Saturday, July 21, 2012

Matt’s Week in Dork! (7/15/12-7/21/12)

    I started the week hanging at co-Dork Brad’s (and Lisa’s) while they were away at the San Diego Comic-Con.  And boy did I use the situation to my advantage.  I cranked through a ton of Blu Criterions, which was a great start to the week.  And after a couple weeks without AC, it’s finally back and the apartment is feeling much better.

Stagecoach:  Pretty much the definitive collection of Western film cliché.  It’s fitting that it made John Wayne a star, as he pretty much sums up everything I hate about Westerns.  It’s not a bad film and there are some good performances.  But this is just not my kind of thing at all.  At least it wasn’t black hats VS white hats.

Black Narcissus:  Gorgeously shot with dramatic, stylized vistas and rather extreme melodrama, this story of nuns trying to establish a school in the Himalayas is oddly grand in spite of its small cast.  As the women are put under various stresses, cracks form and madness ensues.  It’s no shock that moment where Kathleen Byron whips open the door nearly on fire with rage and crazy became an iconic shot.  Her madness is like fire; beautiful but obviously dangerous.

Charade:  The perfect combination of the two performers at just the right time and in just the right place.  I’m not the biggest Audrey Hepburn fan (I absolutely loathe Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and it think it taints all she did no matter how much I try not to let it), but she has obvious charm and it’s well suited to the story.  Cary Grant is one of my favorites, and he’s at the height of his game (where he would soon exit).  Lots of twists and turns, to the point where they become laughable.  Lots of witty banter and rushing about in Paris.  It’s all very delightfully 60s.

The Red Shoes:  “Put on the red shoes and dance for us.”  Lavish and colorful, this trip into the mad world of ballet is more high, emotional drama by the people behind Black Narcissus.  The movie is worth watching for the crazy fantasy trip in the middle, if nothing else.  But the whole thing is pretty good.  Super high-strung, but pretty good.

The Lady Vanishes:  A slow build tale of kidnapping and conspiracy.  Several odd characters find themselves on a train when one young woman starts going on about a missing old lady.  Is she crazy, or is something sinister going on?  And what if she’s right?  As usual with Hitchcock, it’s beautifully filmed, grimly funny, occasionally harsh.  I like that Hitchcock’s characters are rarely black or white, always shades of gray.

Doctor Who: The Face of Evil:  The story that introduces one of my all time favorite companions, Leela, this is a pretty cool story with a cool mystery.  It seems the primitive folk of this backward jungle planet are aware of the Doctor, and fear him like the Devil.  They’ve even constructed a giant Rushmore-like face as an object of their fear and hate.  It’s typically crazy Tom Baker era stuff.  Every time I see a Leela story, I’m always bummed she wasn’t on the show for longer.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues:  “It was good enough for Crazy Horse, and it’s good enough for me.”  This feels like a light hearted treatment of a Barry Gifford novel.  I know it’s based on a book, which I haven’t read, that isn’t by Gifford.  Still.  I could see Sailor or Baby Cat-Face living in the dame world.  The whole time I was watching this, I had that same ‘how did this get made?’ feeling I have when watching Wes Anderson or Coen Brothers films.  I feel like there’s a drinking game in searching for weird cameos.

Night Flight from Moscow:  A French Cold War thriller starring Yul Brynner and Henry Fonda?  Oh, you know it.  Parts of it feel like those 1940s semi-documentary cop movies like The Street With No Name.  Brynner is awesome, but totally underused.  They sure get their use stock footage.  It seems like the Cold War mostly consisted of men getting on and off planes, in and out of cars, all while wearing long coats.  It adds little but run-time to the genre.

The Artist:  What can I say?  This is just a darned fine, darned fun film.  Shot to emulate the films of the silent era, while telling the story of the switch from silent to talkie, it’s also a cute romance between a dashing old time actor and the next ‘It’ girl.  The leads are extremely charming and the supporting cast is excellent.  This is a must for classic movie fans.

