Sunday, December 8, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (12/1/13-12/7/13)

    My Criterion insanity started to wrap up this week.  Not that I’m done.  But I’m done with focusing on them as much.  And I saw two more movies that are making this year’s Dorkies look less depressing.  I might be able to craft a top ten that I feel good about now.  And a month ago, that wasn’t the case.  Also this week, I finally took the plunge and put out an official inquiry to some folks about starting up a regular roleplaying game.  Come the new year, I’m going to stop just talking about it, and try to do something about it.

Bottle Rocket:  You can see a lot of hints of the weird artificiality Wes Anderson would become known for in his later films.  I think budget probably had a lot to do with it not being more odd.  It’s the tale of a bunch of idiots who want to be big time robbers.  There’s a cute romance, lots of awkward, and interesting music choices.  Again, you can see the Wes Anderson we all know forming in this early effort.  I’d been led to believe that this one wasn’t very good, but I found it charming and fun.

Little Miss Sunshine:  “You don’t speak because of Friedrich Nietzsche?…Far out.”  Extremely unhappy people come together in the ways that families do.  Then they all pile into a VW van for a road trip…’cause that’s a good idea.  The movie is full of awkwardly funny moments, but there are just too many, relentlessly bad things that happen to these people.  By about two thirds in, credulity had been expended.  It kind of has a turnaround near the end with a big F-You people with sticks in their ass.

The X From Outer Space:  With the success of Toho’s Godzilla and similar giant monster sci-fi films, several other studios attempted to get in on the racket.  Though the fun science fiction vibe of movies like Atragon and Battle in Outer Space is still there, the quality of monster effects is nowhere near as good as Toho films.  It’s weird watching a kaiju movie where it probably would have been better without the kaiju.  The story of the space explorers was more interesting than the rampaging bast.

Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell:  Were the Japanese pioneers of modern horror?  Was it in 1960s Japan that the idea of making a cast of awful people do the stupidest things possible in order to force the plot along was birthed?  This movie is evidence.  There’s some cool stuff, but everyone is so danged dumb that it’s hard to feel for anyone.  I kind of want them to get bone-snatched.  I like the end, and some of the nasty effects.  However, at the end of the day, the whole thing is kind of meh.  One particular complaint I have though, is the use of war photos.  I find the use of any stock footage or photos depicting real tragedy/death to be in poor taste, and this movie does do it.

The Scarlet Empress:  A crazy fantasy version of the rise of Catherine the Great, this movie is kind of dull when it comes to plot, but fascinating when it comes to performance and production design.  To say the sets and props are over the top would be a disservice to Sylvester Stallone.  They’re straight-up nutty.  I knew I was watching something different when it cut to the queen sitting on her throne, and it looked like something Ming the Merciless would have found a bit much.

Heaven Can Wait:  A funny, witty comedy that starts with a life-long lady’s man walking through the gates of Hell, to get his just deserts from probably the sweetest Satan in cinema history.  Satan is charmed by the old scamp, and decides to hear his life’s story.  From growing up a spoiled young man with an eye for pretty faces, our hero becomes something of a lothario.  He does try very hard to settle down with the amazingly beautiful Gene Tierney.  There’s plenty of fun, witty, wacky adventures at hand, and the film manages to talk about a lot of stuff, without talking about it.  The Hayes Codes were fully in effect by this point, after all.  It’s all quite charming.  The only nitpick I have is with the costume design on aged Tierney.  They put her in what may be the single ugliest wig/hairstyle I’ve ever seen.  It was distractingly stupid looking.  It looked like something a pseudo-Goth neo-pin-up wannabe would think twice about.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones:  Brooding runway models battle crappy CG in this teen-fic crap fest.  No cliché is left un-mined.  Typical 16 year old girl pseudo-Goth hooker crap.  I work with books for a living, and the last 15 years or so have seen a huge increase in so called ‘teen’ fiction, which for the most part seems to actually be traditional romance novels, mixed with supernatural elements, and written by the equivalent of fan-fic writers you might stumble across in a Star Trek slash fiction fan page.  Rarely having the decency to put a new spin on an old story, they simply regurgitate the same boring plots with the same boring characters.  Change the term ‘shadow hunter’ to vampire or worse, highlander, and you’ve got any of a number of other insipid teen tales.  To top it off, CGI has somehow allowed terrible looking effects to get a free pass now.  Everything in this film looks like crap, but the werewolves are just pathetic.  We’re talking An American Werewolf in Paris awful.  The film is also over two hours long and the second half feels much, much longer.

Ew, ew, ew!!!

    On Thursday morning, I finished the second volume of Saga.  I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.  Everyone seems to love this comic.  I don’t get it.  It feels like it was written by a 16 year old girl who can’t stop watching Joss Whedon shows.  I’ll have to see what the group thinks of it at the next meeting of the graphic novel club.  Am I going to be the only negative voice?

    Before heading in to DC on Thursday night, Brad had me try an Irish scotch called Laphroaig.  It tasted like licking a hospital, and I wouldn’t recommend it.  If you soaked an ace bandage in anti-bacterial, then siphoned some rubbing alcohol through it, you might approach the taste.

The Great Beauty:  I am not a Federico Fellini fan.  Not at all.  But there are things in his work that I like.  With The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino has made a clearly Fellini inspired movie that captures those things I like, without getting too much of what I don’t.  It’s funny; it’s charming; it’s sad.  And surreal, quirky, ugly, and uncomfortable moments abound.  But it’s also nostalgic and beautiful.  Lead actor Toni Servillo is devilishly charming.  And the orgies of decaying flesh he surrounds himself with are lavishly unsettling.

Shogun:  This mini-series made quite a splash when it hit the airwaves back in 1980.  I was too young to be watching something like that, but I still managed to see a bit of it, and the bit I saw always stuck with me.  Seeing it in full all these years later, I can see why people were so into it.  But at the same time, it is way too long.  Richard Chamberlain is super-dashing as the sailor who gets stranded in Japan, and must learn the ways of this strange land in order to survive.  An amazingly Japanese cast (yes, even in 1980, it was unusual to get Japanese actors in Japanese roles…Oh, wait, it still is) does a fine job.  It looks good for a TV production.  There’s simply not ten hours of interesting material.  There’s a reason things are ‘lost’ when books are adapted.  A movie should take the essence of a book and tell a story; this film felt like they tried to get all of the plot-points in, while missing the essence.

Thor: The Dark World:  On a second viewing, this movie is still quite fun, but not nearly as tight as the first outing for the Norse god of thunder.  It’s still amusing, but lacks the light comic touch of the first.  The action is pretty good, the story is OK, but it doesn’t seem to build the universe a great deal.  Still, I’d come back every couple of years to watch another Thor adventure.  It’s still the best of the Avengers solo films.

A Field in England:  To use a cliché, this film is not for everyone.  The plot is rather simple.  Some men, deserting the battle field, find themselves in a field, meeting up with a ogre of an Irishman.  Mayhem ensues.  But the devil is in the details.  There’s lots of ugly, gritty, wallowing in the mud humor, along with some grim violence.  There are kaleidoscopic sequences of drug fueled madness, and moments of serine beauty.  If you like films like Valhalla Rising, Beyond the Black Rainbow, or Marketa Lazarova, you may find something in this.  If you like your movies straight forward and easy to watch, move along.

    I guess that’s it.  This next week looks like more madness.  As we’re getting closer to the end of the year, there are finally some good movies coming out.  My next couple of weeks are going to be madness.  Plus, there’s the meeting of the graphic novel club.  Yikes.


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