chapter with this main theme in mind to get a better understanding of how all the parts relate to the whole. During this process, we often end up changing our main theme. With the new information gained from this revision, we can again revise our main theme of the book, and so on, until we can see a coherent and consistent picture of the whole book. What we get out of this hermeneutic circle is not absolute and final, but it is considered to be reasonable because it has withstood the process of critical testing.

This process in itself can be fulfilling, and it's probably why folks like Jonah Lehrer don't mind spoilers - it gives them a jump start on the hermeneutic circle.

Second, the really weird thing about this study is that it sorta misses the point. As Freddie points out:
The whole point of spoilers is that they're unchosen; nobody really thinks that there's something wrong with people accessing secrets and endings about art they haven't yet consumed. What they object to is when spoilers are presented in a way that an unsuspecting person might unwittingly read them. The study suggests that people have a preference for knowing the ending, but preference involves choice. You can't deliberately act on a preference for foreknowledge of plot if you are presented the information without choosing to access it.
And that's really the point. Sometimes I don't mind knowing the twist before I start watching/reading something, but there are other times when I want to go in completely blind. Nothing says that I have to approach all movies or books (or whatever) exactly the same way, every time. And context does matter. When you see a movie without knowing anything about it, there can be something exhilarating in the discovery. That doesn't mean I have to approach all movies that way, just that the variety is somethings a good thing.

* - Yeah, I plundered that entry that I wrote for everything2 all those years ago pretty heavily. Sue me.
Posted by Mark on August 17, 2011 at 06:03 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Old Podcast Episodes
I sometimes discover a podcast long after it's started, and if I like it enough, I'll head back through the archives to check out some older episodes. In honor of some of the gems I've found by doing so, here are a few really good episodes that are probably worth listening to:
  • GFW Radio - 6/26/08 (.mp3) - The now long-defunct GFW Radio podcast, AKA The Brodeo, was a pretty great podcast, but this particular episode breaks from their normally free-flowing format to present a very well produced episode chronicling a stunt they pulled outside a Gamestop. They basically posed as a marketing research firm and pitched crazy game ideas to random passers-by. If you're into video games, you will love how well they lampoon the various conventions of video game marketing. The episode almost feels like a dry run for Robert Ashley's A Life Well Wasted podcast (Ashley was a member of GFW Radio at the time and later went on to do his own podcast). It's really hysterically funny too. I could not stop laughing around the time they started pitching the Founding Fighters video game (a Street Fighter-like game featuring moves like Alexander Hamilton's Knickerbocker Shocker and the Philadelphia Filibuster).
  • /Filmcast: After Dark - Ep. 79 - An Evening with Jason Reitman - Most interviews with actors or directos feature pretty much the same canned questions and since these folks are participating in dozens of intervews a day, they pretty much have the same answers too. So when Jason Reitman logs on to the /Filmcast, things just derail almost immediately, as he becomes enamored with the live chatroom and answers all the random questions people are asking (like: What's your favorite Dinosaur? and other similarly enlightening questions). Really fun stuff, and a refreshingly non-typical interview.
  • A Conversation on Blogging Ethics and Online Film Journalism - So this isn't really a regular podcast, more of a one time conversation featuring David Chen (of the /Filmcast), C. Robert Cargill (from Ain't It Cool News), Devin Faraci (from CHUD, but now at Badass Digest), and Peter Sciretta (from /Film) as they discuss various ethical issues surrounding the reviewing of movies and how studios try to "buy" good reviews, ban publications from screenings, and the like. Really interesting stuff, and well worth a listen for anyone interested in the industry.
And that's all for now...
Posted by Mark on August 10, 2011 at 09:56 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Recent Podcastery
I like podcasts, but it's depressingly hard to find ones that I really enjoy and which are still regularly published. I tend to discover a lot of podcasts just as they're going through their death throes. This is sometimes ok, as I'm still able to make my way through their archives, but then I run out of content and have to start searching for a new podcast. I will often try out new podcasts, but I have only added a few to the rotation of late. Here's some recent stuff I've been listening to:
  • The /Filmcast - I tried this podcast out a few years ago and my recollection is that I found it kinda boring. I don't know what was going on during that episode though, because I find that this is the podcast I most look forward to every week. I enjoy the format, which starts with a "what we've been watching" segment, followed by a short "movie news" segment, and then an in-depth review of a relatively new release. And when I say "in-depth", I mean very long and detailed, often in the 40-60 minute range. It's also one of the few podcasts to really get into spoilers of a new release (they are very clear about when they start the spoiler section, so no worries if you haven't seen the movie). It's something most reviews and podcasts avoid, but it's actually quite entertaining to listen to (if, that is, you've already seen the film or don't care about the film in question). Also noteworthy is that the show features 3 regular hosts, and a guest host - and the guests are usually fantastic. They're mostly other film critics, but occasionally they'll have actual actors or directors on the show as well - people like Rian Johnson (of Brick and Brothers Bloom fame) and Vincenzo Natali (of Cube and Splice fame). What's more, they don't have these guests on to just interview them - they make them participate in the general format of the show - so you get to see what Rian Johnson has been watching that week or what he thinks of various movie news, etc... It's a really unusual perspective to get on these directors, and it's stuff you rarely get in an interview. So yeah, if you like movies (and television, which they often discuss in the first segment and after dark shows), this is a must-listen podcast.
  • The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show - No, that's not a typo, but don't ask me why he's repeated his name either. I don't really get it. But I do really like the show so far. This is the only relatively new show that I listen to, and so far, it's been great. You may recongnize Rubin from his work at CollegeHumor, such as the great video series, Bleep Bloop and Nerd Alert. In this podcast, he basically interviews someone in each show. So far, we've got an interview with Anamanaguchi (a band that uses old Nintendos as an instrument), a discussion of Game of Thrones with another CollegeHumor guy, Jon Gabrus, a completely awesome interview of a guy that runs pizza tours in NY, and an interview with the guy responsible for writing/directing all those porn parodies that have been coming out lately (brilliant). I have to wonder how well he can keep up the quality of his guests and the variety of topics, but so far, so good.
  • Rebel FM - Video Game podcasts are weird. They often spend a ton of time talking about new or upcoming games that you can't play yet, which is kinda annoying. It's also hard to go back and find an episode where they talked about x or y game (and usually the discussions aren't that enlightening because they're just talking about the mechanics of the game). IRebel FM falls into this category a bit, but what sets it apart is their letters section, which isn't really anything special, but which can be a lot of fun. Somehow, they've become known for giving out sagely advice on relationships and other life challenges. It's just funny to see this sort of thing through the lens of a video game podcast.
  • All Beers Considered - I haven't done a lot of exploring around the beer podcast realm, but I like the Aleheads website, so I tend to listen to these podcasts which generally cover various beer news stories and whatnot. It's not something I'd recommend to someone who's not a beer fanatic, but, well, I am a beer fanatic, so I like it.
  • Basic Brewing Radio - This seems to be THE homebrewing podcast, and it's got a massive archive filled with great stuff (at least, I've found many episodes to be helpful in my brewing efforts). Some stuff works better than others (really, it's kinda strange to listen to a beer tasting, especially of homebrew that you'll never get to try), but there's lots of good stuff for new brewers in the archives.
  • The Adventurenaut Cassettes - There's no real explaining this podcast. It's just really weird, disjointed and almost psychadelic. Good when you're in a certain mood, though.
I really only have 3 or 4 shows that I really look forward to every week, but I'm always looking for more...
Posted by Mark on July 27, 2011 at 10:01 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Streaming and Netflix's Woes
A few years ago, when I was still contemplating the purchase of a Blu-Ray player (which ended up being the PS3), there was a lot of huffing-and-puffing about how Blu-Ray would never catch on, physical media was dead, and that streaming was the future. My thoughts on that at the time were that streaming is indeed the future, but that it would take at least 10 years before it actually happened in an ideal form. The more I see, the more I'm convinced that I actually underestimated the time it would take to get a genuinely great streaming service running.

