Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie (2010)

Funny, if obviously unnecessary feature-length version of the wonderfully tasteless and offensive animated show. The plot relates the projects futility, and concerns itself with the Drawn Together cast investigating its own cancellation. Eventually, they are hunted by a huge android named I.S.R.A.E.L., who fires cannons that erase whole scenes from existence leaving a blank, white page (while dropping lines about how "I.S.R.A.E.L. can't justify its own existence," etc.). The humor is surprising pointed at Jews, and they restrain their buckshot technique and keep the film focused on the Jewish humor; this is one of the films greatest flaws, as one of the main joys of the show was how willing the writers were to actively lampoon any and everything under the sun, not just certain cultural phenoms at a time (like South Park). The other crucial flaw of the film is its reliance on event-based humor, and not on the characters that had been so well-nurtured in its shorter incarnation. While there are character-centric moments and gags throughout, they feel like throwaway gags, and are overshadowed by the increasingly befuddled plot. It begins as a cute conceit, and definitely reaches a meta-apex when the characters, in a life-or-death scenario, wonder the point of the movie's existence at all, but there is no excuse for treating this shit like its funnier than the cast, especially the show's magnum achievement, Captain Hero. Aside from not making him the star of the film, as he was, by the end, obviously the show's lead, making his story a crass, easy, not-really-that-offensive subplot was the stake in the coffin for any classic status they intended for this film. Not to say the film is a humorless bore; these writers would really have to try REALLY fucking hard to be completely unfunny and declawed. But it registers as nothing more than an extended episode (and a weak one at that), which, considering the success of the Family Guy movie which IS an extended episode, is a disappointing way to close out the Drawn Together run.

Slightly Recommended to fans of Drawn Together, or equally crass and offensive humor. South Park and Family Guy fans beware: this is not nearly as topical as SP, and not as ADD and ambivalent as Family Guy.

Meet Wally Sparks (1997)

Dogshit, cheap comedy about a talk show host a la Jerry Springer who begins shooting his riotous show from within the walls of the Governor's mansion...seriously. I hate to fault a plot for the reason of a comedy's failure, but Jesus, watching this movie play just seems sad, like they're not even trying. Rodney Dangerfield plays Wally Sparks like a boring version of himself, but the films few laughs are from lines taken straight from his stage routine (and from a Tony Danza cameo...sigh I can't believe I watched this fucking movie). To impress TV exec Burt Reynolds (again...sigh), he classes up his act by tearing shit up not on his own soundstage, but the house of the conservative, family-values oriented governor. I feel retarded just writing that out. But for those of you who think that's the set up for a laugh riot, well, it isn't. Most of the film is slapstick humor about how Dangerfield's presence turns the mansion upside down; for example, he plays Old Time Rock and Roll while old women in their jammies slide down the hallway on their socks (I'd sigh but there's no air left to sigh out). The funny people, Dangerfield included, just stand on the sideline watching props (and dignity) get destroyed, hoping people will think it's funny (they didn't; this was pretty much DTV).

SKIP IT. This has a very Chairman of the Bored vibe going through it, and it doesn't even have Larry Miller trying to schtupp 60 year old Raquel Welch (which, admittedly, was pretty awesome).

8 Million Ways To Die (1986)

Strong, well-acted cop drama about an alcoholic former pig who gets caught up with a prostitution/drug-running ring. Jeff Bridges plays Matt Scudder, who, after being traumatized on the job, drinks his life and his badge down the toilet. After AA, he gets caught up with a hooker and an old friend, now a pimp, who drawn him into this world that he cannot help but try and remedy. Along the way, he meets up with Rosanna Arquette's hooker character, and the two wounded souls try and heal each others wounds. The whole thing sounds very overwrought and cliched, bordering on melodramatic horseshit, but it plays a lot better than it sounds due to the acting, particularly Bridge's beaten cop. He looks, feels, and acts as if he's on the verge of a mental and physical collapse, and our empathy with him raises the stakes before the first gun is drawn. However, the film only moves beyond being interesting and provacative, and gets truly exciting, when Andy Garcia's heavy enters the picture. In this early role, Andy Garcia is shockingly understated and soft-spoken as he smiles and charms his way past the fact that everyone in the film knows that he is a scumbag. His silly hair and tough accent become completely ignored as he begins his illustrious career taking the traditional Cuban druglord (a.k.a. Scarface) and spinning it on its ass to the point where you almost believe that he and Bridges would make more interesting friends than enemies. The film is very well-shot, staged, edited, and scored, but all in a very '80s aesthetic; those who can't sit through an episode of Miami Vice without squirming (or whining) probably shouldn't even bother with this one.

