Sunday, July 28, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (7/21/13-7/27/13)

    A slow start, but a nice finish.  Good week.

Red 2:  Not quite as cute or charming as the first film, this sequel still dishes out morbid humor and silly action aplenty.  Everyone seems to be having a good time, and they sure go to a lot of nice places.  But the tension never quite ratchets up, and the plot feels a bit too meandering.  Still, not a bad sequel and worth watching if you enjoyed the first film.

MST3K: The Incredible Melting Man:  “Don’t shoot!  I’m Ted Nelson!”  One of my favorite episodes, Mike and the Bots rip into a truly dreadful movie.  Another ‘guy goes into space and comes back a monster’ movie.  It’s great.  They’re all on fire as they unload with both barrels.

Your Highness:  “Just punch the top and twist it.”  A very, very crass fantasy film about a crappy prince and his dashing brother on a quest to rescue a pretty girl from a devil wizard, it‘s often uncomfortably funny.  Pot smoking, butt sexing, and all kinds of goofing.  Great actors team up with not so great actors to abuse decency.  And I love it.

Night Passage:  Jimmy used to be bad, but now he just wants to play the accordion and maybe work for the railroad.  But he’s got a history and history has a way of creeping up on you.  There’s nothing especially amazing about this Western, but it’s solid and well made.  Nice character actors and a good action resolution.  Worth checking out.

River of No Return:  I just don’t go for Marilyn Monroe, and that’s a large part of what this movie is pushing.  She’s charming enough, I guess.  And Robert Mitchum is nicely terse.  Their adventure together doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it’s good clean fun.  That is, until the attempted rape (“I didn‘t mean it.”  What?!).  The blue-screen work, though.  She ain’t so good.  Overall, a good but not great Western.

    I read the current issue of the magazine Classic Images, because it had an extensive article on one of my new favorite classic actresses, Ruth Chatterton.  Annoyingly, many of the movies the article picked out as being especially good are not on NetFlix and are going to require deeper searching and perhaps pocket digging.  There was also a good write-up on the recently deceased character actor R.G. Armstrong.  It prompted me to queue up a few more of his films, and kept my Western thing alive (I’ve been on a bit of a Western kick lately…though I’m not gonna try to do an official month or anything).

Queen Christina:  “Must we live for the dead.”  A bawdy tale of a tomboy queen who loves her country, desires peace, and wants to love on her own terms.  But duty drives.  Garbo exudes life, lusty and joyous.  The sequence at the inn, with the shared room, the discovery, and the aftermath are totally worth the price of admission.  And my goodness, somehow she makes eating grapes look like the most intensely sexually charged act.  It felt like something too intimate to be watching.  Crazy.  Though the overall movie isn’t amazing, it’s a very fun film.  I wish there was more to the third act, I guess.  I don’t know.  Events just sort of happen and then it’s over, without much heart.  But the first two thirds of the film are great.

    Friday night we ended up using a kind of fill-in book for our graphic novel club, Locke & Key, which was pretty last minute and surprisingly seemed to win everyone over.  This marks only the second time (I think), where everyone was in agreement and happy with the book (the first was Blacksad).

Bridget Jones’s Diary:  “Oh f*%$ I love Keats.”  A cute romantic comedy about several broken people struggling through love.  There’s nothing especially new or interesting, but the cast is charming and there are some good bits.  I appreciate the liberal F-bomb dropping.  One thing that is perhaps a bit disturbing is that Jones is supposed to be/feel fat.  I remember a lot was made of Renee Zellweger putting on weight for the role.  But she looks perfectly normal.  Not plump.  Just normal.  If she were any thinner, she’d look weird.

Disgusting. She must be an almost healthy weight. For shame.

