Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sweet sassy molassy it's a smorgasbord of Netflixxx

A veritable cornucopia of delivered cinema! Or a bunch of crazy shite. U-Decide!

The Bank Job: For a while there, I was afraid Jason Statham wasn't going to kick any ass in this movie. But then the world righted itself. Yeah, it's a heist-goes-wrong movie, more serious than the trailers made you think, but it's another excellent British production. "Based on a true story" is probably laughable, but I actually cared about the characters in this.

Blood Sucking Freaks: Here's a movie that's more fun to watch in fast forward, or perhaps not at all. The granddaddy of torture porn like Saw and Hostel, this old fogey blows them all out of the water. I mean, if that's your thing. It isn't mine, so I didn't sit through this, but there are bits where a dwarf with an afro cuts off a naked woman's hand and eats her eyeball, or bits where naked people dance and there may or may not be a severed penis sandwich. Yeah.

Lone Wolf McQuade: Dave Campbell is right; this is probably Chuck Norris' most gloriously awesome movie (I still prefer Sidekicks for the hilarity). Walker faces off against Cain from Kung Fu, for cryin' out loud! People get roundhouse kicked, lots of things explode, there's a maniacal dwarf in a wheelchair, and everyone McQuade loves almost or does die. The acting is abysmal, but the lines (and line-readings) are hilarious, and the movie is terrifically energetic.

The Seat Filler: This is not quite what I expected, but the premise is good (seat filler at award show falls for starlet) until the mistaken identity trope shows up. Still, it made me chuckle at times and it's worth showing to your girlfriend.

Six-String Samurai: I only half paid attention to this, but it's Road Warrior meets Buddy Holly meets Wizard of Oz. A bespectacled guitarist/swordsman travels the wasteland on his way to claim the throne of Lost Vegas. And then things get weird. While it looks like it was made in 1980, it's only ten years old. The budget is shoestring (if the shoes even have strings) and the acting is worse than Lone Wolf McQuade but it's cool and silly and has a few ridiculous lines, such as "Why, the wind shear alone on a pink golf ball can take the head off a 90-pound midget at over 300 yards" or "Only one man could kill this many Russians!" It's like David Lynch and Sam Raimi and Terry Gilliam had a squid baby.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Netflix post is about hitmen.

And two of the hitmen are John Cusack. Yeah, look at that! Themes! Or motifs! Or whatever.

In Bruges: This one does not have John Cusack in it. What it does have is an awful lot of Colin Farrel sitting on benches, which is fine, because the dialogue is quick and snappy and there's a running gag about midgets. The film revolves around two hitmen sent to bide some time in the purgatory that is the town or city or tourist trap of Bruges, until Bad Things Happen. And sure, along the way there's a dwarf and a girl and some cocaine and some violence. I enjoyed the way the movie easily drifted from "dramatic and introspective" to "cleverly silly" and back again, while somehow never seeming like a tonal disaster. The third act posed some trouble for me-- I wasn't a big fan of the ending, and there's a major thematic coincidence, which is a thing lots of people hate (not me), so watch out for that. But it's beautifully shot in the actual, beautiful town of Bruges, and the dialogue flows marvelously-- I see that it's up for Best Screenplay at the Oscars, and I wouldn't mind if it won.

Also: Colin Farrell's eyebrows are capable of forming 45 degree angles, which is odd and fascinating.

And now, the Cusack:

Grosse Point Blank and War, Inc: I find it might be best to review these in tandem, because they're so damn similar and yet so far apart. They share a production company, a screenwriting credit for John Cusack, and three actors-- John and Joan Cusack and Dan Aykroyd. And, of course, they're both about a disillusioned hitman who wanders into a situation that will inevitably topple his currently jaded worldview. It seems War, Inc was deliberately written to echo Grosse Point Blank, without ever actually being a sequel. And hell, Joan Cusack is basically the same character in both. John Cusack usually plays the same character in everything anyway, but here they're very similar-- Brand Hauser may as well be Martin Blank if he never went to that reunion. But where Grosse Point succeeds, War fails. GPB, on the whole, is a pretty clever enterprise filled with entertaining and interesting situations and snappy patter, yet that cleverness is nonchalant; Cusack makes it look easy, as he usually does in his better work. War constantly tries to tell the viewer that it's so damn clever, and here's what society's going to be like in five years, but it sits there like a lump. Most of the things it's supposedly satirizing are old hat by now; it's been done, and better, by many others, so the movie comes off as tired as Cusack's character looks in some scenes.

