Monday, August 30, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, First Blood, and Vertigo

As much as I prefer to do long, detailed reviews on related movies, I'm afraid the movies I watched this weekend had nothing to do with each other. They are all fairly notable in their own way, so I figured I would touch on them.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Westerns have never really interested me, and I have to admit that the only ones I can remember watching before this one are Shanghai Noon, Tombstone, and Back to the Future III. I have however gained a bit more appreciation for the genre after reading The Dark Tower series, and since this movie is generally considered one of the best, I had to watch it. Its length was its biggest fault for me. I know it's all about style and mood, but when you consider how many minutes were spent with characters staring at each other or the camera sweeping over scenes, I can't help but think they really could have pared it down. It's also way WAY too preachy about war. I think Leone had a great story about a bandit, a gunslinger and a mercenary all out for gold, but felt the need to preach his "war is waste" message all over it and bogged it down. I tend to be fascinated by the Civil War myself, from the vastly different opinions on what we fought for, brother against brother, the attitudes of the civilians at the time, what effect it's had on the South to this day.. but this anti-war message wasn't interesting. Unfortunately when you watch a movie from the 1960s, you just have to accept that and run with it. If you can forgive the length, there's a really great movie in there. Tuco, "the ugly," is hilarious, Angel Eyes, "the bad," is chillingly cold, and Blondie, "the good," is just so cool. I need more Clint Eastwood. Someone recommend some good movies of his, stat!

Rambo: First Blood - Rambo is an image that is iconic for any kid of the 80s, but I never saw any of the films. After watching this one, I'm not sure I'll continue. The pacing felt a bit strange as it seemed like you would be caught up in the jungle scenes, and then they'd switch over to Brian Dennehy and Richard Crenna talking for awhile. Honestly I had a tough time paying attention. The ending scene should have been really emotional.. but Stallone mumbles like a man with something perpetually caught in his throat. The dvd didn't have subtitles either which is a pet peeve for me. I got the idea of what he was saying, but honestly I just wanted to make fun of him instead of feel for him. I was hoping these films would be something like a slasher or creature film with a soldier instead of an alien.. but it just didn't do it for me.

Vertigo - I love Rear Window and North by Northwest, so I was anxious to see more Hitchcock. The movie is essentially two parts. I really loved the first half. It reminded me a lot of Rear Window. The second half takes a much crazier turn. I LOVED the dream sequence. It's something that's obviously influenced so many other filmmakers and yet still felt really fresh and amazing. The rest of the second half just made me feel uncomfortable which I suppose was the point. I was mad at both of the characters for the choices they were making. The second half and ending are sort of like a speeding car that slams into a brick wall. I felt a bit angry when I finished the film and then proceeded to have dreams about the movie for literally all of last night. So I guess I have to give it credit for having an effect on me, if nothing else. My next Hitchcock film will probably be The Birds, because really it's quite ridiculous that I haven't seen that one yet.

FYI, I noticed that the first two movies are ridiculously cheap at amazon right now while I was adding the links. Definitely a good time to pick them up if you're a fan.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Distractions

Friday afternoons at M-F jobs just stretch on forever, don't they? Here's some fun links for those of you waiting to start your weekend.

Remember the Genesis - Land of Confusion video? I couldn't watch this at all as a kid because those puppets gave me nightmares. They originate from a show in the UK, and if I remember correctly they eventually were on prime time here in the US too. I know they're essentially caricatures, but even to this day they STILL give me the shivers.

Because I'm not young anymore, I was unaware that Disturbed had done a cover of the song. The music is nowhere near as good, but the animation in the video is pretty awesome.

Disney Film Project - A blog where the writer is going through all the Disney films in order, complete with screen caps. Really well done and features some of the rarer hard to find films from Disney's early library.

While scanning Fall Previews, I noticed there is a movie called Chain Letter coming out. Looks to be your average run of the mill kill off a bunch of teenagers in gory ways modern horror, but I have to admit when I first saw the title I was hoping it was an adaptation of this book. Though after reading the book's description, I think they may have already made that one.

