Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ten Statements About....U.S. MARSHALS (1998)

"C'mon!  Do I look like a villain?  I'm so charming in my
forced smile at the unfair charge of my nefariousness...."
"The river didn't get this guy. He's loose. If you can't find him dead someplace, he's running. Folks...we got ourselves a fugitive."

1) The biggest fundamental problem with this film is that this is a Modern Action Movie that is serving as a sequel to an effective and faithful adaptation of a classic TV Show that is one half action movie and one half mystery. With that mystery part gone, the film itself becomes unbalanced...

2) ...which means that we never buy into the presence of Robert Downey Jr.'s Royce. Even though Downey does his best to give Royce enough dimension in the earlier part that his 'surprise' turn in the final act is a surprise, we know by his arrival that we're in a Modern Action Movie. That means The Government Can't Be Trusted, and any one assigned to Tommy Lee Jones' Gerard is Suspect.

3) And speaking of know the scene where he uses the eyeglasses to get out of the handcuffs, the scene that supposedly gains him Gerard's respect? We know from the previous film how smart Gerard is. He pegs Royce as someone interested in hindering his investigation a minute of so earlier...and yet this parlor trick is enough to throw him off the trail? No. F'in. Way. In the interest of throwing us off of Royce's scent, the script effectively devalues Gerard as an intelligent and cagey character.

"I ain't jumping off no roof.  Do I look like Harrison Ford?"
4) One of the strengths of The Fugitive was that we spent enough time in the first act with Dr. Kimble that we believed in his innocence, and even if we suspected otherwise his actions proved it. Wesley Snipes' Mark gets only cursory screentime so we don't get a backstory enough to trust him, and his actions are suspect in that first act. We're asked to trust that Mark is innocent because, well, he's being hunted down by Sam Gerard and that's what happened the last time, right? Right?

5) What was up with the relationship between Gerard and Kate Nelligan's Walsh? The whole through line between the two comes off as so...weird, right from her making that strange comment about Gerard taking the hot Chicago newswoman to a party to her out-of-nowhere admission of love for him. It's like we're supposed to surmise that they--what? Had a relationship in the past? Were married?--and yet, the script by John Pogue seems afraid to admit they're anything other than the film gets this strange vibe right from the start.

6) The whole conspiracy angle suffers because it's waaaay more complicated than the whole medicine tampering storyline in the original. And, since we get the idea that this is A Typical Modern Action Movie very early on, we know the two Government wanks who puts Royce on Gerard's team is In On It, the bulk of the New York stuff comes off as just running around eating up time.

7) While I enjoyed seeing the original team backing up Gerard again, the killing of Tom Woods' Newman is on the whole gratuitous. Newman is not as vividly drawn as either Daniel Roebucks' Biggs of Joe Pantiliano's Renfro, so we're not as upset or shocked when he's shot.

Because the thing THE FUGITIVE was really missing was
a generic French Hot Girl....
8) I wonder if the film would have held up better if the script didn't hew so close to the original's plot. The disaster freeing the fugitive, the revelation he's innocent, the perimeter search announcement, even Tommy Lee Jones wearing a silly outfit in pursuit of a fugutive...all of these things only serves to remind us how much better the original is. Maybe if the producers and scriptwriters had chosen to go down another pass--what if, let's say, the fugitive wasn't innocent but an outright pure-D-mean master criminal. Wouldn't that be cooler?

9) Don't get me wrong--Tommy Lee Jones tries his best to keep this film from falling apart, and the chemistry between him and his staff from the previous film (especially Pantaliono) is still strong. But there's only so much good will can do. This script is so intent on playing it safe that they give Jones nothing new to chew on, and as such Jones eventually sinks into going through the motions.

10) Considering how the original film was informed by its Chicago setting, director Stuart Baird falls down a lot when it comes to the locations. Until Kentucky is mentioned by name, a large chunk of the second act seems to take place in some redneck limbo, and if I hadn't recognized the little pocket park Snipes places his call to his French Hot Girl to I wouldn't have known this was New York until much, much later. It's just another little contribution to the overall sense of genericness this film has.

Overall...not very good at all, this sequel fails its star by never allowing him, the script or the direction to stray from anything other than generic Action Movie-ness.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ten Statements About....BLUE IN THE FACE (1995)

"Yes, I am Lou Reed, and I endorse this review."
"I'm scared in my own apartment. I'm scared 24 hours a day, but not necessarily in New York. I actually feel pretty comfortable in New York. I get scared, like, in Sweden."

1) The first two things you see in this film are Lou Reed talking about not knowing how to get around Paris and Harvey Keitel wandering out of a smoke shop in Brooklyn. These two randomly transposed scenes, and how you respond to them, will tell you whether you'll like this film or not.

2) Unlike the previous Wayne Wang film I discussed here, this movie plays to his strengths precisely because it isn't trying to ape a mainstream narrative. Wang seems so much more comfortable with the freeform, improvised narrative he develops with Paul Auster that it flows better, is more engaging, and more fun--to the point that I had to wonder if he really needed the six minutes or so worth of plot that is imposed upon this structure.

3) While Harvey Keitel's Augie is ostensively the main character of the film, a better way of approaching him is as this film's version of The Stage Manager in Our Town--as a shepherd through these various short stories about the different people who drift back and forth into the smoke shop.

4) There are a lot of cameos in this film. While I found the scene where a jean-shorts-and-sports-jacket wearing Michael J. Fox subjects Giancarlo Esposito to a bizarre personality quiz and the strange out-of-nowhere appearance of Madonna as a singing telegram delivery person surreally funny, the best by far comes from Keith David, who appears out of nowhere as Jackie Robinson, giving Augie's boss Victor (Victor Argo) some advice. There is such a sense of weirdness to this scee that still feels absolutely right that it really stands out.
"...and then I smacked that Begnini bastard clean across
the fucking room."

5) Yep...I'd watch Mel Gorham do that impromptu striptease while singing 'Fever' acapella a number of times, broad Spanish accent aside.