One of the leading examples of a streaming service is Netflix's Watch Instantly service. As a long time Netflix member, I can say that it is indeed awesome, especially now that I can easily stream it to my television. However, there is one major flaw to their streaming service: the selection. Now, they have somewhere on the order of 20,000-30,000 titles available, which is certainly a huge selection... but it's about 1/5th of what they have available on physical media. For some folks, I'm sure that's enough, but for movie nerds like myself, I'm going to want to keep the physical option on my plan...

The reason Netflix's selection is limited is the same reason I don't think we'll see an ideal streaming service anytime soon. The problems are not technological. It all comes down to intellectual property. Studios and distributors own the rights, and they often don't want to allow streaming, especially for new releases. Indeed, several studios won't even allow Netflix to rent physical media for the first month of release. In order for a streaming service to actually supplant physical media, it will have to feature a comprehensive selection. Netflix does have a vested interest in making that happen (the infrastructure needed for physical media rentals via mail is massive and costly, while streaming is, at least, more streamlined from a logistical point of view), but I don't see this happening anytime soon.

Netflix has recently encountered some issues along these lines, and as a result, they've changed their pricing structure. It used to be that you could buy a plan that would allow you to rent 1, 2, 3, or 4 DVDs or BDs at a time. If you belonged to one of those plans, you also got free, unlimited streaming. Within the past year or so, they added another option for folks who only wanted streaming. And just a few weeks ago, they made streaming an altogether separate service. Instead of buying the physical media plan of your choice and getting streaming "for free", you now also need to pay for streaming. I believe their most popular plan used to be 1 disc with unlimited streaming, which was $9.99. This plan is now $16.98.

As you might expect, this has resulted in a massive online shitstorm of infantile rage and fury. Their blog post announcing the change currently has 12,000+ comments from indignant users. There are even more comments on their Facebook page (somewhere on the order of 80,000 comments there), and of course, other social media sites like Twitter were filled with indignant posts on the subject.

So why did Netflix risk the ire of their customers? They've even acknowledged that they were expecting some outrage at the change. My guess is that the bill's about to come due, and Netflix didn't really have a choice in the matter.