We get energetic performances from everybody in Grosse Point, from Cusack to Driver to Azaria to Mr. Trick from Buffy to Cusack to Greg's dad from Dharma and Greg to Arkin to Aykroyd to Cusack to Cusack to Piven; War, Inc tries to imitate the same feel, but the characters come off less "energetic" and more "bipolar;" we've got Hilary Duff as a Middle Eastern Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan/etc. media whore who craves attention but really just wants to be loved or something (yawn); Marisa Tomei as Lois Lane (this wasn't so bad); and Ben Kingsley as... hell, this guy isn't even trying anymore. John C. is again a hitman who needs a therapist, but instead of turning to Alan Arkin like in Grosse Point Blank, he turns to his car's OnStar device. (Do you see? It's so damn clever!) The character dynamics never feel true, nor does anybody consistently change-- things just happen and get weird, or "twists" pop in for the sake of spicing up the plot.

Like In Bruges, Grosse Point Blank has a major coincidence at the end and doesn't ring true in the final few minutes, but the ride is a fun one throughout the film. War, Inc never rings true at all. Well, except for Cusack's badass fight scene. In Grosse Point Blank, we still had the lithe, young, whippersnapper of a Cusack; War, Inc leaves us with the puffier, jaded version, still trying to deliver lines like he did in Say Anything.... I know he's still capable of good work, and he's watchable in just about anything (I love America's Sweethearts. There, I said it), but I sense some lack of caring in this production. Surely, I'm wrong, but in the end, War, Inc comes off as an overstuffed, undersouled production, and Grosse Point Blank is the exact opposite.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Netflix 3: The Search for Suck

Watchin' stuff and stuff. Yeah.

Blade Runner - Theatrical Cut: I've seen bits and bobs of various cuts of this movie over the years, but never the whole thing straight through. And I still haven't, having dozed off more than once-- hell, more than twice-- during this movie. It's considered by some to be the best sci-fi ever, but I found it to be a cure for insomnia. I can't say I'm interested in going back and watching the bits I missed.

Bullitt: Here's another movie whose reputation is far greater than its worth. Here I was thinking this would be a marvelous 60s flick about Steve McQueen kicking ass, but it's pretty boring, overall. I may have started to snooze during this one, too. And the car chase, called by some the best car chase ever? It isn't. Not by a country mile. (Best car chase ever? Still the Blues Brothers.)

A Clockwork Orange: Now, this might be the best novel-to-film adaptation I've ever seen (though honestly, how much competition does it have?). Sure, it leaves off Burgess' original final chapter, but that part of the book feels more like it's been tacked on out of necessity rather than growing out of the plot and character as we know them. Kubrick gives us an unflinching film filled with the worst humanity can offer us, shot more or less as blatantly as possible, stuffed with lingering close-ups of faces going mad and constant scenes of Malcolm McDowall being utterly tortured by the needs of the film. I imagine this was hell to shoot, but it was worth it. Perhaps not as great as the book, but a very interesting creature in its own right-- needs more Nadsat, though. Would I have liked this as much if I hadn't read the book? Not sure. And I don't usually ask that question with a book adaptation.

I Spit on Your Corpse!: And here we have a shlocky grindhouse feature from the 70s. Apparently produced in two months, from script to screen, and also known as "Girls for Rent," this actually turns out to be a pretty fun exploitation flick, if you're into that genre. It has chase scenes more exciting than Bullitt, at least, funneled through the plot structure of a screwball comedy of errors and near misses, even though it's supposed to be a tense thriller, and chock full of gratuitous nudity and violence. The acting's bloody terrible, there's no real protagonist, and the whole thing goes as far as it's able before collapsing in on itself, but for a piece of crap thrown together thirty-five years ago, it's-- *gasp*-- more well done than it should be. And I like that. I feel like Tarantino's Death Proof owes a helluva lot to this movie.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: The movie that made careers for Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham! It too has that familiar comedy structure filtered through the collander that is fun English accents and zany criminal violence! A highly enjoyable crime romp.

