Thursday, April 26, 2012

Short Animation Blogathon: Aesop's Fables

This week is the Short Animation Blogathon over at Pussy Goes Grrr. I will be discussing the silent short film series, Aesop's Film Fables.

I first discovered this series while doing research for my Tales from the Archives series of posts, which is currently on hiatus. While helping out at an archives last summer one of my projects was to go through old parish monthly calendars, which are essentially church bulletins, to catalog them so that researchers could find them online. While surveying these calendars I came across some from a church that showed movies in the 1920s and used the calendars to list what movies they were showing and when. The church would often show a short or two along with their feature film, and they apparently loved the Aesop's Fables series and they would show up in the listings quite often.

The Aesop's Fables animated shorts were created by American cartoonist Paul Terry. Terry's first work was on a series of animated shorts starring Farmer Al Falfa (pictured above). These cartoons were produced at John R. Bray Studios. Terry later left Bray Studios but was able to retain the Al Falfa character. In 1920 Terry partnered up with Amadee J. Van Beuren to start "Fables Studios." The first short Terry and Van Beuren produced was "The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs" which was released on May 13th, 1921. Although the early short films in the series were about the actual Aesop's fables, they later dropped that gimmick but kept humorous morals which often had nothing to do with the story. The Aesop's Fables series was extremely popular in the 1920s. Walt Disney even said that Paul Terry was an influence on his own work which is interesting as the two would later have their works be in direct competition with each other.

One Aesop's Fables short that the church showed was called "Small Town Sheriff." The cartoon is pictured above and dates from 1927. This is also the only cartoon from the series shown by the Church (so far, as I still have more calendars to get through in the project) that is on YouTube! You can watch it here.

"Small Town Sheriff" features good ol' Farmer Al Falfa as he deals with animals who have opened a speakeasy, although they sell soda! Keep in mind that this short was made during the Prohibition era. Wacky hijinks ensue such as a cat throwing a bottle at an elephant in a top hat, a fish stealing Al Falfa's car, and a blind pig (another name for a speakeasy was a "blind pig") running around with a barrel strapped to its back! The feline bartender has saved a bottle of booze for Al Falfa, who then drinks it and goes on a surreal journey into space. Al Falfa meets an invisible man on the moon, gets poured out of the Big Dipper, and flies through space in a rowboat being driven by a cat! Of course it turns out that none of this really happens as he was under the influence of alcohol (seems more like LSD to me!). The animals of the town all make fun of him so Al Falfa responds by reminding them him is the sheriff and pulls out his gun and starts firing to scare them away. Overall I think the cartoon holds up pretty well, especially considering its age. There are even some nice meta jokes like the Aesop's Fables film delivery truck and Alfalfa moving a question mark over his head! "Small Town Sheriff" is silly, a lot of fun, and only six minutes long so check it out now!

In 1928 Fables Studios released "Dinner Time," the first cartoon released to the public with a synchronized soundtrack. Unfortunately for Terry and Van Beuren it was overshadowed by the release of Disney's "Steamboat Willie" one month later. Fables Studios closed in 1933 but Paul Terry then started the successful animation studio Terrytoons. The Terrytoons cartoons were distributed by 20th Century Fox. Who is the most famous Terrytoons character you ask? Why it's none other than Mighty Mouse!

Thanks for reading and please check out the other entries in the Short Animation Blogathon!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two 2011 movies

Back in January of this year I made a post featuring 2011 movies I still want to see. Since then I have seen four movies from that year, three of which were on my list (I didn't want to see Season of the Witch which I discussed earlier this month in my Four Bad Movies post, haha). In this post I'll talk about two movies. The other 2011 movie I saw was Oscar Best Picture winner The Artist which will get its own post.

Attack the Block
This British science fiction/horror movie had been on my radar since I first heard about it last summer so I'm glad I finally got a chance to see it. Attack the Block is about a group of teenagers who defend their South London home from alien attacks. As others have pointed, out shouldn't it be called Defend the Block?

The accents and area of Britain aren't the most universal, but I didn't really have any problems understanding what the characters were saying and at the very least got the general gist of it. While I wouldn't consider Attack the Block to be a comedy, it does have some humor which keeps the tone from getting too serious.

The kids in the gang are anti-heroes. We grow to like them as the movie progresses as we find out more about their situations and who they really are. The idea of teens fighting back against aliens/monsters harkens back to 50s Sci-Fi movies like The Blob and The Giant Gila Monster.

The acting isn't great overall but these are young actors who don't have a lot of experience. John Boyega did good job as Moses, the leader of the group, who resembles a young Denzel Washington. Jodie Whittaker put in a nice performance as a nurse named Sam who is a resident of the Block.
The best way I can describe the design of aliens is a cross between the xenomorphs of the Alien series and the white apes of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom book series. I quite liked the look of the aliens which are a solid mix of practical effects and CGI that works very well. I'd like to see more Hollywood movies go this route and incorporate practical effects along with CGI. Although Attack the Block had a low budget by Hollywood standards, it wasn't real cheap to make as it had an estimated $13 million (US Dollars) budget.

Another movie that I thought of while watching Attack the Block was Super 8, which also came out in 2011. Both movies involve kids and an alien threat but approach their stories in very different ways.
This is the first movie by director Joe Cornish and a nice debut. I'm already looking forward to his next film! Cornish did a good job with a low budget but maybe he'll have more to work with next time.

Hobo with a Shotgun
After Grindhouse came out in 2007 (a movie I still need to see) there was a contest for people to make their own fake trailers for grindhouse movies. The winner of the contest was a trailer called Hobo with a Shotgun which got made into its own movie!