Breeders:  It looks made for TV.  The acting isn’t even that good.  But the monster is kind of cool.  Kind of.  Everyone’s Boston accent sucks.  But at least all the characters are idiots (way to shoot that lady cop, dumbass).  What’s up with half-face and her crazy mood swings?  And mind control crystals?  I guess those were established.  I guess.  It’s not a long movie, but it feels like it goes on for too long.

The Island:  I think The Island is probably Michael Bay’s best film, with the possible exception of The Rock.  Is it a series of ideas and scenes lifted from better movies?  Yup.  But it’s internally consistent enough, action packed, and entertaining.  Scarlett Johansson still looks terrible with blond hair.  Ewan McGregor is typically good.  And like all Bay films, it has a veritable army of ‘that guy’ supporting actors who add charm.  Challenging or original it isn’t.  But it’s good popcorn entertainment.  At times it feels like Bay was trying to channel Tony Scott.  It’s kind of cool seeing Warhammer 40K jet-bikes in action, though.

You Are There: Jefferson Makes a Difference:  Walter Cronkite presents history as a news broadcast.  ‘On the scene’ reporters interviews the various players in the election of Thomas Jefferson in the first part.  The Second deals with the Louisiana Purchase.  It has that early TV feel, like it’s a live play being filmed.  The actors occasionally struggle with their lines.  But it’s an interesting look not only at the history, but at the way in which folks of the early 50s looked at that history.  Frankly, I don’t think the general viewing public could handle intelligently handled historic documentary type programming like this today.  Not enough sensationalism or faux controversy.  Not enough partisan rhetoric.  Too much attempted dignity.

Criss Cross:  Burt Lancaster is a poor sap, stuck on a sexy dame (his firebrand ex-wife) in this late ‘40s Noir twister.  He just can’t shake his hunger for her, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her back.  Can robbing an armored car win back his lady?  And what happens when you cross the wrong guy?  Some ugly doings and a nasty ending.  Good stuff.

The Dark Knight Rises:  OK, listen.  I LOVED Batman Begins.  It was exactly what I wanted from a Batman movie at that time.  Serious, semi-realistic, and (here’s the #1 reason) it was ABOUT BATMAN.  It wasn’t a super-villain dance party like all the Burton era films.  The story was about Bruce Wayne and Batman.  I don’t go to see James Bond films to watch Bond take a back seat to every other guest character to hit the screen.  I’m there for Bond.  Same with Batman.  So, when The Dark Knight came out, while I admit that Heath Ledger surprised me by actually being good, and Aaron Eckhart was pitch perfect as the much more interesting Harvey Dent, I was frustrated by the filmmakers’ insistence on relegating Batman to the background.  (Plus, that whole ferry sequence at the end is straight-up awful).  So, I wasn’t all that jazzed about this new movie, especially when it started looking like it was going to be another round of The Villain Show.  However, it turned out to be an excellent finale to the trilogy, balancing the various characters quite well.  And though he may not be on screen throughout, this movie manages to be about Batman, because it’s about Gotham, and the two are one.  The pacing is less uneven, and I never found myself looking forward to the credits (as I did for the last 20 minutes of The Dark Knight).  There are good twists and turns, good character moments, lots of exciting action, and a satisfying conclusion. 

    I read the first New 52 trade of Batgirl and I finished the 28 Days Later series.

    Bongo Comics has started doing some spin-off Simpsons comics.  And I read issue one of Milhouse.  It’s an anthology of stories focused on Bart’s best friend.  It’s fun, with a few clever bits.  Nothing amazing, but if you’re a Simpsons fan, it’s worth a read.

    On Friday night, Lisa hosted the second meeting of the graphic novel club.  Robert, Brad, Amy, Sun King, Ben, Lisa (follow her at @VFCinema on Twitter), and myself all discussed Batman: The Long Halloween (see my review here).  The discussion was perhaps less lively, not because of a lack of engagement, but I think because the book covered less controversial issues.  We still covered some interesting topics, though.  And I think our selection for our next read should court a bit more conflict.  Habibi should be a heck of a conversation starter.


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