Highly recommended for fans of '80s cop dramas, Jeff Bridges, or Andy Garcia. Director Hal Ashby cut his teeth on films like Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, and Being There; this is not one of those films at all, more along the lines of To Live and Die in L.A. or James Woods' Cop than those soft (albeit amazing) flicks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Martian Chronicles (1980)

Impressive, if compromised mini-series adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic book about mankind's colonization of Mars and its literal and metaphysical implications. The through-line, created for the film, involves N.A.S.A. higher-up Rock Hudson as he launches two (of the novel's three) Mars expeditions, and then as he heads up the final, successful attempt to settle on Mars. The rest of the series involves adaptations of several of the anecdotal short stories contained in Bradbury's work, but relating them through the viewpoint of Hudson's astronaut character. While the stories that are adapted are, for the most part, fairly faithful to the source material, relaying our experience through a singular character removes some of the mysticism and parable of the novel, reducing it to a collection of odd occurrences and happenstance. The metaphysical and philosophical implications of mankind's unwanted presence on Mars are present, but diluted due to Hudson's hammy, unwarranted appearances. Even the 1980 TV-grade effects support the backbone of the stories more than the script, which was surprisingly written by Twilight Zone vet Richard Matheson (he might have had execs looking over his shoulder, which would account for the compromised structure). The cast ranges, for the most part, from competent to pitch-perfect, as Bernadette Peters and Bernie Casey perform.

Recommended for fans of Ray Bradbury or high-minded, philosphical sci-fi. Fans of the source material: if you understand that this is a crappy, early-80's TV version of the book, then it is actually an enjoyable, relatively reverent adaptation.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Night Of The Iguana (1964)

Sleazy, sexually provocative south of the border tale of a disgraced priest who brings his old lady tour group to his dive of choice, a seedy hotel on the beach of Puerto Vallarta. Richard Burton plays the priest with a serious amount of drunken pathos, portraying a man who is enslaved by the very desires he preaches against, and knows it. He cannot resist the temptations of willing, naiive young girls, and it has ruined his life's work, and has destroyed his desire to maintain anything more than a steady job to occupy his time. Most of the other occupants of the hotel are ladies, and they represent different aspects of femininity to Burton's priest. Ava Gardner is the proprietor, a strong, voluptuous woman who identifies with Burton's seedier tendencies and laughs at his attempts to straighten himself out. Deborah Kerr is a passerby who is unique in her lifestyle, and also in her kindness and acceptance towards Burton. But my favorite cast member of the film is Grayson Hall, who plays a member of Burton's tour in custody of a young, nubile blonde desperate for Burton's, ahem, guidance. From the start, she viciously scrutinizes Burton's demeanor until his weaknesses are clear to everyone in the film. Her strength, and her immediate unwillingness to submit to Burton's deceptively nurturing grasp, make her an endearing figure, and a tragic one when the seedier characters of the film pigeonhole her as a pent-up "dike."

The film wears its sexual overtones on its sleeve, from the intimate, playfully sexual staging to the lush, tropical (and hot) environment, and it overwhelms the film. Much like A Streetcar Named Desire (but not quite as badly as that), the script treats its characters as place holds for sexual representation and not as real people; their life is invested in them by the actors playing them, not the lines written. The most consistently human element in the film is the tangible sexual tensions permeating throughout, and, while it is enough to keep the film sensational and entertaining, it is not enough to warrant further viewings. Burton's conflicted priest is a terrific character, and a perfect role for the real-life drunk, but we are not allowed to connect with him on a deep enough level for true empathy, only sympathy. Once the story dials down and the audience is left with the aftermath of the events that transpire, there is a sort of hang-over feeling where we don't really remember what happenned, but don't really care either. But maybe that was the point.

