Monday, February 18, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (2/10/13-2/16/13)

Still keeping things pretty low key.  Watching a bunch of movies, as always.  And I’ve been doing some reading, and listening to a bunch of 80s tunes.  But otherwise, just kind of hunkered down.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters:  “Well, it’s big.  And terrible.”  This American version of the Japanese film features Raymond Burr as a reporter who gets wrapped up in the madness when the giant monster.  For a long time, this was the only version of the movie I knew, and as a kid, I guess I was naïve enough that I didn’t even realize Burr was edited in to a movie of which he was never originally a part.  It’s much more obvious to me now, but I will say that overall it’s not as clumsy as it could be.  And I guess, if your kids aren’t ready for a subtitled movie, this is a good way to show them the movie.  Burr’s ‘As it Happens’ reporting works pretty well.  In fact, the idea of having him be a reporter, and so an unobtrusive observer is probably the best way to cut him into the film.  Cut to him with lights flickering on his face while he narrates, then cut back to Godzilla burning up the place.  OK.  Sure.  It’s no surprise that I would say the original version is the better film, with better pacing and what have you.  But this is a passable Americanization.

Seconds:  “I wanna go back.”  This has become a perennial favorite of mine.  It’s not an easy watch.  In fact, by the end, it’s quite harrowing.  But Rock Hudson’s performance is magnificent and the creepy story of a company dealing in second chances is up there with the best of The Outer Limits, to which it bares a good deal of resemblance.  Great music, disquieting and claustrophobic cinematography, and an excellent cast work their movie magic, creating devilish tension.  And the film poses several important questions about self, desire, choices, and what makes a man.  But again, it rests on Hudson who goes for it, grabbing hold of the role (and the viewer) and shaking until it breaks.  Awesome.

Tron:  When you look back on this film, of course, there are elements that can’t help but be dated.  Much of the technology was cutting edge, or looking forward to what might be right on the horizon.  But it was 30 plus years ago, and the cutting edge has cut a long way since then.  Nor did technology go in the directions we expected (as usual).  But it’s more than a time capsule of an era when arcades were still popular, when Jeff Bridges was young, and when the internet was little more than a dream in the heads of scientists and science fiction writers.  It’s a visually fascinating adventure into the a new imagined world of programs and users, energy streams and digital highways.  It was a pioneering work in computer graphics, that was largely the product of traditional animation techniques.  A truly original and strange world filled with newly imagined adventures, but with plenty of the old myth-archetypes to go around.  A solid, family friendly science fiction film worth giving a second look.

Doctor Who: Mindwarp:  “My belief is, they await a great leader!  …I am he.” The second story in The Trial of a Time Lord arc opens on a world with crazy light and quickly moves into the danger packed caves below.  When Brian Blessed shows up, you know you’re in for a ride (and watch for the brief xenomorph appearance!).  And dang, this episode cranks up the crazy with gross sea-monsters, mutants, and all kinds of nasty.  Seriously, Brian Blessed is awesome.  He has an amazing ability to chew scenery like gum, but play humor in subtle and hysterical ways.  Though I know him from dozens of great performances, I still kept wanting him to bellow “Gordon’s aliiiiiive?!”  This show had become pretty darned strange by this point, with all kinds of nutty ideas, weird characters, surreal set design and head scratching twists.  This story arc just gets weirder and weirder and I have to admit, funnier and funnier.  I’m not usually a fan of more outright comedy in my sci-fi, but I don’t know, the script is really funny.  And Blessed gets more amazing as it goes on.  And this is the final story of Peri.  I’m not really happy with how she goes out.  It feels a bit arbitrary.  In fact, it feels like it didn’t really happen, and would be figured out/fixed in the next story, but…no.  She’s gone, apparently.

