Monday, December 24, 2012

Matt’s Week in Dork! (12/16-12/22)

    As always during this time of year, my life is largely consumed by the horrors of working in the retail industry.  So, though there have been a few bright spots on my Dork path, I’ve spent much of my free time on my couch, doing what I do best.  Watching movies.  I’ve been a bit more all over the map this week than I was last, with my mega-load of Doctor Who.  But man, I found one movie that’s stuck with me.  Beyond the Black Rainbow was a trip; that’s for sure.  My reading has been spotty at best, mostly just squeezed in during bus trips.  And I finished nothing.

Gantz:  At the moment of death, two stupid kids get transported to a small, securely locked Tokyo apartment, with several other people…and a large black sphere.  Eventually, it provides them with guns and strange costumes, and orders them to go out and kill.  The original anime had some really cool ideas (though it totally sucked), so I thought that maybe it would work better in a shorter, feature length version (and without all the awfulness of Japanese animation).  Sadly, the characters are just as stupid and ineffectual as they were in the anime, spending much of their time staring dumbly or talking about what they should do, instead of doing…ANYTHING!!!  It literally doesn’t have the time to waste that the show did, but gives it the old college try.  There’s a lot of standing around, blubbering, crying, whimpering, and generally not helping anyone, acting in self defense, or really acting in any way.  There is a cool story under all the typical Japanese BS of uninteresting characters, social awkwardness, and an almost fetishistic need to do nothing in the face of nearly any circumstance.  I think this concept, done by almost anyone but the Japanese (or, obviously, the Italians), could make for a seriously badass movie/book/TV series.  This ain’t it.  (Anyone who wants to complain about Hollywood films being monotonous and vacuous, should spend some time watching Japanese film from the last 30 years.  There are obviously people with interesting ideas, but the ability to translate them into compelling film seems almost totally absent.  There are exceptions, but they are VERY rare).

Magic:  A young illusionist with social issues doesn’t have much success.  But then, he gets himself a dummy and things take off.  Hopkins is creepy, with his serial killer in training smile and…well a dummy.  Like clowns, ventriloquists have always struck me as inherently unwholesome.  Whatever the case, our hero is all kinds of crazypants, and just before he gets a shot at the bigtime, he flakes out and goes to live in a cabin by a lake.  When he’s not getting weird with his wood, he’s actually oddly charming with Ann-Margret.  In those moments, I keep wanting him to succeed.  But the rest of the time, I want someone to torch the dummy and Hopkins right behind it.

The Black Dahlia:  Problem # 1: John Hartnett.  He’s just not lead material.  Sorry, Hollywood; I know you tried like three times to make us think he is, but he’s not.  The look, maybe.  But not the charisma.  Problem # 2: Scarlett Johansson.  She’s not one of the all time greats, but she’s been better…like everywhere else.  Problem # 3:  Who gives a f&*%?  It takes almost a half hour to get to the titular case.  Do we really need to be subjected the excruciating back story of two investigating cops and the dizzy dame between them?  And Problem # 4:  The ending.  Yeah, I’ve seen Chinatown, too, Mr. De Palma.  And Polanski is a much more talented Hitchcock disciple.  As usual with De Palma, the movie looks good, even when it’s not.  Aaron Eckhart is cool, but he’s a bit too obvious as the dirty cop buddy.  He’s got the charisma, but for some reason, the powers that be only seem willing to let him play second fiddle.

Till the Clouds Roll By:  Times have changed.  I don’t think any modern audience would sit through an opening 20 minute musical montage of Showboat, before the story even starts.  Once it does get going, the actors all do a fine job.  A young composer has a hard time finding work, so travels to England to find inspiration and a chance at the big time.  Stray luck brings him into contact with the girl of his dreams, but work keeps him away for a while.  Meteoric success and money, sure helps with the wooing, though.  I hope they had frequent boating miles, ‘cause these folks go back and forth across the Atlantic like other people change their shirts.  There are a few too many musical numbers, but I guess that’s what people were looking for from movies like this.  Judie Garland’s dishwasher song gave me a taste of what people saw in her (which I never really did).  But our hero’s treatment of Sally is frickin’ cold.  One of those awful, ‘I’m very disappointed’ speeches, but on a suicide inducing level of cruelty (she doesn’t kill herself, but she does run away).  It’s not bad, and has some good songs.  But it’s way too long (over 2 hours).