Slaughterhouse-Five: Another book-to-film. Here's the thing: Kurt Vonnegut's novel is my favorite book of all time, so I felt it was my duty to see the movie version (released in 1972--three years after the book came out) even though I was sure to hate it. Well, I didn't hate it. The book, of course, is  infinitely better. I could say the same of V for Vendetta-- even though the movie was pretty good, it can't hold a candle to the prose. If you've never read the novel, this movie might be highly enjoyable. For me, though, it excises my favorite part (the explanation of Tralfamadorian novels), we never *see* the little hand-plungers themselves, and "So it goes" does not pop up at all. It's like a Vonnegut story with all the really Vonnegutian bits cut out. The performances, from a cast almost entirely unknown to me (Edgar Derby looked familiar-- he was on Magnum PI in some episodes! And Miss Teschmacher is Montana Wildhack!), aren't bad, but nothing groundbreaking. So, good, but not, you know, Slaughterhouse-Five.

Smart People: One of those introspective not-really-comedies that shows us that the intelligencia are as dysfunctional as the normies! Well, bleh. Ellen Page is Ellen Page-y, Thomas Haden Church does his funny deadpan thing, sure, okay. Dennis Quaid goes back and forth from his Harrison Ford impression to his Jack Nicholson impression as he plays a stereotypical bearded, misanthropic English professor. They're all miserable, but by the end, they shut up and deal with it, apparently, because all you really need to be happy is to decide to be happy. Uh, no. For smart people, these people are not very smart.

THX 1138 - Special "Ruined by George Lucas" Edition: Wow, did this suck. I thought this was supposed to be a smart sci-fi film. I mean, Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance, man! But, no. I should have remembered I hate everything with George Lucas' name on it that isn't Indiana Jones 1-3. What was the point of this movie? What was the plot? Why does any of this matter? It doesn't. Nothing happens and then the movie is over. Logan's Run is very similar, only that, at least, is awful because it's a silly B-movie, rather than being a pretentious pile of Wookiee dung. And it also has a plot.

Winter Passing: From the DVD cover, and the fact that Zooey Deschanel (whom I adore) and Will Ferrell are in it, one would assume this movie is another quirky indie comedy. It isn't. It's "sewious dwama," by which I mean it's about sad, broken people who supposedly grow by the end even though they really don't/shouldn't. Deschanel plays a self-destructive actress who goes back home and Learns About Her Family, and blah blah. Ed Harris plays the exact same character he played in The Hours, only heterosexual, this time: a broken, mostly suicidal author living like a sick recluse. Again, yawn. Give it a pass.

Man, I hate so much. So much! But I want to love!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Netflix Interlude: A List of Things that Appear in Tokyo Gore Police

Having just watched the most ridiculous epic of our times, the over-the-top-so-far-it's-under-the-bottom and yet strangely glorious Tokyo Gore Police, Japanese cinema's thematic follow-up to Machine Girl, I thought about doing a review. But a review would not do it justice. This is the kind of movie that Chris Sims loves to summarize. It's absolutely mad. So I'll just list a few of the details that are in this baby. Like so:

  • Characters called "Engineers" whose wounds morph into monstrous body-horror weapons
  • Topless women with sewn-shut scars in place of nipples
  • Top half? Lady. Bottom half? Fearsome, toothy maw.
  • An Engineer gets his wang bitten off only for it to transform into a mutant cock shotgun
  • A drawing-and-quartering
  • Exploding heads
  • A quadruple amputee in a BDSM gimp suit with swords for arms and legs
  • The above, but with assault rifles
  • A man getting his hands cut off
  • An old medical examiner with a blue fauxhawk
  • A gun that shoots fists
  • TV commercials glorifying and selling wrist-cutting products
  • PSAs against seppuku
  • A snail woman
  • A guy who bleeds so hard that the force of his bleeding propels him into the air like a rocket
Etc. And yet, it's still often dull in parts. Half of this movie consists of shots of blood spraying everywhere.

