Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten Statements About.... COMEDIAN (2002)

"I love walking downstairs, go in there. It's all crowded, everyone's perched and you just go on and grab the mic and bust it out here and there. The bare essentials. It's like Tyson fighting with no socks, just shorts and his shoes."

1) One of the key scenes in this film is early on, when we are privy to a conversation between Jerry Seinfeld and Orny Adams. There's a real sense that both men want to be at the other's position, which sets up one of the themes of the film--namely, that no matter where these comedians are on the ladder to success, they still think they're Not Quite There Yet.

2) ...which is furthermore driven home by the scene toward the end when Seinfeld pays a visit to Bill Cosby...seeing Seinfeld acting totally like a newbie fan, practically genuflecting before Cosby and taking in all the advice the elder man gives him, is fascinating.

3) There have been a number of documentaries that have been accused of making characters out to be heroes and villains through judicious cutting and strategic scene choice. I get the impression director Christian Charles tries to make Orny out to be a villain, but he ends up coming off as more pathetic and desperate other than monstrous. Even when he is badmouthing the comedian who just gave him decent advice, you feel that the person Adams hates the most is himself.

4) I respect that Charles makes the choice not to show us the bulk of key appearances both Seinfeld and Orny make during the course of the film--he ends up showing us Seinfeld's performance in a Washington DC night club representing his first hour long set only in the pauses, and the opening moments of Adams' debut on Letterman in long shot, on a monitor in an empty dressing room. It's as if Charles knows that the actual acts aren't as important as the journeys that are being taken.

5) That being said...one of the weaknesses of the film is the way Adams sort of disappears a little more than halfway through the film's running time. It's as if Charles loses interest in him as a compare and contrast to Seinfeld.

6) Oddly enough, the second weakness is the sudden appearance at roughly the same time of Seinfeld's family. Charles has been successful for the film's running time focusing solely on Seinfeld as a professional being; suddenly having his wife and child showing up (especially when we see them hanging out in his dressing room at Letterman) smacks of artifice.

7) But without a doubt the biggest piece of artifice, and the one moment where the film just collapses totally for a bit, is when Seinfeld takes a trip to the Museum of Television and watches old tapes of The Ed Sullivan Show and 'laughing' at the comedians showcased therein. This is the one moment that feels thoroughly and absolutely made up and calculated to make us go 'awwwww.'

8) I really love how we get a better sense of a number of comedians--including, biggest shock of all, Jay Leno--and appreciate them more as human beings. Colin Quinn in particular comes off as smarter than he ever has.

9) If I was Charles, I would have not brought up the handful of pop songs in the last third of the film. Up until then, the music has been very subtle, usually confined to ambient use...but in that last leg, where 'Deacon's Blues' by Steely Dan blares out of the speakers while Jerry enters into a theater before a full show, it comes off as manipulative.

10) Charles does ultimately give us bits of both Seinfeld's and Adam's acts, but juuuuust enough. If there were any more, it might interfere with the approach of the documentary, taking away from its treatment of comedy as a business and not as an artform.

Overall...an interesting documentary more for the insights into the business and culture of comedy than as a portrait of a major comedian. There are a number of missteps, but it is more than made up for with the real peek into the real community of the comedians depicted within.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ten Statements About DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL 2011: THE DOCTOR, THE WIDOW AND THE WARDROBE (2011)

"It's a glowing, pulsating package...what's to be afraid of in
a glowing, pulsating package?"
"Are you the new caretaker?"
"Usually called The Doctor, or The Caretaker, or Get Off This Planet...though, strictly speaking, that probably isn't a name."

1) Wow....no mincing around with this special, is there? Let's just chase Matt Smith around a disintegrating starship then toss him off it, why don't we?

2) Right off the top, I appreciate that Moffat has chosen to make this special a showcase for Smith's talent for physical comedy. Whether stumbling about in a spacesuit with its helmet on backwards or bounding around the superhouse he's created for the Family Arwell, Smith excells--and looks like he's having a ball doing every single stunt.

3) As opposed to Russell T. Davies, who just created episodes writ large that just happened to have a Christmas Tree in the background, Moffat seems to be using the Christmas Specials to both illuminate other aspects of this Doctor's personality by giving him problems he can't just speechify away and explore actual perceptions about the holiday season. Setting this at a very particular time in England's history gives him the chance to deal with the darker side of the Christmas Season (It does play host to the highest suicide rate of the year, after all) which gives some of the broader comedy bits a bittersweet patina.

I also respect that giving the Doctor de facto new companions who wouldn't work on a weekly basis like Madge Arwell allows us to see a different Doctor than we do in the regular series.

4) At the center of this episode is Claire Skinner's performance as Madge, and she is able to add a great deal of nuance and subtley to a character that could've been all string-pull-y and manipulative of the audiences' emotions. There's a definite sense of a before-and-after life for her and her children with helps build the veracity of the story.

Yep...it seems Britian can't forget A Christmas Story either...
5) Okay, Stephen Moffat, be honest--you cast Maurice Cole because he looks so damn much like that kid from A Christmas Story, right? Right?

6) I don't know why, but I love the interplay between our three soldiers. Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely have wonderful comic timing--and you understand what each of these characters is about just from their initial exchange.

7) I love how the Moffat Christmas Specials show the Doctor affecting positive change both personal and universal--Hell, here we get him helping Madge save an entire race while also getting her to cope with the death of her husband....

8) ...or so we think. And the genius of Moffat is that we suspect that's where we going very, very early on (pretty much from the first moment that the Arwell father's death is mentioned)--but when it happens, it happens in a thoroughly logical way...and it's not The Doctor's hand, but Madge's that creates this Christmas miracle.

Put all your Doctor/Woodie jokes in here...
9) Claire Skinner scolding the Doctor into going and visiting Rory and Amy? Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

10) Is it just me, or has Karen Gillen gained a bit of weight? If so....damn, it looks good on her, and we all know what I thought of her before...

Overall...I have to agree with the common feeling that this is a lesser entry than last year, but I'll still take this over any of Davies' specials

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ten Statements About....JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1962)

"Raaahr!  Eye's a monsta!  Get it?  EYE!  I'VE GOT ONE EYE!"
"Our minds are being probed like mice--lab specimens."

