Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

While, as far as the Toy Story trilogy goes, I still think Toy Story 2 is the king. But that doesn't take anything away Toy Story 3, which is also great. Very few companies beside Pixar would be able to take a threat from Disney (first to make Toy Story 2 into a straight-to-video release, and this time to simply take the Toy Story characters, which they own, and just make their own Toy Story movie) and make something that is so close to perfection. And its sort of hard to put into words what makes Pixar so much better: sure its the deep emotional beats. But what they manage to do is make a movie that is smart and actually "for everyone" from the beginning. Not just make a kids' movie and then have some of the characters make jokes about, say, taxes, so that they parents can have an occasional laugh. There is a moment nearing the end of Toy Story 3 where some of the main characters realize that in spite of everything they've done, there is no way out of the fatal trap they have found themselves in. In any other kids movie this would be a time for comedic panic, or confessions of long held personal secrets, or make dramatic statements that end up being ironic later. Here the characters make a silent pact to accept their fate, hold hands, and wait and wait and wait. That, for me, is 1) what makes this a great ending to the Toy Story trilogy and 2) what makes Pixar great. Sure, a couple times they skirt some kid movie conventions, even using a couple old songs to sell jokes a couple of times, but in the end it doesn't take away from the overall impact at all. I haven't heard this much sniffling in a dark movie theater at the end of the music, I think, since the end of Milk.

It also has the best "henchman betrays his boss and joins the good guys" moment since, probably, Return of the Jedi.

Green Zone (2010)

Undeniably thrilling and ultimately tragic. It tracks Matt Damon as Miller, who is in a squad tasked with searching for WMD's. From there he starts to realize something is not quite right, and he starts to go down the murky, political rabbit hole of the early days of the Iraq occupation (I'm not sure they have become un-murky but this deals with the time right after the war started) Its like The Bourne movies combined with All The President's Men. If there is one thing Paul Greengrass is good at is action and chase scenes and it shows here, these scenes keep the movie going. The one drawback is that the characters tend to speak in exposition and, many times, come out looking more like ciphers for various views on the Iraq war then fully fleshed out characters. The main actors are good too: Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson, and especially Greg Kinnear as a slimy Bush administration official and Khalid Abdalla as Freddy, an Iraqi citizen.

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

I actually approached The Killer Inside Me with the same sort of trepidation I approached The Human Centipede. I've read about how brutal it is. I even tried to talk the two ladies I was watching it with out of watching it because I heard the violence against women in it was so gut wrenching. While it doesn't have the same disgusting central conceit/draw of Human Centipede, in the end it left me feeling similar. All in all, except for a few acting bright spots it left me mostly cold. I feel like Michael Winterbottom hasn't developed enough of a personal style for a movie like this. In my mind, it should have be oppressively tense, like a dusty Body Heat. But Winterbottom keeps undermining himself and the story, especially with his song choices at certain point. There are moments would should be played straight, but the music he chooses is like some West Texas, honky tonk, Benny Hill music. Its a weird choice and does not fit. That being said, Casey Affleck is a great choice for the main character, Lou Ford, he's just right for pulling the audience in with his politeness and then repelling it with his viciousness. Pretty much the way the he is to the population of a small town. In his head, he wants to keep things quiet because he just wants to fit in. Because everyone in a small town knows everyone's business, this becomes increasingly difficult.

This is a missed opportunity, there could have really been something here if they were to develop the characters around him this small town with all of its secret, with Ford, a cop who is actual a killer, but in the end Winterbottom's lifeless direction and the script just suck the air out of it to the point where instead of the tension rising like it should be, or it even being a commentary on community in the 1950's, it just becomes an increasingly dry look at guys in cowboy hats making threats to one another in cars.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I think you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass

Today is officially the first day of Summer. I could waste a whole entry going through a list of the best Summer/Beach movies. But lets be honest, there is one Summer/Beach movie that rules them all, and also happens to be one of (if not THE) best movies ever made. Of Course, that movie is Summer Rental starring John Candy and Richard Crenna. Kidding, of course. Ah maybe I will still do that list at some point. But here and now it is time to pay tribute to the best Summer movie, and, of couse, that's Steven Spielberg's classic thriller, Jaws.

The other thing about "Jaws" is that it features two really good examples of good facial hair: the first being Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper

and the other being Robert Shaw as Quint. Very nice.