6) Why is it that the only time I can appreciate Giancarlo Esposito is when he's in films set in Brooklyn? I almost want to watch this in a double feature with Do The Right Thing to see the full ability of this actor unleashed.

7) Some of these actors are deeply submerged in their characters--I didn't realize the homeless person standing outside the smoke shop was Lily Tomlin until the credits rolled.

8) I really appreciated both the interviews Auster and Wang conduct with real Brooklynites (I found the one with the young girl on the Coney Island boardwalk at turns charming and heartbreaking) and the news footage of Ebbets Field being torn down. Given how Wang almost fetishizes both the Dodgers and Belgian Waffles during the course of this film, shots of the Field, and of the apartment complex that took its place, seem at home in this film.
"Sometimes, Michael, some days you gets the pants, and
someday, the pants get you..."

9) My favorite of all the segments in the film is indicative of why I enjoyed it so much. It's basically Jim Jarmusch smoking what he claims is his last cigarette with Harvey Keitel, and the two of them riffing on cigarettes, why they smoke, and what the purpose of smoking is. Throughout this sequence, which Wang keeps returning to, the characters and the actors blur together and you get the impression these are just two guys talking about a subject they're actively interested in. Sometimes the improv nature doesn't work as well--the first scene between Keitel and Rosanne, playing his boss' wife, seems a little shaky because you see Rosanne working her way through her improv--but when it does, it's magic.

10) Perhaps the biggest surprise? The pair of scenes involving Keitel, Esposito and Malik Yoba...not just because Yoba is a hoot and a half, but because in both cases we see Victor Argo take up acoustic guitar and play some kick-ass country and western.

Overall...if you treat this not as a single narrative film but as a collection of short films strung together, this is a treat and a half, and far more indicative of how good a director Wayne Wang can be.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ten Statements About....CAT PEOPLE (1982)

Yes, they may be brother and sister in the film, but this is
the least icky relationship within...
"Don't touch me!"
"But I'm the only one who can touch you, and you're the only one who can touch me. Don't you see? We're safe together because we're the same."

1) The thing about the opening six minutes of this film, which kinda, sorta gives us some backstory on the Cat People and Irena specifically, is how there is no violence implied. The way the panther leaps up on its sacrifice is shot in such a way that I swore it was whispering in the young woman's ear. It's this strange surreal tableau, accompanied expertly by the melody of David Bowie's 'Putting Out Fire' that gives me hope that this is not going to be the violation of the original so many people claim it is.

2) The choice to change our POV character in this version to Irena may seem a bit curious--but those moments in Act One that show her becoming re-aquainted with her brother serve to humanize her...and while Malcolm MacDowell's Paul does show hints of his less-than-savory designs on his sister, the whole sequence gets us on her side rather rapidly.

3) ....and then we get the hooker with the spring-action bra (played by Lynn Lowery, who I adored in Romero's version of The Crazies!) getting her ankle mauled. Sure, it's still relatively subtle given what we could have had, but this scene, and others like it, seem to have wandered in from another movie--and a movie Schrader's not as interested in making. Each time we get something like that, it distracts from the tone-poem-esque creepiness that it being built elsewhere.

...THIS is.
4) Some of the changes Alan Ormsby's script chooses to make, like making Oliver a zoo curator and getting her a job in the gift shop, serves to streamline the actual arc of their relationship and avoid some of the strange fiddly bits we agree to ignore about the original.

5) I really don't know how I feel about the presence of a real, honest to god villain in Paul. On one hand, he is played by Malcolm MacDowell, which automatically makes his suspect, so you might as well reveal that he's been methodically murdering and eating women in his basement. On the other hand, it sort of destroys one of the major strengths of the original--a strength that otherwise is maintained in this version--of no one being a bad guy.

6) I think the switch of location from New York to New Orleans works very well...not only because its old world flavor makes the concept of a ancient race of were-leopards a lot more plausible, but because the Audubon Zoo where a lot of the film takes place is a genuinely creepy setting with its decaying cages and animal gargoyles looking down on the characters.
"Hello, I am Malcolm MacDowell, and here is your nightmare
fuel for the evening...."

7) Where the film falls apart--and falls apart like a toothpick hut in the middle of the earthquake--is in its second half. There are looooong stretches where nothing really happens save for Naatassja Kinski walking across the screen and occasionally disrobing, and the scenes that are recreated from the original (which we'll get to in the next statement) are made to take up way more time than they're should.

8) And speaking of recreations of key original scenes--none of them really work. Part of it is that even though Schrader tries to emulate these scenes painstakingly (there are shot-for-shot sequences in his version of the pool scene, for example), the color cinematography prevents the tricks Tourneur used to happen effectively. And part of it is the updating--which seems to be relegated solely to Annette O'Toole's Alice being topless in the pool--adds to the sense that they needed to sex-up what was already a pretty sensuous film. is Annette O'Toole topless in a swimming pool.
Your argument is no longer valid.

9) Here's the thing--Kinski was never to my taste, because I saw too much of her father in her (imagine coming home to meet Klaus!)....and while she certainly captures the awkward sweetness that Simone Simon had in the original, her transformation to femme fatale doesn't come off one hundred percent. Plus, you've got Annette O'Toole--who it's implied Oliver already has an established relationship with at the beginning of the film--being so much more interesting, captivating and sexy as hell (her in the pigtails and shorts...mmmmmm) that you wonder what Oliver sees in Irena. This isn't like in the original, where Oliver is unaware of Alice's romantic feeling towards him, after all. It just adds another level of weirdness to the film.

10) I really, really think they made a mistake in showing us Irena leoparding out, as it thoroughly destroys the ambiguity that made the original so intriguing. I know this was probably only made because of the success of The Howling and An American Werewolf In London, but still....

Overall...not as bad as people claim it is, this version is still a bit of a mess that maybe could have been strengthened greatly by losing about twenty minutes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


"Is there a tomb?  Are there cybermen within it?  I rest my
"If you are 450 years old, you need a great deal of rest."
"Well, that's very considerate of you, Victoria, but between you and me, I'm really quite lively."