1) I always find the perceptions of the future from the past fascinating--this film supposedly takes place in 2001, and it's nice to know we achieved world peace and turned over control of the planet to the United Nations some eleven years ago.

2) Ahhhhh, John Agar...towards the end of your matinee idol career and still playing the hot-to-trot American stud trying to make out with the...questionably attractive Greta Thyssen. But hey, you're an American actor giving us some recognition factor amongst all these Danes....

3) Even though this is a Danish-American co-production (the notorious Sid Pink was coming from the absolutely peculiar Danish kaiju Reptilicus when he made this), it's hilarious how these Danish actors interpret the racial stereotypes who make up the crew.  Check out the one guy who's playing the Irishman, who among other things believes in leprechauns!

4) Wow...nothing like a Jim Danforth-animated one eyed, pot bellied rat monster to convince you you're experiencing the height of terror. But at least it's original, and not heavily-tinted special effects scenes from Earth Versus The Spider. And dig that roar that is used for both monsters--it's supposedly a repurposed scream from Rodan, but I suspect it's just a guy going 'Rahr! I's A Monster!'

"Hello--Hello--Hello!....Hello."
5) Keeping in mind that this is an ultra-low-budget movie from a producer with a reputation for being ultra-cheap, I admit I liked the spacesuit designs they came up with. Yeah, they're obviously jury-rigged, but the person who assembled them took a lot of care to make them seem both striking and utilitarian.

6) So the crew are going to put together a super-acetylene torch to destroy the one-eyed (again with the cyclopean creatures!) Jello-Mold Monster that is the enemy of the film....and they do so by cannibalizing parts and siphoning off liquid oxygen from the fuel tanks? Wouldn't that, like, prevent them from making the trip home, especially given how the script implies that this space trip is seriously micro-managed?

7) I find it hilarious that the creature can apparently manifest desires, and all those desires incarnate as women of questionable hotness dressed more often than not like early 50's pin-up girls, who are then made to be sinister as the film goes on. The problem is that these women are not very good actresses, and seeing them try to act all evil on a dime is silly as all hell--especially when Pink decides to change the lighting on the girls' face to reflect their eeeeevilness.

"Rahr!  I's a monsta...and I come in so many flavors!"
8) Okay...so the script by Ib Melchoir and Pink establishes early on that the icicles that populate the Uranian surface are so sharp they can tear open the spacesuit, leading to instant suffocation and/or decompression....but when one of the spacemen does rip open his suit, it's okay because it's so cold that the blood spilled would freeze over the tear, re-sealing it....wouldn't there by a dire frostbite problem to be dealt with, what with the temperature being 200 degrees below zero and all?

9) Look, I may rag on this film for some of its questionable special effects--believe it or not, the Danforth rat-thing is arguably a high point of the film--but there's something quaint and charming in a movie that believes it can get away with pin-scratching the film negative to represent laser fire and obvious stop-motion photography to represent the Jello-Mold Monster's terraforming of the spaceship's environment. This sort of poverty-row creativity has gone the way of the dodo in the wake of increasingly inexpensive computer graphics suites, and I almost miss it.

10) Oh, Lord....that theme song. I don't know what element makes it so bad--the pathetic lyrics or the fact that it sounds like it was recorded in the Grand Central Station bathroom.

Overall...a pretty bad film which manages to generate some modicum of a 'so bad it's good' quality...maybe not enough to make it bearable, but enough to maybe sample a bit to see if it's for you...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ten Statements About....COLLATERAL (2004)

In this movie, Jason Statham is not the baddest mofo in the
room...
"Tens of thousands killed before sundown. Nobody's killed people that fast since Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did you bat an eyelash, Max? Did you join Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save The Whales, Greenpeace or something? No. I off one fat Angelino and you throw a hissy fit."

1) You know why I truly like this movie? Michael Mann takes three actors I honestly don't care for, two of which I think are truly lazy in their choice of films and their performances...and wrings performances out of them that thoroughly blow me away.

2) And it's not just the performances. Notice how Mann chooses to use a dark, deep color palette for the majority of the film--not because it looks cool (which it does), but because it makes Tom Cruise's Vincent, with his grey hair and suit, stand out from everything else, an unwelcome interloper in Max's world.

3) Of course, before Vincent makes the scene, Mann takes his time not only setting up Max's world but letting the scene between him and Annie unfurl at a leisurely pace. This opening conversation does two things--it actually establishes a chemistry and a selfish reason for Max to want to save Annie later, and also ties into the whole theme of coincidence that seems to run as an undercurrent in this film. That Jada Pinkett Smith and Jamie Foxx are able to dial themselves down so that we get a sense of these two people as people, and understand why Annie might have an attraction to Max, gives that aspect of the film a veracity so many other thrillers don't bother to establish.

4) Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Tom Cruise's performance here is the way you get a sense that Vincent has some strange form of feeling (respect? like?) toward Max. It's not exactly conveyed in a conventional way, but see how he encourages Max to stand up to boss or builds Max up in his mother's eye--this is one professional recognizing another and endeavoring to help him out. Hell, even that sneering monologue where Vincent mocks Max for never really intending to get his limo company off the ground can be construed as a pep talk to motivate him to move forward with his life.  Even after Max tries to sabotage his agenda, Vincent seems somewhat protective of him (he doesn't carry through on his promise to kill his mother even hen Max actively hinders him).

Two professionals in a taxi cab...but it's not confessions
that are fueling this trip....
5) Of course, would this film have worked if Cruise wasn't willing to let go of his own vanity and let his real self show up on screen...and such a simple thing as showing up unshaven with grey hair severs the man on the screen to our perception of Cruise as a star. And similar de-glamorization happens with our other leads.

He may look like an ally...but this film
isn't about wrapping things up into
neat little packages...
6) Another thing I love about Mann--he loves actors who look like real people, not actors. Who else has used Bruce McGill as often as he has? Even the smallest roles--Javier Bardem showing up as a crime boss for a single extended scene, or Debbie Mazur and Bodhi Elfman popping up to argue in the back of Max's cab seem like real people, which adds to the realism of this world Mann is presenting.

