Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gloria Grahame

I love this photo of Gloria Grahame, looking bored.  From Man on a Tightrope.

I'm thinking about revisiting Grahame in two of her best films, The Big Heat and In a Lonely Place, soon.


Dork Hero: Lea Thompson

    Lea Thompson was so, so very important to the development of my young brain.  She hit the scene in 1983 with Jaws 3 (which, I saw in the theaters, and even as a boy of 7 thought was stupid), then followed that up with Red Dawn, Back to the Future, SpaceCamp, and Howard the Duck.  That was all it took.  Sure, she came back for Back to the Future II and III, but that initial wave of films was magic.  Though I was never as in to Red Dawn as my friends, the others were all staples of my childhood.  And when we got a VCR in ‘86, they were go-to films.  To this day, Howard the Duck is among my favorites.  Thompson was just the right mix of 80s cool and naïve nerd, just on the cute side of hot, and she radiated hopeful energy.

Five Favorite Lea Thompson Films:
5.  SpaceCamp
4.  Red Dawn
3.  Back to the Future II
2.  Back to the Future
1.  Howard the Duck


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dork Hero: Shane Rimmer

    One of the great ‘That Guy’ actors, Shane Rimmer has been a staple supporting actor for more than 50 years.  Recently, you might remember him as that guy in control of the waterworks during the climactic battle in Batman Begins.  But go back through the years and you’ll find him popping up in such gems as Space Truckers (“Square pigs!!!”), Out of Africa, Superman II & III, Doctor Strangelove, even Star Wars and three Bond films (as three different guys).  Originally from Canada, he’s spent much of his career in England, frequently playing the American.  He’s got a darned jovial face, and always adds a little something extra to a film.  The perfect quality of a ‘That Guy.’

Five Favorite Shane Rimmer films:
5.  Rollerball
4.  The Spy Who Loved Me
3.  Space Truckers
2.  Doctor Strangelove
1.  The People That Time Forgot


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dork Hero: Vincent Price

    Since my earliest days, Vincent Price has been an important person in my life.  As a wee lad, I would watch him introduce Mystery on PBS, and appear in The Muppet Show and others.  As I grew older, I began to enjoy his work with Roger Corman and the like, as well as some of his late life screen appearances (Edward Scissorhands being a favorite).  More recently, in the years since he passed, I’ve discovered his sometimes more serious work in early films, as well as his love of art and cooking.  He remains one of my all time favorite actors, and one of the only celebrities I ever felt genuinely, deeply sad upon hearing of his death.  I think the thing that always stuck with me was his attitude.  He always seemed to be having fun.  Today (May 27) marks the 103rd anniversary of his birth.  I think I might raid the DVD wrack tonight for one of his films.

Five Favorite Vincent Price Films:
5.  Laura
4.  The Masque of the Red Death
3.  More Dead than Alive
2.  House on Haunted Hill
1.  The Abominable Dr. Phibes


Dork Hero: Christopher Lee

    For a long time, Christopher Lee existed as photos of various monsters (often Dracula) in creature books I’d pore over as a kid.  Though I’m sure I saw him in a few things (Man with the Golden Gun?), it was with my delving into Peter Cushing’s filmography that I began to get into the venerable old gentleman’s work.  You could write books on the man, about his various exploits and esoteric knowledge.  He’s a Tolkien fan (maybe THE Tolkien fan).  He’s former British Special Forces.  And he speaks several languages.  His voice is like the cracking of the Earth.  And yes.  He’s in a metal band…at 92.

Five Favorite Christopher Lee Movies:

5. Hannie Caulder
4. Hugo
3. Horror of Dracula
2. The Man with the Golden Gun
1.  The Wicker Man


Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Review: Annihilation

    Who the heck is Jeff VanderMeer, and where the heck did he come from?!  Well, turns out, he’s been around for a while, working frequently as an anthologist, and penning a few stories as well.  And he’s been garnering some acclaim for that.  But, due to my general disappointment with the state of science fiction today (I’ll go out and wave my cane at whippersnappers later) I’d never heard of the guy.  Now I have, and I won’t soon forget.

