On Sunday morning, I muscled my way through Silver Surfer: Parable. That could have been a heck of a lot better, with a writer instead of Stan Lee. And I read a few science fiction short stories. Expediter, a Cold War story with a decidedly subversive bent and dashes of 1984, by Mack Reynolds. One-Shot by James Blish, another Cold War tale that wasn’t really science fiction as far as I could tell. Shipwreck in the Sky, a very brief story by Eando Binder. And Zen, by Jerome Bixby. All of ‘em from a collection of classic sci-fi tales that cost me like 2.99 or something on my Nook. Still a dozen or more stories to read.
The Great Gatsby: I had heard a lot of opinions about this movie before I saw it, most of them negative. In fact, not just negative; almost hateful. People really didn’t like this film. I guess I get that. If you don’t get into the style of the movie, there’s no way you’re going to enjoy it. But once you get past the specifics of its rather outlandish and theatrical style, I don’t think there was enough of anything one way or another to warrant deep feelings of any kind. It’s a rather workman-like adaptation of the novel, with actors all doing OK jobs portraying the characters. Nobody stands out, except maybe Toby McGuire as the narrator. He kind of sucks. He’s playing an almost Ewan McGreggor type ‘naïve to the point of parody’ character, but unlike McGreggor, he doesn’t have the charm to pull it off. I found the film frustrating because it didn’t seem to be able to make up its mind. It’s too crazy for a normal drama, and not nearly crazy enough for a fantastical Jazz Age myth. The director did much better hitting the right bugnuts tone in Moulin Rouge, and whoever made Idlewild did a better job of capturing the era’s strange fantasy (both of those films used contemporary music to better effect). I like where Baz Luhrmann was headed with this movie, but he didn’t get there, and that’s too bad. And like his Australia, the first half is much better than the second, though Gatsby is far more coherent, likely owing to their near slavish devotion to the plot and dialog of the novel.
Nosferatu, Phantom Der Nacht: “The Master has arrived!” Mad bastard Werner Herzog and madder bastarder Klaus Kinski take on the classic vampire tale, Dracula, seen through the filter of the silent film Nosferatu. Bruno Ganz gives Jonathan Harker more personality than he is normally portrayed with (or written with, for that matter). The location shooting and the music are extremely moody and effective. Kinski is disgusting, but that’s not new. Bald head, white makeup, and little rat teeth make an already terrifying man slightly more terrifying. Admittedly, I’m not a vampire movie fan, and not especially enamored of Dracula adaptations. But this, along with the silent film of the same name, are probably my two favorites. This also seems the most spirited and stylistically interesting version I’ve seen (an argument could be made for the Spanish language version made by Universal, but meh). There are some interesting variations on the original, like Lucy (played by Goth princess Isabelle Adjani) being Jonathan’s wife (Mina seems to be a housekeeper or some such), and it being Lucy who takes up the battle against the Count, being a much stronger person than seemingly anyone else in the film.
Embryo: “I’m also what I believe is called a ‘junkie.’” The atrocious transfer on the DVD makes it hard to know what the quality of the film was originally. Of course, seeing the boom mike and/or the shadow of the boom mike isn’t a good sign. Still, when Rock Hudson develops a super-smart dog with a crazy-science drug cocktail, I got on board. Of course, the next step is jumping into totally unethical human testing, which needless to say results in a Frankenstein’s Monster. This came out during the initial explosion of anti-science films that we’re still seeing the blast waves from to this day. Like pretty much every movie that involves an artificially enhanced human, said superhuman becomes intellectually (and possibly physically) superior, then subsequently violently evil. Erg. The music is awful made-for-TV soap crap. The massive computer room sequence, where you know your laptop (if not your phone) could run circles around that warehouse full of dinosaurs, really puts technologic advances in perspective. I do want Number One, though. That’s got to be about the coolest dog ever, and his murderous rages seem mostly reserved for annoying little yappy dogs and bitchy sister-in-laws, so no problem there. This is 70s PG, so there’s some nudity and see-through clothing. The oversensitive and repressed should beware. This would have an R rating by today’s puritanical, sex-fearing MPAA (graphic murder is OK; bare breasts are evil).
The Brain Machine: “Anyway, in the Land of the Blind, the one eyed man is king. …Nuts?” Boom mike! Evil, shadowy government and corporate interests are forcing a scientist to do experiments on four human subjects. I guess. This film is shoddy, with weird (bad) editing and overuse of what appear to be stock establishing shots. There’s an interesting movie here, but it’s lost in the spotty script, low budget, and terrible technique.