1) While this is during the period where Doctor Who was being made on a broken shoestring of a budget, this is an example of how economically clever the production crew were. Yes, lots of the sets are obviously cheap, but there are touches in the titular Tomb--the strange clockfaces made of stained glass that lit up at seemingly random times, the strange honey-comb-like cryogenic chamber, the weapons-testing range with the hypnotic pulses projected behind the targets--that give the story a strange, otherworldly feel to it.

2) ...and that's for the best, since the story is, at its core, an Old Dark House horror story. In atmosphere and gruesomeness, this serial can be seen as a precursor to the Phillip Hinchcliffe neo-gothic era.

3) It's a pity that so little of the Patrick Troughton era doesn't exist anymore, since I can't tell if the handful of stories we can see are typical of how Troughton played the Doctor. If it is, then Troughton was masterful, a manipulative and clever type not beneath gleefully playing weak to get the upper hand. It's this ability to play games without seeming to, to change his temperament and his strategy literally from moment to moment that makes this Doctor so compelling.
"And here is the staircase that leads to the tomb of an half-
robotic race meant to erase humanity...don't you just love it?"

4) Of course, he wouldn't be nearly as fun to watch if he didn't have Frazier Hines' Jamie as his good right hand.  I'm positive Hines lasted longer than any companion (he pretty much was around for the entire Troughton era), which contributes to the exceptional chemistry he has with Troughton, but the two are one of the greatest give-and-take acts in the series history. And on top of that, Hines has this amazing comic timing, able to expertly drop a laughline and use body language to add a little relief to the relentless suspense of the serial.

5) You know, the cybermats may seem rather ridiculous at times--but the moment where these lil' crittiers seem to skitter across a room at blinding speeds to attack make them unnerving.

6) As for the Cybermen themselves....they're still in their primitive phase (the bagginess of the Cyber Controller's jumpsuit is particularly notable throughout), but there is some creepy about them. The way their every movement is accompanied by a weird electronic keening, the exposed brain of the Cyber Controller, the weird way they break out of their tombs all conceal the fact that they're little more than catalysts in this story, stomping around and acting like movie monsters. That they're frequently cowed and delayed by the show's real villains, Kleig and Kaftan, is overlooked due to the way they carry themselves.

7) And speaking of Shirley Cooklin and George Pastell, who play Kaftan and Kleig--Ye Gods, these people are on an all-scenery chewing diet. They're both so over the top in their evilness that it's hard to take them seriously. It's to Troughton and Hines' credit that we are able to--because they treat these two like a credible threat, we end up treating them thusly. And even if we didn't, the moment where Troughton goes off on this slavish 'praise Klieg The Mighty' monologue, only to remark 'Oh, I know you're crazy now,' when Kleig buys into it is priceless.
"They're called boobs, Jamie...stop staring so intently at

8) A lot of people look down on Deborah Watling's Victoria with contempt, and to be fair its her girl-school-scremer-y ways that has been a black mark on the original series whenever lazy fans of the new series want to tear it down. But based solely on this serial, Victoria has her moments. She has a couple of scenes where she pulls rank on Kaftan, a wonderful discussion with Troughton about missing her father...and a weird chemistry with George Roubichek's Captain Hopper than I found laugh out loud funny. Sure, as she progresses, she becomes a useless scream machine, but here I can see what the creators had in mind bringing her aboard.

9) If I had my way, the Doctor would have 'misplaced' Victoria and gotten Roy Stewart's Toberman to come on board the TARDIS. The guy doesn't talk much--his longest speech is at the very end when he closes the door literally on the Cybermen threat, but he is a hoot-and-a-half with his physicality and his cyber-ass-kicking

10) Here's another strength of this period of the series--this serial is populated by fun and distinct actors who give their all to their parts. No one is phoning it in, and many of the actors--in addition to Roubichek and Stewart, who I mention above, Aubery Richards plays the thankless task of scientist dupe well, and the Cyber Controller would not be half as menacing if it wasn't for the physical acting of Michael Kilgariff (an actor who so impressed the Who offices that he reprised his role as Cyber Controller in later Cybermen serials).

Overall....even though its budget is showing, this is an exceptional serial. So many elements of its story and atmosphere carry over into future episode that it's absolutely essential viewing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE CAT PEOPLE (1942)

"I thought you might like to come up and see my psychiatric
"You can fool everybody, but Landie-Dearie Me, you can't fool a cat. They seem to know what's not right."

1) We are once again in the realm of Movies That Could Not Be Remade Today. It's everything most modern horror film aren't: subtle, restrained, logical and plotted in a way that may seem alien to modern audiences but makes total sense in the context of the film.

2) And one of the beautiful elements of this film is, much like the previously discussed Rosemary's Baby, this movie can be interpreted either way. No matter whether you accept Irena's story as the truth or a delusion, the film still works.

3) This film simply would not work without Simone Simon's performance as Irena. The script by DeWitt Bodeen does take the time to establish Irena's 'baseline' personality before her weirdness creeps into Kent Smith's Oliver's life, but it's Simon who makes her come to life and makes Irena into a charming and fun person to watch. And since we are charmed by her in the first twenty minutes, we're already invested in her when her erratic behavior begins.

4) You know something else that makes it impossible for this film to be remade right now? No one is in the wrong here. Even Jane Randolph's Alice, who professes her love for Oliver, does not try to break up his marriage and tries to be supportive of it until it's obvious that the marriage is doomed to failure. This makes her stalking all the more scary because the audience knows she's innocent.

"I become a slavering panther, and got a
jackal head.  I relate, I relate..."
5) ...although the way Oliver gives up on the marriage just as Irena makes a breakthrough, and Dr. Judd decides to--what? Rape her?--in the climax both seem out of character for the film. It's the only sour notes in an otherwise great script.