    Did you like Lost?  Do you like weird, challenging stories that hint at much bigger things?  Do you enjoy that unsettling feeling created in the best horror (not the jump-scare/gore horror that is so common, but the real, intellectually terrifying stuff)?  I do, and this delivers.  Alienness and the slow, creeping madness it instills in people gives the book a terrible menace that builds and builds.  What could possibly be worse or more shattering than the previous discovery?  Try the next one.

    The book unfolds like a puzzle.  It’s the journal of a biologist, recording her part in an expedition into a corrupted landscape called Area X.  What is it?  Who made it?  How long has it been there?  Why?  So many questions and too few answers.  But it is the questions that linger.  And who is this biologist, anyway?  Is she a reliable narrator?  Why did she sign up?  Who are these other women on the expedition?

    Annihilation is the first part of the Southern Reach trilogy, which will be completely published before the end of the year (no waiting years on end for the next part of the story).  It should appeal to fans of Lovecraft and his disciples, fans of Lost and Fringe, and fans of mysterious adventure.  I was frequently reminded of the strange science fiction that trickled out in the late 60s and 70s, and of the works of Robert Charles Wilson.  I’ve heard good things about the second book, Authority, which has recently been published.  And I understand that it is stylistically quite different, giving more indication as to why this was split into three books.  The final book, Acceptance, is due out in September.

Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0-374-10409-2

-Matthew J. Constantine

Comic Review: Asterios Polyp

    David Mazzucchelli’s impressive undertaking is beautiful to look at, and has some great moments.  However, it is ultimately lacking something.  It’s the tale of a world class turd, an empty blowhard who smashes everyone he touches.  When his life falls apart and the universe takes a potshot at him, he walks away from it all and ends up at a garage in a backwater town.

    As the story unfolds, we learn more and more about Asterios and his failed marriage.  He reminded me of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character in High Fidelity.  Always talking, but whatever comes out of his mouth is garbage.  Everything about him seems to be a put-on, a show.  He talks loud because he doesn’t do anything.  He’s all theory and no action.  When he meets a talented but unsure artist, he browbeats her into being his love.

    Can a consummate bastard change his stripes?  Can he do, instead of just talk?  Perhaps.  And, at the end of the day, does it matter?

    The art is beautiful.  It’s the real star of the book.  It’s cartoony in the best way, capturing people in styles that reflect their character.  The coloring, the shapes, and the panel design all help to further the story and keep the mood right.  My favorite bit in the whole thing is the series of pages that highlight little moments of Asterios and Hana’s relationship.  Those little memories that remain long after the loves and hates have faded.

    This is certainly the sort of thing you can point to when people deride the medium for being all superheroes and goofy stuff.  It is an adult story, dealing with adult issues, and complicated characters.  Is it great?  I don’t know.  I enjoyed reading it, but it didn’t “speak to me” as it were.  Some parts I found quite effective.  Some less so.  The ending?  Well, it was unexpected, though not completely out of left field.

Asterios Polyp
Author/Artist: David Mazzucchelli
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 978-0-307-37732-6

-Matthew J. Constantine

Dork Hero: Peter Cushing

Like many of my generation I first became aware of Peter Cushing late in his life, as Grand Moff Tarkin, the real villain of the first Star Wars film (Vader was just a lapdog for Tarkin).  But I quickly saw him in several other films, and realized that he was quite the cool old dude.  As I transitioned into my teen years, he was my gateway drug, getting me hooked on the world of Hammer Horror.  I remain a junkie for bodice ripping, Gothic tinted, British horror/weird films.  Today is the 101st anniversary of his birth.  A tip of the hat to one of the great gentlemen of film.

Five Favorite Peter Cushing Movies:
5.  Star Wars
4.  At the Earth's Core
3. The Curse of Frankenstein
2.  Twins of Evil
1.  She (1965)


Dork Hero: Pam Grier

I know we've talked a lot about her on this blog, but sometimes it's worth reminding folks how awesome Pam Grier is.  Today, on her birthday, I'm thankful for all the joy she has brought to me over the years.