Nick Carter: Master Detective:  A short, fairly uneventful mystery about saboteurs at an aviation plant, this is more fun as a time capsule of a paranoid era when all foreign people were trying to destroy America.  Vague, unnamed organizations with evil on the mind and limitless resources and personnel have infiltrated…well everything.  Nobody can be trusted…except maybe old, creepy beekeepers.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone:  “Nope…You’re a dude.”  There are some very funny bits in this mostly by the numbers comedy.  Nothing especially shocking or new, but an OK outing for all the cast, who seem to be having a fun time.  Jim Carry hams it up, as usual, and I could have dealt with about 60% less of his character.  Otherwise it was fine.

    On Saturday night, Lisa, Brad, and I headed to the AFI Silver to see Phantasm and Phantasm II (yeah, I’ve seen Phantasm II on the big screen…I can honestly say I never expected that to be a thing I could say).  The first film was presented by local celebrity movie presenter and commentator Count Gore De Vol.  Much fun was had.

Phantasm:  It doesn’t get a heck of a lot weirder than Phantasm.  Not just because it’s a horror movie that’s really a science fiction movie…maybe.  Not just because it features rabid jawas, flying spheres with drills and blades, a stripper-hooker who might also be a cold hating Tall Man, a giggling old seer, a kick-ass ice cream man, and a tuning fork dimensional gateway.  No, not just for those things.  It’s also so jarringly edited and aggressively scored that it never lets you rest, never lets you get your bearing, and never lets you in on quite what the hell is going on.  And it’s great.  The music is completely over the top, the acting ranging from stiff to wooden, and the story…well, it’s complicated.  But somehow, it all works when it really has no right to.  I’ve mentioned this before, but if the stars are right, Cthulhu walks the Earth, and we have become as the Old Ones (read: a shift in reality big enough to put me in control of a Hollywood motion picture), Phantasm is one of the properties I would absolutely love to get my grubby little hands on (along with Hellraiser and The Creature from the Black Lagoon).  Reggie, man.  Reggie.

Phantasm II:  The sequel has some issues, but is still quite cool.  Part of the charm of this series is its rampant continuity confusion, and this film has it aplenty.  But the wacky editing is gone, making the film less uncomfortable and challenging.  The idea of the Tall Man and his dwarfs is expanded a bit, and the hints of a greater, growing disaster facing the world begin to drop (laying the groundwork for III and IV).  Reggie takes up the mantle of badassery.  And the music continues to be a major part of the experience.  Overall, not as good as the first film, though it is more professionally made and of more consistent quality.

Reggie's makin' friends.

    That’s about it.  Still listening to a bunch of Prog Rock.  Still poking at the Bible and trying to get more reading in.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: Da Vinci’s Ghost

    Several years ago, I read Toby Lester’s The Fourth Part of the World, a sort of history of exploration, using the first map to name America as a catalyst.  Da Vinci’s Ghost spawned from Lester’s researches for that book, so it serves as an excellent expansion, but also reads perfectly well as a stand-alone.  Here, he delves into the life of one of our greatest heroes and the concepts that led him to finally draw one of the most famous images in human history, The Vitruvian Man.

    Connecting art, architecture, science, medicine, religion, and the amazing and noble possibilities of Humanity, we’re treated to a vision of history and people more complex than is typical of history books, especially the sort you might read in school.  I’ve enjoyed a lot of recent history books that give a much more relatable face to the names you’re used to hearing about.  This isn’t an old, academic guy with a beard, but a vibrant, gregarious, self-taught genius with all the failings of an average guy.  The da Vinci presented in this book is the kind of guy you hope to have in your circle of friends, the challenging but infinitely rewarding companion.  And here we see the ideas of a Roman military man, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, looking to make a name for himself, who wrote a book that would go on to shape a great deal of how Medieval Europeans saw the world and a man’s relationship to it a Christians adopted its concepts into their own cosmology.  Looking at the body as a microcosm, a miniature cosmos, the male form was supposed to reflect the perfect design of God’s creation.  Obviously, this view of the world doesn’t actually play out when you look at things more critically.  But it had a profound effect on the Medieval mind none the less.