7) And speaking of McGill's Pedrosa--I appreciate how the script by Stuart Beattie builds up both his and Mark Ruffalo's Detective Fanning's role...only to have them unceremoniously killed off during the sequence at Fever. This just emphasizes the whole coincidence theme, and makes Vincent come off not as the cool, collected pro he passes himself off as, but as a chaotic force of nature.

8) I have to say--while I can accept the use of many of the songs in the film since they're ambient noise tied into specific locations, the sudden appearance on the soundtrack of that one ballad after the coyotes cross the street in front of Max's cab briefly shocked me out of the film. It's not just because it's so out of character with James Newton Howard's bluesy film noir score, but because it's the one note of artifice in a film that up until then has tried to keep its feet somewhat in the realistic.

9) I had always heard that Peter Berg started his career as an actor--but I never recognized him as such until seeing him here...and ironically it's his character's inability to accept Fanning's insistence that there's a pattern to the events of this night that saves him.

10) And one of the great things that Beattie's script does is makes Max's motives selfish on some level. Yes, he is doing something heroic when he throws Vincent's briefcase containing his agenda onto the highway--but only after he feels ashamed by Vincent's lying on his account. Yes, he tries to stop Vincent by causing a car wreck--but only after Vincent mocks him. Yes, he works hard to save Annie--but there's always the nagging feeling that he does so because he knows and is attracted to her, as opposed to the previous victims.

Overall...a magnificent little thriller with echos of noir fueled by the exceptional performances by Cruise and Foxx (and to a lesser extent Pinkett Smith), a clever, smart and philosophical script by Beattie, and Mann's excellent muted direction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ten Statements About....LETHAL WEAPON (1987)

You know what's more depressing than the holidays?  A
chistmas tree holdup....
"Do you wanna hear that sometimes I think about eatin' a bullet? Huh? Well, I do! I even got a special bullet for the occasion with a hollow point, look! Make sure it blows the back of my goddamned head out and do the job right! Every single day I wake up and I think of a reason not to do it! Every single day! You know why I don't do it? This is gonna make you laugh! You know why I don't do it? The job! Doin' the job! Now that's the reason!"

1) The thing that will always floor me about this film is how the script by Shane Black spends close to an hour focused entirely on Murtaugh and Riggs with minimal lip service to the actual plot. We get so deep into so many aspects of these two men's lives that we are thoroughly and absolutely invested in them and their partnership even before the second half puts them through Hell.

2) Of course, the film wouldn't work without the chemistry between Gibson and Glover, and the way these two men make the pairing work not only convinces us of the veracity of their characters, but makes definitive character choices that makes their growing trust in each other thoroughly believable.

3) ..and it's very fortunate that Gibson and Glover are capable of doing this, because the actual plot is...well, it's not exactly very good. The villains are for the lion's share ciphers, as if Black felt their presence intruded on what he really wanted to write about, namely the relationship between the two leads.

To think we used to believe he was only acting crazy...
4) Thankfully, one of the villains is Mr. Joshua, given vivid life by Gary Busey. He's pretty much the sidekick to Mitchell Ryan's General...but so distinctive is Joshua that he becomes the de facto main bad guy--and ends up getting into the climatic fight scene with Riggs.

5) While this film is usually noted for helping put Gibson over into the top tier of stardom, it should be acknowledged that for every moment he nails, there's a moment where he loses control of his accent or fails to sell some of the nuances Black's script demands of him.

6) I find it fascinating how much of the film's running time takes place during rain; even the final fight takes place while a broken fire hydrant is stimulating a torrential rain storm. It really does give the film a distinctive feel from other L.A. set action films, although I'm not sure if the rain is a jokey commentary on the film's Christmas setting (it being so warm that L.A. can't provide us with snow), or a reference to Riggs being some sort of inheritor of the hardboiled detective.

7) I've never been able to accept the whole 'kidnapping Rianne Murtaugh' aspect, and not just because Traci Wolf is a thoroughly awful actress...the kidnapping never shakes the impression that it's there to just occupy a slice of time to jumpstart the crime plot that Black and director Richard Donner has spent so much time ignoring.

To think we used to believe he was only acting crazy...
8) It also doesn't help that said crime plot is sort of rushed through over the course of the film's last forty minutes or so--and about seven minutes of so are devoted to that final confrontation with Joshua on Murtaugh's lawn. I suspect that if the script sprinkled a little more screentime to the General and his plot, the film would have flowed so much better.

9) I absolutely love the fact that the Murtaugh family actually looks and feels like a family. Even down to the fact that the two younger kids seems to share a resemblance to Glover and Darlene Love.

10) And speaking of things I love...I love the fact that the final fight between Riggs and Joshua is choreographed as what is for all extent and purposes a mixed martial arts fight...and Donner is perfectly happy to let both the beauty and the brutality of the fight play out. Hell, Donner even stages it so that the key development in Riggs' character arc fully expresses itself in how he resolves the fight.

Overall...a wonderfully cool film--although I love it more as a story about two police detectives learning to trust and respect each other and not as an action film. The Shane Black script is smart, smartly interpreted by smart actors. Plus, it counts as a Christmas movie, only with bullets.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)

One of the greatest movie P.I.'s of all time...
"When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's-it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere."
 
1) Humphrey Bogart could not have done this film with anywhere near the effectiveness that he shows here without climbing his way up through Warner Brothers' ranks as a heavy. Since John Huston's script maintains Sam Spade's rather fluid attitude towards morality, Bogart needed to be able to show a shadier side to make his manipulation of events believable.

2) I really enjoy how Mary Astor's Brigid never, ever says she kind and good and pure--hell, even when she's 'playing schoolgirl,' she is always telling Sam that she's Very Bad News. And you know what? She's Very Right.

3) You know one little touch that I thought was genius? The working relationship between Lee Patrick's Effie and Sam. Huston's script makes it rather clear that Effie is one Damn Smart Customer, and Sam relies on her intelligence and intuition--Hell, it's almost as if Effie is an unofficial partner in the firm.