Five Favorite Pam Grier Movies:
5) Hit Man
4) Friday Foster
3) Foxy Brown
2) Jackie Brown
1) Coffy


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (5/18/14-5/24/14)

    Another good week.  Work has been rough, but life has been good.  That makes a huge difference.  I’ve been listening to a bunch of new music lately, but haven’t been able to concentrate on it as much as I need to.  Sometime coming up, I’ll be doing a new “What I’m Listening To” post.  Some good stuff.  Been reading a lot, too.  Should have some more to say on that soon, too.  I’m so glad I’ve got a long weekend.  I need it.

Too much Prog Rock?

Godzilla VS. Megaguirus:  There are some bits of this one I really enjoy, and I like the sort of evil Mothra creature.  But for the most part, this one is another mild dud, featuring so-so characters.  The various stages that lead up to Megaguirus are disgusting.

Black Orpheus:  An absolutely gorgeous film adaptation of the Greek myth, this vibrantly colorful movie is a treat for the eyes.  It’s also crammed full of music and dance.  It really takes its time and creates a mad world of joy, danger, life and death.  Breno Mello is a likable cad.  Marpessa Dawn is stunning.  Orpheus’s descent into the Underworld is pretty wild.

    Monday night, Paul, Ben, Brad, Lisa and I all headed out to the Alamo to watch Big Trouble in Little China.  Brad and I saw it some time ago on the big screen (I don’t remember where/when) and it was an OK showing.  But for whatever reason, I was really into it Monday night, and it was a great time.  Ben wasn’t so into the film, and I think he might think the lot of us are nuts for loving it.  But dang it, I do love it so.  I also enjoy how much Lisa loves it.  She’s like a tiger defending her cub.  Awesome.


Big Trouble in Little China:  “We really shook the Pillars of Heaven, didn’t we, Wang?”  My second favorite film of all time.  It’s an amazing conjunction of Kurt Russell, John Carpenter, Chinese mythology, and the mid 80s.  It’s got a crackerjack script, with tons and tons of stuff to catch on re-watch.  In fact, for a long time, I used to say I saw something new every time I watched the film (and that’s a LOT of darned viewings, let me tell you).  Seeing it on the big screen this time around, it proved to be true, as I (and oddly Brad noticed the same thing for the first time) saw David Lo Pan’s blade like fingernails extending during his transformation from the little basket case on wheels to the ten-foot-tall roadblock.  What I didn’t realize during my many viewings of the film as a lad was something that dawned on me about 10 or 12 years ago.  Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is the bumbling comic side-kick.  You think, sitting down to watch an 80s action movie starring Russell, that he’s the hero.  And we do spend much of the film seeing the mad world of Chinatown through his eyes.  But Wang is the hero, here.  Wang is the guy on the quest, the warrior who much triumph over evil.  Jack is his idiot buddy who gets into trouble left and right, who delivers the jokes and takes the falls.  And Russell is such a sport about it, looking like a moron, mugging for the camera and taking pratfalls that would make Bruce Campbell proud.  I also realized on this viewing, that Gracie Law was probably supposed to be played by a Chinese actress, which would have made a heck of a lot more sense for a lot of reasons.  A wonderful films.  Nearly thirty years on and it’s still bringing me a lot of pure joy.

    On Wednesday night, I headed in to DC and met up with Rebecca to check out Coming Attractions Trailer Night with the DC Film Society.  It was an interesting little event, with free giveaways and a chance to vote on the most interesting trailers (which I gather gets passed on to powers that be).  I got a copy of Donkey Skin out of it, which is cool, because I’ve been wanting to see that film for some time.  And free stuff is awesome.  The two film critics?  Well, I’m always a bit taken aback by film critics who don’t seem to enjoy watching movies.  Both seemed to hate everything (though one liked Ted, I think).  It was like listening to hipsters yammer on about how everything you like is stupid.  If it had explosions or action, it was too actiony.  If it didn’t, it was boring.  OK.  They do prove that anyone can do the job, so maybe one day someone will pay me to do it.  That would be swell.