    If you enjoy history at all, are interested in architecture, art, science, medicine, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, or simply a good story, this is worth a spot on your bookshelf; as is Lester’s previous work, The Fourth Part of the World (very, highly recommended).  Breathing life into our history is a noble effort.  I was lucky.  I was fascinated by history since watching Raiders of the Lost Arc and seeing Tales of the Gold Monkey as a wee lad.  But many folks I know have been turned off to the subject by dry textbooks and drier teachers who can do little more than recite facts and figures without the context that makes it meaningful (not unlike most English/Literature teachers I’ve come across).  This is the kind of book that is perfectly readable and gives plenty tantalizing details that will doubtless prompt readers to investigate further.

DaVinci’s Ghost
Author: Toby Lester
Publisher: Free Press
ISBN: 978-1-4391-8924-5


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (7/14/13-7/20/13)

    With co-Dork Brad and many others on the left coast this week for the Nerd Jamboree, Comic-Con, I have remained here, keeping the light on.  Not a particularly exciting week, but not a bad one, either.

Game of Thrones Season 2:  Watching a regular episode of this show can be stressful, because you know anyone could die at any point, but watching the last couple episodes, you know death is riding.  The second season of the show is quite good, though it gets off to a wonky start.  Look, I love me some nudity and I’m no prude, but the first two episodes had me looking at my watch thinking, ‘can we please just put the tits away and get on with the story?’  And then they do, and the rest of the season keeps it balanced pretty well.  Peter Dinklage remains my favorite part, though there’s plenty to love.  His character is probably the most interesting and he plays it with gusto.  I haven’t read the books, and frankly, have no interest.  But my hope is that Tyrion Lannister is the last man standing to claim the throne.  If you don’t mind wall to wall swearing, violence, and sex, this series is a great companion to the Lord of the Rings films.  It feels like Middle Earth in the centuries after the King.

King Kong:  One of my all time favorite films, I was super excited to see it on the big screen.  However, some awful, literally snot-nosed little kid that couldn’t keep still pretty much ruined it for me.  Whatever.  Still one of the great movies, and a must see.  But parents, either don’t take the kids, or serve as a buffer between them and strangers.  Don’t let your hyperactive, sinus-shunt needing spawn ruin a someone’s 30 year aspiration.  Dick.

FDR: American Badass:  “I’m a motorcycle of death.  I ain’t got no sidecar.”  You have to know, going into this, that a movie called FDR: American Badass is not going to be some classy discussion of the life of an American president.  It’s about a guy who gets polio from Nazi werewolves, becomes President, smokes Lincoln inducing weed, and personally leads the attack on werewolf Hitler and Mussalini.  It’s crass, stupid, goofy, awkward, extremely cheap looking, and pretty much straight up awesome.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II:  “The mind is a labyrinth.”  This is a profoundly strange movie.  It’s an old favorite of mine, and I totally get why.  But after probably a decade without seeing it, this rewatch put how bloody strange it is into perspective.  The editing is all off, the story hops in weird ways, the acting and dialog are very wonky, and the music is bugnuts.  It’s totally anti-climactic and has several pretty big problems.  But I still find it very compelling, like a very gory adult fairy tale.  All the puzzle/riddle/maze stuff is great, and I think handled the best of all the films in the series.  It doesn’t shy away from physically traveling to hell, as most movies of this sort would; teasing for an hour and ten minutes, then giving a couple brief glimpses in the last reel.  No, this time we spend a third to half the film in the twisting strangeness of mat paintings and forced perspective.

Evil Dead (2013):  As soon as the Paul Dano looking chump opened the book and it was revealed to just be garden variety Satanism, I pretty much checked out.  One of the things I always liked about the original Evil Dead films was the Lovecraft hints.  The movie looks nice, but otherwise is just a bunch of boring retreads.  I’m not against remakes.  But Evil Dead 2 and (to a lesser degree) Army of Darkness already remade Evil Dead, and both movies had 100% more excitement and fun.  Skip it.  Watch the original.  Nothing to see here.