6) God, I love some of the ways Jacques Tournuer shoots the set pieces here. The way he isolates Irena's face in a pool of light when she's under hypnosis, or the way he shoots the pool scene to take full advantage of the water reflections on the wall to disguise whether this is Irena, an escaped panther, or Alice's overactive imagination is just masterful. I'm not sure if this is Tournuer, cinematographer Nicholas Musurasca, or a combination of both, but whoever is responsible deserve a round of applause.

7) And speaking of Alice...not only is Jane Randolph gorgeous (the pool scene manages to be sexy and scary without a loss of subtlety), but she's a good enough actress that I thoroughly believe she would put her own happiness aside to help Oliver with his marriage.

Here's a case where if you get out of the get
out of your life as well....
8) I don't know who trained that panther, but there's that one moment where Irena steals the keys to the panther's cage and the animal looks up from its meal in a way that makes it look like it understands what's going on...and I love that moment!

9) Tom Conway's Dr. Judd is really, really cool--even when he does his abrupt heel turn, he's funny and smart and borderline manipulative all at the same time.

10) So strong is this story, so strong is the acting, that the only special effect this film seems to need is a little bit of animation and some double-exposure to represent Irena's dream of King John coming after her.

Overall...a great, subtle and wonderfully shot horror film that has the courage to rely on writing, acting and atmosphere to get its scares across.


"Raaaahr!  I's a MONSTA!"
"You are an enemy of mechanized evolution. Nothing must be allowed to prevent the machines taking over. They are the next stage of the growth of the life force on Earth. All obstacles will be swept aside--including you."

1) Hmmm....there's something missing from this story--oh, yes, The Doctor! Hartnell appears in maybe twenty minutes of this serial, mainly by sitting around extrapolating with his friend Sir Charles. The bulk of the heavy lifting is done by Michael Craze's Ben and loads and loads of stock footage of the titular War Machines rumbling around London.

2) And speaking of those War Machines--Ye Gods, these are some of the most craptacular monsters I've seen. They come off as gigantic refrigerator containers leaning at an angle with some of the most unconvincing weaponry mounted on the front. Plus they move slower than a turtle and are accompanied by a jangly electronic beeping that is just designed to put your teeth on edge.

3) This is the last serial to feature Jackie Lane as DoDo--and after seeing this, I prolly should never grumble about the terrible outros given later companions like Leela and Peri again. For, you see, thanks to Ms. Lane's contract expiring mid-story, DoDo is literally packed off to the country and never seen again. She is mentioned in a line of dialogue by Polly, but still....

4) Wotan is not the only human controlling computer we're going to meet on this journey--but he's gotta be the stupidest. While there is some rumbling about Wotan wanting to connect up with every other master computer in the world and fashioning it into a sort of Forbin Project-esque controlling body, all it seems to be concerned with is building those silly-ass refrigerator carton monsters and sending them out to smash things. And it doesn't even bother to make the refrigerator carton monster's operating system complicated enough that the Doctor can't hack it and turn it into the weapon of its destruction.

"This is what I'm reduced to fighting?  I fought Daleks,
young man...DAAAALEKS!"
5) And speaking of Wotan, what was the whole point of the Post Tower setting? Even though there is some twittering about this new urban fixture in the middle of London, Wotan's plan, well, doesn't really need the Post Tower at all. I suspect that Wotan is using the Tower's numerous broadcast relays to exert its mental influence on London proper, but it's never clearly stated.

6) I know this might be a real nit-picky thing for me to say, but it set my teeth on edge every single time one of the characters refers to Hartnell specifically as 'Doctor Who.' Supposedly this is the only serial where this happens, and boy does it stick out like a sore thumb.

7) I think I might've been more impressed with the Refrigerator Carton Monsters if a) the special effects department had built more than one of them, and b) the scenes in Part Four of said Monster rampaging didn't occur on a nearly empty street. Hell, the only casualties that occur throughout the serial are people controlled by Wotan who are literally fed to the RCMs, a stray bum, and a guy in a phone booth. Very unimpressive for a creature designed by Wotan to take over entire cities.

Yes, I would watch Anneke Wills make these kind of
faces all day...they're so entertaining....
8) This is the first appearance of Anneke Wills (who was one of the other finalist up for the role of Susan before Verity Lambert settled on Carole Ann Ford) as Polly, a swinging 60's dollybird. The thing that strikes me about Wills is not her looks--obviously the reason she Wills was cast--but the rubbery quality of her face. It's actually quite expressive, and Wills pulls some wonderfully comedic faces at times that's really endeared me to her...which I guess is fortunate, given how little she actually gets to do.
(and I will not mention how she has a rather uncanny resemblance to my niece Jessica...)

9) And on the other side we get Michael Craze's cockney sailor Ben....and I don't know what to make of him. It's obvious that at this point the male companion is now just here to hit things, which is a step down from Ian and Steven. And yet there's this weird sorta screwball comedy chemistry between Craze and Wills, with the same sort of hints of a relationship in the offing. I might not have reacted to Ben as enthusiastically if he was introduced earlier, or if her was paired off with a different companion, but him in tandem with Polly makes for some promise.

10) And the thing that at turns amazed and infuriated me the most? This serial, while written by Ian Stuart Black, was based on a story by Kit Pedlar. Pedlar was a noted futurist who specialized in cybernetics and was concerned about the increasing computerization of the world. Thankfully, after this hamfisted, ineptly constructed tale, Pedlar will be paired up with much more compatible writer Gerry Davis and create one of the Whoniverse's Trinity of Terror, The Cybermen.

Overall....a sad, sad little serial that's difficult to get through and badly constructed. Add into the fact that there are several thoroughly awful moments, including the reveal of the monster and the sudden disappearance of a companion, and you've got a serial to avoid.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ten Statements About....SAFE HOUSE (2012)

"Do you LOOK like Miss Daisy, jack ass?"
"Do I make you nervous?"

1) I am sad to say it looks like I have to give up on my war against Shaky-Cam. When an entire theatrical feature, with a fictionally linear narrative, is shot almost entirely with hand-held cameras in such a way that even the quietest moments are jittery and wavering....there is no hope of victory.

