Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (2/24/13-3/2/13)

    Gah.  Thank goodness for the brief escape of movies.  Not my best week.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades:  “Getting laid is just about the best part of being in our line of work.”  Ogami Itto is back with his boy in a cart, killing assassins, dispensing etiquette lessons with extreme prejudice, and scaring the locals.  The structure of these films is rather strange.  I guess in part because the lead characters are simply wandering around, and I guess maybe because it was originally a comic.  Though there are longer stories and themes, a great deal of the action takes place in little episodes.  In this one especially, by the end of the first 20 minutes, we’re seeing what seems like a climactic duel.  These movie teach valuable, if sometimes obvious lessons, like ‘don’t stick any part of yourself into the mouth of a woman who hates you.’  Seems obvious enough, but some people seem not to know.  I suppose any class based society, especially one with a high value on face, will have a complicated system of behavior, but dang the whole Bushido, Way of the Warrior thing seems unnecessarily complex.  I feel bad for the pistol packing bandito.  He seemed like a nice enough guy.  All the various factions and interests pulling this way and that in this movie get pretty nuts.  Everyone seems to have screwed over someone, or been screwed over by someone.  And everyone is out for blood.  They get it.  By the bucket.  Ogami kills almost as many people as John Matrix.

The Mechanic:  “My friends are so happy they’re killing themselves.”  The 70s, a time when leading men didn’t have to be handsome.  Heck, they could be pug-ugly sombitches like Charles Bronson.  Here the master of the ‘stache plays a consummate professional, hired by mobsters to take care of problems.  He smokes a pipe.  He’s physically fit.  He listens to classical music.  He knows kung-fu.  He looks at art.  He has a swanky bachelor pad.  He hooks up with love-hungry dames (well, money-hungry).  He lives the dream.  Sure, sometimes you have to blow up a sad old dude.  But that’s why they call it work.  When Keenan Wynn shows up, you know there’s gonna be some kind of trouble.  That trouble ends up being Stringfellow Hawk himself, Jan-Michael Vincent, a punk looking to get more out of life.  But you know the kid is trouble.  He’s just too brash to not cause problems.  Once again, the mob suits think it’s a good idea to mess with their trained killer. Why would you do that?  You’re just begging for trouble.  It’s stupid.  Let him do his thing, pay him what you owe, and be cool.  It’s a PG movie from the 70s, so there’s nothing kid-friendly about it.  It’s not as extreme as some, so it would probably only get a PG-13 today, especially because there’s no nudity (the most evil thing imaginable in the eyes of the MPAA).

Assassination:  “Oh, boy, am I gonna miss Nancy Reagan.”  When I saw that Cannon symbol pop up at the beginning of this movie, then Golan and Globus?  Oh, man.  I knew I was in for a treat (or I hoped).  Old man Bronson is tasked with protecting the First Lady.  You know that’s gonna be good.  Awkwardly directed, poor sound design, stilted dialog.  Then Jill Ireland’s incalculably stupid First Lady actually shows up and the magic happens.  He’s so surly.  She’s so bitchy.  There’s an Asian woman named Charlie (not kidding).  I think this movie was doing ‘jazz hands’ it was so silly.  Man, this movie is a turd.  It feels like it would be good fodder for the MST3K boys.  But with them out of the picture, it’s up to us to carry on the good fight and watch crap like this.  Michael Ansara shows up to add his own brand of class, but it’s nowhere near enough.  The movie ends up feeling WAY longer than it really is, becoming quite excruciating by the hour mark.  And man, Jill Ireland is aggravating.

The Big Sleep:  “Would you happen to have a Ben Hur 1860?”  Another classic, one might even say iconic Humphrey Bogart crime films, it isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch.  But it’s full of the usual charm, and those little exchanges that make it stand out.  The whole sequence in the book shop with Dorothy Malone is probably the most obvious, but for a reason.  The girl is adorable, and there’s a sweet, almost innocent, sexual tension that is fun to watch.  If only I had a fraction of the panache (or the bottle of pretty good rye) that Bogart has, maybe this would be my typical visit to the book store.  Heck, there are gorgeous dames wherever Bogart goes in this movie.  Even the cabbie.  Tons of back stabbing, twisting of knives, shady behavior, and yeah, murder.

The Thing:  “Nothing wrong with this Norwegian.”  Hands down one of the best horror films of all time, and a great science fiction flick, to boot.  Adapted from the creepy 30s story Who Goes There?, it captures the camaraderie of men on the frontier, as well as paranoia and phobia.  A Lovecraftian alien stalks an Antarctic research base and it could be inside anybody.  1982 was an amazing year in film, giving us several classic films.  The Thing is one of those greats.