Slightly Recommended for fans of dirty Tennessee Williams adaptations and Richard Burton. This is better than Williams' Streetcar, but not even close to Burton's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kick-Ass (2010)

Best movie I've seen so far this year. Dying to see it again.

Highly Recommended for anyone with balls.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lucas (1986)

Endearing, if ultimately hollow coming-of-age story about an oddball botanically inclined outcast who falls for a new girl 2 years his senior. Corey Haim plays Lucas, an insect collecting 14 year old who meets 16 year old Maggie (Kerri Green) a few weeks before school resumes. They connect, and have a great time outside of the high school realm, which Lucas understands will end once classes start. And lo and behold, the distractions of high school strain the duo, with Lucas being picked on by jocks (such as Tom Hodges and Jeremy Piven) and Maggie getting picked up by one (Charlie Sheen) who happens to be Lucas's friend. The romantic tension between the cast during the first 2/3rds of the film is tangible and very realistic; most of the characters have set their sights on someone who is either unattainable, or unworthy of their affections. They set themselves up for heartbreak, willfully ignorant to the practicalities that render their feelings moot; Lucas develops a fixation on Romeo and Juliet, citing that the 2 main characters were 13 and already capable of forbidden love. The best scene in the film involves a long tracking shot showing all the principal characters of the film eyeballing their respective crushes, with only one tragic reciprocation. The story falters a little bit in the third act, when the emotional trials of the beginning are sacrificed for a rousing football game/slow-clap climax. But at that point, the characters feel organic enough that you want to see their stories through, and that is mostly due to the strength of the cast. Green, Sheen, Piven, Hodges, and especially the recently deceased Corey Haim (we miss you, pal) turn in very fleshed out performances, far more organic than other teen films of the era, save for John Hughes'. Winona Ryder also shines as Lucas' friend, who, despite being far prettier and cooler than anyone else in the movie (my Winona love knows no bounds), has her affections for him ignored.

Recommended for fans of quality, realistic (and slightly painful) '80s teen films or Corey Haim. This is one of the better examples of his talent, and, alongside License to Drive and The Lost Boys, a great testament to what he represented at the height of his talents and fame.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Ipcress File (1965)

Taut, lean spy thriller starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, a rogue British operative who investigates the theft of a mind control device. The outlandish premise notwithstanding, the film actually takes a surprisingly realistic approach to the spy film, especially considering the concurrent James Bond films of the era. The scenarios seem to be more corporate than kinky or spectacular, and the sexual dynamics that occur seem very organic and real in contrast to Bond's coital escapades. Caine as Harry Palmer is also a wild deviation from James Bond, as well as Austin Powers who he vaguely resembles (this is what probably got Caine the gig as his father in Goldmember). The opening credits show him not fucking or killing, but meticulously making himself breakfast; while he's insubordinate, we know he is capable merely through the way he interacts with his environment. Being a ruthless killer, a rogue agent, and a fairly lecherous man take their toll on him, and he is a very cagey, impersonal figure, rather than a suave demi-god. While he is very smart, he is very much capable of pain, both physical and emotional, and watching him endure grounds the events in a fairly realistic tone. The film is also slower than a Bond film, by nature of the film's less sensational throughline and settings, but the style behind the camera is far more lively than in the Bond pictures. The staging and cinematography are top notch and very provocative, far more professional and nuanced than the good majority of spy films. The story seems, but is not, predictable, and the third act, raising the stakes on a very frightening and psychological level, is absolutely sensational and unexpected.

Highly Recommended for fans of intelligent, deliberate espionage films a la The Day of the Jackal or The Parallax View, which this mildly resembles. However, I must say I enjoyed this far more than The Parallax View, for its tone, its acting, and its unconventional directorial choices.