Indeed, a few weeks ago, Netflix had to temporarily stop streaming all of its Sony movies (which are distributed through Starz). It turns out that there's a contractual limit on the number of subscribers that Sony will allow, so now Netflix needs to renegotiate with Sony/Starz. The current cost to license Sony/Starz content for streaming is around $30 million annually. Details aren't really public (and it's probably not finalized yet), but it's estimated that the new contract will cost Netflix somewhere on the order of $200-$350 million a year. And that's just Sony/Starz. I imagine other studios will now be chomping at the bit. And of course, all these studios will continually up their rates as Netflix tries to expand their streaming selection.

So I think that all of the invective being thrown Netflix's way is mostly unwarranted (or, rather, misplaced). All that rage should really be directed at the studios who are trying to squeeze every penny out of their IP. At least Netflix seems to be doing business in an honest and open way here, and yet everyone's bitching about it. Other companies would do something sneaky. For instance, movie theaters (which also get a raw deal from studios) seem to be raising ticket prices by a quarter every few months. Any given increase is met with a bit of a meh, but consolidated over the past few years, ticket prices have risen considerably.

Ultimately, it's quite possible that Netflix will take a big hit on this in the next few years. Internet nerd-rage notwithstanding, I'm doubting that their customer base will drop, but if their cost of doing business goes up the way it seems, I can see their profits dropping considerably. But if that happens, it won't be Netflix that we should blame, it will be the studios... I don't want to completely demonize the studios here - they do create and own the content, and are entitled to be compensated for that. However, I don't think anyone believes they're being fair about this. They've been trying to slow Netflix down for years, after all. Quite frankly, Netflix has been much more customer friendly than the studios.
Posted by Mark on July 24, 2011 at 06:33 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

First Contact
As it turns out, Aliens from other planets do exist. On the other hand, whether intelligent life exists is apparently still open for debate:

It's not nearly as good as Terry Bisson's classic short story They're Made of Meat, but it shares some similarities.
Posted by Mark on July 20, 2011 at 06:06 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Unintended Consequences of Spoiler Culture
Chuck Klosterman's recent article over at Grantland (Bill Simmons' new site) features some interesting musings on twist endings and the spoilers that can (potentially) ruin them.
...could The Sixth Sense exist today?

Now, I don't mean "Do we still have the technology to make this picture?" because (obviously) we do. We could make it better, probably. I'm also not asking, "Would the twist to The Sixth Sense be spoiled on the Internet?" because (obviously) that would happen, too. It's simply how the media now works. I'm also not wondering if simultaneously promoting and protecting The Sixth Sense would be a marketer's nightmare, because that's undeniable and not particularly important. What I'm asking is this: Are screenwriters now affected by "spoiler culture" before they even begin the writing process? If you know a twist will be unavoidably revealed before the majority of people see the work itself, and if you concede that selling and marketing a film with a major secret will be more complicated for everyone involved … would you even try? Would you essentially stop yourself from trying to write a movie that's structured like The Sixth Sense?
It's an interesting premise, but even Klosterman admits that it's impossible to know for sure. He gives a few examples: the aforementioned The Sixth Sense, the semi-recently concluded TV show Lost, and the new TV show The Killing. I think part of the problem with the article, though, is that it lacks some of the context of what makes these particular twists work.

Take The Sixth Sense. Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan, as of right now, is almost comically known for his reliance on twists, but it's important to remember that back in 1999, Shyamalan was an unknown. The movie was basically a Bruce Willis vehicle, and even then, it was dumped into theaters in August, the month Hollywood releases movies to die. So what does all that mean? Well, there wasn't much buzz about the movie beforehand - few people were following the making of the movie, thus they didn't have to worry much about spoilers on the internet (and while it's probably worse today, there were still plenty of movie rumor sites active back in the day). The only thing the filmmakers needed to do was to ensure that the marketing didn't give away the twist1... and luckily, the film had other readily marketable elements.

Shyamalan's problems came later and are mostly his own fault. After the twist ending of Unbreakable, he had pretty much pigeon-holed himself as a twist ending writer. Twists rely on an audience that isn't expecting a twist. This works in a movie like The Sixth Sense because there were lots of other things going on. The reason the twist works so well is that the film wasn't asking you to explain anything throughout the film. The ending provided an answer to a question we didn't realize needed asking. And it did so in a way that didn't feel cheap or contrived. It just fit. But it probably wouldn't work so well if you were looking for it all throughout the film.

This is where Klosterman's point comes in. Once you're known for writing twists, it becomes much more difficult to pull them off. I readily agree that Shyamalan and Damon Lindelof (of Lost) will have trouble writing a new movie/show that is heavily reliant on twists... but only because both of those writers have abused the twist in their previous work. The same goes for most TV series, especially police procedurals, all of which tend to fall into certain established patterns of red herrings, etc... A while ago, in reference to Hitchcock's earliest works, I made a similar observation:
...the "twist" at the end of the story wasn't exactly earth-shattering. These days, we're so zonked out on Lost and 24 that our minds immediately and cynically formulate all the ways the filmmakers are trying to trick us. Were audiences that cynical 80 years ago? Or did the ending truly surprise them?
In this respect, Klosterman is certainly correct: if audiences are looking for your twist, you're going to have a really rough time. So writers known for their twists - even if it's just one big twist - will have to contend with that.