2) But let's give some credit to Daniel Espinosa for one thing--even if he doesn't bother to shoot his film in a way that we can focus on what is happening for any length of time, he does try to create a specific feel with certain choices, primarily the way he has the dialogue at the end of scenes slightly out of synch with the picture, so that the conversation transitions us into the next change of scenery. It's one of the nicer touches in a film that is bereft of anything original.

3) And make no bones about it--this is a film that has nothing new to bring to its table. The plot rumbles along exactly has you suspect it will (to the disappointment of people like me, who hoped Washington was going to do another cool villain turn), the villain is exactly who you suspect it will be, and the plot complicates and resolves exactly as it is meant to.

4) Let's also give credit to Ryan Reynolds, who manages to suppress his natural cockiness for this film throughout. It's actually one of the better performances I've seen from him, and it allows him to create a little suspense when he interacts with Denzel Washington's Tobin Frost...because he's playing someone unsure and nervous, it allows us to wonder if Frost is, in fact, getting into his head.

5) The chemistry between Reynolds and Washington does manage to carry the bulk of this film, even as you realize that the twists and turns of their relationship are already pre-ordained.

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds argues who initiated
the 'two guys pull their gun at the same time aimed at each
other' trope...
6) Another small credit must go to the use of Cape Town as the backdrop for this story. It's a seldom used city, but is very cinematic in its way, looking at times both European and Alien. Plus, it's not far from these long stretches of bush which at least looks very striking during the de riguer overhead shots of cars rocketing down lonely roads and kicking up dust.

7) What was the purpose of that waterboarding sequence? To prove how bad ass Washington was by surviving two dunks? To take up a little extra time before the next 'surprising' plot complication trundles along? There seems to be no real point for Espinosa to dwell on it like he does.

8) You know, there are a number of decent actors who are wasted on tiny crap roles that are thoroughly without nuance--when Robert Patrick shows up to interrogate Washington, you know he'll be killed at the end of act one; when Sam Shepherd shows up as the CIA supervisor, you know he'll try to cover up the 'shocking' nature of what Washington stole, etc. And Rueben Blades' appearance in the middle of one of Cape Town's slums seems....odd, given that they could have cast him with a native Afrikaan actor (especially given the apparently native Afrikaaners who play his family).

"Why yes, I am stronger...thanks for asking, Scarlett."
(I wonder if anyone will get this joke...)
9) The third act takes on an unintentionally hilarious cast, as the same set pieces are repeated over and over again, beginning with that weird chain where Reynolds fights someone, then wanders to the next point in time to fight another someone. And if the final confrontation, where it seems like somebody shows up to shoot somebody else after the last somebody was put down become surreal in its silliness.

10) That being said...if you're going to just connect the dots with your dull, unimaginative little story, at least have the courage to connect that last dot and unite Reynolds with his blonde, curvy Hot French Girl. By choosing to cut to credit rather than give us the clinch you positively know is going to happen a second after the film ends is disingenuous at best.

Overall...a film that tries to hide its lack of ideas behind handheld razzle dazzle, it's a waste of talent, time and, well, anything else you can think of. It doesn't even have the courage to be as bad-ass as it keeps telling you it is.

Back to the Atlas again, managing to time it so that I arrived in the auditorium right after the hated Firstlook ended. The only really striking trailer is the one for Ridley Scott's Prometheus, although I find it fascinating that the makers of Project X seem insistent that found footage is good for Every Damn Genre Under The Sun, including teen comedies.

Ten Statements About....FULL CONTACT (1992)

Chow Yun-Fat goes undercover at, wait...
"Come after me if you're tired of living."

1) While John Woo seems to be influenced by the Sam Peckinpahs and Sergio Leones and Don Seigels of the world, Ringo Lam seems gleeful in the way he wallows around in his influences--namely the Bruckheimer/Simpson axis of directors. This film has all the earmarks of a typical Bruckheimer/Simpson action film, from the thorough disregard for collateral human damage to the cartoony bad guys to the way all the action sequences seem to be drenched in sexy blue light.

2) Watching this film made me once again feel sorry for Chow Yun-Fat. Here's this guy who is truly a movie star in the old school sense--someone who plays himself more or less and holds the film together strictly by force of charisma. There are long stretches where this film just threatens to fall apart...and yet, when all seems lost, Yun-Fat's Gou-Fei steps back into the picture and pulls everything back into place with a simple line reading or bit of body language.

3) I can't help thinking that Lam is playfully mocking John Woo's bromances with Simon Yan's The Judge being openly homosexual and yearing for Gou-Fei. The fact that he's apparently a magician thief who hangs out with a cartoon punk and his perpetually horny, hyena-laughing wife makes this aspect all the more odd. And Yam, bless his heart, just jumps in with both feet and has as much fun as he can with this insane idea.

"Stop looking at my panties and get me a piano...I'm playing
Neil Gaiman's birthday in an hour!"
4) And speaking of that henchwoman--I found Bonnie Fu Yuck-Jing (who apparently doesn't even have a character name--at one point she is referred to as Yin) rather appealing in a peculiar, disquieting way. Looking like an Asian Tori Amos, doing the weirdest laugh I've heard in action cinema in a while (I wonder if Ellen Page watched this before taking on her role in Super), and behaving like the dream Bruckheimer/Simpson girl, she's....well, unique. Far more unique than her mohawked, unitard wearing husband, Frankie Chin's 'Madman.'

5) Thankfully, we have Ann Bridgewater's Mona to balance out the bizarre and out there Yin. Playing the usual thankless task of a Bruckheimer/Simpson girlfriend, Mona is all to willing to go along with her rote role--until it's time for her to fall back into Gou-Fei's arms. At that point, she tells both Gou-Fei and his brother, who she gets together with during the long, long period where he's believed dead, to get stuffed because only she gets to decide who she stays with. It's a very satisfying swerve.