We all need a little more Peewee Herman in our lives, don't you think?

And in the things I want category:

I'll admit I probably want the box more than what comes inside.

This one is way too expensive and probably really hard to read, but don't tell me you don't want one too.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My unapologetic love for Nicolas Cage

Does anyone know when Nic Cage's rep got so tainted? It seems to me like maybe it was around the time he married Lisa Marie Presley for all of 108 days. He's continued to do even more strange things since then, and in interviews it seems you never know what's going to come out of his mouth. But why does everyone seem to suggest that means he's also a bad actor, too? Sure, he's probably crazy. If he wasn't, we'd probably be missing out on a lot of great movies.

I first noticed him in Peggy Sue Got Married. He was awkward and had a strange nasal voice throughout, but I thought he was adorable. He had the same voice in Valley Girl, if I'm remembering correctly. I'll admit I couldn't sit through that one all the way. It was a little too goofy for me at the time.

In the mid to late 90s, he was huge. The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off, 8mm. The first two of those are good strong action movies for their time, and had him working with such great stars as Sean Connery and John Malkovich. I haven't seen Face/Off in a very long time, but I really want to watch it again. I loved it so much when it came out, and I'm dying to see how well it holds up. Honestly, I'm not expecting very much, but ever since someone reminded me of the "suck my tongue" line I know I just have to sit back and enjoy how insane the whole movie probably is. I also really enjoyed 8mm, but every time I bring it up people seem to diss it. Could it really be that bad? Seemed like a strong thriller to me at the time.

For whatever reason there's a big gap in my Nic Cage viewing after that one. The next one I really remember seeing is Ghost Rider. That's another one that gets panned an awful lot. I've never read a single ghost rider comic, so I can't really comment on whether they got it right or not. His head turned into a flaming skull and that was accurate enough for me. I thought it was a well done movie though, and I seem to recall being really interested in the demon origins behind it. The problem with the wikipedia age is that I think I went and read up about Ghost Rider there and never actually went and read a comic like I wanted to.

A couple weeks ago I watched Raising Arizona. He's really quite understated in that one. Fairly standard performance for what is a really strange movie.

I thought he was fantastic in Kick Ass. His love on comic books is pretty legendary, and for a character who takes a lot of influence from Batman and the Punisher, I thought he slipped into the role and knew exactly how to treat it. Big Daddy's relationship with Hit Girl was sincere and touching, even if a bit disturbing at times. I really felt for him by the end.

Tuesday night I watched The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. What a title. My experience watching the movie is different than the average person because I spent most of it going "Hey! Big Shot! Zapp's! Cool!" and "Daneel St.. I know where that is!" and basically freaking out every time he drove over the Crescent City Connection. I know they are filming a ton of movies here these days and it would make perfect sense for a movie set here to do so but there's still something really cool about the whole thing. I'm not really sure most places looked like that only 6 months after Katrina, but it's kind of nice to have something portray the city as better rather than worse off for once.

As far as Cage goes, he's appropriately insane. The character takes pain killers, heroin, crack, cocaine, and weed at various parts in the movie. He's pretty much continually out of it in some fashion or another. He hallucinates at different points in the film. He taps into the villain he portrayed at the beginning of Face/Off at certain scenes. It's really just all around fantastic. He's a horrible character but somehow you root for him anyway.

So why do people think he's a bad actor? Is it just because of the sound of his voice? It has it's own wooden quality, but it's not like he's incapable of expressing emotion. The characters he often plays may be similar, but Jack Nicholson's been playing the same character since One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and we all still love him, don't we? I think it may be because his movie choices tend to be either in the bad/strange category or the cheap thrills action department. I'll fully admit, regardless of how much I like him, I'll probably never see the National Treasure movies. I will be renting The Sorcerer's Apprentice though. I'm even determined to watch The Wicker Man remake.