Although Hobo with a Shotgun is a sleazy exploitation movie, there is suprisingly little nudity and sex in the movie with the main exception being one scene of topless women beating up a guy hanging from a ceiling!
I was blown away by the great performance by Rutger Hauer. Hauer is always great but I wasn't expecting great acting in a movie titled Hobo with a Shotgun! The unnamed Hobo an unknown who comes to a corrupt town looking for a new life but only finds crime, desperation, and murder. The Hobo is basically Batman or The Punisher but homeless and dirt poor. I am glad we are never given the hobo's back story as it would have ruined the mystery behind the character. Hauer holds the movie together and without him as the lead it would not have been as good or perhaps turned into a spoof. Hauer takes the character very seriously and against all odds makes it work. I had already seen the trailer for this movie before I watched it so i knew his monologue in the hospital but it was still fantastic. His role is where the movie really shines. The other actors in the movie aren't very good. Now I'm pretty sure they are supposed to be over the top because this is a throwback to exploitation movies, but (unlike the original fake trailer) Hauer plays it straight so I'm not sure what to think.

Unlike the similar movie Machete, Hobo doesn't have much fun in its approach and is brutal with a depressing tone even though both movies are doing a lot of the same things. When there is humor in Hobo its very dark humor. I haven't seen that many grindhouse movies so I don't know if that is what I should be expecting or not. Despite the violence and gore, most of the kills aren't very creative or interesting ( with one or two exceptions) and its gets repetitive fast. I am fine with intense violence but was more turned off by how grim things were with very little to lighten the mood. The makers of Hobo with a Shotgun seemed to have set out to make a dirty trashy little picture, and they certainly succeeded in doing just that. Exploitation and Grindhouse covers a lot of material and this is in the more extreme territory of stuff like Anthropophagus and Cannibal Holocaust (though not a cannibal movie but in terms of violence, gore, and tone).

"The Plague" were interesting villains.They basically served the Boba Fett type role of unknown badasses with cool costumes who get called upon by the big bad (the Drake) when he can't defeat the hero to seal the deal. There is a bizarre scene in their hideout where they have a squid creature in their box. It doesn't make any sense and is never explained. Perhaps this is a reference to something from a grindhouse movie that went straight over my head. Or maybe its there to show that this doesn't take place in our universe? But if that is the case I figured that one out long before I saw the octopus/tentacles/Cthulhu. Perhaps it was just meant to be random and funny but if so it just didn't fit in with the bleak tone.

Overall I still feel that the original trailer (and even the real trailer for this movie) works better as a short than as a full-length movie. The first trailer made for the contest was more tongue-in-cheek and humorous than the movie we actually got. While I liked this movie and it was decently made, it's not something I plan on watching again. I know that the point of the movie was to not hold anything and I give credit to Hobo with a Shotgun for making this type of movie with no apologies. Although the movie had a limited theatrical release I think it will gain a bit of a cult following. Hobo with a Shotgun certainly isn't for everyone and it went unrated in the US. If you can get past the violence and gore, are into grindhouse and exploitation flicks, or are a huge Rutger Hauer fan will probably like it. Otherwise this movie probably won't be your cup of tea, or should I say bag of blood in this case.

Similarly to Hobo with a Shotgun, Machete was based on a fake trailer in Grindhouse. Although I liked Machete better, I feel that Hobo with a Shotgun was closer to an original grindhouse film (or perhaps a Troma film as some people have mentioned though I have yet to see any of those) as it was set in 70s/80s, had a much lower budget, and didn't have celebrity cameos. That said, I haven't seen that many old school grindhouse/exploitation movies so I'm not really sure how close it is. Although its not directly related, my favorite movie along the lines of these is Black Dynamite. I wrote about it earlier on this blog but I loved how it was able to be a blaxploitation movie that looked like it was made in the 70s as well as being a parody and loving homage to them at the same time.

As I alluded to earlier my next post (after a special blogathon post) will be on The Artist. After that I will be doing a series of wrap-up post that feature three movies a piece. Most of these are randomly grouped just so I can catch up on the remaining movies I have seen since December. And in case you were wondering, one of these wrap-up will feature my thoughts on Machete!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Four More Mid-80s Movies

Fletch is based on 1974 novel of the same name by Gregory McDonald which launched a popular series. I haven't read the book of any others in the series so I don't how close on an adaptation this is.
Chevy Chase is hilarious as I.M. Fletcher, an investigative news reporter. Chase did a lot of ad-libbing and there is plenty of rapid fire wordplay that reminded me of Groucho Marx.
The mystery here is actually pretty interesting and I wonder if it was played more straight in the books. The basic set-up is that while Fletch is undercover as a junkie to write a drug story, a rich man named Alan Stanwyk (played by Tim Matheson) asks Fletch to murder him for money because he is dying of cancer so that Stanwyk's family can collect money from his life insurance.
Although the movie is only 98 minutes there is some filler. For example, there is a dream sequence in which Fletch imagines he is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. While this was pretty funny, it was already established he was a Lakers fan and this scene just slowed down the story. It would've been funnier if this wasn't a dream, and was somehow actually involved with the plot. For example, maybe Fletch could've been spying on Alan Stanwyk at a Lakers game by pretending to be some European basketball player the Lakers just signed. One sub-plot that is brought up is that Fletch is behind on alimony payment to his ex-wife which is why he sneaks into his apartment. However, after this scene it is completely dropped. Maybe it is just a recurring joke in the book series?
The music is very dated and it doesn't get much more 80s than this soundtrack. That said, I do like the main theme by Harold Faltermeyer, who also did music for the mid-80s movies Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun.
Besides star Chevy Chase and the already mentioned Tim Matheson the supporting cast is very good and includes M. Emmet Walsh, William Sanderson, (Both who were in Blade Runner) George Wendt, Geena Davis, Joe Don Baker, Kenneth Mars, and the first credited film role for James Avery. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar even plays himself!