Two of these people are supposed to be dangerous...
the other one is.
4) Another brilliant touch--when you come down to it, Sydney Greenstreet's Caspar Guttman and Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo are children in men's bodies; if we didn't know it by the third act, the way their interactions disintegrate into schoolyard accusations when they realize they've been had makes it clear. But the fact that they're distinctive and 'scary' individuals, it further obscures the fact that we met real villain in the very first scene.

5) Of all the 'villains,' the one I was taken the most by in this viewing was Peter Lorre. Remember, this was Lorre before he became a parody of himself, and he's actually pretty scary for all his feigned civility. There's something unnerving about how reasonably he orders Sam around while waving his gun, and his body language is strange and off-putting in all the right ways.

6) One of the reasons I bemoan the death of black and white is how being deprived of a color pallete allowed good directors to find other ways to convey emotion and characterization. Some of Huston's choices, like showing Sam and his partner separated by their name plate, or choosing to only show the phone when Sam receives news of Archer's death, are more engaging because they're unusual.

7) You know, I don't think this film could have been made now simply because we never, ever get a sense of whether Sam is on the up and up or not. If made now, the script would make Sam much more heroic and wouldn't mince words on how virtuous he is. Huston is able to get away with a moral ambiguity--Hell, the reason Sam gives up Brigid is because, if we're to believe him, it's bad for business to let Archer's death go unpunished--because the audience is willing to accept shades of grey.

"Look, Guttman...I'll bet you the Falcon isn't filled
with peanut butter creme!"
8) But what we do get is that Sam, whether heroic or villainous, is very good at his job. Simple things like sending Brigid into the next room to get him money long enough for him to check the labels on her clothes and try to confirm her story makes it clear how clever he is.

9) Compare Sam's instincts to Archer, who comes off in his one brief scene as, well, a bit of a goof. It's clear that Sam's partner is motivated for taking the case because he likes Brigid's look (and her money). It's his behavior that makes me wonder if Sam lets him take on the case on purpose--not because he wanted him dead, but because Sam doesn't trust her even at this early point in the story.

10) And The Falcon of the title is the ultimate MacGuffin. Even though we're told this is the item around which the story revolves, it's nothing but a feint. The story is about Archer's murder, not a hunt for a statue. And the only statue we do find is a replica; we never learn if the original even exists except in the mind of these two children in adult's bodies.

Overall...a key, essential film that drives home what a movie star is thanks to Bogart's performance. It may not be the first film noir, but it certainly is one of the movies that laid down much of the blueprint for this wonderful genre.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ten Statements About....MAD MAX (1979)

Mad Max owes more to The Man With No Name
than any science fiction hero....
"They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well, DAMN THEM! You and me, Max...we're going to give them back their heroes."

1) At its core, this film represents the logical evolution of the western from the work of Peckinpah and Leone. Even though the film is set 'a few years from now,' and the characters ride cars and motorcycles instead of horses, this is 100% a refitted spaghetti western--a 'carghetti western,' if you will.

2) The thing that fascinates me the most is how, unlike the many, many post-apocalyptic films that followed in the Mad Max franchise' footsteps, no one explains what exactly happened that turned the world of this film into wide stretches of desolate wasteland where most people live in their cars. It's as if there wasn't a catastrophe of some sort, but just a general breakdown in society that happened so gradually no one noticed until it was already too late.

3) There's no doubt in my mind that this film would not work as well as it does without the physicality of Mel Gibson. Hell, director George Miller pretty much lets Gibson's reactions move the story...

"I could either cut you or suck your blood...what
do you think?"
4) ...which allows Miller to avoid actually showing much in the way in violence. We see the before, we get brief flashes of the after, but Miller has enough trust in his actors and his audience to allow us to fill in the actual carnage ourselves. And the film becomes more gruesome that it could have been if Miller relied on special effects, as the images in our head are far worse than what a make-up man could come up with.

5) I love Brian May's score, which actually has a sense of humor--whenever the film looks in on the ramshackle building that is Max's police station, I laughed out loud at the upbeat super-heroic march May assays.

6) The marvelous thing about the film's opening car chase is how, in the ten minutes before we even meet up with Max, Miller gives us a real sense of all his co-workers. By the time the whole sequence is done, we know enough about the other policemen that Miller can just bull on through with his plot.

7) Boy, I really wish there was more of Roger Ward's Fifi, who is just such an odd character, but absolutely compelling. I have to wonder, given Fifi's taste for horticulture, if he was the inspiration for Cowboy BeBop's Jet Black.

"So...you ever hear of 'bears,' Max?"
8) If there is a problem, it's that sequence that bridges the second and third act. And it's not because the scenes of Max and Joanne Samuel's Jessie getting all intimate with each other or horsing around are dull or slow; it's because Miller has been so effective in utilizing a sort of filmic short hand to convey character that using these longer scenes to go over characterization we've already sussed out makes this bit of the film seem redundant and unnecessary.

9) The thing that makes Hugh Keays-Bryne's Toecutter so fascinating is that the actor takes his cues not from biker flicks, or even from westerns--but apparently from horror films. The way he moves and acts, down to his hissing like a vampire when he sees Max on the field of their last confrontation makes him seem otherworldly--which contributes to the concept of this taking place in the future.

10) I think it says a whole lot about Australian culture at that time that Miller makes more out of the destruction of vehicles than of people.

Overall...while most people would point to this film's sequel, The Road Warrior, as being the essential movie in the franchise, it doesn't mean that this one isn't important. As an example of the way the western never went away, just disguised itself for a few years, it's actually pretty damn good.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ten Statements About....SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011)

Given how I've mentioned that Lisabeth Salander is
something of a modern day noir detective, teaming her
with the world's greatest detective is fitting....
"Did you just kill my wife?"
"I timed it perfectly!"

1) Imagine my delight at seeing that the opening sequence involves the return of Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler, who is stunning in a Japanese kimono-like black dress with wide cuffs...and imagine my frustration at seeing her summarily dispatched as a way to prove how bad-ass Moriarity is--which seems to overlook the idea that Professor Moriarity has already been established as bad-ass not only by the first movie but by the fact that, you know, Moriarity just happens to be one of the best known super-villains of all time! That being said...

