Monday, February 17, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (2/9/14-2/15/14)

    This week started with something of a mini-vacation, and it was kind of awesome.  On Sunday, I saw Monuments Men with Ben and West Side Story with Brad and a group of friends.  Great.  On Monday, though, Brad and I went nuts.  We headed in to DC to visit Lee Marvin and Dashiell Hammett’s graves at Arlington, then walked over to the World War I monument, then the Martin Luther King monument, then on to the Air & Space museum to see the original model of the Enterprise from Star Trek.  The MLK monument was very cool.  And, I'm guessing because of its proximity, they've cleared the area around the WWI monument, so you can actually find it now.  That's a welcome change from the serious effort it took to uncover the right hidden path you used to have to take to find it.  From there, we headed over to Mad Hatter, the bar/restaurant on Connecticut for a delicious meal.  Then it was back to Brad’s for a movie (China Gate), and then off to the AFI Silver to see Point Blank on the big screen.  Awesome.  Feeling pretty darned devastated after such a busy day, I crashed hard and had a good sleep, only to get up Tuesday morning and head over the Cinema Arts to watch all the Oscar Nominated shorts.  Busy, busy couple of days.  My last few vacations have been a touch lackluster, but this one was darned fine right from the start.

The Monuments Men:  To me, the argument that saving art while war is raging was somehow unworthy is a lot like the argument that spending money on space science while people are starving is unworthy; short sighted and missing the point.  Art, literature, architecture; these are the ways in which we as a species achieve culture.  Culture is the only thing that separates us from wild animals, and I think it’s worth remembering, protecting, and sacrificing for.  It doesn’t lessen the cost of war.  It doesn’t cheapen life.  It gives life its meaning and a people their immortality.  We know the Egyptians through the works they left, we understand the struggles of the Renaissance through the art and literature those people left behind.  We have the United States Constitution because men thought to write it down.  All that is just to get out of my head some of my frustration about the ignorant and petty complaints about the movie’s very concept.  Besides that, these weren’t men being taken from the front line; they were guys who would otherwise not have taken an active role in the war, who ended up helping to defeat not just Hitler and the Nazis, but their very idea.  The movie itself feels like something of a throwback to the war/caper films of the 1950s.  I could easily see Gregory Peck, Lee Marvin, Anthony Quayle, Robert Shaw and others of that time stepping into the various roles.  As such, it’s a bit slower paced than many modern films, and perhaps a bit sentimental.  But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  This is a movie that I’d watch as a companion to a viewing of Band of Brothers, The English Patient, Downfall, and Black Book.

West Side Story:  This is my favorite version of Romeo and Juliet…including the original.  The songs are good, colors are vibrant, and the actors are charming, if not always that great.  I like how it’s a grand, epic musical version of all those 50s ‘youth gone wild’ movies.  ‘Hell cats in hot pants,’ and all that.  Plus, there’s a lot of stuff about life as an immigrant, trying to blend into the established American tapestry, itself already a hodgepodge of various other ethnicities.  One of the better musicals, and one that I find myself enjoying more with each viewing.  Seeing it this time around on the big screen was a special treat.

China Gate:  That’s a whole lot of ugly.  Awful people root around in the bombed out ruins of pre-US involvement Vietnam, while the Chinese funnel weapons from Moscow.  The French Foreign Legion troops who feature in the film are all nasty customers, but the lead is the worst.  A horrible racist and a general scumbag.  And he’s ostensibly the film’s hero.  Though in truth, ‘half-cast’ Lucky Legs (Angie Dickinson) is the real hero.  Nasty business, brutal twists, horrible cruelty, and one heck of a climax, followed by one ugly action scene.  Nat King Cole also makes an appearance, and is really good.

Point Blank:  One of my favorite Tough Guy movies, this John Boorman experiment in crazy is so tough, so rough, so relentlessly nasty, I’m sure most viewers couldn’t handle it.  Lee Marvin plays Walker (a name switch for Richard Stark’s venerable badass Parker), a man who wants his money.  And he’s going to take down or out whoever he needs to in order to get his cut.  Filled with wild sequences, weird sound work, visual flourishes, and awesome character actors, it’s a movie you can’t unsee.  It’s not that they don’t make movies like this anymore.  They never made movies like this.