Black Moon Rising
I wanted to see this movie because the story was by John Carpenter who is also credited as co-screenwriter. Black Moon Rising was one of three movies (the others being Eyes of Laura Mars and Halloween II) where Carpenter got a writing credit but did not direct. I am a big John Carpenter fan and eventually want to see all of his films. I wouldn't count this one as he didn't direct it, so I'll just consider it a bonus Carpenter movie!
Black Moon Rising is a high tech thriller about a thief named Quint (played by Tommy Lee Jones) hired by the FBI to steal a data tape they plan on using as evidence against a corrupt company. Quint gets with the theft but has to hide the tape in a prototype super car because he is about to be searched. The car, Black Moon, then gets stolen by a top car thief. Quint works with the car's inventors to track down and steal back both the car and the tape.
The "Black Moon" is the cool, rare 1980 Wingho Concordia II. In the movie the car has a rear view camera which is pretty cool since we now have this technology.
Tommy Lee Jones takes a beating as Quint and did most of own stunts. Jones does a good job of playing a rogue hero. While the movie stars Tommy Lee Jones, we also have Linda Hamilton as Nina, a car thief and our female lead. This was Hamilton's first movie made after The Terminator. There are also a bunch of character actors I recognized such as William Sanderson (also in Fletch), Bubba Smith, Keenan Wynn, and Dan Shor. I also noticed Don Keith Opper who played Max 404 in Android (1982).

There is a cool scene where we see from the perspective of a deaf man and no sound or music is heard. It didn't really fit with the rest of the movie but at least they were trying something different.
It feels like there could have been more at stake with and this leads to some slow scenes. I guess they were trying for a moody atmosphere but it doesn't quite fit for an action/thriller with a huge figurative ticking time bomb (he needs to get the tape in the car in less than two days). There is more action with the heist at the end but I feel that the heist scene should have been longer. The movie gives us a lot of set-up for Quint's attempt to get the tape back and I would've liked a bigger payoff.
While the music is dated, the real problem is that it doesn't fit with the tone of the movie. One of the things I love about John Carpenter is how he usually scores his own films, something not many directors do. I wish Carpenter could have done the music but I guess at the time he was too busy making Big Trouble in Little China which I also suspect was why he didn't direct the movie.
I am curious as to why Carpenter didn't direct and couldn't find a reason online. Instead Harley Cokeliss, probably best known for his work on Kevin Sorbo's Hercules TV series in the 90s, was the director. Black Moon Rising has its moments and the story has potential, but in the end it just doesn't work. I'm sure the movie would've have been better with Carpenter at the helm.
Black Moon Rising was made by New World Pictures, who also produced several Roger Corman films. New World Pictures and Empire Pictures were the kings of 1980s B-Movies.

The Name of the Rose
I love Drew Struzan and plan on making a post his awesome movie posters sometime. However, this poster is totally misleading and doesn't fit with the style of the movie. The poster makes The Name of the Rose look like a fantasy comedy while its actually realistic and serious. I don't blame Struzan though, the marketing people should have just gotten somebody else for this job. Struzan's work here is nice but certainly not one of his better posters. It basically copies the layout of his Raiders of the Lost Ark poster. That said, I would like to see more movie posters that are hand drawn and painted. But this is one of the few instances where I actually prefer the various VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray covers to the actual poster.
Like Fletch, The Name of the Rose is based on a book (by Italian author Umberto Eco) which I haven't read. Unlike Fletch, this movie is historical fiction that takes place during the early 14th century in northern Italy.
The title is said to be unexplained in the book (and perhaps just chosen randomly because it sounds nice) and its also up to interpretation in the movie.
Sean Connery plays our main character, the Franciscan friar William of Baskerville. As you might guess by the name, he is partially modeled after Sherlock Holmes.William's young novice is Adso (played by
Christian Slater) who helps William try to discover who is getting away with murder at the Benedictine Abbey they have recently arrived at.
I've only now noticed a trend in this post: all four movies have nice supporting casts. The Name of the Rose features F. Murray Abraham, Ron Perlman, William Hickey, Michael Lonsdale, and Feodor Chaliapin Jr.
There is only one female character in the film, a peasant girl, but she has an important role despite her limited screen time.

The Name of the Rose
has nice atmosphere with a slow but steady pacing that works with the story. Perhaps this is because it is a European movie (Germany, France, Italy) though its an English language film. Of course Latin is spoken too!
The director of this film is Jean-Jacques Annaud, who also made Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy at the Gates, two movies I quite liked. Annaud clearly does a good job at world history movies, I'll have to check out more of his films sometime.
It is interesting to have a medieval murder mystery (although there is more to this movie than just that) since guns don't play a part at all. Sure there are modern day murder mysteries where this is the case, but in this film its not even in the picture. The mystery is further deepened by a well-designed labyrinth.
There is not a lot of music which is nice. The music we do have is from the period such as the monks singing.
The character of Bernardo Gui (F. Murray Abraham) is not introduced until more than an hour into the movie. Screenwriting teachers will probably tell you not to do this but it works here since there was a nice build up with the character being talked about several times before the audience actually sees him. Introducing a major character later on also worked in Fargo, although obviously in a different way.
I'm not an expert on the Middle Ages even though I have a big interest in history and I've taken some college classes about the period. That said, this movie seems to be much more accurate than most medieval movies. Like The Seventh Seal it might not get the facts 100% correct, but I feel both movies do a great job of expressing the feeling and setting of medieval life.