2) I really appreciate the fact that Irene's death is not used just as an excuse to get Downey's Holmes' into a romantic clinch with Noomi Rapace's gypsy queen Simza. In fact, the script by Michele and Kieran Mulroney utilizes the tragedy to give Holmes a better understanding of Watson's devotion to his wife and allows him to dedicate himself to keeping his best friend from losing the thing he wanted with Irene. While Holmes and Simza do have a chemistry, it never evolves beyond an alliance built of respect, and that's to be applauded.

3) I am relieved that Rapace was cast as Simza precisely for her exotic appeal and for her realistic approach toward action filmmaking and not because the producers wanted to turn her into a wailing frail. She makes an intriguing addition to the cast.

"Look, Watson...we're about to enter into the third act, so
I'm going to need you to stop being a goofball and return to
being the cool man of action you were last movie..."
4) It stands to reason that in a world where Robert Downey Jr. is Sherlock Holmes, Stephen Fry can be Mycroft Holmes...and he plays it really well, save for that one nonsequitorial scene of his walking around oblivious in the nude while Kelly Rielly's Mary gets all flustery and panicked...which is a shame because.....

5) Of all the supporting characters from the first film, I am the most impressed with the way the script develops Mary. Her screentime is larger, and Holmes entrusts her with a key role in unraveling Moriarity's plot, resulting in the feeling that not only does Holmes have a great deal of respect for her, but that she begins to gain a respect for him as well.

6) The treatment of Jude Law's Watson is curious, especially given how the relationship between him and Holmes was key in my enjoyment of the first film. For the first half, Law seems to have made Watson degress into Nigel Bruce-esque borderline retardedness--but then he's back to his dashing self in the second half, to the point where Holmes puts the solution of the climatic puzzles in his hands.

Considering his partner Hugh Laurie became a Holmes-esque
character on House, I consider Stephen Fry being Mycroft
some form of karma....
7) I suppose it's time to get to Jared Harris' Professor Moriarity. He's not what I expected, and his performance is somewhat uneven. There are moments when you believe in his supreme brilliance (especially a sequence where Ritchie intertwines the inner monologues of Holmes and Moriarity in such a way it seems like they're having a conversation over the battle on the screen), and there are moments where you can't believe how sloppy he's being.

8) Just as with the previous film, it does seem some care is taken to make this story fit into the established canon of Holmes--although at some point it begins dovetail into "The Final Problem." However, I was a little put off by the way the script, and Moriarity's plans, seemed to owe more to James Robinson's script for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen than anything Arthur Conan Doyle wrote.

9) That being said, I once again love how Ritchie once more plays more or less fair with us, and shows us point by point how Holmes has trapped Moriarity, leaving us with a little joke reference back to the villain's love of a certain classical song....

10) It's a small thing, but there are moments that are obvious call backs to other elements in the first film--like Holmes experimenting on Watson's dog--that just stops the movie dead so we can laugh recognizably at them. They serve no purpose, and should have been excised.

Overall...more uneven than the original film, with a middle period that seems to be just shooting for shooting's sake, but still with enough enjoyable elements and great performances that it's still a watchable and worthwhile entry in the series.  And can I say how much I loved how the movie gives full credit to Arthur Conan Doyle in the very beginning of the film...

I saw this at the Loew's 19th to take advantage of the $6 matinee. Among the trailers were a more expanded on for the still risible Battleship (the biggest unintentional laugh of which was the legend 'From Hasbro, The Company That Brought You Transformers!'); the generic and befuddling Man on The Ledge; John Carter of Mars (which I still cannot decide whether I want to see it or not, given how it has a whiff of 'we want Avatar money' to it); and yes, The Dark Knight Rises, which makes me dread this movie given how badly my opinion of Nolan's bat-entries have degraded in the past.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE REPLACEMENTS (2000)

"And when I grow up, I's gon' be a football player!"
"Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever."

1) Keanu Reeves, quarterback. Yep. That's like me making a football movie now and casting Justin Beiber.

2) But then, I shouldn't be surprised, as this is one of those films where there are two or three 'characters' and a whole slew of types. This movie is technically all about Reeves' Shane Falco and Gene Hackman's Jimmy McGinty. Everyone else in the film, from the cheerleader romantic interest to the team owner right on down to the kicker is a broad stereotype given only the lightest strokes to convince us they're flesh and blood and not artifice and laziness.

3) The one who makes the best of his underwritten role is Orlando Jones' Clifford Franklin--but that's mainly because Jones is able to infuse the caricature he's given (He's a starstruck wide receiver--and he can't catch! Hilarity!) with the same sort of manic energy that made him a standout on Mad TV. He becomes one of the stars of the film not because of the way Franklin is written, but because what he bring to the table is infectious.

"It's not so bad...in ten years, you'll be the A-List Director of
Iron Man, and I'll be The Lizard."
4)...and to be fair, there are other actors who try...really try...to overcome their underwritten roles, and there are moments when they succeed--like when Faison Love and Michael Taliferro do the little football dance when they're hired--but most of the time they fail. It's kinda painful seeing decent actors like Troy Winbush and Jon Favreau struggle to make a silk purse with the sow's ears they've been given.

5) The script by Vince McKewin tackles the unenviable task of trying to make scabs crossing a picket line the heroes by overcompensating. Thus, all the striking players are played so broadly evil (especially Brett Cullen's Eddie Martel) that they're unbelievable cartoons.

6) And speaking of Martel, we keep hearing about how he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and how he won two Super Bowl Rings...and yet, when we see him play, he's a total incompetent. I have to wonder if that's because they wanted to make Falco look better than he is, or if it's just that Howard Deutch doesn't know shit about football.

7) You know what else this is? This is one of those films where plot developments just happen because they have to happen, which creates strange disconnect like, let's say, Martel jeering Falco about his relationship with Brooke Langton's Annabelle when there's no way he could have known about it, or the way the strike is proclaimed over with no warning halfway through the climatic game, or the way Rhys Ifan's Nigel understands that the appearance of three generic thugs in the stands means he has to throw the game, or...

You get the idea.

8) It is so fascinating watching Howard Deutch trying to film convincing football scenes when it's obvious he doesn't know anything about football--and it's fascinating and funny to realize Deutch was working with an actual football coach as a consultant for those scenes.