Jack the Giant Slayer:  Another ‘revisionist’ fairy tale, this by the numbers snooze-fest looks and feels like a made for TV movie from 20 years ago (10th Kingdom, Gulliver’s Travels, etc.).  A cast of better-than-this actors phone in performances, dishing out lifeless dialog that doesn’t even have the good taste to be memorably bad.  CG used where practical effects would have likely been easier, cheaper, and certainly look better.  Ho-hum.

Welcome to the cutting edge of 1992.

    Friday night through Saturday, I was on mission.  Co-Dork’s lair.  Blu-ray player.  Chinese food.  Like John Rambo before me, I got the job done.

Melvin & Howard:  Man, can I pick ‘em.  I thought this movie was going to be about a guy hanging out with Howard Hughes, not a s#!+ kicking hillbilly without the sense (or cents) to get his slack-jawed life together.  Between his soft-headed first wife, sleazy bosses, and own lack of brain cells, it’s a wonder our grease stained blue collar hero can drive and sing crappy songs at the same time, much less succeed in life.  As the movie progresses toward its climax (?!), the filmmakers rely on the viewer to be well versed in the actual shenanigans the film is inspired by…which I’m not.  This was up for Oscars?  This WON Oscars?  Maybe I can stop using Geena Davis’ win as my example when I point to how moronic the Oscars are.

My 2 minutes are the best part.

Jubal:  A good cast does a good job with a fairly standard collection of Western tropes.  There’s not really a heck of a lot to this movie, nor a lot to make one take note, beyond the excellent cast.  It was fine, and perfectly watchable, but not especially memorable.

Videodrome:  “Nobody on Earth was made for that show.”  Cronenberg’s grimly disturbing, and creepily prescient vision of the entertainment industry is quintessentially 80s in its execution, but timeless in its vision.  James Woods only thinks he’s an amoral would-be TV tycoon, peddling sleaze to the lowest of the low.  But when he discovers Videodrome, he may have found a line even he isn’t willing to cross.  Is it simply broadcasts of sadistic murders, or is it the beginning of a new political/religious/evolutionary force?

The Video Dead: A really, really weird 80s zombie movie, it’s not very good, but it’s certainly …um…unique.  A cursed TV, wandering zombies, the Garbage Man, a cowboy.  OK.  This isn’t a great movie by any means.  But it’s a fun 80s weirdo, with a cover you probably remember from poking around video stores 20 years ago.  Worth checking out for the strangeness, if nothing else.  And it doesn’t play out as one expects these films to go, which is a nice surprise.

French Stewart!  What happened?

    After my return from the abode of my counterpart, I finally cranked out the last few pages of da Vinci’s Ghost, from the author of The Fourth Part of the World.  Good, entertaining and informative history.  Da Vinci seems like he’d have been fun to hang with.

Fantastic Voyage:  The slow pace might be tough for some, but this voyage into inner space is pretty good.  Nice effects and a solid cast, as well as some rather overblown theatrics of Science! help sell the crazy.  There’s also a good dose of Cold War paranoia.  The opening of the movie feels like it dropped right out of a spy film.  It goes astray in the last act, and I can’t say that the resolution is especially satisfying.  But all in all, a fair sci-fi adventure flick from the 60s.

    Other than that, I’ve been addicted to Prog Rock all this week.  Started reading a book, Yes is the Answer, which is spawning more interest than usual.  It’s interesting going back to this music as a total outsider.  I don’t use drugs.  I wasn’t alive when Prog was at its height (or, I was just being born).  But I feel a certain connection to it.  The grandiose storytelling, the operatic sound and theatricality, the more Classical than Country composition.  Love it.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Deserves Still Got Nothing To Do With It - Japanese Unforgiven Trailer Arrives!