Platoon is the first Oliver Stone movie I have seen. This Vietnam movie won four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Sound) and nominated for four more so I figured it would be a good place to start!
The directing and cinematography are top notch. I saw the movie in HD and it looked wonderful. Stone actually fought in Vietnam so it seems that a lot of his first hand experiences are fictionalized in this movie which give it a great sense of realism. We always see from the point of view of the American soldiers and never even get a good look at the Vietcong. Platoon is an intense war film but its action scenes do not glorify the violence it depicts.
The music was quite good. I loved the score and the 60s songs did a good job of setting the time period.
The ensemble cast is fantastic. Charlie Sheem, who I am mostly familiar with in comedy roles, plays the lead. I didn't know he could act this well but he did a great job here. Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe play the bad guy and good guy leaders of the platoon although that is simplifying it a bit. John C. McGinley, Forest Whitaker, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, and Johnny Depp all have early roles here.
Sheen and Berenger would later star in Major League, a movie that is nothing like this one!

Friday, April 6, 2012

A double shot of 80s Anime

I generally don't watch much anime but have friends who do. I like it alright, but I'm the type of person who likes pretty much every genre of film, as long as its good! Both of these are from 1986 although I didn't plan that.

Fist of the North Star (1986)
Fist of the North Star features some gorgeous animation despite the fact that a lot of it takes place in a dirty, post-apocalyptic setting.
I liked it as the movie was violent fun yet still more intelligent than the anime below.
The story could be better but this was based on a Manga so it seems they had to condense a lot of it to fit the 110 minutes run time. Plus who watches this for the story, they just want to see a bunch of heads explode!
There actually is a live action version of Fist of the North Star but I've heard its pretty bad. Oh, I should mention that I watched the English subtitles for this movie.

M.D. Geist (1986)
I watched M.D. Geist with a group of friends right after we saw The Land Before Time XIII. This direct-to-video anime is pretty much the exact opposite of that children's movie as M.D. Geist is not just violent as hell but also features a topless woman! Although I don't watch much anime, MD (stands for Most Dangerous soldier) Geist has a reputation amongst anime lovers for being awesomely bad and it certainly upholds that high standard! I had actually seen this before a while back with a friend and it holds up as being a lot of fun even though it is incredibly stupid.
M.D. Geist
liberally rips off every action movie of the 1980s with the main two being The Road Warrior and Escape from New York. It probably even borrowed ideas from Fist of the North Star which started in manga form in 1983 and also has a post-apocalyptic setting.
I watched the director's cut as the animation in the original is said to be so choppy there is even a scene where you can see Geist's head flapping in the wind! M.D. Geist clocks in at a mere 45 minutes and is exact what you want if you are looking for silly over the top fun. I almost always go with subtitles when it comes to foreign language films but this time I recommend the English dub since it's hilarious. There actually is a sequel to M.D. Geist which I will have to check out sometime.
I wouldn't say this is good, but I always have a blast watching it! M.D. Geist is a textbook definition of "so bad, its good".

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Three Great Movies

All three of these films are on Roger Ebert's list of Great Movies.

Duck Soup
Duck Soup is first Marx Brothers movie I have seen even though I was already familiar with Groucho Marx.
I was surprised to see that even though there is plenty of comedy, the movie doesn't have much of a plot. The brand of humor here was way ahead of its time and greatly influential to everything from Looney Tunes to Teller (of Penn & Teller who doesn't talk and acts like Harpo in some way) to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim shows which often make use of stock footage in a humorous context similar to what happens during the hilarious war scene.
Duck Soup features the well known mirror scene which has been parodied in everything from The Three Stooges to Bugs Bunny cartoons. Although the mirror scene had been done before in film, it is performed a bit differently here and in excellent fashion.
I didn't care as much for the scenes with Harpo bothering a lemonade seller. These scenes feel almost like something out of a silent film comedy. Of course that is not why I didn't like it, I just felt these parts didn't really fit in with the rest of the movie. Also I'm just a such a big fan of Groucho's word play as opposed to physical comedy that I wanted more scenes with him! Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly was simply amazing and its one of the greatest comedy roles ever, as well as one of the most memorable in all of cinema.

Double Indemnity
The director of Double Indemnity is Billy Wilder, who also directed one of my favorite movies, Sunset Blvd. I am familiar with Fred MacMurray from his Disney movies like The Absent-Minded Professor and The Shaggy Dog as well as his TV show My Three Sons. However, he usually played good/nice guys so it was interesting to see him in a different type of role earlier in his career. MacMurray plays Walter Neff, an insurance salesman. Neff visits the home of Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck) who eventually convinces him to help kill her husband but make it look like an accident or should I say "accidentally on purpose". Since Neff is an expert at the insurance business, he knows all the tricks of the trade to get away with the deed while few will suspect him.
Stanwyck's wig is a little ridiculous and even though it was Wilder's idea, he didn't realize how bad it looked until it was too late to re-shoot the earlier scenes. Even though the bad wig wasn't really intentional, I actually think this fits with her character as it makes sense that Phyllis would wear a wig to hide something from her past.
There seems to be an implied sexual relationship between Neff and Phyllis. Although this ambiguity is because of the Hayes Code, it does makes sense within context of film as Neff is recording his story for Keyes and probably wouldn't go into detail about that aspect of his story.
Edward G. Robinson has a supporting role as Barton Keyes, Neff's boss at the insurance company. Although I already knew who Robinson was, this is actually the first movie I've seen with him. While Robinson doesn't have as much screen time as MacMurray or Stanwyck, I'm surprised he didn't get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor as he stole every scene he was in.

Double Indemnity was groundbreaking at the time for two main reasons. First, it is a crime thriller that does not have a police officer or detective as the main character. Law enforcement play a very small role in the movie since our story is told through the eyes of those trying to commit and get away with a crime. Even though this had been done before, it would usually be in gangster movies where the police would still have a strong on-screen presence.
Second, we are told "whodunit" at the beginning of the movie by our main character. At the beginning of the film Neff is shown dictating and recording the story from his perspective to give to Keyes. Wilder's Sunset Blvd. would later use its main character as a narrator in a similar way.
Double Indemnity also features an early example of the film trope that a car won't start at a crucial moment which we still see in recent movies.
Double Indemnity was nominated for seven Oscars but unfortunately didn't win any. It's main competition was the musical Going My Way which won seven Oscars that year.
The "alternate" ending would have been unnecessary as what would have shown is implied in the end anyway so I'm glad they cut it. Double Indemnity is a master of subtext and suspense that I really enjoyed. It is only the second Billy Wilder film I have seen and I loved both so I'll have to make it a point to check out more of his work.