But if you like absolutely gratuitous violence, copious amounts of gore, and utter, utter nonsense, this is the perfect movie for you.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Netflix Diary 2

All I've been doing is watching movies. Oh God. Help me. Send women.


Color Me Kubrick: Yeah, the trailer made this one out to be a lot more fun than it ended up being. John Malkovich plays Alan Conway, an alcoholic con man who goes around pretending to be Stanley Kubrick so that people will buy him things. Hilarity should rightfully ensue, but instead it's more like a sad clown going around making other people sad. The most fun I had watching this was counting how many of the actors appeared in Doctor Who or its various spinoffs. The answer? A lot. I suppose there would've been more in this for me were I more familiar with the real Kubrick's career, as there's a lot of allusions/riffs on his work here-- I caught some Clockwork Orange and Spartacus refs, but most of it surely went over my head. Anyway, I don't recommend this. It turns 85 minutes into a long haul.

Dan in Real Life: I would also assume that romantic comedies are supposed to be, you know, comedic. This one isn't. It's more of a drama about a guy who is known for giving many readers advice on life (we don't see/hear any of it in the film) but whose own life is falling apart a bit. Things get more and more awkward until everyone just decides that things are okay again. Yawn.

Fido: Here's a good one. A film that I could only describe as "Shaun of the Dead meets Lassie," this charming little movie is about a boy and the docile zombie he befriends. It takes place in a bizarre, Tim-Burton-esque 50s-era world where everything's just quaint and peachy except, oh yeah, zombies are the new slaves, that is, when they're not trying to eat you. All the world's children are now desensitized to violence and trained to shoot zombies in the face. Anyway, things break down a bit and trouble brews, of course. The tone is quite interesting, but the farce and the emotional content blend pretty well in the end. Carrie-Anne Moss puts in a good performance. I might have to buy this one. It's an excellent little entry into the zombie oeuvre.

The Good Night: I knew nothing about this going in other than it had Martin Freeman and Danny DeVito in it. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the first two shots of the film feature Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp) and Simon Pegg (of awesomesauce). It had to be good, right? Well, it was okay-- a twisting drama of a man who finds reality to be unfulfilling, so he regresses into his dreams, only to become unfulfilled by those in the end, too. I think it was labeled as a comedy, as well. Who decides genres these days? Life has comedic moments, sure, but that doesn't turn life into a comedy. Same with some of these movies. Anyway, this one was okay. A bit too slow in places, and held up by Simon Pegg being quite funny, as usual.

Meet Bill: This one's the story of a sad guy named Bill who hates his life and decides to make it better by... well, quitting. Naturally, I can relate, but that just further depresses me. Jessica Alba's character is completely pointless, but then, so's her career. Aaron Eckhart is pretty decent in the title role, Elizabeth Banks further demonstrates her ubiquity, and the kid from that Jack&Bobby show does surprisingly well. A decent way to kill an hour and a half, I guess.

The Nines: I also knew nothing about this going in, except that Ryan Reynolds is in it. That man can make anything entertaining by his reaction shots alone. And we get a few of those in this, sure. It's a very odd, three-part sort of movie in which Reynolds plays multiple roles and the audience slowly comes to understand just what the hell is happening, almost. It's a bit weird, it's a bit meta, but I enjoyed the way the connections came together. Really, it's just hella strange, and I can't even begin to explain the plot, but it involves levels of reality and people being other people and things not being what they seem. If you enjoy working through confusion, see it.

Severance: I've been meaning to see this for a while, because it's a British horror-comedy and James Moran wrote it. Again, however, tone becomes important-- there's a lot more horror than comedy. That's alright, I guess. The horror is pretty good and everything. Unfortunately, the whole thing wasn't very funny. But the last line is priceless. So, yeah. It's okay. Not everything can be Shaun of the Dead. Woo. Scintillating review.

Now go away, I have movies to watch.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Netflix Diaries: 2/4/09 - 2/6/09

Well, well! Another interminable stretch of time has passed on this empty desert I call a "blog," and nothing new has been posted. I guess I haven't had much to say. Or perhaps I did and didn't feel like saying it. And then, I suppose, there's those things I wanted to say that I've forgotten.