The Good The Bad The Weird (2010)

Fun, if unremarkable Korean western that sustains an unremarkable plot with a breezy pace and exciting scenarios. The story is basically a retread of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; a drifting badass and a thieving buffoon team up to find a lost treasure, with a traitorous mercenary hot on their tail. While the film apes Leone's story beats, it does not even try to appropriate his style; the long, deliberate takes of Leones are replaced by quick pans and cuts that keep the film moving along quickly enough to look past its faults, namely the soullessness of characters based on better, more nuanced performances. Aside from "The Weird," played by Chan-Wook Park mainstay Song Kang-ho, the central roles are played, for the most part, at face value, with little subtext or mystery present until the final scene, which actually does manage to impress. The set pieces of the film are very well executed, if a tad contained, and the action comes often enough that the hackery of the script rarely catches up with the film. However, even when compared with something like Sukiyaki Western Django, which took its ridiculous plot to even further visual and kinetic heights, it does not make for particularly relevant or compelling viewing for most film goers.

Slightly Recommended for fans of goofy westerns a la Sukiyaki Western Django. This is, as I should've guessed, a clear case of style over substance. If that's your bag, especially in relation to westerns, this is a fun way to spend 2 hours and 10 minutes. Otherwise, there are better movies of the sort worth seeking out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Picking up the Pieces (2000)

Lame, yuck-yucky DTV comedy about a missing hand, linked to a murder, that suddenly provides miracles for the citizens of a New Mexico town. Woody Allen plays a Texan butcher who, after killing his wife out of jealousy toward her many infidelities, accidentally scatters her body parts in New Mexico. He accounts for all of them except a hand (flipping the bird, no less), which is found by locals, and soon, very apparant, and very real miracles start occuring; the blind can see, the crippled can walk, David Schwimmer gets the girl, etc. The plot doesn't really extend beyond that, with the remainder of the story involving mix-ups and confusion over the hand, it's true meaning, and it's real point of origin (they think it's the Virgin Mary's). This New Mexican, Catholic, Virgin Mary bullshit betrays the sophistication of the cast and reveals the film for what it is; a pathetic attempt by a Mexican director (Alfonso Arau of Like Water Like Chocolate) to make a cross-over mainstream comedy without leaving his comfort zone. Like Ricky Gervais' The Invention of Lying, the religious satire only extends to establishing that it can, in fact, exist, and not that it is misguided, or, dare I say, shouldn't exist. So within this ramshackle, shitty looking dirt NM town, we get people like Allen, Kiefer Sutherland, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Cheech Marin, and Sharon Stone (as the hacked up wife) running around, impotent to make the movie funnier (save for Allen, who simply CAN'T be unfunny in a narrative film, no matter how much he tries). The familiar faces do help this pill of shit go down easier, but by the time the shark is jumped and 3 priests from the Vatican arrive, played by Andy Dick, Fran Descher, and Elliot Gould (amusingly channeling Maximilian Schell), it just starts making the finer actors in the bunch look bad (particularly Kiefer and Gordon Levitt).

Skip it, save for diehard Allen aficionados who could care less about content but would get off on seeing him run around the desert in a cowboy hat. I heard a lot of terrible things about this one, and the cast made me ignore it; now I remember why I don't get distracted by pretty faces if the body smells like Mexican horseshit.

Crimewave (1985)

Little-seen slapstick/noir directed by Sam Raimi and written by the Coen Brothers, without matching up to their then-standard of excellence. The plot, a hodgepodge of noir cliches, involves an insurance plot, two grotesquely over-the-top hitmen (one played by Brion James), and a nerdy stooge, who tells us his story from the electric chair. I feel the same way about this plot as I do Blood Simple's; it really seems to exist just to show some set pieces off, rather than the other way around. Aside from a running subplot about Bruce Campbell as a "heel" trying to pick up women, there is very little in the story, plot, or dialogue that sustains interest. Whether this is due to the amateur nature of the script or meddlesome studio tinkering, who knows. However, the real interesting aspect of the film is the staging. The film is set up as a noir, but plays like a slapstick, and in that sense, it almost works. There are big comic set-pieces, and Raimi's touch actually pulls a good amount of them off, particularly a sequence where a game Louise Lasser runs away from a hitman in "The Safest Hallway in the World." His Three Stooges influence is more on display here than any of his horror work, and it is refreshing to see him using those talents in a genuine comedy. That being said, other than that and his use of Campbell in a supporting role (who nonetheless steals the whole fucking show, seemingly out of spite), unfortunately, the ingenuity of his and the Coen Brothers would be better utilized in the coming years than this one.