The Railway Man:  A fine film, well made and well acted.  It deals with the scars of war, the horrors that haunt people who have been through terrible things.  And it looks at the human cost of human villainy, on both the victim and the perpetrator.  Colin Firth is typically excellent.  I have mixed feelings on the horrors portrayed in the film.  On the one hand, I don’t feel like I need to be subjected to the absolutely disgusting things done to folks by the Japanese during this time.  On the other hand, I don’t know that what was shown would have made the extremely broken man depicted by Firth.  Does that make sense?  I’m not sure what would have been better.  I don’t think violence needed to be explicit.  Perhaps it would have been more effective if what torture was shown, particularly during the final interrogation hadn’t been shown, had been more hints and glimpses?  I don’t know.  I think back to Lawrence of Arabia, when Lawrence is captured by the Turks.  We don’t see what happens to him, but that, combined with his attitude shift, lets us know that it was some inhuman stuff.  Anyway, the movie is quite good, and well worth seeing.  I don’t think it’s great, and I think it could have been.  It would be a good companion to The Bridge on the River Kwai.

    I had a crazy week, involving a lot of traveling around the region, and a lot of late nights and early mornings.  So, when Friday afternoon came along and I got home from work, I was looking forward to plopping down on the couch with a glass of wine and some dinner, and a movie or two.  No sooner had my clothes hit the floor than I got a text from Brad.  “Wanna go see Cold in July at E Street at 9:30 tonight?”  Perhaps the sane answer would have been no.  With little thought, I responded in the affirmative, and so found myself heading in to DC once again.

Cold in July:  Want some brutal, ugly neo-Noir?  Try this.  It’s 1989, and after a home invasion puts a nervous schlub in the spotlight, a vengeful ex-con comes a’calling.  Where the movie goes from there?  You’ll never suspect.  You can’t blame this one for being ‘too predictable.’  Michael C. Hall is good as the doofy, horrible haired bumbler.  Sam Shepard wowed me as the deadly old criminal.  And I was shocked to find myself loving Don Johnson.  Could it be time?  Could Old Man Johnson become someone I look forward to seeing in films?  Time will tell.  Co-writer and Jim Mickle regular Nick Damici shows up for a quick supporting role as a local sheriff.  This film starts dark.  Then it kind of lightens up.  Then it goes really, really, unsettlingly dark.  The music and the look of the film are very 80s, but the black heart feels like it comes out of the nastiest of Hard Boiled Pulp Fiction.

Grand Piano:  De Palma wishes he could get this close to Hitchcock.  No, the movie isn’t all that great.  But it’s pretty good, and does a better job of doing De Palma’s derivative wannabe Hitch than De Palma ever did.  The acting is fine.  The tension is good.  The way it all plays out?  Well, sometimes that ain’t so good.  I liked it.  It’s interesting.  It’s not anything to get all worked up about, but if it’s on and you’re not busy, it’s worth watching.

Kenneth Anger: Volume I:  This collection of avant-garde short films from the 40s and 50s is an interesting glimpse into the underground, independent, ‘art’ film world of that time.  However, I didn’t find these films particularly interesting or inspiring.  Puce Moment is probably my favorite.  Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome had some good stuff, but went on for WAY too long and became extremely repetitive.  The others were kind of meh.  I much prefer the work of Maya Deren, whose surreal short films create a lot more atmosphere and emotion.  Many of these Anger films seem cobbled together, or like technical experiments.