The problem here is that this doesn't necessarily mean that Hollywood is skewing away from twists... just that writers like Shyamalan and Lindelof are. Nothing's stopping anyone else from writing a twist ending, and there's no real shortage of examples, even in the past couple years (I have a whole category devoted to plot twists in the yearly Kaedrin Movie Awards). They just happen to come from movies where we're not necessarily looking for the twist2.

Klosterman also points out that hiding the twist can also lead to disappointment. His chief example:
Take the 2008 sci-fi film Cloverfield: The marketing campaign was flawless. Without revealing any aspect of the story, the trailers for Cloverfield made it clear that something cataclysmic was going to happen in New York, and that this massive event was some unthinkable secret. Considering how the media now operates, the makers of Cloverfield did a remarkable job of keeping its details clandestine. Yet this secrecy probably hurt the film's ultimate reception — when people realized it was "only" an updated version of a traditional monster movie, they were often disappointed.
Well, that's certainly one way to look at it. Another way to look at it was that audiences were disappointed because the movie kinda sucked3. Also, that's a "twist" manufactured by marketing, not one related to storytelling or anything. In a very real sense, Super 8 has similar issues, though I think that ended up being a much better movie.

Ultimately, I think the "twist" is here to stay. Oh sure, it may go away for a while as the Shyamalans and Lindelofs of the world move on to more straightforward narratives. But the twist will make a comeback soon enough, just when we least expect it. Which is, of course, the whole point of a twist.

1 - This is not a trivial challenge. Terminator 2: Judgment Day provides an interesting example. Watch that film with a blank slate, and you'll notice that it's written as if the audience doesn't know that Schwartzenegger's terminator is a "good guy" and that Robert Patrick's T-1000 is the villain. In the absence of marketing, it would be reasonable for someone not familiar with the movie to assume that it's following the same pattern as the previous installment. When I was little, I was a huge Terminator fan, so I distinctly remember a lot of the marketing surrounding T2... and they gave all of it away. Of course, the reveal happens relatively early in the film, but I still remember finding it a bit weird that they spent so much time trying to obscure what everyone already knew.

2 - The first example that came to mind was kinda odd because it's not very prominent in it's film (and I doubt anyone would call it out in a discussion of twists), but I always liked it: the last scene in Batman Begins (in the board room, not the action sequence on the train) is wonderful, and I think it did more to cement how much I liked that movie than anything else. It fits very well with the story, and there are even hints about it earlier in the movie. But it's an action film and the twist was far away from most of the central plot points, so I never saw it coming.

3 - I guess that's a bit unfair. The film has its merits, but most people who saw it complained about the shaky cam much more than the fact that it was a monster movie. Seriously, even I had problems with the camerawork in that movie making me sick, and I'm normally fine with that sort of thing. The premise is actually the best part about the movie - a monster movie told from the perspective of normal folks fleeing the attack. No spunky scientist teaming up with a hardened military veteran to take down the monster, just normal folks trying to survive. Unfortunately, the execution of this was... lacking.
Posted by Mark on July 03, 2011 at 03:23 PM .: link :.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tasting Notes - Part 4
Another edition of Tasting Notes, a series of quick hits on a variety of topics that don't really warrant a full post. So here's what I've been watching/playing/reading/drinking lately:

  • Game of Thrones - The season finale aired last week, and I have to say, I'm impressed. My usual approach to stuff like this is to let it run for a couple of seasons to make sure it's both good and that it's actually heading somewhere. At this point, the book series isn't even finished, but friends who've read it think it's great and they say the books get better, so I gave the series a shot - and I'm really glad I did. It's a fantastic series, much more along the lines of swords-and-sandals (a la Spartacus or Gladiator) than outright fantasy (a la Lord of the Rings). People talk about magic and dragons and whatnot, but most of that seems to be in the distant past (though there are hints of a return to that sort of thing throughout the series and especially in the last minutes of the season). Most of the season consists of dialogue, politics, Machiavellian scheming, and action. Oh, and sex. And incest. Yeah, it's a fun show. The last episode of the season doesn't do much to resolve the various plotlines, and hints at an even more epic scale. Interestingly, though, I don't find this sort of open-endedness that frustrating. Unlike a show like Lost, the open threads don't seem like red-herrings or even mysteries at all. It's just good, old fashioned storytelling. The worst thing about it is that I'm all caught up and will have to wait for the next season! Prediction: Geoffrey will die horribly, and I will love it. But not too quickly. He's such a fantastic, sniveling little bastard. I want to keep hating him for a while before someone takes him down.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Doctor Who - Most of the semi-recently rebooted series is available on watch instantly, and I've only just begun to pick my way through the series again. I vaguely remember watching a few of Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor episodes, but I never finished that first season. I'm not very far in right now - just saw the first appearance of the Daleks, which should be interesting.
  • 13 Assassins - Takashi Miike tends to be a hit-or-miss filmmaker for me. Fortunately for him, he is ridiculously prolific. His most recent effort is a pretty straightforward Samurai tale about a suicide mission to assassinate a cruel and ruthless evil lord. Seven Samurai, it is not, but it is still quite engaging and entertaining to watch. It starts a bit slow, but it finishes with an amazing 45 minute setpiece as our 13 heroes spring their trap on 200 enemies. Along the way, we get some insight into Japanese culture as the days of the Samurai and Shogunate faded, though I don't think I'd call this a rigorously accurate film or anything. Still, there's more going on here than just bloody action, of which there is a lot. An excellent film, among the top films I've seen so far this year.
  • HBO has a pretty great lineup right now. In the past couple weeks, I've revisited Inception, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and How to Train Your Dragon. All of these films have improved upon rewatching them, a subject I've always found interesting. Scott Pilgrim, in particular, has improved it's standing in my mind. I still think it's got some problems in the final act, but I also think it's a dreadfully underappreciated film.
  • Netflix Watch Instantly Pick of the Week: Transcendent Man - I mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but it's an interesting profile of Ray Kurtzweil, a futurist and singularity proponent. I don't really buy into his schtick, but he's an interesting guy and the documentary is worth a watch for that.
Video Games
  • I'm still playing Mass Effect 2, but I have not progressed all that far in the game. I've found this is common with RPGs lately - it takes a long time to get anything accomplished in an RPG, so I sometimes find it hard to get started. Still, I have liked what I've seen of this game so far. It's far from perfect, but it's got some interesting elements.
  • Since I had to hook up my Wii to get Netflix working during the great PSN outage of '11, I actually did start playing Goldeneye again. I even got a Wii classic controller, and that made the game approximately 10 times more fun (but I have to say, plugging the Wiimote into the classic controller to get it to work? That's just stupidly obtuse, though I guess it keeps the cost down). Since I could play it in short 30 minute chunks, I actually did manage to finish this one off in pretty short order. It's a pretty simple FPS game, which I always enjoy, but there's nothing particularly special about it, except for some muted nostalgia from the original.
  • The Black Keys - Brothers - This is a pretty great album. Lots of crunchy blues guitars and catchy rhythms. I'm greatly enjoying it.
  • Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil - Another hipster rock album, but I rather like it, especially the song Secret Mobilization. Good stuff.
  • I've been cranking my way through Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga novels, of which there are many (and I'm actually quite glad, as they're all great fun). I've covered the first few novels in SF Book Reviews, and will probably have finished enough other books to do a Bujold-only edition in the near future. I'm currently reading Ethan of Athos, which seems to me to be a kinda spinoff/standalone novel, but an interesting one nonetheless (and we get to catch up with a character from one of the other books).
  • I also started Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, but have found myself quickly bogging down (it doesn't help that I have, like, 10 Bujold novels sitting around, begging me to read them) almost from the start. It's not bad, per say, but there's something about the style and scope of the book that bothers me. There are some interesting ideas, and Diamond admits that his methods are, by necessity, not that rigorous, but it's still seems extremely speculative to me. I would normally be fine with that sorta approach, but I'm finding something about this grating and I haven't figured it out just yet...
  • If you count the aforementioned Guns, Germs, and Steel, I'm down to just 4 unread books from my last Book Queue, which is pretty good! And I've only really added the Bujold books and Fuzzy Nation since then. I'm actually at a point where I should start seeking out new stuff. Of course, it probably won't take long to fill the queue back up, but still. Progress!
The Finer Things...
  • I've managed to have some pretty exceptional beers of late. First up is Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40, an imperial porter aged in 40 year old Highland Park casks. It's an amazing beer, though also outrageously priced. Still, if you can get your hands on some and don't mind paying the premium, it's great.
  • Another exceptional beer, the legendary Pliny the Elder (currently ranked #3 on Beer Advocates Best Beers on Planet Earth list). It's a fantastic double IPA. Not sure if it's really #3 beer in the world fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless.
  • One more great beer, and a total surprise, was Sierra Nevada Boot Camp ExPortation. Basically, Sierra Nevada has this event every year where fans get to go to "Beer Camp" and collaborate on new beers with Sierra Nevada brewers and whatnot. My understanding is that the batches are extremely limited. Indeed, I never expected to see these, but apparently there were a few on tap at a local bar, sorta leftover from Philly Beer Week. The beer is basically a porter with Brettanomyces added and aged in Pinot Noir barrels. This is all beer-nerd-talk for a sour (in a good way) beer. I'm not normally big into the style or Brett, but I'll be damned if this isn't a fantastic beer. I loved it and unfortunately, I'll probably never see it again. If you see it, try it. At the very least, it will be an interesting experience!
And that's all for now.
Posted by Mark on June 26, 2011 at 06:22 PM .: link :.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Horror Class of 1981
So a bunch of horror movie websites are collaborating on an examination of horror films from 1981. Six sites, 5 films each, 30 films total. When I found out about this from Brian Collins' post on BAD (Collins is the man behind Horror Movie a Day), I quickly put together a top 5 of my own. I'm clearly outclassed here though - all of my films, even the obscure ones and honorable mentions, are featured among the 30 featured films.

In any case, 1981 was a surprisingly good year for horror films. Folks who follow my 6 Weeks of Halloween posts know that I'm a big fan of slasher films, and in 1981, slashers were at the height of their popularity. You apparently couldn't go a week without a new slasher film being released. Most were horrible, I'm sure, but the year wasn't limited to slashers either. There were also a couple of the finest werewolf movies ever made released in 1981. There were psychics and ghosts and demons and even killer piranhas. A banner year for horror, which is surprising because the 80s don't exactly have the best filmic reputation for horror (especially having just come after the excellent 70s horror).