I am utterly fascinated by this remake & its trailer.  As you may very well know, Unforgiven is my all time favorite movie.  The first Western I ever saw in the theater, and my first experience with the Clint Eastwood persona.  It lives in a very special corner of my heart.  The idea of a Japanese Samurai Western remake is incredibly appealing.  And I'm surprised (similar to Spike Lee's Oldboy do-over) at how similar this film looks to the original.  The fear being that it's too close to the source to be its own thing.  Whatever the case may be, this has just shot to the top of my most anticipated releases.


All You Need Is Retitled!

Tom Cruise's badass looking mech suit movie, All You Need Is Kill has been quickly retitled for Comic Con to the painfully banal Edge of Tomorrow.  Is this a good idea?  Hollywood is obviously afraid of the grammatically bizarre handle, but I think it was just strange enough to put butts in the seats.  Cruise is a questionable commodity these days (similar to Johnny Depp); where once there was name recognition, Cruise's celebrity is no longer enough to bring the crowds to the big screen.  For me, fan of Cruise or not, the below image of The Great One in a mech suit running from a giant wall of fire is plenty reason to put butt in chair.  And I love the crazy of the "All You Need Is Kill" title.  Edge of Tomorrow?  That sounds like a lameass Disney side attraction.  They better bring it to San Diego, but whatever your brain surmises in Hall H means nothing come game day.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (7/7/13-7/13/13)

    A Dork’s lifestyle can be challenging.  Sometimes, one is forced to really reach down and test one’s metal.  By which I mean, I stayed up WAY too late to catch two movies in theaters this week, and I’m darned tired.

True Grit:  “Please don’t fire.”  Ugly people and beautiful landscapes dot this oddly funny but very grim film.  Jeff Bridges is about as ornery an old cuss as ever there was.  It’s a nice epic quest film with a revenge plot woven in.  While the Western genre seems to have gone largely into remission, there are occasional outbreaks of these quality films.  Taking the best of movies of the past, mix it with modern sensibilities and excellent, quality craftsmanship, they rank among the best.  Gone is the Duke, wobbling his way across the screen in his tidy little shirt.  These Westerns feel more lived in.  I like it.

Bend of the River:  Jimmy Stewart is a guide with a shady past, trying to get on with his life.  Farming.  Maybe ranching if he can find some cattle.  Through the wilderness, on a riverboat, against dangerous men, he will do his darnedest to get the wagon train to their new home.  Keep your eye out for a very young Rock Hudson, a not so young Henry Morgan, and the ever cute Julia Adams.

    Sunday night, Brad and I headed up to the AFI so I could finally see one of my all time favorite films on the big screen.  Yes, it started at 7PM, is just shy of 4 hours, and I had to get up at 5AM the next day.  But worth it.

Lawrence of Arabia:  What can I say about Lawrence of Arabia that dozens or hundreds of film critics and fans haven’t already?   Beautiful, grand, sweeping, poetic.  The music, the cinematography, the acting, the script.  It’s a perfect film.  Seeing it on the big screen for the first time was quite a treat.  With the music swelling and the screen encompassing my vision, I could almost feel the sand in my eyes and the Sun on my skin.  I absolutely love watching Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, a weird guy with a grand vision, a madman ready to create a new world.  No surprise to me this film is in my top ten of all time.  Absolutely amazing.

Things to Come:  Many, many years ago, when I first had access to a VCR, I acquired a VHS that had both Metropolis and Things to Come on it.  Metropolis was something for sure.  But this would have been a horribly cut, low quality print (I remember it didn’t even have music).  But Things to Come was a particular revelation.  It felt epic and sprawling, though it’s actually not very long, with several major segments that cover various time periods.  And it combined well with my love of broken civilizations and utopian dreams.  Seeing it again, for the first time in many years on a very nice, cleaned up DVD, I was carried away again.  Raymond Massey is at his Shakespearian best, pumping out grandiose soliloquies in celebration of Human potential and condemnation of those who would hold us back.  I absolutely love this film, and seeing it in such crystal clear quality…Excellent.

