Thursday, April 28, 2011

"X-Men," an average movie about special people

"X-Men" is, in the end, a thoroughly decent picture. It came out in 2000, as a fairly good fx effort given the technology at the time. Showing many fun, inventive, and clever touches throughout, it has some excellent actors. Best of all: above average plot and script for this genre - a gift from writer/director Bryan Singer.

But "X-Men" is the sort of movie I could have skipped. It somehow felt a bit flat, so don't confuse this for a "must-see." The problem, I think, is that it's simply too scattered. There was also an oddly-sedate tone, muting the onscreen fun. Just watch "X2" and move on to something else...

The problem, probably, lies in its blessing - Hugh Jackman as Logan, the picture's actual (and obvious) lead. The flick is all about him, and Jackman has more than enough skill and charisma to sell it. Also, I just love the way that BBC reviewer Mark Kermode calls him "Huge Action" (not in a mean way). Still, the producers chose to ride off Marvel Comic's big "X-Men" copyright, so it's weird to spend so much time on the "outsider," Wolverine.

What's worse: the haircut, or the effort needed to make that haircut?
The pic should be trying to establish a film franchise about a team of 5+ good mutants and their various enemies. This is hard to balance with the whole Logan-as-lead thing. The lack of focus on either element means that it’s neither as good as you'd like nor as good as it was trying to be.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Top Gun" in theaters, 2 days only, 4/30 and 5/2

In some prior news entries, I was clearly proud that I noticed something before my usual news sources. However, I am constantly beholden to them, so I get pretty positive when I get there before the pros. But if you read my posts on "Airplane," "Taxi Driver," or "Memento," you know what's coming.

Yes, the end of a long way of introducing last week's The AV Club article on the return of Tony Scott's "Top Gun" to theaters. This week and next, 2 shows only, April 30 at 12:30 and May 2 at 7. This link is to the site listing all the locations for the two showtimes. If you're in NYC, you'll have the most options...

I won't simply ape the article I linked to; I respect tAVC's work (and my writing) too much. "Top Gun" is a fun, ridiculous, enjoyable action film. It's also a piece of pop-culture history, a cheesy 80's spectacle, and a possible social allegory by way of reverse homophobia (um, "heterophobia?"). If no one's covered that last point, I can write something to explain.

If you choose to check it out, you'll be supporting AMC's semi-regular release of classic pictures. Yes, they're often timed with Blu-Ray/Super Special Edition/Holographic Crystal Edition merchandise releases. So what? A fun ride is a fun ride.

Let me know if you're going to check out Berlin, Kenny Loggins, pre-"he's a Scientologist?" Cruise, bare-chested oil-rubbing all-male volleyball (why god, why?), and the tragic story of a man called Goose.

I bumped a post for this, but it's a review for "Mission: Impossible," and I wouldn't want to write about most stars more than once per week. I'll see you on Thursday with a review of "X-Men" to close out April!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2-year Anniversary, the "Conan" Musical

If you don't want to read my few words for this day, jump to the bottom to watch (or just follow this forthcoming link) the superb Conan the Barbarian: The Musical; it's made by jonandal, the same geniuses behind Predator:The Musical. I'm almost sure these vids are funny without knowing the sources, but you may want to hold off if you're unfamiliar.

As of today, this blog is two years old. I always knew I'd keep this going for a while, but it's easy to start something and imagine doing it 'til next year. What do you do as time keeps passing? Even tho I'm happy about this hallmark, I won't use double the words to celebrate...

My other anniversary and end of year posts share a few things in common: I thank various people who've inspired or supported me; I thank my readers; I talk about things what's happened as well as what's to come on the site.

Well, the last such entry was for my 100th post, but that was just over 2 months ago. I think "if you're gonna use too many words, don't also be repetitive." If I want to get long-winded about this, I'll save that for number 3, ok? This time, all I really have to say is "Thank you, everyone," then leave it at that. A rare moment of brevity...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why is Movie Theater Popcorn so Awful?