So do you love him? Hate him? Sound off in the comments.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Terminator 1 & 2: True Classics or Pure Nostalgia?

I've been holding a grudge against James Cameron for awhile now. It started when Titanic dominated the theaters. The movie looked completely uninteresting to me and I had no desire to see it, but it just wouldn't go away. I didn't think Leo was dreamy, I didn't care for romance stories, and that damn Celine Dion song was absolute misery to listen to. I eventually saw the beginning when in class on a slow day in high school. Someone had it on hand and we watched it until the bell rang. I have no desire to ever finish it.

Next was an evening sometime in my college years when a group of my friends and I sat down to watch Terminator 2. It was my very first viewing. By the end of it I must have been pretty drunk, because in the final ending scene a line of dialogue managed to eclipse enough logic that it sent me into a rant, a rant that pissed off everyone else in the room and had them yelling at me to just shut up about it. I left the whole thing thinking it was a terrible movie and I didn't understand what the big deal was that so many people loved it so much.

Fast forward quite a few years now to the present. I've been running through movies, trying to tick off "best of" lists and various classics to expand my movie horizons. The fact that I had seen T2 without ever seeing the original bugged me. Maybe I was missing something. Maybe, what with the role reversal of the T101, I would enjoy that one more than the second. Plus a lot of people who have similar tastes to me really like The Sarah Conner Chronicles, and it seems only right to see the original movie before trying to get into that. So this weekend that's what I finally did.

The Terminator - I'd say this movie is fairly standard action fare for the 1980s. That's not an insult. The sci-fi action genre of the 80s has given us some great films, Blade Runner and Total Recall springing to my mind immediately. While this isn't anywhere near as cerebral as either of those, it's still a fast moving action story with an awesome looking vision of a bleak future. The special effects look obviously fake, but they're still pretty impressive. The puppet/animatronic head they use once the terminator has been damaged was the sort of fascinating thing I couldn't look away from. It was so obviously not real, yet they did a good job making it work. By the ending when he's full robot, it was a little less convincing. I'm usually a fan of stop motion animation, but I didn't feel they really made it work. His movements were a little too unrealistic. He moved like a hunchback.

The dialogue is terrible. We're not talking gouge your ears out Attack of the Clones painful, but still pretty bad. Michael Biehn couldn't act worth a damn, which made it even worse. The scene where he admits his love for her, and she tries to comfort him.. I was wincing. And then that love scene... if it hurts that bad, dear, you may be doing it wrong! Stick to directing action scenes, James Cameron, please.. you've got a much better eye for those. Arnold, of course, was not a very strong actor at all at this point in his career either, but it works completely to his advantage. His hugely muscled form looks freakishly unnatural, and the few scant lines of dialogue sound perfectly robotic. He makes a great killing machine.

Another thing worth a mention is the soundtrack. I don't normally pay a huge amount of attention to this, but sometimes you can't help it. Watch it and you'll know this movie was made in the early 80s, because that's the only time in history when someone would have thought those goofy synth drum beats would be proper for suspenseful moments. It's just extremely dated to the point of being distracting.

I'd rate the movie somewhere in the average to good range, depending on how much tolerance you have for bad acting in your action movies.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Before I begin reviewing it, I feel like I should mention my other experiences with this movie. What I mean is, while on the internet it seems like the most loved movie of young boys of my generation was Batman (1989), in fact most of the boys I knew were in love with Terminator 2. My brother had a friend who would literally spend nearly every conversation describing, shot by shot, exactly what happened at key scenes in this movie. I think if his wealthy parents could have bought him his own T101, he would have been the happiest kid in the universe. He lived in a house that literally looked like a castle, so that tells me they simply weren't on the market. He was the most extreme version, but I remember lots of other boys raving about this movie as well.

