Sunday, February 9, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (2/2/14-2/8/14)

    I’m still doing a lot of reading and idea jotting for my upcoming Call of Cthulhu game.  Reading a lot of stuff about the 20s, and trying to steep myself in some of the better parts of Lovecraft & Friends’ Mythos.  Little else, I’m afraid.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit:  Getting past the absolutely awful title, this is a perfectly acceptable, if not especially memorable exercise in spy-game shenanigans.  Everyone is fine.  It looks pretty good.  The hand-held only gets annoying a couple of times.  The villainous plot isn’t totally idiotic.  And the actions of the heroes don’t rely purely on blind luck.  I gather it stays pretty true to the Tom Clancy character background, though I feel like the style is a bit too much post-Bourne movie to feel quite right.  Not one for the books, but if you enjoy these sorts of films, it doesn’t suck.  One thing I noticed more than I have before is Keira Knightley’s messed up teeth, which I found both distracting and somehow very charming.

Top Hat:  A comedy of mistaken identity, singing and dancing, and innuendo to beat the band.  It’s very charming, with plenty of impressive dance numbers and catchy tunes.  The script and the actors are spot on.  The whole thing works.  I wasn’t as wowed by it as I was with, say Singin’ in the Rain.  But that’s not at all a negative.  Very much a film to see.

Anastasia:  Ingrid Bergman plays a psychologically and emotionally ruined woman who looks a good deal like an adult version of the rumored living Romanov.  Is she, or isn’t she?  Does it matter?  Various people, with various agendas think it does and they’re willing to lie and cheat to make the right people believe it.  There are some good performances.  Bergman has been better, but Yul Brynner is especially compelling as the conflicted general.  It’s not a bad movie, but no classic.

The Lost Weekend:  “I’m not a drinker.  I’m a drunk.”  Ray Milland plays one sad bastard.  One sad, drunk bastard.  An absolutely hopeless, raging, falling down alcoholic, our hero abuses himself and everyone around him in his quest to deaden his self hatred.  Too much of a looser to even properly kill himself, he’s a failure at everything but finding a drink.  And he’s not even super successful at that.  His all consuming hunger for the burn of booze is heart wrenching and pathetic.

The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox:  I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks this movie is a hoot.  Someone who thinks the jokes are just hi-larious.  I’m not that someone.  Less than two minutes in, freeze frame on a woman’s be-bloomered butt while the credits rolled and I knew what sort of a movie I’d started.  I wasn’t wrong.  It’s one of those ‘comedy-westerns’ I can only imagine appealing to old men wearing lots of plaid who don’t like those dark skinned folk.  (I’m not saying you’ve got to be racist to like it, Internet. I’m just saying I have an image of the person who laughs at these cornball jokes, and that image is a racist. …I’m not crazy.  You are!).  The whole thing goes on for far too long, with far too few laughs and far too much mugging.  And the two leads have all the charm of a brick.  If you’re someone who finds Goldie Hawn attractive, I guess the film has that going for it.  I guess.

Imagine this, for 90 minutes...

Closed Circuit:  Right out of the gate, this movie feels like a lot of stuff you’ve seen before.  Enemy of the State, Vantage Point, The Enemy Within, The Package, the list goes on.  Everyone’s in on it.  You can’t trust anyone.  Everyone’s out to get you.  I like the cast.  And it’s competently crafted.  It’s just not especially interesting.  If you like this sort of film, it’s a mid-level entry.  Not bad, but not very good, either.

I hold here an ounce of originality...I will now throw it away.