These articles are entertaining for anyone else, but I like to change things up, tho. I like writing about every aspect of movie-watching, and it can't always be 3500 words on "Boys Don't Cry," y'know?

I didn't mention this during my review, but I got sick from the popcorn I ate during "Splice." If you read what I wrote, you'd figure the movie had that effect. Nope. It's not the sort of thing I would mention, either, even if we knew each other. Now, tho, it was a recent conversation topic: what's wrong with movie theater popcorn?

It truly deserves a post - popcorn is the movie-time snack. Concessions stands lately are massive, but popcorn's my most frequent craving. Sometimes it's all I want.

Food like I had is obviously a problem; I felt like someone who ate fish in "Airplane." But popcorn's also expensive - if you buy a medium or large bag and don't eat it, you've lost roughly $6. And if you didn't eat before going in, popcorn is the only regular item that can hold off hunger pangs for 90 minutes.

With all that, and considering how delicious it is, why should anyone ever think: I can't remember if the popcorn here is lousy. If my friend/date/relative doesn't want any, I'm going to have to find something I can fill up on...

Even if it doesn't make you ill, so many theaters have somehow found a way to make bad popcorn. To quote Shakespeare, "what the hell?"

Popcorn, the source of all life.
The bad food didn't affect my opinion of "Splice." I know because I wasn't ill at the time. Hell, I've been out and had a friend step out for a little too long...

No, this time I woke up sick at 4 AM. While I don't appreciate being unwell as if I drank for hours on an empty stomach, that wouldn't make me receive a picture poorly. "Splice" did a great job of looking bad all on its own.

So I guess the lesson is "don't buy popcorn at Manhattan's AMC Empire 25 on 42nd Street."

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Boys Don't Cry" - But Women Watching It Will

Since Brandon Teena was a non-op transgender man, I will refer to the actual Brandon as "him." Because Hilary Swank is a woman pretending to be a non-op transgender man, I will refer to the film character, Brandon, as "her." It's the only thing that's fair to both myself and (more importantly) the person whose awful death was the inspiration for this picture.

I know that sort of came out of nowhere, but I'll explain. In short, I talk about Swank's impact on the audience, and that there's an effect to watching (simply put) a woman play a woman that wants to be a man. Keeping that in mind, shall we?...

1999's "Boys Don't Cry" was directed by Kimberly Pierce. The wildly-successful indie picture (88% on RT.) deals with a transgender woman who hasn't had the operation to make her male yet and the turbulence in both her romantic and vocational life. Given its topic, the tragic real-life murder of Brandon Teena by two of his "friends," media attention was guaranteed. Unfortunately, it proved timely as Matthew Shepherd was killed in a gay-bashing attack around the release date.

I have to think that because of its story, this movie would've drawn a lot of notice even if it were fiction, even without a major hate crime. "BDC" would've been highly-praised, and Hilary Swank would probably have been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar no matter what. Many were turned off by graphic sexual assaults, brutal murder. Those bothered me, but I had issues with the film despite nice scenery and cinematography, a steady lead...

To some extent, I'd be happy to support movies like this regardless of my opinion. I'd find it hard to complain about something that draws positive attention to bigoted, targeted attacks; definitely if it actually influences the public at large to do something about the problem. I'll start with the story before I tell you where it lost me.

Brandon Teena is a woman who wants to be a man. She's a mostly-jobless drifter in the Midwest. Everywhere she goes, she just tries to get by. She also lives as a man - taping down her breasts and cutting her hair to look more masculine. Teena, however, doesn't just want to live life as a guy, she's looking for the right woman. This is very difficult for her.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Netflix Updates, a small orgy of them

Before I get on with it, I wanted to note that the LAMB made Black Dynamite their movie of the month.  As such, the LAMB site will have one post with a collection of various member-submitted reviews. My own review for "Black Dynamite" will be among them.  It goes up tomorrow, April 16th. Moving on:

For months now, over 4 articles, I've tracked this nice, gradual site change on Netflix - makeovers where tv series are condensed to one page with nifty new browsing and viewing options. I will do this no longer. Why?