After my second viewing, it's really easy to see why. Superhero kid sidekicks exist because they function as an "in" for the young comic book reader. Someone to relate to. Even the X-men have included a team member much younger than the others since the very first team. Movies also do this, of course. The kids in Jurassic Park spring to mind. Edward Furlong as John Connor also fills this role perfectly. Sure, he's the essential part of the story so it makes sense for him to be there, but make no mistake that this is exactly what they were doing. What little boy wouldn't want to go on high speed car chases and have a killing machine that does whatever he tells it to do? And for the girls, well, I remember thinking he was pretty cute back then, and I know lots of others agreed with me. He's not a strong actor in this film by any means, but I do think he's immensely likable. He had a kind of real quality to him, even when he's dispensing out the once again cheesy dialogue.

Watching both movies back to back I was able to appreciate the similarities between the two films. For a movie that was made so long after the original, it was a nice attention to detail. It was also a good way to fool the audience, who I imagine originally going into the film had no idea that Schwarzenegger would be the good guy this time. I also couldn't help but notice how much more slimmed down he looked by comparison to the original. His acting skills were still pretty much on par, and there's no denying that he brings a lot of humor to the film. There's good reason those lines were quoted to death until we all got sick of them.

For some reason in my memory I thought Robert Patrick barely spoke as the T1000. He actually gets to talk quite a bit. I guess it's because whenever he's going after them directly, he doesn't say a word and just looks at them with that menacing stare. He's really quite good in this and deserved bigger roles than replacing Mulder on the X-files. Of course he's also Richard Patrick from Filter's older brother, so I have a soft spot for him. The CGI in the film still looks awesome even now. I never once got tired of watching him transform and bend. Every time they shot him though I was laughing at what basically looked like tinfoil pinned to his shirt.

The terminator as father figure angle in the movie is laid on far too thick. Especially when Sarah starts narrating the scene to us, as if watching the two of them fix a car together and then exchange high fives wasn't already incredibly obvious. Of course, had a better writer taken on the dialogue, it might not be quite as painful.

The story arc I was probably the most impressed with was Sarah's. She starts the first movie as a victim but becomes brave. By the beginning of the second movie she is a full blown warrior, and through it becomes dangerously close to being a terminator herself. She's pulled back from the madness and becomes a strong warrior once again. I dare say that's more character development than Ripley ever achieved.

I also think it's an interesting angle that as far as the time travel aspects are concerned, the people in the future pretty much create their pasts. If John Connor didn't send Kyle Reese back, he never would have been born. The ending of the second movie tries to change the game, but given that there's two more movies I get the feeling that doesn't happen. I guess I can't appropriately comment until I watch them, but I would imagine having a T101 show up in his past would be what would give him the idea to re-program one in the future.

So what line so horribly pissed me off that I hated this movie for almost a decade? "I cannot self terminate, you must lower me into the steel." You have to admit, it is quite stupid. If you're programmed to not kill yourself, than you shouldn't be able to jump on a chain suspended over molten metal and just stand there while someone lowers you into it. It's so obvious that they just wanted it to be an emotional moment, a slow exit with that goofy thumbs up at the end. Just like the T1000 took waaaaay too long to die so that it would be a more satisfying ending after watching him for 2 1/2 hours. I can forgive the latter far more than the former, mostly because the former had me laughing more than feeling any kind of emotion. I don't have to tell you how stupid the crying line was, right?

Essentially, Terminator 2 is the first movie turned up to 11. Bigger action sequences, better special effects, even more cheesy dialogue and pathetic attempts to portray emotion.. etc. it's also 45 minutes longer. There's some really good stuff, and there's some really bad lines. It probably could have been paired down into a stronger movie. I'd say "turn your brain off and enjoy the ride" but the problem is that the sci-fi and time travel elements really require you to keep your brain on.

As an action movie it gets a 4 out of 5, but as a sci-fi movie I'd only give it a 2.