Cheerleaders that are strippers--COMEDY GOLD!
9) You know what else this is? This is one of those films that has so little confidence in its audience that it stacks the deck for every major development until said audience drowns in its intentions. Thus, when Falco and Annabelle finally get to acknowledge they want each other, we not only get a scene of them looking at each other longing ending in a deep kiss, we get The Police's 'Every Breath You Take' on the soundtrack and John Madden doing a play-by-play that is supposed to 'ironically' mirror the romantic action. It's this sort of overkill--especially when it comes to how the film utilizes its pop music soundtrack--that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

10) And then there's that weird ending voiceover Hackman gives at the end about the replacement players weren't going to get a sneaker endorsement or anything, but their participation in greatness would stick with them. It seems arbitrary (to be honest, it seems like it was added on after a test screening) and intrusive when the closing montage should have been sufficient to close the book on this film.

(and let's not forget that in the real world, a couple of these players would get signed by the NFL, much as refugees from the XFL and Arena Football found spots with teams)

Overall...This is a prime example of Film-As-Product, something so forced and broad that there's no room for audience insight or interpretation. Every time I watch it, I wonder why I still enjoy it...but I do.

I guess sometimes you want a piece of product as a switch up from all the actual, you know, movies you usually ingest.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ten Statements About....BLADE RUNNNER--The Final Cut (1982)

Ford's character owes more to Sam Spade than Flash
Gordon....
"Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. More Human Than Human is our motto. Rachel is an experiment, nothing more."

1) Just as Alien was an old dark house horror film, it's obvious that Ridley Scott intended this film to be a film noir detective thriller, and everyone acts accordingly, right down to how pretty much everyone smokes and drinks like their lives depended on it. I particularly like the way production designer Lawrence J. Paull manages to find a way to make the costumes and sets a true melding of futurist and 40's esthetic.

2) There literally isn't a bad performance in the film's 117 minute running time. Even Sean Young. Yes, she's skittish and hesitant like a baby deer and seems a bit emotionally flat--but that's the character. All the identified replicants have broad, child-like personalities that makes them seem off from the identified humans (save Sebastian, but he's set apart by his disease), so in the context, Young's performance works.

3) And here's something I didn't notice until this viewing--there are a number of moments with Young's Rachel, particularly in the major scene she shares with Deckard at the halfway mark, where Scott switches to a Steadicam. Those moments, mainly when it involves Rachel in close-up, display a very subtle unsteadiness not to the insane shakey-cam levels we've experienced recently, but almost subliminally noticable. These shots seem to emphasize Rachel's skittishness as she leaves the sheltered world of Tyrell and enters Deckard.

Damn...they don't make women like her anymore...
4) One of the reasons this film works so well is that outside of Harrison Ford (and even Ford is still in the early stages of his big style stardom), none of the actors are particularly well-known. Even Brion James, who probably had the biggest cv at this point amongst the main players, was known for secondary heavy roles. This creates a veracity that feeds into our accepting the world painted here whole.

5) I miss actresses like Joanna Cassidy, who had an unselfconsciousness about their bodies. There's really no doubt that it's all her in that scene where Dekard runs down Zora, and she is spectacular.

6) I find it fascinating how the Tyrell and Sebastian suss out what Roy and Priss are quickly, and respond not with the revulsion you'd get from Deckard's debriefing scene, but a pleased wonder. I particularly find Tyrell's discussion with Roy, explaining how they've tried a number of things to cure the short lifespan, fascinating...the fact that he argues how Roy should embrace the brevity of his life displays a certain depth corporate questionable types wouldn't display in the many imitators afterwards.

7) The biggest difference between this version and the theatrical one is, of course, the lack of Ford's voiceover. The film is still understandable, as the plot is pretty straightforward and linear...however (and here comes some heresy) the voiceover might not be out of place. This is for almost an hour and thirty minutes a film noir, where the voiceover is a standard trope. However....

His origins may be Frankenstien, but make no mistake--
Roy Batty is the big bad wolf.
8) There's a decided, but not jarring, shift in the film from the moment Deckard enters the Bradbury Hotel from film noir to a horror film. I'd say it becomes an old style horror movie, with Priss and Roy literally playing monster in stalking and trying to kill Deckard. Hell, Roy's howling as he runs around naked save for black biker shorts makes it explicit that this last replicant has become a modern day Wolf Man hunting the prey that seeks to end the life it wants to extend.

9) It's been so long since I've seen this film that it's a shock seeing William Sanderson in such a gentle, repressed role. First off because he looks so young save for the shots where we see all the lines in his face, but secondly because we're so used to Sanderson being hard-asses and assholes. Seeing him play this pathetic figure so starved for human contact that he lets his own death in is surprising.

10) One of my favorite things in this film as a whole? The lighting. Sometimes using natural light, sometimes using color in key ways....and frequently taking advantage of the sweeping spots that seem to permeate the city...it once again gives us another element that makes the film seem alien, but also firmly in a territory we're familiar with.

Overall...a film that I had to grow up a little to appreciate (I actually walked out on it on opening day in 1982 at the ninety minute mark, thinking it boring and plodding), this is another perfect storm of a film, where all the disparate parts come to together to create something unique and wondrous. And hell, it's the only film you can say helped launch an entire literary sub-genre in cyberpunk. Absolutely essential viewing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ten Statements About....INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959)

"So I stand here with this test tube and...wait, what are you
doing with that stick of TNT?"
"Long ago we learned to change the molecular structure of our bodies. You cannot see us. I am using this dead man's body so that I can communicate with you."

1) You really can tell the kind of film you've decided to invest your time in when, after we've sat through a 'Voice-O'-Doom' announcer setting the tone, we get a shot of John Carridane appearing all scientist-y...and then John Carradine blows up.

2) ...except that after the film sets up the plot--there are these invaders kinda hanging out on the moon, they're invisible to the human eye, they're coming to possess our dead and wipe us out if we don't surrender--it gets really, really dark. Hell, at points it almost becomes a post-apocalyptic tale.