Clash of the Empires (aka Age of Hobbits):  “Stand aside.  This will be a mighty toss.”  In ancient Indonesia (here played by Cambodia), some swell, peaceful pigmy dudes are just chillin when the Rock Men show up with winged iguanas and go on a kill-crazy rampage.  Not cool, dudes.  This is from the amazing, quality hungry studio The Asylum, so you know it’s good.  Dreadful dubbing and a bad script (even using the phrase ‘so, it begins!’ one of the most cliché lines in film) don’t help what is clearly an appallingly low budget film.  But I couldn’t help but start to enjoy the crazy imagination of this one.  In spite of what is obviously a mostly untrained cast of locals recruited to play various baddies and such, there’s a weird appeal to the cast.  And what can I say, I’m always happy to see Christopher Judge.  He needs more work (maybe in better movies?).  And thank goodness Bai-Ling is there to crazy everything up.  Don’t mistake this review for a ringing endorsement.  More of a ‘hey, this doesn’t suck nearly as hard as I expected it would.’

American Experience: Kit Carson:  “Doctor! Compadre!  Adios.”  Like so many people remembered by history, Christopher “Kit” Carson was a man of many faces, a hero, a villain, a legend.  This episode of PBS’s long running series takes us back to the early 1800s when a tough little dude headed into the wilderness of the West to become a Mountain Man trapper and Indian guide.  Harsh times, brutal lives, danger, and with them freedom, adventure, and eventually a sort of glory.  An instrument of the opening of the American West, Carson was a competent man, not tied to our traditional concepts of morality or propriety.  There are elements of Carson that remind me a great deal of one of my favorite figures in history, Sir Richard Francis Burton.  He knows how to act, how to blend, with a population, be it with Native Americans, or Mexicans, or American soldiers.  His story is the kind of thing that could, probably should inspire grand books or movies.  Caught between worlds, he worked for the U.S. government against the people he had learned to respect and in some cases, his love.  The man just wanted to go home to his wife, but was constantly called upon to perform one task or another.  And dang, but his private life was sad.  So sad.

La belle et le bete (Beauty and the Beast):  “For being a beast…Forgive me.”  The War barely over, and Jean Cocteau crafted this lavish and slightly strange version of the classic tale of love, inner selves, and fancy.  The fourth wall creation at the beginning adds an extra dash of whimsy.  The archetypal story of Beauty and the Beast has always hit an especially strong chord with me.  This and Don Quixote (and one could say, they’re not entirely dissimilar), are probably the essence of my own personal mythology.  It’s full of magic and mystery, with creepy animated statues, helping hands, and doors that open and close by themselves.  The sets and locations are beautiful (Belle’s room is crazy).  And Belle is an interesting heroine, frightened, but dutiful and clever.  And it doesn’t take her long to figure things out, to know how the Beast works, and to take control of the situation.  Sure, she doesn’t have all the answers, but she’s definitely a worthy hero for this fantasy adventure.  And there are moments, when the Beast is freaking out where she looks like she’s actually having fun.  Awesome.

I Come In Peace (aka Dark Angel):  When I Come in Peace hit video back in 1990 or ‘91, it was like one of the coolest movies ever.  This and Cyborg?  Masterworks.  Sure, you could say that this is a silly rehash of The Terminator, and you wouldn’t be wrong (still a better rehash of the Terminator than Terminator 2 was!…Send me that hate mail).  But stuff blew up real good, Dolf was awesome (look at his classy apartment…he’s so complicated), and the script actually has enough odd quirks and goofy characters to make the whole thing a blast to watch.  Is this a ‘good’ movie?  Who cares?  It’s a lot of fun.  If you’re in the mood for late 80s B-films with exploding…everything, then this is the movie for you.  Plus, you’ve got to love the White Boys, possibly the most ridiculous gang in movie history.  They look like Patrick Bateman’s crew decided petty crime was more fun than corporate raiding.

The Magus:  Hey, remember when the studios used to put out art films?  That was a crazy time, huh?  Michael Caine is a self-involved jerk who goes off to teach on a Greek island, where he runs into the gregarious but sinister Anthony Quinn.  What starts as a seemingly simple movie about people trying to get over the mistakes of their past turns into a wackier and wackier meditation on love, connection, redemption, guilt, and the nature of Truth.  I don’t know that I would say it’s a good movie, but it’s the kind of bold and strange and chance taking film the studio system developed a profound allergy to and has become the territory of low budget film in our time.  So it is very odd to see such a lavish production for such a singular work.  Greece looks amazing, and Anthony Quinn’s house may be about the coolest place I’ve ever seen.  Caine manages to have the perfect mix of bitterness, sadness, and downright prickishness that lets you find him charming and hope he gets through even though he’s a horrible person.  Again, I don’t know that I liked the film, but it should probably be seen once, anyway.