Gattaca:  More cautionary tale than the typically anti-science we’re normally subjected to in science fiction films, this looks at the dangers presented by the abuse of genetic engineering and gene sequencing.  A retro-50s style world where traditionally conceived children become de facto second class citizens, while the world is the oyster of those who have been crafted to be superior.  A guy with bad eyesight and a high potential for a tricky ticker can’t settle for cleaning toilets.  He’s dreamed of going to space since he was a little boy, and being genetically in-valid won’t stop him.  Masquerading as a genetically superior person, he manages to get himself on the docket for launch.  But it all comes tumbling down when a supervisor is murdered and undue attention falls on the potential astronauts at Gattaca.  The 50s look and ‘gee shucks’ hunger for space exploration balance well with the murder mystery and triumph of the human spirit story.  And though the script urges caution, it does not actually condemn genetic engineering.  The superior people are not evil.  Some are perhaps unsatisfied because things have come too easy, but they are not evil.  The discrimination faced by the un-modified is obviously also bad.  At some point over the last 30 or so years (maybe a bit more) stories like this, those urging cautious advancement, avoidance of potential dangers presented by advancing technologies, gave way to simple fear mongering and anti-science/anti-reason stories.

Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe:  “All my travelings throughout the universe, I have battled against evils, against power-mad conspirators.  I should have stayed here.”  The final story in the season-long arc is pretty lame.  Frankly, the whole season was pretty blah.  And of course, they bring the Master back.  Gah.  Not a great exit for Colin Baker.  It’s too bad.  I have actually come to really enjoy Baker as the Doctor.  It’s too bad he was saddled by less than amazing scripts.

Nomads of the North:  Trouble is brewing in Canada when a country girl and her sick old father hit bad times, and Raoul won’t come back to save the day.  Meanwhile, a puppy and a bear cub have adventures in the wilderness.  How will these stories converge?  Watch and find out!  A lot of this movie seems to be ‘let’s film some cute animals and see what they do.’  But there’s always time for Father Murder-Face!  The story kind of wanders.  It’s supposedly based on a book, but I can’t imagine that being any good.  Who knows.

The Shock:  Sinister old-timey Chinatown is the launching point of this Lon Chaney vehicle.  Oddly, Chinatown only seems to have like three Asians in it.  Chaney is a crippled wheeler-dealer, sent by the evil (white) lady who runs local crime, to a rural town where he falls for a local cutie.  But she’s betrothed to another.  Oh, dear.  Standard twists and turns, then EARTHQUAKE!!!  Neither this, nor Nomads of the North were especially good, but interesting looks at less than classic films being made in the silent era.

    I finally tapped back into Farscape after a long hiatus.  Still super weird.  The f-dup love of Aeryn and John, a planet full of degenerate spirit talkers, dangerous escaped criminals (well, more dangerous escaped criminals) back stabbers, clones, Stark mysteriously disappearing again, and all the stuff you expect from one of the craziest shows to ever hit the airwaves.

The She Beast:  “For running over a chicken you won’t get more than two years.”  No idea what the quality of the original film might have been.  But this DVD is terrible.  Grainy, pan & scan, bleached out colors, and horrible audio.  The movie itself, once one gets past its presentation, is pretty lame.  Witches, Dracula, satanic cults, and various tomfoolery.  Barbara Steele and her Marty Feldman eyes runs into supernatural trouble in Eastern Europe.  But not before her husband nearly face-humps a peeping tom to death.  This movie sucks.

    After a really long and unintentional break, I got back to Space Academy.  Another of those kid-aimed ultra-low budget shows from the 70s.  It’s OK, but not especially good.  The cast is bland and of course, Dr. Smith from Lost in Space is awful.  When you realize that this show was from around the same time as the UK’s Tomorrow People, its quality appears rather diminished.  And it’s all in the writing, as neither show had especially sophisticated effects.

    On Saturday, before attending a gathering at a Reston bar to commemorate the closing of the Reston Barnes & Noble, Brad, Lisa, and myself went to the AFI Silver to see another of Brad’s 2013 movie resolutions, Gone With the Wind.  It’s a movie I’ve always kind of wanted to revisit, after my less than successful attempt back in the 80s.  My mom and I had tried to watch it, but I bailed after 15 or 20 minutes, and she fell asleep for most of its 4 hour run.  I was always a fan of movies, and I loved the classics, but it just didn’t hold me.  So, I figured now would be a good time to give it a go, and on the big screen no less.  What a way to see this classic.  AFI’s number 2 film of all time.  This was gonna be great!