3) Was John Carradine the kind of guy who just needed to work constantly? I ask this because I do think his propensity to appear in pretty much any film that would have him did his reputation wrong, which is a pity because Carradine is very good as an old school actor. In this film, he pretty much has one scene as the alien-possessed scientist who gives his colleague Dr. Penner (melodramatically assayed by Philip Tonge) the initial warning...and all I could think of is how much more of him I wanted to see of him. Carradine works this one scene and makes the aliens seem rather scary.

4) You positively have to give director Edward L. Cahn credit. This film had to have been made for a budget of pretty much pocket lint and yet through prodigious use of stock footage and narration and repeating key scenes multiple times (in one case superimposing an alien/zombie hybrid horde coming over a hill with stock footage to give greater weight to the narrator's insistence that the Earth has been hobbled by a wave of sabotage attacks) gives it a little more scope than it has the right to have.

"yep...I'm gonna rock your mini-van lovin' world..."
5) That being said, some of the stock footage use comes off as unintentionally hilarious--like when the aliens choose to give their second warning to the world, they do so at a semi-pro hockey game in Syracuse. Good job getting all of the world to pay attention to you there...

6) Boy, John Agar sure is smooth when it comes to picking up matronly daughters of overacting scientists during the zombie apocalypse. He'd be a real MiLF killer if he was alive for the coming one...

7) I love how the fact that no one believes that Dr. Penner has met an alien zombie promising invasion, and that is the lead story in every paper we see. Was this the slowest news day ever?.

"Booo!  I's da Michelin Monsta!"
8) Good idea making the aliens invisible, since our one glimpse of what they look like at the end makes us think we were going to be dominated by a race of Michelin Tire Men.

9) I suspect that this is one of the earliest examples of a Horror Film Disguised As A Science Fiction Film, since after the twenty minute mark this almost comes off as a dry-run for Night of The Living Dead, with a group of survivors holed up in a secure place while zombies sort of mill around outside being menacing.

10) Make no bones about this--the science part of this science fiction film, from its contention that the moon has been inhabited by invisible alien for thousand of years to the solution for killing the aliens (sonics!) is dubious at best...thus my 'Horror Film Disguised As A Science Fiction Film' contention.

Overall...at turns hilarious and pretty damn dark, this is a rather interesting curiosity both as a harbinger of the zombie-crazed firmament to come and as an example of how to approach micro-budgeted genre filmmaking.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ten Statements About....THE AVENGERS (1998)

NO!  No kissing!  You're supposed to be British!
"A man with an umbrella is a man praying for rain."
"And a man without one in a fool. Never trust the weather, Sir August."

1) Ralph Fiennes was born to play a modern John Steed. From the first moment's walk through the British Village O' Danger to the last scene's champagne toast, Fiennes channels the same sort of calm and controlled charm that Patrick MacNee exemplified in the television series.

2) However, Uma Thurman is...not very good. It's obvious she's trying hard to capture the same sort of sophisticated sex appeal (Or 'man appeal,' which is how Emma Peel got her name), but we never get anything more than the sense that she's a girl playing dress up. Sure, she looks swell in some of the outfits, and there is a degree of chemistry between her and Fiennes, but she never clicks as Emma. One wonders if originally cast Nicole Kidman could have done better.

3) There are two fundamental problems with the film as a whole--and they're both sort of clashing with each other. Primarily, there is the fact that this is a film based on a property whose sole attraction to many of its fans is its inherent Britishness...and yet, distinctly American tropes are being imposed on this very British thing. Thus, the whole 'there's a mole in The Ministry' subplot and, more importantly, the overt romance between Steed and Peel feels very, very out of place. Hell, the big kiss in Act Three practically screams out how wrong it is in the context of what came before it.

4) But arguably a bigger problem is that director Jeremiah S. Chechik obviously loves the television series a lot--so much so that he painstakingly retains so many of the quirky elements of the series, not realizing that what we're able to accept in forty-five minute doses (street scenes totally devoid of people; a determination not to place the locations in any sort of context save for when absolutely necessary; set pieces for no reason except that they're set pieces) can seem strange and bizarre in a ninety-minute dose. In making the film seem like an episode of the regular series writ large, Chechik ends up making the film impenetrable to anyone not intimately familiar with the source material.

5) Wow...you cast Eddie Izzard, an incredibly talented comedic actor with a wonderful voice...and you stick him in a role that maybe amounts to ten minutes and one line (said line being 'Oh, Fuck')? Really, movie? Really?

"I Keel You!  I Keel You!"
6) The story goes that Chechik's original cut was two hours and change, and Warner Brothers insisted that he cut the film down to its extant 88 minutes. I do have to wonder if that extreme editing job is the reason the film is riddled with continuity problems where characters appear and disappear at will.

7) I know a lot of people loathe Sean Connery's turn as main villain Sir August deWynther...I rather like him. It's obvious that Connery is having a ball playing a mad scientist who thinks nothing of dressing his employees up in teddy bear outfits. I just wish they concentrated him as a meteorologist and not decided to make him an all-purpose crazy scientist who also cloned Emma Peel as an act of obsession, as that element just muddies the water.

"All those in favor of recategorizing Fuzzy Wuzzy as
not Fuzzy say 'Aye."
8) It's odd that Chechik included the element of Mother and Father, who were more integral to the series' last season, features of the at the time very, very inexperienced Linda Thorson as Tara King (Yes, I know Mother was introduced in the last episode of the Emma Peel run, but that episode was pretty much a pilot for the King run, so....). Yes, I understand that it was so we could have Father be a traitor in one of those uniquely American elements I was talking about, but it still comes off as odd.

9) You gotta give Chechik credit for finding a way to give us a Patrick MacNee cameo in such a way that he interacts with Fiennis while not overshadowing him. Hell, MacNee's scene as Colonel Jones is one of those elements that feels the most like the television series.

10) Maybe because of the aforementioned editing job, there are long stretches where the individual scenes themselves work in and of themselves, but they make no sense narratively when strung together.

Overall...a real mess that, truth be told, I still find pretty entertaining at times...only to be brought down by some of the choices made that were obviously designed to net Warner Brothers a big budget franchise. Pity we'll never know whether to put the blame at the feet of Chechik or the producers....