Because this change has been implemented across almost every tv series that's even listed on Netflix. Anything that was already available for streaming now appears as one show page. So if you're into Stargate SG-1, 10 pages have been replaced by 1. I stopped counting the number of 1-page Instant shows once I hit 50 and saw I'd keep on going.

At the same time, several new series have come to Netflix as well. Since it all happened this week, I am going to highlight some nifty new additions and write down enough new options to give you a sense of what's happened. Please note that only the first 3 are actually recommended. After today, I will have fewer, less frequent updates on Netflix.

Mission Impossible - Yaaaay! This sweet series went up last week, and I was saving it for a special recommendation entry. I think, however, my upcoming review of the "M:I" movie will cover that. This classic is a perfect, inventive, smart way to waste time. Some moments are wildly silly nowadays, but it's an easy series to respect and I strongly suggest it.

The Twilight Zone is now available for Streaming. Only Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 5, but it's still a beautiful thing, and threatens all those neat Holiday weekend tWZ marathons on cable and local stations.

Macgyver, that classic 80's series, is on Netflix Instant, too. Amazingly, the selections include eps never available on CBS' website (which offered nearly the entire series for many years). It's cheesy, and it's fun, and it can be a kick.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Recommended: BBC's Survivors on Netflix

Before I get to it, let me start with some info: I did beat The AV Club to covering the Netflix-Fox deal, one that brought Ally McBeal and more to Instant Viewing. However, when tAVC got around to it 2 days later, they had yet another deal to announce, too - that AMC gave Netflix the rights to stream "Mad Men."

This is big news, as AMC's retro-series is very popular, and Netflix has been making many moves lately. If you hadn't already heard about this, don't run off - "MM" is not yet available. It's funny, still another big play involving a major show I've never seen. I have no doubt people will stream this like crazy once it's up, tho. And now, this is how today's post should have started...

I've posted a wide-ranging set of UK TV recommendations, and suggested one specific televised Brit comedy even earlier. I reviewed "Black Dynamite," too, and that would've been a "recommendation" if I had used that label at the time. Well, I wanted to post a new one this week, and it's for (yet another) BBC series...

I've never seen "The Walking Dead." It, like many shows that have been recommended to me, will be left on the sidelines until I'm older and bored enough to watch TV. "30 Rock," "The Wire," "The Shield" - forget it, there's just too much to do for me to follow more than 2 or 3 shows, at most...

What's so interesting about "Survivors" is that this UK TV series seems exactly like "The Walking Dead" - just with dead bodies in the place of un-dead bodies. I can't shake the thought, despite never having seen any of AMC's blockbuster show.

The set-up: a flu epidemic strikes Great Britain; it wipes out most of the Isles in 3 days. Then it takes out 90% of the world's population. Viewers meet a vivid, varied cast - a concerned mom, a convict, the Minister of Health - whose lives play out in the background of this crisis. People get sick, & you can't tell who it will be,& the dead are just scattered everywhere.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"AntiTrust" = "AntiFun," "AntiThrilling," "AntiCredible," "AntiWellFilmed"

"AntiTrust" is a spectacularly misguided movie. It thinks its being suspenseful when it isn't; it handles its plots like a 5 year-old with a grease-coated basketball; and the story really is insane nonsense. What's surprising then is that it had all the right working parts to make a perfectly good thriller. Or even a perfectly decent one.

No, this wasn't a disappointment on the scale of "Enemy at the Gates;"  It didn't have the budget, the "based on true events" aspect, nor was the cast as impressive. Yet what does it mean when Tinseltown can't even manage a little suspense movie with so much going for it? The cast featured Tim Robbins, Ryan Philippe, Rachel Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani, and even Richard Roundtree (yes, John Shaft!). Those are 5 good names to work with.