Gone With the Wind:  F*&% this movie and the horse it rode in on…and then beat to death.  Before I get into anything else, I have to say that, with the exception of Birth of a Nation (which people have had the good graces and sense to turn their collective backs upon), this is about the most racist film I’ve ever seen.  (Political meeting?!  You mean Klan rally you assholes!)  It’s bloody awful.  Just awful.  The only consolation is that, amazingly, nobody was in blackface.  But every black character is a horrible exaggerated stereotype that made me squirm in my seat and want to watch Django Unchained just to get the taste out of my mouth.  How many more times could they wistfully talk about the good old days of Southern chivalry and how gallant and honorable all those slave owning, inbred degenerates were.  Please, let’s hear again how those Yankees were evil for forcing men to work (totally different from slavery…’cause this time it’s us).  I feel like this movie took a crap in my head.  Scarlett O’Hara now sits alongside Holly Golightly in my pantheon of most despicable depictions of womankind in cinema, made all the worse by her (and Holly’s) beloved status among young girls.  Were there ever two worse role models?  A fickle, money hungry, self-centered monster and a ditzy whore.  Great for the kids.  As Scarlett destroys everything and everyone she can rope into her orbit of bitchiness, we are subjected to crying fit after crying fit, shrill screechings, and human ugliness in a rainbow of flavors.  In fact, there are only maybe two characters in the entire thing that don’t make me wish Sherman’s March had been a lot wider…and hotter.  Clark Gable is pretty awesome as the dashing rogue who manages to have the fickle monster’s number.  Sadly, some devil drives him to love the beast, and he dashes himself against her treacherous shores on more than one occasion.  Oh, and let’s not forget the drunken rape followed by the blissful morning-after glow.   …What the F&*%?!  F&%$ this movie!  It’s so bloody disgusting and dreadful, with such a sickness at its heart that in spite of its bloated, four hour run-time, I wasn’t bored until the last 45 minutes or so.  I was sustained by hatred and rage.  Getting to the technical aspects, I know some quality was lost due to a pretty bad print.  But the whole thing felt ultra-artificial.  Even when everyone was outside.  I think that may have a lot to do with the coloring techniques of the time (similar to The Adventures of Robin Hood), though I’ve seen other movies from around then that looked better.  There were a few really beautiful shots, with some interesting composition.  Sadly, the Max Steiner score was kind of awful, and he‘s usually good.  That theme got into my head like an terrible pop song.  Every three or four minutes, it plays again, or some variant on it does.  By the intermission, I was so flippin’ sick of hearing that one musical phrase (da-DEE-da-da) over and over, I wanted to scream.  Well, like Birth of a Nation, I can check this off my ‘to see’ list and thankfully never have to sit through it again.  The movie made me wish I could travel back in time and Sherman my own way through the South and pee all over everything after it burned.  F*^% this movie so hard!  So hard it wakes up the next morning and happily hums and drinks its tea, gets pregnant with my hate-baby and then falls down some stairs.

Just got raped.  Not kidding.

The Mysterious Lady:  Greta Garbo, man.  I’d always heard about her, and I’d seen pictures.  But seeing her in action makes all the difference.  You can totally understand why everyone went gaga for her.  Not only is she beautiful, but she has a naturalness in front of the camera that stands out in that era, and there’s something in her eyes that speaks of pleasures and dangers beyond a normal man’s experiences.  Like the femme fatale of later Film Noir, she is the inspiration for men to do stupid things, to get into all sorts of trouble, and to fall into soul shaking love/lust.  Beyond that, the movie is a fun little spy caper, though there isn’t much to in by way of plot.  Still, it has some good moments.

The Temptress:  Another Greta Garbo film where she’s destroying men and they’re loving her for it.  This one it shot with some serious panache and style.  The fade in to the rich banker’s party from his photo is very well done, and the party itself is lavish and sumptuous, but sinister as well.  This one is odd, because Garbo isn’t exactly the monster everyone seems to think she is.  I think she’s actually completely honest, only professing love for one man.  But every man destroys himself and his friends on the alter of her beauty, every man that is, except the one she loves.  I’d feel pretty bad for her, except that she doesn’t really stop any of the men.  I wouldn’t say she leads them on, but she doesn’t try to stop them, either.  It’s weird.  Visually the movie is quite striking.  And it has a whip fight.  You don’t see that too often.

    And we watched another couple episodes of Game of Thrones.  Very entertaining, very grim show.  Lots of strong performances.  And things are getting much stranger.  I’m very curious to see where it all leads.  And they toned down the sex after the first couple episodes featured a bit too much.  I don’t have a problem with the sex when it furthers the story, just when it starts to get in the way, which was becoming a concern for a bit.

What, does this seem odd?

    In preparation for watching The Thing, I sat down to the original short story, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.  Sometimes one forgets that Lovecraft’s writing style doesn’t seem archaic because it was written in the 20s, but because he was consciously emulating earlier styles.  In many ways, Who Goes There? reads like a modern story.  A few uses of older phrases or different vocabulary aside, there is little to set it apart, stylistically from a horror story of 30, 20, or 10 years ago.


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