There is a scene before the three of them get on the Orca where they are discussing the trip, and Quint is bleaching shark bones and making Brody drink his homemade brandy. Anyway he is wearing an awesome sweater in that scene. I have been searching for one like it, even though it is a sort-of turtleneck, which I have problems with, but it is still the coolest. Much like this movie.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The A-Team (2010)

Not that you need a backstory, but going to see this movie was the tail-end of a wonderful anniversary daycation. I had planned a surprised for Tina, and then she reciprocated later in the movie. The problem being: Toy Story 3 was sold out at the Mendon Drive-In. Not too surprising, but threw a bit of a monkey wrench into things. But thanks to the Iphone we were able to quickly come up with another plan. Splice didn't seem to be showing anywhere that was en route to our home (is it still playing?) so we went for big, dumb spectacle: The A Team.

In a lot of ways, I can see why they decided to gamble on a big-screen adaptation of the tv series we all loved in the eighties. If you have happened to catch The A Team recently you realize that its pretty dumb fun, and you probably can't believe you loved it so much when you were younger. And what makes a better disposable Summer action movie than big, dumb, and loud. The A Team movie is all of those things. You pretty much get what you paid for, its not like one walks into the A Team and hopes that they transformed the TV show into There Will Be Blood. Pretty much just like the show, the movie is just that: loud, dumb, ridiculous, and somewhat fun on that trashy, Summer, "we need to get out of the heat and into some AC" type of way. It never takes itself too seriously, and tries to cram as many callbacks to the TV show in there as possible. Because: of course they have to. Although you get the idea that the writers thought they were being way more clever than they actually were. So I mean, it was somewhat fun at the time, but nothing that would ever stick with you in any way. More like something you'd eventually settle on when its on TV someday.

We're not talking Shakespeare here, but I actually thought the cast was okay for what they wanted them to do. I think Bradley Cooper as Face was a good idea. I just have to mention, even in a loud, dumb, movie like this, with people hamming it up left and right: Jessica Biel still stands out there as being terrible enough to stand out as terrible. She plays an military intelligence officer/covert leader on the trail of the A Team and also Face's love interest. This is some Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough level territory/casting. There is a scene in a photo booth with Bradley Cooper (don't ask) where she has to be tough, playful, and sexy at various times, and the requirement to try to play anything else besides "pouty" completely overwhelms her.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Legend of The 7 Golden Vampires (AKA The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula)(1974)

Easily one if the greatest ideas to come down at our workplace. Every Tuesday one of my workmates/work friends has "Crafts Club" where people come together and knit and generally craft. (Full disclosure: I don't have a craft I just go and hang out). Anyway, one of my other workmates was talking about his childhood and how when he was young he remembers going to the movies and seeing this when he was younger. And actually being really frightened by it. Then recently catching it on television and just realizing how, well, not to put to fine a point on it, how awful it was. Well, thats all we needed to hear, so we arranged to watch it for the next Crafts Club, and so here we go. One more aside, its weird to watch something like this with the head of HR around-there was actually some surprise upper-body nudity in here that my coworker either forgot or forgot to mention. A little embarrassing, but our theory is that she missed it because she was knitting.

At any rate, this is one of those films that, while no means a real classic, whatever that means, it is a movie that makes me want to seek out more of what it contains. It was actually a co-production between Hammer Films and the Shaw Brothers. You can tell too, because it combines two things in their wheelhouse: kung-fu and vampires. Its the story of how Dracula takes over the form of a Chinese "man" who heads up the Seven Golden Vampires of the title that have been tormenting a small Chinese Village for years. We meet Van Helsing, played here by Peter Cushing (who pretty much owned the role), teaching in China about the vampires they have in the countryside. No one seems to believe him except for one young man from the village that is tormented by the vampire. He gets Van Helsing, his son, and a English Countess to come with him and his brothers and sisters to their village to defeat the Vampires once and for all. It is an economical 83 minutes long, and even then there is a lot of exposition, and its not like the battles or anything super fantastic. But there is a certain goofy charm to the proceedings, which you sort of can't go wrong with. Its pretty much only going to be entertaining to people that are already super into genre films, or, like here, with a group of people ready to have a good time. One thing that did stand out was definitely Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, the vampire hunter. Someone like him or Christopher Lee can really sell the hammy goofiness of something like and watching him work was actually a delight. I now want to see more! You know, for what it was, a semi-clumsy bringing together of two types of genre movies...well, it could have been worse, I suppose. (One thing I thought was funny or interesting was Van Helsing telling the brothers (and sister) how in Europe Dracula could be warded off with a crucifix, but in China a statue of Buddha works just as well.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Get Him To The Greek (2010)