The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai is historical fiction that is based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote the book for Planet of the Apes) which in turn is inspired by true events of the Burma Railway during World War II. The actual situation was a lot worse for British POWs and they did not collaborate with the Japanese in building the bridge. I am fine with a story taking liberties with true events (as long as it is clear it isn't a docudrama which is the case here) since it makes me want to go out and learn more about what actually happened.
The Bridge on the River Kwai was directed by David Lean and this is the first film I have seen from this talented director.
Probably the most memorable scene from the movie is when the POWs whistle the catchy Colonel Bogey March. I saw this movie over a month ago and its still stuck in my head!
William Holden plays Shears, the American POW. While Holden does a great job as usual, I found myself more interested in the building of the bridge than his story to go back and attempt to blow up the bridge. These scenes were well done, its just that I found the other story and characters were more compelling.
The Bridge on the River Kwai won seven Oscars, including a win for the fantastic cinematography by Jack Hildyard.
Alec Guiness won his only Oscar for this film and was fantastic as Lt. Colonel Nicholson, the leader of the British POWs. Sessue Hayakawa played Colonel Saito, and although this his is most well-known role for today's audiences, he was hugely popular in silent films and was the first Asian-American movie star. Although Hayakawa was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, I wish he had won for his great performance.
The ending is tense and a perfect conclusion to the film.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Four More Bad Movies

The Day the Earth Froze
I saw this movie via the show Mystery Science Theater 3000 which featured it along with the short Here Comes the Circus (1946). This episode was from the fourth season so it was a Joel episode.
The movie itself is a poorly dubbed Finnish/Soviet Fantasy adventure based on Finnish mythology.
Although this is a bad movie it is unintentionally amusing and the riffs were very good. I never heard of this MST3K before so I'd say its an underrated episode. If you're are a fan of MST3K but haven't seen this one yet give it a watch.

Although I do remember Gigli bombing when it came out and hearing how bad it is, I never saw it. While at the time I wondered if it was really that bad, I'm kinda glad I saw it now because I can say yes, this movie does indeed suck!
From a technical standpoint Gigli not as bad as say Battlefield Earth, but at least that was more fun to watch in all its glorious stupidity. Even though Gigli features both Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, the two are not used properly and could have replaced them with anyone. The movie is incredibly dull as not much happens. Scenes are very long and usually take place in the same areas. I remember one scene in particular where the camera went back and forth to the same two shots so many times in a row I lost count. I know this movie had a beleaguered production, but that is no excuse to get lazy and the end result looks amateurish.
Clocking in at a full two hours this movie is about 30 minutes too long for the plot. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if it was shorter but the story really drags on with tons of scenes where nothing really happens and the conversations just drone on and on.
Despite having an estimated $74 million budget (production and marketing costs), Gigli only made back about $7 million worldwide. Not quite Pluto Nash territory but still a gigantic box office bomb.
Deep down I actually feel there was some potential here. I think if someone re-wrote the script for director Martin Brest, the movie was shorter, and did not star Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (and therefore didn't try to cash in on their relationship) it actually could have been good. Over $24 million went to Bennifer which is over three times what the movie made in theaters. I have seen Affleck in other movies and while he's not a bad actor, he is awful here. I'm not too familiar with JLo so maybe she has performed better in other movies but she is just as bad as Affleck here.
To be fair, the mentally challenged kid was well acted by Justin Bartha (National Treasure, The Hangover) but not tactfully written. The kid's obsession with "Baywatch" was funny though. Gigli was Bartha's first movie so I am impressed that his career was able to survive being in this flop.

Gigli feels like its trying to copy Tarantino's style but falls flat on its face. For example, the movie uses the word "fuck" 124 times and for the most part the use of the word is completely unnecessary and just thrown in there it make it seem gritty. I've only seen Tarantino's first two movies but he broke a lot of screenwriting rules. However, he still did such a good job with stuff like dialogue that his touch worked. But Brest is not Tarantino and this movie fails miserably. Now to be fair Brest was around before Tarantino so who knows, maybe they both influenced each other.
In what should be no surprise, Gigli won six razzie awards including a grand slam of worst picture, worst actor, worst actress, worst director worst screenplay. It easily won worst on-screen couple.
As I alluded to earlier, director Martin Brest also wrote the script. Brest has directed some good movies but never wrote the script for those and that seems to be the problem here. To be fair this movie did have a difficult production with Brest battling the studio for control. Brest lost and and it was re-cut by the studio before being released. For example, a bunch of scenes in the trailer are not in the movie. Apparently Brest originally intended for the movie to be much longer (160 minutes!) but also darker and violent. However, the producers wanted to cash in on the tabloid craze of "Bennifer" and therefore turn the movie into more of a romantic comedy. A director's cut has never been released and I doubt I would watch it, but its probably better than the theatrical version. Still, you can only polish a turd so much.
The only other movie I've seen by Martin Brest is Beverly Hills Cop which I did like. I'll have to watch some of his good movies as I've been recommended Midnight Run and Scent of a Woman.
Looking at Brest's filmography it is clear he has talent and has made good movies. Brest hasn't made a movie since and even though Gigli is terrible I think that is a shame. Unfortunately pretty much everything that could go wrong did, which is a recipe for disaster. And if you look up Gigli in a thesaurus you will find the word disaster!
There are many movies worse than this from a technical standpoint that are still much more watchable. Gigli is not the worst movie ever but its certainly down there. As for Hollywood movies this is one of the worst I've seen but its still better than Cool as Ice.