Much like George Lucas, James Cameron really needs to learn to let someone else do the writing for him. Please do not give him any more of your money this weekend just for the sake of 9 extra minutes of pretty looking blandness in Avatar.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bark at the Moon

I've never been a big fan of werewolves. While they tend to make for an interesting visual representation, I've never understood some people's fascination with them, particularly those who feel like they really are werewolves. I understand the attraction to vampires completely - the hunger is a mirror for sexual desire, and the lifestyle is one of carefree immoral indulgence. Werewolves, on the other hand, are generally not in control of themselves. They're pure rage and violence. I'm guessing either the idea of losing control is appealing to some, or perhaps they feel they lose control at times and can therefore relate to the creatures.

This past weekend I watched The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Young Frankenstein. The last one is not technically related but is a great tribute to classic horror and hilarious. I decided to follow up watching the classic versions of the wolf man with the recent update, The Wolfman, last night. Did they remove the space to try to separate the two? I'm not sure.

As far as the classics go, Lon Chaney, Jr. is a great actor. While maybe not quite as suave as most leading men from this era, he definitely carries a film well. The love story for The Wolf Man is a bit outdated and laughable now. Guy stalks girl and she pretends to not be interested even though she totally is, even when he admits that he was using a telescope to look into her room. It's these kind of things that make me glad I wasn't born yet. Giving all that a pass though, the story is enjoyable. It was fun to see Bela Lugosi in his brief part as the gypsy, and I thought the whole thing played out well without being too repetitive. The possible danger of the wolf man story is that we already know he's really a werewolf, even though most of the characters don't. It could easily get tedious waiting for them to figure it out, but the story moves along well regardless. The relationship between Lawrence Talbot and his father is also an interesting one and helps make the movie strong. It certainly made me want to check out more of Claude Rains' work. My biggest problem with the wolf man, and I fully realize this is all about limitations in makeup/technology for the time, is that he doesn't look even remotely wolf-like. The way he walks on the balls of his feet makes perfect sense, but he completely lacks the snout that wolves have. It makes him look a little more ridiculous than menacing to me. I suppose they decided it was better for him to be able to show emotion/snarl than to go with a longer prosthetic.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man felt like a cheap cash-in to me. Much like the "VS" movies they've made over the last decade, the plot here is nothing more than a weak excuse to get the two monsters together. The idea that Dr. Frankenstein would have a cure for a werewolf doesn't make any sense, and the explanation that they do eventually give is pretty weak. They throw in a doctor character just for the sake of having someone to fill in Dr. Frankenstein's role. There's also a boring song/dance sequence that I literally fast forwarded through. I've watched enough Marx Brothers movies to know that this kind of stuff was somehow popular in the 30s/40s, but to me it just completely interrupts the narrative and mood. It was interesting to see Bela Lugosi portray the monster, but he barely got to do anything. When the two creatures finally do duke it out, the scene is short and ends in a draw. I can't recommend this one for anyone other than a hardcore fan.

When I got to the end of the remake last night, I felt so completely divided. There were aspects of the movie I really enjoyed, and others that bugged me incredibly. There are lots of tributes to the original film - the silver cane, the gypsies, the romance, the father-son relationship.. though the last one is significantly altered. In terms of a remake I didn't particularly care for that change, though I do think it made sense within the actual movie itself. I also enjoyed the way they updated the love story. Movie pacing and storytelling in the 1940s is drastically different than modern movies, and I felt like this movie made sense from a modern perspective. They used far too many "jump" sequences for my liking though. It simply became cheap after awhile. There is also a lot of gore. While it makes sense for a werewolf attack to be savage and bloody, some sequences, particularly the attack on the gypsy camp, felt a little too over the top. On the other hand I was really hoping for more savagery in the asylum scene and I didn't get it. Go figure.