"AT" was helmed by Peter Howitt, whose first directing credit was the surprise success, "Sliding Doors." The sets were designed by Catherine Hardwicke, who directed/wrote (ick) "Thirteen" and filmed (ugh) "Twilight." Hell, it came out in January 2001, so the tech stock/startup/computers/gaming/program dev angles were perfectly topical!

A computer genius (Philippe) decides to leave his best buds behind when he gets an offer from the world's biggest computer company NURV, which is totally supposed to be Microsoft. He's thrilled by the amazing offer, and he runs off with his loving girlfriend (Forlani) to drink deeply from the cup of success. For some reason, his young corporate world is full of sketchiness, especially from the big boss (Robbins). Now, one of his closest friends is dead, and our 21st-Century hero is close to wigging out.

What went wrong? As I said, the story is just completely nuts. I am, however, inclined to put some of the blame onto the director; he had to sign off on the finished product, after all. Now, I never saw "Sliding Doors" (which Howitt also wrote), but I know it did well and was at least decently well-received. Still, the guy's next project was directing "Johnny English," so...

Or you can observe this trailer, which gives away the entire film. Who the hell edited this?

Largely, the problem here is tone. Robbins is supposed to be an evil Bill Gates (well, "evil-er") - smart, business savvy, ambitious, having "vision." His computer mogul is, occasionally, utterly unconvincing. At times, Robbins' character seems blank, and even experienced viewers like me wonder if Tim's acting is falling apart. Maybe he just doesn't realize how bad the moment looks - or that he resembles "Bill the Cat" from "Bloom County" sometimes...

Friday, April 8, 2011

"The Craft" Has No Skills

Some movies really face an up-hill battle. It's like doing a cover of a well-loved song; if a few things don't go perfectly, it's all over. That wasn't the case with 1996's "The Craft," which was often badly-executed, made poor use of its assets, and featured inferior covers of well-loved songs.

Attractive-but-troubled Sarah (Robin Tunney) has just moved from SF to LA. She's put into a Catholic School, I guess because plaid skirts look hot. On the new kid's 1st day, classmate Bonnie (Neve Campbell) spots Sarah doing something in French Class - moving a pencil with her mind!

Bonnie, however, doesn't have a freak-out. She quickly tells her friends, Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True), that Sarah is perfect as the fourth witch needed to complete their coven. Yay! Alas, the way of the witch is never easy, or mentally stable...

It's nice that the movie sort of starts before the opening scenes. It's good that the roles have lives and motivations and plans that are already underway - this helps establish internal credibility. Nor do I hate that "tC" was cast like a perfect "WB teen show." But the delivery is poor and wildly off-key.

Still, her "we are the weirdos, Mister" is a great line.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Movie Review Quickies, VII

Before I get to it: there are 5 new ways to view this blog: got to and you'll see what I mean. "Sidebar" style loads automatically, but if you select the "Sidebar" button at the top, you can pick other modes. I don't know how the thumbnail system works, but I really like the "flipcard" view. I invite you to check it out.

After so long, it's back! 7 random movie reviews in one go; I cover: "The Quick and the Dead," "40 Days and 40 Nights," "Splash," "The Sweetest Thing," "The Island," "Rising Sun," and "Kiss of the Dragon." I even set up links so you can jump to the review you want to read.  I'm really going to make the next one shorter; I mean it this time....

The Quick and the Dead
Usually, movies with a bad-ass female lead make the mistake of having a female bad-ass who constantly talks about how bad-ass she is. 1995's "The Quick and the Dead" did not make that mistake. It did, however, fail to put together a compelling or thoughtful or all-out Wild West drama/action-er.

That was particularly disappointing because the cast features Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russel Crowe, Keith David (yay!), Gary Sinise, Lance Henriksen, and Sharon Stone as the lead. How can you make a movie like that and have it bomb? How did it only take $17M in the US on a $35M budget?