I started watching Ultraman, the 60s Japanese TV show.  That’s crazy.  NetFlix sent me disk 2 instead of disk 1, so I’m not sure if they set up a bit more in the opening episodes.  But basically, each week the Science Patrol goes out and investigates something.  Then Ultraman (a giant metal guy from space) drops down to fight kaiju (giant monsters) and save the day.  He only has a limited amount of energy from his Sun power, so that means the fights have to be quick.  This was a TV show for Godzilla fans.  Not as good, but an enjoyable supplement.  One thing that’s freaky, though.  Ultraman is always horribly maiming the monsters before he takes ‘em out.  In one episode, they use the Godzilla suit, but add a frill around his neck, and yeah, Ultraman rips it off (leaving a horrible bloody ring wound), then taunts the monster like it was a bull with his own skin frill.  That seems cold.

Gammera the Invincible:  Headline: “Inside Reports of Giant Turtle Controversy”  Being a general is hard, unless you lady sergeant knows how to make coffee.  Thank goodness this takes place in 1965, I guess (I wonder if she cooks a good breakfast, too).  The performances of the Americans in the plugged-in scenes are amazing.  So strange, over the top, and affected.  The movie itself is pretty standard Kaiju stuff. It has its moments, but doesn’t especially stand out.  I’d like to see the original Japanese version, and see if maybe it’s got better pacing or what have you.  Still.  It’s not bad.

War of the Monsters:  “The creature would die by its own rainbow.”  Gammera is back (sort of), and looking for a fight.  Some treasure hunters travel to a tropical island, hoping for fortune and glory.  But the island isn’t quite what they expect.  A mysterious doctor, a beautiful native girl, and an ancient warning stand between the trio and their dreams.  Of course, transgressing in places with names like The Cave of Death brings with it a certain degree of danger; that kind of world shaking Kaiju-type danger your mother always warned you about.  I love Japanese monsters for their completely insane abilities.  Barugon spits a giant tongue-spike out of its mouth that shoots out freezing fog, and its back spines create a super-heating rainbow.  OK.  Sure.  I mean, Gammera is a giant turtle from the time of the primordial soup, who can spit flame and fly via jets that come out of its leg-holes.  So, a burning rainbow mortar isn’t all that weird, I guess.  These films are definitely not of the Godzilla films’ quality level, but this second outing for our Turtle hero is a much more interesting film than the first.  One simple lesson this film teaches is don’t trust a jewel-crazy jackass.

On Friday night, Lisa and Brad hosted the latest gathering of the Justice League of Extraordinary Book Club.  This month’s reading, the first two trade paperbacks of The Walking Dead.  Overall the feelings were positive I guess.  Brad and I are both experiencing a kind of Walking Dead ennui, having both been enamored of the series many years ago, but finding our re-reading of the early arcs kind of frustrating and unsatisfying.  A couple people weren’t really into it at all, but, several enjoyed it quite a bit.  And there was a lot of intense conversation about various aspects.  And of course, as it would be almost impossible to ignore it, a lot of talk (comparing and contrasting…and mostly crapping on) the TV show.  With the glut of zombie films, zombie video games, and zombie literature in the last 10 or so years, my old-time love has been kind of stomped on.  I still do like zombies as a monster and I think there are some great films and books.  And overall, I do think The Walking Dead is an excellent entry in that sub-genre.  But for me, right now, it just didn’t work.  Talk to me again in 10 years (hopefully ten years with few or no zombie films), and maybe I can start getting back into it.

And on Saturday I sat down and read issue 2 of the new Dark Horse series simply titled Star Wars.  I like it.  It’s not amazing or anything, but it’s firmly set in the galaxy far, far away that I loved as a kid.  It feels more like old school Star Wars than a lot of stuff I’ve seen or read in a long time.  I never read the Rogue Squadron books or comics, but it feels like they might be setting the stage for that future, with Wedge and a mixed bag of elite pilots.


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