So without further ado, my top 5 1981 horror films (in alphabetical order):
  • An American Werewolf in London: John Landis' werewolf opus holds up pretty well, even to this day. There's something about the setting and the way humor is injected into the film that really balances well. Plus, it's got the best transformation sequence in all of werewolf cinema (the only real contender is 1981's own The Howling). I could have sworn I've written about this on the blog before, but apparently not... It's a classic horror touchstone.
  • The Evil Dead: I have to admit to being more taken with the sequels to this film - how often do you hear that! - but that's not to diminish the effectiveness of the film that started it all. Unlike its sequels, this film plays the premise straight and mostly does not waver from it's earnest depiction of an evil presence in a small cabin in the woods. It's ultra-low budget and derivative plot don't really serve it well, but Raimi manages to evoke a lot of tension and creepiness out of the proceedings, not to mention some of its more controversial elements. Again, not one of my favorite films ever, but it's definitely an important milestone in horror cinema and worth watching for that fact alone.
  • My Bloody Valentine: Of all the imitators that sprang up after the success of John Carpenter's classic slasher Halloween, this one is the most important. I don't know about the business side of the film (though I do know of the infamous neutering of the film's gore at the hands of the MPAA), but I'm a little baffled that it never spawned any sequels. More details in an old 6WH writeup. Among the throngs of slasher films, this is one of my favorites.
  • The Prowler: Another slasher, and a somewhat more obscure one at that (if I was going to pick a film not part of the featured 30 films, this would have been the one). I actually don't have that much to say about it - it's pretty standard slasher fare, but it's way above average in its execution. A solid backstory and special effects from Tom Savini are what really elevate this one above the other imitators.
  • Scanners: David Cronenberg's tale of dueling psychics is quite entertaining and very well crafted. Perhaps most famous for it's exploding head sequence, it's got a lot more going for it. However, I did revisit this film somewhat recently, and I have to say that it wasn't quite as tightly plotted as I had remembered... though it still holds up reasonably well, and Cronenberg's script touches on a bunch of other genres that we don't normally see within horror - like espionage and computer networking stuff (pyschic hacking!). It's a surprisingly effective and memorable film.
And some honorable mentions include Ghost Story, Halloween II, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Burning, and the James Cameron directed Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (ok, so he was fired from the movie, but you can see some of his touches here). I suppose I should also mention Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror - the tremendous oddity of which I covered on the blog a while back.

And for reference, here are the links to the aforementioned sites' (much more comprehensive) writeups: So there you have it - more than you ever wanted to know about the horror movies of 1981.
Posted by Mark on June 15, 2011 at 09:24 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Two (Bad) Movie Ideas
At lunch with some coworkers today, the inevitable topic of Palau came up. You see, we all work for a retail website and most of us live in Pennsylvania. Anyone in PA who has attempted to order online will no doubt recognize the pet peeve when filling out the Shipping Address: You enter your info, tab to the State field and press "p", expecting to see Pennsylvania come up... but instead, we get Palau.

This brought to mind a video I recently saw on the interwebs. It's from Jellyfish Lake in Palau. It's a surreal video, and quite dissonant if you're used to typical jellyfish, but these have apparently evolved differently: "Twelve thousand years ago these jellyfish became trapped in a natural basin on the island when the ocean receded. With no predators amongst them for thousands of years, they evolved into a new species that lost most of their stinging ability as they no longer had to protect themselves."

So my first movie idea was a killer jellyfish movie, filmed at Jellyfish Lake in Palau. Andy why not, they've done it for every other type of creature, even seemingly ambivalent ones. The video linked above is almost scary all by itself. You just want to scream, Look out, Jellyfish! Oh God, they've surrounded you! Run! Go! Get to the choppah! All we'd really need is a decent physical actor/actress, a good makeup guy (for the gore), and a camera that can operate underwater. Just imagine all the cool shots that could be in this movie. Indeed, the typically boring horror movie POV shot could be quite effective here - jellyfish have an interesting, irregular pattern of movement, which could make for a really good staling sequence. The great thing about this is that it would not involve any CGI - all practical effects, and in the case of the Jellyfish swarm, I apparently won't even need to do anything special. This could be a great (bad) movie.

Of course, the topic then shifted into Sci-Fi (sorry, SyFy) original movies like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. In speculating on the origins of Gatoroid, I stumbled upon my second movie idea. You see, I figure that our story starts with an alligator that has taken up residence in the sewer system beneath a popular gym. Like all gyms, there are lots of steroid abusing muscle-men in residence. But! One day, the police make a drug raid, and in order to avoid getting arrested, our juicing heroes flush all their illegal drugs down the drain... right to our hapless alligator, who unwittingly ingests said drug/sewage cocktail, thus ceasing to be an alligator and turning into Gatoroid!

Now, assuming that's not how it actually happens in Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, I think we're on to something here, but to avoid copyright woes, we may have to switch our monster from an Alligator to a Crocodile, thus making him Crocoroid.

Now all I need is a few million dollars.