One word: disappointed. I think there is like 2/3 (maybe even less really) of an interesting, funny movie here. But it all falls apart in the end. I feel like Apatow and things Apatow-produced/associated has an issue of late of sticking the landing in their movies. This time is no different, for a good part of the running time this is a raucous comedy with a sort of dark/sad undertone, and then towards the end it shifts weirdly tonally to this different, much more saccharine movie. Which I find doubly sad because this movie is absolutely loaded with talented people both in front of and behind the camera. And with all these funny people, who knew that Sean "Puffy", "P.Diddy" Combs would get the biggest laughs? And a small aside, I love Elizabeth Moss in Mad Men, here she gets saddled with the mostly thankful task of being the career woman who initially won't let Jonah Hill's Aaron do anything fun, and makes life plans without him etc. One, the role is cliched and played out. But the thing is the writers, to me, made her feel more unlikable than a Katherine Heigl character simply by her refusing to let Aron go see The Pixies. I mean seriously? They should have chosen a different band because that is an breakupable (I made that word up) offense in my book. I get that opposites attract, but why stay with someone that would rather watch Gossip Girl than see The Pixies. Call me shallow, but its the truth.

So, yeah, ultimately I was disappointed. There could have been a really funny movie here, but it just sort of peters out in the end. Ah well. At least they serve Narragansett at the Somerville Theatre now.

Eight Surfing Movies

Lets be honest, there are no really good narrative surfing movies. There are definitely surfing documentaries that are really good. But most fictional surfing movies are fairly cheesy in one way or the other. I think it all depends on your point of view. ( I went to college, you see, its all about how you VIEW things, man) I grew up around the beach, my brother surfed. I mean he wasn't a big wave rider or anything, but I am familiar enough with the ocean and the power of its waves that I find surfing pretty fascinating. So one could look at surfing movies through that lense: most, of the better ones, offer amazing scenery and perhaps some amazing surfing footage, thus are their reason for existing. Then they try to wrap some narrative around the surfers or the surfing itself. Thats just how these things work (thank you, screenwriting, 101-I am sure that was what Chekhov was talking about when he talked about the gun. I am also sure that reference is correct) So, back to me, I sort of grew up around it, and am also fascinated by it, even though I have never done anything past boogie boarding. But there are no good boogie boarding movies. So here are some good (or "good") surfing movies when it is a rainy day and going to the beach is just out.

I notice now that most of these are pretty recent. Despite my dad's predilections for Annette Funicello, I have to admit I don't think I have ever watched any of those late '50's-early 60's beach movies with Frankie Avalon. Although, their return to the genre is listed here.

The Endless Summer (1966)

I don't know how much of a "real" documentary this actually is. But as a small slice of life, in a very specific niche, in a very specific time period-its pretty amazing. It feels like hanging out with a stereotypical surfer-very laid back and easy going. And it just follows two surfers around the world as they search for "the perfect wave". They venture to all sorts of out-of-the-way places around the world, and it looks beautiful. It makes you want to drop everything and follow the around.

Big Wednesday (1978)

Directed by self-described zen-fascist, John Milius. This actually comes from a more personal place for him, it seems growing up he was quite into the whole SoCal surfing scene. "Big Wednesday" refers to the mythical day when the best waves ever come, a day that, in the movie is sort of talked about in hushed tones. And, for the first time on this list, here is Gary Busey. A young Gary Busey before he completely lost his mind. This is funny, not haha funny, because all three leads, including Busey, but William Katt and Jan Michael Vincent all seemed like, at the time, were being groomed for bigger stardom which, for whatever reason never came. Anyway, here surfing is the backdrop and the way the friendship between the three leads develops and becomes close. Its a coming-of-age story, where people have to grow up, and unfortunately being Milius and the sixties, their particular friendship gets tested by the intrusion of Vietnam into their lives. "Big Wednesday" itself represents a return to when their lives were much more carefree.

Back To The Beach (1987)

Now this is truly goofy. Much like, apparently, their movies were back in the 50's/60's. This is actually an enjoyable piece of fluff. Although I haven't actually seen this in a while. My Dad, of course, too me to see it when I was ten, the night before school started (I forget which year of school that would be) Its amiably goofy and fun. But I mean look at that picture. Its so weird, thats Annette Funicello with Fishbone. Pee Wee Herman shows up to sing a song for like 5 minutes then leaves. Its strange, but as a weird sort of double time capsule, its worth checking out, I mean there are worse things to watch on a rainy afternoon.

North Shore (1987)

I would say something like "Only in the eighties!" but this could almost ALMOST happen in any decade. This, of course, is the story of some dork from the midwest who wins a surfing competition in a wave pool and gets sent to Hawaii to...I don't know, compete maybe? Anyway, he bums around and meets and lives with the local surf "guru", Chandler. Who takes him under his wing and teaches him the difference between "soul" surfers, people who do it for the love, and the people who just do it for the money and the fame. I am sure this bit of philosophy was suitably mindblowing when I was ten. Of course there is the villain, and a colorful cast of surfers that he hangs out with along the way. And the ladies. Building up to a big climax where he has to finally prove himself.