6) I am very, very curious about the club several key scenes happen in. I understand that the reason Gou-Fei hangs out there is because Mona works as a dancer....but what is the deal? The music seems to indicate this is a strip club, except that Mona's dance routines seem to be some sort of weird kinda amateur modern art dancing. The one routine with Mona and a partner dressed as what appears to be Pacific Islanders seems particular strange entertainment for the bikers and thugs of this place.

"And my switchblade went snicker-snack...."
7) Lam does some strange things in his action sequences. Most people will point to those primitve CGI shots of bullets rocketing toward each other like, but the one moment that strikes me as unusal in a beautiful way occurs during the opening knife fight. The way Gou-Fei finds a stream of water falling from--the roof? A lamppost? the composition never makes it clear--and uses it to clean his switchblade after stabbing an enemy while strange shting-shting noises pervade the soundtrack is so bizarre but eloquent, establishing something about the style of the film going in.

8) While this film does seem to show a rather...vigorous disregard for civilian casualties--there are numerous firefights between these two criminal crews where people just go down in sprays of strawberry jelly, and cars blow up as if on reflex with civilians inside--but there's this weird, discordant moment in the second act where Gou-Fei takes the time in his escape from a burning building to save a young girl. This girl is cut back to a number of times even when the plot has moved on. It's a strange development, given that its result--Gou-Fei desiring to mend his ways and revenge himself on The Judge--given that the shock of being betrayed by his brother Sam could also work to achieve this end. And speaking of Sam...

9) Anthony Wong Chau-Sang gives what may be the most interesting performance as Sam. In the first act, he behaves like a sniveling toady, and it's obvious that Gou-Fei is in this life partially to protect his brother. But after that moment where Sam is forced to 'kill' Gou, there is a moment of transformation. Chau-Sang's body language, his appearance, even his voice seems to change ever-so-slightly over the course of a couple of scenes until he's an entirely different person by the third act. And even then, he starts slowly regressing while still retaining his new persona throughout the last twenty minutes.

10) Look, I will accept the phony prosthetic fingers Gou sports even when they look like they're made out of reaaaaalllly thin rubber they use to make cheap monster masks in novelty shops. But being asked to accept that these fingers somehow allow him to shoot The Judge dead....nyah.

Overall...gleefully out there and cartoony without a hint of irony, this is an example of another great Hong Kong director. Plus, it's a reminder of why Chow Yun-Fat was the Garry Cooper of his time.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ten Statements About....PEEP WORLD (2010)

...because there are days I dream of having Dexter and Dwight
standing over me....usually the days I wake up screaming...
"I mean, you're an incredible writer...with a dysfunctional penis."

1) Can we please, please, please ascribe the 'starting an Indie Comedy with a sliver of the climax, then rewinding to earlier that day' thing to the pile of Cinema Tropes We Never Need To See Again? It's gotten so that every time I see a film open like that, my blood runs cold.

2) You know what's the difference between the Modern Indie Comedy and the Modern Mainstream Comedy? In the Modern Mainstream Comedy, where they make a character's painful, medically induced and constant erection a plot thread....they actually show you the penis.

3) The crux of this film's problem is simply that the central characters--the children of a developer played by Ron Rifkin--are true grotesque that director Barry Blaustein is perfectly content to just parade out without giving us any sort of reason for us to want to follow their collision course with a moment of clarity that reunites them as a family. Hell, when Rifkin blows up at the quartet, you're actually on his side.

4) That being said, there are a couple of sympathetic characters we can identify with. Unfortunately, they're uniformly supporting characters with minimal roles. In particular, I liked Taraji P. Henson's Mary, who makes you believe that she does see something in Rainn Wilson's schlubby Joel we just can't, and Kate Mara's Meg, who seems to have more levels to her publicity assistant than the script gives her.

You will believe an attractive black woman
could fall in love with Dwight....
(Okay, and I can sympathize with Stephen Tobolowsky's Ephriam, even if his whole point is so that Blaustein can laugh at the Jews For Jesus movement, only because I can see putting up with Sarah Silverman's insanity and emotional brutality for eight years in the hopes that she would sleep with me as well...)

5) You know what I find particularly monstrous about Ben Schwartz's Nathan? It's the sense that this whole ridiculous thing about abusing his assistants then confessing his sexual dysfuction to them is an act he does at every stop on his book tour to get them to sleep with him. It's hard to sympathize with him later when he reveals why he wrote the book he did when you suspect he's such a manipulative lil' putz.

6) I am going to give Rainn Wilson a tiny bit of credit here. Yes, Joel is another schmuck like the ones he played before. But unlike that grotesque he plays in The Office, and the mentally broken down Frank from Super, Joel has some strengths as well as weaknesses. He has a genuine desire to better himself and when he's with Mary, he seems to strive to be better and is more aware of the problems he suffers from. It's a much more interesting performance than he is usually capable of giving.

7) Maybe it's because I'm a man, but I just don't get why Judy Greer's Laura considers Michael C. Hall's Jack looking at porn worse than physically cheating on her. Yeah, she has a right to be mad, but to the extent she does in this film makes her seem out of control even for a pregnant woman. But then....

8) Jack himself is almost as big a mess as Joel is, a seeming giant of passivity. He doesn't resist anyone, doesn't say no until Rifkin chews him out...and when he proclaims he doesn't want to be an architect anymore without any plan as to what he wants to do instead, it comes off not as inspiring, but insipid. I just have this sense he'll be either on the street with his wife and newborn kid or working for his father's company within a year....

Yes.  I am showig you a picture of Sarah Silverman reading
a book...shut up, she's hot!
9) I am now at the point where I look at any indie comedy with a narrator with askance....especially when you use said narrator without taking advantage of the qualities that make that narrator unique. Lewis Black is such a passionate speaker that I suspect the film would be enhanced if Blaustein's script allowed him to get a little judgemental or sarcastic in the reading. But no, Black is made to narrate in a dry, neutral style that I wondered how bored he was reading these rote little passages.

10) You know what I hate about Indie 'comedies' like this? There's no difference between them and mainstream comedies...except that the characters are more well off and we're expected to take away insights into the human conditions in the end. Replace these people with a bunch of high schoolers being chewed out by the principal and there's very. little. difference.