Update: A coworker comments: "Why not make Crocoroid's achilles' heel be jellyfish? Then you only have to make one movie." I've made him an executive producer.
Posted by Mark on June 08, 2011 at 09:02 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Professor Ed Avery's Cortizone-Fueled, Bigger-Than-Life, Super Big Gulp-Sized Summer Movie Quiz
Dennis Cozzalio of the Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog has posted another of his famous movie quizes, and as always, I'm excited to provide my answers. Previous installments answering questions from Professor Hubert Farnsworth, David Huxley, Professor Fate, Professor Russell Johnson, Dr. Smith, Professor Peabody, and Professor Severus Snape are also available... But now, here are my answers to

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché

I seem to have read this question differently than everyone else. I thought it meant we had to give a cliché that, depending on our mood, we liked or didn't like. Others seem to have taken it as meaning your mood at the time of answering the quiz, pick a favorite or least-loved cliché (which is certainly a lot easier than the first one). Well, my cliché kinda/sorta falls into my original reading: I hate/love fakeout dream sequences. Most often seen in horror films, they can be very effective... but they're also overused, often even within the same movie. Some abusers of this include Event Horizon and The Descent (and yet, I really enjoy The Descent). The other thing that often bothers me about movie dreams is that they're so weird. I mean, that's sorta the appeal of dreams in the first place, but dreams in movies often just play out as special effects extravaganzas. And like most special effects, they need to be used to enhance the story. The trick is that the dream sequence needs to have some sort of purpose beyond the ability to mortally threaten the protagonist without actually mortally threatening them, or some other silly shock... Unless it's a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, in which case, all bets are off. Or, I suppose, the dream sequence in A Serious Man. So yeah, dream sequences. Sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate them.

2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?

I'm honestly having trouble coming up with one, which bothers me because I'm sure it's something I've done before...

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?

Who? If there was ever a time for me to lie about having seen films, it would be these quizes!

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie

I can't say as though I've seen any of his movies, though I'm sure I'm quite familiar with his work on Looney Tunes (he seems to be a big Porky Pig director)...

5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?

Yes, but probably only because Kubrick earned his bullshit with other efforts. It's a good movie, though it is quite unpleasant to watch.

6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)

What an amazingly strange question! There really can't be that many qualifying films here, but I'll go with Sleepaway Camp and it's shocker ending. (One of the other commenters answers Psycho, but I'm not sure that really counts as dysphoria).

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?

I'm not terribly familiar with her filmography, but I'm going with Melanie Laurent, based solely on her performance in Inglourious Basterds. Blake Lively is a fine young actress, but it's hard to compete with a film like that...

8) Best movie of 2011 (so far...)

According to my records, I've seen 15 movies thus far this year, and my favorite three are Rubber, Hanna, and I Saw the Devil (if I have to pick one, it would be Rubber)
9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)

Do scars count as a deformity? If so, the first that come to mind are Harrison Ford's scar on his chin and Tina Fey's left cheek scar. I don't think it matters in either case though.

10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)

Why isn't pompous ass an option? Or all of the above?

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?

I'm not overly familiar with either of them, but I'll go with Carey for his work with Kubrick on The Killing and Paths of Glory. Also, he was apparently on Airwolf.

12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences

This is an extremely difficult question. Writers are rather low on the totem pole in Hollywood, so it's difficult for most screenwriters to gain any lasting momentum after their initial break. And usually, critics are pretty receptive to those first big success films. Two people came to mind for this: Christopher McQuarrie (of The Usual Suspects fame) and Andrew Kevin Walker (of Se7en fame). Both have relatively small filmographies, but only because much of their work goes uncredited in films.

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming

Theatrically, it was X-Men: First Class, and entertaining and fun superhero movie that actually seems pretty forgetable. On DVD, it was Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, an unpleasant but very well crafted Peckinpah wester set in modern times. On Blu-ray, it was The Tourist (and hey, it's got a script by Christopher McQuarrie), which I enjoyed a lot more than I was expecting (though I can see why critics were baffled by it). On streaming, it was Transcendent Man, a documentary about Singularity proponent Ray Kurzweil (very interesting and well worth a watch).

14) Favorite film noir villain

The first that came to mind was Orson Welles's Harry Lime, from The Third Man. Menace with a grin.
Harry Lime from The Third Man
15) Best thing about streaming movies?

The immediacy of deciding what to watch and then being able to watch it moments later. The biggest problem, of course, is that the selection isn't particularly great just yet. But someday hopefully soon, it will be...

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus)

Once again, I'm pretty unfamiliar with both of these, though France Nuyen was in one of those Planet of the Apes sequels!

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas movie that isn't called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus)

I hate to go with the obvious answer, but clearly Paths of Glory is the winner here.

18) Favorite movie about cars

A difficult question because while the movies that keep coming to mind have memorable cars or car chases in them, they aren't really about cars. Some that I eventually thought of: Mad Max/The Road Warrior and Death Proof. And there are, of course, tons of popular choices that I've never seen...

19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?

I got nothing, though Marie Windsor seems to have been in a couple movies that I've actually seen, so I guess she wins by default.

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul

That's a tough one, if only because of just how many Stephen King adaptations there are. I'm not actually a huge fan of King, but I did really enjoy The Stand... and that TV mini-series was kinda lame (especially once you got past the first episode). I think IT, Salem's Lot, and Christine could probably use some updating, though each of those movies/mini-series has its pluses (though the recent Salem's Lot kinda sucked).