2014 Academy Award Nominated Animated Short Films:  The animated shorts for 2013 were a nice mix of style and content.  Disney’s retro-inspired Get a Horse is cute, but at the end of the day feels like something Warner Bros. would have done a decade back when trying to recapture old glory.  Room on the Broom took a bit to build, but won me over after I was initially put off by the animation style.  Feral was the most visually impressive and interesting, but I’ll admit, I kind of tuned out near the end.  I wanted to like it more than I did, and I’m not sure just how I’d have done it differently.  Mr. Hublot is cute, and the CGI Steampunk universe sure looks pretty.  It has some fun and clever gags and was a pleasant viewing.  I don’t think it will stay with me in the long run.  Possessions is tough for me.  On the one hand, I found technical aspects of the animation to be very irritating (what appeared to be a lot of separate, CG rendered 3D elements, moving stiffly, like a slightly more advanced version of old flash animations…or like models of people made out of folded card-stock, then stop motioned…only in CG).  But I liked the weird little Japanese mythology based story.  Actually, I liked the story a lot.  There were a couple honorable mentions shown along with the five nominees, and among those I found my favorite.  The Missing Scarf, narrated by George Takei, left me kind of thunderstruck.  It’s so funny, so uplifting and depressing, so simple, yet do darned complex.  It was a highlight of my short film filled day.  Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella felt more like a coffee commercial or something.  It looks good, sure.  But as far as stories go, it’s pretty dull and obvious.  If I just watched it, with no idea that it was a short film, I would assume at some point a product would be put in front of me, and I’d be told that I should buy it, be it the afore mentioned coffee, or a car, or a dating website.  And finally, they played A la Francaise, about a bunch of chickens at Versailles.  It had a couple funny gags, but was mostly just a head scratcher.

2014 Academy Award Nominated Live Action Short Films:  I can’t say I’m surprised, but these films seemed primarily in the vain of ‘we’re gonna make you feel really bad about life’/meaningful films.  One about a kid with a terminal illness, one about child soldiers, one about an abused woman.  In fact, only one of them was at all enjoyable to watch.  Now, I get that some people want to use art to make a point, to make people aware of ills in the world.  And I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them that.  Film is a great medium to discuss things like that.  OK.  But come on.  My favorite of the bunch was Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?, if for no other reason than it was uplifting and didn’t make me think about slitting my wrists.  In fact, it was the only one of the films (despite clear attempts to manipulate my emotions in others) that brought tears to my eyes.  They were tears of laughter, but tears none the less.  I also liked The Voorman Problem, which was very well put together and put me in mind of old Outer Limits episodes or Ray Bradbury stories.  Helium feels somewhat cloying, like a Hallmark Channel movie.  Aquel No Era Yo was brutally depressing and goes to exactly the places you expect it to go.  Avant Que De Tout Perdre is very well put together and very tense, and I guess ultimately emotionally satisfying.  But it’s kind of lost among the depression.

    Tuesday night, I finished reading the second volume of Thor: God of Thunder.  Excellent series.  I’m very interested in seeing where they take it in the future.  Love the art, love the story.

Sweetwater:  Not at all the goofy, silly film I expected, this Western isn’t great, but it’s not bad.  A villainous, half-mad preacher is trying to set up his own kingdom, and he’s willing to crush anyone who doesn’t jump in line.  A crotchety old law man and a revenge fueled young wife have something to say about it, though.  I can’t get too excited about the film, but it’s not bad.  And if you’re in the mood for a different Western, it’s worth giving a watch.  January Jones doesn’t suck, too.  That’s kind of a shock.  Ed Harris is doing Jeff Bridges doing Rooster Cogburn.  OK.

The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box:  I enjoyed this little slice of Victorian (?) fantasy adventure, but it’s not particularly good.  The acting is fine.  The production looks fine.  The whole thing is fine.  But it doesn’t pop; it doesn’t capture the imagination.  Passable, but not noteworthy.

How I Live Now:  I had a hard time getting into this movie, in part because the lead character is such a snot, and I’m not fully satisfied with the ending.  However, excepting the very beginning and the very ending, it’s an excellent, beautifully shot film about surviving during a war.  It’s steeped in the all consuming, depressing fear of nuclear war that I grew up with, reminding me of stories and films, and imaginings of that era.  The countryside is beautiful, and it sets the horrors in that much more of a stark contrast.  It’s hard to say you enjoy a movie like this, because it’s pretty dark and depressing.  But this is a good take on the subject.  Not especially original, but well told.

    On Wednesday, the expected last day of my vacation, Brad and I headed out to visit Big Planet comics, and generally goof about.  At some point, it was decided that I would join him and mutual friend Darren at the Alamo for the new Robocop, a film I’ll admit, I wasn’t too interested in.  Still, a movie’s a movie.  And since the whole region was flipping out over an approaching snow storm, it was a nice place to get away from the raving panic.

Robocop (2014):  This doesn’t suck.  And that right there isn’t something I expected to be able to say.  Was it great?  No.  Did we need a Robocop remake?  No.  Should it have at least been rated R?  Of course.  But it wasn’t awful.  There were enough new elements to make it not completely pointless, but there wasn’t anything especially ground breaking.  I liked the soundtrack.

    The snow storm hit, and even this jaded Northerner had to admit, it was a lot of snow in a short time.  But, it was also really cold, so if you shoveled it early, it was easy as pie.  Later, it began to rain, and the melting process began.  Whatever the case, I ended up with an unexpected day of vacation, but was pretty groggy, and spent much of my day zoned out on the couch.