The Stunt Man: “I’ve fallen madly in love with the dark side of your nature.” Casting a movie is very important. Obviously, you want great actors. Sometimes, you get a great actor, but the rest of the cast isn’t up to the job. Sometimes, you have one of the greatest, Peter O’Toole, cast alongside one of the worst, Steve Railsback. For some confounded reason, in the last 70s and early 80s, there seemed to be people who thought Railsback was going to be the new ‘it’ guy, kind of like how they keep trying to make Josh Hartnet a star, but it won’t take. He’s bloody awful, and it’s made all the more obvious when he’s in scenes with O’Toole. This movie is all about movies and their artificiality, keeping the viewer on constant edge, wondering what’s real and what’s not. It reminds me a bit of Walker, where film and reality seem to trade back and forth, while trying to make a statement I just don’t understand. Barbara Hershey sure is pretty in a very 70s kind of way.
Beowulf: “How ‘bout a quick gobble?” One of the greatest heroes in literature gets a lavish CG animated treatment, which shockingly manages to capture some of the epic’s magic. The sins of a king come back to haunt his kingdom. But glory-seeking Beowulf and his men are ready to come and dish out some bloody retribution. This film version does not, as so many adaptations do, try to modernize the hero too much. He’s not a nice and sensitive guy who miraculously embodies current American social mores. He’s a brutal, violent, glory hunting, boastful bastard. I still favor Odysseus, a man unwilling to bow to the will of the gods, and perfectly willing (possibly glad) to spit in their faces. But Beowulf is up there. He’s flippin’ hardcore. Violence, sex, revenge, heroics, guilt, redemption, and madness. Grand stuff.
Enter the Dragon: “A woman like that could teach you a lot about yourself.” Thanks again to the Alamo Drafthouse and co-Dork Brad, I got out to see this on the big screen, and it was all kinds of fun. From the start, you’ve got loads of bad dubbing, awkward humor, strange flashbacks, and the pop-philosophy of Bruce Lee. With cohorts Jim Kelly and John Saxon, Lee gets all up in evil martial arts master Han’s smiling face. And no army of unfortunate looking henchmen are going to stop him. Just a darned fine bit of 70s exploitation.
Where Danger Lives: “We both got what we wanted…after a fashion.” A poor sucker gets hooked into some bad, bad business. Then it’s a slow, steady descent into a mad hell. While not at all a great Noir, this one is a fun watch, and where it finally arrives is pretty nutty. Again, not great. But worth watching. There’s some interesting technical aspects, including extremely long shots with few cuts.
Tension: “I got a file goes back further than you’d like to remember and up to where you wish you could forget.” An uptight milktoast is married to a fickle, slutty monster. I mean MONSTER. He loves her, for some danged reason. But when she pushes and pushes and pushes, something’s gotta give. Obviously, the next step is to create a new persona, then harass, threaten, and eventually murder her boyfriend. Of course, the fact that you start dating a smokin’ hottie, who isn’t a spawn of the devil, while living in your new persona should not distract you from your duty. Obligatory twists and turns, and suddenly the cops are on the trail, but who killed who, when, where, and why? The cast is especially enjoyable to watch, even if the circumstances are outlandish. This one is very, very weird in its plotting, but loads of fun. Hard to describe really. But multiple people have excellent and unusual characters that they get to play with. The cop, the pharmacist, the other cop, the hottie, the monster, even the a-hole boyfriend.
8 ½: Well, that was something. Way back in the prehistory of this Dork, in those dark days before Bob Dobbs invented the internet, a handsome young Matt made his way to the dusty backest of the back rooms at Dirty Daves to paw over obscure titles in the Art & Foreign section, hoping to discover a hidden gem (or at least some of that Euro-nudie stuff) he gave that Fellini fellow a try. And it sucked. I don’t know what I watched, Roma was one, I’m sure. Anyway, I hated it. Fellini and that awful Russian version of Solaris nearly turned me off of foreign films. Fast forward 20 years, and I’m sitting down at the AFI Silver to check out a screening of the classic and much lauded 8 ½. Well, nothing has changed. I hated it. It’s such a self serving, self aggrandizing, self indulgent bunch of artsy-fartsy crap I was shifting in my seat like a kid with ADD after like 10 minutes. While the lead actor was obviously good and there are some funny moments, I went from mild discomfort to outright hatred somewhere near the last half hour. Just in case you haven’t picked up on what he’s trying to say (Helen Keller couldn’t have missed it), the last half hour is a full on audio-visual assault that blares at you ‘GET IT?! GET IT?! GET IT?!’ like you’re a slow child struggling with the subtleties of Dick & Jane. But hey, at least there’s Barbara Steele and her Picasso face. AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!! Is this a movie that is well liked because people think it’s obscure, but that they ‘get it’? That’s the only thing I can figure would justify its film-fan street cred. The problem is, it’s not actually obscure. Fellini spends the entire movie outright explaining what the movie is about. Every scene features dialog about what that scene means. He spells it all out, even spelling out why he doesn’t spell something out, which pretty much spells it out. Gah! Anyway, the movie is crap. Leave this to the oh so clever hipsters and college film professors, and watch something better.