Raze:  Ugh.  Zoe Bell.  What are you doing?  Why won’t you let me love you?  You’re so funny and charming, so tough and fit.  You seem like a cool lady, and you sure as heck seem capable of being one massively badass action heroine.  Yet, time and again, you star in shoddy, hollow films with awful scripts.  Raze is yet another potentially interesting idea turned to crap (see Angel of Death or Bitch Slap).  A secret society kidnaps women, trying to create warrior women?  OK.  Groovy idea.  Maybe it’ll have a touch of Cabin in the Woods’s modernization of paganism?  Maybe.  However in execution, this is just crap.  The acting is a mixed bag, where most of the nuts are rotten.  The action is boring (super, super boring).  The way the film plays out is obvious, bordering on insulting (it’s on the insulting side of that border).  I wanted to like it.  I wanted to take something away from it.  I still really, really want to like Zoe Bell and look forward to seeing her in films.  But I didn’t.  I don’t.  I’m sad.

    Another week down.  Looks like some of my Summer Anticipation movies are going to be difficult to see.  Tracks doesn’t seem to be playing anywhere.  We’ll see.


Sure is raining cats and dogs...

Monday, May 19, 2014

"Ain't No Thing Like Me Except Me!" Guardians of the Galaxy Assemble in Latest Trailer

After my wedding and all that lovey dovey stuff, the greatest moment of my life was hearing the voice of Rocket Raccoon.  I've watched this new trailer a half dozen times already.  I gotta monitor my expectations now, but I'm all verklempt over here.  Seeing Rocket strapped with some heavy artillery, totally jazzed at the firepower...seeing Rocket handcuffed, "Ain't No Thing Like Me Except Me" - gosh.  I'm not quite sure its up there with the "I'm Always Angry" moment of The Avengers, but dang it, those two tiny moments get right to the heart of the character.  And the quizzicle "I Am Groot" from Vin Diesel?  The film had me already, but now I'm ready to cross state lines and give Polygamy a try with this trailer.  The Wife seems cool with it.  Plus, we get our first look at Lee Pace's Ronan The Accuser and Glenn Close as Nova Prime.  This is happening folks.  Miracles exist.

-- Brad

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (5/4/14-5/10/14)

    On Sunday morning, a friend and I headed to the outskirts of DC, where we ate at Ragtime, a nice little neighborhood pub.  And then from there, we walked to Theodor Roosevelt Island, which is a park I like a lot, but boy has it fallen into disrepair.  While packed with visitors, and obviously a popular destination, the statue of Teddy is looking pretty ratty, the pools are all dry, and the wooden walkways are sinking, rotting, and starting to look dangerous.  Such a nice place, it’s a shame to see it falling apart.

    Sunday night was the latest meeting of the graphic novel club, where we discussed Asterios Polyp.  It got very mixed reviews, with some strong negative feelings and some fairly positive, while many people seemed to fall closer to the middle.  I think everyone liked the interesting art and design of the book, even if folks weren’t all on board for the story.

Quai Des Orfevres:  Paris in the 40s is the setting of this odd, and oddly paced film about troubled lovers, friends, theater, murder, and petty crime.  It is much more of a character study than a mystery, with a surprising number of very interesting and fleshed out characters.  The combative couple, the focal point of the film, are less interesting than their blonde friend, or the hang-dog ex-Legion cop (Louis Jouvet).  In many ways, it feels like a classic Film Noir, yet in others it’s uniquely French.  As I write this, having finished watching the film ten or fifteen minutes ago, I can’t say for sure that it’s a good or a great film.  But it’s interesting and unusual enough, with very well crafted characters.  I would recommend watching it, but my feelings are oddly mixed.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty:  I have a feeling that this is a movie one could very, very easily dismiss.  It is, admittedly, saccharine and manipulative.  It’s ‘aw, gee shucks’ kind of mindset is way the crap out of step with modern cinema.  But darn it.  I found myself enjoying the heck out of the film.  It’s absolutely beautiful, and other than Casino Royale, is probably the best film in recent memory that makes travel seem totally awesome.  There’s nothing very complex.  You know what the film is trying to say from nearly the opening shot.  There are no surprises.  But it worked.  Is it amazing?  No.  Is it going to stick with me?  Probably not.  But I really, really liked watching it while it was on.  Like cotton candy for your eyes and brain.