There's a town where it's dry and hot, and it holds a multi-day quick-draw competition. It's all overseen by the town's ruthless criminal ruler/dictator/Ubermensch - played by Hackman, he's the fastest, nastiest gun in the universe. Now the towns bustling with all sorts of gun-fighters, including a gifted kid with something to prove (Leo), a former Civil War soldier (David), a chained-up preacher with an ugly past (Crowe), and a mysterious woman with no name or reputation (Stone).

How's it all going to play out? Which ones are the quick and which ones are the dead?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Netflix Update Newbies: Instant "Glee," "Twin Peaks," + 6 More

I'm breaking my April Fool's Day promise. Sorry, but I got news just good enough to bump my finished "The Craft" review to next week. I also didn't want to hold this info off for too long. To make up for it, I'll have 3700 words worth of "I'm sorry" going up just after midnight.

Netflix made a deal with Fox and the hyper-popular "Glee" is on Instant Viewing; only the first season, but there's much more honey in this pot, so to speak: seasons 1 & 2 of "Sons of Anarchy" are online as well; all of "Ally MacBeal," too. [I'm amazed that Flockheart has great legs on the S1 DVD cover - she gets skinnier as it goes on, right?]

Oddly enough, the same announcement also claimed "The Wonder Years" as an addition. A search of the site only shows the first season, though, which isn't available for standard rental, either. I've never seen any of these series, but I've been tracking this news... And "SoA" is supposed to be very good...

There's more, of course: you can add "Twin Peaks" to the list of multi-season shows with one page. I announced 5 weeks ago that David Lynch's obscurist masterpiece would be up for streaming as part of a big deal with CBS. Now that April is here, the streaming rights belong to Netflix. I'm glad about it, as I'll be able to watch "TP" for the 1st time; I won't even have to wait for all 10 DVDs to ship...

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fail's Day, Amazon/Netflix Instant Updates, and (Mostly) Fairy Tale Remake-itis

I'll start with the briefest bit first: I have a great review for "Your Friends & Neighbors" slotted - a perfect post for today, April Fool's Day. Unfortunately, it's... complicated; it's time-consuming. It's become April Fail's Day.

So I offer instead tons of serious, non-April-Fool's film news and observations on the Instant selection of Netflix & Amazon. You'll understand when my "YF&N" review goes up...

Moving on: Although I am not one myself, there are many reasons to be proud to be Canadian. Your country produced Wayne Gretzky and Phil Hartman, both men to be admired, adored, and learned from... And health insurance; that's pretty nice, too.

Netflix made a deal with Paramount, & now Canadian users can stream some pictures not available below their border. "Iron Man 2" might be the most high-profile example, but there's more corporate Canuck love: 7 hours later, Netflix announced they've made adjustments so Les Habitants use 2/3rds less data when they stream videos. Helping keep customers below their bandwidth caps sounds like a thoughtful, wise way of making people choose your service. Good on you, Canada. Let's take a quick Netflix break...

As an avid The AV Club fan, I've been getting a steady laugh at the remake news they've published lately. You know how "Armageddon" & "Deep Impact," "Wyatt Earp" & "Tombstone," and "The Prestige" & "The Illusionist" were all similar movies released within 6 months of each other? Well, we're talking about 21st Century Americans now, so even remake-itis is on meth:

(a) 4 different Cinderalla stories are being considered. Who's the fairest Evil Queen, Julia Roberts or Charlize Theron? Well, 1st of all, "duh, Charlize," and 2nd of all, you'll get both! You'll also see the character in an ABC tv show ("The Cinderella Chronicles?" "The Glass Shoe Diaries?" "2 Slippers, 7 Dwarfs, No Family?"), and third film version, adapted by white people to be an Asian adventure. It re-casts the 7 dwarfs as Shaolin monks.