|Needs more clowns!|
Splinter: The X-Files/The Thing/Fringe type ‘creature’ in this movie is pretty cool, and there are some good effects and gore. The actual characters aren’t too good, though they’re not as completely useless as a lot of modern horror characters tend to be. Still, not good. As always in movies like this, I kept yelling “Stop talking! Start running!” Why, when speed is of the essence, do horror movie characters feel the need to drag ass. It doesn’t ramp up tension, it makes me angry. Still, it’s mildly enjoyable. There’s potential here for something more.
|The sequel should be called 'Shredder.'|
Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter: “On lonely nights, I shall think of you.” This is an odd, but very good little Hammer Horror gem. Horst Janson is the dashing blonde hero, Kronos. And the Sweet Mother! hot Caroline Munro is the gypsy girl. A supporting cast of solid character actors helps keep it all going. It’s surprisingly funny, with a stripe of humor black as pitch. It’s too bad that this was in the final days of Hammer’s glory days. A series of Kronos adventures could have been very cool.
I started watching Space: Above & Beyond. I’d seen the first few episodes back in the Dark Ages of the 90s, and I’d enjoyed it. Watching it again, I can’t help but be frustrated by the potential unrealized. The general idea, telling the story of a group of new soldiers struggling through a war with an alien menace, has plenty of potential. The design and setting are pretty good. But the CGI is rough, and the main cast intolerable. The two lead guys are a bundle of cliché packed in bad acting. It feels like the show was put together by writers with ideas, and all the writing around the core cast was done by producers (‘Let’s not try anything new or potentially contravercial, only things that have been done time and again in every other TV series.’). Hawkes is absolutely dreadful with all his bad-boy posturing and put-upon rage. But West, with his crying and teeth gnashing, and idiotic pursuit of his wife…UGH. The lingo feels fairly accurate, like they had an actual Marine advisor. Though shows like this are kind of inevitable, helping to change the status quo, while not managing to survive themselves, it is too bad this didn’t come along 10 years later, when budget and unwritten rules of TV production could have been different. Battlestar Galactica has a similar vibe, but came out at the right time.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: “I would like to show you my collection of art.” World travel, wild stunts, sexy dames, and weird high-tech gadgets. No, it’s not James Bond, it’s the MI team up to their old tricks. While the first movie was meh, and the second a steaming turd, the third and fourth have substantially improved the franchise, finally getting back to the roots of the original show. Something about this one, the way their tech and their stunts don’t always work, where they miss their mark or slip or whatever, is a nice change of pace. They’re not being stupid, just not always getting it right.
On Saturday, I caught Studio 360 on NPR. It was a whole episode on Superman, as an American icon. Plenty of interesting stuff. It even reveals how some of the worst elements of the character came about (he started flying on the radio, not in the comics). But there is something enduring about his honorable, honest, and empathetic heroics. I’m not a fan of the character generally, because it seems to be mostly an excuse to write oneself into a corner, then magically break out of it (like the last season or so of Doctor Who).
And on Saturday night, I took a trip home. Well, to the place I’ve always kind of felt should have been my home. I decided to start watching Twin Peaks again. It’s been 10 or so years, and it felt like the time was right. There’s a magic, right out of the gate, about that crazy little town. And if ever there were a place I’d fit in, I think it’s there. I could go fishing with Pete, get some wisdom from Big Ed, avoid the Log Lady, crush on Norma over some cherry pie and darned fine coffee, and catch a show at the Road House. Oh, sure, there’s the occasional alien (?) abduction, serial killing demon, dream dwarf & giant, and what have you. But it’s a magical place.