Slightly Recommended for big Sam Raimi or Bruce fans, but latter beware; he bites it about 2/3rds in, and the movie can't prove its mettle without him. There's a reason this isn't a hotter commodity online, but it really isn't that bad, and, if you are interested, worth checking out for some truly original and cool comic staging.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Thoroughly badass Shaw Bros. film about a young man who, after watching his family slaughtered by a corrupt general, dedicates his life to revenge via mastering the martial arts. Gordon Liu, Pai Mei AND Johnny Mo from Kill Bill, plays the pissed off youngster, who seeks the tutelage of the monks of the Temple of Shaolin. Once there, they inform him that to truly master martial arts, he must be put through a rigorous testing regiment involving 35 chambers, which contain trials that focus on various aspects of warriordom. While all 35 chambers are not all shown (mercifully), we see enough of his testing that we are not only familiarized with several of the philosophical backbones of the Shaolin temple, but are in awe of the physical prowess the monks must possess, especially Liu's, for making it all seem real, rather than effortless. These scenes are paced well, with Liu's San Te clearly excelling at certain tests, but needing to find his footing in others. Most of the time, his ingenuity leads to solutions that had not been seen before, leading him to be the most prized student of the academy until graduation, where he implores the head Abbott to instate a 36th chamber to train laymen. His quest to bridge the gap between physical empowerment and secularism is at the heart of the film, beyond his revenge plot, and does much to make this more than a kickass kung fu film. That being said, the fights are all fairly unique, and are exceptionally well choreographed; I especially adored the final battle scene, which takes place in the mountains, far from civilization, with the natural beauty being far more powerful in its subdued, unglorified state than, say, the overly stylized fight at the climax of House of Flying Daggers. The closeness of the relationship between Gordon Liu and the director, his half brother, Chia-Liang Liu, is tangible, with the acting, staging, and camera working, seemingly effortlessly, in perfect synergy.

Highly recommended for fans of HK kung-fu movies, particularly those out of the Shaw Bros. camp. Based on the strength of this one, I believe I'll be checking out the array of collaborations between Gordon and Chia-Liang Liu.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Halloween II (1981)

Solid, if rudimentary follow-up to the original that takes place immediately after the events of the first one. Jamie Lee, wounded and catatonic, is hauled off to the local hospital while Dr. Loomis tries to explain to the locals that, although he fired 6 rounds into his chest, Michael Myers is still at large. This is the one where they actually explained that Jamie Lee is Myers' long lost sister, and that's why he keeps incessantly killing everyone around her in an attempt to end the sibling rivalry. Because she's mentally out to lunch, and Loomis takes a hefty chunk of the screentime to figure out Myers motives, we are basically treated to a retread of the first movie, with a new group of citizens, this time both young and old, being tormented by the man in the Shatner mask in various macabre ways. Slasher cliches abound, but, surprisingly, they are directed with a sort of engaging visual flair; in terms of maintaining suspense, this one rivals the first. However, the new characters are not that engaging and are basically lambs lined up for the slaughter, and the plot, without the momentum of being surprised by Myers evil ways, often drags and loses cohesion. By the time Laurie and Mr. Pleasance are back in tag team mode, enough stooges have came and went that you wonder whether they really did need to make another movie about that same exact night. But alas, how many horror sequels are derived with even the slightest hint of ingenuity, even ones with the same writers as the original...although I kind of like H20 better than this one, if only because the character of Laurie is actually involved in the plot.