    In the mood for some weird and spooky tales, I listened to neo-radio shows by The Colonial Radio Theater.  Their Vincent Price Presents series isn’t quite what I was expecting.  It’s not Price reading, nor even adaptations of Price films.  The four stories contained are adapted from Blue Water Comics (?) comic book shorts.  There are four, The Tinglers, Fade Away, Canus, and Road Rage.  The Tinglers is probably the best, being a somewhat silly jungle adventure tale with something of a King Kong or Lost World vibe.  Fade Away feels like any given episode of Tales from the Crypt.  Canus seems like a good idea, but the voice actor for the kid is so danged bad, I couldn’t concentrate on the story.  And finally Road Rage is well acted but has an extremely awkward framing story that doesn’t work at all.  Overall, it’s a fun listen, but not great.  Anyone interested in these new radio show style presentations would be better off with the HPLHS adaptations of Lovecraft stories.  But these are still worth a listen.  ISBN: 978-1-4558-1291-2.

The Last Boy Scout:  Maybe if I’d seen this movie when I was a lad, I’d have fond memories of it now.  But I didn’t, and watching it at this late date, I can’t help but notice how it seemed to be a perfect mix of the worst elements of the failing 80s, and what would be the new norm of the 90s.  The macho, one-liner spouting leading men were kind of played out.  The Last Action Hero, the parody of the genre that had become a parody of itself was only two years away, and Bruce Willis’s excruciatingly awful Die Hard 2 had just come out.  Terminator 2, the unofficial end of the creative 80s, and the beginning of the ultra-sanitized, paint-by-numbers 90s was months old when this film hit theaters.  The script is just one chincy line after another, delivered by a barely present Bruce Willis and an confused Damon Wayans.  Tony Scott color-saturates the crap out of every scene, and lights everyone in the most off-putting way possible.  Everything about the movie feels like a half assed Walter Hill movie (or any given Walter Hill movie of the 90s).  No, it’s not awful.  I mean, it’s awful; but it’s the kind of awful I understand enjoying.  However, Tony Scott’s particular brand of filmmaking has never much impressed me.  And while better than some of his others, it’s still pretty much the lame movie I expected.  Did I bring baggage with me when I watched it?  Yup.  But there it is.  Not going on my list of lost gems.

Vikingdom: The Blood Eclipse:  The music started, the first images lit my screen, and I knew I’d made a mistake.  “Oh, no.”  That’s what I said.  My reaction wasn’t wrong.  Awful post-300 CG effects, dreadful sets, terrible wigs, and acting that puts them all to shame.  I do think a Viking based high fantasy adventure film could be a lot of fun.  But the 1994 video game cut scene quality of the effects, the Target bought Halloween costumes, and the terrible writing sink this turkey.  I get the feeling that the idea behind the film was to do a Ray Harryhausen-type adventure film.  But without any of the resources, skills, or heart, everything fails.  50 million dollars and a couple good actors might have made this pretty good.  Alas.

    I’ve been watching The White Queen, which is certainly the best thing I’ve seen from Starz so far.  Plenty of the expected nudity and scandalous behavior, but without the crassness and dreadful writing one expects from the people who brought us Spartacus.  It’s not great.  It’s not HBO level of quality.  But it’s shockingly better than average.  I like much of the cast and the storylines are pretty well handled.  A few cast members are kind of annoying, but you’ve got to take the good with the bad on a show like this.  One thing that stood out as particularly anachronistic was the sex.  No, not that they were having sex, or having sex outside of wedlock.  That wasn’t weird.  But having the woman on top behind... was considered unnatural and ‘morally questionable,’ especially as it was thought to be more likely to cause the woman pleasure, which was obviously not proper.  It could be punished with up to three years penance (for the woman, of course…this was still 1400s Europe).  The so called 'missionary' position was considered the least sinful way of engaging in sex.  You were, of course, still supposed to feel ashamed for doing it, but there was no punishment.

War-Gods of the Deep: Vincent Price did a lot of movies, some less traditionally ‘good’ than others.  I really enjoy this one, though it’s hardly a classic.  It features dashes of Atlantis myth, a Jules Verne like plot, and the incomparable Price as a megalomaniac trying to save an undersea kingdom.  One could argue that the film isn’t especially exciting, but I find it entertaining and atmospheric enough to enjoy.

    I was prompted to enjoy a Vincent Price movie because there’s a petition campaign to get him on a US Postage stamp.  I think that would be swell.  I signed.  So should you!


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