Overall...Even though there are some small performances that are entertaining, this is a smug little comedy populated by emotional monsters we're supposed to find endearing.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


"No, look like a Monk...your buddy The Master
looks first like a businessman, then like a gay pirate, and
finally a homeless politician."
"That is the dematerializing control, and that over yonder is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner, those are the doors, that is a chair with a panda on it. Sheer poetry, dear boy. Now please stop bothering me."

1) I know we're in that phase of the Hartnell era where the Doctor was softened and became more of a kindly figure--but damn I'm loving this Doctor. Yes, he's lacking the sinister edge of the first three stories, but Hartnell's displaying a wicked sense of humor with a crotchety edge that's hilarious. Seeing him handling new companion Steven is the point where I'll even say that, stray moments like that speech in 'Edge of Destruction' nonwithstanding, this is the best Hartnell's been. There is so much to like from this Doctor during this serial throughout.

2) We're now deep into Vicki portion of the Hartnell years, and the weird thing is I get a stronger sense of a bond between the two of them that I ever got from Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford. Granted, part of that may be how we see a meaty lil' exchange up front between the two just talking...and part may just be that Maureen O'Brien doesn't look more like an alien than Hartnell does.

3) We're also introduced to Peter Purves' Steven...who, judging solely from this, is like Ian only without Ian's fire or tendency to punch things that needs punching. Sadly--as we'll get to when I cover 'The War Machines' soon--inconsequential companions are going to be business as normal over the rest of Hartnell's years.

4) Once more, we've got more of the production staff trying to compensate for Hartnell's increasing dementia. Not only do we have a couple of stumbling line readings, we've got him absent from Episode Two, with only an overdubbed line or two indicating The Doctor's presence inside a prison he was put there by The Monk....

"I am so relieved to have you here, my dear...I feared
they would replace my granddaughter with a lizard or a
bat or something as bizarre looking as she was..."
5) ...and speaking of The Monk, I love this character. He's a magnificently created opponent that follows one of the primary rules of villian-making--at no point does The Monk think he's a bad guy. Even though his motivations for mucking about in time is clearly simple thrill-seeking and trophy-hunting (an argument can be made that The Monk is nothing more than a history fanboy), in his mind he's helping humanity along to greater heights. In his way, The Monk is the first true Dark Mirror to the Doctor, and the best until The Delgado Master comes along. And having Peter Butterworth give a smug, self-satisfied performance makes him all the more fun to watch.

6) You know, in a world where The Doctor is treated like an all-powerful super-hero who Knows Everything About Everything, I like watching a Doctor who can be overpowered, who can be tripped up, and more importantly has to use his brain to stop someone who appears to have all the cards...and who chooses not to obliterate his foes, but finds a way to stop him with an eye toward hopefully teaching him a lesson.

7) If the Vikings in the real world acted like the two Vikings in this story...well, no wonder they got their asses handed to them.

"I am looking at you with my invisible eyeglasses, child...and
they're X-Ray...."

8) I rather liked Alethea Charlton's Edith. She manages to have chemistry with pretty much everybody who crosses her path (her interaction with Hartnell is particularly amusing), and she seems to be the one person who's on top of everything. Considering how many of these supporting characters are cookie cutter voids, having someone smart and clever in her way is refreshing.

9) I suspect that it's just me looking at a 1965 serial through 2012 eyes, but that 'atomic cannon' and its 'neutron bombs' don't look very convincing to me.

10) At its core, this serial keeps sight of something that was lost during the lion's share of John Nathan Turner's era, and became overblown to the point of parody during Russell T. Davies....that the series is supposed to be fun. Yes, the stakes are serious, and there is some drama, but at no point does Dennis Spooner's script lose that sense of how cool it is to be bopping around time setting things straight.

Overall....a really great, fast paced, and fun serial bouyed by some great performances and a super-cool villain (who did not become The Master, Mike). And on top of that, it's got some historical significance in the development of the series, as it introduces the first non-related peer of The Doctor. Highly recommended viewing!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE GREY (2012)

"I got your picture/I got your picture/I'd like a million of
you all by myselllllf...."
"Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I'll ever know.
Live and die this day.
Live and die this day."

1) I should get this out of the way--I can maybe understand why Liam Neeson took this role, but the subplot involving his wife and why he's where he is at the start of the film left a bad taste in my mouth given Neeson's personal history in the last few years.

(Of course, Neeson was apparently a last minute replacement for Bradley Cooper, so maybe he did this as a favor for director Joe Carnahan regardless of how he felt about that portion of the script.)

2) I do like the fact that Carnahan lets the audience in on a little piece of information that only we (and Dallas Roberts' Hendricks) know that makes it clear that he is the absolute last person we want to lead us out of a disaster.

"We're going to walk south, we're going to find civilization...
and you, Mulroney, are going back to that hospital and
feign some interest in Ellen Pompeo!"
3) At its absolute core, this is a classic George Romero 'The Human Fuck It Up For Themselves' film--and if we didn't get it from the way Carnahan shoots many of the wolf attacks, it's driven home by that final scene, where Neeson's Ottway reaches the end of his road.

4) I have to wonder if Carnahan shot portions of this film on film stock. Especially in the first act and portions of the second, there's a graininess that gives the film a weird cinema verite feel, as if this is some sort of documentary. And to be fair, some of the close-ups, with the grain seeming to crawl over the actors' faces like insects, gives us a general sense of unease.

5) There is some heavy CGI work, but here's why it didn't bother me--the CGI animals are obscured by snow, which prevents us from getting a good look at them, and furthermore gives them a strange, ghostly appearance as they apparently materializes out of the malestrom.

6) While I appreciate that Carnahan always plays fair and foreshadows each man's fate (we see Nonso Anozie's Burke wheezing and slowing down throughout the film before he succumbs from hypoxia; Frank Grillo's Diaz never mentions any family which leads to his decision to sacrifice himself, etc.), that foreshadowing gives the film a slightly mechanical feel to it, as if the script is playing things by rote. But then....