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences

Does Johnny To count as low-profile? I mean, he's probably the most exciting action director working in Hong Kong today, but he still seems to be overshadowed by the likes of Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and John Woo. If he doesn't work, I also thought of Ti West (The House of the Devil) and Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes), both of whom are young, but who have shown a lot of promise.

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)

I have to admit that I find Robert De Niro distracting in most movies these days. It doesn't help that the movies he chooses seem to be pretty bad these days (though I suppose I do enjoy a few of them).

23) Best place in the world to see a movie

I wish I had a better answer to this, but I can't really think of anything. There are a number of components here, but for me it would be a combination of technical matters (i.e. nice seats, unobstructed view, good video and audio quality, etc...) and a good crowd to watch movies with (i.e. a crowd of film lovers who won't interrupt during the movie, etc...) If there are theaters that consistently display these attributes, then I'd be all for them. There's not much around here that qualifies though. Perhaps, someday, an Alamo Drafthouse will show up!

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?

No contest: Sterling Hayden. The Godfather, The Killing, The Asphalt Jungle, Dr Strangelove, and many more make him hard to beat here.

25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film

I have, sadly, not seen any Ozu films. Perhaps I should pretend to have seen some and say Floating Weeds. Or something.

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure

The obvious answer is Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but since there's already been too much Kubrick talk in this quiz, I'll go for a less obvious answer: Bill Paxton's character from Frailty.
Bill Paxton in Frailty
27) Name a non-action-oriented movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround

Not being particularly familiar with Sensurround, it seems like a surround-sound type of audio system which would benefit a lot of horror movies, though no specific movies are coming to mind.

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?

I'll go with Chris Evans here, as I think he's taken some more chances, though I think both of the actors are pretty decent.

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era

An interesting subject. There are a lot of "character actors" or "that guys" (or "that gals") out there - Filmspotting even did a top 5 on this subject just a few weeks ago, and it's hard to beat that list. However, the one that came to mind (that isn't on Filmspotting's list) was William Fichtner. A quintessential "that guy" in my opinion.

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw

30th Street Station in Philadelphia, most recently seen in Blow Out.

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie

Another mulligan needed here, as I don't think I've ever actually seen any of his movies...

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?

Julie Adams, because her name sounds familiar, not because I know what I'm talking about.

33) Favorite Universal-International western

Yet another mulligan on this one. Not a genre I'm particularly well versed in...

34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)

I suppose 3D would qualify, though that ship has pretty much sailed. I now try to watch the 2D version if at all possible.

35) Favorite actress of the silent era

This would imply that I know enough of the silent era to answer, which I don't.

36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)

I suppose that would be as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, though once again, I have to note that I'm not terribly familiar with the man's filmography.

37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)

Let's see, for the best remakes, I'll say Ocean's Eleven and The Departed are worthy remakes (I'd include True Grit, but I haven't seen the original). The worst remakes category is a little harder, as I generally try to avoid bad movies! Nevertheless, I've seen some of the Platinum Dunes horror movie remakes, and most of them are pretty terrible.

38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?

Ensure their equipment is functioning properly, and police the theaters to throw out unruly/obnoxious people. Moviegoers can stop being so unruly/obnoxious.

And that just about covers it.
Posted by Mark on June 05, 2011 at 03:31 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Weird Movie of the Week
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we looked at a Hitchcockian tale of mustache disappearance. This time, we've got a bloody, gory and supremely weird movie trailer:

Wow, I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Of course, creepy bunny suits have a surprisingly deep cinematic history, but this one goes a few steps further than normal. Devin Faraci has the lowdown on the film:
It looks kind of hackneyed and silly but also nicely shot - at least much more nicely shot than a movie featuring a bunny suit wearing chainsaw murderer should be. I did some research and at first got excited that this film was about a truly bizarre urban legend from Fairfax County, Virginia that has also spread to Washington, DC. The legend is about a maniac in a bunny suit who attacks people with an axe at a railway overpass. Supposedly it’s based on fact.
Wow. Considering that the film was made in 2009 and was apparently never released, I'm betting we won't even be able to watch this if we wanted. But according to the film's offical Myspace page (Myspace? Yikes.) there's a sequel in the works:
The little germ of a idea has sprouted into a full on 20 page treatment.... a full script is not that far behind. There seems to be a wealth of ideas as to how to continue the story with the characters of Bunnyman. What's really positive about this, is after watching the film, everyone wants to see more. The character has sparked interest, and people want to know what happens next.
Posted by Mark on June 01, 2011 at 09:11 PM .: link :.

End of This Day's Posts

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Browsing Netflix
Taking my cue from Ben, I'm browsing Netflix to see what it's recommending for me. Of course, I can't actually watch this stuff on my nice big-screen TV because PSN is down due to a super-fun security breach and for some reason they won't let me watch Netflix movies without logging in. Thanks, Sony. Anyway, first up, their "Top Picks for Mark":
  • Before Sunset - A weird suggestion, considering I've never seen Before Sunrise, but I do believe I have that first film in my queue somewhere, so it's not the worst possible suggestion.