The Sentinel:  A horror movie very much of its time, with all the requisite parts.  Morally bankrupt men, an emotionally devastated female lead, uncomfortable sexuality, jarring music, Satan, a-hole cops, and so much more.  If you’re into 70s horror and don’t feel like watching The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, The Omen, The Devil’s Rain, Susperia, or Rosemary’s Baby, well then, there’s this.  Lead Christina Raines is half way between Brooke Adams and Kate Jackson.  Not a bad actress, and very cute in that fresh-faced 70s starlet kind of way.  The movie?  It's OK, I guess.

The Haunting:  I’m not much of a haunted house fan, but this is one of the better entries in that particular horror staple.  The actors are good, the characters interestingly broken, and the lavish sets impressive.  I like the overall sense of Gothic dread, though it has few actual scares.  I don’t mean jumps, I mean scares.  Any movie can be jumpy, few get to the root of fear, and this one doesn’t.  Still, it’s a pretty good movie.

The Old Fairy Tale: When the Sun Was God (aka: Army of Valhalla):  This is a three part story; I’m assuming it was originally for TV.  It’s a mostly realistic Medieval epic about a corrupt prince stealing the throne, and the struggle of his people to set things right again.  There is a fantasy element, with some magic and occasional acts of gods, but overall, it’s fairly grounded.  The final episode suffers a lot from budgetary constraints.  The finale involves a building being on fire and some other stuff going on, which looks pretty bad and did kind of take me out of things, especially since it had looked pretty good up until then.  I liked the cast and a lot of the story, and think that for a ten year old television production from Poland, it looks pretty good.  Some technical issues and iffy use of music aside, it’s worth tracking down if you’re in the mood something set in pre-Christian Poland.

Flying Down to Rio:  While nowhere near as good as say, Singin’ in the Rain, this movie is a heck of a lot of fun.  And, being made in that magical pre-Code era, it’s delightfully naughty.  The sexual innuendo…if you can even call it innuendo, is wonderful.  Racy talk about fast living and having fun.  None of the prudishness of the 40s and 50s, the so called ‘good old days’ of separate beds, moms in the kitchens, and dads smoking their pipe while the kids watch TV.  These were dashing dandys and brassy dames, dancing, drinking, and getting into all kinds of…well, whatever it was, it was hotsy-totsy.

Ender’s Game:  This was a heck of a lot better than the trailer made out.  But it still wasn’t amazing.  It’s the kind of science fiction film I’d like to see a lot more of, but with more punch and less retread.  I know it’s based off a novel, but that novel was covering some old sci-fi ground when it came out (owing more than a little to Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, among others).  The cast does a pretty good job, again, better than the trailer led me to believe.  And it does deal with some interesting ideas.  One major problem I’ve got with it is that it feels like the pilot episode of a series that I know didn’t get picked up.  It ends at the point I started to really engage.  I know there are the novels, but I’m not an Orson Scott Card fan, so I’m not likely to read them.  And the movie seems to have tanked, so we're not likely to see more.  Still, maybe this movie will pick up a certain cult following among younger viewers.  It’s got the potential.  Who can say?

Rain:  The cold, determined villainy of the religious fanatic, the hypocritical hollowness of the bellowing preacher, and the ill-fated desire to impose spiritual purity on others.  Dang.  This movie, is as relevant today as it was in 1932.  What the prudes would do with the imposition of the Hayes codes, what the prudes had recently done with Prohibition, what the prudes will normally get up to if they’re not fought at every turn.  Ruining joy and happiness for everyone who has it.  Joan Crawford is a fun loving party girl.  Yeah, she’s got troubles.  Her life wasn’t so good.  But now she’s finding pleasure and joy where she can.  She even meets a guy who’s A-OK with her, just as she is.  Well, wild-eyed preacher Alfred Davidson and his sycophantic lady friends can’t let that stand.  He’ll work every angle to break down this free spirit, destroy her life, and ruin her happiness.  I really liked this movie.  Love Joan Crawford and her story arc.  Love the message the movie sends and the middle finger it boldly flips at people who feel they have the right to impose their morality on others.  Also, Guy Kibbee is an especial treat as the bartender/innkeeper Joe Horn.  I’m sure I’ve seen this guy around, but he was so good in the role I’m gonna have to track down more of his work.

    And that’s about it.  But ‘it’ was pretty awesome.  Haven’t had that much fun packed into a week in a while.  I always like a trip in to DC.  Frankly, any trip makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, but walking around DC, even in the frigid cold, is very cool.  None of the claustrophobia I used to get in Boston (not to mention, it’s a hell of a lot cleaner).  Every time I go there, part of me wants to find a way to live there.  But I don’t see that happening any time soon.  Or while I’m single.  So, you know.  Ever.


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