The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends
Not many movie franchises get to 13 movies. Of course all the sequels after the original (a classic animated children's movie) were to direct to video, but I must still give them credit for making so many as I imagine this means the sequels sold well. As a kid I loved the first one and stuck around until about the sixth movie. What can I say, like most children I loved dinosaurs!
I watched this movie with a bunch of friends as a joke, and even though its a kid's movie, its still a bad kid's movie. Some people give bad kids movies a pass by saying they are simply meant for children, but that is just a slap in the face to the good kids movies out there.
There isn't much of a plot here, basically Littlefoot and his dino buddies have to help some dumb dinosaurs go back to their home, Berry Valley. The story is essentially a dumb-downed version of the original with far less tension and aimed at an even younger audience. The animation is mediocre at best and while the songs are annoying, they are completely forgettable which I guess is a good in a way because I'm glad I don't remember them!
Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sandra Oh voice two of the stupid dinosaurs. I know they are talented, but they have absolutely nothing to work with here.
I can't really recommend The Land Before Time XIII to anyone. If you liked these movies as a child, just re-watch the original. If your kids want to see this it can't hurt, but start them out with the first and perhaps the some of the early sequels as they are all much better that this thoughtless franchise cash-in.

Girl Happy
I had never seen an Elvis movie before so I didn't really know what to expect coming into this.
Elvis made over thirty movies between 1956 and 1969. By 1965 the Beatles just started to hit and Beach Party movie fad was in full swing. As a result of these new developments Elvis is given a band (one member is played by Bing Crosby's son, Gary Crosby) and we have the spring break beach setting of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Shelley Fabares, Harold J. Stone (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes), John Fiedler (Piglet from Winnie the Pooh) were actors I recognized in this movie. All were also in different episodes of my favorite TV show, the Twilight Zone.
Besides those other actors, Girl Happy features Jackie Coogan as a police officer. Is he the only actor to be in movies with both Charlie Chaplin and Elvis Presley?!
Although this movie is technically a musical, I found none of the songs memorable.
For some reason this movie was not filmed on location and it is obvious they filmed Girl Happy on sets.
Despite these drawbacks and the dated 60s lingo this is watchable if you're in the mood for a silly little movie. Elvis steals a boat and puts it in a swimming pool!

After all these bad movies its time to switch gears. My next post will be on three great movies!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Four Bad Movies

Season of the Witch
Guess what, I finally saw a bad movie from 2011!
Season of the Witch was actually worse than I expected. The movie is not over the top bad but just boring and unexciting. The plot is sort of like The Seventh Seal as an action movie since we have a returning crusader and his partner who must transport a suspected witch to a monastery. I'm not going to get into how historical the movie is as even though it tries to be accurate in some ways overall the movie is pure fantasy and not really trying to be historically accurate.
Nicolas Cage was alright but he is an actor who seems to be only as good as the material he is working with. When he has a good script and director he can be great (Adaptation). But when that doesn't happen the results can be disastrous (The Wicker Man). Now one could argue that actors generally do better when the writing and directing are good and worse when its not, but Cage seems to take this to the extreme.   
Ron Perlman was fun but his character, the partner of the knight played by Cage, simply doesn't have much to do.
While I'm not an expert on cinematic techniques, there appear some obvious day for night scenes that have a bluish tint. Other times its way too dark and hard to see what is going on. I would expect this from a low budget non-Hollywood movie but Season of the Witch had a $40 million budget! I guess all the money went to the salaries of Cage and Perlman. It certainly didn't go to the CGI which looks pretty bad for a mainstream 2011 movie. 
Season of the Witch isn't that bad, but there are a lot of movies worse than it which are a lot more fun to watch. For example, see some of the movies below!

Double Dragon
Double Dragon is stupid as hell but at the end of the day its watchable and fun. I enjoyed seeing this movie a lot more than Season of Witch even though that is a better movie.
The best way to describe Double Dragon is that it is along the lines of Surf Ninjas or the 3 Ninjas series but for a slightly older audience.
This movie is based on the video game of the same name which was a beat 'em up fighting game. Just because something is popular and good in its own medium doesn't mean it will make a good film. The concept just doesn't really work as a movie even though it was a fun game. I did like how the actual arcade game showed up in the movie. That *that* fourth wall!
Our main character is Jimmy Lee (played by Mark Dacascos, a dead ringer for Brandon Lee) who along with his brother Billy Lee must stop an evil ruler named Koga Shuko (played by Robert Patrick) from gaining the other half of a talisman that will allow him to rule the world. While I love Robert Patrick for his role as the T-1000 and in two awesome episodes the 1990s Outer Limits series, he is just plain silly here and feels like a 60s Batman villain.
Alyssa Milano is better known for her work on Television but plays the female lead here. The only other movie I had seen her in is Commando as Arnold Schwarzenegger's daughter! Oddly enough, like Robert Patrick she was also in an episode of The Outer Limits.
There are cameos for Vanna White and Andy Dick who appear as themselves. I'm not sure why, but this movie was so ridiculous it worked.
I was shocked to see that Paul Dini had a writing credit for the story. Now maybe he only he didn't have much to do with the final screenplay or was paid by the studio to simply deliver this dreck, but I couldn't believe that this was the same guy who won Emmy Awards for the writing on Batman: The Animated Series and Tiny Toon Adventures. I re-watched his shows Batman:TAS and Batman Beyond recently and they hold up very well as are surprisingly dark and adult for kids shows.
Double Dragon was a box office failure which shouldn't be a surprise. Still, if you need a fun bad movie to watch with a group of friends, this would be a fine choice.