    I read a couple more comics, Silver Surfer #1, Velvet #1 and the Free Comic Book Day issue of Rocket Raccoon.  Silver Surfer is…well, it’s just not what I want.  Like the FF comic, and some others Marvel is putting out, it’s taking what could be a cool science fiction title and turning it in to Wacky Adventure Time!, which isn’t something I want to read.  At least, not about a character like Silver Surfer, who I feel could be amazing, but like Wonder Woman, is rarely handled well.  Speaking of Wacky Adventure Time!, there’s the Rocket Raccoon comic.  OK, fine.  Whatever.  I like what Guardians of the Galaxy I’ve read (that Legacy trade from a few years back).  But I tried to read Rocket’s original comic and it was flippin’ terrible.  So, it’s not like there’s something for them to ruin here.  And it’s OK.  But again, it’s not something I want to read.  It’s one thing to be humorous.  It’s another to be a joke.  Also in this comic is a Spider Man short, Space Oddities.  It’s silly and not my cup of tea.  The diamond in this rough was Velvet.  From Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (who did the run of Captain America that made me give a crap about that character), this Cold War story feels like what Winter Soldier would have been like if it wasn’t saddled with the Marvel name.  It’s James Bond at its darkest.  What I like about Brubaker’s female lead (like his female lead in Fatale) is that she doesn’t just deliver snarky, ‘oh so clever’ dialog (a la Joss Whedon characters).  I’m very interested in where this series might go.  It’s the strongest first issue I’ve read in quite some time.

The Night Porter:  This is, unfortunately, the movie I expected it to be.  It has that very specific brand of 70s Euro-sleaze dripping all over an attempted ART! film, with a heavy dose of wannabe shock-factor.  But like so many movies made to be shocking, times change, we movie on, and the shock wears off.  What we’re left with are some very good performances from the leads and a potentially interesting idea that is lost in the shuffle of “stick poking a hornets’ nest” filmmaking.  The idea of two people who were on opposite sides of something as horrible as the Holocaust, meeting by chance many years later, has the potential for some very interesting conflict, especially when a dangerous sort of sexual relationship had existed between the two.  However, this film doesn’t manage to make it interesting, or explore it in any satisfying way.  This has more of Caligula Reincarnated as Hitler (aka Last Orgy of the Third Reich) than something like Five Minutes of Heaven or In the Land of Blood and Honey.  The scene, near the beginning, where Dirk Bogarde sees Charlotte Rampling is fantastic, and makes you think you’re going to watch a better film.  You don’t.

Attack the Block:  “Trust.”  I love this Goonies meets Critters meets Harry Brown bit of wacky sci-fi horror from South London.  A good cast of characters, including a lot of good kid/teen actors.  Good music, and very simple, but coolly iconic creature design.  Unlike all too many contemporary horror films, it features characters I like and I grow to care about.  Young John Carpenter would be proud.

Godzilla:  “Let them fight.”  It took an awful long time, but they finally got it right.  The director of Monsters, Gareth Edwards, took on Kaiju a few years ago, with a limited budget and low star-power, and made one of the better horror films of recent memory.  Now, with Hollywood blockbuster bucks behind him, he managed to maintain the essence of the classic Godzilla films, while ramping up the effects and thrills.  Putting Godzilla in his proper place, as an avatar of the Earth, a force of nature that becomes active when things get too far out of balance, made me very happy.  For those expecting some kind of silly action movie, you’re likely to be disappointed.  This isn’t Transformers.  It’s not The Avengers.  It’s Godzilla.  It’s a slow build, like Alien or Jaws, taking its time to explore the characters and build dread.  Even when stuff starts getting crazy, Godzilla is nowhere to be seen.  This is actually in keeping with classic Godzilla films.  He would often not show up until the final act, where he would drop his reptile hammer on whatever monsters or aliens or alien monsters might be messing with good ‘ol Planet Earth.  My one complaint would be Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  As much as I liked him in Kick-Ass, he’s since proved to be a pretty boring drone of an actor.  Throughout the film, he looks at things with a bewildered expression, and had little function other than to be a set of eyes for us to see the madness through.  I’d have preferred the film to focus more on Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, or even Elizabeth Olsen.  Good Godzilla films are made, in many ways, by a cast of interesting human characters.  The humans in this one aren’t amazing, but they’re good enough to get the job done.  Here’s hoping the film does good numbers and gets a follow-up.  King Ghidorah!  Gigan!  Mothra!  Come on.  It’s got to happen.