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ten Statements About....VERONICA MARS SEASON TWO, EPISODE FIVE 'Blast From The Past' (2005)

Admittedly, a chicken outfit is not involved in any of
the fantasies I have about Kristen Bell.
"I'll need an orchid wristlet, preferably in the fushia family, a Rolls Royce limo, and some Kane Software stationary."
"Seriously? Stationary? What for?"
"You're here for your looks. Why don't you leave the heavy thinking to me, sugarpants?"

1) We start a couple of minutes after last episode ended, with Wallace confronting his mother about Nathan. This storyline is coming to a head pretty rapidly, and will result in Wallace disappearing for a stretch only to return in a diminshed role, and Alicia disappearing altogether. However...

2) this is the first 'let's get Veronica and Jackie to bond' episode...and if you've been following my journey through the show, you'll know how much I'm down on that. To be fair, there is another one of these episodes that's a little more effective down the line, and the neat little inversion (Jackie wants to hire Veronica to prove her friend Cora didn't do it in spite of all the evidence, but this outing just doesn't quite rid us of Jackie-stank to work.

This episode is a showcase for Percy Daggs...just in time for
him to be sent away for a while...
3) Boy, Percy Daggs got some pipes on him...and he chooses to rebuke his dad with Motown!

4) You know what I find really, really strange? It's established very early on that this is all taking place during the days leading up to Homecoming--and yet the Bus Crash Overarc is not mentioned at all. It does get brought up elsewhere (as we'll get to in Point 5), but the fact that it doesn't come up during this rather important part of the school year is odd; especially since it could've been solved with a single line of dialogue claiming the Dance is in memory of the Bus Crash dead, or that some students are questioning holding it. A strange misstep for a script crew that's usually spot on.

5) The moment where Veronica listens in to a phone message left by one of The Bus Crash Dead is truly horrifying...and Kristen Bell sells it, and sells it well..

6) I like how director Harry Winer handles Veronica's bugging of Lamb...when she fast forwards through the recording, we cut to the squadroom in fast motion...until, of course, we're hit with the revelation of Terence Cook's secret shame.

7) And here's why this episode does not succeed in getting us more on Jackie's side...by having her get some digs at Veronica through the psychic, she comes off as even more petty and nasty than we've been assuming up to this point...especially given how Veronica has spent quite some time helping her out. Being played by Tessa Thompson doesn't help endear her much, either...

"...and then our growing closer will be stunted by my doing
something petty against you...it's to laugh, right?"
8) Now here's why I am so going to miss Percy Daggs when he is demoted to secondary sidekick soon...there is a scene here where he confronts Veronica and basically gets her dead to rights. It's a brilliantly written scene, all the more so because Wallace is correct in his assessment about the situation. But it would not have worked if Daggs wasn't able to give it the emotional heft it needed. Hell, the contrasting of how he speaks to Veronica, with passion and anger, to the way he speaks to Jackie in the next scene, drives home how close these two characters are.

9) We get another example of Enrico Colantoni's physical acting--the anguish on his face after hearing the phone message speaks volumes about how conflicted he is about telling Veronica he won't use the Bus Crash as leverage to win the election.

10) If you thought wasting time with a Dandy Warhol was a good idea, keep an eye out for the band at Homecoming. That's The Faders, an all-girl group who had the first in a series of...let me check...one hit, getting a rather generous chunk of air time.

Overall...this episode could have been a disaster, but it is salvaged by the reintroduction of the Overarc in the back end. There's some truly choice elements in here, so try to ignore the screechy performance by Erica Gimpel, the hamhanded handling of the Nathan Cook storyline and other missteps and enjoy the diamonds in this pile of chiffon.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ten Statements About....IT CAME FROM...SOMEWHERE ELSE CHAPTER III (1988)

A visual representation of how I felt watching this movie...
"Your arm is gone!"
"It happens on these country roads. Just proceed home, little minors."

1) You ever gone to a party at a friend's house, and your friend and his pals spend the whole night telling these jokes that make no sense to you, but those others find so hilarious they're rolling on the floor laughing?

That's this movie.

2) I...think I understand the rationale behind this black and white film switching to color during its laughable gore sequences. It's just that said switches don't have the impact I suspect the filmmakers intended it to have. The same goes for the redheaded woman stripping in the middle of the government office.

3) So you think you've earned the right to do a take-off on Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, movie? I hope the ghost of Kubrick has been paying you nightly visits to disavow you of that belief.

Later in life, Joe Don Baker let himself go badly and became
convinced he was Asian...
4) You know, just dressing a character up to resemble Mr. Rogers or Gilligan and letting that be the joke (at least in the later; the former does have another 'gag' attached to him) isn't enough.

5) Look, I know this is an amateur production pretty much populated by friends and family of the filmmakers (one of the reasons why I'm not going to go into the acting much), but at least have the decency to have an actual story to tell with a beginning, a middle and an end. If you can't be bothered to do that, make this a sketch comedy film.

6) You can intentionally emulate a bad film and produce a good film...but you have to put thought into giving the audience something to make them look beyond the badness of the surface. These filmmakers seem to think the emulation is joke enough. And speaking of which...

7) If you're actually going to recreate a 50's science fiction film, you need to go all in and not include all the foul language. It just pulls the audience (I imagine there were three of them...and a dog) out of the sense that they're watching some lost B movie.

8) Maybe, but maybe, this film could have benefited from streamlining all the craziness, thus giving the 'story' more focus. Throwing in a spacecraft that never actually lands, spontaneous human combustion, nuclear waste, kung fu fighters, an improbably indestructible Mr. Rogers clone and so much more just muddies--and confuses--the waters.

This had nothing to do with this film, but it did come up
when I looked for film stills on Google and both the girl and
the horse headed goof is better looking than anyone in
the film, so...


9) Oh, and this movie is concrete proof that everything is not made better with ninjas. Sometimes, it remains crap, even with ninjas added.

10) At least it's only an hour and ten minutes...even if that hour and ten minutes feels like an ten hours and one minute.

Overall...a prime example of how a cult film can not be consciously created, this is a sad, sad little movie that shows no potential of being anything other than a bunch of kids trying to put on a show in a typically hamfisted way.