Pacific Rim:  I’ve gone on at length about this with co-Dork Brad.  I had a sad realization sometime last year, I guess in the early buildup to this film, that I am actually not a Guillermo del Toro fan.  I thought I was, but I’m not.  I like a couple of his movies, but I’m often more disappointed than anything else.  I am, however, a big kaiju movie fan.  I think, in part because of the trailers and in part because of my del Toro realization, I was not really excited about this film.  CGI monsters don’t thrill me like rubber suits.  And CGI robots even less so.  But, like The Lone Ranger, this movie was much better than the trailers led me to believe.  Yes, the CGI is kind of off-putting, but it looks a heck of a lot better than the Transformers films (I can actually tell what’s happening 90% of the time).  The script is pretty basic (Top Gun).  The actors are fine, I guess.  I don’t think much of Charlie Hunnam.  He’s painfully generic.  But otherwise, it’s pretty good.  The film does capture some of that awe and crazy of classic kaiju.  I do wish more of the movie were like the Tokyo flashback (or Australia footage), which I think is probably the single best bit in the film.  The constant rain and darkness was a bit much.  It’s rated PG-13, but unless your kid is a total wuss, it’s the kind of movie a 9 or 10 year old would LOVE.

Something Weird:  “Do you like…TV acting?”  Well, the title sure fits.  This movie is so awkward and weird.  It looks like old family films from the 60s, hacked and taped together with little sense of story or pacing.  Several shots last way too long.  A whole bunch cut off too early.  The dialog is clunky and painfully delivered.  And the story is nutty…to say the least.  It’s worth watching for sure.  This is the kind of movie MST3K was made for.  So, electricity makes a guy a psychic, he hangs out with a witch, the FBI (or somebody) passes him LSD, and murder.  OK.

Why am I in this movie?!

Flower Drum Song:  “You don’t get ‘em like that over here anymore.”  The first thing that struck me about this film was that the cast is actually Asian, not just a bunch of white people in awkward make-up, as I expected.  It’s an interesting look at generational changes among the Chinese community of San Francisco.  Fresh off the boats, first generation families, second generation kids, and the tensions between them.  Plus lots of songs and 60s glam.  Overall, I was just impressed that a whole cast of Asian actors played well rounded characters in a film that neither fetishized nor dismissed the community.  These were neither the mustache twirling villains, nor the ultra-wise sages.  These were romantic men, lovelorn women, and just normal folk (with singing).

The Far Country:  Jimmy Stewart and a bunch of grizzled old faces get into some problems on the Canadian border.  A corrupt sheriff with too much control over his town, Jack Elam, and lots of folk want Jimmy’s cows.  Some good ruggedness, with Stewart playing a pretty unlikable guy.  Love the scenery.

Summertime:  “We are all that hungry.”  Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi are ridiculously charming in this beautiful movie.  Hepburn is adorable as the lonely spinster trying desperately to have an exciting adventure abroad.  Brazzi is the classically smooth Italian willing to awaken her passions.  And Venice, with all its pocks, faded colors, and ancient wonders makes for an amazing backdrop.  So nice to see two mature people falling in love in a mature city.  The camera is like another lover, longingly gazing on the actors and the city.

    Capping my week with another David Lean film was nice.  A good ending.  However, on Saturday, I also caught about 10 minutes of The Big Bang Theory.  What’s wrong with you, America?  I’m not going to say it’s the ‘worst show ever’ just that it’s the same show they’ve been doing for decades.  In 10 minutes, I heard jokes going back at least as far as Who’s the Boss?, but probably back to Barney Miller and beyond.  GAH!!!  Anyway, I haven’t been doing too much reading, though I have made it further into my re-read of the Bible.  Reading Genesis is like watching a bully picking on a kid.  “Stop hitting yourself,” God seems to say, as he’s making Man slap himself in the face.  He’s like a kid pulling the wings off of flies, except that he doesn’t just discard the twitching fly when he’s done, he demands that it loves him.  Crazy.  I’m almost through Genesis, so we’ll see what horrors are in store in Exodus soon.