Il Pianeta Errante (War Between the Planets):  “Prepare to fix.”  I like the production design and model work in this film.  Unfortunately, it’s super, super boring.  Really darned boring.  Oh, my gosh.  Boring.  It keeps going.  Potentially interesting scenarios become exercises in tedium.

Creation of the Humanoids:  There’s some very cool stuff in this one.  Unfortunately, the acting is super stiff.  I like the exploration of ethics, in that way science fiction used to do more often.  And not just anti-technology, like you typically find in contemporary films.  Robots and humans trying to get along in the world after WWIII has decimated the planet.  The sets and such are good.  With a slightly better script and much better acting, this could have been a secret classic.  As it is, it’s a good watch, and one I’m glad I’ve found.  But it’s not as good as it could have been.

Godzilla 2000:  The second re-launch of the Godzilla film franchise, this film tries to get on the CGI train, while also trying to be more cinematic than the Heisei era of the 80s and 90s.  Some of the ideas are cool, and the action is certainly shot better.  It also doesn’t look as cheap as the Heisei films.  But it still doesn’t have the charm of the Showa era.  Some of the fun seems to be missing.  The moral of this story?  Don’t let Godzilla go off in your mouth.

Baba Yaga:  Much more pleasant a viewing than I was expecting, this 70s Euro-Sleaze has plenty of the expected bare breasts and awkward dubbing.  But it didn’t feature the expected endurance test of violence directed toward woman you tend to get in Italian cinema.  I like the pacing and the cinematography quite a bit.  There’s a kind of object fetish, lingering shots on various old things (books, radios, knickknacks of all kinds), and a heavy dose of atmosphere that reminds me of some of what I love in Jean Rollin films (though there’s not nearly Rollin levels of nudity).  The film is based on a comic I used to occasionally see bits from in Heavy Metal way back when.  My memory of that comic was that it had a dreamy quality, and this film too has that.  Is it great?  No.  But it’s better than the average 70s Italian film.

The Magic Flute:  There’s nothing wrong with this movie.  Ingmar Bergman’s direction is typically solid, the performances are good, the style is good, and the music is good.  I simply never got into it.  Mozart is a composer I can listen to, but seldom am moved by; and this adaptation of his work sort of sums up my relationship with him.  All the pieces are there, but I’m left cold.

Godzilla VS. King Ghidorah:  This film represents what the Heisei era is.  The plot is nearly unintelligible, the effects are a mixed bag, the human characters aren’t especially interesting, and the acting is kinda awful (with a few exceptions).  And the whole thing looks like it was shot for television.  I like some of the bits, particularly the connections to WWII.  But the terrible time travel (seriously, some of the worst time travel writing I’ve ever come across) and the rejiggering of Ghidorah’s origin…I can’t get behind that.  A lot of cool(ish) creature designs come out of the Heisei films, but not a lot of good Godzilla storytelling.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome:  While often dismissed and frequently dissed, I love this film.  It features more of the Odysseus-type journey than The Road Warrior (which is, absolutely, a much better film).  I love the way the world has fallen and is trying to rebuild itself in a new image.  I love the Lord of the Flies oasis Max discovers.  I love the look and feel, and the wild music.  I’m guessing I first saw this when I was about 10, and it had a profound effect on me and particularly on my early writing efforts.  Watching it again for the first time in quite a while, I still love it.  But, I have to admit, the third act is weak.  Max and the kids return to Bartertown, and they recreate the final action climax from The Road Warrior.  That could have been better.  Perhaps Max helping the children in a siege of their village.  Perhaps an exodus away from Bartertown.  Maybe some other element.  I don’t know.  But while I still enjoy it, that last fifteen minutes or so are not as good as they could and should have been.

    Good times had by all.