Point Break (1991)

Kathryn Bigelow's original magnum opus. Point Break, maybe along with the third Die Hard movie, now seems like the last gasp of the eighties action movie in its truest form. I can't help it too: this thing is beyond ridiculous but it is so entertaining. Patrick Swayze (R.I.P.) the zen leader of a group of surfers turned bank robbers (SPOILER!) ups the ante from his turn in Roadhouse as this surfer who spouts all this nonsense philosophy, usual about some nonsense like "the ultimate rush". Incidentally, he also waxes philosophical about a mythical storm that surfers follow around that is supposed to have the best waves of the century, or something to that effect. There's Gary Busey again, overacting up a storm. And of course, Swayze's nemesis, Keanu Reeves, as Johnny Utah, the college football player turned FBI agent, who infiltrates the game. It really the apex in nutty action movies.

Blue Crush (2002)

This combines Big Wednesday and North Shore. Except, its three girls living in Hawaii, and one is a former champion surfer trying to regain her standing so that her and her sister and her friends can finally make some money. And there is a hunky football player along the way-romantic complications! Yeah, I mean, as far as quality goes-its not very good. But like I mentioned before the scenery and the surfing scenes are pretty amazing. And I guess the producers really thought they were turning things on its head making it about girls instead of boys. An entertaining trifle, lets say.

Riding Giants (2004)

Directed by Stacey Peralta, who also spearheaded the awesome skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. Amazing documentary, both in the stories and the footage, about the ultimate thrill as far as surfing goes: the people that ride exceptionally huge waves.

Surfwise (2007)

Another really amazing documentary that, while it involves surfing, is more about family, and more specifically, how one's upbringing gets them ready or doesn't get them ready for the rest of their life. How does your childhood effect you and in what ways? This documentary follows Dr. Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, his wife and their nine children. They live "off the gird", they are all homeschooled, and they are raised, in a sense, outside the boundaries of "normal" society. They all live in a small camper and just go from beach to beach learning and living off the land. I have to admit, its really fascinating. Its also fascinating in the questions its raises: such these kids basically are raised with no boundaries, which in and of itself is intriguing. But not having gone to school or learned to function within society, as they get older they basically have to learn or relearn all these things that the average person has figured out. Such as not having gone to any school, is really a crutch if you wanted to be an EMT person. Its is really interesting and definitely worth a look.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hitchcock's "Thats What She Said" Joke

For whatever strange reason (because its the internet) this has been making the rounds today around the interwebs, trumpeted as the oldest recorded "Thats What She Said" joke. In this evidently rare sound test from 1929's Blackmail, Hitchcock wants the actress to stand and face the camera or “it will not come out right, as the girl said to the soldier". Nice, Mr. Hitchcock.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pretty Pictures

For film nerds like myself, the Criterion Collection is the end-all-be-all. Their huge and incredible catalog is restored to amazing condition, with pristine picture and sound quality, with great bonus features. (They aren't snobs either, while I was doing this I noticed they even delved into Michael Bay's catalog with The Rock and Armageddon. I was also surprised to find Robocop)

At any rate, what really seals the deal is the beautiful cover art for their DVD releases. Most are original designs done especially for the DVDs released by Criterion. According to their website they have something like 534 releases now. Here are my 50 favorite pieces of Criterion cover art. (I haven't actually seen a good portion of these, I know embarrassing, this is going strictly by the cover art, not the actual quality of the movie)

Yi Yi

Wings Of Desire


Umberto D

Thieves' Highway

The Third Man

The Sword Of Doom

The Man Who Fell To Earth

The Killers

The Ice Storm

The Honeymoon Killers

The Bad Sleep Well

The Hidden Fortress

Fallen Idol


Simon Of The Desert

Secret Honor

Scenes From A Marriage


Robinson Crusoe On Mars

Ride With The Devil

Red Desert


Paris, Texas

Night Train To Munich

Nights Of Cabiria

Naked Lunch

My Dinner With Andre



Le Samourai

Koko: A TAlking Gorilla

Knife In The Water

Kind Hearts and Coronets

Kicking & Screaming

House Of Games

Hoop Dreams

Grey Gardens

Green For Danger

Fires On The Plain

F For Fake

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Empire Of Passion

Days Of Heaven


Blast Of Silence

Army Of Shadows

All That Heaven Allows

Ace In The Hole

Two Lane Blacktop