The Awful Dr. Orlof:  It’s easy to forget that once upon a time, Jess Franko was a filmmaker of some potential.  Not yet the purveyor of sub-bargain-basement horror trash of the lowest caliber the last four decades have inflicted upon us.  No.  Once there was a spark of something better.  This, one of his earliest works, is a moody and stylistic attempt, with strong doses of Universal monsters, Hammer, and German expressionism.  Unlike his later films, the touches of quality don’t appear to be accidental.  He’s certainly aided by the Karloff-like Howard Vernon, who has clear screen presence, a mix of sinister and classy.  The music is crazy out of this world jazz, which gives the whole thing an ever weirder vibe.

Orloff and the Invisible Man:  Howard Vernon is back, lurking about in a castle again.  There’s not a lot of point or sense in things.  But it looks pretty good.  And the reveal of the titular invisible man is good for a laugh.  Brigitte Carver is weird looking.  The lead is kind of awesomely dull, vaguely confused, but not especially concerned by anything and everything.  There sure is a lot of nudity, and like most French films of this era, it lacked a lot of the gratuitous gore of Italian films.

Doctor Who: Timelash:  “He’s standing on the edge of oblivion.”  This story is weird.  A planet ruled by a mysterious despot, with a society trying to unshackle itself from the monster.  There’s a time tunnel, androids, a dragon, Herbert.  It’s pretty wild.  It reminds me a bit of the weird 80s roleplaying game, Paranoia, with its technological utopia gone very, very wrong.  The villains are nutty as hell, and kind of a blast.  I guess this episode gets a lot of crap from fans.  But I enjoyed the heck out of it.  The format of these Colin Baker stories (two 45 min episodes) is interesting.  It gives more time to tell the story before having to have a cliffhanger ending.  But it also does mean there’s occasional padding.  But I’ve definitely warmed up to Colin Baker, and I like Peri, even though she’s a bit annoying in the voice department, and this episode give her little to work with.

Beyond the Black Rainbow:  “I know who I am.  That’s what gives me my confidence…And my power.”  Right out of the gate, this feels like something crawled out of the David Cronenberg/John Carpenter corner of the early 80s, with more than a dash of post-60s utopian disappointment.  With a lead actor who seems like Patrick Bateman’s angrier brother, and some crazy, throbbing electronica, this psychic awakening movie is surreal, visually interesting, and very unsettling.  I think one lesson learned is ‘drugs are bad, m-kay.’  The ending breaks down a bit, but otherwise, this is a pretty darned odd, but fascinating flick.

Solomon Kane:  Surprisingly not bad, this adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s religious zealot adventurer captures some of the spirit, if little of the detail.  It’s a beautiful film, and feels like a modern day Hammer Horror (without the boobs).  I’d have liked a story that drew a bit more on the original tales, but it wasn’t bad.  Really, the only weak point is the finale, which feels a bit too tidy (what goes around, comes around).  Well, and I’d have liked to see him adventuring in Africa.  Still, when one considers the awfulness of the most recent Conan fiasco, Howard fans can at least take heart in knowing someone out there didn’t acquire the rights for Solomon Kane just so they could take a cinematic crap all over the character.

Iron Sky:  “I’m getting the sense there’s a lot about Nazis you don’t know.”  This has some very, very funny bits.  But it doesn’t really live up to the promise of the premise.  There’s some awkward racial humor, and ham-fisted political ‘satire’ (the Sarah Palin stuff was just too obvious).  But the male model/astronaut and the naïve Nazi girl who take on an evil empire are kind of fun, and generally their scenes together are the best in the film.  It’s got pretty good effects.  I just wish the writing was a bit more consistent.  Either take the crazy premise and run with it as far as it would go, or revel in the weirdness and be more funny (see: FDR: American Badass).

Premium Rush:  “Breaks are death.”  Enter the magical, mystical world of the bike messenger; thrill junkies who live outside the world of stuffed shirts and neck ties.  These Zen masters are rebels who live on the edge, and they might just take it to the limit.  These street knights will do anything for justice, and to look out for other bike messengers (it’s like a brotherhood, man).  Though the film looks like it was released in 2012, spiritually it’s right out of the 80s.  If only it ended at a dance off or a concert.  Totally silly (more so because everyone takes it so seriously), but fun.

Take it to the limit!!!

    And that’s really about it.  Couldn’t even get a trip to the movies going this week.  99% of my friends are in retail, so this time of year is even less conducive to having a social life than usual.


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