I watched the extended cut of the movie, which according to wikipedia is mostly the addition of how Lawrence Talbot gets the silver cane. I enjoyed that scene, but I felt like the movie's pacing was off altogether. Maybe it would have felt cleaner without the extra footage. I also felt like the foreshadowing was a little too obvious, and as such it took too long for "the big reveal." It also made no sense that suddenly the townspeople knew that he was a wolf man when they were all so perplexed about what was doing the killing before. Also, the ending was badly done. I understand the desire to have a possible sequel, but when every character knows that someone bitten by a werewolf will become one, and they're all staring at a guy who is bloody and has obviously been bitten, and they're all carrying guns with silver bullets.. shouldn't they at least TRY to kill him? Wouldn't it make more sense to have that guy go crawl off on his own without being seen?? That was very annoying.

Since it was remake, they chose to make the wolf man resemble the original. While the CGI/makeup looked far more convincing this time around, I feel like it's kind of inexcusable in 2010 to have a werewolf who doesn't look like a wolf. From what I've read, the problem lies in the fact that they were huge fans of the original and therefore wanted to stick to it regardless. There's a lot of great actors in this movie, and I think it's worth a watch, even with all it's flaws. Danny Elfman does a great job with the soundtrack, and visually it's all reds and blacks and blues which I really loved. If you enjoy horror/suspense and aren't too attached to the original, you'll probably enjoy this one.

Having already seen Van Helsing and the Underworld series, An American Werewolf in London and Ginger Snaps are my next eventual werewolf films. Got any others to recommend? Leave them in the comments.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Battlestar Galactica, season 4

So I finished Battlestar Galactica last night. Season 4 started off really strong, then started to lag to the point where I was watching the episodes before the finale kind of feeling like I didn't care anymore. I think the problem was that they answered a lot of questions early on in the season and then it was like they had to fill up space before the finale.

A nonspoiler version for those of you who are behind like me: If you've never watched this show, GO RENT IT. If you enjoyed Lost even a little bit, even if you gave up on that show because it got too confusing, you'll love Battlestar. The characters are likable (or hate-able as needed) and the stories are well done. The scifi really takes a back seat to the religious and political allegory that for the most part allows you to make up your own mind and is fair to both sides rather than preaching to you in anyway.

From here on there be spoilers!

I had heard some people complaining about the ending being disappointing. I can't really figure out why. There was one big thing that bugged the hell out of me, that being Kara's vanishing act with no explanation of what she was at all.. but otherwise I felt like they really wrapped up the story quite nicely. It felt like a satisfying ending, much more so than Lost's ending.

I never imagined in all my time watching the show that the couple I would get the most attached to was Adama/Roslin, but man did they hit the soft spot in my heart. Too adorable, those two.

When the line was drawn and people had to choose sides, I yelled so loudly at Baltar to get on over there that I scared both my cats. He was such a great character, because sometimes you hated his guts and other times you really wanted to see him redeemed.

I guess the creators really wanted us to see Lee/Kara as one of those poisonous relationships that just aren't meant to be. I just can't help but think they were actually perfect for each other. I couldn't feel anything for Kara/Anders through their very last goodbye. Chemistry between actors is everything.

I wish they hadn't chosen Gaeta for the revolution. I understood the reasoning behind it, I just really liked him as a character and would have liked to see him there to the very end.

Dean Stockwell is the man. Cavil was so very different a character from Al, but I loved him as both. I also laughed/cheered when he shot himself. Of course he'd wuss out completely!

I really liked the circular nature of the story and the parallels. I guess maybe some people wanted that explained/answered, but I think it speaks for itself. They hyped up that opera house vision for so long it needed a great payoff, and I think they did a good job with it.

I have a robot fear. It's part uncanny valley and part reading too many sci-fi novels. Needless to say, those dancing robots at the end, and particularly the robot girl, gave me the willies twice as hard as I normally get from those things. I got them hard all over again when I was recapping it for Jak half an hour later. Thanks a lot, BSG.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Slow geek times..

I haven't posted lately because I'm saving up some posts to come. I've got one disc left for the Battlestar Galactica series, and I plan on doing another entry about a certain insane actor, but I need to watch one more movie of his.

I'm mostly posting this to get listed on technorati, so please excuse this non-post and I promise some real content by the end of the week.

Related Posts with Thumbnails