7) This film, for most of its running time, is structured like a classic Slasher movie with wolves in the place of Freddie or Jason, and the middle of nowhere in the place of Small Town USA. And it fits rather well....

"And if you don't name your poison/I'll have to call the bo--
no wait, I'll just punch you in the face."
8) Dermot Mulroney's Talget is the one character that seems out of place here. Carnahan's script makes it clear that this oil drilling site is home to a bunch of nothing but Pur-Dee Mean Desperate Men (the words 'ex-cons' and 'assholes' is bandied about at the top of the film)...and yet, save for a reference to his ex-wife, Talget is portrayed as anything but Pur-Dee Mean. And given how his flaw (he's afraid of heights, and he has to climb along a rope high up in the sky! Scary!) is foreshadowed so shortly before his death (he falls!), everything about him rings false in this otherwise well-structured film.

9) On the other hand, Robert's Hendricks manages to walk the fine line between being a Desperate Man and A Sympathetic Guy....and Carnahan's reveal about what Hendricks knows about Ottway throws his behavior in a new light--juuuuust before his fate (arguably the most shocking of the bunch) is triggered.

10) It should be pointed out that the moment we're all waiting for--i.e. Neeson punching wolves in the face--never really happens. The lead up does happen, and Carnahan leaves it up to us to decide the outcome. However, there's a post-credits shot that I am positive was added after the fact as a sop to people who were going to complain they didn't get what the trailers promised them they'd get.

Overall...a much different experience than the trailer promises, this is a bleak and sometimes depressing little number that comes off sometimes as horror movie, sometimes as art movie and can be seen to work as both. It might not be to everybody's taste...

Back to the Atlas for this one, which featured some really peculiar trailers, including Silent House (since found footage is loosing its glamour, it's time to trot out real-time films and one take films, and mash 'em into one!), Jeff Who Lives At Home (an arthouse comedy trailer--down to the use of Arcade Fire songs as background music!--that I might be interested solely for the presence of Jason Segal and Susan Sarandon), Lockdown (which must have been cobbled together from the script fragments of John Carpenter's Escape From Earth, down to when I saw the point when one of the actors claims there's only one person who can get the President's daughter out of the prison in space, I expected him to finish with 'Snake' and not 'Snow.') and Cabin In The Woods (which looks like stock slasher movie stink...until a bird flies into as force field and actually convinces me this might be more than Joss Whedon Pop Culture Wanking).

Ten Statements About....DODGEBALL (2004)

How many sports film spoofs have their very own in-house
"If you're going to become true dodgeballers, then you've got to learn the five d's of dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!"

1) This film works as well as it does for one reason, and one reason only--every actor in it down to the last cameo thoroughly and absolutely buys into the world the film posits in every possible way. Since everyone believes in this world of obscure sports, complete with its own magazine and television network, we accept it.

2) This film occurred during a period where Ben Stiller was mining the characters he created for his Fox television show--White Goodman was based on a similar physical trainer character who appeared twice--and because he's had that earlier experience, Goodman is extremely vivid as a character. Even when he behaves like a caricature (which he does frequently), he works in the world of the film and is a credible villain for Vince Vaughn's Peter.

3) And speaking of Vince friend and partner Derrick has compared him to Stripes-era Bill Murray, and I can see that. Vaughn's strength is in how he enhances and supports the other stars of the film around him. While Justin Long and Stephen Root and Rip Torn and Alan Tudyk and others do much of the heavy comedic lifting, Vaughn facilitates them every step of the way.

4) I know I've said this before--but my favorite of these satellite characters is Alan Tudyk's Steve The Pirate. The script has no explanation why Steve is a pirate, what his motivations are....he's just Steve The Pirate. Hell, his disappearance at the beginning of the third act even leads to one of the funnier gags in the film. But then...

5) The first of two strengths of Rawson Marshall Thurber's script is how the humor comes not from nonsensical gross out, but from characters and how they interact with each other. That's the key to real comedy.

What are you going to do with that pizza, Dwight?  What
are you doing with that Pizza?
6) The other strength is the meticulous attention to detail Thurber pays to the sport of professional dodgeball. As someone who does follow sports, I was appreciative of how this sport had specific rules, penalties and even personalities and announce teams so that when the sillier aspects of this story were plugged into it (like the teams other than Average Joes and The Purple Cobras), they instantly gain a modicum of veracity.

7) And speaking of Announce Teams, I don't think enough is made of the performances of Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as the commentators for the tournament. Not only do Cole and Bateman have a great chemistry together, they have a thorough understanding of how the play-by-play and color announcer system works. And, like everything else, there is a level of detail (notice the dodgeball tattoo on Bateman's neck) that just makes the world of the film believable.

8) You would think that the cameo by Lance Armstrong would make the film a dated prospect...but because the joke Thurber builds around this cameo is based on Armstrong reciting his cv, it avoids being an albatross around the film's neck and actually moves the plot along beautifully.

"Don't worry kids...later in the movie, I grow up to be Rip Torn!"
9) You want a way to give people gross out humor without disrupting the feel of the film or make everyone behave out of character? You confine the stuff about laxatives and having sexual congress with pizza to only one of them, namely Stiller. Since the grossness is only confined to White Goodman, and because Thurber picks and chooses his moments to inject said grossness, it manages to enhance the film without overpowering it. And arguably the grossest moment is left for the after-credits teaser.

10) While I am a fan of Stiller, I point to films like this to show how he can be far more effective as a secondary character rather than as a star. Due to his sketch comedy background, he's capable of creating grotesques like Goodman that can be used in support of a larger tapestry. Not that I'm saying he should be banished to support-hood like, let's say, Danny McBride, but it might be something for him to consider as he enters late middle age. of those near perfect ticking timepieces of a film, which manages to remain consistently funny throughout its running time thanks to an attention to detail, a clever script, and a meticulously put together cast. This is how the modern style of comedy should be handled.