This post, however, may be the first in a series. I say "may" because I get distracted and/or bored quite easily. But here's the deal: I just signed onto Netflix this week and have begun watching seemingly endless hours of marvelous and horrible cinema through instant streaming on the ol' Xbox 360. This will be the place where I blather on about what I watched. Because I know my imaginary audience craves an infinite stream of my amazing opinions! Off we go:


Maniac Cop: One of the few Bruce Campbell movies I hadn't yet seen, this mid-80s horror/thriller is a terrifically bad movie. Once again, Bruce plays a guy who only really becomes the hero by default, and then proceeds to do nothing really heroic, though I guess he at least sort of distracted the Maniac Cop by getting punched in the face long enough for said Cop to accidentally impale himself. But sure. It's not a very good movie, but it's got some fun stunts, some neat cameos (Sam Raimi! Jake the hillbilly from Evil Dead 2! Jake LaMotta!), and, of course, The Chin. Oh. And Shaft is in it. So it ain't all bad.

No Country for Old Men: Seriously? This won Best Picture? Geez. I'd been looking forward to seeing this for aaaages, and finally got the chance. Well, I didn't like it, really. At all. I usually love the Coens, but this one did nothing for me. None of their signature sparkling dialogue was to be found, and long stretches of plodding, plodding, plodding actually started putting me to sleep. Josh Brolin is a cipher, Javier Bardem's haircut outperforms him, Tommy Lee Jones is living furniture, Woody Harrelson is Woody Harrelson, and Kelly Macdonald's lovely Scottish lilt is nowhere to be seen. These people can do better. Really. But at least it keeps up the streak of me really not enjoying the Best Picture winner, like, ever. Since Forrest Gump, at least.

The Omega Man: Now, here we go. As devoted a fan of Chuck Heston as I am, having adored just about everything in which he's ever starred, in fashions ironic or otherwise (gotta love El Cid, the Naked Jungle, Planet of the Apes, and, of course, Soylent Green), I had never seen this. Oh my, am I glad I have. This is probably the best of Heston's "dystopian sci-fi" films, as he plays Robert Neville, the last man on Earth-- or is he?-- who spends his days cruising around town, hallucinating, talking to himself, watching Woodstock footage over and over, and shooting up robed, albino mutants with a submachine gun. When the plagues came, some of the infected turned into weird, hooded Puritan monster men who want nothing more than to rid the world of science and technology and revel in their dark ages-- but they've gotta kill Chuck to do it! And he ain't havin' none of that.

Really, this film is just ten kinds of awesome. Heston wanders around shirtless when he's not dressed like Jon Pertwee in Doctor Who, plays chess with a bust of Caesar, and falls in love with a blaxploitation caricature who-- gasp!-- begins to show real depth before the inevitable tragedy. But yeah, this movie's loads of fun, a veritable 70s masterpiece. Suck it, Will Smith in I Am Legend.

The Thing: No, I'd never seen this either. Yeah, this is the John Carpenter version, which is improved upon the original in that it has 1000% more Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford "Diabeetus" Brimley. A bunch of dudes in Antarctica go paranoid when a shapeshifting alien invades their base. Excellent bottled premise, loads of creepy stuff going on, some great tension-ramping, and absolutely brilliant creature effects, especially since this came out 27 years ago. Kurt Russell's finest film? Maybe... this or Captain Ron, surely.

On disc:

Sunshine: This is that 2007 movie directed by Danny Boyle and starring the Scarecrow and the Human Torch on a journey to reignite the sun. It sounds awesome-- I love me some helionauts-- but the lovely Bradburian premise only gets it so far. At first, one thinks the movie is a well-shot, indie arthouse space flick. But then it becomes a disaster movie, and then some kind of thriller/slasher picture, and then I wasn't quite sure what the hell was happening at the end because of how confusing the shots were, and then it was over. All in all, it was decent, I guess, but it never really pulled together for me. Scarecrow and the Torch hate each other, then they try to save each other, then they hate each other again, but it's all about the "mission," and, yawn.