Yongary, Monster from the Deep
Yongary is essentially the South Korean Godzilla. He looks a lot like Godzilla, with one of the main differences being the horns on his head. Yongary is considered to be a Kaiju film (Japanese for "strange beast" but often translated into English as "monster").
Although Yongary is a pretty bad movie, it is somewhat amusing. Yongary dances after all!
The kid who tries to befriend Yongary is pretty damn annoying but I expected that since I think these movies were meant for children and to sell toys.
The original Korean version of Yongary is lost and the film that exists is the dubbed American version. While my initial reaction to this news was "no big loss," I truly think it is a shame when any film is lost regardless of quality. Maybe a copy of the original version will turn up someday, although I'd like to see London After Midnight first!
Yongary was re-made by South Korea as Reptilian in 1999.

Wing Commander
I had actually seen this before but watched it again with some friends who enjoy bad cinema.
Wing Commander is probably one of the few movies based on a video game in which the game actually had better actors! John Rhys-Davies, Malcom McDowell, and Mark Hamill all provided voices in the games. That said, there are actually some talented actors I like in this movie such as Jurgen Prochnow and David Warner even though they just aren't given much to work with. Here is a weird piece of trivia concerning the cast: Prochnow and Warner were also both in the film In the Mouth of Madness while Wing Commander also features Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Freddy (Freddy Prinze Jr.) from the first two live action Scooby-Doo movies. There must have been a 2 for 1 sale on actors in the 90s!
Simon MacCorkindale, known for his TV work such as in the cult show Maninmal, has a small role as "Flight Boss."
Wing Commander was one of three movies that had Phantom Menace trailer attached to it and there are stories of people buying a ticket to the movie and leaving after the trailer. Today we have trailers for movie trailers on the internet. Oh how things have changed in less than 15 years!
Although this is a bad movie I'll give it credit for actually trying with its characterizations even though it ultimately fails. For example, there is a sub-plot that Prinze's character is discriminated against because he is a "pilgrim" but after awhile its just forgotten about. Wing Commander feels like Star Wars meets Starship Troopers with a World War II vibe. Although this sounds cool in theory, it doesn't work out and is a bit of a mess. There is plenty of action but its surprisingly boring. The alien bad guys (a race called the Kilrathi) are not shown until late in the movie. While this is usually a good tactic in film, the silly appearance of the Kilrathi who are basically cat people with Fu Manchu mustaches is a terrible pay-off. After all the build-up throughout the movie I just laughed when I finally saw the Kilthrai.
The director of Wing Commander was Chris Roberts, who also directed the video games. I guess the producers chose Roberts because he knew the material and to give credibility to the fans. I think this was part of the problem as directing a video game is a lot different than directing a film and Roberts hasn't directed anything since.
Like Double Dragon this is a watchable, fun bad movie. I never played the games so I can't say how close it is to the series though.

This post will have a sequel featuring four more bad movies.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Two Short Films

Both of these shorts feature either Buster Keaton or a character that looks like Buster Keaton!

Although Cops is now ninety years old it has aged surprisingly well. Some of the gags such as the bars in opening and the scene where Buster buys a horse totally caught me off guard and had me laughing. This is pretty impressive for such an old film since different generations often have different types of humor and jokes can get old very quickly.
Besides the aforementioned gags, the physical comedy is also very good. This is even more amazing considering the fact that Buster Keaton performed all of his own stunts.
Cops is a great short from Buster Keaton and a reminder that I need to seek out more of his work.
You can watch it on YouTube here.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won this year's Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Our main character Morris Lessmore is a Buster Keaton look-alike who runs a library after his hometown is destroyed by a hurricane. The company that created this short is from Louisiana and there are references to Hurricane Katrina.
The film concerns the themes of collective memory, preservation of the past, and film history while always being entertaining and never too preachy.
Although I still think that The Ballad of Nessie short shown before Winnie the Pooh (2011) should have been nominated for the Oscar in this category, I am glad that The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won. To be fair though I didn't see any of the other shorts nominated for the category this year.
You can watch it on YouTube here.

In my next post we'll be back to feature length films as I still have plenty of movies I've seen in the last few months to write about.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Four Mid-80s Movies

Here is another wrap-up post. I noticed that these movies were all made around the same time (I didn't plan that) so I decided to group them together. I'm going to keep these short again as I still have a lot of movies to discuss!

The Muppets Take Manhattan
I'm a big fan of the Muppets and have written about two other Muppet movies on this blog. Somehow I hadn't seen this one before.
The Muppets play themselves in this movie, with the only difference being that they are recent college graduates, just like how some of them were reporters in The Great Muppet Caper. The next two Muppet movies would have the Muppets playing characters from famous works. While I love The Muppet Christmas Carol, it is also fun to see the Muppets being... the Muppets!
There is no breaking of the fourth wall which is unusual for a Muppet movie. But to make up for this there are tons of cameos which is what you expect when it comes to the Muppets. This movie features an early role for Gates McFadden who later became famous for her role as Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The song "Together Again" from this movie is one of the best songs by the Muppets. The Muppets Take Manhattan was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song Score but lost out to Prince's Purple Rain.
This is the only Muppet movie to be directed by Frank Oz. It was also only the second movie he directed, with the first being Dark Crystal (1982).
I liked The Muppets Take Manhattan but its just not as good as the other Muppet movies. There is some filler like the Muppet babies segment which apparently only existed to launch the cartoon series which I loved as a kid. This is also the last Muppet movie Jim Henson made as he died in 1990.
The only other theatrical Muppet movies I have left to see are Muppet Treasure Island (I saw it as a child but don't remember much and need to re-watch it) and Muppets in Space.