Recommended for fans of Halloween or other similar early-'80s slasher flicks. Oh, and John Carpenter, the composer, actually added some bomb-ass expansions on the traditional Halloween theme. Wasn't expecting that.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dead Fish (2008)

Cute, if slightly tepid British crime yarn about a hitman and a young lad in love who accidentally switch phones, and the mayhem that ensues. The plot, a collection of contrivances and goofy, colorful characters, all very reminiscent of Guy Ritchie's crime flicks, is most certainly not an appealing factor here. In fact, the biggest thing the film has going against it is that it feels, more or less, like a bunch of shit happening simultaneously without any real, organic sense of cohesion. What IS actually pretty cool and watchable here are the performances. Gary Oldman plays the hitman with a great, surprisingly coiled attitude that is a refreshing change of pace from his typical loud, explosive villain routine. He actually provides the film with a bit of genuine romantic substance that the writing does not nurture in the slightest. Some bloke named Andrew Lee Potts plays the schmuck that switches phones with Oldman, and unwittingly integrates himself into his life, and he's a solid, likeable lead, but he's completely overshadowed by the original love Guru Jimi Mistry as his stoner buddy Sal. Billy Zane and Karel Roden play bumbling hitmen on the hunt for Potts (remember what I said about Guy Ritchie), but aside from Zane's delightfully stuffy attire and demeanor, their scenes have little to write home about and could have easily been cut from the film. And Robert Carlyle basically combines his performances in Transpotting and Formula 51 for his loan shark character, stealing the film in his few scenes with a never-ending spew of verbal abuse and an overarching sense of pragmatic entrepreneurship. The circus-like procession of interesting characters is fairly fun, but the intensity level is not high enough and the events that transpire never deviate far enough from convention to truly be memorable. That being said, there is an interesting, unconventionally toned-down visual aesthetic to the film, and it gives the film more leverage than I believe the script deserved.

Slightly recommended for fans of British gangster films a la Guy Ritchie or Formula 51 (aka The 51st State). I started this one thinking it seemed to be a lost brother to those films; but a distinct creative lack of ambition keeps this one a lesser relative.

A Dangerous Man (2010)

Solid, if low-key DTV actioner starring the fat, 60ish Steven Seagal about a fiasco that pits Chinese and Russian mobsters against each other, with fatty in the way. I haven't the time for bullshit; if you're wondering if this movie sucks dong, it does. It is a DTV movie with an uninteresting, convoluted premise involving a kidnapped witness and mob tensions. However, in the background, witnessing key scenes and actually (*gasp!*) engaging in others, is big bad voodoo daddy Steven Seagal, laying the aikido smacketh down on fools when the script needs some action. It is not that it does not look like he can still fuck fools up; it most certainly does. It's just that he's fat, old, tan, probably bald under the toupee, and obviously uninterested. He's not that discerning between his DTV efforts, and it shows, but luckily, to his fanbases glee, the fuck is unable to shed his natural charm even in his boredom. A scene where he tells a hillbilly he's going to "fuck him up ugly" and then proceeds to do so only works because of Seagal's trademark whispery bluster, and elements like that, which actually do serve as evidence of Seagal's remaining badassness, make me agreee with Vern when he says that Seagal could have a Charles Bronson like run at this point in his career. And I agree; with his trademark humor and Bhuddist sensibilities, there is a chance he could still click with modern audiences. Hopefully, he decides to pick better movies, and, hopefully, they will be ones that directly involve him in the plot, not just throw him in the mix to add a few zero's to the budget.

Slightly Recommended for diehard Seagal fans. There is enough here to warrant a viewing, preferably on television or Netflix stream. But for DTV Seagal, Urban Justice, featuring Eddie Griffin and Danny Trejo, is still the one to beat.

P.S. This film has a Russian mob boss telling a policeman, "In Russia, we fuck cops in the mouth when we run out of dogs." I'm not saying the rest of the dialogue lives up to that. I'm just saying that's in there, and other absurd lines like it.


I took a month off 'cause I felt like it. Sometimes watching movies has to be a fluid, transient experience, devoid of characterization and deconstruction. On the other hand, I have nothing better to do, so we resume as before, as I often do, with the discussion of a Steven Seagal movie.