The Goonies (1985)
This is a movie that I heard a lot about but had never seen before. The basic story is about a group of friends who stumble upon a treasure map which leads them on a crazy adventure to find the loot that once belonged to the pirate One-Eyed Willie. Although I liked The Goonies, I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more had I seen it as a child.
The cast of  kids features Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Jonathan Ke Quan (Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).
The villains (the Fratellis) were good and of course I enjoyed the performance of the late John Matuszak, a football player turned actor, as the iconic Sloth.
This is actually only the second movie I have seen (the other being Superman) directed by Richard Donner. However, he did direct several episodes of TV Shows I like such as The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, Get Smart, and Gilligan's Island.
I'm not sure why people still want a sequel to The Goonies now that its been over 25 years. That said, I'm surprised that it didn't get a follow-up back in the 80s. I guess the reason for this is because The Goonies was only moderately successful and not a giant box office hit. The movie has a sizable cult following so perhaps the sequel wanted by the fans will indeed happen someday. Tron: Legacy did pretty damn well, especially considering it came out 28 years after the original, so maybe there is hope for The Goonies 2 after all.

Crimewave (1985)
Although this movie is a collaboration between Sam Raimi (director), the Coen brothers (writers), and Bruce Campbell (supporting actor) I came into Crimewave expecting the worst. Don't get me wrong, I love all of these guys, but I have heard that this early work from these directors/writers/actors had a disastrous production that seemed doomed from the start. Director Sam Raimi even disowned the movie due to studio interference, one example being that he wanted Bruce Campbell to be the leading man but the powers that be said no. While that would have made things better, a lot went wrong here and its not a surprise that the movie ended up being bad. Crimewave is still not down there with the worst movies I have ever seen, but it doesn't have that "so bad, it's good" feeling of a movie like Batman & Robin.
The story honestly doesn't make much sense so I'm not even going to bother trying to explain it, especially since its been a few months since I've seen it. Crimewave tries to be a live action cartoon (think Looney Tunes or Tom & Jerry) but the concept just doesn't work and the result is not funny. I remember the movie Mousehunt did the same thing and although its been a long time since I've seen it and didn't love it, it did a better job at that sort of thing than this movie.
Our main character, Vic Ajax, is played Reed Birney. As I alluded to earlier Birney is miscast and doesn't work in the role at all.  Edward Pressman has a minor role as Ernest Trend and is just plain awful. To be fair the guy only has two acting credits including this movie and mostly works as a producer. Can't say I'm surprised!
Bruce Campbell is entertaining as usual and its fun to see him play the heel. However, the studio should have let Campbell be the lead as Raimi intended.
Brion James (Blade Runner, Enemy Mine, The Fifth Element) plays one of the villains. To his credit he does feel like a cartoon character even though overall that idea simply failed.
If you are a fan of Sam Raimi, the Coen Brothers, or Bruce Campbell this is an interesting watch to see how far they came and hints of what they would go on to do. For example, the Hudsucker name is featured in this movie and the Coens would go on to make the movie The Hudsucker Proxy. But if you are not a fan of any of these people you should just avoid it. Still, Crimewave is watchable and I give it credit for trying something different even though I feel it doesn't quite work overall.

To Live and Die in L.A.
To Live and Die in L.A. was directed by William Friedkin, the man who also made The French Connection and The Exorcist. I actually still need to see both of those as this is the first Friedkin movie I have seen!
Many of the actors in this movie such as William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, and John Turturro were unknown at the time but later became more famous. At the time Dean Stockwell was the most well known actor in the film and he only has a minor role as a lawyer.
The story focuses on the counterfeiter Eric Masters who is perfect at his craft. While making this film there was actually a real counterfeiter on set, so what we see on screen is accurate. The most interesting part about this is that some of the counterfeit money actually made it into circulation!
Although the basic plot of a lawman hunting down a criminal who killed his partner (which is loosely based on the story of a real Secret Service Agent) is your typical crime thriller, the movie does an amazing job with its in-depth look at our main characters and its unique style for a crime movie.
Masters is being pursued by the authorities and in the process the partner and good friend of our main character, Secret Service agent Richard Chance, gets killed. After this happens Chance vows to do whatever it takes to bring in Masters, no matter what the consequences are. When Chance decides he will break the law if necessary to stop Masters, we see the line between criminals and and the justice system become blurred.
The movie is stylish and has good editing. Some examples of this are when the camera cuts as the counterfeited money is literally cut by a machine and two birds flying together until one flies away when our main character's partner is killed. There is an interesting scene where it appears that Masters is kissing a man but it is revealed to be a woman, his lover Bianca. We later find out that Bianca is a lesbian that he is in love with, (he apparently pays her to be with him as she has her own girlfriend) which I assume is the reason for this editing as he seems to view her as masculine.
I've heard that Miami Vice has a similar arty style but have never seen that show. I guess I should check it out now!

The famous car chase scene is remarkable to watch. Not only is it one of the best chase scenes in the movies, they don't make 'em like much any more since we see more and more CGI and less practical effects in film these days.
Wang Chung did the soundtrack and most of the music in the movie. The use of their song "Dance Hall Days" with the line "you need her and she needs you" being played during a critical scene was brilliant. I know some people don't like 1980s "cheesy" synth pop-rock but I dig it just fine. This is a solid soundtrack that goes well with the movie although its certainly not one of the best soundtracks ever. A cool piece of trivia about Wang Chung's involvement with this movie is that director William Friedkin specifically told the group not to create a theme song. The band later turned in the title track but after Friedkin listened to it he liked it so much that not only did he keep in the soundtrack, he put it in the opening scene! It's a damn shame that Wang Chung is more known for the big hit "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" than their work here.
The setting of L.A. is great and the film gives a great sense of the time and place of the city. Los Angeles basically becomes a character itself and its both the first and last things we see.
I try to avoid spoilers so I'll just say the ending is perfect. It was actually not the original ending in the script as Friedkin decided to change it late in production. The studio did not like the change but I'm glad it turned out the way it did as it fits really well.